The Indian Express | 1 week ago | 05-08-2022 | 12:50 am
Prime Minister Narendra Modi Thursday urged people to take their precautionary doses of vaccine against Covid-19 at a time when India has been seeing a rise in the number of cases. “I urge all present here to take a precautionary dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. On the completion of 75 years of independence, the government has started a campaign of giving free vaccine doses for 75 days,” Modi said as he virtually addressed a huge gathering while inaugurating Shrimad Rajchandra Multispecialty Charitable Hospital in the tribal area of Dharampur taluka of Valsad Thursday. “We should ensure that everybody in our family and our area or village takes the precaution dose,” the PM added. The PM’s reminder comes as the Central government commenced free supply of the Covid vaccines for 75 days as part of the ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ campaign. The PM highlighted that in addition to the Covid vaccine campaign, India was also carrying out a nation-wide vaccination for animals, including cows and buffaloes, against the food and mouth disease. Around “12 crore vaccinations have been done of which 90 lakh were done in Gujarat”, the PM claimed. His statements came as Gujarat has been battling Lumpy Skin Disease, a viral disease that has been spreading across cattle population in the state and has claimed at least 1,838 cattle lives until Thursday.Praising the hospital, the PM said people in the tribal-dominated Dharampur and its nearby talukas will benefit from the new facility. “The commitment to serve the poor will become stronger through such a hospital,” Modi said, adding he was “glad that doctors and staff from Surat, Ahmedabad, Mumbai and foreign countries have come here to serve the people”.The Prime Minister also laid the foundation stone of a Centre of Excellence for Women and Animal Hospital in Dharampur. “The Centre of Excellence for Women by Shrimad Rajchandra Mission will change the lives of many women in the tribal areas. Shrimad Rajchandraji had emphasised more on education and skill development. At a younger age, he had pressed his views on women empowerment,” he said. Newsletter | Click to get the day’s best explainers in your inboxHe said the Centre’s endeavours were directed at ensuring to remove all obstacles that “prevented our sisters and daughters from moving forward”. Modi also praised Shrimad Rajchandra, the 19th century Jain philosopher and poet, for making “huge contributions to the country’s history”. “It is unfortunate that we lost bright leaders who could have made the world aware of the knowledge and strength that India has, too soon,” Modi said about Rajchandra, who inspired Mahatma Gandhi.
The Revamped Distribution Sector Scheme (RDSS), along with planned changes to the law, are the latest in a series of attempts by the central government to tackle the challenges of the power sector. Power sector reforms are overdue not just for their own sake but also because they are critical to rescuing state government finances.Excellent recent reports by the RBI and PRS Legislative Research provide lucid analyses of the fiscal situation of the states. Intended probably as a wake-up call, the RBI’s report reassured more than it alarmed. To be sure, a few states such as Punjab and Rajasthan had deficits and debt that exceeded the indicative targets set by the Fifteenth Finance Commission (FFC). But overall most states either met both or one of these targets.These reports highlight the challenges faced by states, owing to the dysfunctionality of the power sector discoms. But failing to fully integrate discom operations in the analysis of state government finances obscures the true picture. When this is done — as we do below — the reality is alarming.India has made impressive strides in increasing access to the quantity and quality of electricity and in expanding renewable capacity, for which the government deserves credit. But the financial health of the power sector is rapidly deteriorating and flirting with catastrophe.Figure 1 plots three measures of the estimated losses of the discoms in increasing order of “truth”: Headline losses, losses without subsidies and grants, and losses without subsidies and grants and including the arrears of the discoms.Our estimates suggest that for the fiscal year 2020-21, combined losses of the discoms are Rs 2.1 lakh crore without subsidies and grants which mount to Rs 3.0 lakh crore when arrears are included. These exceed by a factor of 2.7-3.8, respectively, the headline loss of 78,000 crore.But even these numbers might underestimate the problem. The loss numbers only exclude grants under the UDAY scheme even though there are several other grants. And the numbers only include discom arrears to the power generating companies (GENCOs) but not to others, resulting in overall payables of about Rs 2.4 lakh crore. The true arrears situation will therefore depend on the magnitude, certainty and timing of the discoms getting paid for their receivables, much of which is owed by government actors. The true loss estimate could therefore be greater.State governments could be staring at losses of 1.5 per cent of GDP just from this one sector. Moreover, as Figure 1 shows, apart from a brief period when headline losses were stabilised in the mid-2010s, true losses have been steadily increasing for over a decade.The truth is that the whole discom operation — with very few exceptions, notably