MAY 9, Thursday

Delhi Edition

* Front Page

SC agrees with EC on clean chit to Modi, Shah speeches





SC agrees with EC on clean chit to Modi, Shah speeches

Asks Congress MP to file fresh petition against comments ‘violating’ poll code

Krishnadas Rajagopal

The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed with the contention of the Election Commission of India (EC) that its clean chit to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah for their poll speeches may be right or wrong, but the court certainly cannot examine the merit of its decisions on the basis of a public interest litigation (PIL) petition filed by Congress MP Sushmita Dev.

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, however, gave Ms. Dev the liberty to challenge afresh, if she so desired, the merit of the EC orders clearing Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah of violating the Model Code of Conduct by delivering alleged hate speeches and misuse of the armed forces for political propaganda.

‘Plea deals with delay’

The hearing saw the Bench fundamentally agreeing to the objection raised by the poll body that Ms. Dev’s present plea dealt solely with the issue of delay shown by it in deciding complaints against Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah. The EC said Ms. Dev cannot later improve on her PIL plea through affidavits challenging the merits of its orders.

“The PIL has become infructuous. The complaints have been decided by us, rightly or wrongly. Our orders have been communicated to the Congress party, to Mr. Randeep Surjewala… This petition is only about delay. The petitioner cannot expand the petition and go into the merits of our orders,” senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, for the EC, raised a preliminary objection.

Ms. Dev’s latest affidavit, filed on May 7, accuses Mr. Modi of making “obscene” remarks to “malign” the image of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.




Stick to July 31 deadline for final NRC, says SC





Stick to July 31 deadline for final NRC, says SC

Act with wise discretion while dealing with objectors: court

Legal Correspondent,

Anxious moments: People checking their names during a hearing at an NRC Seva Kendra in Guwahati. PTI-

NEW DELHI

The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked Assam National Register of Citizens (NRC) Coordinator Prateek Hajela to act with “wise discretion” while dealing with people who had failed to appear for scheduled hearings on their objections filed against exclusion from the draft NRC.

“Objections’ hearings have started. ‘Objectors’ are not appearing in most cases,” Mr. Hajela reported to a Special Bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Rohinton F. Nariman.

“If they are not appearing, the law will take its own course,” the Chief Justice replied.

The Chief Justice told Mr. Hajela to take whatever action was necessary in the cases of the absentee ‘objectors’.

The decisions taken should be free and fair, keeping the law in mind.

“But whatever you do, do it by July 31. A day earlier than July 31 but not a day later,” he said before listing the case for July 3, after the summer vacation.

In the previous hearing, the court had urged the NRC authorities to make the hearing processes as hassle-free as possible.

Over 35 lakh people excluded from the draft had filed claims for Indian citizenship.

The court asked the NRC authorities to ensure “optimum convenience” for those seeking justice in the proceedings.


* Nation

Gadkari rakes up river water flow to Pak. again





Gadkari rakes up river water flow to Pak. again

‘Govt. making road map to stop water’

PRESS TRUST OF INDIA
Amritsar

Union Minister Nitin Gadkari on Wednesday warned Pakistan that India will not hesitate to stop water of rivers flowing to that country if Islamabad does not end its support to terrorism.

“The Union government is already making a road map to stop water of rivers flowing from India into Pakistan,” he said at a campaign rally in Amritsar.

The Minister said that the government is planning to build six water dams in Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan and this step would solve the water problem enormously.

“There was a water treaty between India and Pakistan in 1960 and its basis was peaceful relations, but if the present face of terrorism is not changed, in such circumstances, India wouldn’t take much time to take the harsh decision of stopping river water to Pakistan,” the BJP leader said.

Excess water

He said that the excess water will be given to Punjab and Haryana to address shortage in agriculture.

On river water distribution between Punjab and neighbouring Haryana, he said that the issue has to be sorted out without disturbing the water available to Punjab. Mr. Gadkari said that the Modi government did what was not done in the last five decades.



Buddha, Saraswati idols to be installed side by side





Buddha, Saraswati idols to be installed side by side

Row after Buddha statue was placed in space allotted for Goddess Saraswati at Bangalore University

Sharing space: The Buddha statue, which has been kept in the place meant for the idol of Goddess Saraswati.K. MURALI KUMAR

The controversy over the placement of a statue of Buddha and an idol of Saraswati that led to some tense moments in Bangalore University (BU) over the last few days has finally been resolved. The university syndicate and a sub-committee, formed to deliberate on this matter, on Wednesday decided to install both side by side.

This decision was taken following some tense days and protests at the campus after some students installed a statue of Buddha in the space where an idol of Saraswati was to be placed.

A press note by B.K. Ravi, Registrar (Administration) of the University, said that the installation of both will take place on the same day. The university is consulting civil experts to work out the modalities.

On Wednesday, around 100 police officers were stationed on the campus.

The original idol of Saraswati at the central administration block was installed in 1973. After it got damaged last year, it was decided to replace it. Students and research scholars, led by the Postgraduate and Ph.D. Students’ Association, along with some faculty members, on Monday placed a statue of Buddha in the space for the new Saraswati idol.

This was done without the permission of the Vice-Chancellor, sparking the controversy.

Students unhappy

Students and some faculty members are dissatisfied with the way the issue was handled by the administration. Many said they were not comfortable with the Vice-Chancellor’s earlier decision to personally incur all costs for the Saraswati idol, and felt that the spirit of secularism was under threat.

“The V-C and the Registrar are supposed to be the pillars of the university. The V-C had created this controversy by waiting. If the idol was to be replaced, it should have been done immediately, otherwise students are bound to raise issues. I support them 100%,” said B.C. Mylarappa, secretary of the BU Teachers’ Association and senior faculty member, adding that most students at the university come from SC, ST, and OBC communities.

He also participated in the placement of the statue of Buddha.

When contacted, Vice-Chancellor K.R. Venugopal said he saw “nothing wrong” in his decision to spend money out of his own pocket for the idol of Saraswati.

“We had submitted a report to the State government, the Police Commissioner, and the Governor’s office in this regard,” he said.



Demolish 5 Kerala buildings: SC





Demolish 5 Kerala buildings: SC

‘The structures in Ernakulam were built flouting coastal regulation zone rules’

Legal Correspondent

Rise and fall: The SC has ordered the demolition of five towers in Maradu, including the Holy Faith apartments, seen on the left, and the Alpha Ventures. Thulasi Kakkat

NEW DELHI

The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the demolition of five apartment buildings in Ernakulam’s Maradu municipality for violation of coastal regulation zone rules.

The order was passed by a Bench led by Justice Arun Mishra.

The Bench directed the authorities, represented by advocate Romy Chacko appearing for the Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority, to clear the buildings within one month and to submit a report before the court.

The court said the State cannot allow illegal constructions with the danger of floods and heavy rains looming large. The permission to construct the buildings was granted in 2006 when Maradu was a panchayat.

This special leave petition was filed against a judgment of the Kerala High Court whereby the show cause notice issued by Maradu panchayat was quashed.

The Supreme Court had passed an order on November 27, last year, directing the constitution of an Expert Committee to report on whether the area wherein the apartments were sanctioned and constructed comes within CRZ II or CRZ III.

