MAY 7, Tuesday

Delhi Edition

* Front Page

Justice Bobde panel gives CJI a clean chit





Justice Bobde panel gives CJI a clean chit

My worst fears have come true, says complainant

Krishnadas Rajagopal
NEW DELHI

The Justice S.A. Bobde in-house committee has found “no substance” in the sexual harassment allegations levelled by a former Supreme Court staff member against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.

A statement issued by the Supreme Court on Monday evening said the committee’s report would be kept confidential. As part of the in-house procedure, the report would not be placed in the public domain, the court added.

It said copies of the report were given to Chief Justice Gogoi and the “next senior judge competent to receive the report”, that is Justice Arun Mishra who is the fourth seniormost judge.

Justice Ramana, the third seniormost judge, was not handed the report as he had recused from the committee following allegations raised by the woman about his proximity to Chief Justice Gogoi.

Official sources in the Supreme Court said the report would go no further than Justice Mishra and Chief Justice Gogoi. There would be no Full Court meeting on the contents of the “informal” proceedings.

The inquiry was by nature purely preliminary, ad hoc and only for the purpose of getting information. The report was “wholly confidential” and existed “only for the purpose of satisfaction that such a report has been made”.

‘Highly disappointed’

“Today, my worst fears have come true, and all hope of justice and redress from the highest court of the land has been shattered. In fact, the committee has announced that I will not even be provided a copy of the report, and so I have no way of comprehending the reasons and basis for the summary dismissal of my complaint of sexual harassment and victimisation,” the former Supreme Court staffer reacted.

The complainant said she was “highly disappointed and dejected” to learn that the in-house committee had found no substance in her complaint.

The Supreme Court on Monday quoted its reported decision of 2003 in Indira Jaising versus Supreme Court of India, which had held that an in-house inquiry report was “discreet” and “not for the purpose of disclosure to any other person”.

The 2003 decision, however, does not contemplate a situation when the Chief Justice of India is himself under inquiry as in this case.




Fifth phase ends amid violence





Fifth phase ends amid violence

Voting held in 51 constituencies across 7 States; Trinamool, BJP workers clash

Special Correspondent
NEW DELHI

The fifth phase of the Lok Sabha election across 51 constituencies in seven States on Monday witnessed several incidents of violence in West Bengal and Jammu & Kashmir. The overall tentative turnout stood at 63.26% as against 61.75% in 2014.

More than 81% of the polling stations in this phase were located in rural areas. With the conclusion of this round, 78% of the Lok Sabha election is now over.

Dismal show in J&K

In Anantnag constituency of Jammu & Kashmir, where the polls were conducted in three phases, the turnout was a dismal 8.76%, while it was 28.54% in 2014. However, 71.1% voter participation was registered in Ladakh, close to last time’s figure.

A grenade exploded in Anantnag, but no one was injured. “A grenade was hurled at another place too, but it did not explode,” said an EC official.

Monday’s highest of 74.42% turnout was reported from seven constituencies in West Bengal, which is lower than the corresponding 81.37% recorded in 2014.

3 candidates attacked

Three candidates, two from the BJP and one from the Trinamool Congress were attacked in the State. The BJP candidate from North 24 Parganas’s Barrackpore seat, Arjun Singh, suffered after being allegedly attacked by Trinamool supporters. Mr. Singh, who alleged electoral malpractices at the behest of the Trinamool was seen arguing with locals and chasing supporters of the rival parties at a number of polling booths. Chief Electoral Officer, West Bengal Arif Aftab said an FIR has been registered against Mr. Singh on a specific complaint.

About half-a-dozen incidents of violence, in which some people were injured, have been brought to the notice of the Election Commission.

The car of BJP candidate from Hooghly Locket Chatterjee was allegedly damaged by Trinamool workers near a polling booth in Dhanekhali.



* Nation

NGT seeks report on ‘illegal’ road in tiger reserve





NGT seeks report on ‘illegal’ road in tiger reserve

Forms panel of representatives from various departments to look into it

Press trust of india
new delhi

The National Green Tribunal on Monday constituted a committee, drawing representatives from various departments including Wildlife and PWD, to provide it a factual report on alleged illegal construction of a road for use by commercial vehicles in the ecologically sensitive Rajaji Tiger Reserve in Uttarakhand.

A petition filed by advocate Gaurav Kumar Bansal said the road is being built in the tiger reserve without statutory clearances and requisite safeguards. Mr. Bansal said the construction of the road may potentially damage the biological diversity and resources of the reserve.

His plea claimed that the Uttarakhand government on March 1, 2017, without considering the negative impact on the biodiversity-rich stretch, opened the Laldang-Chillarkhal road in the reserve for commercial vehicles.

And hence, it said, the “State of Uttarakhand completely lost its vision with regard to their duty for the protection of ecology, biodiversity of the said area.”

A Bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel formed the committee comprising representatives of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Uttarakhand Public Works Department and National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).

“The issue raised in this application relates to ex-situ conservation and in-situ conservation methods for protection of biodiversity and biological resources of Laldhang-Chillarkhal buffer area of Rajaji Tiger Reserve, Uttarakhand,” the Bench said.

3-month deadline

It said it is necessary to seek a factual and action-taken report from the joint committee before considering the matter further. The report has to be furnished within three months by email.

The NTCA will be the nodal agency for compliance and coordination.

The matter was posted for further hearing on August 13.

Mr. Bansal’s plea also mentions that the NTCA on March 14, after learning that the Uttarakhand government carried on with the construction of the road without taking statutory clearance, sent a letter to Chief Wildlife Warden (Uttarakhand) and sought factual information on the case.

The petition said there already is a closure order from District Forest Officer of Lansdowne against the construction of the Laldhang-Chillarkhal road.



Murthy, the poster boy of Theppakadu’s rehab camp





Murthy, the poster boy of Theppakadu’s rehab camp

The former crop raider is now a gentle giant

Rohan Premkumar

Mellowed and reformed: Elephant Murthy at the health camp at Theppakadu recently.Special ArrangementHANDOUT_E_MAIL

UDHAGAMANDALAM

A few scars from the gunshot wounds on his leg are all that remind the forest staff at the Theppakadu Elephant Camp of Murthy’s past.

The elephant, now 55-years-old, was captured two decades ago, when he was a habitual crop raider and was reported to have killed 21 people in Kerala and Karnataka forcing the Forest Departments of Kerala and Tamil Nadu to act to stop him.

“In fact, the Kerala government had passed orders to even shoot Murthy, but he was saved by the fact that he had crossed over into Tamil Nadu, where he was eventually captured,” said M. Kirumaaran, Murthy’s mahout of the last few years.

Murthy’s past history of aggression and conflict is in stark contrast to his mild-mannered nature at the Theppakadu Elephant Camp, where he has a reputation for being one of the most dependable, intelligent and manageable of captive elephants.

“He is also quite a large elephant and exhibits all the traits most associated with elephants,” said a Forest Department official, who added that Murthy, who weighs around five tonnes, typifies the term “gentle giant”.

N. Kalaivanan, a veterinary assistant surgeon with the Department of Animal Husbandry, who monitored Murthy’s transitional phase from a crop-raiding elephant to a docile, tamed life at the Theppakadu Camp, said veterinarians treating Murthy removed 37 bullets from his body. Though Murthy was an aggressive elephant at the time of his capture, Dr. Kalaivanan pointed out that the elephant’s behaviour had changed due to confrontation with humans. “In the years leading to his capture, Murthy had to contend with encroachments to his habitat, with humans shooting at him and tormenting him, leading to him becoming more aggressive towards humans,” he said.

Murthy was also one of the first elephants in Tamil Nadu to have been captured as an adult.