in Gujarat and in a few urban metropolises — is a giant Ponzi scheme, both perpetrated and back-stopped by state governments.For over 50 years, costs have never really been covered by revenues, and losses in perpetuity have become a feature, not a bug. Few state government leaders, if any, have even pretended to achieve full cost recovery. The imitative populism that has gripped the states recently makes chronic under-recovery a reality going forward too.But this Ponzi scheme never sees — is never allowed to see — its disastrous denouement. Some government actor — typically state governments but also public sector banks or the central government — has always come to the rescue, averting a full-blown crisis. De facto, some public sector balance sheet back-stops the discoms and ultimately prevents the Ponzi fallout. Accepting this reality has one implication for accounting transparency. Public sector discom operations are traditionally thought to create contingent liabilities. Contingency seems a euphemism because with unfailing regularity they become actual liabilities. Put starkly, discom operations are state government operations.If that is true, and in the spirit of what the UDAY scheme attempted, discom losses (including arrears) operations must be included in state government finances both on the flow and stock side. Discom losses must be added to state government deficits, with logic and arithmetic consistency demanding that discom debt be included in state government debt (of course, this principle should apply to other “contingent” liabilities of state governments).For fiscal 2020-21, Figure 2 depicts state government finances to exclude (Panel A) and include (Panel B) discom losses (and arrears) for both flows and stocks. The contrast between the two is striking. Ignoring discom losses suggests that six states ran afoul of both fiscal targets set by the FFC and another six were consistent with both.When the accounting is done properly, 11 states run afoul of the fiscal targets set by the FFC. There is a general shift to the right (higher deficits) and upwards (higher debt). In FY21, “true” deficits, incorporating discom losses, increase state government deficits as a whole from 4.7 per cent to 5.5 per cent of state GSDP, putting state governments above fiscal responsibility limits. And their “true” aggregate debt increases from 31.0 per cent to 34.5 per cent. And there are some truly alarming cases: Not just Punjab and Rajasthan but also Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and to a lesser extent Tamil Nadu and Kerala. It is almost certainly the case that with true deficits and debts being greater, state governments’ fiscal sustainability will look much more precarious.Who then is financing or enabling this Ponzi scheme? Figure 3 provides the surprising answer. Increasingly, the power sector is being financed not by the PSBs but by the two non-bank financial companies, Power Finance Corporation (PFC) and Rural Electrification Corporation (REC), which have recently been merged. From 2014 onwards, PFC/REC have lent more to the power sector than PSBs. As of 2021-22, the latter have lent about Rs 6 lakh crore (stagnant since 2014), whereas PFC/REC have lent Rs 7.6 lakh crore, more than doubling within four years from 2017. Moreover, more than one-third of PFC/REC lending is to the discoms. In other words, the next vulnerability in the financial system related to the power sector is PFC/REC.In sum, the facts presented above illustrate three new realities: The financial problem of discoms is considerably worse than headline numbers indicate; consequently, state government finances are considerably more precarious than even the recent RBI analysis suggests; and the vulnerabilities stemming from the financing of unsustainable discom operations have extended to a new institution, namely PFC/REC.What are the consequences and possible solutions? We take these up in our next article.Anand and Sharma are consultants in the private sector. Subramanian is with Brown University and the Center for Global Development
The Gujarat government on Monday released 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano murder and gangrape case of 2002 under its remission and premature release policy after one of the convicts, Radheshyam Shah, moved the Supreme Court. Shah, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment by a CBI court in Mumbai in 2008, had completed 15 years and 4 months in jail.The law on remissionsUnder Articles 72 and 161 of the Constitution, the President and Governors have the power to pardon, and to suspend, remit, or commute a sentence passed by the courts. Also, since prisons is a state subject, state governments have powers under Section 432 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to remit sentences.However, Section 433A of the CrPC puts certain restrictions on these powers of remission: “Where a sentence of imprisonment for life is imposed on conviction of a person for an offence for which death is one of the punishments provided by law, or where a sentence of death imposed on a person has been commuted under Section 433 into one of imprisonment for life, such person shall not be released from prison unless he had served at least fourteen years of imprisonment.”Prisoners are often released on the birth and death anniversaries of prominent leaders and other important occasions. For example, to mark the 76th Independence Day, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs