Broken Houses

(The Hindu)

 

Inclusion and the right to dignity

(The Hindu)

 

Smoke in the woods

(The Hindu, Live Mint)

Broken Houses

(The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on issue of parliamentary institutional crisis.

(GS paper II)

Overview

 

  • The second-leg of the Budget session of Parliament concluded with both Houses adjourning sine die. The last 20-odd days have seen frequent adjournments without any business having being transacted. The Lok Sabha marking the end of a session in which 127 hours of work were lost to protests over varied issues. The Rajya Sabha saw 120 working hours being wasted.

 

  • With the two Houses of Parliament adjourned sine die, the institutional crisis afflicting the legislature has been framed by both statistics and the solutions being offered by the Treasury and Opposition benches.

 

Adjournment and adjournment sine die

 

  • An adjournment terminates the sitting of the House which meets again at the time appointed for the next sitting. An adjournment also signifies brief break of the sitting of the House which re-assembles at the appointed time on the same day.

 

  • Adjournment sine die means “without assigning a day for a further meeting or hearing”. To adjourn an assembly sine die is to adjourn it for an indefinite period. A legislative body adjourns sine die when it adjourns without appointing a day on which to appear or assemble again.

 

Assessment

 

  • The session began on January 29, the Union Budget was presented on February 1, and the first part has been concluded. In the second part of the session (starting March 5) the productivity of both Houses was less than 10%. Against a long list of pending Bills, just one was passed by both Houses, the Payment of Gratuity (Amendment) Bill 2017.

 

  • The Lok Sabha passed three other bills related to the Budget- the Finance Bill 2018 and two Appropriation Bills. These are money bills that do not need the Rajya Sabha’s nod. But it must be an occasion of shame that the Budget was passed in the Lower House without any debate whatsoever.

 

  • Other numbers deepen the reading of the crisis- both Houses lost more than 120 hours each to disruptions; and the Rajya Sabha took up just five out of 419 listed starred questions (that is, questions that Ministers answer orally, with MPs allowed to ask supplementary questions). However, the crisis is defined by more than numbers; it is the quality of interaction that is damaging India’s democracy.

 

  • The Lok Sabha Speaker also failed to use the powers at her command to suspend unruly MPs so that a notice for a no-confidence motion could be considered. Certainly, for all the expedient calculations that guided Opposition parties and the government at different points to have the Houses disrupted, eventually neither benefit.

 

  • Both come across looking effete- the Opposition for failing to keep the government answerable (especially by failing to use Question Hour), and the government for not mustering the grace and conviction to debate a no-trust motion. Some ruling party MPs proposed that their salaries be docked, as if the crisis is nothing but budgetary. A special session before the monsoon session to finish pending business has been mooted.

Way ahead

 

  • For another, even the process of reaching an understanding to hold another session may help in repairing, at least to a degree, the very image of our parliamentarians- who seemed to be unabashed about creating and sustaining an institutional crisis.

 

  • Just as a government is accountable to parliament, parliament as the highest legislative office of India owes its accountability to the people of India, the highest sovereign authority in a democracy. How can the people holding the highest offices in the Indian democracy be made accountable for the governance and financial setbacks caused by disruptions, logjams and standoffs in parliament? Overarching parliamentary reforms seem inevitable in light of the challenges that Indian democracy is facing today.

 

QuestionHow does the adjournment of the Indian Parliament affect the nation? Suggest parliamentary reforms.

Inclusion and the right to dignity

(The Hindu)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of discrimination faced by Dalits and efforts needed.

(GS paper II)

Overview

 

  • Recently the Indian newspaper headline shows that Dalits in northern India has been protesting against the dilution by the Supreme Court, in its order of March 20, 2018, of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The protest led several people killed and injured, about innumerable acts of arson, of the blocking of trains; closure of shops etc. had been taken place.

 

 

  • But beyond the headlines the main question remains that- Why a vulnerable community took to the streets?

 

 

Assessment

 

 

  • The people are losing their confidence in the ability of Indian democracy and now the judiciary to give it justice, how the promises of the Constitution have been blatantly and vulgarly betrayed, and how it has been subjected to repeated indignities, reiterated insults and bodily harm by citizens of this great Republic?