“At the time, it was not common for large, mature animals to be captured and trained,” said an official, who said that Murthy’s transformation to mild-mannered senior pachyderm at the elephant camp highlights the importance of the Theppakadu Elephant Camp in conservation.

“The camp has now ensured the survival of Murthy, who is a magnificent elephant, reduced conflict, and is now serving to raise awareness,” said another Forest Department official.

Field Director of the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, K.K. Kaushal, said the mahouts at the Theppakadu Elephant Camp are some of the best in the world.

He said elephants in the camp are treated extremely well and are controlled without the use of any objects to inflict pain. “Murthy’s journey is significant, in that it shows the value of the conservation work,” said Mr. Kaushal.



Village officer’s doubt exposes Kerala real estate racket





Village officer’s doubt exposes Kerala real estate racket

CM orders inquiry into wetland conversion fraud

Special Correspondent
Thiruvananthapuram

A village officer’s diligence has blown the lid off a Statewide racket in which forged government orders and land records enabled land mafia to convert wetlands and paddy fields into prime real estate in Kochi and possibly other major urban centres.

The case, which has prompted Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to order an investigation by the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) on Monday, came to light when the village officer doubted the veracity of an order by the Land Revenue Commissioner (LRC) allowing a private person to reclaim and convert 25 cents of paddy field into real estate in Choornikara village in Ernakulam.

He sought clarification from the Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO). The petitioner turned up a few days later with a letter purportedly from the RDO. The document, which is now in question, authenticated the message of the Commissioner and instructed the village officer to allow the petitioner to convert the wetland into real estate.

However, the officer did not take the petitioner’s submission at face value. The fact that the Land Revenue Commissioner U.V. Jose was on deputation to a neighbouring State for election duty and his office was temporarily vested with Revenue Secretary V. Venugopal further strengthened his suspicions.

The officer’s finding prompted Revenue Minister E. Chandrasekharan to inform the CM about the fraud. A preliminary inquiry by the Revenue Department has raised the possibility of an inside job. The seals embossed on the suspected documents appeared to bear the hallmark of original revenue department stamps, and the language on the papers was characteristic of official deeds.

Provisions contravened

Officials said the suspect order directly contravened the provisions of the Kerala Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act, 2008.

They said the racket appeared to be widespread. The LRC’s office has formed a special squad to examine applications filed for wetland conservation since 2018. Investigators said big money could be involved.



Clamour for food grows in Odisha





Clamour for food grows in Odisha

Villagers run out of supplies they had stocked ahead of the cyclone Fani, seek help from officials

Satyasundar Barik

A girl from Chandrabhaga village feeding her sister at a shelter in Puri.Biswaranjan Rout

BHUBANESWAR

Three days after the extremely severe cyclonic storm Fani hit the Odisha coast, the State government on Monday reached several villages blocked by uprooted trees and collapsed electrical poles for the first time to find people in dire need of water, food and polythene sheets.

The famed marine drive road between Konark and Puri was cleared on Monday. When the cyclone warning came in the last week of April, people living in villages and hamlets had stocked food in their houses. But in the last three days, they had exhausted all their stocks. The demand for immediate supply of food and other basic materials is growing louder but officials are unable to meet it.

Polythene sheets are now in high demand as thatched and asbestos roofs were blown away in the strong winds. With green cover in villages completely stripped off, people are finding it difficult to find shelter under the scorching sun.

Several island villages in the Chilika Lake were said to have been badly devastated. To reach them, one has to go 70 km from Puri by road and then undertake an hour-long boat journey. Most of the villages fall under the Krushnaprasad block. In the absence of mobile network, villagers had to undertake the strenuous journey to inform government officials about the acute crisis prevailing in their areas.

In Gambarigaon gram panchayat near Satpada under Puri district, carcasses of dozens of buffaloes were lying unattended.

In Bhubaneswar, which is also badly affected, the water crisis became acute due to non-availability of electric generator sets. The problem in slums is multi-pronged. Apart from the daily struggle to get food for the day at centres where cooked food is distributed, people have been running from pillar to post to arrange a temporary roof. During a spell of rain on Monday afternoon, people were seen scurrying for cover while their belongings got soaked.

The challenge in carrying out relief and restoration for a population of 1.37 crore in 14,835 villages and 46 urban centre is enormous.

Although the State government claimed that power restoration was in full swing, it was a mammoth ask to bring five 400 kv towers, 220 kv towers (27) and 130 KV (21) back to earlier shape. Besides, four major grids in Khurdha, Cuttack and Puri districts have been damaged.

Meanwhile, the Collectors of Puri, Khurdha and Kendrapura have been transferred for not rising to the occasion.

Polling put off

The Election Commission of India has postponed the polling for the Patkura Assembly constituency in coastal Kendrapara district due to the devastation caused by Cyclone ‘Fani’, an official said on Monday. Earlier, the ECI had fixed May 19 as the date of poll for the Patkura segment.



Nests of grizzled giant squirrel spotted in Tamil Nadu





Nests of grizzled giant squirrel spotted in Tamil Nadu

Wildlife activists sight over 300 nests near Gingee

S. PRASAD

A grizzled giant squirrel at Pakkamalai Reserve Forests near Gingee in the Eastern Ghats. Special ArrangementHandout_E_Mail

VILLUPURAM

For the first time, researchers have sighted nests of the grizzled giant squirrel, an endangered species listed under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 at Pakkamalai Reserve Forests near Gingee in the Eastern Ghats.

The grizzled giant squirrel is usually known to nest in the Western Ghats in Southern India ranging from Chinnar Wildlife sanctuary in Kerala to Anamalai Tiger Reserve and Palani hills in Tamil Nadu. Owing to habitat loss and poaching, the species has been categorised as near threatened by the Red List and listed under Schedule II of CITES.

A team of researchers and wildlife activists from Indigenous Biodiversity Foundation (IBF), a non-profit organisation were conducting a survey in the Pakkamalai Reserve Forests near Gingee when they spotted grizzled giant squirrels. Over 300 nests of the endangered species were spotted by the group.

K. Raman of IBF said that the group had earlier spotted a pair of squirrels while trekking through the Pakkamalai Reserve Forests in 2016.

“We had photographed an individual but it disappeared among the trees. But this was the first time we spotted as many as 363 nests in the reserve based on grid mapping. The sighting of the squirrels was surprising as it had previously not been recorded. While nests were also spotted in adjoining Anandapuram Reserve, a majority of the nests were found only in Pakkamalai,” he said.

Several diverse and endangered species including the Golden Gecko, Bamboo Pit Viper and Mouse Deer have also been spotted in the Pakkamalai Reserve Forests. The government should immediately declare the forests as a sanctuary for the grizzled giant squirrel, he said.

The grizzled giant squirrel have earlier been spotted in Tiruvannamalai Forest Division in 2014, which was the only recorded sighting from this region in the Eastern Ghats.

Mr. Raman said that so far there has been no detailed study on why these squirrels frequent the Eastern Ghats. A detailed study is required to understand its distribution across the region.



Close shelter home probe soon, CBI told





Close shelter home probe soon, CBI told

SC seeks status report by June 3

Legal Correspondent

The CBI is fire-fighting rising criticism about the delay in wrapping up its probe.

NEW DELHI

The Supreme Court on Monday asked the CBI to “complete its probe” into revelations that 11 girls were murdered by kingpin Brajesh Thakur, who is accused of the rape and sexual abuse of children at his shelter home in Muzaffarpur district of Bihar.

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi asked the agency to file a status report on the probe into the killings by June 3, the next date of hearing. “This is an extremely urgent matter,” Chief Justice Gogoi remarked.