issued guidelines to states to grant special remission for prisoners who have completed at least half their sentence — women and transgender prisoners above the age of 50, male convicts above the age of 60, and terminally ill convicts, among others.Grounds for remissionStates set up a Sentence Review Board to exercise the powers under Section 432 of the CrPC. The Supreme Court has held that states cannot exercise the power of remission arbitrarily, and must follow due process. While the policy varies from state to state, broadly the grounds for remission considered by the Board are the same.Seriousness of the crime, the status of the co-accused and conduct in jail are the factors considered for granting remission. In Laxman Naskar v. Union of India (2000) the SC laid down five grounds on which remission is considered:(a) Whether the offence is an individual act of crime that does not affect the society;(b) Whether there is a chance of the crime being repeated in future;(c) Whether the convict has lost the potentiality to commit crime;(d) Whether any purpose is being served in keeping the convict in prison; and(e) Socio-economic conditions of the convict’s family.Jail manuals contain rules that allow certain days of remission in every month for good behaviour of convicts. For those serving fixed sentences, the remission days are accounted for while releasing the convict. However, convicts serving life sentences are entitled to seek remission only after serving a minimum of 14 years. This rule has often led to uncertainty on whether a “life sentence” means 14 years or a sentence unto death, prompting courts in recent times to clarify that “life means the remainder of one’s life”.Data from Prison Statistics, 2020 show that 61% of convicts in jail are serving life sentences.The Bilkis case convictBilkis case convict Radheshyam Shah moved the Supreme Court this year after he had completed 15 years and four months of his life term awarded in 2008 by a CBI court in Mumbai.In an order dated May 13, 2022, a Bench of Justices Ajay Rastogi and Vikram Nath asked the Gujarat government to consider Shah’s application for premature release “within a period of two months”, as per the applicable remission policy.Gujarat was the “appropriate government” to decide on questions like remission or premature release because it was there that “the crime was committed and not the State where the trial stands transferred and concluded for exceptional reasons under the orders of this Court”, the SC said.The top court had transferred the trial to Maharashtra after Bilkis Bano faced death threats in Gujarat. Shah had gone in appeal against a July 17, 2019 order of the Gujarat High Court, which had ruled that Maharashtra would be the “appropriate government” to decide on his plea for remission. Before that, in August 2013, Bombay High Court had taken the opposite view in another convict’s plea for remission, and ruled that the case must be examined and decided as per the policy applicable in Gujarat.Gujarat’s remission policyThe remission policy that was notified in 1992 — and which was in force at the time of the crime and conviction — permitted prisoners to apply for remission “on the basis that life imprisonment is an arbitrary or notional figure of twenty years of imprisonment”.This policy was invalidated by the SC in November 2012. The court said: “Before actually exercising the power of remission under Section 432 of the CrPC the appropriate Government must obtain the opinion (with reasons) of the presiding judge of the convicting or confirming Court. Remission can, therefore, be given only on a case-by-case basis and not in a wholesale manner.”Following the SC order and instructions issued subsequently by the Union Home Ministry to all states and Union Territories, the Gujarat government formulated a fresh policy in 2014. This contained an annexure listing cases where remission could not be granted — among them were those in which the prisoners were convicted for a crime that was investigated by an agency under the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act (CBI, which was in the investigating agency in the Bilkis case), and prisoners convicted for murder with rape or gangrape.Applicability to Bilkis caseAdditional Chief Secretary (Home) Raj Kumar told The Indian Express that the 1992 policy, under which the convict (Shah) had sought remission, did not have the restrictions that were prescribed in the 2014 policy. He also said that the order of the CBI court passed in 2008 did not bar the convicts from applying for remission.“One of the convicts had moved the SC to seek remission as per the 1992 policy of the state government, which did not have the annexure excluding certain categories of convicts from applying for remission — rather than the 2014 resolution that is currently in place — as the order was delivered in 2008,” Raj Kumar said.Kumar also said: “…The process of remission is not the domain of the judiciary but of the executive, that is the government. Based on the eligibility, prisoners are granted remission after recommendation of the Jail Advisory Committee… The power has been given to the government under the CrPC Section 432 just like convicts on death row can apply for clemency before state Governors or President of India… Among the parameters considered in this case are age, nature of crime, behaviour in prison, and so on… The convicts in this particular case were also considered keeping in mind all the factors, since they had completed 14 years of the life term.”What happens nowAdvocate Shobha Gupta, who represented Bilkis Bano at the Supreme Court earlier, said that the legal remedy available to Bilkis now would be to challenge the government’s order allowing early release of the 11 convicts, either in the High Court or in the Supreme Court.Newsletter | Click to get the day’s best explainers in your inbox“It can be challenged like any other government order, seeking that the government order be quashed and set aside. However, it is up to her (Bilkis) on whether she wants to exercise this remedy,” Gupta told The Indian Express.The Supreme Court had ordered a compensation of Rs 50 lakh for Bilkis in 2019.(With ENS, New Delhi)
