The Print – Modi government finally clarifies it’s not paying Shramik Express fare, says states footing bill

Modi government made the clarification in Supreme Court following much confusion over its role in payment of migrant workers’ fares.

Sanya Dhingra

New Delhi – India, 28 May 2020. The Modi government finally clarified Thursday that it is not paying for migrant labourers’ Shramik Express tickets, telling the Supreme Court that the bill is being footed by states.

The statement in court comes amid much confusion over who exactly is paying for the migrant labourers’ journey, with certain statements from the central government suggesting that it is bearing 85 per cent of the fare and states paying the remaining 15 per cent.

BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra had also claimed earlier this month that the central government is paying 85 per cent of the fare.

The central government’s clarification came as the Supreme Court, at a virtual hearing, took up a PIL on the problems being faced by migrant labourers stranded in different parts of the country amid the Covid-19 lockdown.

In a statement to the court, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who was representing the central government, said the fare for the special Shramik trains organised by the railways is paid either by the originating state or the receiving one.

The migrant workers are not required to pay the fares, Mehta told a bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, S K Kaul and M R Shah.

When asked by the bench how it is ensured that the migrant workers are not harassed to pay for the tickets, Mehta said the states should file their respective reports in court.

The Shramik Express trains, special trains earmarked to carry migrant workers home from wherever they were stranded, were announced on 1 May, days before the central government extended the lock-down to its third phase.

Its initial run was marked by a furore over reports that the migrant labourers, hit hard by the lock-down, were being made to pay for the train journeys.

According to a notification issued by the railways on 2 May, the state governments were supposed to collect the ticket fare from the passengers and hand over the amount to the railways.

As the allegations also led to a political controversy, with opposition parties, particularly the Congress, attacking the Modi government on the issue, the central government said it is dividing “cost” on an 85 per cent-15 per cent basis with states.

Last week, addressing a press conference, Railway Board Chairman V K Yadav reiterated the claim.

Explaining the discrepancy, a railways ministry officer said the central government had never said it is bearing 85 per cent of the cost of the tickets, but maintained that it is paying 85 of the cost of running the trains. Of this, the officer said, ticket fare comprises 15 per cent.

“Running a train involves several costs. Ticket fare is just part of it,” the officer said. “What the government has told the court today is not at odds with what was said earlier.”

The Print reached a spokesperson of the railways ministry for a comment through WhatsApp, but there was no response until the time of publishing this report. A senior officer from an opposition-ruled state said the back-and-forth on the issue was an “eyewash”.

“After maintaining for so long that they are bearing 85 per cent of the cost, at least today they have admitted that it is the states which are paying for the travel of the migrants.”

The Supreme Court Thursday ordered the central government and states not to charge either train fare or bus fee from migrant workers keen to go back to their native towns.

The Hindu – Political parties should not give tickets to candidates with criminal background: ECI to SC

The top court asked the petitioner BJP leader and advocate Ashiwini Upadhyay and the poll panel to sit together and come up with suggestions which would help him in curbing criminalisation of politics.

New Delhi – India, 24 January 2020. The Election Commission of India on January 24 told the Supreme Court that its 2018 direction asking poll candidates to declare their criminal antecedents in electronic and print media has not helped curb criminalisation of politics.

The poll panel suggested that instead of asking candidates to declare criminal antecedents in the media, political parties should be asked not to give tickets to candidates with criminal background.

A Bench of Justices R F Nariman and S Ravindra Bhat asked the ECI to come up with a framework within one week which can help curb criminalisation of politics in nation’s interest.

The top court asked the petitioner BJP leader and advocate Ashiwini Upadhyay and the poll panel to sit together and come up with suggestions which would help him in curbing criminalisation of politics.

In September 2018, a five-judge Constitution Bench had unanimously held that all candidates will have to declare their criminal antecedents to the Election Commission before contesting polls and had called for a wider publicity, through print and electronic media about antecedents of candidates.