The Chief Justice said the matter should definitely be heard soon and intially asked the CBI to complete its probe by May 20.

However, Attorney General K.K. Venugopal objected, saying that it would not be possible to complete the investigation by May 20.

The court finally, in its order, urged the CBI to take “all necessary action in accordance with the law” and file a status report. The agency got wind of the alleged murders from the rescued children. The names of these girls, who have mysteriously disappeared from the girls’ home, emerged in the multiple statements of the children. The children said these 11 girls were murdered by Thakur and his accomplices.

A a writ petition filed by Nivedita Jha in the Supreme Court accused the agency of avoiding crucial leads to shield the perpetrators. It alleged that the CBI had already diluted the case.



SC to examine EC orders absolving PM





SC to examine EC orders absolving PM

Court asks Congress to file documents on the Commission’s ‘clean chit’ to Modi and Shah

Krishnadas Rajagopal
New Delhi

The Supreme Court on Monday allowed the Congress to place on record the Election Commission’s orders clearing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah of alleged violation of the model code of conduct by delivering hate speeches and misuse of the armed forces for political propaganda.

Appearing before a Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, senior advocate A.M. Singhvi said one of the Election Commissioners had dissented in “five out of the six orders”. But the EC had not disclosed the reasons given in the dissent. Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa is believed to have dissented.

Mr. Singhvi said he could manage to access some of the orders and they all quoted “identical reasons” for giving Mr. Modi a clean chit.

“There are six or seven orders now … All of them are unreasoned. Five of the six orders have been dissented. They have not been supplied to us. This has come 30 to 40 days after we filed the complaints,” Mr. Singhvi submitted. Despite objections from the EC, the Supreme Court on May 2 put the poll body on the clock, giving it time till May 6 to take a final call on complaints filed by the Congress against Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah.

Mr. Singhvi said the time had come for the court to intervene and lay down conditions, including a deadline, for the EC to deal with complaints on violation of the model code.

“The court’s intervention, if not too late for this election, will in the long run benefit the country and future elections,” Mr. Singhvi submitted.

Allowing Mr. Singhvi’s request to put the available EC orders on record, the court listed the case for hearing on May 8.

146-page plea

In one of the most direct attacks against the EC, the 146-page petition filed by Congress lawmaker Sushmita Dev, also represented by advocate Sunil Fernandes, alleged there was one set of rules for Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah, and another for the rest of the candidates.

The Congress said that several representations on the violation of the poll code were made to the Election Commission, but no action had been forthcoming from the poll body, which should be devoted to the concept of free and fair elections in a democracy.

The delay in action, the Congress said, was deliberate.

Since March 10, the date on which the election was notified, Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah have “specifically in sensitive areas and States, ex-facie [on the face of it] violated the provisions of the Representation of the People Act… It is in the public domain that they have indulged in hate speeches and repeatedly used the armed forces for political propaganda, despite a clear prohibition on the same by the EC,” the petition said.

The petition narrated how “the Prime Minister in blatant violation of the MCC held a rally on the day of polling in Gujarat on April 23, 2019 i.e. date of voting for the third phase of the election.” It gave details on the various reported utterances of Mr. Modi, from portraying Rahul Gandhi’s choice of Wayanad as “a seat where the minority is majority” to the calling for votes in the names of the CRPF soldiers killed in a terrorist attack in Pulwama.

The petition alleged that the lack of action by the EC against Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah is a “tacit endorsement” of their statements and a clean chit to the individuals.

“Inaction on the part of the EC is a sign of invidious discrimination and is arbitrary, capricious and impermissible… certain very powerful individuals have been permitted to gain an unfair electoral advantage by their material infractions of the RP Act, Election Rules and the MCC,” the petition said.

Such brazen violations are neither minor nor procedural, in any manner, it added.

Recounting how leaders like Mayawati were banned from campaigning for 72 hours for violating the MCC, the petition said that the lack of action against the Prime Minister and the BJP president despite cogent evidence, representations and exhortations to the EC “demonstrates abdication and indecision and a complete absence of justice, in ensuring a level playing field in ensuing General Elections for the Lok Sabha.”

“The inactions, omissions and commissions by the respondent/EC are in complete and direct violation of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution and which are impeding free, fair and unbiased General Elections, 2019,” the petition said.




Tej Bahadur Yadav moves SC to contest in Varanasi





Tej Bahadur Yadav moves SC to contest in Varanasi

Says he was cast out to favour Modi

Legal Correspondent

Tej Bahadur Yadav

New Delhi

Dismissed BSF jawan Tej Bahadur Yadav, whose nomination to contest from Varanasi was rejected, moved the Supreme Court on Monday, saying he was cast out of the Lok Sabha election fray to orchestrate a “walkover” for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Mr. Modi is the BJP candidate in Varanasi.

Mr. Yadav, who was supported by the Samajwadi Party in the contest, found himself out of the fight after the Returning Officer (RO) found his nomination papers faulty.

The RO had rejected his nomination on the ground that he did not furnish records to prove that his dismissal from the BSF was not brought about by corruption or disloyalty to the state.

‘Letter produced’

The petition contended that the RO had “completely failed to appreciate Mr. Yadav had produced his dismissal letter along with his nomination paper.”

The dismissal letter, the petition said, clearly showed that the former soldier was dismissed from service for alleged indiscipline and neither for corruption nor disloyalty to the state.

“It seems the decision was taken keeping in mind the sensitivity of the contest in the Varanasi constituency and to give a walkover to the candidate of the ruling party by disqualifying the petitioner whose candidature was gaining momentum and was therefore also supported by the main opposition alliance of two major political parties in the State. The malafide is apparent,” Mr. Yadav’s petition contended.

Mr. Yadav said the RO had rejected his candidature even without waiting for the EC’s response on a representation sent by him in this regard.

The petitioner has urged the court to quash the RO’s order of May 1.



No swing, surprise or change in equations






In focus:Punjab

No swing, surprise or change in equations

With AAP belying the promise of 2014 and SAD-BJP still facing the wrath of voters, Congress seems to be on a strong wicket

VIKAS VASUDEVA
CHANDIGARH

In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the “Modi wave” failed to sweep across Punjab, which unexpectedly surged towards the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The fledgling party won more seats than the Congress and the BJP, traditional rivals in the State.

With a 24.4% vote share, the AAP won four of the 13 Lok Sabha seats in the State. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) won four seats with a 26.4% vote share and its alliance partner, the BJP, won two with 8.6%. The Congress with 33% won just three.

However, in the 2017 Gurdaspur byelection, necessitated by the death of BJP MP Vinod Khanna, Congress candidate Sunil Jakhar won handsomely.

Defying logic

The AAP’s performance in Punjab, in fact, raised questions among political experts and analysts about the ways the party defied conventional wisdom in electoral politics.

“The party lacked the prerequisites widely accepted as essential for electoral success such as a strong organisational structure, resources, traditional social support base, established State-level leadership and a coherent agenda or ideology, to be viewed as a credible alternative. Also, there was the lack of the winnability factor going against the party. Yet the party won four seats, which was phenomenal,” said Ashutosh Kumar, Professor of Political Science at Panjab University.

Critical issues

The AAP in 2014 raised critical issues such as the drug menace, corruption and nepotism in the State. The party presented itself as a viable alternative in Punjab, which had only seen rivalry between the the Congress and the SAD-BJP since 1997.

Later, the 2017 Assembly election in Punjab saw a triangular contest and the AAP emerged as the principal Opposition party.

The Congress swept the election and formed the government, ending the 10-year regime of the SAD-BJP.