In his Independence Day speech to the nation from the ramparts of Red Fort on Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked: “Can we not pledge to get rid of everything in our behaviour, culture and everyday life that humiliates and demeans women?” On the same day, in a decision that violates the letter and spirit of the PM’s address that celebrated “naari shakti”, a Gujarat government panel approved a plea for remission for 11 convicts serving life sentences in the Bilkis Bano gangrape case. Besides rape, the 11 men had been convicted for the murder of Bilkis’s three-year-old child and 13 others, all Muslims, by a CBI special court in 2008. The remission in a case that lies at the heart of the continuing search for justice after the communal violence in Gujarat 2002 portends a disquieting backsliding. It is a grave setback for the tortuous legal battle to secure convictions in the horrific crimes of 2002 in the face of formidable obstacles and powerful odds.Bilkis and her extended family were attacked by a mob on March 3, 2002 while they were fleeing their village in Limkheda taluka of Dahod district. The Supreme Court intervened in the case after Bilkis approached the National Human Rights Commission. The trial was shifted out of Gujarat to Maharashtra on the SC’s direction after she received death threats. The ruling of the CBI court was upheld by the Bombay High Court in 2017 and in 2019, the SC awarded compensation of Rs 50 lakh to Bilkis. The court also indicted policemen who investigated the case. Since her attackers are from her own village, Bilkis continues to fear for her life and is unable to return home. Remission is a statutory provision; it is not unusual for prison boards to clear convicts who have spent a minimum of 14 years in jail. However, it is rare for the sentence of those convicted of heinous sexual crimes to be remitted. In this case, the concern that it could set a precedent cannot be ignored. It is disturbing and disappointing that the SC, which had stepped in to ensure that Bilkis and other victims and survivors of Gujarat 2002 received justice, allowed a remission plea by one of the convicts earlier this year in May, which led to the state government setting up the prison board that has now ordered the release of all 11 convicts.The Supreme Court needs to step in once again. To speak up once more for a woman who has stood her ground, braving all threats, in the courageous pursuit of justice. The court must direct that the remission be revoked. Two decades after the riots, as the convicts in the Bilkis Bano case walk free, activist Teesta Setalvad and police officer R B Sreekumar, who fought on the side of the petitioners, are in jail — the police took their cue from the court, its verdict became the basis for the FIRs. The apex court must ensure that the injustice to Bilkis Bano is reversed. It knows what is at stake.
Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convenor Arvind Kejriwal Tuesday promised “free and good education” to all children in Gujarat, which is scheduled to go to polls later this year.Addressing a townhall in Bhuj, the district headquarters of Kutch district, Kejriwal said, “We guarantee free and good education to every child born in Gujarat. We won’t resort to force though. If you have money, you are free to send your children to private schools. But if parents don’t have money, the lack of money will not be allowed to stand between good education and your children. We will give the best education to your children free of cost”.The AAP chief gave five guarantees to people of Gujarat which the party will implement if it wins the Assembly elections — free education to children, overhauling government schools, conducting audit of private schools and not allow them to increase fees unreasonably, regularise contract teachers, and not assigning non-teaching duties to teachers.Kejriwal, as his second guarantee, promised that an AAP government “will transform existing government schools into ‘shandar’ schools which will be better than private schools in respect of buildings, classrooms, desks, blackboards, teachers etc and we will open a big number of new government schools.”“Thirdly, we will conduct an audit of all private schools and will ask all those who have collected excessive fees to return it to you. If any government wants to increase its fee, it will have to take approval from the government and no school will be allowed to increase the fee unreasonably,” he added.Stating that future of 17 crore students studying in government schools, including 53 lakh in Gujarat was bleak, the AAP chief claimed that government schools were in shambles because “the BJP and Congress governments didn’t set schools right and instead made education kabada (a business).”He said that the practice of private schools asking parents to purchase uniforms and books from the respective schools will be done away with.