MAY 10, Friday

Delhi Edition

* Front Page

Supreme Court pushes for ‘full’ strength of 31

Supreme Court pushes for ‘full’ strength of 31

Collegium is against rethink on new judges; adds two names

Krishnadas Rajagopal
New Delhi

In a single stroke on the same day, the Supreme Court Collegium, led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, recommended the names of two judges to the court and rejected the government’s disapproval of the elevation of two others.

If the four judges are elevated without delay, the Gogoi Court would reach the full sanctioned judicial strength of 31 judges by the time it re-opens in July after the summer vacations.

No review of decision

On Thursday, the Collegium refused the government’s request to reconsider its April 12 recommendation to elevate Jharkhand High Court and Gauhati High Court Chief Justices Aniruddha Bose and A.S. Bopanna as Supreme Court judges. The Collegium said their names were recommended after all parameters were considered. The Collegium said there was no reason to agree with the government as there was nothing adverse found in the two judges’ conduct, competence or integrity. Now, the government is bound to appoint Justices Bose and Bopanna to the court.

On May 8, the Collegium also recommended Justice B.R. Gavai, a judge of the Bombay High Court, and Chief Justice of the Himachal Pradesh High Court Surya Kant for elevation to the Supreme Court.

On this recommendation, the Collegium said it zeroed in on Justices Gavai and Kant to provide “due representation”, as far as possible, to all High Courts as well as to all sections, including those belonging to the SC/ST/OBC categories, women and minorities.

The Collegium said Justice Gavai superseded three judges in the Bombay High Court, but this should not be misconstrued as a reflection on the ability of the three senior judges.

It said that though seniority was to be given due weightage, merit should be the “predominant consideration”.

Representation for the SC/ST category seems to have played in the mind of the Collegium while recommending Justice Gavai’s elevation.

The Collegium noted that “on his appointment, the Supreme Court Bench will have a Judge belonging to the Scheduled Caste category after about a decade”.

Justice Kant was the subject of controversy over a letter written by Justice A.K. Goel (retired) to the then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra.

Govt. denies perjury charge in Rafale case

Govt. denies perjury charge in Rafale case

Informs Supreme Court that petitioners relied on media leaks, not on CAG report

legal correspondent

Rubbishing the charge of perjury, the government on Thursday said the contents of briefs and responses made in the Supreme Court in the Rafale fighter purchase case were “finalised after extensive deliberations at the highest levels in government after a series of meetings”.

In a reply affidavit filed in the court, the Centre said its averments in court were based on the final decisions taken by the Cabinet Committee on Security. The submissions were based on the final decisions of the Defence Acquisition Council, the Defence Minister, provisions in the Defence Procurement Procedure and inputs received from the Air Force and the Ministry of Defence. These had endeavoured to bring out the final conclusions of the process, which led to the signing of the Inter-Governmental Agreement with France, the government said.

The government played down the “mismatch” between the December 14, 2018, judgment of the court, upholding the deal on the basis of a “non-existent” Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report, and unsigned confidential notes filed by the Centre in the court. “The mismatch is not a substantial error,” the government argued.

‘No fault found’

After all, it said, the CAG report had “ultimately not found any fault either in the decision-making process or in the pricing” for the procurement of 36 Rafale jets from France.

It said that instead of quoting the CAG report, which has a constitutional mandate to scrutinise the procurement and took almost two years to audit and present its report on February 13, 2019, the petitioners continued to rely on selective media leaks to mislead the court.

From village sabhas to cricket, Scindia pitches for Guna again

From village sabhas to cricket, Scindia pitches for Guna again

Sidhu joins incumbent MP’s campaign in constituency, urges crowd to elect him by record margin

Damini Nath

Navjot Singh Sidhu with Jyotiraditya Scindia


If he wins by a margin of 3 lakh votes, then the people of Guna would have hit a six, says former cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, talking about the incumbent MP, Jyotiraditya Scindia, on Thursday evening.

The two Congress leaders had just wrapped up a for-show cricket match in Guna Lok Sabha constituency’s Shivpuri as a part of Mr. Scindia’s campaign, when they returned to the field of the Madhavrao Scindia Cricket Stadium for the political part of the evening.

Seeking re-election to a seat that was held by his father, Madhavrao Scindia, and before that his grandmother, Vijaya Raje Scindia, and that he has represented since his father’s death in 2002, Mr. Scindia spent the day holding sabhas in villages, ending with the cricket match in Shivpuri.

As the scion of the erstwhile Scindia royal family scored a boundary, the crowd celebrated with “Maharaj zindabad”, while a fan of Mr. Sidhu shouted “Come on, Sidhu paaji”.

After wrapping up the ‘match’, Mr. Sidhu told the crowd: “Take it from me in writing, after Rahul Gandhi, the Minister at the second spot will be Mr. Scindia.”

He said Mr. Scindia had won by 1.20 lakh votes in 2014 and if he won by the same margin, it would be like scoring two runs.

“Two lakhs would be hitting a four and if he wins by 3 lakh, then you would have scored a six,” he said.

The possible margin comes up often in conversations with Congress workers as well as residents. Having won the 2002 bypoll by over 4 lakh votes, Mr. Scindia’s victory margin went down to 1.2 lakh in 2014.

Ankit Singh, a businessman from Shivpuri and self-professed BJP supporter who attended the cricket event, said: “This seat is reserved, for the Scindias. But I voted for the Congress in the Assembly elections, because that was about the Chief Minister. This election is about the Prime Minister and there is no one else but [Narendra] Modi.”

Earlier in the day, at one of his sabhas, the candidate spoke to residents of Naguli village about the work he had done for the area in the past 17 years, from the construction of roads to the setting up of a footwear design institute.


This time, Mr. Scindia is facing his own former aide, K.P. Yadav, who joined the BJP ahead of the Assembly polls, a contest that locals say is not a real one.

“He is a dummy candidate,” said a Congress worker in Shivpuri.

* Nation

Key accused among two more held in Alwar gang-rape case

Key accused among two more held in Alwar gang-rape case

Opposition protests alleged bid to cover up the matter by Gehlot govt.

Press trust of india

BJP leaders and supporters protesting in Jaipur against the Alwar gang-rape incident.Rohit Jain ParasRohit Jain Paras


Two more men, including the key accused, have been arrested in connection with the Alwar gang-rape case, police said on Thursday, even as Opposition parties held protests against the Rajasthan government for allegedly covering up the matter due to the ongoing Lok Sabha polls.

IGP (Jaipur Range) S. Sengathir said judicial magistrate recorded the victim’s statement on Thursday under Section 164 of the CrPc.

While Hansraj Gurjar was arrested on Wednesday night from Mathura, the key accused, Chhote Lal Gurjar, was arrested on Thursday from Pragpura in Alwar district, the IGP said.

Chhote Lal, who was the sixth accused to be arrested, has a criminal history, he said.

The IGP said that accused Indra Raj Gurjar was sent to jail for identification parade and others — Mukesh Gurjar, Mahesh Gurjar, Ashok Gurjar — were produced in court and sent for police remand till May 13.

Hansraj and Chhote Lal will be produced in court on Friday.

The gang rape evoked sharp criticism from all sections of the society, with political parties protests holding protests in various parts of the State, including Ajmer, Alwar, Swai Madhopur and Churu. They cornered the Rajasthan government for allegedly covering up the matter due to the Lok Sabha elections in the State.

BJP leaders said they went to the Collectorate Circle on Thursday to present a memorandum to the district collector, but he was not available.