As the 2019 Lok Sabha election draws closer, things are different for the AAP, with many of its founding leaders having quit and a virtual split in the leadership of its Punjab unit. Trouble started after Dharamvira Gandhi and Harinder Khalsa, MPs, were suspended from the party in August 2015, as they challenged the central leadership.

Senior leader and MLA Sukhpal Khaira resigned from the party earlier this year and floated the Punjabi Ekta Party. Senior legislators H.S. Phoolka and Baldev Singh have quit the party.

Leadership challenge

The SAD, which is battling internal crises after the party’s old guard revolted against president Sukhbir Singh Badal, son of former Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, is currently facing a leadership challenge.

“The allegations against the party leadership’s complicity in getting the Akal Takht to pardon Ram Rahim of Dera Sacha Sauda, besides charges of failure to check the sacrilege cases and Kotkapura-Behbal Kalan police firing incidents of 2015 during their (SAD-BJP) regime could still hurt the party support,” Mr. Ashutosh said.

For the ruling Congress, the election will be a test of its performance during the two-year of rule in the State.

Ronki Ram, Dean at the Department of Social Science at Panjab University, said, “This time along, there is no enthusiasm towards the AAP on the ground. Many people are still annoyed with the SAD-BJP for the alleged misdeeds during their regime. Even the recent cross-border air strike in Balakot is unlikely to help the SAD-BJP. Against this backdrop, the ruling Congress seems to be the gainer as the anti-incumbency factor is unlikely to play a major role against the government.”




A bridge too far in a border outpost





A bridge too far in a border outpost

Political promises have done little to change life for the 400-odd residents of Sakol

VIKAS VASUDEVA

Only hope: The makeshift bridge over a tributary of the Ravi at Sakol, Punjab. AKHILESH KUMAR

Sakol

In another fortnight, the makeshift bridge over a tributary of the Ravi river will have to be removed when water starts surging in the stream. With that, the residents of Sakol, the last village on the Indian side of the International Border with Pakistan, will have to count on a single boat to cross the stream for the next five months.

Sakol in Pathankot falls in the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha constituency, where actor Sunny Deol, BJP candidate, is taking on Sunil Jakhar of the Congress. For the 400-odd residents, every escalation in tensions between India and Pakistan means a hasty evacuation in search of safety. With the election to be held in Punjab on May 19, most complain of indifference of successive governments towards their difficulties.

“We virtually remain disconnected from the rest of the country for almost half a year in the absence of a permanent bridge over the Tarnah stream. There is a makeshift bridge (dholan wala pul), but it is usually removed by government agencies by mid-May as water rises and will be re-installed in mid-September when the water level drops,” says Mohan Lal, 50, who cultivates his eight-acre family farm and runs a tailoring shop.

For better connections

“No one wants war here. We want peace… we want a bridge, we want a health centre and also strong signal strength that would connect our mobile phones,” says Mr. Singh, adding that in the event of a medical emergency, transport becomes extremely difficult with only one boat available.

“At times when the stream is flooded, even that boat stops ferry services. The Border Security Force (BSF) personnel help us,” he says.

Expressing similar sentiments on government apathy, Gurpinder Singh, 22, says, “Leaders brag about Digital India, but in my village, I can’t talk on the cellphone because there is no signal strength. There is no landline either.” The graduate in computer applications from the nearby town of Dinanagar says he intends to go abroad. “I am scouting for options to go to Canada or the U.S.,” he says.

On his 10-acre farm, Prem Singh is pushing the operator of the combine harvester to finish harvesting of wheat before dusk sets in. He is worried about the around 30-km drive on link roads dotted with potholes in pitch darkness before he reaches his second house in Bhoa town in Pathankot. Owing to the sporadic border tensions during the past several years, Mr. Singh finally decided to build a new house away from Sakol.

Mr. Singh says he had no option but to build another house. “Every time when there is tension between India and Pakistan, we are moved to makeshift arrangements — be it tents, gurdwaras or dharamshalas. It’s physically and mentally very tiresome. Many in the village go to their relatives to take shelter,” he says.

Not all have the luxury of a second home. Gurnam Singh, 40, says he has around four acres of family land and farming is his only source of income. “Where shall I go? I can’t leave this village. I have no option. Nobody wants war here. Few days ago (after the Balakot air strike) when tensions rose between both the countries, we were advised by the local administration to shift elders and children to safe places at a distance from our village. This happens every time. Also there is no health centre here,” he says.

Farming hampered

Jasbir Singh, who has around four kanal of farmland across the ‘fence’ and between the ‘Zero Line’, has his own problems. “Although the BSF personnel are very helpful, yet it is difficult to cultivate my land across the fence. I can only sow crops which are short in length for security reasons. Every time I have go to my farm, I have to take permission and complete paper-work — it’s time consuming. On the Pakistan side, there is no fencing; so the stray cattle damage the crop and we can’t help it. We don’t get any compensation for such loss either,” he says.

Sakol’s village head (sarpanch) Paramjeet Kaur, says, “We have been urging the government authorities to build a permanent bridge connecting the village. However, any final decision over building the bridge is yet to be taken,” she told The Hindu.

Surjit Singh, a retired Havildar from the BSF, points out that close to elections, politicians from different parties — be it the Congress or the BJP-Akali Dal — make promises to resolve their problems but nothing on the ground has changed. “They (politicians) come, promise and then do nothing,” he says.


* Editorial 1

A miscarriage of justice





A miscarriage of justice

Will the honourable Justices stand up as the collective conscience of the Supreme Court?

Dushyant Dave

SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKARSHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

Finally, the in-house committee has spoken: “No substance in the allegations contained in the Complaint dated 19th April, 2019 of a former Employee of the Supreme Court.” In the absence of any known procedure, the non-observance of the principles of natural justice and the absence of effective representation of the victim, the report, even though not for the public, is non-est and voidab initio.

The story so far

The complaint made by the victim of sexual harassment to the judges of the Supreme Court had two equally serious facets. One related to sexual harassment, a very serious charge. The other related to the victimisation of the complainant and her family “at the hands of the Chief Justice of India [CJI]”, as claimed by her. It is this latter charge to which the nation needs to pay equal, if not greater, attention. The charge on this count, as per her affidavit, involves the following: after the alleged incident on October 11, 2018, her transfer to the Centre for Research and Planning on October 22, change of position to “Admin, Material Section” on November 16, issuance of a memorandum on November 19 by Deepak Jain, Registrar, accusing the victim of violating conduct rules and seeking an explanation, her third transfer to the Library Division on November 22, the issuance of a memorandum on November 26 rejecting her explanation and proposing further action, her suspension on November 27, and the communication of December 18 from the Registrar that the charges against her stood proved. On December 21, she was dismissed from service.

Meanwhile, according to her affidavit, on November 27, her husband, a head constable with the Delhi Police, Crime Branch Division, was transferred to the Third Battalion. On December 8, her husband, and the latter’s brother, also a constable with the Delhi Police, were suspended over telephone, and the orders followed the next day. On January 2, 2019, an inquiry was initiated by a Deputy Commissioner of Police against her husband on the ground that “unsolicited calls were made to the Office of the Hon’ble Chief Justice amounting to official misconduct”. On January 11, the victim and her husband were summoned to Delhi’s Tilak Marg police station by Station House Officer (SHO) Naresh Solanki. In their presence, the SHO called the Registrar, Mr. Jain, to discuss ways to reach the residence of CJI Ranjan Gogoi. The SHO, the victim and the husband went there, and in the presence of Mr. Jain, the victim was forced to fall at the feet of the CJI’s wife.