 

 

 

  • Incidents such as death of Rohith Vemula, the public attacks on Dalits in Una, and attacks on celebrations of the historic Bhima-Koregaon battle in Maharashtra showed up in great detail the flaws of our body politic. How many more indignities does the community have to suffer? How long will non-Dalits be indifferent to this suffering? It is time to reflect.

 

 

  • Affirmative action policies centring on the politics of presence have certainly contributed to the repair of historical wrongs. The advantages of these policies are, however, unevenly spread out. The constituency of affirmative action has benefited in bits and pieces.

 

  • For instance, we can see the making of an educated and professionally qualified Dalit middle class. A Dalit movement has succeeded in prising open worlds that for long had been closed to the community. Activists have seized the right to voice through collective action, and now influence and even shape, public debates.

 

  • Today, Dalits write their own histories and biographies. A vibrant literary movement denounces the ostracism of an entire community from mainstream society, and chronicles the nerve-racking experience of being treated as an outcaste.

 

  • Challenging prevailing literary conventions, rewriting the script of literary and poetic production, inserting the community into critical narratives of the Indian nation, and intent on representing their own community, writers have profoundly dented the way we think of others and of ourselves.

 

  • And this genre of literature has gained considerable acclaim. English translations of Dalit literary works, for example Omprakash Valmiki’s Joothan (2003), Narendra Jadhav’s Untouchables (2005), and Baby Kamble’s The Prisons We Broke (2009), have expanded the canon of post-colonial literature and aesthetics in Indian and western universities.

 

  • And, above all, electoral politics, affirmative action and the space afforded by civil society for mobilisation have enabled a suppressed community to recover agency and speak back to codified power. Yet caste-based discrimination persists in significant areas of social interaction. In short, the one vital good that the justice project tries to secure the self-respect continues to elude attempts at repair of historical injustice.

 

Futile efforts

 

  • The impact of disrespect upon the Dalit community cannot be underestimated. Disrespect reinforces other injustices confronted by the community in everyday life. And it disrupts social relationships based on the reciprocal obligation to see each other as equal and as worthy of dignity. Disrespect demoralises and diminishes human beings and erodes their confidence to participate in the multiple transactions of society with a degree of assurance.

 

  • Despite historical struggles against rank discrimination in words, verse, and collective action, despite acceptance of historical wrongs by the leaders of the freedom struggle, despite the mobilisation of the Dalit community, and despite affirmative action, caste-based discrimination continues to relentlessly stalk the political biography of independent India.

 

  • Till today what caste we belong to continues to profile social relations, codify inequalities, govern access to opportunities and propel multiple atrocities. The project of justice remains unrealised. Indians have failed to secure justice for their own fellow citizens. It is time to express solidarity. Constitutional and legislative provisions and Supreme Court judgments are important, but they are simply not enough. If the right to justice is violated, citizens should be exercised and agitated about this violation.

 

  • For this to occur, for society to feel deeply about violations of basic rights, the right to justice has to be underpinned by a political consensus. A consensus on what constitutes, or should constitute, the basic rules of society is central to our collective lives. A social movement geared to attack caste-based discrimination can remind us that denial of respect is a problem for non-Dalits as well.

 

Way forward

 

  • We have to shrug off indifference and shoulder responsibility. It is only when we concentrate on the construction of a political consensus in society, that the uncomfortable distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’ that bedevils much of the case for remedial justice will dissolve.

 

  • Though some efforts have been made to repair historical injustice. But the ideology of discrimination continues to dominate despite a multitude of constitutional provisions, laws, affirmative action policies and political mobilisation.

 

Question In independent India, the onus of battling discrimination has fallen onto the shoulders of Dalits. The rest of society wends its way without regard for the infirmities of its fellow citizens. Explain the ongoing discrimination faced by Dalits, also suggest measures to address their problem.

Smoke in the woods

(The Hindu, Live Mint)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of the new draft Forest Policy 2018.

(GS paper III)

Overview

 

  • India’s environment ministry has recently unveiled a draft of the new National Forest Policy (NFP) that proposes to restrict “schemes and projects which interfere with forests that cover steep slopes, catchments of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs, geologically unstable terrain and such other ecologically sensitive areas”.