The Asian Age – Nation is facing difficult times, bring peace: Supreme Court

The government has expressed the fear that different high courts may pronounce conflicting judgments.

New Delhi – India, 10 January 2020. The Supreme Court on Thursday said efforts should be made to douse frayed tampers in the wake of the agitations against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and to normalise the situation.

“As it is the country is going through difficult times. The object should be to bring about peace. Such petitions don’t help that. There is a presumption of the constitutionality of law”, said Chief Justice S.A. Bobde, who was heading a three-judge bench which comprised Justices B.R. Gavai and Surya Kant.

The strong observation from the bench came in the course of the hearing of a petition by one Puneet Kaur Dhanda seeking a declaration that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act was not constitutional.

“We have never heard of a petition like this, to declare an act as constitutional,” the Chief Justice said, adding: “The job of the court is to determine the validity of a law, not declare it constitutional.” The CJI then permitted the petitioner to withdraw the plea, with the liberty to intervene in a similar matter which the court is seized with.

On Friday, the Supreme Court is likely to hear the Centre’s plea seeking the transfer of all cases which are the challenging the Citizenship Amendment Act pending before high courts across the country.

The Centre has sought the transfer of cases contending that the Supreme Court is already seized of the matter as 60 petitioners have challenged the law that has led to protests across the country. The government has expressed the fear that different high courts may pronounce conflicting judgments.

The Supreme Court had on 18 December 18 sought a response from the Centre on a batch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the amended citizenship law that provides for the grant of Indian citizenship to illegal migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Christian and Parsi religions, barring Muslims.

The court will hold a further hearing on 22 January, when it will also consider the plea for a stay of the law which has been described by one of the petitioners as contrary to the provisions of the Constitution.

The Telegraph – Surprises in Pakistan

The skeleton of internal contradictions tumbles out of the cupboard, once again

T C A Raghavan

Op/Ed, 18 December 2019. Just when Pakistan seemed set on a linear course, it surprises you once again. The linear path appeared to have consolidated further when in August this year the prime minister, Imran Khan, gave a three-year extension of tenure to the incumbent chief of army staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

At the time, it seemed unsurprising. The explanation given was geopolitical: the situation in Afghanistan and the legislative changes made in India with reference to Jammu and Kashmir and Article 370. The notification issued on 19 August, personally signed by Khan, thus cited ‘regional security environment’ as the reason.

But for many others, the reasons were more direct. Khan was elected in July 2018 through an election, which was, or so it appeared, the last act of the process of a ‘creeping coup’ where the higher judiciary acting in concert with the military high command sought to ensure that the incumbent prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, did not secure another term.

The preferred candidate was Khan, charismatic and at the head of a political party in his own right. What titled the scales in his favour were the military and the judiciary. Sharif’s tenure as prime minister from 2013 to 2017 had been marked by a series of frictions with the army through three chiefs of staff, Ashfaq Kayani, Raheel Sharif and Bajwa.

When he was finally ousted and debarred from holding office in the future by a Supreme Court order, it was evident that regardless of the reasons given by the court, Sharif had run his course in trying to assert civilian supremacy in Pakistan.

In terms of prevalent jargon, the Pakistani ‘Deep State’ had acted against him. An older vocabulary would have used the term, ‘Establishment’. In the longer view of Pakistan’s history, the outcome was the same: the ‘twenty year coup cycle’ of Pakistan had asserted itself, 1958, 1977, 1999 and 2018.

The difference in Sharif’s unseating was that it left his party, which was greatly weakened, in charge and kept the path open for Khan to win the general election and form the government.

To many, it seemed that a better civilian-military equation that would result from this was perhaps what Pakistan really needed.

As Khan completed his first year in office in August 2019, the event coinciding with the notification of Bajwa’s three-year extension, most would grant that this was easily the most friction free civil-military interface since a new phase began in Pakistan’s political history post Pervez Musharraf’s military regime.