Upon their return to the police station, the SHO had a long conversation with the victim and her husband. On January 14, the disabled brother-in-law of the victim, who had been appointed temporary Junior Court Attendant under the orders of the CJI himself on October 9, 2018, was removed from service. On March 3, an FIR was registered on a complaint by a person named Naveen Kumar at the Tilak Marg police station in respect of an alleged demand made by the victim in June 2017 for a bribe of ₹10 lakh for getting him a job in the Supreme Court and his payment of ₹50,000 as advance. Based on this FIR, the victim and her husband were arrested from their village in Rajasthan, hand-cuffed and subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment. The victim was remanded for a day on March 10. She was released on bail on March 12.

The affidavit in support of the complaint appears truthful and honest. The details are heart-rending and extremely troubling, and reflect a deep malaise that appears to have set in in high offices. These incidents are all corroborated by official records. Collectively, they establish beyond doubt the victimisation of the woman, her husband and other family members at the hands of the state machinery, including the Registry of the Supreme Court.

Violations of rights

Each of these actions is either unconstitutional or illegal or criminal in nature. Clearly, they establish a well-designed conspiracy to victimise the victim beyond redemption so as to ensure that neither she nor her husband and her family members could raise their heads again to seek justice in respect of the complaint made against the CJI. Together, they constitute gross violations of the constitutional and fundamental rights of the victim and her family members, including those guaranteed under Articles 14 and 21. Clearly, the motive behind ensuring grossly inhuman, illegal, unconstitutional and disproportionate punishment to the victim and her family members seems to be to suppress her will and spirit so that she does not raise any charge about the incident of October 11, 2018.

One thing is clear: complainant Naveen Kumar, who alleged that the victim demanded a bribe and willingly offered, according to his own case, ₹50,000, has made himself an accomplice to the alleged bribery to secure public employment. He must therefore face the rigour of the law. The case on its own showing appears to be concocted and its timing raises serious questions about its authenticity. If the bribe was demanded in June 2017, it is a curious coincidence that the complainant from Jhajjar, Haryana surfaces in March 2019 and that too in Tilak Marg police station to make the complaint. It activates the entire police machinery against the victim and her family.

This was the final nail in the coffin, as the proverb goes, pushing the victim and her family to the wall and igniting in them the courage to stand up against the CJI and make the complaint on April 19. Those who have doubts about the so-called delay in the complaint must be prepared to put themselves in the shoes of the victim, a Class III employee pitted against the Chief Justice of India, one of the highest and the most powerful constitutional functionaries. Her approaching lawyers who are widely respected as human rights activists was natural and cannot be viewed with suspicion under any circumstances.

The Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation recognised procedural safeguards as necessary and said they have “historical origins in the notion that conditions of personal freedom can be preserved only when there is some institutional check on arbitrary action on the part of public authorities”. In Uma Shankar Sistani v. Commissioner of Police, Delhi (1996), the Supreme Court ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation to investigate the circumstances under which a false complaint was registered against the petitioner, leading to his arrest. The FIR against the victim in this case needs the same treatment. Equally, the punishment of dismissal imposed on her is grossly disproportionate, even assuming that the charges against her were proved. The Supreme Court has consistently frowned upon such punishments. In Ranjit Thakur v. UOI (1987), the court interpreted the doctrine of proportionality “as part of the concept of judicial review” to ensure that if the sentence is an outrageous defiance of logic, then it can be corrected.

Grounds for judicial review

Irrationality and perversity are recognised grounds of judicial review. The court has held that if the punishment is outrageously disproportionate and the court considers it arbitrary in that it is wholly irrational or “a punishment is so excessive or disproportionate to the offence as to shock the conscience of the Court the same can be interfered with”. On each one of these counts the punishment of dismissal imposed upon the victim is completely arbitrary and perverse. It must go.

Where can she and her family members get justice if the police at the highest level is pitted against them? Will they ever get a fair investigation and fair reports in the criminal cases? It is doubtful. Can she and her family get justice at all at the hands of the judiciary, considering the respondents would be the CJI and the Supreme Court? Only time will tell. But certainly for the present, the picture is dark for them.

All these raise extremely troubling and discomforting thoughts in the minds of many. Is it the Supreme Court as an institution that is responsible for what has happened, or is it the CJI? The dichotomy will emerge only when other Justices act independently, uphold the majesty of the law and steer the institution out of troubled waters. If they fail, the institution is doomed to serious loss of face and credibility. It is time the collective conscience of the Justices prevails.

Dushyant Dave is a senior advocate and the former President of the Supreme Court Bar Association



Conservation minus the people?





Conservation minus the people?

Unlike the rest of the world, India is stridently moving away from community-involved conservation models

Mridula Mary Paul

Getty Images/iStockphotoPetmal/Getty Images/iStockphoto

In February this year, one of the world’s 17 megadiverse countries issued a court order which stood to evict more than a million forest-dwelling people from their homes. More damningly, India, a state that supports about 8% of global species diversity and over 100 million forest-dwellers, did not even put up a legal defence before its top court. Although this order was subsequently stayed, though temporarily, it provides valuable insights into India’s conservation objectives and approaches. Given the country’s size and biodiversity-richness, a decision of this nature has consequences for global natural heritage.

Involving communities living in and around natural resource-rich areas in the management and use of these resources is an effective tool of conservation that has been recognised across the world. This was affirmed by the 1980 World Conservation Strategy of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the Earth Summit’s 1992 Statement of Forest Principles and the Convention on Biological Diversity. Further fillip came from the IUCN’s Policy Statement on Sustainable Use of Wild Living Resources in 2000, and the Convention on Biological Diversity’s 2004 Addis Ababa Principles and Guidelines for the Sustainable Use of Biodiversity.

Poles apart

India has been a vocal member of these conventions. But at home, things operate rather differently. India’s conservation legislation is separated into those that protect forests and its produce, and those that target wildlife conservation. Both the Indian Forest Act, 1927 and the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 create different types and grades of protected areas, and contain provisions to restrict or outlaw local use of natural resources and landscapes. From the 1980s, there were a number of policies that mirrored the global shift towards inclusive conservation, such as the 1988 National Forest Policy, the 1992 National Conservation Strategy, the National Environment Policy of 2006 and the 2007 Biosphere Reserves Guidelines.

While these people-friendly policy statements made their way into India’s conservation docket, its earlier exclusionary conservation legislation continued to stay in place. Potentially, in an attempt to bridge this divide, the 1990 Joint Forest Management Guidelines (JFM) created community institutions for co-management, in collaboration with the forest bureaucracy. Although it initially registered some success stories in certain parts of the country, JFM committees are widely critiqued as being bureaucracy-heavy, with little real devolution of powers to local communities.

A dramatic shift in the Indian conservation paradigm came in 2006 through the Forest Rights Act that went beyond sanctioning local usage, to conferring rights to local communities over forest land and produce. The Ministry of Tribal Affairs was mandated with operationalising the Act, while conservation remained under the domain of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. Given a hostile bureaucratic environment, the legislation faltered, except in certain pockets. Despite its limited realisation, the Forest Rights Act succeeded in raising the hackles of those within the forest bureaucracy and wildlife organisations, who challenged its constitutionality before the Supreme Court.

India’s conservation policies and legislation over the years reveal a dichotomy of intent and action. Certain progressive policy documents are put in place checking off India’s international commitments. However, a wholly different picture emerges during the course of its operation on the ground. If there was any uncertainty regarding India’s stand on inclusive conservation, the past three years reveal that even the pretence of community involvement has largely been done away with.

Under the bureaucracy

The Third National Wildlife Action Plan, introduced in 2017, with the stated intent of complying with international commitments, is categorically of the view that locals hinder conservation. Where communities are to be involved, it distinctly avoids the attribution of rights and instead frames usage within a bureaucracy-controlled format. In 2018, there was a Draft National Forest Policy that emphasised the protected area model of conservation that leaves little room for communities. The Supreme Court’s order in early 2019, currently held in abeyance, mandated the eviction of those forest-dwellers whose claims under the Forest Rights Act have been rejected, in disregard of the bureaucratic violations, lapses and technical constraints that have played a part in such rejections.

