* Editorial 2

India cannot claim the moral high ground any more that it has kept the State’s integrity intact

The call for Ladakh to be made a Union Territory gained momentum in the 1990s, particularly in Leh. Picture shows Ladakhis demonstrating to call for an autonomous hill council.The Hindu archivesPTI

Without going into the moral and legal arguments for or against the scrapping of the special status to Jammu and Kashmir and the decision to reorganise the State into two Union Territories (UTs), a dispassionate analysis of the possible immediate implications of these constitutional changes is needed. Some assertions in support of the changes may partially be true while others may run contrary to the facts.

The implicit claim that this would lead to greater counterterrorism preparedness is questionable. The strength of any counterinsurgency grid is largely based on human intelligence coming from the ground. Here, it will be unrealistic to expect that merely changing the administrative and political set-up of the State will lead to more intelligence to the security apparatus; in fact, there is a high possibility of the contrary happening in the short-term on account of the decision’s unpopularity in the Kashmir Valley. India needs to be mindful of the fact that historically, any spike in disaffection in Jammu and Kashmir has facilitated a misadventure by Pakistan. For instance, the maximum dilution of Article 370 took place in the 1960s, including changes concerning the nomenclature of the ‘head of the State’. And this was followed by the infamous ‘Operation Gibraltar’ by Pakistani President Ayub Khan in August 1965.

A self-defeating strategy

The present cycle of violence can be traced back to the rigging of the 1987 Assembly elections and, in this connection, Home Minister Amit Shah is right in citing rigging of successive elections as the primary cause of the mistrust of Kashmiris towards India. But in bringing the State directly under the Centre as a Union Territory, the government may have overlooked the hard lessons learned by India’s intelligence in its nearly 30 years of counterinsurgency operations — relying purely on militaristic tools can be self-defeating.

Further, bifurcating the State and creating a Union Territory of Ladakh mirrors what Pakistan did with Gilgit and Baltistan regions by de facto creating a separate province in 2009. New Delhi has often objected to the Chinese infrastructural projects in the region and also opposed Islamabad’s decision to separate it from the rest of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Now, after stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its special status, India cannot claim the moral high ground any more by pointing out unlike Pakistan, it kept the integrity of the State intact.

Ladakh as Union Territory

Though the demand for Union Territory status picked up momentum in Ladakh in the 1990s, its spread was limited to the Leh district of Ladakh. The Shia population of Kargil has consistently opposed such a call as it fears Buddhist domination in the new set-up. Hence, the Centre needs to assure leaders from Kargil that their interests would be safeguarded in the new Union Territory. India would not want to create another zone of disaffection in a strategically important border region of the State where it has already faced Pakistani aggression once.

The Centre also needs to take steps to prevent further polarisation within the State. The ruling political elite, particularly from the Kashmir Valley, has remained indifferent to regional and ethnic aspirations, which are inherently political. Factoring in the complex societal landscape of the State and its divergent aspirations, saner proposals have been made before for five-tier devolution of powers — from State-level to regional-level to district-level to block-level to village-level. However, in the absence of any institutional mechanism to address regional and ethnic aspirations, polarisation has continued to increase among different regions, often taking a communal turn. Monday’s decision might polarise the State even further along regional and religious lines.

Mr. Shah made a valid point when he said that political reservation, as enshrined in the Indian Constitution, has been denied to Scheduled Tribes in Jammu and Kashmir even though all political parties have suitably accommodated them in other ways. In the past, there had been several Bills in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly for political reservation but they were never passed. Around 11.91% of the State’s population is made of Scheduled Tribes, the bulk of them from Gujjar and Bakarwal tribes. Extending political reservation to them will make the State’s political structure more inclusive.

However, Mr. Shah’s claim of widespread poverty in the State, cited as one of the justifications for Monday’s decision, is not backed by facts. Only 10.35% of the State’s population lives below the poverty line, compared to the national average of 21.92%. It needs to be noted that though restrictions on land sale existed, successive State governments had been, on an ad hoc basis, liberally giving land to non-state investors on 99-year leases.