Comes under CRZ III

The committee submitted its report stating that as per CRZ notification of 1991 and Kerala Coastal Zone Management Plan 1996, the area in question came under CRZ III. As per the CRZ notification 1991, no construction is permitted within 200 meters from the costal line in CRZ III.

“As the buildings in question are situated within the prohibited distance, the construction is illegal,” Mr. Chacko said.

The building permit was granted by the panchayat to the builders without obtaining the concurrence of the Kerala Coastal Zone Management Authority, which has to grant approval for construction within CRZ area.

Senior advocate V. Giri, for the builders, contended that since the area in question was declared CRZ II as per the draft CZMP prepared as per the CRZ 2011 notification, the constructions in question cannot be declared as illegal.



Bellandur drying up as BDA expedites waste weir work





Bellandur drying up as BDA expedites waste weir work

Staff Reporter

Clean-up work: Water level has been receding at Bellandur lake in Bengaluru.Bhagya Prakash K.

Bengaluru

The murky waters of Bellandur lake have receded from the banks as Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) lowered the water level to rebuild a waste weir. Since mid-April, the outlet sluice gates of the severely polluted lake were being opened so that the level would stay below the waste weirs.

“Water was let out for over 10 days for the reconstruction of the waste weir, which was in a dilapidated condition. We hope to complete the work within this month, before the monsoon hits the city and inflow into the lake increases,” said B.A. Shivananda, Executive Engineer, BDA.

Reduce waste

The work, he said, would introduce a smooth gradient to the outlet and would considerably reduce the churning of waste that had led to froth at Bellandur. With over 150 million litres of treated sewage being diverted to Kolar daily from Koramangala-Challaghatta valley, residents around the lake said the entry of only raw sewage had led to an increase in water hyacinth across the lake.



Jumbo issue casts shadow over ‘pooram’





Jumbo issue casts shadow over ‘pooram’

Row over ban on elephant Thechikkottukavu Ramachandran

Special Correspondent

Sought-after elephant: Thechikkottukavu Ramachandran at the Thrissur Pooram last year. K.K. Najeeb

Thrissur

There is a jumbo issue ahead of Pooram. The district administration and the Elephant Owners Federation are at loggerheads over the ban on parading Thechikkottukavu Ramachandran, one of the most sought-after elephants in the State.

Protesting against the ban, an emergency meeting of the Elephant Owners Federation here on Wednesday decided not to send elephants for parading for pooram celebrations from Saturday. Federation president P. Sasikumar alleged that the government was trying to disturb festivals. “There is a conspiracy by forest officials behind the ban,” he said.

The ban was imposed after Thechikkottukavu Ramachandran killed two persons on February 8. It has so far killed 13 people and three elephants.

The Thrissur-based Heritage Animal Task Force said the elephant was almost blind and had digestion problems.

A committee, after examining its health and behaviour, gave a report to the Chief Wildlife Warden against parading the elephant at festivals. On the basis of the report, the District Collector banned the parading of the elephant at Thrissur Pooram.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Forest Minister K. Raju urged the people not to fall prey to malicious campaigns by people with vested interests. He said the panel gave the recommendation keeping in mind the safety of the people who would gather for the pooram.

Agriculture Minister V.S. Sunil Kumar said the decision of the Elephant Owners Federation was unfortunate. Thechikkottukavu Ramachandran would be used only for a single event at the pooram. A petition seeking permission would be considered by the Kerala High Court on May 10.

‘Against ban’

The Guruvayur Devaswom had earlier expressed willingness to send elephants for Thrissur Pooram. “We are against banning any elephant. We are concerned about the ban on Ramachandran,” said a joint statement by secretaries of the Thiruvambady and Paramekkavu Devaswoms. “But we urge the federation to reconsider the decision that will affect the pooram celebrations.”

They also demanded that the government intervene to find a solution.

Meanwhile, BJP workers conducted a symbolic pooram in front of the office of the Agriculture Minister here in protest against the ban on the elephant. They also took out a protest march.



Traders, parties demand rollback of toll tax in south Kashmir





Traders, parties demand rollback of toll tax in south Kashmir

Highway is still incomplete and levying toll tax will put people under duress: National Conference

Peerzada Ashiq
Srinagar

Several bodies of traders and transporters as well as the political parties in the Valley on Wednesday asked the National Highways Authority of India to roll back the decision to impose toll tax in south Kashmir.

Members of the All Traders’ and Manufacturers’ Association, Anantnag, Sumo Stand Union Janglatmandi and bus and matador associations submitted a joint memorandum to Deputy Commissioner, Anantnag, demanding rollback of the toll tax on passengers.

The NHAI has set up a toll post at Kachkoot Fee Plaza in Sangam and imposed ₹85 as tax, in the first ever such measure in the Valley for light motor vehicles.

‘Not affordable’

Locals said it was “not affordable to lower income groups” to pay ₹170 for to and fro movement on a daily basis.

“The highway is still incomplete. Kashmir has hit its lowest ebb in the last four years and the decision of levying inexorbitant toll tax will inadvertently put the people under duress,” said National Conference spokesperson Imran Nabi Dar.

CPI(M) State secretary Ghulam Nabi Malik, while demanding its revocation, said, “Such a harsh move will have a tremendous impact on trade and commerce. People in Kashmir are already bearing the brunt of the ban on the movement of vehicles on the highway and the new measure will cripple the already fragile economy of the Valley.”

The government’s move to extend exemption to those living within 20 km radius has failed to assuage people’s opposition.



ASI identifies rare Indian artefacts seized from smuggler





ASI identifies rare Indian artefacts seized from smuggler

It had sent a two-member expert team to the United States, which examined nearly 100 antique objects

Special Correspondent

From left, artefacts of Manjushri (Eastern Pala period); Lingodhbhava (late Chola period); and Mithuna (Kalachuris of Tripuri).

New Delhi

From idols dating back to the Gupta period (5th-6th Century AD) to terracotta objects of the Harappan culture, a range of Indian antiquities and artefacts that were smuggled by Subhash Kapoor have been identified by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) during a team’s recent visit to the United States.

In a statement here on Wednesday, the ASI said a team of two officials, Dr. Urmila Sant and P.S. Sriraman, visited the U.S. after receiving communication from the office of the Consulate General of India in New York about the seizure of artifacts by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement of U.S. Department of Homeland Security from the storage of Kapoor. The ASI said the team identified close to 100 objects in total, including 17 objects that had been seized by the Department.

“The antiquities comprise beautiful bronzes from the Suttamalli and Sripurantan temples of Tamil Nadu and also a very significant image of Mahakoka Devata. Of these, four antiquities were stolen from protected monuments at Karitalai, district Katni in Madhya Pradesh on August 16 and 17, 2006,” the ASI said.

Apart from that, 56 terracotta objects that were returned by Toledo Museum in Ohio to the Indian Consulate were declared to be antiquities by the team. These objects, a majority of which were from Chandraketugarh in West Bengal, had been gifted to the museum by Kapoor.