“We had taken prior permission and time in written from the district collector to present the memorandum but he was not available. It is a serious issue. People want to know who had given the order to cover up the matter during elections,” BJP MP Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore said.

‘Blot on the State’

BJP State president Madan Lal Saini termed it a “gruesome crime” and a “blot” on the State.

On April 26, the woman was going to a place from her village on a motorcycle with her husband when the accusedstopped them.

They beat the husband and raped her in front of him, threatening them of dire consequences.

Declare Nitish Kumar as PM face, demands JD(U) lawmaker

Declare Nitish Kumar as PM face, demands JD(U) lawmaker

‘NDA is getting votes in the State due to CM’s work’

Amarnath Tewary

In the middle of the Lok Sabha election, a Janata Dal (United) lawmaker on Thursday said his party leader Nitish Kumar should be projected as the prime ministerial face “if the NDA wants to form the government at the Centre after May 23”.

Though JD(U) and BJP leaders have distanced themselves from the comment, the Opposition leaders are taking potshots over it.

The remaining two phases of the Lok Sabha poll will be held in Bihar on May 12 and May 19.

“The NDA will not be able to get a majority after May 23, and if it wants to form the government at the Centre, it must project Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar as the prime ministerial candidate,” JD(U) MLC Gulam Rasool Baliyavi told a private news channel. “The NDA is getting votes in the State due to the work of Mr. Kumar and not on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s face,” he added.

Prominent Muslin face

A prominent Muslim face in the ruling party, Mr. Baliyavi said it was only in the name of Mr. Kumar that 75% of Muslims would be ready to vote for the NDA. The BJP, he said, has been talking only about triple talaq, mandir and masjid but “on these issues the government cannot be formed…these are all religious issues and there should not be any interference. The JD(U) always keeps itself away from such issues”.

Earlier in February, JD(U) national vice-president and poll strategist Prashant Kishor had emphatically said that Mr. Modi would return as Prime Minister after the Lok Sabha poll and though Mr. Kumar has been a big leader in the NDA, it was unfair to view him as a claimant to the top post, even in the event of the BJP not getting a clear mandate.

‘His own opinion’

Meanwhile, the ruling NDA alliance leaders have distanced themselves from Mr. Baliyavi’s comment. “Everybody, including Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, is working to make Mr. Modi the Prime Minister of the country again… if Mr. Baliyavi wants to go somewhere else he should make it clear. This statement is his own opinion and Mr. Kumar has nothing to do with it,” said State BJP leader and MLA Nitin Navin.

SC to interact with wife of ex-cop who killed self

SC to interact with wife of ex-cop who killed self

He had blamed Bengal CM for his death

Press Trust of India
New Delhi

The Supreme Court on Thursday said it would like to interact with the wife of Gaurav Chandra Dutt, a former IPS officer who allegedly ended his life in February blaming West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for his death, to know the reason for withdrawal of her plea seeking a probe into the matter.

A Bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna asked petitioner Sreyashi Dutt to appear before the apex court on any day in July as per her convenience.

Petition withdrawal

“Before granting liberty to the petitioner to withdraw this writ petition, this court would like to interact with the petitioner to know the reason for such withdrawal. The petitioner to appear before this court on any day in the month of July 2019 as may be convenient to her,” said the Bench.

“The said date be intimated to the Secretary General by the counsel, whereafter the matter will be posted before the Bench on such date,” the Bench said.

On March 15, the Supreme Court had said it was not passing any order on the request for withdrawal of the plea and had directed the matter to be listed after two weeks.

The retired 1986-batch IPS officer had blamed Ms. Banerjee for his death, a charge dismissed by the State’s ruling Trinamool Congress as “baseless”.

In a six-page letter to the Chief Minister, Dutt, who retired earlier this year, had accused her of abetting his suicide by keeping him on “compulsory waiting” for posting.

The officer was suspended for nine months in 2010 for “conduct unbecoming of an officer” after a constable’s wife accused him of torturing her husband. He had also faced disciplinary action in 2012 over alleged financial irregularities.

State to seek additional quota in PG medical courses

State to seek additional quota in PG medical courses

Pro-Maratha petitioner gives govt. 24 hours to ensure students don’t waste a year

Staff Reporter

Chandrakant Patil


The Maharashtra government on Thursday said it would seek to increase quota of admissions for postgraduate medical courses from the Centre to accommodate Maratha students who have taken admission under 16% quota but will be deprived of it due to a stay on the process by Supreme Court.

Chandrakant Patil, minister for Revenue, Relief & Rehabilitation, Agriculture & Horticulture and Public Works, who also heads the Cabinet sub-committee on issues related to reservation for Maratha community, said, “The students will face some problem in admission only this year. The process will be smooth from next year. We are hopeful that majority of students out of those who have taken admission under 16% quota will be admitted in the course of their choice based on merit. It is likely that only 30-35 students may not get admission. To accommodate them, the State government will seek increase in seats from the Centre.”

On November 30 last year, the State government passed a law reserving 16% seats for Maratha community under the socially and educationally backward class (SEBC) category. As per the court observation, since the admission process was initiated on November 3, the reservation under SEBC category cannot be granted for this year’s admissions in post-graduate medical courses. “We held our view that even though notification was issued on November 3, the process began in Maharashtra in February this year. Therefore, we pleaded that 16% quota should be held valid for this year as well. However, the court held a different view,” Mr. Patil said. The court said the State government should take all possible measures to ensure that students are not deprived of admission. Hence the demand for increase in quota of seats has been raised.

Vinod Patil, one of the pro-Maratha petitioners in the case said the Maratha community had cautioned the State government that it should extend the reservation in a manner that would not lead to legal hurdles. “We demand that within the next 24 hours the State government take a decision which will not lead to wasting of a year for Maratha students. The community held no political position in the Lok Sabha polls, but if the State government fails to take any stand, they would go against the government in the Assembly polls,” he said.

The Opposition too slammed the government saying it is evident that it did not want Maratha community to gain benefits of reservation. “The government did not purposely defend the reservation in Supreme Court and deprived students from the benefits. We feel that the government has no interest in giving benefits of reservation to Maratha community,” said Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant.

Did Malegaon accused train Gauri murder conspirators?

Did Malegaon accused train Gauri murder conspirators?

Probe on to find out if Kalsangra and Dange were involved

Staff Reporter

Gauri Lankesh


Two of the men who trained the key conspirators involved in the murders of writers and activists — Gauri Lankesh, Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi — are suspected to be among the accused in the 2008 Malegaon blasts, and have been absconding since then. However, as the investigation is still on, there is no confirmation on whether the two were indeed the trainers, sources in the know said.

These “trainers” were not part of the syndicate that executed the four murders, but are suspected to have been involved in religious indoctrination and bomb-making training camps between 2011 and 2015.

Motivation, the aim

“They were called prashikshaks and loaned to motivate and train the gang members, but were not involved further. They were not part of the conspiracy or its execution,” a senior official said. Significantly, they presided over the first-ever meeting of the gang in 2011 that decided to kill “durjans” — Hindus opposing the faith, investigators claim.

Following a lead, the investigators are now verifying if the two trainers could be Ramchandra Kalsangra alias Ramji Kalsangra and Sandeep V. Dange, both from Indore, Madhya Pradesh. They are accused in multiple cases, including the Ajmer Dargah blasts of 2007 and the Malegaon bombing, and are on the NIA’s most-wanted list. The duo are co-accused in the Malegaon case along with Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, now BJP candidate in Bhopal. While security agencies had been probing their identity, they got a lead when a key accused in Dabholkar and Gauri murder cases, Sharad Kalaskar, in a confessional statement referred to the unidentified “trainers” — Babaji, Bade Mahatma, Chote Mahatma — as “Aseemanand’s men.”