 

  • Forest Policy was last revised in 1988,but the changes are perhaps overdue, the new draft Forest Policy 2018, however, ignores the lessons from this period and returns to the state-managed forestry of the 1950s, but with a neoliberal twist.

 

Forest in India

 

 

  • India doesn’t have a legal definition of the term “forest”. Neither does the nation’s forest policy categorically differentiate the broad two forest scenarios (Natural forest and Human made forests). Forestry in India is classified into four categories—Protection Forests, National Forests, Village Forests and Tree Lands.

 

 

  • Whereas, the Forest Survey of India defines forest types-natural forest into 16 different types, plus an additional category known as “Plantation/ Trees outside Forest (TOF)”.

 

  • India’s diverse forests support the livelihoods of 250 million people, providing them firewood, fodder, bamboo, beedi leaves and many other products. The timber currently benefits the state treasury. Forests also regulate stream flows and sediment, benefitting downstream communities. Finally, they provide global benefits of biodiversity and carbon sequestration.

 

  • However, these multiple goods and services, flowing to different beneficiaries, cannot be simultaneously maximised. Forest policy, therefore, focuses primarily on which benefits (and beneficiaries) to prioritise, where and through what process. Another focus area is to decide when and through what process to allow diversion of forest land for “non-forest” activities such as dam building, mining and agriculture.

 

The National Forest Policy

 

  • Forest policy in colonial India focussed on maximising products and revenues for the state through the imperial forest department as sole owner, protector and manager of the forest estate. Unfortunately, post-Independence policy continued this statist approach. Forests were seen as sources of raw material for industry and local communities were simply treated as labour.

 

  • Joint forest management (JFM) was initiated in the 1990s to implement the concept of people’s involvement. But what began with great expectations eventually ended up as a nation-wide charade. Foresters created thousands of village forest committees but severely limited their autonomy and jurisdictions.

 

  • Donor money was spent on plantations but activities were stopped once funds ran out. “People’s participation” by executive order was too weak and lopsided a concept. Instead what was required was substantive devolution of control over forests.

 

  • The Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006 created a historic opportunity for such devolution. Its community forest resource provisions gave communities rights to both access and manage forests.  The 1990s also saw the Supreme Court getting involved in forest governance. To regulate forest diversions, it introduced a high ‘net present value’ (NPV) charge on the lands diverted.

 

  • But the court refused to assign any role to local communities affected by such diversion, not even a share in the NPV received. Again, the FRA democratised the diversion process by requiring community concurrence for forest diversion once community forest rights are recognised.

 

 

  • The 2018 Forest Policy draft build on the new direction of 1988, but it failed to incorporate the lessons learnt. Carping about the decline in forest productivity, it identifies “production forestry” and plantations as the “new thrust area”. Forest development corporations, white elephants of the statist era, are to be the institutional vehicle. But in a neoliberal twist, they will now enter into public-private partnerships (PPPs) to bring corporate investment into forest lands.

 

 

  • In the past, production forestry led to replacing natural oak forests with pine monocultures in the Himalayas, natural sal forests with teak plantations in central India, and wet evergreen forests with eucalyptus and acacia in the Western Ghats. All this has decimated diversity, dried up streams and undermined local livelihoods. PPPs will entail more such destruction, with even the profits ending up in corporate hands.

 

  • The draft talks of “ensuring synergy” between Gram Sabhas and JFM committees, when the need is to replace JFM committees with statutorily empowered Gram Sabhas, and revamp the colonial-era Indian Forest Act by incorporating FRA provisions.

 

  • The impetus behind this new draft policy is to granting the private sector access to public resources is one. But an additional driving force seems to be India’s commitment made in Paris in 2015 to sequester 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in our forests. “Carbon neutral timber” is listed as the first benefit from forests and a subsection on integrating climate change concerns highlights its importance. 

 

  • The accumulated ₹50,000 crore of NPV monies (called CAMPA, or Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority, funds) provides the means to achieving this carbon target. The CAMPA Act and its recently released rules demonstrate the government’s intent to fall back on state-managed forestry to meet new “national” goals; the draft policy ropes in the private sector as well. 

 

QuestionExplain how the draft Forest Policy re-emphasises production forestry, raising many ecological and social concerns?