APRIL 26, Friday

Delhi Edition

* Front Page

Former Supreme Court judge to probe ‘conspiracy’ against CJI

Former Supreme Court judge to probe ‘conspiracy’ against CJI

A.K. Patnaik will look into the material and affidavits provided by advocate Bains

krishnadas rajagopal

A.K. Patnaik

New Delhi

The Supreme Court on Thursday appointed its former judge, Justice A.K. Patnaik, to probe the affidavits filed by a young lawyer that a larger conspiracy hatched by a powerful lobby of fixers, disgruntled court employees and corporate figures is at work to compromise the functioning of the highest judiciary.

Justice Patnaik’s inquiry would focus on the material and affidavits provided by advocate Utsav Singh Bains, who claimed that a plot was on to target the judiciary, including Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi. The Bench said Mr. Bains could not withhold any information from Justice Patnaik by claiming privilege.

To verify claims

Justice Patnaik would test Mr. Bains’ claim that he was approached by a person called ‘Ajay’ in early April. He was offered up to ₹1.5 crore to file a false case against the CJI. This man, the lawyer said, claimed to be a relative of the former Supreme Court staffer who has since levelled sexual harassment allegations against the Chief Justice.

The Bench repeatedly clarified that the probe into the existence of a larger conspiracy would not eclipse the allegations of sexual harassment raised by the former employee, which are being examined separately by an in-house inquiry committee of three judges.

“We make it clear that this inquiry shall not be with respect to the alleged misbehaviour involving Hon’ble the Chief Justice of India,” it said.

Maruti to dump ‘dirty’ diesel models from 2020

Maruti to dump ‘dirty’ diesel models from 2020

Significant rise in prices likely with new BS VI emission norms depressing demand

Yuthika Bhargava

R.C. Bhargava at a press conference in New Delhi on Thursday. Kamal NarangKamal Narang

New Delhi

Car buyers eyeing a diesel-powered vehicle from the Maruti Suzuki stable will have less than a year to make their choice as the company plans to stop manufacturing such vehicles from the next financial year.

Maruti Suzuki, which is the largest car maker in the country, on Thursday announced plans to discontinue selling all diesel cars here from April 1, 2020, citing uncertainty over demand for such vehicles due to “significant” increase in price once the new BS VI emission norms kick in.

“From April 1, we will have no diesel car on sale… Depending on how customers react to BS VI diesel vehicles next year… if we find that there is a market for such cars, we will develop a BS VI diesel vehicle in reasonable period of time,” the company’s chairman R.C. Bhargava said.

Last chance

He added that this year is the last chance for shoppers to buy diesel cars at low prices. “If you wait till next year, you will have to pay a substantially higher price. So if I was a diesel car fan, I would certainly buy a diesel car this year and not wait.”

Diesel cars currently account for about 23% of the automobile giant’s domestic sales. During 2018-19, the company sold a total of 4.63 lakh diesel-powered vehicles.

Multiple variants

While some models in its portfolio such as the Swift, Baleno, Dzire, Ciaz and Ertiga come in both petrol and diesel variants, models such as its very popular Vitara Brezza and S-Cross currently come only with a diesel engine.

The company is expected to introduce a petrol variant of Vitara Brezza soon.

Mr. Bhargava said that factors such as the ban on diesel vehicles older than 10 years and environmental activists saying that diesel is a more polluting fuel “is creating some sort of an anti-diesel sentiment… How this will play out in the next 2-3 years is something we need to see because you need to make big investment for BS VI diesel engines and you need to be sure that it will work”.

He said that even if the company decides to go in for a diesel BS VI engine, it would be in the 1,500 cc engine category.

* Nation

Demonetisation ‘a thoughtless decision’: Sharad Pawar

Demonetisation ‘a thoughtless decision’: Sharad Pawar

NCP chief says Maharashtra stagnated industrially under Modi, Fadnavis

Shoumojit Banerjee

Roadshow: Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar at a campaign rally.File photoArunangsu Roy Chowdhury


Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pitch on development, Maharashtra witnessed industrial stagnation and rising unemployment in the five years of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led governments at the Centre and the State, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar said on Thursday.

Addressing a public meeting in Talegaon-Dabhade in support of his grand nephew, Parth, the NCP chief alleged that Mr. Modi had deceived the Indian people. He said demonetisation was a “a thoughtless decision” that had disastrous consequences on the livelihood of common people. He further claimed that at least 15 lakh people had lost their jobs.

“Demonetisation yielded no advantages whatsoever nor did it benefit anybody. It just caused a lot of misery and aggravated unemployment,” said Mr. Pawar.

“This is an extremely critical election. Five years ago, Mr. Modi had sought, and received, a massive mandate while promising to address soaring unemployment, sagging industrial growth, resolving farmers’ problems, and maintaining the unity of this country. He has failed on all counts and has badly misled the people of Indian,” he said.

Parth, son of senior NCP leader Ajit Pawar, is the NCP-Congress candidate for the fiercely contested Maval Lok Sabha constituency. He is pitted against sitting Shiv Sena sitting MP Shrirang Barne.

In his speech today Mr. Pawar said the NCP had given tickets to a number of young candidates who would strive for the welfare of the State. “The politics in this country is changing rapidly. As Yashwantrao Chavan in the late 1960s had given opportunities to youngsters in politics, so has the Congress and NCP given tickets to a number of youthful candidates for the good of Maharashtra in this election,” said the NCP chief, stating that the party had fielded Parth Pawar, Dr. Amol Kolhe (Shirur), and Sanjay Shinde (Madha), among others, to help resolve the problems afflicting the common man.

Lashing out at Mr. Modi, Mr. Pawar said: “Modi keeps on alleging about the supposed misrule by Congress-NCP for the past 15 years in Maharashtra, but it was only when our democratic alliance was in power that areas like Chakan, Hinjewadi and Shirur could become developed suburbs and are now important manufacturing hubs and industrial zones catering to the State and the country.”

The NCP chief reiterated that the Prime Minister was wrongly taking credit for the release of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman from the clutches of Pakistan’s armed forces.

“The reality is that the entire international community, led by the United States, had put tremendous pressure on Pakistan to release the IAF pilot as per the Geneva Conventions. Yet, Modi claims sole credit. If indeed it was he who had managed to secure Abhinandan’s release, then why does his [Mr. Modi’s] ‘56 inch chest’ shrink to ‘12 inches’ when it comes to the question of securing the release of Kulbhushan Jadhav?” he asked.

‘EC trying to create rift among A.P. officials’

‘EC trying to create rift among A.P. officials’

It would be taught a lesson: Naidu

Staff Reporter

As controversy raged over the alleged interference of the Election Commission (EC) in the administrative affairs of the Andhra Pradesh government, Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu said attempts were being made to create a rift among officials through the election watchdog to trouble the government.

Addressing TDP leaders, booth-level conveners and Seva Mitra volunteers through a teleconference on Thursday, Mr. Naidu said he had enjoyed good relations with officers and his government performed well in all sectors owing to their good work in implementation of various schemes and programmes but the EC was bringing about a split in these very officers.

People suffered a lot because of the EC’s failure in providing adequate security and making proper arrangements for elections. Technical glitches in EVMs led to a long wait for voters. For meddling in the State administration, it (the EC) would be taught a lesson, he said, while blaming Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the flood of money during the elections.

KCR’s meeting

He wondered why there was absolute silence on the review meeting on Intermediate examinations conducted by Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao but if he (Mr. Naidu) did a similar thing here, a hue and cry would be raised by those desperate to put the government in a spot. Mr. Naidu told party men that he was absolutely confident of a big win in the elections.

Bt brinjal being grown in Haryana: activists

Bt brinjal being grown in Haryana: activists

Want Central, State agencies to take action to stop cultivation, investigate spread of the illegal variety

Priscilla Jebaraj

Genetically modified (GM) brinjal is being illegally grown in the Fatehabad district of Haryana, according to anti-GM activists. On Thursday, they demanded that Central and State regulatory agencies immediately take action to stop the cultivation, investigate the spread of the illegal variety and destroy all such crops, seeds and saplings as dangerous biohazards entering the food chain.