Removal of impediments

Monday’s decision on paper has removed all impediments on sale of land but, in the short term, could lead to an increase in private investment only in Jammu. A prolonged period of peace is needed in other parts of the State to attract investment. Monday’s move has also removed another impediment — children born to women marrying citizens from outside Jammu and Kashmir can now inherit property.

Further, descendants of Partition refugees who migrated from Sialkot, many of whom belong to Scheduled Castes, will now be able to get employment, buy and own land and vote in the new Union Territory.

What also needs to be considered is that bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir may trigger demands for further division of the State which, unless they are categorically rejected, could trigger a long period of instability and turbulence. Separation of ethnically and culturally distinct Ladakh from the rest of Jammu and Kashmir is somewhat less challenging, because of its relatively smaller population. And what about the right to return of Kashmiri Pandits? Monday’s decision is unlikely to alter their present status as the security environment in the Valley is currently not conducive for them to go back.

On the whole, the country needs to be better informed of the implications of the changes on the ground. The road to resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir tangle lies in bringing the policymaking closer to facts, learning from the past and avoiding unrealistic expectations.

Luv Puri is the author of ‘Across the Line of Control: Inside Pakistan administered Jammu and Kashmir’

Many of them are understaffed and under-resourced

Fast-track courts are in the limelight yet again. Smriti Irani, Minister for Women and Child Development, informed the Rajya Sabha that the government has proposed to set up 1,023 fast-track courts to clear the cases under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. A few weeks ago, the Supreme Court in a suo motu petition had issued directions, stating that districts with more than 100 cases pending under the POCSO Act need to set up special courts that can deal specifically with these cases.

Increasing the number of courts as a recourse to deal with the mounting backlog has been a common practice. However, while large sums of money and attention are being devoted to creating additional posts, little is being done to identify and address the prevalent systemic issues. Without fully optimising the current mechanisms and resolving the problems, sanctioning more judges may not provide the intended results.

Fast-track courts (FTCs) have been around for a long time, with the first ones being established in the year 2000. Since then, much has been spoken and written about them. To quote the Ministry of Law and Justice, at the end of March, there were 581 FTCs operational in the country, with approximately 5.9 lakh pending cases, Uttar Pradesh having the most number of cases. However, 56% of the States and Union Territories, including Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, had no FTCs. In terms of money, ₹870 crore was released by the Centre between 2000-2001 and 2010-2011 towards these FTCs.

State-by-State variations

With all these years of experience and money spent, it is discomforting to see not only the decline of FTCs across the country but also systemic issues prevalent in the States that have the courts. In a survey of FTCs conducted by National Law University Delhi, it was observed that there is a huge variation in the kinds of cases handled by these courts across States, with certain States primarily allocating rape and sexual offence cases to them and other States allocating various other matters. Further, several FTCs lacked technological resources to conduct audio and video recordings of the victims and many of them did not have regular staff.

While the Centre is promising to set up FTCs across the country, the moot question is: will a mere increase in the number of judges lead to a direct reduction in pendency of cases? Data collated from the Supreme Court’s ‘Court News’ between 2010 and 2017 show otherwise. For instance, in Karnataka, the number of working judges increased between 2012 and 2017 (with occasional dips in certain years) but pendency did not reduce. Similarly in other States, such as Maharashtra, Kerala, Delhi and West Bengal, increase or decrease in the number of judges did not affect pendency of cases.

Addressing the systemic issues

Hence, there are several other factors that have an impact on disposal of cases. Inadequate staff and IT infrastructure, delay in getting reports from the understaffed forensic science laboratories, frivolous adjournments and over-listing of cases in the cause list are some of the variables. Identifying systemic issues and addressing the concerns is as important for timely disposal of cases as increasing the number of judges.

