Commonwealth leaders’ summit
Replanting Indian cotton
Synoptic line: It throws light on issue of Indian judiciary crisis.
(GS paper II)
- The Chief Justice of India (CJI) is the head of the judiciary of India and the Supreme Court of India. The CJI also heads their administrative functions. As head of the Supreme Court, the chief justice is responsible for the allocation of cases and appointment of constitutional benches which deal with important matters of law.
- The confrontation with the executive over judicial appointments to an unpleasant rift among Supreme Court judges, it has seen much turmoil recently. The process initiated by major Opposition parties to impeach the Chief Justice of India is an unprecedented crisis.
- The impeachment motion moved by 71 members of Parliament is before the Vice-President, who has to take a decision on it. Seven parties have joined the move to remove the CJI, invoking Article 124 of the Constitution, which lays down a complicated procedure for it.
- There have been six attempts to impeach judges of the constitutional courts, all of which had fizzled out. The only Supreme Court judge to face the agony was V Ramaswami in 1993. The CJI took away work from him but the motion in Parliament failed. Some judges like Chief Justice P D Dinakaran of the Sikkim High Court (2011) and Justice Soumitra Sen of the Calcutta High Court (2011) resigned before the motion reached Parliament.
- The uniqueness about the present crisis is that the first salvo came from the court itself. Then a cavalry of lawyers took up the war cry on the basis of what is happening in the apex court itself. Four judges saw sensitive cases being assigned to Benches without following the revered conventions.
- Their main charge, that CJI Dipak Misra selectively assigns cases to Benches of his choice, had some dark ramifications, including insinuations about the way he dealt with a petition by a medical college on the judicial and administrative side, and a case of suspected judicial bribery.
- They saw dangers to democracy in the manner of assignment of cases and sidelining of senior judges in favour of 16th and 17th in the hierarchy. Some of the allegations have stuck, though it is doubtful whether they add up to the constitutional requirement of proved misbehaviour.
- The Supreme Court during putting Collegium system said that “consultation with the Chief Justice” meant “consultation with a plurality of judges”. The argument that the power to allot cases should be exercised by the Chief Justice in consultation with senior judges may have some substance from this point of view.
- The counter-argument is that a principle evolved for appointments can’t be stretched to cover routine functions such as constituting Benches. But this still raises the question: could the CJI have better addressed his colleagues’ concerns and put in place an informal consultative system, so the damage the institution has suffered could have been avoided?
- Against this backdrop, the impeachment attempt led by the Opposition may be perceived in some quarters as no more than a political move to highlight its claim that key democratic institutions are in danger under the present regime.
- The Rajya Sabha Chairman will have to weigh one question before admitting the motion- what will cause greater damage to the institution, pursuing the process or rejecting it outright? Some may say any inquiry into the CJI’s conduct will imperil judicial independence, and others may argue that ignoring the allegations will be more dangerous.
- The Constitution advisedly envisages the impeachment of superior court judges as a rigorous political process driven by Parliament. It has in-built safeguards such as an inquiry by a panel of judges, and a two-thirds majority in both Houses. The intention is to provide for both accountability and independence of the judiciary.
Question –The accountability and independence of the judiciary is must for the proper functioning of the Democracy, discuss about the present crisis faced by Indian judiciary. Also suggest some way out.
Commonwealth leaders’ summit
Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, 2018.
(GS paper II)
- Recently the 25th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting started in London, as Britain, the current chair, sought to position the community as a route for tackling a number of global challenges, from climate change to protectionism, based on “equal” voices from across the group.
About the Commonwealth
- The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 53 independent and equal sovereign states. The Commonwealth is home to 2.4 billion people and includes both advanced economies and developing countries. Thirty of its members are small states, many of which are island nations.
- Their shared values and principles are inscribed in the Commonwealth Charter. Member countries are supported by a network of more than 80 intergovernmental, civil societies, cultural and professional organisations.
- Its vision is to help create and sustain a Commonwealth that is mutually respectful, resilient, peaceful and prosperous and that cherishes equality, diversity and shared values.
Assessment of the meeting 2018
- Commonwealth Heads of Government met in the United Kingdom from 19 to 20 April 2018 and discussed how the Commonwealth can contribute to a future which is fairer, more sustainable, more secure and more prosperous. Given that 60 percent of the Commonwealth’s population are under the age of 30, Heads of Government affirmed that youth empowerment, as well as gender equality, are critical in realising the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda) and the aspirations of the Commonwealth Charter.
- Considering that small states constitute over 60 percent of the Commonwealth’s membership, Heads recognised that the Commonwealth has always been a strong advocate for the causes of small states, and has consistently raised international awareness of their inherent vulnerabilities.
- Heads recognised that the strength of the Commonwealth lay in the collaboration among its member countries, people-to-people organisations and the Commonwealth Secretariat. In this context, Heads made the following political commitments and agreed to these practical actions.
- Ahead of the summit, it was hoped that renewed interest from India will give new impetus and relevance to the organisation. After many years of active engagement with it, there was an eight-year period where no Indian Prime Minister had participated in a CHOGM, so the decision by present PM to attend the event was seen as a significant moment for the group.
