Checks against atrocities
Railways’ Report Card
(The Financial Express)
Checks against atrocities
Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of the Supreme Court’s recent judgment in Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. State of Maharashtra.
(GS paper II)
- The Supreme Court, in its recent judgment in Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. State of Maharashtra, has stirred up a debate which is bound to impact the law and policy on the prohibition of the practice of untouchability and prevention of atrocities against Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) in India.
Assessment of the case
- The empirical question of whether the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 is really being misused by the filing of false cases (which is the basis for the judgment). This question needs to be addressed.
- The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data show that 5,347 false cases involving SCs and 912 false cases involving STs were registered in 2016, it should be noted that these constituted only 9% and 10%, respectively, of the total number of cases that were to be investigated by the police in that year. This would suggest that only about one out of 10 cases filed is false.
- The other facts sought to be canvassed before the court appears to be more anecdotal than based on concrete statistical data. Thus, there appears to be little evidence that the Act is being rampantly misused. On the contrary, there is plenty of evidence to support the view that the SCs/STs are victims of rising crime each year.
- NCRB data show that in the past 10 years, crimes against SCs have risen by 51% (27,070 cases in 2006 and 40,801 crimes in 2016 were reported). Against STs it was by 13% (5,791 in 2006 and 6,568 cases in 2016 were reported).
- Studies by the National Law School of India University and Action Aid India have shown that religious, social and other disabilities involving the practice of untouchability continue to be widespread in India. Thus, there is much empirical evidence to support the stand that the Act needs to be strengthened not weakened.
- Unlike other offences, untouchability is an offence under the Constitution, Article 17 prescribes that ‘the enforcement of any disability arising out of untouchability shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law’. Along with Articles 14, 21 and the rest of them, Article 17 is thus exalted to the position of a fundamental right. However, despite the laws, it is generally accepted that Article 17 has not succeeded in achieving its mandate largely due to inadequate enforcement, in turn leading to low conviction rates and a huge pendency of cases.
- Though in 2016, several amendments were introduced to strengthen the 1989 Act such as-including more acts as atrocities; increasing the quantum of punishment for the offences defined as atrocities; imposing an enhanced duty on public servants such as police officers who are required to enforce the Act; constituting special and exclusive courts to try offences under the Act; introducing time limits for investigation and trial; providing enhanced state machinery for arrest, investigation and trial; using presumptions to make convictions easier; and detailed regulation of the rights of victims and witnesses under the Act.
- The recent decision by the Supreme Court might be seen to run counter to the legislative trend of making the untouchability and atrocities laws harsher and tougher rather than softer. The court’s judgment is noteworthy for reminding us that the untouchability and atrocities laws, in its zeal to make the penal law stricter and more effective in the prosecution of offenders, cannot violate basic civil liberties as enshrined in Articles 21 and 22 (liberties articulated by a number of judges in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India).
- False and frivolous complaints filed under untouchability legislation could also have been dealt with by other means which include directions for prompt investigation and prosecution of such offences by the police and others under the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
Question – Recently the apex court issued guidelines that would protect public servants and private individuals from arbitrary and immediate arrest under the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The amendments are said to dilutef the act, and there is much empirical evidence to support the stand that the Act needs to be strengthened not weakened. Critically analyse.
Railways’ Report Card
(The Financial Express)
Synoptic line: it throws light on the issue of Indian railways’ commercial and financial health.
(GS Paper II)
- With the economy registering a tepid 6.5-7.5% annual growth, the transport sector, as a rule, needs to grow by around 10%. Instead of optimally increasing its share in the nation’s freight and passenger market as stoutly recommended by recent expert committees, the Indian Railways (IR) keeps further losing even its low share.
- Its freight and passenger businesses over the five-year period 2014-15 to 2018-19 indicate plain flat growth the number of total passenger journeys recorded a CAGR of 0.22%, passenger kilometres 0.16%, and freight output in terms of net tonne kilometres 0.02%.
- Indian Railway’s gross revenue receipts show a CAGR of 4.55%, its working expenses a CAGR of 5.46%, a 20% higher CAGR of expenses than revenues over the five-year period. However, consistent with structural changes emerging in freight market worldwide, long-distance rail haulage of coal will keep diminishing, compelling IR to look for life beyond coal, currently accounting for half of its total freight business.
- Competition from roads for rail freight intensifies. The 96,000-km highway length that carries 40% of India’s road traffic is being expanded to 2, 00,000 km with a capacity to carry 80% of the country’s goods traffic. Trucks will clock much higher mobility, further facilitated by the GST regime.
- The Economic Survey noted that railway passenger business declined by an average of 0.26% every year in the five years ending 2016-17, while the number of domestic air passengers rose 10% annually. The narrowing fare gap between airlines and railways has been a catalyst for the switch from trains to aircraft. UDAN, the regional air connectivity scheme, has planned to expand airport capacity more than five times to handle a billion airline trips per year, and soon surpass the total number of upper class rail travellers.
- IR has to aim at high-capacity, speedy, intercity passenger trains for making a perceptible difference, also in pre-board facilities-hassle-free booking, clean station platforms, coaches and toilets, standardised packaged food, trains running on time, and so on.
- Lately, IR has talked of Tejas, Humsafar, Antyodaya, Uday, etc, as its new pantheon of passenger services. It has to fast-forward the much delayed semi-high-speed train project progressively on popular corridors. It could well earn considerable goodwill by being a bit bold and innovative in extending reserved accommodation on demand, particularly for lower class travel on some popular under-served routes.
- India’s most important enterprise, IR, for long, is stuck at 1% of national GDP; its potential and economy’s expectations require it to aim at 2% of GDP, a tough call in a growing economy. There is no magic bullet. A rigid bureaucratic structure is antithetical to business ethos.
- IR needs to shed its widely, and mistakenly, perceived role of a departmental undertaking with public service obligation and, instead, perform as a corporate entity to carry the nation’s freight and passengers adequately, efficiently and economically. There are ministries and programmes to look after social obligations, for which they have their own budgets.
- As futuristic and costly plans and projects for “bullet” trains, hyperloop, new-age ETCS 2 signalling, and the questionable network-wide “total electrification” may remain on the radar, IR’s immediate, unrelenting focus has to be on –
- Capacity creation on arterial corridors and freight and passenger terminals;
- Cutting costs; and
- Transforming its organisation and services.
- While FY19 Budget, no doubt, earmarked a large part of the capital expenditure for double, triple and quadruple tracking and gauge conversion projects, the two most important capacity-enhancing freight corridors-the ongoing Ludhiana-Dankuni and Mumbai-Dadri, have somehow not been furiously fast-tracked.
- Any allusion, howsoever far-fetched at the moment, made to IR going the ailing Air India way is ominous. India can well do without an Air India; IR is far too important, precious and strategic for the nation, to be allowed to become a burden on the economy.
- IR has to drastically improve its product; look at the entire supply chain end-to-end. IR has had its vision key-holed on bulk commodities. For weaning away high-value non-bulk sector from roads, IR needs to create a critical mass of piecemeal wagons or containers, in partnership with other players, for timetabled, multimodal, integrated logistics services.
Question- Indian Railways is far too important, precious and strategic for the nation to be allowed to become a burden on the economy. Critically examine the government’s measures taken to improve the Indian railways.