In March 2019, a comprehensive overhaul of the Indian Forest Act was proposed. This amendment introduces provisions for extinguishing rights granted under the Forest Rights Act. Further, it grants the forest bureaucracy unprecedented powers to enter and search the premises of forest-dwellers on suspicion, arrest without warrant and use firearms to meet conservation goals. State authority that is usually reserved to tackle terrorism, insurgency and organised crime is now to be deployed to safeguard biodiversity. An amendment to the Wildlife Protection Act is reportedly in the offing. India’s conservation policies in recent years leave no doubt as to the model of conservation the country is intent on pursuing. While other countries are recognising the value of community-involved conservation models, India is stridently and steadfastly moving in the opposite direction.

Mridula Mary Paul, an environmental lawyer, is a Senior Policy Analyst with the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Bengaluru. The views expressed are personal



Posers on the code





Posers on the code

In clearing PM Modi’s speeches, the EC risks its reputation for even-handedness

In an election that lasts seven weeks, it is not only the task of conducting the polls that is humongous; policing the conduct of political parties and candidates can be equally demanding. The Opposition has been complaining frequently about what it believes is the Election Commission’s leniency towards the ruling BJP, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The focus is now on the manner in which the EC is dealing with complaints against Mr. Modi for some of his controversial campaign speeches. While complaints against other leaders were promptly dealt with, there was an obvious delay in taking up those against Mr. Modi. Few would have failed to notice that he has been running an abrasive campaign. He has stoked fears over India’s security, claimed credit for the performance of the armed forces and implicitly underscored that his party stands for the religious majority. It was only after the matter reached the Supreme Court that the three-member EC began to dispose of the complaints. It has found nothing wrong in most of the remarks about which complaints were made for possible violation of the Model Code of Conduct. What is disconcerting is the EC’s finding that none of his remarks touching on the role of the armed forces under his rule violates the directive against the use of the armed forces for political propaganda. That some of these decisions were not unanimous, but marked by dissent from one of the Election Commissioners, points to the seriousness of the credibility crisis the institution is facing.

For instance, a remark Mr. Modi made in Wardha on April 1 — that Congress president Rahul Gandhi was contesting from a constituency “where the majority community is in a minority” — was deemed innocent, and it took four weeks for the EC to give this clean chit. The second one, for a speech at Latur on April 9, was even more astounding. There, the Prime Minister made a direct appeal to first-time voters that they should dedicate their votes to the Air Force team that struck at Balakot, and the martyrs of Pulwama. The technicality the EC used to absolve Mr. Modi was that he did not directly appeal for votes in the name of the armed forces. So far the EC has rejected six complaints. The prohibition against the use of the armed forces in election propaganda is to underscore their apolitical nature and to deny ruling parties the opportunity to project their performance as their own achievements. Yet, the EC has decided that none of the references to air strikes, the nuclear option and dealing with Pakistan attracted the bar under the MCC. It is difficult not to speculate that had the same remarks been made by other candidates, they may have attracted a ban on campaigning for a period. The EC has so far retained its well-founded reputation, although there have been occasional complaints in the past that questioned its impartiality. It is unfortunate that this reputation for independence and even-handedness is starkly under question in this election.



Deserved penalty





Deserved penalty

SEBI’s order on the National Stock Exchange is a welcome regulatory action

A four-year-long investigation into a possible scam in an Indian securities exchange has finally come to an end. The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) last week ordered the National Stock Exchange of India (NSE) to pay a fine of about Rs.1,000 crore within 45 days for its supervisory laxity that led to some of its broker-clients gaining preferential access to certain market data. Two former NSE chiefs have been ordered to pay back a part of their past salaries as punishment for their failure to ensure that the exchange was fully compliant with all provisions of the norms governing securities exchanges. In its order, SEBI noted that the NSE’s use of the tick-by-tick server protocol had allowed certain high-frequency trading firms using the exchange’s secondary server to receive important market data before other market participants, who were thus put at a disadvantage. While it has not yet been proven decisively that the firms with preferential access to data from the exchange managed to profit from such data, the episode raised serious questions about market fairness. After all, millions of retail investors believe that stock exchanges provide a level playing field to all the players. SEBI ruled that it did not find sufficient evidence to conclude that the NSE committed a fraudulent act, but was unequivocal in ruling that the Exchange had failed to exercise the necessary due diligence to ensure that it served as a fair marketplace. The fact that the NSE had opted to switch to a new data transmission system, which relays data to all market participants at the same time, prior to a whistle-blower’s complaint in 2015 may have worked in the NSE’s favour.

Despite the sizeable fine that it imposes on the NSE, the SEBI verdict must surely come as a relief to the erring stock exchange for at least two reasons. First, the fact that it has not been found to have intentionally favoured certain market players over others should help it retain investor confidence. Also, the exchange, which had been barred from proceeding with its initial public offering during the pendency of the SEBI probe, will now finally be able to tap the capital markets to fund its growth, after a six-month moratorium. While there is bound to be debate about the magnitude of the fine, overall the financial penalty is a welcome regulatory action. Millions of investors choose to do their trading on market platforms like the NSE every year in the belief that the marketplace offers an equitable environment to carry out their trades. As the markets regulator, SEBI must deal with breaches of their supervisory brief by exchanges in an exemplary manner to ensure that small investors retain confidence in the fairness and soundness of key institutions that enable a market economy.


* Editorial 2

The Election Commission must act tough





The Election Commission must act tough

It is sad that the debate now is about the Commission rather than the appalling conduct of our leaders

“The Election Commission has got away with many mistakes largely because of its credibility and people’s trust in the institution.” The Election Commission office in New Delhi. Sushil Kumar Verma

The 2019 general election will long be remembered not just for the transgressions of the top political leadership, but also for the Election Commission (EC) itself being put in the dock. The EC has repeatedly found itself at the receiving end of scathing attacks from the Opposition, the public, the media and the judiciary. This is unprecedented for what was until now the most trusted institution in the country.

Trust deficit

Indeed, the trust deficit between the EC and the Opposition parties and the voters started with the EVM/VVPAT saga. The EC was accused of being on the defensive rather than being communicative. On April 8, in a letter to the President, a group of retired bureaucrats and diplomats expressed concern over the EC’s “weak-kneed conduct” and said that the institution is “suffering from a crisis of credibility today”.

The last two months have been a trying time for me as well. Ever since I demitted office in 2012, I have been a self-appointed spokesperson for the EC, defending every action of the body that needed to be defended. I must have refused at least a hundred requests by the media to comment on recent happenings. On the few occasions I was drawn into the debate, it was a painful struggle to find suitable words that would not sound like an indictment of the body of which I was proud to be a part. I noticed the same predicament on the faces of two former Chief Election Commissioners (CECs) who appeared on television recently. Then I remembered the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” And Plato, “I will put down your silence as consent.”

It took repeated raps on its knuckles by the Supreme Court for the EC to crack the whip. It is a pity that we needed the Supreme Court to remind the EC of powers that it always had. Article 329 of the Constitution has barred courts from interfering in electoral matters after the election process has been set in motion. In a long chain of judgments, the Supreme Court has reiterated that provision and restrained all courts from intervening. It is therefore significant that in the last couple of months, the apex court itself had to jump in for course correction. This is more serious than is realised at present.