“Further, 232 objects comprising brass and copper alloys, gold with enamel work, silver, stone and terracotta in possession of the Indian consulate were also inspected by the ASI officials. Among them, a few were identified as antiquities, like the stone image of the Buddha of Mathura School, a terracotta image of the Buddha belonging to the Gupta period and a set of 10 copper plates engraved with Quranic verses of the late Mughal Period,” the ASI said.

The statement added that after Kapoor’s arrest in Germany in 2011, many museums in the world had shared information about the antiquities procured from him.

“Many museums in the U.S. have also deposited various valuable antiquities with Homeland Security officials that they had purchased from Kapoor, saying they were not aware that the items had been smuggled into the country,” the ASI said, adding that the Indian consulate in New York would be working on transporting the objects back to India.

The smuggler was extradited to India and is currently in the custody of Tamil Nadu police, the ASI said.



IAF plane overshoots runway in Mumbai, holds up flights





IAF plane overshoots runway in Mumbai, holds up flights

Aircraft stops 150 m short of the airport boundary wall; no one injured

special correspondent, Mumbai

Officials examining the AN-32 aircraft at the airport in Mumbai. REUTERS

An Antonov An-32 transport aircraft of the Air Force overshot the main runway of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport in Mumbai late on Tuesday, stopping barely 150 m short of the boundary wall. No one was injured in the incident.

The aircraft was preparing to take off for the Yelhanka Air Force Base in Bengaluru at 11.39 p.m. when the incident happened, leading to the closure of the main runway for more than 17 hours.

Air Traffic Control (ATC) officials said the pilot started rolling for take off from the closer to intersection without using much of the available 3,445 m runway that could have got it airborne.

A shorter take off is permitted subject to a calculation of the aircraft load and the distance required to get it airborne.

Aircraft, crew safe

“The aircraft abandoned take off in view of a technical issue and overshot the runway. The aircraft and the crew are safe. A recovery team arrived and the aircraft was cleared by 4.30 p.m.,” Commander Mehul Karnik, chief public relations officer, Indian Navy, said.

A team of airport officials, including a doctor, rushed to the spot but they were asked to stay away while the entire issue was handled by the defence forces, officials said. The propellers of the aircraft and six runway lights were damaged.

A Court of Inquiry has been established to probe the incident.

With the main runway being out of bounds for over 17 hours, several airlines reported delays as flights took off and landed on the shorter secondary runway of the airport.

Till 4 p.m., over 200 departures and 70 arrivals were delayed, Swedish aircraft and airport tracking website Flightradar24 said.

A Mumbai International Airport Ltd. spokesperson said that the main runway remained unavailable for operations from 11.40 p.m. on Tuesday to 4.50 p.m. on Wednesday on Wednesday.



Cyclone Fani tears down artists’ village in Odisha





Cyclone Fani tears down artists’ village in Odisha

Many pieces of art in heritage hub have been damaged

, Satyasundar Barik

A woman of Raghurajpur village shows her artwork that was damaged in the cyclone in Puri. Biswaranjan RoutBiswaranjanRout

RAGHURAJPUR

Rarely has artist Bijoy Mohapatra, 40, remained idle in recent memory. But with Cyclone Fani tearing down this artists’ village, part of the coastal district of Puri, Mr. Mohapatra and his ilk is struggling to come to terms with the damage.

When the cyclone made landfall on the morning of May 3, two front wooden doors of his house could not withstand the ferocity of the wind and his entire body of work was exposed to the lashing rain.

“We found ourselves helpless before the intensity of the storm. Instead of shifting the ‘Pattachitra’ to a safer place, our priority was to save our own lives,” said Bijoy.

One rain-defaced 5ft x 3ft sized Pattachitra, a traditional cloth-based scroll painting, narrated the Krishna Leela while another told the story of Ganesha. It had taken six months each for Mr. Mohapatra and his father, Banamali Mohapatra, a master craftsman, to complete them. The two damaged Pattachitras could have fetched them more than ₹20,000 each. As he showed more soiled artworks, his father’s face looked emotionless. “To recreate these artworks, we require motivation as well as funds,” the father lamented.

About 10 metres away, Brundaban Swain wad waiting to show what he had lost to Fani. “The Pattachitras are known for its intricate designs. Once torn, one can neither mend it nor sell it. What we have lost is energy, patience and earnings,” said Brundaban. Almost everyone in the village with 140 families of artists have different stories to tell.

Raghurajpur has been identified as a heritage village because of the traditional works ranging from Pattachitra to paper mask and wooden carvings to dolls. The village, which usually witnesses an overflow of tourists who queue up to buy the artwork, has not see a single tourist since the day Fani struck.

“The input cost is likely to jump. For example, the palm trees have been damaged severely and those who supply palm leaves wil now charge double the price. Similarly, it would be difficult to find traditional adhesives,” said Mr. Mohapatra .



SC agrees with EC on clean chit for speeches





SC agrees with EC on clean chit for speeches

Sushmita Dev

“Political statements are made in this affidavit… All this when neither the petition nor the reliefs sought by her have been amended,” Mr. Dwivedi argued. He said Ms. Dev should not bother about the merits of the EC orders. “Mr. Surjewala, who filed the complaints in the EC, has not filed any petition here, has he,” he asked.

Chief Justice Gogoi agreed, observing that the court cannot proceed on the merits of the EC orders in this PIL plea. “Rightly or wrongly, orders have been passed. You [Dev] have to challenge them separately, individually… They [EC] have decided and now it is for you to challenge… File independent writ petitions,” the CJI said, addressing senior advocate A.M. Singhvi.

‘No specific averments’

In its order, the court said it cannot address the merits of the EC orders “in the absence of specific averments in a petition.”

Mr. Singhvi argued that it took the court’s intervention to push the EC to finally decide on the complaints. “They took 31 days to decide… What do I do? It took me two days to even file this affidavit (May 7),” he said.

“Now it would only take you half a day to file a new petition,” said Chief Justice Gogoi, disposing of the PIL plea.

In the May 7 affidavit, Ms. Dev said Mr. Modi’s words, “Your father may have been declared Mr. Clean by his courtiers. But he died as Bhrashtachari No.1”, was “derogatory” to the high office he held.

Charge against EC

The affidavit was filed on the basis of a Supreme Court order allowing Ms. Dev to make good her claims that the EC had dealt with several complaints of hate speech against Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah in an off-hand manner through cryptic orders of dismissal.

It accused the EC of failing to “appreciate that the hate speeches delivered by the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi and Mr. Amit Shah are ‘corrupt practices’ under Section 123A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 which ex-facie promote feelings of enmity and hatred between different classes of the citizens of India on grounds of religion.”

It said Mr. Modi’s speeches were punishable under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 as they “blatantly promote disharmony and feelings of enmity on the grounds of religion and such acts are also likely to prejudice the maintenance of public harmony and tranquillity between religious communities.”

The Congress had voiced apprehensions in the court about how the EC had a different set of rules for Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah.

Other leaders who have delivered speeches of a similar “tenor, tone, meaning, purport and intention” have been punished for violation of the Model Code of Conduct and the Representation of the People Act. Among them are even BJP candidates and ministers, including Pragya Singh Thakur and Maneka Gandhi, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and BSP supremo Mayawati.