Punitive action must be taken against seed suppliers, as well as the company which developed the GM variety, said the activists.

Brinjal has been genetically modified by inserting a protein gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis to give protection against certain pests. Bt Brinjal, which was developed in India by Maharashtra-based seed company Mahyco, was on the verge of becoming India’s first GM food crop, when the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee cleared it for commercialisation in 2009, before doubts about the long-term impact on consumer health and plant biodiversity led the then Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, to slap an indefinite moratorium on the crop.

When asked about the reports of illegal cultivation of Bt Brinjal in Haryana, a Mahyco spokesperson said the company could not respond until Friday.

Biohazard contamination

“This is a biohazard contamination and must be treated seriously,” said Rajinder Chaudhary, an activist with the Kudarti Kheti Abhiyan, Haryana, detailing how the Bt Brinjal was found on a half-acre plot in Fatehabad, a few hours drive from the national capital. He demonstrated the strip test that showed the vegetable has been genetically modified and added that samples have been shown to the Agriculture and Horticulture departments of the Haryana government and sent to the GEAC as well.

“This is clearly a failure of concerned government agencies that illegal Bt brinjal is being cultivated in the country. GEAC is full of vested interests and behaves as a promotional body rather than a regulator,” said Kapil Shah, an activist associated with the Coalition for a GM-Free India. He pointed out that regulators have previously turned a blind eye to the illegal cultivation of GM cotton and soyabean and demanded that Mahyco be held responsible for any leakage of seeds.

“Remember that Bt cotton may be legal now, but it was first introduced into the country illegally. Even now, HT [or herbicide tolerant] cotton is grown across lakhs of hectares and the grey market is worth Rs. 1 crore,” said Mr. Shah.

Bt Cotton was developed and sold in India by a joint venture between Mahyco and global GM giant Monsanto, which also developed HT cotton until the trial stage before withdrawing it from India in 2016. A Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (India) spokesperson told The Hindu that it has complained repeatedly to GEAC about the spread of illegal HT cotton in India. “Even in August 2017, we sought [GEAC] intervention on the gross misuse of patented and regulated technologies which may pose numerous other challenges to India’s cotton ecosystem,” said the spokesperson.

Khasi ‘kingdoms’ to revisit 1947 agreements

Khasi ‘kingdoms’ to revisit 1947 agreements

Concerns over impact of Citizenship Bill, Central acts prompt rethink


Architectural marvel: A model of a traditional house of the Khasi king at Mawphlang, Meghalaya. File photo


A federation of 25 Himas or Khasi kingdoms that have a cosmetic existence today, plan to revisit the 1948 agreements that made present-day Meghalaya a part of India.

The revisiting in consultation with legal experts and academicians is aimed at safeguarding tribal customs and traditions from Central laws in force or could be enacted, such as the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) intends to bring in if voted to power again.

“Yes, the bill is one of the factors in our move to strengthen the Federation of Khasi States that were ruled by a Syiem (king-like head of a Hima). But things are at an initial stage. We will be holding a series of meetings to come to a conclusion on how best to insulate our customs and traditions from overriding central rules and policies,” Pynshngaiñ N Syiem, chairman of the Advisory Legal Committee to discuss the Instrument of Accession and Annexed Agreement, told The Hindu from Meghalaya’s capital Shillong on Thursday.

Mr. Syiem is also the chairman of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council.

The 25 Khasi states had signed the Instrument of Accession and Annexed Agreement with the Dominion of India between December 15, 1947, and March 19, 1948. The conditional treaty with these states was signed by Governor General Chakravarty Rajagopalachari on August 17, 1948.

The Khasi states, though, did not sign the Instrument of Merger unlike most other states in India.

“During the British rule, the Khasi domain was divided into the Khasi states and British territories. At that time, the British government had no territorial right on the Khasi states and they had to approach the chiefs of these states if they needed land for any purpose.

After independence, the British territories became part of the Indian dominion but the Khasi states had to sign documents beginning with the Standstill Agreement that provided a few rights to the states,” Mr Syiem said.

Though the Constitution has provided self-rule to a considerable extent through tribal councils, there has been an increasing demand for giving more teeth to the Khasi states.

A pattern in PM’s campaign tours

A pattern in PM’s campaign tours

Star campaigner has his task cut out in States where BJP wants to better tally

Nistula Hebbar, NEW DELHI

Covering all bases: Supporters cheering Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a recent rally in Kolkata.Getty Images

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is without doubt the most effective campaigner the BJP has, and with 303 (more than half the strength of the Lok Sabha) constituencies already having gone to the polls, a strategy can be discerned from his campaign pit stops till date.

A look at Mr. Modi’s campaign rallies from March 28 to April 23 shows that he has campaigned more frequently in States where the party hopes to expand, in seats where it lost narrowly, and in places where it lost in the Assembly polls in Gujarat.

The BJP has made its intentions of expanding in the States of West Bengal and Odisha clear, and the frequency of Prime Minister Modi’s rallies reflects this. He has addressed eight rallies in the three phases of polls in Odisha (the last phase in the State is on April 29), and spent a total of four days campaigning in the State.

West Bengal, which along with Uttar Pradesh and Bihar will see a seven-phase poll, has seen six rallies till April 24 and will see more in the coming days. In fact, West Bengal compares with Uttar Pradesh in the frequency of Mr. Modi’s rallies; of the total 80 Lok Sabha constituencies in U.P., the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has 73 MPs.

Into strongholds

Apart from States where the BJP hopes to expand, Mr. Modi has also addressed rallies in places where the BJP either lost narrowly in the past, or where he felt the fight needed to be taken into the Opposition’s camp. In Karnataka, for instance, Mr. Modi addressed seven rallies, and three places in which he campaigned — Chikkodi, Gangavati (Raichur) and Chitradurga — are held by the Congress. But, of them, Chikkodi and Chitradurga were won by narrow margins. He also went to Mysuru and Bagalkot, to challenge the domination of the former Chief Minister Siddharamaiah, who is in a prestige fight with Mr. Modi and who won by a narrow margin in Bagalkot in the Assembly polls, defeating the BJP’s B. Sriramulu.

It’s the same case in Maharashtra, where Mr. Modi has addressed rallies in seven places, especially in locations where the BJP needs an extra push to win. These seats include Dindori, otherwise a comfortable seat for the BJP, but where there is a new candidate, Dr. Bharati Pawar, who has moved from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to the BJP, in place.

Mr. Modi has also campaigned in Ahmednagar, where Sujay Vikhe Patil, son of veteran Congress leader Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil is the candidate, and needs a leg-up. The need to shore up support in Wardha and Nandurbar, traditional Congress bastions that fell to the BJP in 2014, were the reasons for Mr. Modi’s campaign stops. Just like in Karnataka, he has also made it a point to address rallies in areas having a strong Congress satrap, like Latur (connected to the Vilasrao Deshmukh-Shivraj Patil legacy) and Nanded (Ashok Chavan’s bastion).

The BJP is mindful of the narrow victory that it posted in the Assembly polls in Gujarat in 2017, and the Patidar agitation along with rural distress in Saurashtra that dominated that campaign. Of the seven rallies addressed by the PM, the BJP had lost Assembly polls in at least six of the seats.

Ex-SC judge to probe ‘conspiracy’ against CJI

Ex-SC judge to probe ‘conspiracy’ against CJI

“This is with respect to the contents of the affidavits, whether the affidavits are correct or not… We again reiterate that the outcome of the inquiry shall not affect the in-house procedure/inquiry, which is pending in the administrative side, in any manner whatsoever,” the Special Bench clarified.