Three-day training

Kalaskar, referring to a three-day training camp held in Jalna in January 2015, said four “trainers” taught them to make bombs. On the concluding day of the camp, he had asked permission from Veerendra Tawde, who was then heading the gang and a key accused in the Dabholkar and Pansare murders, to go with the four trainers to learn more. However, he was denied permission and was told that they were from “Aseemanand’s group,” Kalaskar said in his confession.

Multiple cases

Swami Aseemanand was a key accused in multiple cases — Ajmer Dargah, Samjhauta Express, and the Mecca Masjid bombings. He was recently acquitted from the Samjhauta Express and Mecca Masjid blasts. “Kalsangra, Dange and Suresh Nair, co-accused with Aseemanand in Ajmer blasts, were absconding and hence the needle of suspicion pointed to them,” an official said.

Sketches prepared

Based on the physical descriptions from those who attended the training camps, sketches of the trainers were prepared and Anti-Terror Squads of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat, besides Central agencies including the NIA, were tipped off that they were roaming around dressed as monks. The Gujarat ATS arrested Suresh Nair in November 2018, but there is no conclusive evidence yet that he was one of the trainers. The two others — Kalsangra and Dange — are still at large.

The Special Investigation Team probing the murder of Gauri and Kalburgi said, in a statement, that they had no evidence to link the accused in the murder to the Abhinav Bharat, Malegaon blasts, or Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur. “Agencies have been working on a hunch based on a lead. But there is not a shred of evidence linking the two cases,” an official said.

Sadhvi Pragya, now out on bail pending trial and fighting the Lok Sabha election on a BJP ticket, was in prison when these training camps were held between 2011 and 2015.

The explosive-laden bike that went off in Malegaon was registered in her name and hence she was arrested by the Maharashtra ATS. However, she claimed that she had given the bike to Kalsangra two years before that and she was not linked to the blasts.

Polls push business, not hope, for vendors in Ambala

Polls push business, not hope, for vendors in Ambala

Big promises by parties don’t mean much for street traders who set up stalls outside rally venues every election


Ragpickers collecting empty water bottles after a Congress rally in Ambala on Tuesday.Akhilesh KumarAKHILESH KUMAR


With only three days left for polling for the 2019 parliamentary elections in Haryana, the canvassing by political parties has now shifted into the top gear. Yet for many in , politics and election promises made by different parties in the run-up to the polls are not a matter of immediate concern.

As scores of party supporters thronged the Gandhi Ground in Ambala to listen to Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s speech earlier this week, for 34-year-old Sunny, a lemon juice vendor standing near the entry gate of the venue, it was a day of brisk business and good profit.

Mr. Sunny, who switches between selling lemon juice and vegetables on his handcart, said: “Usually I put up my cart at the city’s main bus stop but today, in hope of earning more money, I came here. I don’t pin any hopes on the Congress or the BJP for better days in my life. Politicians promise several things during election season and then conveniently forget about them.”

‘A shop dream’

“A small permanent shop is all I want, something that can secure the future of me and my family,” said Mr. Sunny, who has been using his cart for over 20 years now and earns between ₹200-₹300 per day.

The Ambala parliamentary seat is witnessing a keen contest between former two-term MP Kumari Selja of the Congress and the incumbent MP, Rattan Lal Kataria of the BJP. Rampal Balmiki of the Indian National Lok Dal, Naresh Saran of the Bahujan Samaj Party-Loktantra Suraksha Party alliance and Prithvi Raj Singh of Aam Aadmi Party-Jannayak Janta Party alliance are also in the fray.

Fifty-two-year-old Rajeev Kumar, another vendor who put up his stall on Jagadhri Road, said there’s a tough fight between the BJP and the Congress in Ambala this time. “Congress’ Selja has an edge as she, during her previous terms, had done a lot of development work while the current BJP MP is hardly seen in the constituency. The local BJP MLA, Anil Vij, who is the Health Minister in the State government, has done commendable work which can benefit the BJP,” said Mr. Kumar.

Ms. Selja, currently a Rajya Sabha MP, had defeated Mr. Kataria on two earlier occasions when she had contested from Ambala in 2004 and 2009. In 2014, Mr. Kataria had won the seat by defeating the Congress’ Raj Kumar Balmiki after Ms. Selja decided not to contest the election.

Vivek (29), who runs an eating joint opposite the Gandhi Ground, also complained about the absence of the sitting BJP MP from the constituency.

“I don’t remember seeing Mr. Kataria in my locality, but yes, our MLA Anil Vij is easily accessible… Thanks to him, the roads have been repaired, the civil hospital has better facilities than before,” said Mr. Vivek. “Earlier, I use to run my eatery on a narrow road, but after the condition of Jagadhri Road improved in the last four years, I decided to shift my eatery to this main road. My business has seen an increase 30%-40% since then,” he said.

“During the BJP regime, I have seen development at least in my vicinity. The image of our country has also improved globally,” he added.

Long wait for power in Odisha after Fani snaps transmission lines

Long wait for power in Odisha after Fani snaps transmission lines

An uphill task to repair 75 high power transmission towers, 11,000 distribution transformers and 84,000 km of low tension power lines

Satyasundar Barik,

Power cut: A high tension tower brought down by Cyclone Fani on the Marine Drive in Puri. Biswaranjan Rout


Hot and humid weather has compounded the woes of the cyclone-affected people in Odisha, with the government facing a gigantic task of restoring power to houses in Puri and Khurdha districts battered by Fani.

Despite massive efforts by the State government, total power restoration in Bhubaneswar is likely only by May 15. Residents of Puri too may start getting power then.

The extremely severe cyclonic storm ‘Fani’ has damaged 75 high power transmission towers while 84,000 km low tension power lines have been found either broken or sagging. Over 11,000 distribution transformers were damaged.

“The power infrastructure has suffered massive damage. To bring it back to its earlier shape, it will take two months, but we are focusing on emergency restoration system, which will be completed in a fortnight,” State Energy Secretary Hemant Sharma told The Hindu here on Thursday.

“The challenge is enormous. Two lakh electric poles have been damaged by the cyclone. Of this, one lakh will have to be replaced completely while another one lakh are repairable. The State had a stock of 80,000 poles while 20,000 poles were obtained from ongoing programmes,” he said.

“The Steel Authority of India Limited has made a commitment to provide 60,000 poles in phases while 30,000 poles have to be procured from different manufacturers. There is a shortfall of about 10,000 that are part of lift irrigation points and that can be taken up at a later stage,” he said.

Contractors warned

Another difficulty being faced in the restoration exercise is manpower crunch. “Ideally, 1,000 gangs (each consisting of 10 members) should have been deployed for restoring power. We have been able to deploy 500 gangs who have mostly come from outside Odisha,” Mr. Sharma said. “There are 644 high tension licensee contractors in Odisha. Of them, only 100 joined the restoration work. We have issued a warning that if they fail to join the force in 10 days, their licence would be cancelled,” he said.

By Thursday, 61,000 power consumers have been provided electricity which is about 32% of the total consumers. The Energy Secretary said the target was to restore power inside Bhubaneswar by May 12.

Meanwhile, people are facing a tough time with the daytime temperature crossing 40 degree Celsius at several places.