* Editorial 1

Begusarai, metaphor of a secular crisis





Begusarai, metaphor of a secular crisis

For the minorities secularism is a survival tool, for the elite it is an ideology. In caste competition, it could be a tactic

Ranjeet KumarRanjeet Kumar

Begusarai, in the Gangetic plains of Bihar, has long been a stronghold of the Communist Party of India (CPI). Kanhaiya Kumar, the firebrand young leader and former president of Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union, is the CPI candidate from the Begusarai Lok Sabha constituency. Over the past five years, he has become a national icon of resistance against Hindutva. His candidacy has so inspired opponents of Hindutva that they raised all the money that he could legally spend in campaign through crowdfunding — ₹70 lakh. Actors, academics and activists, an array of people from India’s secular, liberal universe campaigned for Mr. Kumar. So did enthusiastic youngsters from all over the country. If Prime Minister Narendra Modi personifies the march of Hindutva in India, Mr. Kumar personifies the resistance to it. And the fight for Begusarai has larger messages than the fortunes of the candidates in the fray.

Collapse of binaries

However, this binary world as imagined by the elite was processed differently in Begusarai, which went to the polls on April 29. “We want Narendra Modi as Prime Minister and Kanhaiya Kumar as MP,” said Binod Singh, a 26-year-old belonging to the same upper caste Bhumihar community as the candidate. This view is broadly representative of a significant section of Mr. Kumar’s Bhumihar supporters, though the BJP’s candidate is also a Bhumihar.

In the triangular contest of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the CPI and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in Begusarai, the latter two are avowedly opposed to the BJP’s Hindutva politics. The RJD is in alliance with the Congress and some other small outfits representing Dalit and backward communities. Its candidate, Tanveer Hasan, is a respectable modernist leader who lost in 2014 but stayed active in the constituency since.

How the principles of secularism and social justice, both components of progressive politics, interacted in electoral politics could be understood in terms of the intense competition among caste-based interests groups for political power over the decades. In the era of Congress dominance in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the upper castes that controlled the party roped in Dalits and Muslims with the rhetoric of justice and secularism, but excluded the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) from power. The rise of Hindutva changed this dynamic, as the upper castes were the first to abandon the Congress for the BJP. The emergent OBC politics, with Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh Yadav at the helm in Bihar and U.P., respectively, offered an alternative to Muslims as the Congress collapsed. With the support of Muslims, the OBCs realised their decades long yearning for political power.

The Muslim-OBC social combination, with the Yadavs at its core, not merely ended the upper caste hegemony, but also crushed its vehicle, the Congress party. There is no normative exposition or pursuit of secularism in this context, but social justice parties were against Hindutva for its Manuwaad, or upper caste dominance.

From the social justice perspective, the opposition to Hindutva can be summarised thus: upper castes allied with Muslims to exclude OBCs initially; when they abandoned Muslims for Hindutva, OBCs challenged Hindutva, made a social coalition with Muslims that proved enduring, and won power. Muslims were unwitting participants in this caste competition.

Progressive, oppressive

The elite, vernacular and English, articulated the standards of secularism, but remained disconnected from the dynamics of caste aspirations at play in the electoral arena. The ideologues and leaders of this elite, the Nehruvian and the Marxist streams, have been primarily upper caste. It would be unfair to question their intentions or commitment but the accident of their birth limited their appeal among the subalterns. The role of Bhumihars in Bihar politics is instructive. Several doyens of the Communist movement were from the community, which also had the progressive poet Dinkar among its ranks. But the landowning community also mobilised a private army called the Ranveer Sena, which launched murderous attacks on Dalits in waves of violence in the 1990s, simultaneous with the Muslim-OBC political partnership, and as a reaction to it. If Brahminism denotes hegemony, Bhumiharism represents violent oppression.

That being said, theCPI’s Bhumihar candidate won nearly two lakh votes in Begusarai in 2014, which evidently included votes of Dalits and OBCs, for the politics it represents. This wider appeal has been significantly strengthened by Kanhaiya Kumar’s candidacy, notwithstanding the presence of ‘Modi-Kanhaiya’ voters among his supporters. But the nearly exclusive control of the CPI by a single caste makes it suspect in the eyes of subalterns whose politics it professes to advance. Of the five seats that the CPI wanted to contest as part of the RJD-led alliance, four were for Bhumihars, according to Shivanand Tiwari, RJD leader.

The Muslim elites could bargain with the upper caste-controlled Congress and the backward caste RJD and Samajwadi Party for favours and representation, but their power to do so is in decline with the rise of Hindutva. In any case, the material condition of average Muslims is the lowest compared to other social groups, though the Hindutva narrative portrays them as undeserving recipients of secular appeasement. Even for Muslims who do not subscribe to secularism as a principle, it is a survival strategy in a Hindu majority country. The rise of Hindutva has correspondingly meant a decline in Muslim representation in politics. Security has increasingly become the sole expectation of Muslims from secularism. But the RJD and the SP continue to field Muslim candidates, and in Bihar and U.P., there are constituencies where Muslims can win.

Begusarai is one such, but the contest between the CPI and the RJD put the community in dilemma. An upper caste communist’s verve to take on Hindutva is evidently more than a vulnerable Muslim could achieve, and the community supported Mr. Kumar in significant numbers. For security, Muslims are willing to surrender their claim of representation — which, ironically, is the implied demand that Hindutva makes to the community in exchange for security. If Muslims abandon a Muslim RJD candidate, the OBCs and Dalits would rethink their attitude towards Muslims — and the secularism-social justice axis, which has been a speed-breaker for Hindutva, could collapse.

Politically ambitious OBCs and Dalits prefer Hindutva in which they have representation to a secular nationalistic project that is thoughtless of those ambitions at best and exclusive at worst. Lower caste politics is broadly indifferent to the rhetoric of secularism and their opposition to Hindutva is primarily from a social justice perspective. Many champions of lower caste interests would even grudge that Muslims are indifferent to their struggles against Manuwaad. Hindutva 2.0 under Mr. Modi has cleverly used this dynamic for its rise, by offering them representation though no significant political power.

A progressive politics, of which secularism is a part, and agnostic of all considerations of caste and religion, may be an ideal worth pursuing, but questions of representation for different social groups within it is extremely critical.

The road ahead

In the arena of caste competition, secularism could be an effective tactic; for the minorities it is a survival tool, and for the elite it is an ideology. Reconciling these differing, though not necessarily contesting, perspectives, is essential but difficult as the contest between the RJD and the CPI shows. For secular politics to be sustainable as a winnable electoral platform, it must merge with social justice politics. That requires a negotiation between the self-interests of different social groups as they subjectively perceive them with the normative claims of that politics articulated by the elite. Though they have overlapping traits, their accents are different, and there is even a subterranean hostility with one another. Begusarai is a metaphor of that crisis of Indian secularism.

varghese.g@thehindu.co.in



A travesty of justice





A travesty of justice

Judges must not reduce the institution to a private club, whereby they are the last word on their own colleague

Getty Images/iStockphotostudiocasper/Getty Images/iStockphoto

On May 6, the “in-house” panel of the Supreme Court gave a clean sheet to the Chief Justice of India (CJI), Ranjan Gogoi, after an allegation of sexual harassment was levelled against him by a former female staffer of the court.