On April 15, a Supreme Court Bench headed by the Chief Justice of India pulled up the EC for not acting against hate speeches and statements on religious lines. It was reported that the EC told the apex court, “We are toothless, we are powerless, we issue notices, then advisory and on repeated violation, we file complaint.” The Supreme Court was furious with this stand.

The Supreme Court had observed in 1977 that “where these [the existing laws] are absent, and yet a situation has to be tackled, the Chief Election Commissioner has not to fold his hands and pray to God for divine inspiration to enable him to exercise his functions and to perform his duties or to look to any external authority for the grant of powers to deal with the situation. He must lawfully exercise his power independently, in all matters relating to the conduct of elections, and see that the election process is completed properly, in a free and fair manner.” This has been the EC’s bible.

After the EC had not acted on complaints against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah for almost a month, the Supreme Court ordered it to do so before May 6. The EC promptly disposed of several complaints, giving the two leaders a clean chit in each case. Just as the EC was being written off, we got the good news that at least one Election Commissioner had dissented on five decisions taken by the EC — one giving a clean chit to Mr. Shah and four to Mr. Modi. He thought that the Prime Minister had, in fact, invoked the armed forces in an election campaign in violation of the EC’s guidelines instructing politicians to refrain from the same. His minority vote may not have changed the result, but dissent is a healthy sign of objective deliberation, and thus presents a ray of hope.

I can say from experience that the EC has got away with many mistakes largely because of its credibility and people’s trust in the institution. But this trust cannot be taken for granted. The moment there is a deficit of credibility, problems begin.

Appointments and removal

The root of the problem lies in the flawed system of appointment of Election Commissioners. They are appointed unilaterally by the government of the day. There has been a demand for de-politicising appointments through a broad-based consultation, as is done in other countries. The uncertainty of elevation by seniority makes them vulnerable to government pressure. The government can control a defiant CEC through the majority voting power of the two Election Commissioners.

In its 255th Report, the Law Commission of India recommended a collegium system for appointing Election Commissioners. Political stalwarts such as L.K. Advani and former CECs B.B. Tandon, N. Gopalaswami and I supported the idea even when in office. But successive ruling dispensations have ducked the issue, not wanting to let go of their power. It is obvious that political and electoral interests take precedence over national interest.

A public interest litigation was also filed in the Supreme Court in 2018. This has been referred to a Constitution Bench. I feel that on issues of such vital importance, even the Supreme Court, which I have always described as the guardian angel of democracy, has to act urgently. If democracy is derailed, its future too would be in jeopardy.

Apart from the manner of appointment, the provision for the removal of Election Commissioners also needs correction. At present, only the CEC is protected from being removed (except through impeachment). One has to remember that the Constitution enabled protection to the CEC as it was a one-man Commission initially. This must now be extended to other Commissioners, who were added in 1993, as they collectively represent the EC.

In the rich history of democratic India, all institutions of the state have come under pressure at one point or another. But the strength and credibility of an institution is tested when it buckles under political influence.

It is unfortunate that the topic of debate now is the EC rather than the appalling and unconstitutional conduct of our leaders. Over 40 electoral reforms remain pending for two decades. While it seems futile to have any hope from the political leadership, it is imperative that the EC asserts the ample authority that it already possesses constitutionally. It has the full support of the Supreme Court. It must act tough. This is not a mere question of its discretion, but a constitutional duty. Governments come and go, but the reputation of the EC stays for good.

S.Y. Quraishi is a former Chief Election Commissioner and the author of ‘An Undocumented Wonder: The Making of the Great Indian Election’



The Supreme Court belongs to everyone





The Supreme Court belongs to everyone

The independence of the judiciary rests on public trust, and public trust is not maintained by one-sided inquiries

I had been quietly watching the Supreme Court’s latest crisis play out despite young lawyers and law students asking me to speak up. Watching because I did not want any premature adjudication to hurt the prestige of the court that I so dearly love. Each time I climb its massive stairs, I am reminded of a client who used to bend down and touch the top stair, as an act of worship and devotion, whenever he had a hearing due.

I have seen people go away happy from here, I have seen them go shattered, but I never had reason to doubt the institution as a fair arbiter. I never doubted the institution’s fairness, because proceedings were always conducted in courts open to all parties, where trained lawyers presented their sides of the cause. Despite aberrations, most judges here are determined to fully hear whatever relevant submissions parties to the cause have to offer. All these requirements of procedural fairness seem to have been suspended in l’affaire Chief Justice of India (CJI).

An open and fair inquiry

I am agnostic on the question of whether there was an act or two on the part of the CJI or by the woman who complained against him. It may boil down to a ‘he said, she said’ situation, where the standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt cannot be met. An impartial arbiter might rightly conclude that the presumption of innocence requires the benefit of the doubt to be given to the accused. But he or she must arrive at this conclusion only after an open and fair inquiry. The inquiry in this case, which has now concluded, did not meet the open and fair standard. And so I feel compelled to speak.

The complainant had walked out of the inquiry saying that she “found the atmosphere of the committee very frightening”. She said, “I was very nervous because of being confronted and questioned by three Supreme Court Judges and without even the presence of my lawyer/support person. Also because of my impaired hearing I was at times unable to follow what was being dictated as my statement. I was also not shown what was being recorded and no copy of my statement recorded on 26th and 29th April has been given to me till date.”

The complainant walked out and the inquiry proceeded ex parte. The inquiry committee could not have compelled her to participate. Yet, by proceeding further and rendering an ex-parte finding, its report, while legally defensible, will still remain wanting in public perception. The inquiry could well have paused to consider whether the complainant’s concerns could be addressed. It could have also broad-based itself to bring on board an independent amicus curiae to stand for the complainant’s interest. The independence of the judiciary rests on public trust, and public trust is not maintained by one-sided inquiries.

Justice needs to be seen as done

It matters not that the respondent is the head of the judiciary. He or she must be held to the same standard that is used in all other such cases. The independence of the judiciary and constitutional protections given to judges do not transform into an immunity shield. If the accusation was not of sexual harassment, but of any other grave charge like violence, would a confidential, in-house inquiry have been resorted to? Such an inquiry, if it had proceeded ex parte after the complainant’s withdrawal, would not have been deemed sufficiently fair. Justice needs not only to be done, but needs to be seen as manifestly done.

The inquiry committee was headed by a person who in all probability will be the next CJI. Two of his immediate predecessors have come under public scrutiny of an unwelcome kind. The court has now chosen a status quoist denial over a serious exploration of the truth, regardless of risk. How will its actions be seen?

I ask this because of a little incident in my chamber. A one-time junior of mine was arguing before a consumer tribunal. The presiding member was a former senior bureaucrat. At some point in the hearing, the member lost his temper and shouted at the lawyer, “Get out of my court!” It is a matter of pride for me that my pupil responded, “It is my court too.” That is the only message that I have for the Supreme Court judges — those involved in the inquiry and those away from it. Members of the Bar, the staff of the court registry and the general public have enough of a stake in an independent judicial system to say, “It is my court too.”

Sanjay Hegde is a senior advocate of the Supreme Court



A missile dispute





A missile dispute

Why Turkey is reluctant to abandon the Russian S-400 deal despite U.S. opposition

Garimella Subramaniam

Turkey’s defiance of the U.S. over its Russian defence deal is an instance of the strains in strategic ties between the two NATO allies. It is equally a reflection of the proximate relations between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğansince their entanglement in the Syrian conflict.

In 2017, Ankara and Moscow reached an agreement on Turkey’s installation of the S-400 defence system, the anti-aircraft weapon that launches surface-to-air missiles. The sophisticated radars it relies on are believed to compromise the secrecy of the U.S.’s F-35 stealth fighter jet programme that many NATO member states, including Turkey, have signed on to acquire. Ankara’s move has thus prompted a multi-pronged response from Washington to wean away NATO’s eastern ally, which is critical in the counter-terrorism efforts in Syria and to stem the flow of refugees into Europe.