Five years on, relief still far away for jailed Delhi University professor

Five years on, relief still far away for jailed Delhi University professor

Saibaba has been held for Maoist links in Nagpur Jail’s ‘anda cell’

Sonam Saigal

Professor G.N. Saibaba


Arrested on May 9, 2014, on charges of having Maoist links, Delhi University Professor G.N. Saibaba, who is 90% physically handicapped, has remained incarcerated in Nagpur Central Jail’s infamous ‘anda cell’ (solitary confinement) since his conviction on March 7, 2017.

On April 30, a panel of experts with the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) wrote to the Indian government urging authorities to immediately release Dr. Saibaba, citing his “seriously deteriorating” health condition.

“Dr. Saibaba’s health problems require immediate and sustained medical attention and are reaching a point of being life-threatening,” the five Special Rapporteurs Catalina Devandas, Michel Forst, Dainius Pūras, Nils Melzer and Agnès Callamard wrote.

Dr. Saibaba has been wheelchair-bound since he was five because of polio and suffers from several other ailments. “He has a cyst in his brain due to which he keeps falling unconscious and has problems with his gall bladder and pancreas,” his wife Vasantha Kumari said over the telephone from Delhi. “He also has issues in his kidney and spine because of which he needs comprehensive treatment.”

Ms. Kumari said jail authorities kept assuring her that they would help her disabled husband inside the prison but had provided little assistance. “His adivasi co-convicts help him to eat and go to the washroom,” she said.

HC rejects bail plea

On March 25, Dr. Saibaba’s medical bail plea was rejected by the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court. The court had observed that the “offences are serious in nature” as the reason for not granting suspension of sentence.

Explaining that his detention in the ‘anda’ cell had left her husband exposed to extremes of temperature which was worsening his health condition, Ms. Kumari wryly observed, “Prisons were meant for reformation but now they are meant for torture. The conditions of prisons matter only when we want to bring back Vijay Mallya but are not even taken into consideration when there is a disabled convict.”

“Pragya Singh Thakur, an accused in a bomb blast that killed six people, can be granted bail on medical grounds and be allowed to contest elections, but Saibaba should not be allowed to even be transferred to another jail,” Ms. Kumari added.

Dr. Saibaba’s daughter Manjeera said: “The UAPA [Unlawful Activities Prevention Act] has been misused and my father has become a case study. … the prosecution uses it to deny bail to others because Saibaba was denied.”

* Editorial 1

A vote for the sake of Parliament

A vote for the sake of Parliament

Constituents must weigh their candidate’s commitment to restoring the dignity of the legislature

V.V. KrishnanV_V_Krishnan

When political historians write of a government that came to power in 2014 on an impressive majority, what will they write? Will they write of a Prime Minister who had promised to set right everything that had gone wrong in India? Will they chronicle the political biography of a man who sadly frittered away the colossal mandate Indian citizens gave him? Will political satirists compare the Narendra Modi government to Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s movies, all spectacle and din but little substance? Might political historians write of a man who refused to be accountable for his government’s failure to provide the basic preconditions of a dignified life to citizens? Or might they record his government’s refusal to deter criminals who openly bullied, maimed and murdered our own people. Will our historians tell frightening stories of Mr. Modi nearly taking his country to war, threatening the use of nuclear weapons, and using this to garner votes from a bewildered India? Do people in power really not know of the unimaginable death and destruction that nuclear wars bring upon people for generations to come? Historians will wonder.

What story history tells future generations will depend on the historian, her political vision, her interpretive skills and her commitment to the ordinary citizen who ekes out a life in want and misery. Court historians will lavish praises on Mr. Modi. But even they can hardly ignore his contempt for history, for the Prime Ministers that ruled the country before him, and above all his disregard of institutions that his predecessors had built laboriously.

Questions about institutions

Take Mr. Modi’s attitude to the august institution of Parliament. India’s Constituent Assembly witnessed a rich and informed debate on the virtues of the parliamentary versus the presidential form of government. Members knew of the hijacking of Parliaments by executives, they were aware of dictatorial Prime Ministers, and they were cognisant of the fatal tendency of political parties to serve their own interests more, and those of their constituents less. Yet members of the Constituent Assembly decided on a parliamentary form of government.

They had good reasons for this. In a plural society, citizens hold diverse and sometimes contrary beliefs; they agree on some issues and they disagree on others. It is only a parliamentary system of government that enables the expression of diverse and divergent opinions. In legislative forums, representatives are supposed to give voice to the interests, opinions and needs of their constituents. Sometimes decisions are taken, at other times backdoor negotiations lead to fragile and provisional outcomes. It does not matter that decisions are provisional. In a democracy there can be no notion of a Hobbesian social contract that binds citizens in perpetuity. Times change, public opinion changes, new issues arise on the horizon, older ones have to be reiterated, and those issues that have become redundant need to be abandoned and replaced by fresh thinking.

Even though observers have been disappointed by the failure of representatives to represent the interests of the people, they agree that in large and complex societies a parliamentary system of government is infinitely preferable to the presidential model. No one man can collect in his own being the wisdom and certitudes of his age. The precondition of good policy is dissent and debate, the willingness to learn from others, the readiness to change one’s mind. The Indian Parliament is noisy, known more for the politics of pandemonium than rational debate. But it is only a parliamentary form of government that can prevent one man from hijacking power.

Importance of the Opposition

So when Mr. Modi and BJP president Amit Shah repeatedly state that all they want is a Congress-mukt Bharat, their desperate ambition to rid the country of an Opposition occasions puzzlement and discomfort. An Opposition is central to the working of a parliamentary system of government. Without an Opposition, the system degenerates into one-party rule. Across the postcolonial world, efforts to de-legitimise the Opposition and create a one-party state have inexorably slid into military rule, and subsequently into what western donors and academics call failed states. Pathological states can neither meet the needs of their people or institutionalise power. A one-party dictatorship can hardly be the answer to din and deadlocks, it is part of the problem. Failed states abdicate sovereignty, they are rendered vulnerable and dependent on transnational financial agencies, upon conditionalities imposed by funders, they are brought to their knees by international human rights organisations, and they are despised by their own people. We should be critical of any call to do away with the Opposition — many a postcolonial country has floundered on the rocks of one-party rule.

There is more. We must never lose sight of the democratic principle that representatives proxy for their constituents. The Lok Sabha is not only a gathering of political parties, each member of Parliament represents the Indian people, even if he does so inadequately and incompetently. Members of the Opposition are in Parliament by the same rationale that members of the ruling party are. When Prime Minister Modi abuses the leaders of the Opposition, he should be aware that he abuses the people of India who have delegated power to these representatives in the first place.

If the individual is the prime unity of democratic life, and representatives merely a mode of representing her needs and interests in the forum of Parliament, candidates who ask for our vote should be worthy of our confidence. When political parties impose criminals, persons accused of terrorist activities, dealers and fixers upon constituencies, they insult the intelligence of the people who are going to vote. It is time that civil society organisations take this issue up. The moment a party announces a candidate, constituents should take up the task of debating the merit or otherwise of the person. Realists tell us that parties choose candidates who are self-financing and who can deliver votes. This may be so, but it does not follow that contemptible people should be thrust upon constituencies. There is nothing more ignoble than invoking the nation or religion to justify candidates who send shudders down our collective spine. We deserve candidates we consider worthy, men and women of integrity.