The clarification was in response to submissions by senior advocate Indira Jaising that such a probe ordered by the Bench should not prejudice the in-house inquiry into the woman’s allegations or deny her defence. “This Bench will not enquire into her allegations. Our job is to find out if somebody approached Utsav Bains to file a false case, whether they are two former Supreme Court employees or others; whether there are fixers involved; whether a conspiracy was hatched after Bench-fixing attempt failed,” Justice Mishra said

The Bench ordered the chiefs of the CBI, Intelligence Bureau and the Delhi Police to assist Justice Patnaik in his endeavour. The retired judge has to file his report in a sealed cover before the Bench. The case would be taken after the court receives Justice Patnaik’s report.

The court hearing saw a passionate outburst of indignation from Justice Mishra at “the rich and the powerful” who presume they can bludgeon and blackmail the Supreme Court into submission. Little do they know they are playing with fire, the judge said. ”This country must know the truth. The Supreme Court cannot be run by money power or political power. When somebody tries to clean up the system, he is killed or maligned. This has to stop,” Justice Mishra lashed out.

The court asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta not to interfere when the latter asked for Special Investigation Team probe into Mr. Bains’ allegations.

“Leave it to us… Don’t provoke us anymore. We want to tell the rich and the powerful of this country that you cannot play with fire… That you are playing with fire when you play with this court… What do the powerful of this country think? That they can run this court?” Justice Mishra’s voice boomed across the packed but silent room.

Justice Mishra conveyed to the court room the anguish felt by a judiciary under attack. “This is your institution, not ours,” Justice Mishra told the assembled lawyers and public. “We judges come and go.”

“This is the court made by the likes of Fali Nariman, Nani Palkhiwala and K. Parasaran… But every other day we hear of bench-fixing, every day wrong practices are made in the court… Whenever we start hearing a big case, letters are written… Whenever big cases or big persons are involved, this happens in this court… People are trying to run this court, its registry with money power… So many things are going on,” Justice Mishra said.

Ms. Jaising said the Bench should also check the credentials of Mr. Bains, whether he has come with clean hands.

Not in the race, but a key challenger

Not in the race, but a key challenger

By targeting BJP, MNS chief hopes to make a comeback in the Assembly elections

Alok Deshpande

Bitter critic: Raj Thackeray has been seeking answers from the BJP at every rally in Maharashtra. Emmanual Yogini


When Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray announced his first public meeting on April 6 in Mumbai, little did anyone know that his order laav re to video (start that video) would go viral across Maharashtra, inspire thousands of memes, social media posts and, most important, ensure a centre-spot in speeches and press conferences of the ruling BJP.

The news channels seeking higher TRP have turned to him, his speeches and even interviews are going live, ensuring that his anti-BJP banter reaches a majority of households in the State, making him the real star campaigner for the Opposition in Maharashtra. All this in less than a month.

No slot in grand alliance

The MNS is not contesting the election. As a group within the Congress opposed his inclusion in the grand alliance over his stand against north Indians, he has chosen to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah on his own.

“I slammed the Congress-NCP bitterly when they were in power. But who is in power now? He (Modi) forgets that, he isn’t the PM of Gujarat, he is the PM of India. His actions pose a threat to Indian democracy. I am only asking what happened to the promises Modi made in 2014. The BJP seems to have no answer,” he says at every rally.

Since the first rally, Mr. Thackeray has held 10 rallies across Maharashtra amid growing crowds.

Mr. Thackeray’s falling out with the BJP has seen him take on the Centre in no uncertain manner. In 2011, he visited Gujarat to witness development under then Chief Minister Narendra Modi and could not stop singing paeans till the end of 2014.

However, after Mr. Modi became the Prime Minister, Mr. Thackeray said Gujarat was being promoted over all other States. Prior to the Koregaon-Bhima riots in 2018, he had warned of possible communal conflict. Months before the Pulwama attack, he said the country might even go to war before the Lok Sabha election.

Kirtikumar Shinde, author and observer of MNS politics since its inception, said: “Raj Thackeray has broken the myth that leaders are scared of talking against the Modi-Shah duo. He openly attacked them, challenged the BJP and demanded accountability for their promises. The main Opposition Congress failed to do this. This is the reason he is getting such a huge response across the State. He is saying what people wanted to hear from the Opposition.”

Mr. Thackeray formed the MNS in 2006 after he decided to quit the Shiv Sena as his uncle and Sena chief Bal Thackeray preferred son Uddhav as successor. Within three years, the party grew rapidly over an aggressive “sons of the soil” stand and violent attacks on north Indians. In 2009, the MNS won 13 Assembly seats and did well in the civic body polls of urban Maharashtra.

Fighting for relevance

The 2014 Lok Sabha polls saw a swing towards the BJP with the MNS suffering a serious setback. Since then, the MNS chief has been seeking an opportunity to make a comeback in State politics.

The alliance between the Shiv Sena and the BJP for the ongoing polls provided him an opportunity as the principal Opposition Congress-NCP was already weakened. Using the momentum gathered during general election, the party is eyeing the Assembly polls, scheduled to be held within four months.

Upping the ante, Mr. Thackeray has made the BJP uncomfortable and the Shiv Sena nervous — by taking on the former head-on while making it evident that the latter is not worth a mention.

‘If BJP returns to power, it will break the country’s unity’


‘If BJP returns to power, it will break the country’s unity’

Punjab CM says NDA is trying to hide behind air strikes to cover up its total failure on all counts in the past five years


With the Congress eyeing a clean sweep of all the 13 Lok Sabha seats in the State, Punjab Chief MinisterCaptain Amarinder Singh speaks about the party’s prospects and the BJP’s campaign. He says the party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi were trying to hide behind the facade of ‘nationalism’ after the IAF’s cross-border air strikes in an attempt to cover up their total failure on all counts over the past five years. Excerpts:

What are key issues on which the Congress will fight the Lok Sabha polls in Punjab?

Development is the main issue on which we will fight the polls in Punjab. We want to further underline the fact that the Congress is the only party that can steer the State’s development and progress. This is a fact which the people of Punjab have seen first hand, and are fully cognisant of based on their experience of the past two years of Congress rule. What we have delivered in two years is many times more than what the Akalis, along with BJP, did in 10 years. Actually, all they did was to push the State back across every sector and segment. Be it industry, employment generation, law and order, health, education, social welfare, farm loan waiver, the Congress has much to speak about. So for us, it is all about constructive electioneering, unlike other parties, including SAD (Shiromani Akali Dal) and AAP (Aam Aadmi Party), which are both resorting to negative campaigning in their desperation to retain some semblance of political relevance in Punjab.

The BJP is pitching Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the ‘strongest’ PM for the country. How do you react?

No, it’s completely wrong; in fact it is an attempt to sell a man by the BJP to India. The fact of the matter is India is a country which is made of several religions, castes and creeds and the strength of India lies in its diversity. Indians never look at themselves from the prism of one religion or the other.

If the BJP comes to power again they will break the whole system of our unity. And this, I am sure, would not be acceptable to the people of the country.

Do you think the BJP is cornering the Congress on the issue of nationalism using the air strikes in Balakot?

What is the nationalism in it? IAF air strikes were the duty of our armed forces. Every day, our soldiers are being killed at the border, and if the BJP wants to play up the issue of air strikes and try to use the armed forces’ sacrifices for political gains, it is one of the cheapest things.

As far as IAF strikes are concerned, I do not see how they can help the ruling NDA when cross-border killings and attacks on our soldiers continue. Frankly, I do not see what they are trying to take credit for — it was the armed forces who braved all challenges to conduct these strikes.

Any government of the day would have done the same in the wake of the Pulwama attack. The BJP-led NDA is trying to hide behind these strikes to cover up their total failure on all counts in the past five years.

Do you see a ‘mahagathbandhan’ (grand alliance) as a reality after the Lok Sabha polls?

We have been hearing about the mahagathbandhan for a long time and if mahagathbandhan does come up and we are going to be a part of it, it will be good for the country. As far as who will lead the grand alliance, the question will arise after the Lok Sabha elections are over. For the Congress, our party president Rahul Gandhi would be our leader. We are confident that Congress will form government at the Centre on its own and emerge as the largest party.

Yet, in case we fall short of numbers, then a mahagathbandhan post-poll alliance would be welcome as the BJP has to be kept out of power for maintaining secular and democratic values of the country.