The U.S. has threatened to eject Turkey from the F-35 aircraft programme and impose more sanctions. Last year, the State Department approved the supply of the Patriot air defence system to discourage Turkey from the S-400 acquisition. The Patriots are separate from similar NATO installations in the southeast of Turkey earlier in the decade, during the onset of the Syrian civil war. At that time, NATO was at pains to emphasise that the Patriot missiles were meant to defend Turkey, rather than be used to target Syria. That clarification was meant to assuage Russian concerns that the U.S. was escalating the Syrian conflict.

But this year, the U.S. and Turkey, and NATO by implication, are divided over the Syrian Kurdish militia — the People’s Protection Units (YPG). A key U.S. ally in the fight against the Islamic state, the YPG is seen by Turkey as an extension of the country’s decades-old insurgent Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Moreover, Ankara’s invasion of the Kurdish enclave of Afrin last year and its overall intervention in Syria enjoys broad Russian backing.

Further, the West’s persistent attacks on the Turkish regime’s human rights record has hardened Mr. Erdogan’s authoritarian stand. U.S. President Donald Trump’s erratic foreign policy approach has helped Mr. Erdogan expand his regional influence.

It thus stands to reason that Turkey should be reluctant to abandon the Russian S-400 deal, and see no grounds to reject the latest Patriot missile offer. If anything, government officials in Turkey sound optimistic that President Trump will intervene to secure the waiver of sanctions arising from the Russian deal. Turkey’s Foreign Minister asserted before NATO’s 70th anniversary gathering in April that his country valued the security it enjoyed remaining within the military umbrella. Yet, he was equally categorical on the importance of Russian cooperation.

Garimella Subramaniam is Deputy Editor, The Hindu


* Foreign

1 million species at risk of extinction: UN





1 million species at risk of extinction: UN

Industrial farming, fishing are factors that threaten to end existence of many species, says report

Reuters
Paris

Relentless pursuit of economic growth, twinned with the impact of climate change, has put an ”unprecedented” one million species at risk of extinction, scientists said on Monday in a landmark report on the damage done by modern civilisation to the natural world.

Only a wide-ranging transformation of the global economic and financial system could pull ecosystems that are vital to the future of human communities worldwide back from the brink of collapse, concluded the report, which was endorsed by 130 countries, including the U.S., Russia and China.

“The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” said Professor Josef Settele, who co-chaired the study, launched in Paris on Monday by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). “This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.”

145 authors, 50 countries

Compiled by 145 expert authors from 50 countries, the study is a cornerstone of an emerging body of research that suggests the world may need to embrace a new “post-growth” form of economics if it is to avert the existential risks posed by the mutually-reinforcing consequences of pollution, habitat destruction and carbon emissions.

Known as the Global Assessment, the report found that up to one million of Earth’s estimated eight million plant, insect and animal species is at risk of extinction, many within decades.

The authors identified industrial farming and fishing as major drivers with the current rate of species extinction, tens to hundreds of times higher than the average over the last 10 million years. Climate change caused by burning the coal, oil and gas produced by the fossil fuel industry is exacerbating the losses, the report found. Robert Watson, a British environmental scientist who chairs the IPBES, said it would be possible to start conserving, restoring and using nature sustainably only if societies were prepared to confront “vested interests” committed to preserving the status quo.

“The report also tells us that it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global,” Mr. Watson said in a statement. “By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganisation across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”

The report’s blunt language echoed the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which said in October that profound economic and social changes would be needed to curb greenhouse gases quickly enough to avert the most devastating consequences of a warming world.

The findings will also add to pressure for countries to agree bold action to protect wildlife at a major conference on biodiversity due to take place in China towards the end of next year.

Three-year review

The Global Assessment contained a litany of estimates made after a three-year review of some 15,000 scientific papers that showed the profound impact of the rise of a globalised industrial society on the planet over the past half century.

Combining wide-ranging disciplines to measure how the loss of the natural world affects human societies, the report identified a range of risks, from the disappearance of insects vital for pollinating food crops, to the destruction of coral reefs that support fish populations that sustain coastal communities, or the loss of medicinal plants. The report found that the average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900.

The threatened list includes more than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reef-forming corals, and more than a third of all marine mammals. The picture was less clear for insect species, but a tentative estimate suggests 10% are at risk of extinction. “We have been running from one frontier to another frontier trying to find cheap nature (to exploit) in every corner of the planet,” said Eduardo Brondizio, a professor of anthropology at Indiana University in the United States who co-chaired the Global Assessment. “The key message: business as usual has to end.”




Lightning caused emergency landing of Sukhoi plane: pilot





Lightning caused emergency landing of Sukhoi plane: pilot

Says full fuel tanks could have caused the aircraft to catch fire

Agence France-Presse

The Sukhoi Superjet-100 after it made an emergency landing in Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow, Russia, on Sunday.AP

Moscow

The pilot of a Russian passenger plane that erupted in a ball of fire on the runway of ’s busiest airport, killing 41 people, said lightning led to the emergency landing.

Investigators were on Monday working to understand the causes of the blaze after the Sukhoi Superjet-100 had to return to Sheremetyevo Airport shortly after take-off Sunday evening.

Communication lost

Pilot Denis Yevdokimov told Russian media that the aircraft lost communication and needed to switch to emergency control mode “because of lightning” on the Aeroflot flight to the Arctic city of Murmansk. He did not specify if the plane was struck directly.

“We managed to restore communication through the emergency frequency on our radio connection. But the link was only for a short time and kept cutting out… it was possible to say only a few words,” he told the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper.

Videos on social media showed the plane crash-landing and then speeding along the runway with flames pouring from its fuselage. People could be seen leaping onto an inflatable slide at the front and running from the blazing plane as columns of black smoke billowed into the sky.

Another video shot inside the cabin showed roaring flames outside the window and passengers crying out in panic. Mr. Yevdokimov said he believed the plane burst into flames on landing, most likely because of full fuel tanks.

Aside from the dead, nine people were in hospital, three of them seriously injured, authorities said. The jet — carrying 73 passengers and five crew members — took off from Sheremetyevo at 6.02 p.m. (1502 GMT) and the crew issued a distress signal shortly afterwards, officials said.

Flight tracking site Flightradar24 showed the plane circling near the capital before landing.

The aircraft’s black boxes have been found and handed over to investigators, a source in the Russian emergency services told news agencies. Transport Minister Yevgeny Dietrich said there were no plans to ground the Superjet-100 model.



Boeing 737 MAX engineers spotted a glitch in 2017





Boeing 737 MAX engineers spotted a glitch in 2017

But the management was unaware

Agence France-Presse

A Boeing 737 MAX aeroplane.APTed S. Warren

Washington

Boeing engineers identified a fault with a pilot warning system on its 737 MAX aircraft in 2017, a year before the Lion Air crash, the company said on Sunday.

Boeing said that management was unaware of the issue until the crash in Indonesia, which killed 189 people.

According to Boeing, a supposedly standard piece of equipment that tells pilot about disagreements between angle of attack (AOA) indicators — which measure the plane’s angle vis-a-vis the on-coming air to warn of impending stalls — did not in fact activate unless an additional optional indicator was purchased by airlines.

That left airlines that did not buy the optional indicator — including both Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines — without the safety feature.

Faulty angle of attack indicator information may have played a role in both of the deadly crashes, causing the 737 MAX anti-stall system to unnecessarily activate and push the nose down toward the ground even as pilots fought to maintain altitude.


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