Text, and the practice

The system of parliamentary government that India adopted is complex, intricate and frustrating. But the institution represents citizens who are the locus of sovereignty. This is what Parliament is for. That is why it should be respected. Admittedly the Indian Parliament has not worked the way it should, but it is not the system that is flawed. In his last address to the Constituent Assembly on November 25, 1949, B.R. Ambedkar remarked presciently that the working of the Constitution does not depend wholly upon the Constitution. It depends on the people and the political parties they set up as their instruments to carry out their wishes and their politics. How will the people of India and their parties, he asked, behave? Will they uphold constitutional methods of achieving their aim? It is futile to say, he concluded, the Constitution has failed without taking into consideration the role of the people and their parties. We would do well to recollect his words. We have to insist on the restoration of the dignity of Parliament. It is a condensate of popular sovereignty.

Neera Chandhoke is a former Professor of Political Science at Delhi University

By established law and procedure

By established law and procedure

In the CJI case, there is no violation of natural justice for the simple reason that it is not a judicial inquiry

V. Giri
Getty Images/iStockphotoBabubhai Patel/Getty Images/iStockphoto

A well-publicised case of a complaint by a former employee of the Supreme Court of India against the Chief Justice of India (CJI) has raised questions about legal provisions, procedural propriety and different facets of what could be categorised as principles of natural justice. As a constitutional institution, the Supreme Court had to respond to the same. In my view the response will satisfy the requirements of the law, though I have seen that several opinions have been published to the contrary.

In public domain

The procedure that was being followed cannot be criticised as being either illegal or otherwise arbitrary. A procedure had to be devised as the circumstances were unique, without any precedent. The only guidance available was a ‘Report of the committee on in-house procedure (in brief “procedure”), drawn up by a meeting of the full court of the Supreme Court on December 15, 1999. The procedure adopted is a public document available on the court website. It deals with situations involving a High Court judge, a Chief Justice of a High Court and a judge of the Supreme Court separately. The procedure specifically states that even in the case of an inquiry into a complaint received against a judge of the Supreme Court, the committee shall hold an inquiry on the same pattern as the committee constituted to examine a complaint against a judge of the High Court. The procedure does not expressly deal with the case of the CJI but it definitely would be applicable to the case of the CJI as well because the CJI is also a judge of the Supreme Court. Thus, the procedure does not contemplate the participation of a legal practitioner because it would not be a formal judicial inquiry involving the examination and cross-examination of witnesses by lawyers. It has to be remembered that the committee was bound by the rules under which it has come into being, and though as per the report it is entitled to devise its own procedure (where certain parameters have been laid down in the in-house procedure), the same cannot be deviated from.

The complainant did appear before the committee three times, as newspaper reports would show. It seems she did ask for permission to engage a lawyer, but it was denied. It also seems that she decided to stay away. It is her choice. But it is difficult to countenance an opinion that the complainant felt intimidated by three Supreme Court judges being present, to hear and consider her version. We would do well to remember the obvious. The members of the committee are Supreme Court judges, comprising the seniormost judge of the Supreme Court and two women judges. Is not the fact that two of the members of the committee are women, one which would serve to make the complainant give her version in a more relaxed atmosphere? Is it right on our part to be sceptical about the propriety and correctness of the procedure followed by three Supreme Court judges, persons with unblemished reputations, in their character, conduct and integrity? A trust deficit would be counterproductive in these circumstances.

Legal precedent

A claim for a copy of the inquiry report will have to be turned down going by the law laid down by the Supreme Court in Indira Jaising v. Supreme Court of India & Anr [(2003) 5 SCC 494]. The report in the said case was made to the CJI and the report was confidential and discreet, only for the purpose of his information and not for disclosure to any other person. Because the inquiry in the present case was into the allegations made against the CJI, the report has advisedly been given to the next seniormost judge (next in seniority to Justice S.A. Bobde and Justice N.V. Ramana).

The procedure laid down in the in-house procedure has been adhered to in the present case. The law in Indira Jaising has also been adhered to. The complainant does have remedies in law. The principles of natural justice which are alleged to have been violated in the present case, by the refusal on part of the committee to afford the complainant a right of legal representation and the decision not to publish the report of the committee, do not and cannot have a straightjacketed approach. What has been done by the committee is in accordance with the procedure that is laid down. In doing so, it cannot be said that there is a violation of natural justice for the simple reason that what is involved is not a judicial inquiry but a fact-finding one. A right of legal representation is not inherent in such an inquiry.

The higher judiciary of this country is an institution to be cherished and its reputation is a matter dear to every citizen of this country. Some of us are more vocal than the rest, but all of us are stakeholders. The Supreme Court and the High Courts are constitutional institutions and the men and women who occupy positions in the higher judiciary are required to be persons of impeccable integrity. But men and women are not infallible, and why should judges alone be an exception thereto? The founding fathers of the Constitution were wise persons and constitutional protection is afforded to the judges to see that they are able to discharge their duties for the benefit of the citizens of the country, without fear or favour, but this is not to say that there can be no complaint against a judge of the Supreme Court or the CJI. When such complaint is made, it has to be inquired into in accordance with the procedure that is laid down by the full court of the Supreme Court itself, and the said in-house procedure has been laid down keeping in mind the constitutional ethos. The said in-house procedure has all the attributes of law. It is a law governing such situations. Where the law is adhered to, claims for deviation therefrom or complaints of adherence to it cannot be countenanced.

V. Giri is a senior advocate in the Supreme Court

Loud and clear

Loud and clear

New Delhi must snap out of its denial on the discord with the U.S. on market access

After a scathing speech by U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in New Delhi this week, it is no longer possible for the government to brush under the carpet its differences with Washington. Speaking to Indian and U.S. businesspersons, Mr. Ross lashed out at what he called India’s unfair trade practices and “overly restrictive market access barriers”. His comments followed a series of measures by the U.S. that have affected India. These include a refusal to revoke or waive tariff increases made last year on steel and aluminium, an ultimatum that India “zero out” oil imports from Iran by May 2 even without securing comparable alternatives, and the decision to withdraw India’s GSP (Generalised System of Preferences) trade status. Mr. Ross repeated President Donald Trump’s accusation that India is a “tariff king”, and threatened India with “consequences” if it responded to U.S. tariffs with counter-tariffs, something New Delhi had threatened but not yet implemented in the hope of hammering out a comprehensive trade package. Despite rounds of talks, however, a package has remained elusive, and it is time for the government to articulate the problem on its hands.

In the face of growing U.S. aggression on the issue, the government that takes office after the election will have to urgently consider its options ahead. Clearly, the strategy of the past year, to ignore the differences in the hope that the problems would be resolved or that the U.S.’s trade war with China would occupy the Trump administration more, has not worked. New Delhi and Washington need to make a more determined attempt to sort out issues, starting from scratch if required, with tariffs. While the 50-60% duties on motorcycles and cars and 150% duties on American liquor that India imposes need a second look, the U.S. must see that average tariffs imposed by India (13.8%) are not much higher than those levied by economies such as South Korea and Brazil. In addition, the government will need to revisit some of its decisions like data localisation requirements and new e-commerce regulations, which were declared suddenly, while the U.S. must show some flexibility on India’s price caps on coronary stents and other medical devices. The U.S. must understand the cultural differences over the labelling of non-vegetarian dairy products. It is unlikely that the Trump administration will temper its “my way or the highway” approach to Iranian oil sales, and New Delhi will have to work closely with other countries to build alternative financial structures to avoid U.S. sanctions. Where a compromise is not possible, the government should be ready to push back on unreasonable demands. Perhaps the most worrying signal from Mr. Ross’s outburst was that Washington may not be willing to meet India halfway on trade issues. New Delhi must prepare accordingly.