Navjot Singh Sidhu, Minister in your Cabinet, has been banned by the Election Commission from campaigning for seeking votes in the name of religion. What do you have to say?

I don’t agree with Navjot Sidhu on this issue because I believe that India’s strength is our diversity. All our religions and customs etc., make India a strong country. It’s not a ‘Hindu-India’ or ‘Sikh-India’ or ‘Muslim-India’, and hence to seek votes in the name of religion is not right. This is what the BJP is doing and which we [Congress] are opposing. Sidhu is not a bad guy, he does not have bad thoughts in his mind.

His problem is that he is a trained stage artiste, when he came to politics he was very much on the stage… his system of functioning on stage was repartee, fast quick answers. So, I think, sometimes he speaks too fast.

Between the SAD-BJP combine and AAP, which according to you is a greater challenge for the Congress?

Neither. I do not see how either party can pose a challenge to the Congress, given the total mess in which they both are. The SAD-BJP coalition is still struggling to shrug off the legacy of devastation and ruin which it leftfor Punjab after their decade-long rule.

They do not have any positive agenda or plank to fight the polls on. Besides, there is too much dissidence within the party in its internal functioning, which Sukhbir Badal has completely failed to handle. Sukhbir Badal and Harsimrat Kaur Badal have decided to contest and I am looking forward to the husband-wife team. I am going to spend extra time to teach them a lesson.

They must understand that they can’t function the way they have been; they have been using the Akal Takth — the highest temporal seat of the Sikhs — for personal gains to serve political ends.

The same goes for AAP, which has split down the middle and has no credible identity in Punjab. Both the parties need to put their own house in order first, for which they do not have the time now.

Opposition parties have accused you of making a U-turn on ‘complete farm loan waiver’ promise made during 2017 Assembly poll campaign. Also, they accuse you of failing to fulfil other promises including elimination of the drugs menace, unemployment. What do you have to say?

How is it a U-turn when we have waived off loans for 5.81 lakh farmers among the 10.25 lakh small and marginalised farmers of the State already, and are well on track to cover the remaining? What is more, we have started providing debt relief of ₹520 crore to 2.85 lakh farm labourers since March 8.

And I have already made it clear, as the State’s financial situation improves, we shall waive off the remaining too. As for drugs, do you think the people of Punjab cannot see the difference? We have totally broken the backbone of the drugs mafia, as is evident from the number of arrests and seizures.

The focus now is on rehabilitation, which we shall continue to pursue till the affected youth are back in the mainstream of the society. And talking of unemployment, since we took over, we have facilitated more than 5 lakh youth in getting employment in private/government sector or self-employment, which translates into 720 youth a day! And we have done all this in just two years, and we still have another three years to go. So, you can well imagine the kind of transformation Punjab would have undergone by the time our term is over.

Frankly, the Opposition has no issues, and is only trying to mislead the people of the State with false and unsubstantiated allegations against my government.

* Editorial 1

An illustrative case

An illustrative case

The court needs to show that the principles of due process are just as applicable to one of its own

Unlike Parliament, the Supreme Court lacks the conventional legitimacy derived from securing membership to its judges through elections. The court’s command is derived from, and grounded in, a general acceptance of its status as an impartial referee of disputes and as an unbiased interpreter of the law. Predictably, its sense of esteem and its sense of moral authority, which together constitute its most important assets, are immanently fragile. Any degradation of the court’s acceptance amongst the public of its reputation as an equitable body will, therefore, impair its authority irredeemably. And that today, as the Chief Justice of India (CJI) faces allegations of sexual harassment, is the explicit threat that the court faces.

The story so far

The complainant, who joined work in the Supreme Court in May 2014 as a Junior Court Assistant, and who worked in the court of the present CJI, Ranjan Gogoi, from October 2016, alleges not only that she is a survivor of sexual harassment, but also that she was unfairly dismissed from service. What is more, on her dismissal, she claims that she and her family were foisted with a series of false criminal cases and were subjected to abuse at the hands of the police. She sent her complaint, in the form of a sworn affidavit, to 22 judges of the Supreme Court on Friday, and on the same day, four magazines, Scroll, The Wire, Caravan and The Leaflet, sent a questionnaire to the CJI. In response, the court’s Secretary General denied the allegations, terming them “scurrilous”, and claimed that it was “also very possible that there are mischievous forces behind all this, with an intention to malign the institution”.

On the next day, minutes after the story was published online, the CJI convened an extraordinary hearing by a Bench comprising himself and two other judges to hear what was termed “In Re: Matter Of Great Public Importance Touching Upon The Independence Of Judiciary”. These proceedings were initiated suo motu, i.e. on the court’s own motion, without awaiting a formal prompting from a party. In a hearing which disregarded every ordinary precept of due process, not only was no notice given to the complainant, calling upon her to appear, but her allegations were effectively dismissed outright as a product of a larger conspiracy. In a brief order that was issued at the end of the hearing (which, bizarrely, wasn’t signed by the CJI, despite his participation in the proceeding), the court said it was leaving it to the “wisdom of the media to show restraint”, to decide what should or should not be published, since “wild and scandalous allegations undermine and irreparably damage” the judiciary’s independence. It’s easy to see, though, that if anything, it was the court’s own conduct that was blighting its moral prerogative. Since then, the CJI withdrew himself from the case, but a new Bench that he assembled has now ordered a probe by a former Supreme Court judge, Justice A.K. Patnaik, to examine whether these allegations spring out of a plot to overthrow the judiciary.

Hark back to January 2018, when the four senior-most judges of the court, including the present CJI, called an unprecedented press conference to mark their disapproval of the then CJI, Dipak Misra’s arbitrary choices as master of the roster. Despite those public expressions of dissent, nothing, it appears, has really changed. The CJI continues to enjoy unquestioned authority over allocation of judicial work and over selection of Benches, even in cases where a conflict of interest is to be presumed.

Hewart’s dictum

That justice should not only be done but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done is an aphorism often attributed to Lord Chief Justice Hewart of the King’s Bench. But, as a former Australian judge, James Spigelman, has written, the maxim could scarcely have had “a less auspicious provenance”. For, as Lord Devlin wrote in 1985, “Hewart… has been called the worst Chief Justice since Scroggs and Jeffries in the seventeenth century. I do not think that this is quite fair. When one considers the enormous improvement in judicial standards between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries, I should say that, comparatively speaking, he was the worst Chief Justice ever.”

James Spigelman records a litany of misconduct, which the Court of Appeal had found Hewart to have committed in one single defamation trial, where he had delivered a ruling against the plaintiff without hearing the plaintiff’s counsel; where he had accused the plaintiff in front of the jury of fraudulently concealing documents and had refused to withdraw or apologise for the accusation even after it was pointed out that the document had been disclosed; and where he had received communications from the jury which were not disclosed to counsel.

Natural justice, therefore, has always stood on delicate ground. But as principles go, it is so axiomatic to the rule of law that courts around the world have repeatedly stressed on Hewart’s dictum, notwithstanding the author’s own indiscretions. That justice should be open has also been immortalised in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that “all persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals,” that everyone “shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law”. Not only is India a party to this treaty, but its Constitution also guarantees to every person equality before the law. But much as the Supreme Court has relied on these codes to invigorate its own sense of power, as it has repeatedly shown in recent times, it’s just as capable of renouncing its grand declarations when one of its own is under the cosh.

Back to basics

Now, prompted perhaps by resolutions passed by various bar associations, a committee — comprising Justices S.A. Bobde (the senior most judge on the rest of the court), N.V. Ramana (who was replaced by Justice Indu Malhotra after he recused himself) and Indira Banerjee — with the apparent support of the full court, was formed to conduct an administrative probe into the charges made against the CJI. The committee’s creation is, at the least, an acknowledgement of some kind that the complaint deserves an inquiry. But doubts persist over the committee’s legality, over whether it can at all scrutinise allegations made against the CJI, and over whether its composition lacks a moral base in that no external members have been included. Besides, it’s also difficult to countenance how the parallel proceeding, to be headed by Justice Pattnaik, can continue even before the administrative inquiry into the complaint has been completed.