Furthermore, given the vacancies in subordinate courts across the country, it also needs to be seen whether States will hire additional judges or appoint FTCs from the current pool of judges. For instance, in the case of commercial courts, several States designate special judges from the current pool of judges. Such a move could prove to be problematic as it would increase substantially the workload of the remaining judges.

All said and done, the final responsibility of making sure that the entire exercise results in a positive change vests with the States. For the FTCs to become successful, States will need to take stock of the issues at the ground level.

It is often noted that policies and regulations are passed without keeping in view the ground realities. It is important that States engage with the principal and senior district judges to get a sense of issues the courts are facing in various districts. Equal attention must be paid to both the metropolitan and far-flung non-metropolitan areas. Critical issues such as inadequate court staff, improper physical and IT infrastructure and understaffed forensic labs, which affect the day-to-day functioning of the FTCs, must be comprehensively addressed. For the overall system to work productively, it is important to ensure that its various components work efficiently and without any hindrance.

Arunav Kaul works in the public policy sphere focussing on judicial reform issues. Views are personal

Buses need an image makeover and cities need several thousand of them, of good quality

The great cities of the world use one guiding principle in planning services for residents and visitors: working with finite space. In big cities, new roads are not possible, and no new land is available. But they must prepare to serve more and more people who arrive each year. Successful plans build better mobility.

When cities fail at mobility, the result is congestion, lost productivity, worsening pollution and a terrible quality of life. India’s big cities have all these attributes, and 14 of them were in the list of the 15 most polluted cities worldwide last year. Congestion in the four biggest metros causes annual economic losses of over $22 billion, the NITI Aayog says in its Transforming Mobility report.

Is there a viable solution? There is, and it is the good old bus.

Sadly, buses have an image problem, which came up during a public interaction Prime Minister Narendra Modi had in the U.K. He explained aspiration with the example of someone who wants to progress from a bicycle to a scooter, then to a four-wheeler; equally a lack of ambition, he said, could lead to the loss of even the bicycle, upon which the individual resigns himself to a bus ride. Ironically, Mr. Modi made his comments in London, a city with an iconic bus system that integrates famously with its equally popular ‘tube’ system — as the Metro is known there. The British capital also discourages the use of cars through a congestion charge within a defined area.

Not enough buses in India

So important is the bus to urban transport ecology that the executive in-charge of technology and customer satisfaction at Transport for London, Shashi Verma, said during a visit to India in July that Indian cities need to add several thousand buses more, and not just spend heavily on Metro rail. There are over 1.7 million buses in India, about 10% of them operated by governments. Individual cities don’t have enough of them to provide a good service, and the gap is filled mostly by unregulated intermediates, such as vans. The buses operated by governments are not properly designed, are uncomfortable and badly maintained. Government corporations do a poor job when it comes to using technology.

Lack of information

One of the key barriers to taking a bus is not getting information about the service; bus corporations deprive themselves too, of revenue, by failing to act on this. Cities such as London and Singapore have systems to tell passengers where the next bus is on a route and predict its arrival at a stop in real time. Such a system is not available for even the biggest metro cities in India, something the Smart City mission could have addressed.

Buses need an image makeover and cities need several thousand more buses, of good design and build quality. They need to use contact-less fare payments using suitable cards, since buying tickets is also a barrier.

Buses also need support to move faster through city traffic, using policy tools such as congestion pricing for cars. This is an old idea, dating back to 1975 in Singapore, where it was done manually first and automated much later. The London congestion charge immediately cut traffic in the demarcated area by 20%, helped speed up buses and improved revenues.

The biggest reform that the U.K. experience teaches is integration. Bringing traffic authorities, road engineers and transport operators under the same umbrella worked wonders in London to eliminate planning and operational problems. Indian cities have unified Metropolitan Transport Authorities to do that. They must be brought to life and given mandatory targets. The goal should be a stipulated higher share of travel by public transport, walking and cycling, and this should be evaluated through periodic surveys of customer satisfaction.

ananthakrishnan.g@thehindu.co.in

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