Endless war

Endless war

The U.S. must put pressure on the Taliban to heed the Afghan government’s concerns

A call by Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga, a grand assembly of senior politicians and tribal and religious leaders, for a ceasefire between government troops and the Taliban underscores the mood in Kabul. Afghanistan’s leaders, from its rulers to tribal chieftains, want to resolve the 17-year-long conflict. Over a four-day meeting that ended on May 2, the Jirga asked the government to set up a negotiating team with members from the assembly for talks with the insurgents. It also backed women’s rights, a critical issue being debated by the political class amid the Taliban’s rising clout. President Ashraf Ghani has said his government would honour the assembly’s proposals, but wants the ceasefire to be mutual. The Taliban, for its part, immediately shot down the proposal, vowing to continue attacks through the Ramzan month. Without the Taliban’s reciprocity, no ceasefire will hold. The group controls half of Afghanistan and has shown its capacity to strike anywhere, including in the most fortified of locations. It has also been engaged in direct talks with the U.S. for months. But the peace talks haven’t prevented the Taliban from carrying out its summer offensive against the government. By rejecting the Loya Jirga proposal, the Taliban has once again made it clear that it is not ready yet to engage with the government in Kabul.

The Taliban’s intransigence has darkened the prospects for peace. The talks between Taliban representatives and Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special representative, are primarily focussed on withdrawing foreign troops from Afghanistan. The U.S. seeks, in return, an assurance that Afghanistan will not provide a safe haven to transnational terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. But for an eventual settlement of the Afghan crisis, the government and the Taliban need to talk. The war has long been in a stalemate. But the government and the Taliban see different ways out. The government is willing to engage the insurgents, a move which has now been endorsed by the Loya Jirga as well. But the Taliban, like any other successful insurgent group, wants to prolong the conflict, hoping that it can weaken the government’s morale and reduce its military strength. The Taliban will change tack only if it is forced to do so militarily or through pressure. The government lacks the resources to accomplish either. It cannot defeat the Taliban militarily, as the 17 years of the war suggest. It cannot forge peace on the Taliban’s terms as it would mean endangering whatever few freedoms the Afghans enjoy right now. This resource deficit can be bridged only with the help of the international community. The U.S., which is in talks with the Taliban, should not overlook the interests of Kabul. It must put pressure on the Taliban to cease hostilities and engage with Mr. Ghani’s government.

* Editorial 2

Are farm loan waivers a political gimmick?

Are farm loan waivers a political gimmick?

Several interventions are needed on the demand and supply side to alleviate farm distress

Loan waivers remain the preferred solution for governments to tackle farm distress. S. Mahendra Dev and M. Govinda Rao talk about the inability of governments to think of long-term solutions to tackle farm distress, in a discussion moderated by Vikas Dhoot. Edited excerpts:

Despite farm productivity rising, severe distress in the sector is a concern. How grave is the situation, especially for small and marginal farmers?

S. Mahendra Dev: Farm distress is real because there have been low agricultural prices and low farm incomes. The farm sector growth rate is much lower than in earlier periods. As a result, farm prices are low despite production rising. The demand is also low. So, whether the increase in farm production is enough for incomes is not clear. For small and marginal farmers, the additional problem is that the size of land holdings is declining. Earlier, the average size was two hectares, now it has come down to nearly one hectare. Marginal farmers have less than half a hectare. With these sizes, income is difficult to sustain. The recent stress is also because prices are much lower than the MSP [minimum support price] in the market, while long-term problems such as low capital formation in agriculture persist. Public investment in the sector as a percentage of GDP is also stagnant. So, these factors, along with two years of drought, have led to this. Another thing is that the non-farm sector creates jobs. As per NABARD [National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development] data, 23% of rural income is from agriculture, so the rest is from non-farm activity. The rate of growth in agricultural wages has stagnated and is lower than in earlier years when MGNREGA and the construction sector helped boost wages. The rural economy overall, agricultural as well as non-farm, is facing a demand problem and low incomes, which has caused farm distress.

Would you say the government’s focus on managing inflation in the early years of its tenure and the inability to generate jobs that could have created non-farm avenues for the youth in farming households has contributed to the stress?

SMD: Yes. The agriculture focus is short term, [which is why we have] loan waivers, but the focus on how to generate incomes and jobs has been lacking. The construction sector was earlier responsible for higher wages and demand, but now that sector is also stagnating.

Eleven years ago, the UPA announced a massive farm loan waiver scheme. Do you think it’s an easy way to deal with a far more complex problem?

SMD: Yes, the UPA did, but the impact on farm income was limited.Second, institutional credit to farmers is just 64%, so the rest is from non-institutional sources. The large farmers corner the institutional credit, and small and marginal farmers get non-institutional credit at interest rates of 25-30%. Moreover, there is a moral hazard problem as banks get affected — farmers say they don’t have to repay the loans as there will be a waiver some time. There are opportunity costs for this loan waiver spending. Several States have started them, including Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. This will also have fiscal implications. But some people say banks have written off ₹5 lakh crore of corporate sector debt, so why not farmers? But both the write-offs are bad.

The Centre has announced the PM-KISAN scheme under which ₹6,000 per year will be given to 12 crore small and marginal farmers holding cultivable land up to two hectares. Is this any different from the loan waiver in terms of quality spending?

SMD: This is similar but only slightly better than loan waivers, as smaller farmers could also get this amount. Telangana and Odisha have also started such schemes. The amount may not be very high for farmers, but its implementation may be relatively easier as it’s a direct cash transfer. But it’s also similar to farm loan waivers and is just a palliative.

The Congress had announced farm loan waivers in States like Madhya Pradesh. It has also promised a new law to waive farm loans, a separate farmer budget, and a minimum income support scheme.

SMD: In general, I support cash transfers to the poor. Farmers and agricultural labourers face several risks, so some social protection measures are important for an economy which has 90% of the workforce in the unorganised sector. But on the other hand, if you want to remove distress, these are not the solutions. In the NYAY [Nyuntam Aay Yojana] scheme announced by the Congress, it’s not clear where the money will come from.

Loan waivers create a moral hazard for even those willing and able to repay their farm loans, so could this make banks wary of lending to the sector in the future?

SMD: The moral hazard is a difficult problem as borrowers don’t repay in the hope of a waiver being announced.

Dr. Rao, what is your view on farm loan waivers?

M. Govinda Rao: This is certainly not a solution. First, it doesn’t really help the needy farmers who borrow from moneylenders. Second, it creates a bad credit culture. As we go along, commercial banks will become hesitant to give loans to farmers because from time to time, this particular problem comes up. This is not a good use of taxpayers’ money. You need to find a solution to the basic problems of farmers. Their distress is real, and on both the supply and demand sides.

Do you need to reorient the entire system, from being consumer-oriented to producer-oriented? Whenever you have a problem, you want to protect the consumer with low prices for farm products. When prices rise, you want to import and ban exports. Your support price policy helps only a few crops for which you undertake procurement. That actually distorts the cropping pattern, so even if paddy and sugarcane are water-intensive crops, farmers prefer them as there is some stabilisation in prices. The money that you are using on farm loan waivers and other subsidies, if only you could use it on infrastructure, developing markets and processing and transportation networks, it would be a huge thing. Removing the oligopoly of agricultural markets is important.

The government wants to double farm incomes by 2022. Would freeing farm markets from excessive regulation along with some safeguards be a better alternative to multiple state interventions at every step of the farming process?