These are no doubt extraordinary circumstances, but to advance the cause of justice, it’s important that basic procedural norms are respected. Given the absence of a proper, institutional mechanism, it’s likely that any mode adopted to judge the charges made will prove indiscriminate. But that’s precisely why the Supreme Court needs to step up, to collectively show us that it can establish an ethical precedent. The assertions made may or may not be veracious, and they may impugn only the CJI. But ultimately the court’s institutional integrity is at stake here. It’s therefore imperative that the court articulates and espouses a commitment to the rule of law. It needs to show that the principles of due process that it holds applicable to all of us are just as applicable to one of its own. That due process isn’t merely a poetic homily, to be discharged on convenience, but that is integral to the court’s foundations and to the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.

Suhrith Parthasarathy is an advocate practising at the Madras High Court

Heed Ambedkar’s message

Heed Ambedkar’s message

His warnings on authoritarianism are salient in the general elections

The general elections to the 17th Lok Sabha are very critical for our secular, democratic Republic, its future, and its constitutional ethos. In that sense, it is another tryst with our country’s destiny. The five years of the BJP-led NDA government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been of misrule and misgovernance. The Constitution so meticulously drafted by B.R. Ambedkar and other visionary leaders and the institutions and values protected by the Constitution are under sustained attack. For more than six decades, the judiciary, the Election Commission of India, the Planning Commission, the Reserve Bank of India, etc. were the institutional pillars of our Republic. These institutions are being, or have been, destabilised by right-wing communal forces who have captured the state apparatus. The values inscribed in the Constitution, such as secularism, socialism, fraternity and democracy, are under severe strain now. Ironically, on April 14, Dr. Ambedkar’s birth anniversary was observed as usual, as if nothing has happened to tamper his legacy. The reality is that our Republic is in existential crisis. The challenge before the people is how to retrieve it from this crisis.

The reluctance of the ruling BJP and its leaders to take up the real issues concerning the people during the election campaign is evident. Poverty and the lack of jobs and livelihood opportunities for people are not agitating the ruling leadership. During canvassing, the Prime Minister repeatedly invokes nationalism and national security, but does not address the basic social and economic issues, thereby in effect making them irrelevant for these elections. What Mr. Modi is doing in the name of nationalism brings to mind Dr. Ambedkar’s anguish that nationalism could become a basic plank for those who care nothing for the welfare of the people and use it to create fertile conditions for the upsurge of fascism and dictatorship.

Using nationalism

Indeed, the communal forces are now using nationalism to completely divert attention from the basic issues of people while ensuring ascendance of fascist and communal formations. Dr. Ambedkar made a sharp observation that the ruling class in India always raised the cry of nationalism being in danger whenever the exploited classes asked for justice, fair and equal treatment and affirmative action for their representation in the legislature, executive and public service. This is best reflected in what Mr. Modi is doing. He is behaving in the same manner to dismiss the basic problems of people in the name of nationalism and national security. By saying that Pakistan and terrorists would be happy to see him ousted by the Opposition, the Prime Minister is trying to divert the attention of people from their livelihood issues. It is unfortunate that no one less than the Prime Minister is building a fake narrative and indulging in a false campaign to sideline people’s problems. In a way, he and his party are trying to create a fear psychosis and intimidate the people to garner votes. How can nationalism be seen only in military terms and not in terms of empowerment of people and enhancement of their capabilities? By invoking Pakistan and terror attacks all the time in his election campaign, the Prime Minister is showing his desperation to build a false narrative.

Dr. Ambedkar stressed on public reasoning to mobilise people and make them aware of their problems. His mantra ‘Educate, Agitate and Agitate’ sought the deepening of public reasoning by employing constitutional methods. Instead of deepening public reasoning, the Prime Minister is subverting the culture of dialogue and debate by calling those who critically engage with him and question his policies as ‘urban Naxals’ and ‘anti-nationals’. The BJP leaders’ false narratives based on lies and half-truths show their utter lack of ability to apply reason and logic to take forward public issues and causes.

In their book How Democracies Die, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt identified four key indicators of authoritarian behaviour which cause the death of democracies. While one such indicator is advocacy of intolerance and encouragement of violence by leaders, others are delegitimising opponents as unpatriotic and resorting to demagogy and authoritarianism. The Prime Minister repeatedly says that Opposition leaders are acting against the nation and national security by asking questions. In doing so, he is displaying the typical characteristics of an authoritarian leader out to deliver a fatal blow to democracy.

This election must be fought on real and basic issues, centred around poverty eradication, access to quality and affordable education, healthcare, housing, livelihood and human security. It must be fought on the welfare of children, empowerment of women, Dalits, tribals, minorities, and all sections of workers, farmers and rural labourers, and on sustainable development. All such issues remain at the core of nationalism and national security in the true meaning of these words. In raising such issues, we become authentic nationalists and any attempt to sidetrack them would mean derailment of national security.

A historic election

This election is, therefore, a historic election for the Republic. People have the historic task to vote decisively for India to remain a secular, democratic Republic. The alternative should be a pro-people and secular, democratic government with a strong commitment to the Constitution and constitutional morality, for building and regenerating India based on liberty, equality and fraternity, ensuring justice (social, economic and political) to all citizens.

D. Raja is national secretary of the Communist Party of India, and a member of Parliament

The IS shadow

The IS shadow

The Sri Lanka bombings confirm the terror group’s potent reach in South Asia

The Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka that killed over 250 people have raised concerns about the Islamic State’s expansion into the South Asian region. The group, which controlled huge swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria, is now practically on the run. The ‘Caliphate’ that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi established across the Iraq-Syria border has been destroyed. But the Sri Lanka bombings, which happened a month after the U.S. and Kurdish rebels in Syria declared victory over the IS after liberating the last slice of territory it was holding, confirm that the destruction of the physical Caliphate doesn’t end the threat the group poses. From early 2015, when it started losing territories, the IS started shifting its strategy from expanding territorially to expanding insurgency and terror. And South Asia has been one of its key targets. In Nangarhar in eastern Afghanistan, the IS set up a wilayat (province) from where it controlled its South Asia operations, mainly recruitment of young men from the region. Over the last few years, the IS has carried out dozens of attacks in Afghanistan, mostly targeting the Shia-Hazara minority. In Pakistan, the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a splinter group of the Pakistan Taliban with IS links, carried out several terror attacks, including the 2016 Easter Sunday bombing in Lahore targeting Christians. In Bangladesh, the IS claimed the July 2016 Holey Artisan Bakery attack. In India, it hasn’t carried out any attack but has found dozens of recruits.

Early reports suggest that two of the suspects involved in the Sri Lanka attacks had travelled to Iraq and Syria. This is a set pattern in IS-directed attacks and poses a major security challenge to several countries. The IS had recruited thousands of youth from South Asian nations such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka. Some of them joined the wilayat in Nangarhar and others travelled to Iraq and Syria. Now that the Caliphate has been destroyed, thousands of trained militants are left without a place to hide. Many have retreated to pockets on the Iraq-Syria border or to the deserts in Syria, Iraq and Jordan. Several others returned to their own home countries, as in the case in Sri Lanka. The second challenge is that the IS still controls some territory in Afghanistan. The U.S. had declared two years ago that defeating the IS in Afghanistan was one of its main policy goals, but it hasn’t made much progress on the ground. An equally formidable challenge is to counter the ideological narrative of the IS. The old wisdom that lack of education and poverty breed terrorism doesn’t hold good in the case of the IS. Among the Sri Lankan bombers were some from one of the country’s wealthiest families. Most of those who travelled to Afghanistan’s IS territories from Kerala were from upper middle class families. It is the ideology of puritanical Salafi-jihadism that continues to attract the young, disaffected people. Any counter-terror strategy should have a counter-narrative to the IS worldview, besides the security measures, for it to be effective.

