Courting trouble - AFEIAS Courting trouble India must ready for a future where more literacy will...

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Transcript of Courting trouble - AFEIAS Courting trouble India must ready for a future where more literacy will...



    Date: 13-09-16

    Courting trouble India must ready for a future where more literacy will mean more litigation

    If the logjam in Indian courts is terrible today, it’s only going to get worse tomorrow – unless major course correction is undertaken with urgency. Chief Justice of India T S Thakur pointed out this Sunday that per capita litigation is dependent on literacy and prosperity. As the country succeeds in increasing literacy and prosperity, the courts’ caseloads will rise. To the extent that infrastructure deficiencies are to blame, there’s consensus that more courts and more judges are key to solving the problem of delay in the Indian judicial system. But the manner in which courts work and judges are appointed is also crying for reform.

    Last October the apex court struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission, envisaged by Parliament as a broader panel to choose judges, and upheld the exclusive authority of the collegium of judges to select higher judiciary candidates. At the same time, all five ruling judges found faults with the collegium. And now a member of the collegium itself has called for changing its opaque ways – Justice J Chelameswar has reminded all that judicial accountability is the best guarantee of judicial independence.

    Many other doable reforms can help eliminate the pendency problem. For example, in the UK and Singapore the specification of time limits has minimised judicial delays. Indian courts need to likewise get out of the “tareekh pe tareekh” trap of endless adjournments. Another sensible measure is to discourage frivolous cases alongside the appeals clogging up our higher courts. To illustrate, while the US Supreme Court admits around 1% of all cases filed before it for hearing, a recent study found that its Indian counterpart admits 41%. Does the highest constitutional court of India really need to opine on wife swap among naval officers and culling of dogs in Kerala?

    But the most urgent task is to resolve the Memorandum of Procedure for appointment and transfer of judges, where an eyeball to eyeball confrontation between government and the collegium has worsened the legal logjam. High court vacancies are now north of 40%. If government’s suggestions have been unacceptable, the collegium should itself propose reforms as even the bench that rejected NJAC noted reforms are needed. A great signal of increasing transparency would be making future positions on the MoP public. Judicial reform is now as vital as economic reform to secure India’s future.

    Date: 12-09-16

    Biryani patrol The beef issue hits the streets again, touching off spectres of vigilantism. Its timing suggests premeditated harassment



    Governments of two states that have legislated against the consumption of beef are once again calling attention to the issue on the eve of Eid-ul-Zuha or Bakrid. The Haryana Gau Sewa Aayog has asked the state police to collect samples of biryani from Mewat and send them for testing. And following the rather belated but strong warning of the prime minister against vigilantism on behalf of cattle, Maharashtra has made it clear that private raiding parties will not be tolerated. Only the police are empowered to investigate charges of cows being butchered or transported. Haryana has specifically targeted biryani, a dish traditionally connected with the Muslim festival; while the Maharashtra order specifies that only goats can be legally transported and butchered, it draws attention to food habits associated with the festival. These moves may well be valid in law, but they unfortunately suggest that the state is bent on taking the joy out of the festival of one community. The threat of cow patrols invading private spaces to poke about in pots and pans does not set the mood for festivities.

    Maharashtra has a brief history of raucous vigilantism, following the passage of a law criminalising the production, possession and consumption of beef. Thereafter, the high court exempted the consumption of beef brought in from outside the state from the ambit of the law, which prescribes a jail term of five years. In June this year, it set about recruiting a cadre of honorary animal welfare officers to act as its eyes and ears in its efforts to protect gau mata. When the police are already charged with the duty to move against those who break the beef laws, why was a cadre of snitches raised from the public deemed necessary? While Maharashtra appears to be proscribing public action now by warning against vigilantism, its record on illiberalism invites the suspicion that it is actually no different in attitude and intent from Haryana, which is pro-actively sending out biryani patrols to probe and pry.

    If laws relating to beef must exist at all — and it is not blindingly obvious to the entire population that they must — then the police alone must have the mandate to enforce them, and certainly not as a blunt instrument against a particular community. This time, the festival of Eid has drawn the unhealthy attentions of two state governments to this trumped-up issue. Of course, other communities, including the historically disadvantaged and those located outside the geography of the mainstream, have traditionally used beef as a major source of protein. They have reason to wonder what the future holds for them.

    Date: 13-09-16

    One nation, one election?

    Why would someone, particularly an enormously successful politician, want deliberately not to play up to his strength, was the question that struck me as I heard Narendra Modi forcefully making a case for simultaneous elections to Lok Sabha and state Assemblies in a recent interview. Electioneering has been one of the two major preoccupations in his tenure so far, the other being foreign visits. And, despite the reverses in Delhi and Bihar last year, no one comes within a mile of him as a campaigner.

    Mr Modi’s ostensible logic that this idea would save costs and pave the way for uninterrupted governance remains just that, ostensible. The fact that the Prime Minister was following an idea first mooted by Lal Krishna Advani added to the intrigue, because that old warhorse is not exactly Mr Modi’s go- to person on any issue.



    Then the penny dropped. One must ask the classic Latin question, cui bono ( who benefits)? Notwithstanding the handed down wisdom that the great Indian electorate votes differently in state and national polls, the ground reality is that whenever the general election coincides with that for some state Assemblies, the trends converge. In 2014, the Biju Janata Dal won Odisha by a landslide and cornered the lion’s share of the Lok Sabha seats from the state. The Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi in Telangana enjoyed the same good fortune. The big loser in the three states was the poor old Indian National Congress, which also lost miserably across the nation. Similar patterns can be discerned in earlier elections as well. The dissolution of state Assemblies following the thumping victories of the Janata Party in 1977 and the Congress in 1980 resulted in spectacular wins for them in the states as well. The Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP) won Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand following the 2014 general election. All this further validates the convergence hypothesis.

    Had all state Assemblies gone to polls in 2014, surely the BJP would have won handsomely in the states where it prevailed in the national elections. It would have avoided the ignominy of Delhi and Bihar in 2015.

    It would have also had in its kitty Karnataka, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, and the biggest bonanza of all, Uttar Pradesh. The Congress cup of woes would have run over with a rump presence solely in the Northeast. The poll- savvy BJP top leadership – read Mr Modi and Amit Shah – could have hardly failed to realise this.

    If such electoral behaviour holds in future elections, and there is no reason to believe it will not, only one party will benefit, no prizes for guessing which. With the Congress in decline, possibly terminal, the opposition space is scattered among regional satrapies and the Left, which is now confined to at most three states. Only the BJP has claims to power in most ( but not all) of the country. Any national wave, or even a ripple, could only be in its favour and it stands to gain states if it wins the Lok Sabha. Simultaneous elections would leave the BJP in a heads- I- win- tailsyoulose situation.

    But the idea would entail major legislative headaches for the government before it could ever become a reality. The Representation of People Act (1951) would have to be amended to stipulate simultaneous and fixed terms for the national and state legislatures.

    Situations of hung houses and loss of confidence would need to be resolved. The remedies could be relatively simple. If no party or coalition is able to cobble together a majority to be proven by a vote of confidence within say, a month of the constitution of the house, the body could be directed to elect a leader who enjoys majority support in another month’s time. No absences or abstentions would be allowed in this vote. If no candidate gets a majority, a recourse to either a run- off between the top two candidates, or use of second preferences, as is done in case of legislative council or Rajya Sabha elections would be possible.

    A vote of no confidence to be effective must be accompanied simultaneously by