- From the Indian perspective, the Commonwealth offers opportunities to reach out to small states, which make up around 60% of Commonwealth members. In some of these states, India has no diplomatic presence, and forging relations with these countries could help India secure crucial votes during UN or multilateral contests it is involved in, said the head of the South Asia programme at think tank the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
- In India the summit was seen to be a promising place to play a leadership role, and Prince Charles’s visit to Delhi to invite Prime Minister bolstered that belief it was the first Indian Prime Minister visit to attend CHOGM in a decade, after skipping the summits in Australia (2011) and Sri Lanka (2013) over bilateral differences and the summit in Malta (2015) out of indifference. So it was widely expected that India would step up to a bigger role, and help chart a future course for the Commonwealth.
- The Commonwealth remains a great platform for development aid, democratic values and educational opportunities, but its relevance is unlikely to increase unless it adopts a more egalitarian and inclusive attitude to its next generation of Commonwealth citizens, to partake in prosperity their forefathers built.
Question – What is the relevance of CHOGM for India? Is it only a symbolic forum? Explain in the context of recently held CHOGM 2018.
Replanting Indian cotton
Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of Bt cotton in India.
(GS paper III)
- India was a pioneer in the BT technology in the 1970s; today, it is the only country that exclusively grows cotton hybrids. Yet, cotton researchers are now asking if our over-reliance on this technology is responsible for our biggest problems in Bt cotton, such as infestation and low yield.
- As the Pink bollworm infestation in Bt cotton in India has turned the spotlight on an important question: has hybrid cotton lived up to its promise?
- The world’s first commercial cotton hybrid, Hybrid-4 (H-4), was developed in 1970 by the scientist Chandrakant T. Patel. The crop revolutionised cotton farming in India. Due to a genetic phenomenon called heterosis, hybrids often out yield open-pollinated (OP) varieties. So, from paltry yields of 122 kg of lint per hectare, production in India rose to 290 kg per hectare by 1992-93. The advent of hybrids also led to a mini-employment boom in the 1980s, with some 25 million people, mostly women, joining the labour-intensive hybrid industry.
- But the high cost of hybrid seeds prevented farmers from adopting them in a big way until 2002. This was the year when Bt cotton changed the economics of cotton production by cutting down on the costs of pesticides for bollworms. Farmers adopted Bt cotton in great numbers, despite Monsanto restricting it to hybrids. As a result, by 2011, over 95% of cotton in India was under hybrids, from less than 50% before 2002. Bt cotton’s insecticidal traits helped raise Indian yields further.
But this is puzzling that -Why has India’s productivity stagnated despite an ostensibly high-yield technology?
- There are too many factors, which have contributed to this problem, some of which are uncontrollable, like climatic conditions and the sheer area under cotton production (11 million hectares). But other factors, such as the suitability of hybrids grown, are within India’s control and it is crucial to understand them.
- A big mistake that India made was in going overboard with the number of hybrids it approved after Bt cotton arrived. Until then, approval of new hybrids was a careful process- every time a seed company applied to release one, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research tested its agronomic traits in field trials for three years. This testing became less stringent after 2002, when the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) took over the process of Bt hybrid approval.
- Concerned that hybrid approval was taking too long and costing too much for seed companies, the GEAC simplified it. It said that as long as the genetic event (such as Monsanto’s Bt event, Mon 531) had been tested in field trials, the cotton hybrid containing it required testing for only about a year. This led to a deluge of poor-quality hybrids in India.
- As sometimes the seeds were of poor quality, sometimes the hybrids didn’t express enough Bt toxin, and sometimes hybrids meant for one agro-climatic zone were approved in other zones. For example, many hybrids that were meant for irrigated farmlands ended up in areas with no irrigation, a recipe for disaster. Hybrids are a high-cost, high-reward technology; they need the right irrigation at the right time, as well as large doses of fertilizers and pesticides.
- Apart from being bushy, some of these hybrids also had a low harvest index, meaning that the mass of their seeds and lint was low compared to the mass of the rest of the crop, like shoots and leaves. This meant that fertilizers pumped into these hybrids were diverted to leaves rather than lint. This pulled down yield even in irrigated regions like Punjab. Further, Punjab suffered repeated whitefly infestations, which Bt cotton doesn’t protect against. Tackling this needed well-timed insecticide sprays, which farmers did not always do.
- Some cotton researchers believe that it is time to ditch hybrids and return to OP varieties, at least in rain-fed regions. Varieties are compact and can be selected for resistance against pests like whiteflies. When planted at high densities, they can rival hybrid yields.
- The Delhi High Court ruled that the patent on Bollgard-2, Monsanto’s second generation Bt cotton, was unenforceable. This means that India has the option to use Bollgard-2, which confers resistance against pests like the American bollworm, in OP varieties. This was impossible until now, given Monsanto’s licensing agreement with seed companies. However, Monsanto may appeal the decision in the Supreme Court.
- India can skip Bt technologies altogether in OP varieties. Some researchers argue that Bt cotton is unnecessary, at least in some parts of the country. It was the cultivation of long-duration cotton that triggered both the pink and American bollworm infestations in these regions, creating the need for Bt cotton.
Question – Why India is the only Bt cotton-growing country facing the problem of pink bollworm infestation?