So the extension seemed to be in the natural order of things for Pakistan, a civilian government with a popular mandate but a government with which the military was comfortable. For many Pakistan watchers, this hybrid was the holy grail that had long eluded the country and the nectar of internal stability, regardless of the manner in which it was extracted, seemed within reach.

A series of hearings late last month in the Supreme Court upset this trend. Apart from finding procedural deficiencies in the order granting Bajwa a three-year extension, the court raised more fundamental questions about the legal and constitutional provisions by which the extension to the army chief was being granted.

These hearings were conducted within days of Bajwa’s impending retirement and when the Supreme Court struck down the August notification of a three-year extension, many Pakistanis did feel that another phase of their country’s history may well be beginning.

Technicalities apart, the Supreme Court’s point was that in the extant regulations, there was no specific provision providing for the reappointment or extension of the army chief’s service tenure.

The court’s final order, giving Bajwa a six-month extension, avoided precipitating an immediate crisis. The government was also directed to pass legislation to govern tenure and extensions of the army chief within this six-month period.

Given the long tenures in post-1971 Pakistan of Zia-ul-Haq (1976-88), Pervez Musharraf (1998-2007) and Kayani (2007-2013), it is legitimate to wonder what was being missed here. Evidently, the court is now a different institution and the old civil-military tangles thus have a new ingredient in them.

Numerous explanations, including conspiracy theories, have emerged to unveil the rationale for this chain of events. Was it no more than a case of friction between the chief justice and the prime minister in which the extension issue proved of utility to embarrass the latter?

Or did the tussle represent, in fact, rumblings and unhappiness within the army hierarchy, extensions to the top gun hold up promotions down the line. In between, there were other variations including speculation on whether this episode has weakened the COAS and affected his interface with the prime minister and the government. As always, such questions have no clear answers.

However, we can see these developments in the longer span of Pakistan’s history. The Supreme Court has historically acted as an adjunct to Pakistan’s bureaucratic and military elite from the 1950s. Its legitimization of different spells of military rule using dubious legal principles from ancient Rome and English common law had facilitated multiple dictatorships.

One chief justice had thus cited the maxim, “that which is otherwise not lawful is made lawful by necessity”. Other principles invoked included salus populi suprema lex esto (the health, welfare, good, salvation, felicity of the people should be the supreme law) and salus republica est suprema lex (the safety (or welfare) of the state is the supreme law).

The long ‘doctrine of necessity’ phase of Pakistan’s legal history ended amidst much drama in 2008 when an unseated chief justice led a movement of lawyers to effectively put an end to Musharraf’s dictatorship.

In the crucible of numerous contradictions that Pakistan faced then, there were other forces that worked to usher in a new democratic phase in Pakistan’s history. Yet it was the lawyers’ and the judges’ movement that tipped the balance.

The judicial process that finally catapulted Khan to electoral victory seemed to be a setback to the political activism by the bar and the bench. The latest fracas over the army chief’s extension now suggests that the churn in Pakistan is still active. Clearly, the higher judiciary should not be taken for granted.

Secondly, it underwrites that a balance among different institutions, the elixir that has for so long eluded Pakistan, remains distant. The next stage in this may well be the treason trial of Musharraf. The death penalty announced yesterday by a special court gives this issue extra drama and the matter will certainly go all the way to the Supreme Court.

What do we make of all this in the light of our own predicaments with Pakistan? It is four years now since the downswing in relations after the Pathankot attack. The Kartarpur opening provides a balance but it is a small one given the high tensions, terrorist attacks and our own robust countermeasures.

One point that does stand out is that the prolonged period of tension has camouflaged Pakistan’s internal tensions. Nevertheless, the tussle over the army chief’s extension shows that the many internal contradictions remain and will continue to rise to the surface.

The author is a retired diplomat and currently Director General of the Indian Council of World Affairs

The Tribune – Not just Punjab officials, farmers in firing line too

Agriculture department starts compiling data on erring peasants

Aman Sood – Tribune News Service

Patiala – Panjab – India, 26 November 2019. A day after the Supreme Court came down heavily on Punjab authorities for failing to stop farm fires and asked why they shouldn’t be made to pay compensation to those suffering, it has emerged that the apex court has suggested similar action against erring farmers.