Uncertain times

Uncertain times

India needs to diversify its oil supplier base and increase domestic sources of energy

The oil market is in ferment once again with a great deal of uncertainty over supplies. On Monday the United States announced that it would not extend beyond May 1 the 180-day waiver it had granted to eight countries, including India, to purchase oil from Iran. This caused the price of Brent crude oil to witness a sudden jump to more than $75, from last week’s close of $71.97, as traders expected the withdrawal of the waivers to adversely affect the supply of oil in the market. The price of Brent crude, it is worth noting, has been rising steadily in the last few months, and has increased by almost 50% since it hit a low of about $50 in December, as a result of the decision of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to restrict their output to boost prices. India imports more than 10% of its crude oil from Iran, so the government faces the immediate challenge of having to find alternative suppliers to meet its huge energy needs. Even more worrying is the likely negative impact higher oil prices will have on India’s current account deficit, fiscal deficit and inflation in the wider economy. The current account deficit, which narrowed to 2.5% of GDP in the December quarter thanks to lower oil prices, will likely worsen going forward. The fiscal deficit, which has been widening in advance of the elections, is also likely to get increasingly out of control. While inflation is relatively benign at the moment, any further acceleration in price gains will tie the hands of the Reserve Bank of India.

It may, however, be hard to say for sure that the jump in the price of oil this week, and over the last few months, marks a secular rise in the price of the commodity. The entry of U.S. shale producers into the oil market has put a lid on the price of oil as freely competing shale suppliers have been happy to increase their output whenever oil prices rise significantly. Even this week, the oil market has been torn between the news of the end to the waivers granted to oil imports from Iran and competing news of the increased supply of oil pouring into the market from the U.S. Higher oil prices also make it lucrative each time for members of OPEC to cheat on their commitments to restrict supply. If India is to protect its interests in the ever-volatile global oil market, the government will need to take steps to diversify its supplier base and also work towards increasing domestic sources of energy supplies. Opening up the renewable energy sector for more investments will also help avoid over-dependence on oil from the global market to meet the country’s ever-increasing energy needs.

* Editorial 2

Has the Supreme Court been discredited?

Has the Supreme Court been discredited?

A discussion on the manner in which allegations against the CJI have been dealt with in the past week

On April 20, when a complaint of sexual harassment against the Chief Justice of India (CJI), Ranjan Gogoi, became public, he responded by constituting a special Bench comprising himself and two other judges. This invited sharp responses from many in the legal fraternity. Three days later, the Supreme Court instituted a panel headed by Justice S.A. Bobde to examine the charges against the CJI. In a discussion moderated by Anuradha Raman, Karuna Nundy and Mihira Sood examine the implications of the decisions taken by the apex court. Edited excerpts:

What do you think of the Supreme Court’s move to set up a three-judge panel, including Justice Indira Banerjee, to examine the sexual harassment complaint against the CJI?

Mihira Sood: I have some reservations. For one, it is not in keeping with what the composition of a sexual harassment committee should be. The committee should be headed by a woman. The present committee is slightly flawed in its composition. The complainant had requested a special committee of retired judges, and the reason for that is simply that they would not be beholden to the CJI in any way.

While one hopes that the committee will display some independence, it is difficult, because these are judges who are still under the administrative control of the CJI. It would be better if this committee were to go about setting up an external committee comprising a majority of women, chaired by a woman, retired Supreme Court judges as well as others who are committed to the cause of gender equality. The committee should inspire confidence that it is going to be independent and not beholden to the CJI in any manner. What happened last Saturday was highly irregular. That Bench had no jurisdiction under the Supreme Court rules or under the Constitution to have conducted the hearing.

Karuna Nundy: I think there are two problems with the setting up of the panel. One is that that the committee is under the administrative control of, and junior to, the CJI. Ideally, you should have someone senior to the CJI (retired judges, for instance) or an unimpeachable decision-maker who has no connection to the person whose actions are being examined. Then there is also another Bench examining the affidavit filed by a lawyer who claims that he was asked to frame the CJI. Essentially, the two Benches will be looking into the same issue. It is not that any of the judges are not trusted. That’s not the point. The point is that the robustness of the mechanism has to be above any allegation of bias.

Last Saturday, the Supreme Court registry said in a notice that the Bench was being set up to deal with a ‘matter of great public importance touching upon the independence of judiciary’. What do you make of that remark?

MS: In terming it as such, the CJI is equating himself, an individual, with the institution, the judiciary, which is extremely worrying. What he should have done was acknowledge that these allegations had been made and submitted himself to an inquiry.

KN: Last year, Justice Gogoi and three other judges stood for the same principles that constitutionalists are asking them to stand up for now — that you cannot be a judge in your cause; that however high you may be you are not above the law; and that there must be predictability in the allocation of Benches. These principles must be followed, and have not been followed so far. Justice Gogoi has been a great judge in so many ways and I think there is an opportunity to admit that a mistake has been made. This is also a time for our judges to dissent.

What do you mean by dissent? Are you saying that the judges should have protested against the CJI’s decision?

KN: I am saying that this is exactly the principle that brought the four judges out to protest — the arbitrary allocation of Benches by former CJI Dipak Misra. The judges were saying you cannot choose your own Benches. This is now about the integrity of the institution. This is also about the reputation for fairness of the senior-most decision-maker of the court.

MS: I think he has done far more damage to his own reputation and to the integrity of the institution by his conduct on Saturday. I don’t think the allegations bring that much disrepute to the institution as to him.

KN: If the judges had demonstrated that even if they were scurrilous allegations, the process has been fair, that nobody can say that every side has not been heard properly, it would have been okay. There appears to be verifiable evidence that definitely needs an answer.

MS: The allegations certainly bring the judiciary into disrepute. But the act of making the allegations cannot undermine the judiciary.

Should the CJI have stepped down instead of presiding over his own matter?

MS: The affidavit was sent to various judges of the Supreme Court. The in-charge of the court’s internal committee should have taken it up and taken on the task of setting up a committee. In her affidavit, the complainant had requested that a special committee of retired judges should look into it.

Is there a formal procedure to deal with allegations of sexual harassment involving the CJI?

MS: There isn’t. The permission of the CJI is required to proceed with any complaint. Barring the CJI, all other judges and employees of the Supreme Court as well as lawyers functioning in the court and any court under the Supreme Court are theoretically subject to proceedings under the Gender Sensitisation Internal Complaints Committee. The CJI’s permission is required before anyone can proceed with any complaint. The CJI has to sign off his belief in the authenticity of the complaint. So, while it does cover other employees, it does not cover the CJI.

KN: In the case of criminality or corruption or sexual harassment charges against the judges, the processes are deeply and woefully inadequate. The complaints go to the senior-most judges and some sort of closed door decision is made. The second thing that happens is there is talk of impeachment when the charges are serious. But nobody has been impeached so far.

What the present problem brings us is the absence of predictable structures when serious allegations are made against judges. We have to begin with the premise that judges are human and fallible. There are three layers to deal with sexual harassment at other workplaces: workshops to transform the sexist entitlement and sexual attitudes of people; frame policies; and set up the Internal Complaints Committee. The Supreme Court does not have that structure. The day-to-day dealing with such issues is absent.

At the end of the hearing, an order was passed that seemed like a gag order on the media.

MS: It was intended to be a gag order. I would say that you have already decided that the allegations were wild and scurrilous and were clever in saying that that you leave it to the wisdom of the media to exercise their wisdom, knowing well that large sections of the media would be too terrified to say anything. This is what is called a chilling effect. Also, in the order, the CJI did not record that he was present. On what basis did they say it was wild and scurrilous without a hearing? It boggles the mind that these are the same people who decide on matters of justice and they see no injustice in pre-deciding the matter.

KN: The order on the media is against the spirit of the Mirajkar judgment, which says there must be a law even if you are seeking to gag the media. You cannot by a court order suo motu directly or indirectly gag the media. This isn’t a direct gag but it has a chilling effect.

What was the purpose of the special hearing last Saturday?