MGR: Exactly. Whichever government is in power, it says it will double farm incomes, put ₹15 lakh in your account, and all sorts of things. I would consider these as election gimmicks. The details are never worked out. Even if you increase procurement prices, it will be useful only for those crops that the government procures. Many States don’t procure most items. Agricultural markets are in very bad shape and marketing reforms are very important as is the removal of middlemen. Many interventions are needed on both the demand and supply side.

SMD: Yes, I think market reforms are the biggest change needed. MSP is not a solution, which focuses on cereals like rice and wheat. Dr. Rao is right — very few reforms have taken place in market infrastructure, value chains, logistics, processing and warehousing to boost farmer incomes. We also need a consistent import and export policy, which is lacking, so that farmers can sell their excess produce. For perishables, a different model is needed. Returns are much higher if the same amount of money spent on loan waivers and income support schemes is deployed on things like water and technology, research and extension services.

Would you say that institutionally the government is predisposed to such policies as it has a vast bureaucracy built around the agriculture sector? The Agriculture Ministry has multiple joint secretaries. Do we need a reboot of these structures?

SMD: Governments generally think short term. When I was in the Agriculture Ministry discussing medium- and long-term solutions, the Minister told me, “We are interested in only short-term things.” They may talk about other things in normal times, but policies are geared towards short-term goals.

MGR: Political parties don’t have a long-term view. Immediate solutions that lend themselves to sloganeering are the big issue. Somebody has to come and say, look, my agenda is not to double farm incomes, but these are the reforms I will implement for a better future for farmers. Another issue is the consolidation of holdings. Small farms have become unviable. Farm labourers are not available because of MGNREGA. Many of them have migrated to urban areas in search of work. We need to legally facilitate the consolidation of holdings. Information asymmetry is a big problem too. When the farmer is going to the market with his bullock cart full of produce, he doesn’t know what prices he is going to get for his produce. If prices are low, he can’t just return as he has to pay rent for the cart and other things, so there is a distress sale as many crops are perishables. We have never thought of this in a comprehensive manner, and unless there is a package of holistic measures, all this talk of doubling farm incomes is meaningless.

The Prime Minister has also talked of a pension for farmers.

MGR: Giving a minimum basic income deserves to be looked at, but you can do that fiscally only when you get rid of all other subsidies and transfers. The basic issue is the sustainability of a policy measure such as minimum income. The other important thing is farm insurance, which needs to be expanded much more so that farmers are protected from the vagaries of nature.

Professor Dev, do you think farm insurance has worked in terms of protecting farmers?

SMD: Compared to earlier schemes, the recent farm insurance programme is better, but still many farmers have not benefited because of implementation problems. It’s a long way to go. We don’t have crop cutting experiments, State governments are not working on it properly when disasters take place. Between subsidies and investments, there is a trade-off — when subsidies increase, investment declines. On old-age pension, there was a scheme that gave ₹200 a month earlier. State governments have offered ₹2,000 in some places. Farmers also come under that scheme. I agree basic minimum income can be considered if you remove non-merit subsidies and move fertilizer subsidy to cash transfers as you can save more and improve soil fertility too.

Vox populi

Vox populi

While many contest to win elections, some contest only to make their voices heard

Satya Naagesh Ayyagary

When people are let down by their leaders repeatedly, they rise and revolt, and history is replete with examples of such revolts. In a democracy, people often revolt peacefully, using the ballot. In this polarised election, while national security assumed centre stage and accusations and counter-accusations flew thick and fast, a number of ordinary voters contested the election over critical local issues. Of course, these candidates know well that they do not stand a chance of winning against political heavyweights with money and muscle power. But their objective is not to win; it is to simply make their voices heard.

Consider the turmeric and sorghum farmers in Nizamabad district in Telangana. They had been protesting for long, demanding a minimum support price and the setting up of a turmeric board, among other things. Leaders promised to address their grievances but failed. And so the farmers decided to contest the Lok Sabha election. In this case, no fewer than 178 of them jumped into the fray in Nizamabad. In this seat, 185 candidates contested altogether.

The record for the highest number of nominations filed in a Lok Sabha election from a single constituency was set by Nalgonda in 1996 where 480 candidates filed nominations. Most of them were contesting the election to bring attention to the fact that they were victims of flourosis. Most of them were tribals and Dalits who could not afford to pay the required security deposit of ₹250 (for Scheduled Caste/ Scheduled Tribe candidates). They were reportedly financed by activists and sympathisers at a time when the term ‘crowd funding’ was not in common parlance.

However, the case of the turmeric and sorghum farmers is different from their Nalgonda brethren. Most of them managed to pay the required ₹25,000 as security deposit on their own, even if it was a considerable burden. Theirs was not a half-hearted decision but a serious one. Such quiet protests have been recorded in Assembly elections too — in 1996 again, in Modakurichi in Tamil Nadu, 1,033 candidates contested the seat as no one had addressed their concerns over farm distress.

An inscription on the arch of the middle gate of North Block in New Delhi quotes British writer Charles Caleb Colton: “Liberty will not descend to a people: a people must raise themselves to liberty. It is a blessing which must be earned before it can be enjoyed.” Rise people do, albeit slowly. But contesting elections is unfortunately not always the solution. Such contestants mostly lose their security deposit, do not win, and their issues are not addressed either. It is time our politicians stepped up and listened to the voices of the poor and marginalised.

The writer is Editorial Consultant, The Hindu, based in Hyderabad

Hitching rides in coracles, tractors and bullock carts

Hitching rides in coracles, tractors and bullock carts

The journey to a story is often as exciting as the story itself

Ramya Kannan

Often, the journey can be as interesting as the destination itself. The destination is sometimes not what one hopes for, but the journey can still redeem it.

This is especially true for a journalist who is chasing stories wherever they need to be chased. Sometimes, when we have time for relaxed reminiscence and we allow ourselves a little throwback, it turns out some journeys have stayed with us, even when the stories have not been great, or have turned out to be non-stories. A bus ride, a train ride in an unreserved compartment, a ride in a swirling coracle, four-wheel drives that send one hurtling across a harsh landscape, old creaky cars that run to prove miracles exist, a ride on a bullock cart — what joy, what companionship, and what convivial situations they lead to.

Driver Murugan owned a ramshackle Ambassador car in Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu, in 2004, when the tsunami struck. He saw a business opportunity in the droves of people coming to Cuddalore and Nagapattinam — journalists and aid workers who needed to get by. He charged quite a bit, but a scarcity of services had caused the prices to go up. He made up for what his car lacked — a brake shoe, rearview mirrors and the padding on the seats — with his personality. He drove that car like an all-terrain bike — over roads, black strips that were once roads, streams, rocks, the beach, a rubble of homes by the seaside — with a passion that came from knowing the territory and a conscientious work ethic. He knew nearly everyone and insisted on walking along, calling out to people and drawing them into a casual chat. One realised while riding with Murugan that there are things you cannot pay for.

Then, there are rides you do not pay for. The boatman who took us from Muzhukkuthurai to a small strip of sand called MGR Thittu that the tsunami had ravaged did not care for cash. The boat was basic, wood strung together, but it could float. Thiruvengadam ran an earth-moving equipment firm in Muzhukkuthurai and volunteered to accompany us on the boat, perhaps because we were the only people at land’s end. He regaled us with stories of smugglers on MGR Thittu and told the boatman to come back in an hour, nodding in our direction: “They will have to walk a long way to reach the boat, otherwise.”