Acting accordingly, the state agriculture department is learnt to have started compiling data of the erring farmers and fines pending to date. The department, said sources, had started analysing the cases of the 2019 season separately. They said a separate list would be compiled of farmers who burnt paddy stubble after the SC banned the practice.

“We also issue notice to the learned counsel appearing on behalf of the farmers as to show cause why the orders of this court have been violated and why the farmers should not be asked to pay compensation, which may be determined by this court, and why the burden should not be fastened upon them also,” said the SC order on Monday.

As many as 201 fire incidents were reported on Monday itself. The residue burning continues despite registration of nearly 1,700 FIRs against farmers for flouting the ban.

“We are compiling the data pertaining to farm fires and only the total farm fires and fines for this season are left to be compiled. We will send the list to the government and if the Supreme Court clears us to collect the fines, necessary action will be taken,” said Punjab Agriculture Secretary Kahan Singh Pannu.

The Punjab Remote Sensing Centre has recorded around 2.25 lakh cases of stubble burning after the paddy harvesting season over the past four years. An amount of Rs 38.58 lakh had been recovered as penalty while Rs 2.83 crore was outstanding till the beginning of this year’s paddy season, as per government data.

Penalties worth over Rs 50 lakh have been levied in around 53,000 farm fire cases so far this season. The maximum challans were issued in 2018 and a fine of Rs 1.37 crore levied on defaulters. But only Rs 19 lakh could be collected. A few months ago, the Punjab and Haryana High Court had barred the state pollution control board from collecting fines from farmers.

An official said erring farmers, backed by politically inclined unions, refused to deposit fine and even took officials hostage when they were approached.

Paddy pain: dual challenge

  • Studies suggest area under paddy increased from 2.27 lakh hectares in 1960 to 30 lakh hectares in 2016
  • Total irrigated area over the period rose from about 38% to 98%, of which 73% is irrigated via tubewells
  • Paddy cultivation is also contributing to depletion of water table, posing a dual challenge for authorities

BBC News – Why a million Indian tribal families face eviction

Soutik Biswas, India correspondent

New Delhi – India, 22 February 2019. India’s 100 million tribespeople are, in the words of a historian, its invisible and marginal minority. Despite affirmative action, most of them continue to eke out a miserable existence in the heavily forested, mineral-rich states.

More than four million of them, by one estimate, live in protected forest areas, which comprise about 5% of India’s total land area. Some 500 wildlife sanctuaries and 90 national parks make up these protected areas. A 2006 law gives tribespeople and other dwellers living on forest land for three generations before December 2005 the legal right to live and work on the land.

Now India’s Supreme Court has ordered that more than a million such families living on forest land will have to leave soon. The top court has acted on information provided by 17 states. The states have carried out a three-step verification of more than four million occupancy claims, each requiring 13 different kinds of evidence, of each family living on forest land.

Some 1.8 million claims have been accepted and land titles handed over to families living on 72,000sq km of forest land, an area equivalent to the north-eastern state of Assam. But more than a million claims have been rejected, so an equal number of families face eviction. Environmental journalist Nitin Sethi calls this the “largest mass scale, legally sanctioned eviction of tribals in independent India”.

Wildlife groups had petitioned the court saying India’s limited forests were being encroached upon, and endangered wildlife was being further threatened by illegal squatters on forest land. They believe allowing people to live in scattered parts of forest land is also leading to to the break-up of large forests and fragmentation of the habitat.

They say the forest law provides for the resettlement of people living in national parks and sanctuaries, but none of this has happened.

“The law is meant for pre-existing forest rights only and thus is not a land grant or land distribution law,” says Praveen Bhargav of Wildlife Trust, one of the petitioners in the case.

Tribespeople support groups say the implementation of the law has been faulty. They blame overzealous environmentalists and wildlife groups for the present state of affairs.