MS: There are three women judges in the Supreme Court and their absence on the Bench says a lot. The two other judges who were hand-picked were not the senior-most. I find it difficult to believe that the judges were unaware of this. One can conclude that the purpose was to give the CJI a platform to proclaim his innocence.

KN: That is what is so striking about this hearing — it was to quash the temerity of anyone who makes such a public allegation and, of course, that comes from a place of entitlement. We really miss the presence of more women on our Benches. That’s why the complainant has requested for a special inquiry committee external to the Supreme Court. What this also brings out is that our Benches have to be more diverse. It is also important to separate the patriarchy from the gender of the individual. It is also true that men can be more feminist than women. We also have women judges on the Bench who have been very conservative and have a different idea of justice. Feminism founded on the principles of justice needs to find an outlet in the composition of the Benches of the Supreme Court.

The role of the Attorney General (AG) and Solicitor General (SG) have also come under scrutiny for their unwavering support to the CJI in the matter. What do you have to say about this?

MS: The manner in which they conducted themselves in this proceeding has been shameful. The Bar Council chair and Supreme Court Bar Association president, who condemned the allegations and termed them scurrilous, have no authority to speak for the rest of us.

KN: Their conduct in this manner was not right at all.

Is sexual harassment in the highest judiciary one of the worst-kept secrets?

MS: I think it is a problem wherever there is a high concentration of power in the hands of very few people. In the legal profession, sexual harassment is rampant. It is extremely difficult for women to come forward. Most prefer to put such incidents behind them or leave the profession rather than seek justice for fear of repercussions. The proceedings on Saturday as well as the allegations detailed in the affidavit, if they are true, justify that fear.

KN: The question is, should such a thing happen, is there impunity? The answer is, yes. It is that impunity that needs to be addressed. But we are going through a churn. We have women who are much more aware, and men who are in positions of power and have a sense of entitlement. We have to strengthen the system to check impunity and ensure that due process is followed.

Breaking new ground

Breaking new ground

The Madras High Court’s recent judgment is truly path-breaking for the LGBTQ community

Manuraj Shunmugasundaram

A judgment of the Madras High Court, Madurai Bench, has extended enjoyment of civil rights, especially those pertaining to marriage, to transpersons. While this is path-breaking for much of the country, the judgment also opens doors to the larger LGBTQ community for availing civil rights including marriage, succession and inheritance.

In the judgment delivered in Arunkumar and Sreeja v. Inspector General of Registration and Others (2019), the Madras High Court has held that a properly solemnised marriage between a male and transwoman is valid under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, and the Registrar of Marriages is bound to register the same. The judgment quotes NALSA v. Union of India (2014), which held that transgender persons have the right to decide their “self-identified gender”.

The Madurai Bench judgment, however, breaks new ground when it comes to the interpretation of the statutory terms found in the Hindu Marriage Act, especially that of bride. It states that the expression “bride” occurring in Section 5 of the Hindu Marriage Act cannot have a static or immutable meaning. As noted in Justice G.P. Singh’s Principles of Statutory Interpretation, the court is free to apply the current meaning of a statute to present-day conditions.

The nine-judge Bench in Justice (Retd.) K.S. Puttaswamy made a telling reference to the landmark judgment, Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), wherein the U.S. Supreme Court held that the “fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

The Madurai Bench judgment has revised the legal construction of gender and the conventional interpretation of terms such as “bride” and “bridegroom”. Now, when this is read along with the Supreme Court’s explicit reference to the American court’s guarantee of right to marry to homosexual couples shows that there cannot be a legal bar any more to extending civil rights such as marriage, succession or inheritance to LGBTQ couples who have decided to get married consensually, have married in accordance with the existing laws and are not in violation of any other laws.

At the preliminary hearings before the Supreme Court in Navtej Singh Johar, the Solicitor General, representing the Government of India, sought the curtailing of the scope of the case to that of the decriminalisation aspect or the constitutional validity of Section 377 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 alone. The Supreme Court, consequently, did not have an opportunity to examine the bundle of rights that were to naturally arise from the striking down of Section 377. Therefore, in this context, the present judgment is truly path-breaking for the LGBTQ community, which is denied equal protection of laws with regard to civil rights.

The writer is an advocate and a DMK spokesperson

Democracy, Bihar style

Democracy, Bihar style

Witnessing booth capturing in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections

Sudha Vemuri

The year was 1989. The Bofors scandal had gripped the nation. V.P. Singh was a household name. And in the Congress citadel of Bihar, Lalu Prasad was making waves.

When the general election was announced, we rookies in the newsroom were eager to go out and capture the drama in Bihar. To add to our excitement, a BBC crew came to make a documentary on how Indian elections are covered. The sight of a ‘foreign’ team created quite a buzz, with curious onlookers following them as the crew followed my colleagues across the State.

Those of us on the desk, who seldom got a chance to go on the field, were not left untouched by what was happening around us, both inside and outside the office. I too wanted to get a first-hand experience of reporting from the field. At the best of times Bihar was not, and is still not, considered safe for women to be out and about alone. Would the boss say yes?

On election day, after some persuasion, I was allowed to accompany a reporting team to Vaishali, a semi-rural constituency not far from Patna. Be cautious, the boss warned. And we were off. Since 1952, the constituency had been represented in Parliament by Digvijay Narain Singh of the Congress. He quit in the aftermath of Emergency and won in 1977 on a Bharatiya Lok Dal ticket. Kishori Sinha of the Janata Party broke his uninterrupted run in 1980 to become the first woman MP from Vaishali. She won again in 1984, this time as a Congress candidate. She now faced Usha Sinha of the Janata Dal.

Driving towards Vaishali, we saw a very mela-like atmosphere, with people heading to the polling stations in groups. However, several centres were deserted. Reports of violence and booth capturing from a neighbouring constituency trickled in.

As we headed to the interiors, we spotted a booth just off the highway. On an instinct, we stopped the vehicle and got down. Perhaps it was the sight of a woman alighting from a jeep, or the fact that I was wearing a khadi sari, a couple of polling agents rushed out to greet me. “Madamji yahan sab manage ho gaya hai aapke paksh mein (Madam, here everything has been managed in your favour),” they said. We went in and I was stunned to see a group of men with a bunch of ballot papers, stamping away furiously and stuffing them in the ballot box. The polling officer was sitting in a corner, helpless.

I had just witnessed a classic instance of booth capturing.

Before we could ask any questions, someone had spotted the sticker on our vehicle and shouted “Yeh log press se hai (These people are from the press)!” As the men became aggressive and a crowd started gathering, we managed to escape. To this day, election time revives memories of that eventful day.

Bihar kept up its reputation of violence, with blasts, shootings and deaths reported from across the State. It would be another year before T.N. Seshan became Chief Election Commissioner and changed the way elections are conducted. It would be several years before electronic voting machines were introduced. It would be several more years before people managed to go out and vote without fear.

And regarding the result, Usha Sinha won. The elections threw up a hung Parliament and V.P. Singh became Prime Minister.

* Foreign

Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary resigns

Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary resigns

Takes responsibility for intelligence lapse on Easter bombings; police arrest 19 more suspects

, Meera Srinivasan

Shocked and stunned: Mourners at the funeral of a victim of the attack on St. Sebastian’s Church.Getty ImagesCarl Court


Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando resigned on Thursday, taking responsibility for what the government earlier termed “a major lapse” in intelligence on the Easter attacks.

Mr. Fernando is the first official to step down after both President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said they were unaware of the imminent threat, though the security establishment had received prior intelligence. While Mr. Sirisena on Tuesday promised to overhaul the security structure, making key changes in 24 hours, the new Secretary is yet to be named.

Days after the deadly serial bombings gripped the island in shock and grief, police on Thursday conducted sudden checks in the city, including at prominent offices such as the Central Bank. Employees were asked not to leave the premises for about an hour in the morning and security forces conducted search operations based on a warning of a potential explosion, sources said. However, barring a blast at at a vacant plot near the magistrate’s court in Pugoda town, 40 km from Colombo, there were no incidents.