And then there were the four-wheeler drivers of Dhanushkodi who were winding up for the day when we landed there. The only way to travel was by jeep, but it looked like we were too late, and coming back the next day was not really an option. The disappointment must have been apparent. “What do you do?” one of the drivers came back and asked. “Oh, journalist? Then we need to get you there, somehow.” He hustled his brother to tag along with him, one last drive back. On that ride we literally flew across the whitish beach sands as darkness and a chill descended gently together. That is certainly a memory to keep.

There were, of course, as perhaps in most journalists’ careers, long treks on foot up treacherous slopes; bullock cart rides with obliging farmers; a short hitch on a tractor; rides on crowded ‘town buses’ to remote hamlets where passengers shared food and jokes, shouting to be heard above the loud music playing on cheap speakers.

These were rides where comfort might have been lacking but never communion. After all, a journalist’s job is with the people, isn’t it? And what a ride that can sometimes be.

* Foreign

House panel holds Barr in contempt

House panel holds Barr in contempt

AG failed to turn over Robert Mueller’s unredacted inquiry report; Justice Department denounces move

, Nicholas Fandos

U.S. Attorney General William Barr being sworn in ahead of a testimony before the Senate on May 1.APAndrew Harnik


The House Judiciary Committee voted on Wednesday to recommend that the House hold Attorney General William P. Barr in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over Robert Mueller’s unredacted report, hours after President Donald Trump asserted executive privilege to shield the full report and underlying evidence from Congress.

The committee’s 24-16 contempt vote, taken after hours of debate over the future of American democracy, was the first official House action to punish a government official in the stand-off over the Mueller report.

The Justice Department denounced the move as unnecessary and intended to stoke a fight. After the vote, Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (Democrat) swatted away questions about possible impeachment, but added: “We are now in a constitutional crisis.”

The contempt vote raised the stakes in the battle over evidence and witnesses as Democrats investigate Mr. Trump over behaviour detailed by Mr. Mueller, the Special Counsel, in his report on Russian election interference and possible obstruction of justice.

By the day’s end, it seemed all but inevitable that the competing claims would have to be settled in the nation’s courts rather than on Capitol Hill.

“Our fight is not just about the Mueller report — although we must have access to the Mueller report,” Mr. Nadler said during a debate. “Our fight is about defending the rights of Congress, as an independent branch, to hold the President, any President, accountable.”

Contesting claims

The Justice Department, the White House and House Republicans lined up to contest that claim, shooting back that Democrats were the ones abusing their powers to manufacture a crisis.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, Kerri Kupec, deplored the contempt vote as “politically motivated and unnecessary”, and the two sides traded blame over who had cut off weeks of negotiations over a possible compromise.

“Regrettably, Chairman Nadler’s actions have prematurely terminated the accommodation process and forced the President to assert executive privilege to preserve the status quo,” Ms. Kupec said. “No one, including Chairman Nadler, will force the Department of Justice to break the law.”

Though Mr. Trump has repeatedly tried to withhold information from Congress, and pledged to object to all House subpoenas, the executive privilege assertion is his first use of the secrecy powers as President.

The Justice Department, which asked the President to step in, described the assertion as a “protective” measure that would give Mr. Trump time to fully review the materials before making a final decision about executive privilege. NY Times

Europe rejects Iran’s ‘ultimatum’ but stands by nuclear agreement

Europe rejects Iran’s ‘ultimatum’ but stands by nuclear agreement

Tehran has warned that it will defy the deal’s provisions

Agence France-Presse

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.AP


European powers denounced Iran’s threat to resume nuclear work on Thursday but vowed to save a landmark deal with Tehran despite U.S. pressure.

Iran said it would defy some limits it accepted under the 2015 agreement, and threatened to go further if Europe, China and Russia fail to deliver sanctions relief within 60 days.

EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini and France, Germany and Britain — the three European signatories to the deal — voiced “great concern” at President Hassan Rouhani’s dramatic intervention. “We strongly urge Iran to continue to implement its commitments under the JCPOA in full as it has done until now and to refrain from any escalatory steps,” they said in a joint statement, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

“We reject any ultimatums and we will assess Iran’s compliance on the basis of Iran’s performance regarding its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA.”

Trump open to talks

Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday urged Iran’s leadership to sit down and talk with him about giving up nuclear programme and said he could not rule out a military confrontation.

“What they should be doing is calling me up, sitting down. We can make a deal, a fair deal, we just don’t want them to have nuclear weapons — not too much to ask. And we would help put them back to great shape,” he said, adding: “They should call. If they do, we’re open to talk to them.”

N. Korea fires missiles as U.S. envoy visits Seoul

N. Korea fires missiles as U.S. envoy visits Seoul

This comes less than a week after the test-firing of multiple rockets by Pyongyang


North Korea fired what appeared to be two short-range missiles on Thursday in its second such test in less than a week, and the U.S. announced it had seized a North Korean cargo ship as tensions again mounted between the two countries.

U.S. President Donald Trump said “nobody is happy” at the missile launches, which South Korea said were likely a protest by Pyongyang against Mr. Trump refusing to ease economic sanctions on the North.

U.S. seizes vessel

The U.S. has given no sign of willingness to budge on sanctions and on Thursday the Justice Department announced the seizure of a North Korean cargo vessel it said was involved in the illicit shipping of coal.

“The relationship continues… I know they want to negotiate, they’re talking about negotiating. But I don’t think they’re ready to negotiate,” Mr. Trump told reporters on Thursday.

Less than a week ago, Mr. Kim oversaw the test-firing of multiple rockets and a missile and the latest tests coincided with a visit to the South Korean capital by U.S. special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Biegun.

The two missiles fired on Thursday went east from the northwestern area of Kusong, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

They covered distances of 420 km and 270 km and reached an altitude of about 50 km before falling into the sea, they said.

“North Korea seemed to be discontented it could not reach a deal in Hanoi,” South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in told South Korean broadcaster KBS, referring to the summit in Hanoi with Mr. Trump. Mr. Moon also said that he saw the tests as a sign that North Korea wanted to negotiate, and said he planned to push for a fourth inter-Korean summit with Mr. Kim.

Ruling ANC takes comfortable lead in South Africa election

Ruling ANC takes comfortable lead in South Africa election

Party takes 57% of the vote, while Opposition secures 22%

Associated Press

Poll count: An electoral worker emptying a ballot box for counting in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Wednesday.APBen Curtis


The ruling African National Congress (ANC) held a comfortable lead on Thursday with more than half the votes counted from South Africa’s presidential and parliamentary election, but it received much lower support than in the last ballot five years ago.

Opposition parties made widespread allegations of corruption against the ruling ANC party a major part of their campaigns ahead of Wednesday’s vote and voter apathy also appears to have affected turnout, which fell to 65% from 74% in 2014.

Reduction in vote share

The ANC, led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, won 57% of the votes with 60% of the polling districts counted, according to results announced by the Electoral Commission. It received 62% of the votes five years ago. The Democratic Alliance (DA) received 22% of the vote so far, the most of any Opposition party.

Mmusi Maimane, leader of the DA, campaigned vigorously on the corruption issue. Speaking at the Electoral Commission’s results centre on Thursday evening, he said that his party appeals to South Africans of all races. “We will never be a party for whites. We will never be a party for blacks,” said Mr. Maimane. “We are a party for all South Africans.”

The populist, leftist Economic Freedom Fighters, which also made graft a main campaign issue, increased its share of the vote to nearly 10% support. More than 40 smaller parties also took part in the ballot.

In South Africa, the President and Parliament are not elected directly. The number of votes won by each party determines how many representatives are sent to the 400-seat legislature. The President of the country is the leader of the party that gets the most votes. Final results may not be announced until Saturday.