Advocacy group Campaign for Survival and Dignity says numerous official and independent reports have confirmed that “huge numbers of claims have been wrongly rejected and that forest officials, in particular, have a track record of illegally preventing people’s rights from being recognised”.

They blame Narendra Modi’s BJP government for “failing to defend the law”, and fear that the court order could easily become a pretext for forest officials to “attack” people who live in the forests.

There are fears that such a large-scale eviction of tribespeople, it has to be completed by 27 July, is likely to spark widespread unrest in states like Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Orissa, where a large number of of them live.

Such fears are not unfounded. An earlier eviction drive, between 2002 and 2004, to rid the forests of encroachers resulted in some 300,000 forest dwellers being forced out from lands, according to C R Bijoy, an independent researcher. Villages were set on fire, houses demolished, crops damaged and people killed in police shootings.

“Tribespeople and other forest dwellers become encroachers simply because their ownership rights have not been recorded and settled by officials as stipulated by forest laws,” wrote Mr Bijoy in a paper.

India’s tribespeople, according to historian Ramachandra Guha, suffer from what he describes as a “triple resource crunch”, living as they do in India’s “densest forests, along with its fastest-flowing rivers and atop its richest veins of iron ore and bauxite”.

Over the years they lost their homes and lands to dams, mines, and factories. Now a mass court-mandated eviction from forest land, again, proves how vulnerable they remain.

519.Man in Blue – The Sikh Identity

I am an Amritdhari Sikh and wear the five Ks and a turban. I do this because the Guru asked me, and because I believe it is a useful part of my spiritual discipline. My turban and beard make me a recognisable Sikh, but that does not mean that I am a Sikh because I look like one.

I am not a Sikh because I took amrit and I am not a Sikh because my parents were Sikhs (they were not). The definition in the Sikh Rehat Maryada is quite clear : the main element of being a Sikh is following the teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib and the example set by the Gurus through their Gursikh way of life.

The SGPC is rarely able to do anything that is in line with Guru’s Teachings. But this time they have been caught by their own foolishness. Under pressure of the Badal Dal the union government issued a notification saying that only those who have uncut/unshaven etc hair can vote in the SGPC elections.

The 2011 SGPC elections were held on that basis, but have since been successfully challenged by another un-Sikh outfit : the Sehajdhari Sikh Federation. I do not think that the Supreme Court has ruled on the merits of being Keshdhari or Sehajdhari, but on the grounds that a law should not be changed by a notification.

The Sikh identity is defined by behaving as the Guru taught us. Live in the world, but do not be ruled by it, see God’s presence in all, be ready to serve all, make an honest living, think about God with all you do, recognise that there are people in all traditions who are true Students of the Teacher of Teachers etc, etc.

I know too many ‘Keshdhari’ Sikhs who practice none of the above and a good few moné who do quite well. It is impossible to make a relevant voters list of ‘Sikhs’ based either on the status of their hair or on who their parents were.

Looking the part without living the part is useless. If you call yourself an athlete but do not train and do not have a disciplined way of life you are living a lie.

The Gursikh that we should all try to be, regardless of being amritdhari, keshdhari or mona, is like a spiritual athlete. Some of us might reach to Olympic level, others play in the local league, but all should try to get nearer to God by following Guru’s teachings. Going by the Guru Granth Sahib (our eternal teacher) this way of life is not defined by the length of your hair, the length of your kachhera or by any other outward sign.

Walk in hukam, walk with God, be her/his humble child; if you do not see God in all you will not see God at all; be different and look different, these are the kind of  things a Gursikh should practice.

If you wear all or part of the Sikh uniform but have no Sikh behaviour you are like an empty shell. Sikh or Khalsa behaviour without the uniform does has value. Just like good the Muslims and good Yogis that Guru writes about can attain to God, so can good moné. But being ‘pure from outside and dirty inside’ means that you are a hypocrite, and Guru does not like hypocrites at all !