Let us assume, for example, that an average employee in a government department is accused of sexual harassment at the workplace. If at the outset reasonable material is found in favour of the complaint, the accused is suspended from employment pending an inquiry. This is considered necessary in administrative law to ensure that the accused does not tamper with evidence or intimidate or influence witnesses. Usually, an independent inquiry will follow which will give both parties an opportunity to present evidence and arguments and to examine and cross-examine witnesses. If the allegations are found to be true and grave, the accused’s employment is terminated; if not, other forms of departmental penalties are imposed.

So why does the entire body of procedural safeguards and legal principles disappear when the accused is the CJI? It was on April 19 that the complainant sent affidavits to the judges of the Supreme Court accusing Justice Gogoi of sexual harassment. The complaint is specific, detailed and supported by documentary and other forms of evidence. The account seems, prima facie, consistent, warranting an inquiry.

Series of flaws

The first reaction was by the court’s Secretary General quickly discarding the complaint as one by “mischievous forces”. The second was unprecedented in the constitutional history of India. The CJI himself constituted an extraordinary hearing in the Supreme Court, along with two other judges, on a non-working day in a case titled “Matter of great public importance touching upon the independence of the judiciary”. The complainant, in her absence, was defamed and her motives questioned. The highest law officers of the country, the Attorney General and the Solicitor General, joined this judicial proceeding. Within no time, an allegation of sexual harassment turned into a matter of judicial independence.

The third development was the constitution of an “in-house” panel comprising three judges of the Supreme Court. It did not seem to be of concern that to ensure independence of the inquiry and check for bias, members other than judges should have constituted the committee. How can judges inquire into allegations against a colleague, no less the CJI, who is the ‘master of roster’ assigning cases to fellow judges and, most significantly, the highest judicial authority in the country, wielding an enormous amount of power and influence?

The constitution of the “in-house” panel was not in compliance with the provisions of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, a special legislation to curbharassment. Nor was not in accordance with any requirements under the existing framework of law. Thereafter, the complainant was forced to abstain from the panel, citing various reasons such as the refusal of the panel to allow the presence of her lawyer, refusal to record the proceedings or to inform her of the procedure followed and prohibition on conveying the details of the proceedings to anybody else, including her lawyer. The panel continued the proceedings in her absence and then met the CJI. Now, the panel has concluded that the allegations are without “substance”.

Opaque report

The finding of the panel that the allegations are baseless is the final blow in a process that has violated all principles of fairness, due process and impartiality. The panel’s report is not available to the public on reasons of confidentiality. What grounds did the panel cover to reach its conclusion? What evidence did it examine and rely on? The public have been kept in the dark, having no access to and no knowledge of what transpired in the proceedings. This has happened at a time when the Right to Information Act, 2005 has revolutionised access to information by the public.

The institution of the judiciary has a strong counter-majoritarian character. It is considered neutral — free from self-interests. It is supposed to protect individual rights and adjudicate freely and fairly. But the current episode points to a larger problem in Indian democracy: the emergence of judicial oligarchy. An allegation against a sitting judge is inquired into by three other judges of the court, the accused is exonerated, the panel report is made available only to the CJI and the seniormost judge of the court, and this secrecy is justified by relying on a judgment of the Supreme Court itself. The judges must not reduce the institution to a private club where certain interests are privileged at the cost of judicial integrity.

The Chief Justice of India is not above the law.

Thulasi K. Raj is a lawyer at the Kerala High Court



Alternative dreams





Alternative dreams

K. Chandrashekar Rao’s outreach to regional parties sets the ball rolling on a ‘third front’

There are two more phases of polling in the Lok Sabha election and results are not due until May 23. But Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao, who heads the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, has sought meetings with his counterparts in other southern States as well as with Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam president M.K. Stalin in what is a clear attempt to prepare the ground for a ‘federal front’ of non-Congress, non-BJP parties after the elections. Mr. Rao had attempted to bring together such a formation earlier as well. Last year, a pre-election federal front did not quite take off due to the varying positioning of the regional parties. Some such as the DMK, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Janata Dal (S) favoured a direct alliance with the Congress and were not part of the TRS’s plans. While others such as the Trinamool Congress did not fully rule out a post-poll alliance with the Congress, the Biju Janata Dal has not ruled out any such alliance with either the BJP or the Congress. For the TRS, the idea of a federal front is rooted in the political contest in its own State. The Congress is the primary rival in Telangana for the TRS, and so its antipathy to a Congress-led coalition. In fact, the TRS had late last year abstained in the trust vote called by the Opposition in Parliament, signalling equidistance with the BJP and the Congress.

However, by now seeking to meet Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan of the CPI(M), Karnataka Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy of the JD(S) and Mr. Stalin, Mr. Rao seems to be indicating a reorientation of sorts. Some of these parties are the Congress’s coalition partners — the JD(S) in Karnataka and the DMK in Tamil Nadu — and the Left has an unequivocal position against the BJP. Mr. Rao’s outreach has raised speculation that his party would be willing to be part of a regional front that is clearly more antithetical to the BJP and that could be supported by the Congress if the need arises. It may not be so simple, as there are other forces that the TRS is politically opposed to, such as the Telugu Desam Party, which are likely to be part of a post-poll anti-BJP coalition. The idea of a third front in which the Congress and the BJP do not play a part has always been attractive to the regional parties, and the Left in particular. But despite the continued relevance of regional parties, the resilience of the two main national parties has prevented this from happening. The fact that the TRS could not work out a pre-poll, pan-India coalition to delineate itself from the Congress and the BJP is in itself a signal of this. In the larger scheme of things, all this manoeuvring by the TRS chief might yield little more than some additional leverage for his party in a post-poll situation.



Circle of life





Circle of life

Biodiversity assessments must be factored into all economic activity

The overwhelming message from the global assessment report of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is that human beings have so rapaciously exploited nature, and that species belonging to a quarter of all studied animal and plant groups on earth are gravely threatened. If the world continues to pursue the current model of economic growth without factoring in environmental costs, one million species could go extinct, many in a matter of decades. Catastrophic erosion of ecosystems is being driven by unsustainable use of land and water, direct harvesting of species, climate change, pollution and release of alien plants and animals in new habitats. While ecosystem losses have accelerated over the past five decades universally, there is particular worry over the devastation occurring in tropical areas, which are endowed with greater biodiversity than others; only a quarter of the land worldwide now retains its ecological and evolutionary integrity, largely spared of human impact. Nature provides ecosystem services, but these are often not included in productivity estimates: they are vital for food production, for clean air and water, provision of fuel for millions, absorption of carbon in the atmosphere, and climate moderation. The result of such skewed policies, as the IPBES estimates, is that the global rate of species extinction is at least tens to hundreds of times higher today than the average rate over the past 10 million years, and it is accelerating alarmingly.