It is unclear how much headway investigators have made in the probe, but late on Wednesday, security forces, using Emergency powers, nabbed 16 persons with possible links to the blasts. Over 60 suspects are already being interrogated.

Authorities earlier named the National Thowheed Jamaath, a radical Islamist group, as the perpetrators. Investigators have traced its 139 members and are probing their possible links with the Islamic State that has claimed responsibility.

Meanwhile, mosques around the island have cancelled Friday prayers amidst persisting tension and fear within the community. Sri Lanka’s Catholic churches have also decided to remain closed for “security reasons”. The Army, Navy and Air Force have deployed additional troops on the streets. Following the attacks, Sri Lanka has suspended plans to grant visas on arrival to citizens of 39 countries. “Although arrangements were in place to issue visas on arrival for citizens of 39 countries, we have now decided to hold it for the time being considering the security situation,” Tourism Minister John Amaratunga said.

Toll lowered

Two top government officials told Reuters that the death toll in the Easter Day attacks is around 100 fewer than the 359 originally thought.

“It could be 250 or 260. I can’t exactly say. There are so many body parts and it is difficult to give a precise figure,” Anil Jasinghe, the Director General of Sri Lanka’s health services, said.

Ruwan Wijewardene, the Deputy Defence Minister, said the death toll had been revised down to 253 due to inaccurate figures provided by the morgues.

Scared Muslim refugees in Negombo flee homes

Scared Muslim refugees in Negombo flee homes

They came fleeing persecution in their countries and are now being treated as adversaries

Meera Srinivasan

An Ahmadi Muslim refugee child at a community centre in Pasyala, Sri Lanka.APGemunu Amarasinghe


Days after a deadly bomb attack shook Negombo, killing over a hundred people praying at the St. Sebastian’s Church, a new, unexpected conflict has heightened tensions in the coastal town. Hundreds of refugees who live in Negombo, some 40 km north of Colombo, have been forced to leave their homes and seek shelter in nearby mosques and police stations, following a sudden hostility from a section of locals.

A mixed ethnic town, Negombo is home to a sizeable number of Catholics and fewer Muslims, and hundreds of refugees who fled persecution in their countries. Over 1,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, hailing from countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, live in the town, with government and UNHCR support. They have enjoyed cordial ties with the local community.

Blow to coexistence

However, the Easter attacks delivered a huge blow to their coexistence with the locals. Struggling to cope with the bombings, some locals now see the refugees as ‘Muslims’ and therefore, adversaries. Many of the refugees are from the Ahmadiyya Muslim, Christian, Shia and other religious minorities in their own countries, according to activists working in the area.

“House owners have asked their refugee tenants to leave immediately. Hundreds of them have no where to go, they have sought shelter at mosques and a police station, with very minimal facilities. They have been made refugees all over again,” said Human Rights activist Ruki Fernando. Incidents of refugees’ property being damaged by locals and physical assaults have also been reported, activists said. Responding to this, some of the residents have come together to form ‘Unity of Negombo Citizens’. “It is very difficult to understand what has happened… We all have a big responsibility to ensure that our relationship with out neighbours is not affected,” said Sister Renuka, who is part of the initiative. “There are extremists in all religions and it’s important not to generalise. What we need now is solidarity among all of us,” she said at a press conference.

Khalid Mahmud of the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama said the organisation “vehemently condemns” the bombings as an “inhuman, heinous and shameful” act. “At such a time, we must stand with our Christian brothers and sisters,” he said.

Ex-Vice President Joe Biden announces White House bid

Ex-Vice President Joe Biden announces White House bid

Joins a field of 19 Democratic presidential hopefuls

U.S. ex-Vice President Joe Biden.AFPHO

Former U.S. Vice-President Joseph R. Biden Jr. announced on Thursday that he will run for the office of President next year.

Mr. Biden’s move, announced via a video, has been anticipated for months. The six-term former Senator from Delaware joins a galaxy of 19 Democratic presidential hopefuls, including women and progressives, as well as Hispanic, Asian, African-American, gay and millennial candidates.

Mr. Biden has made two previous bids for the White House (in 1998 and 2008). After losing his 2008 bid, he went on to serve — for two terms — as Vice-President in the Barack Obama administration. The “Obama-Biden Democrat”, as Mr. Biden has described himself, has consistently emerged as the frontrunner in opinion polls on Democratic candidates, followed by Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist from Vermont.

As Vice-President, Mr. Biden helped push for same-sex marriage, ending sexual assault and violence against women and for more stringent gun laws.

Core values

“The core values of this nation… our standing in the world… our very democracy… everything that has made America, America… is at stake. That’s why today I’m announcing my candidacy for President of the United States,” Mr. Biden said on Thursday.

“If we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation. And I cannot stand by and watch that happen,” he added.

Mr. Biden toyed with the idea of a bid in 2016, but did not ultimately join the race, as his 46-year-old son Beau’s death from brain cancer took a toll on him and his family. He has since said that he believes he could have won against Mr. Trump.

Mr. Biden’s video announcement included a clip of white supremacists marching through Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 and a counter-march and clash (which resulted in one casualty).

Mr. Biden said that he “knew the threat to our nation was unlike any” he’d ever seen in his lifetime when President Donald Trump had said that there were “very fine people on both sides” in the Charlottesville context.

In a crowded field of Democratic candidates, Mr. Biden, an establishment candidate from the centre, is expected to focus his campaign theme around projecting himself the party’s best bet against Mr. Trump, rather than slotting himself into the Democratic political and policy spectrum, which has increasingly moved left.

Mr. Biden is, however, also a white male — one among several factors that could put him at an advantage, especially with blue-collared white voters, but may also potentially challenge his path to the White House.

Last November’s midterm elections saw a record number of women elected to Congress, including young, progressive candidates and those from religious minorities.

Under the scanner

In March, Mr. Biden’s manner of physical interaction with women came under the scanner as several former colleagues and associates complained that he made them uncomfortable.

Mr. Biden acknowledged he had made people uncomfortable but stopped short of an apology. Mr. Biden has also been criticised for pushing for a tougher criminal justice system in the 1990s, which resulted in African Americans being disproportionately penalised and has become a campaign issue for Democrats. He has also faced criticism for his handling of sexual harassment allegations made against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas during the latter’s confirmation hearings in the 1990s.

Mr. Biden, the son of a steel worker from Pennsylvania, is expected to hold his first major fundraising event in the State on Monday.

Kiev passes law strengthening Ukrainian language use

Kiev passes law strengthening Ukrainian language use

The move is likely to rile Russian-speaking areas of the country

Agence France-Presse

A rally outside Ukraine’s Parliament seeking passage of the language law.REUTERSGLEB GARANICH


Ukraine’s Parliament on Thursday passed a law enforcing the use of the Ukrainian language in official settings, a move likely to rile Russian-speaking areas of the country and Moscow.

Lawmakers approved the measure, which also increases the quota for Ukrainian-language television and radio programming, just days after Russian-speaking Volodymyr Zelensky was elected President.

Officials at all levels as well as doctors, teachers, lawyers and others, will have to speak Ukrainian or face fines. The law will not apply to private communications or religious rites, media reported.

The law will not be enforced for three years as centres are set up around the country to support the learning of Ukrainian language and culture, MP Nikolai Knyazhitsky told the Interfax-Ukraine news agency.

Outgoing President Petro Poroshenko on Twitter called the vote a “historic event”, comparing it to the regeneration of the Army and the creation of a unified Ukrainian Orthodox church.

Criminalising ‘neglect’

President-elect Zelensky, a comedian who has played the role of President in a Russian-language drama but until now has had no political experience, often speaks in Russian. The law makes “public humiliation or neglect” of the Ukrainian language a criminal offence.

The document said that “attempts to introduce official multilingualism in Ukraine” is unconstitutional.

The Bill was approved a day after Russia made it easier for people living in eastern Ukraine’s separatist territories to obtain Russian passports, drawing swift condemnation from Kiev.