Ecological economists have for years pointed to the extreme harm that humanity as a whole is courting by modifying terrestrial, marine and freshwater ecosystems to suit immediate needs, such as raising agricultural and food output and extracting materials that aid ever-increasing consumption. Expanding agriculture by cutting down forests has raised food volumes, and mining feeds many industries, but these have severely affected other functions such as water availability, pollination, maintenance of wild variants of domesticated plants and climate regulation. Losses from pollution are usually not factored into claims of economic progress made by countries, but as the IPBES assessment points out, marine plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980, affecting at least 267 species, including 86% of marine turtles, 44% of seabirds and 43% of marine mammals. At the same time, about 9% of 6,190 domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture had gone extinct by 2016, and another 1,000 may disappear permanently. Viewed against a shrinking base of wild varieties of farmed plants and animals, all countries have cause for alarm. They are rapidly emptying their genetic resource kit. Reversing course is a dire necessity to stave off disaster. This can be done by incorporating biodiversity impacts into all economic activity, recognising that irreparably breaking the web of life will impoverish and endanger people everywhere.


* Editorial 2

A wake-up call on proprietary seeds





A wake-up call on proprietary seeds

How India can shift its agriculture from a high-yield ideal to a high-value one

“Where farmers could be using genetically distinctive seeds adapted to local conditions, they are adapting local conditions to use genetically standardised seeds, to ruinous effect.” A farmer in Jammu. Reuters

When the news broke that PepsiCo was suing small farmers in India for growing a potato variety that is used in its Lay’s chips, popular sympathies immediately went, of course, to the farmers. National and international pressure swiftly mounted, and in short order a humbled PepsiCo backtracked, announcing its withdrawal of the lawsuit. There was global schadenfreude at Goliath’s PR disaster and, in India, pride at being on the side of the righteous Davids.

What should not be a source of pride, however, is the fact that so many small farmers are, like the ones targeted by PepsiCo, reliant, directly or indirectly, on proprietary seeds. Typically these seeds are grown in high input (fertilizer-pesticide-irrigation) environments that, over time, erode local biodiversity. Between the expense of buying these seeds and inputs, and the loss of the skills and social relationships needed to do otherwise (through the saving and exchange of seeds of indigenous varieties), small-scale farming looks set to continue on its downward spiral of lower income, status and dignity.

It’s time for a paradigm shift

No one can blame farmers for thinking that proprietary seeds are better. Since the days of the Green Revolution, agricultural extension officers — the field representatives of agricultural modernity — have taught farmers to buy ever-higher-yielding seeds. Taking this science-and-industry-know-best stance on seed quality a little further, efforts have been ongoing, albeit unsuccessfully due to pressures from farmers and NGOs, to pass a new seed law in India permitting the sale of certified seeds only.

In the current Indian law regulating intellectual property rights in seeds, the Plant Variety Protection law, this same official preference for the proprietary takes a different form. The law permits farmers not only to save and resow (multiply) seeds, but also to sell them to other farmers, no matter what the original source of the seeds is. This broad permission (called farmers’ privilege) is considered indispensable for so-called seed sovereignty, which has become synonymous with permitting farmers to save, sow, multiply and use proprietary seeds, as well as proprietary vegetative propagation materials such as what are used for the cultivation of potatoes. Despite the shift away from seed replacement to the right to save seeds, the emphasis remains on proprietary seeds that have narrow, uniform and non-variable genetic builds. Where farmers could be using genetically distinctive seeds adapted to local conditions and farming traditions, they are instead adapting local conditions and traditions in order to use genetically standardised seeds, to ruinous effect.

It is time for a paradigm shift. To get a sense of what can be done, it may be useful to take a peep into recent regulatory efforts in Europe. The EU Regulation on Organic Production and Labelling of Organic Products, adopted in 2018, for the first time permits and encourages, inter alia, the use and marketing for organic agriculture, of “plant reproductive material of organic heterogenous material” without having to comply with most of the arduous registration and certification requirements under various EU laws. Heterogenous materials, unlike current proprietary seeds, need not be uniform or stable. Indeed, the regulation clearly acknowledges based on “Research in the Union on plant reproductive material that does not fulfil the variety definition… that there could be benefits of using such diverse material… to reduce the spread of diseases, to improve resilience and to increase biodiversity.” Accordingly, the regulation removes the legal bar on marketing of “heterogenous materials” and encourages its sale for organic agriculture, thus clearing the way to much more expansive use of indigenous varieties.

Once the delegated acts under the EU regulation are formulated, they will support the creation of markets, especially markets and marketplaces facilitating trade of heterogenous seeds, including by small farmers who are currently the most active in maintaining and improving such seeds in situ. Indeed, multimillion-Euro research and innovation projects being invited and funded by the EU already aim to make this diversity a more integral part of farming in Europe. And here they are talking only of the diversity within Europe.

Minimise harm, maximise gain

How can a biodiversity-rich nation like India shift its agriculture from a high-yield ideal to a high-value one, where the ‘values’ include striving to minimise environmental harm while maximising nutritional gains and farmer welfare?

First, small farmers must be educated and encouraged with proper incentive structures, to engage with agriculture that conserves and improves traditional/desi (heterogenous) seeds in situ, rather than with “improved”, proprietary varieties. Currently, in the garb of protecting this diversity against biopiracy, India is preventing its effective use, management and monetisation for the benefit of its farmers.

Second, an immutable record-keeping system, perhaps blockchain or DLT, is needed to break the link between the profitable and the proprietary. Such a system would allow India and its rural communities to keep proper track of where and how their seeds/propagation materials and the genetic resources contained therein are being transferred and traded. It would also ensure, through smart-contract facilitated micropayments, that monetary returns come in from users and buyers of these seeds, from around the globe. These monetary returns would effectively incentivise continuous cultivation and improvement of indigenous seeds on the one hand, and ensure sustainable growth of agriculture and of rural communities on the other.

Third, and as a key pre-requisite to the execution of the first two plans, India’s invaluable traditional ecological knowledge systems need to be revived and made a part of mainstream agricultural research, education and extension services. Know-how contained in ancient Indian treatises like the Vrikshayurveda and the Krishi Parashar falls within the scope of what international conventions such as the Convention on Biological Diversity refer to as ‘indigenous and traditional technologies’. The revival of these technologies is central to promoting sustainable ‘high value’ agriculture, not least because of the growing global demand for organic and Ayurvedic products.

The withdrawal of the lawsuit by PepsiCo may be a welcome relief to several farmers who can neither afford to defend themselves in court, nor to abandon the cultivation of proprietary varieties. It must, however, be a wake-up call to the government and policymakers who need to do much more to secure sustainable rural societies, protect soil health and promote seed sovereignty for the economic development of Indian farmers and of the entire nation.

Mrinalini Kochupillai is a lecturer and Senior Research Fellow at the Technical University of Munich and Gregory Radick is Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Leeds



The anatomy of a marginalised region





The anatomy of a marginalised region

With a high percentage of Muslims, Bihar’s Seemanchal region frames issues of representation and welfare

In the ongoing general election, Seemanchal, a historically neglected and yet socially and politically significant region in Bihar, has once again registered a high voting percentage. Comprising four districts — Purnea, Katihar, Kishanganj and Araria — Seemanchal has a population of about 1 crore. It assumes sociopolitical significance owing to the large proportion of Muslims in its population. On average, these districts have 47% Muslims as against Bihar’s Statewide average of 17% and the all-India average of 14%. In this election, of the nine Muslim candidates who have been chosen by different parties in Bihar, five are contesting from constituencies in Seemanchal. The region is a fertile ground for political parties that pit Hindus against Muslims.

Continued neglect

It may have political and symbolic value, but Seemanchal fares poorly on welfare indices. It is an example of political apathy towards the minorities. According to Census data, the average literacy rate of the four districts is 54% as against Bihar’s average of 64%. The average per capita district GDP of the region is ₹10,000, while it is ₹14,574 for the State. In districts with a higher density of Muslims, the situation is worse. For example, in Kishanganj, with a 68% Muslim population, nearly 50% live below the poverty line.

The socioeconomic indicators may be woeful, but there has been remarkable enthusiasm in electoral participation, seen in the last six general elections. This year, Seemanchal saw a voter turnout of 64.8%, which was much higher than Bihar’s average of 58.6%. In the last five general elections, the average voter turnout in Seemanchal was around five percentage points more than the average turnout for the State. Clearly, the voters in the region care about exercising their franchise. They believe that their electoral participation can make a difference to their dismal socioeconomic situation. But why is an electorate with such a dominating presence helpless in this region? What explains their continued neglect despite having elected influential leaders in the past, such as M.J. Akbar, Tariq Anwar and Pappu Yadav?

Both Muslim vote bank politics and the political ghettoisation of Muslims have given rise to identity politics in Bihar. In recent years, polarisation has demonstrated that a party can secure majority votes without accommodating Muslims. Such political non-mobilisation of Muslims has resulted in two things. One, it has led to the idea that Muslims are a homogenised community who root their politics in religion. Two, it has led to Muslims relegating themselves to the background of active politics.

A welfarist agenda

This should stop with Seemanchal. Despite constituting a high percentage of the voting population in the region, Muslims have not been able to assert themselves. As a result, parties have used them as bait to get parachute candidates elected. These candidates secure votes in the name of protecting a misunderstood and universal idea of ‘Muslim identity’ and not to improve their welfare in the region. For example, Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) contested in the region in the 2015 Assembly election, but it failed to win even a single seat. Yet, again the AIMIM has pinned its hopes on Akhtarul Iman from Kishanganj this time. These Muslim parties have failed to gain a stronghold in the region because Muslim voters have opted for a welfarist agenda and not one that is centred on their religious identity alone.

Further, even within the Muslim community, there is marginalisation of backward Muslims such as the Pasmandas who are represented not by their own but by the upper caste Ashrafs. Since the 1990s, the assertion of rights by groups such as the Pasmanda Muslims paved the way for inclusivism and social justice. In this context, Seemanchal can be a fertile ground for the emergence of rights-based politics. The struggle of Pasmandas and their under-representation in politics have been largely ignored. In Seemanchal, though Pasmandas constitute two-thirds of the Muslim population, there is no Pasmanda candidate for the elections. Lately, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and the BJP have espoused concerns about backward and Dalit Muslims, but more in rhetoric than in action.

Contrary to popular perception, Muslims do not always prefer en bloc voting along religious lines. In Seemanchal, specifically, they are divided by caste, class and language, and vote for leaders they think will address their deprivations. It is high time our concerns move beyond politics and religion.

Shahana Munazir is a Delhi-based scholar



Taking tensions seriously





Taking tensions seriously

A true strategic partnership between India and the U.S. remains elusive

Michael Kugelman

The U.S.’s decision to not extend Iran sanctions waivers, including the one provided to India, has notable implications for India-U.S. relations, given the importance of New Delhi’s energy relationship with Tehran. It comes on the heels of many other deleterious developments for bilateral ties including the U.S.’s decision to withdraw GSP benefits for Indian exports (in retaliation for Indian tariffs that the U.S. deemed to be prohibitively high) and the Trump administration’s discontent deepening over India’s policies on e-commerce, intellectual property rights and data localisation.

These India-U.S. trade and economic tensions aren’t new; the non-security dimension of the relationship has long lagged behind the fast-growing defence side. Still, the complaints and perceived grievances, especially from the U.S., have seemingly intensified in the Trump era.

Both sides have played down these differences and offered reassuring data points: India will scale up oil imports from other top producers; the GSP withdrawal will have minimal impact on India’s economy; the two capitals are working actively on high levels, most recently through the U.S.-India CEO Forum and the India-U.S. Commercial Dialogue, to ease tensions; and above all the strength of the bilateral relationship can easily withstand all these headaches.

This is all true. But let’s be clear. A full-fledged strategic partnership, which both countries endorse, will be difficult to achieve amid such multiple and long-standing disconnects on the trade and economic side. Indeed, if bilateral ties are largely driven by technology transfers, arms sales, joint exercises, and foundational agreements on defence, this amounts to a deep but one-sided security relationship, and not a robust and multifaceted strategic partnership.

To be sure, India-U.S. relations extend well beyond security. Recent joint statements have dwelt on the potential for cooperation on initiatives ranging from clean energy to innovation. And despite the problems, bilateral trade in goods and services has increased over the last decade. Still, so long as the non-security nuisances affect the bilateral relationship, the shift from a strong security relationship to a bonafide strategic partnership will be difficult. After all, one rarely hears complaints or concerns about trade and economic matters in the U.S.’s relations with the U.K., Australia, or Israel, some of its other strategic partners. The U.S. and India have long struggled to agree on what a strategic partnership should look like. Still, no matter how it is defined, any strategic partnership must be broad-based, with trust and cooperation present across a wide spectrum of issues and not just limited to close collaborations in the guns-and-bombs category. In this regard, a true strategic partnership remains, at least for now, elusive between India and the U.S.

The writer is Deputy Director and Senior Associate for South Asia with the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, Washington, DC


* Foreign

U.S. threatens to impose more sanctions on Iran





U.S. threatens to impose more sanctions on Iran

Advises European countries against doing business with Tehran; Russia, China reiterate opposition to punitive steps

Reuters, Agence France-Presse
Washington

The U.S. on Wednesday threatened to impose more sanctions on Iran “very soon” and warned Europe against doing business with Tehran via a system of non-dollar trade to circumvent U.S. sanctions.

The Iranian government announced earlier on Wednesday that it was reducing curbs to its nuclear programme with steps that stopped short of violating its 2015 accord with world powers for now, but threatening more action if countries did not shield it from sanctions.

Tehran’s halt of compliance with some parts of the nuclear deal was “nothing less than nuclear blackmail of Europe”, Tim Morrison, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Weapons of Mass Destruction, told a conference in Washington. “Now is the time for the community of nations to strongly condemn Iran’s nuclear misconduct and increase pressure on the regime to comply with U.S. demands,” Mr. Morrison said, adding that Washington was not “done” with sanctions on Iran. “Expect more sanctions soon. Very soon,” he said.

Special Purpose Vehicle

Mr. Morrison said the U.S. would move quickly against any attempt by European countries to undermine Washington’s sanctions pressure on Iran. He advised them against using the so-called Special Purpose Vehicle to facilitate non-dollar trade to get around U.S. sanctions. “If you are a bank, an investor, an insurer or other business in Europe, you should know that getting involved in the Special Purpose Vehicle is a very poor business decision,” Mr. Morrison said.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced changes that experts said seemed tailored to ensure that Tehran avoids triggering the deal’s mechanism to punish it for violations, at least for now.

Washington’s European allies opposed Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement and have failed so far to find ways to blunt the economic impact of new U.S. sanctions, which include an all-out effort to block Iran’s oil exports to starve its economy.

The Kremlin said on Wednesday that Russia remained committed to the Iran nuclear deal and denounced “unreasonable pressure” that led Tehran to suspend some of its commitments under the agreement. Reiterating Moscow’s “committment” to the agreement, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denounced “ill-conceived and arbitrary decisions that put unreasonable pressure on Iran.”

China called on all parties to uphold the nuclear pact. “Maintaining and implementing the comprehensive agreement is the shared responsibility of all parties,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang at a press briefing in Beijing. “We call on all relevant parties to exercise restraint, strengthen dialogue, and avoid escalating tensions,” he said, adding that China “resolutely opposes” unilateral U.S. sanctions against Iran.




Blast near Lahore Sufi shrine kills 10





Blast near Lahore Sufi shrine kills 10

Bomb went off at a police check post near Data Darbar

Reuters

Shock and grief: A Pakistani woman whose son was killed in the blast targeting the Data Darbar in Lahore.APK.M. Chaudary

Lahore

A bomb targeting Pakistani police outside a major Sufi shrine in the city of on Wednesday killed at least 10 people and wounded more than 20, officials said.

The blast, a day after the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramzan, went off at a police checkpoint near the Data Darbar, one of the largest Muslim shrines in South Asia, which attracts tens of thousands of visitors a year. “Police was the prime target in this attack. We are collecting forensic evidences to ascertain the nature of the blast,” said Ashfaq Khan, Deputy-Inspector General of police operations in Lahore.

4 policemen killed

A police spokesman said the death toll rose to 10, six of them civilians and four police, after a police officer died of his wounds. Officials earlier said eight police had died. At least 23 people were wounded.

Muhammad Farooq, a spokesman for the city’s rescue services, said at least seven of the wounded were in critical condition.

Police set up checkpoints on main roads leading to the shrine and hospitals were placed on alert, officials said. The attack was claimed by the Hizbul Ahrar, a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, a movement that has been fighting the government for years. In a statement, the group said the attack targeted police and had been timed to avoid civilian casualties. “This attack was carried out at a time when there were no civilians near the police,” said Abdul Aziz Yousafzai, a spokesman for the militant group.

Prime Minister Imran Khan issued a statement condemning the attack and asking the provincial government to help the victims.

Sufis, who follow a mystical form of Islam that has been practised in South Asia for centuries, have been regularly attacked by hard-line Sunni Muslim militants in the past. In 2010, two suicide bombers struck the Data Darbar shrine killing 42 people and wounding 175, in an attack officials said was carried out by the Pakistani Taliban. The complex contains the shrine of Syed Ali bin-Osman Al-Hajvery, widely known as Data Ganj Bakhsh, an 11th century Sufi preacher originally from Ghazni in what is now Afghanistan.



Asia Bibi leaves Pakistan for Canada





Asia Bibi leaves Pakistan for Canada

She was acquitted of blasphemy last year

Mehmal Sarfraz

A poster in Paris calling for the release of Asia Bibi in October 2014.AFPMARTIN BUREAU

Lahore

Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was acquitted by the Supreme Court of blasphemy last year, has finally left Pakistan for Canada to be reunited with her family.

She had been falsely accused of blasphemy in 2009 and spent more than eight years in prison.

The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), an Islamist political party, staged protests across Pakistan after Ms. Bibi’s acquittal and demanded that she be hanged. Ms. Bibi was kept in protective custody till she finally left the country.

TLP leader Khadim Rizvi and other activists were later arrested for creating unrest in the country and incitement to violence. Rizvi is still in jail.

Saroop Ijaz, a lawyer who works for the Human Rights Watch in Pakistan, said it is a relief that Ms. Bibi’s ordeal has come to an end. “However, it is a scandal that it took so long, particularly after the Supreme Court decision. Asia’s case spotlighted the failure of the justice system at all levels and the lack of political will to fix. Hopefully, that will change now,” Mr. Ijaz told The Hindu.

Rights defender

“I am very happy that Asia Bibi is safe and finally reunited with her family,” said Saif-ul-Malook, her lawyer. After her acquittal, the Netherlands gave Mr. Malook asylum as there were threats to his life for representing Ms. Bibi.

“I went there for a while but when Asia’s review petition came up, I gave up my asylum and came back to Pakistan to represent her,” he told The Hindu. Mr. Malook has been nominated for the prestigious Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award. “I didn’t take up Asia’s case for any accolades or awards. It was my duty as a human rights defender.”

Journalist Abbas Nasir tweeted: “As Asia Bibi finally reaches shores where she’ll be free and safe, I can visualise Salman Taseer wearing the widest of smiles wherever he is” to which late Punjab Governor Taseer’s wife Aamna Taseer responded by saying: “He would be very pleased. Justice finally!” Taseer was assassinated in January 2011 by his bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri for defending Ms. Bibi.



Mueller report: Trump asserts executive privilege





Mueller report: Trump asserts executive privilege

Stops the release of the unredacted version to the House Judiciary Committee

, Sriram Lakshman
Washington

U.S. President Donald Trump exercised executive privilege to prevent the release of the unredacted Mueller report to the House Judiciary Committee.

The decision was conveyed on Wednesday morning by the Assistant Attorney-General Stephen Boyd, as the Judiciary Committee hearing and vote on holding Attorney-General William Barr in contempt of the House was under way.

“This is to advise you that the President has asserted executive privilege over the entirety of the subpoenaed materials,” Mr. Boyd wrote.

The House Judiciary Committee is investigating the President in connection with the actions described in the report on the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections. Mr. Barr had released a redacted version of the 448-page report on April 18 but House Democrats wanted to see the entire report and underlying evidence. “As we have repeatedly explained, the Attorney-General could not comply with your subpoena in its current form without violating the law, court rules, and court orders, and without threatening the independence of the Department of Justice’s prosecutorial functions.” Mr. Boyd said in his letter.

‘A clear escalation’

“This decision represents a clear escalation in the Trump administration’s blanket defiance of Congress’s constitutionally mandated duties,” Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Jerrold Nadler said.

Wednesday’s decision by Mr. Trump is his first use of executive privilege, a principle that has been used by U.S. Presidents to withhold information — ostensibly on grounds of public or national interest — from Congress or other branches of the government. On Tuesday night, the Justice Department had warned Mr. Nadler that it will consider asking Mr. Trump to assert executive privilege — a threat it followed through on Wednesday. “Such unreasonable demands, together with the Committee’s precipitous threat to hold the Attorney-General in contempt, are a transparent attempt to short-circuit the constitutionally mandated accommodation process and provoke an unnecessary conflict between our respective branches of government,” Mr. Boyd said.


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