“Fourthly, presently, there are lots of kacche (ad hoc) teachers like contractual and vidyasahayaks. We will regularise their service and will give them respect. They will teach our students well only if we respect them, honour them and give them job security of job.”As his fifth guarantee, he said teachers won’t be assigned non-teaching duties.“We will not give non-teaching duties to any government. We have stopped this in Delhi and then in Punjab also,” he said.He appealed Vidyasahayaks (those working as probationary teachers in government primary schools for first five years after being recruited by the Gujarat government) and policemen to campaign for the AAP and assured them to fulfil their demand of regularising their services and higher grade pay respectively if voted to power.“ All Vidyasahayaks do intense campaigning for Aam Aadmi Party. I guarantee to address all your issues once we form the government after three months… Policemen are demanding (higher) grade pay here. I supported their demand last month. After that, the Gujarat government woke up but it gave lollypop… Instead of giving grade pay, it increased their allowances marginally… Do accept allowances from these people, work for Aam Aadmi Party covertly, bring an Aam Aadmi Party government and we will give you grade pay,” he added.The AAP chief further alleged that the Gujarat government is not taking action against private schools that were “looting parents by arbitrarily raising fees in the netas (politicians) own more than half of the private schools.Kejriwal said, “I am told, in Gujarat, there is a committee to regulate school fees. But instead of regulating fees, all this committee does is to give its stamp of approval to fee hikes. The private school (managements) have virtually resorted to hooliganism and the government is not taking any action against private schools because it gets money from them. More than half of private schools are run by these netas.”Reiterating his signature ‘Hamne Dilli ke sarkari schools shandar kar diye’ (we turned government schools in Delhi into excellent schools) assertion, the Delhi CM cited 99.7 per cent result of government school students in board examination in Delhi and government school students managing to get admissions to IITs and medical colleges to underscore that it was possible overhaul government schools and make quality education accessible to children of the poor also.
Following the footsteps of the BJP, the Gujarat Congress has instructed its workers to form page commandos to prepare voters’ lists, identify the party’s voters and ensure they reach the polling stations. With Assembly elections around the corner, the instruction came at the party’s ‘maru booth maru gaurav’ (my booth, my pride) event in Surat Tuesday. Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot who was to visit Surat and Rajkot on Tuesday to meet Congress leaders for the first time after being appointed senior observer, could not come. The special plane he was flying in, from Jaipur, was reportedly not allowed to land in Surat due to bad weather. He has now rescheduled his visit for Wednesday when he will only go to Vadodara and Ahmedabad. Gehlot will land in Vadodara Wednesday morning and meet Central Gujarat leaders and then head to Ahmedabad to meet north Gujarat leaders and is then expected to address a press conference.“Today, we have come up with matdar yadi (voters’ list) of 35 assembly seats of South Gujarat and handed them over to the district heads. A single page of matdar yadi (voting member list) consists of 30 voters. The page commandos should identify at least 19 Congress voters from the list and take them to polling stations for voting and also see who are left over and repeat it. It is the duty of page commandos to see nobody is left from the voting list. Generally, the average voting turnout of the assembly seat is between 65 to 70 per cent. We have to target those who had not voted and take them to polling stations as they are the voters of the Congress. If the voters’ turnout increases by 20 per cent, then we are sure to win 125 seats in the Gujarat assembly elections,” said state Congress President Jagdish Thakor. He added that in the Udaipur meeting, it was decided to form a new structure of organisation. In the city area, the ward committee will be treated as mandals and the polling booth committee will be treated as sector, while in the rural Talukas, panchayat seats will be treated as mandals and district panchayat seats as sectors.He also alleged that Rajasthan Chief Minister and Congress leader Ashok Gehlot, who was to begin his three-day state visit and attend the event in South Gujarat, was denied landing permission at Surat airport Tuesday citing poor weather conditions. “I am afraid they will not allow us to organise a rally here like they did not allow the landing of Gehlot’s aircraft at the Surat airport today. He has been ready since 9.30 am in the morning to attend the first political meeting in Surat, but his aircraft was denied landing. Today, we have come to know what will happen if an airport is sold or privatised. The decision to give permission for flying and landing of aircraft lies with the airport authority,” he said.Thakor also announced various steps to begin the election campaign in the state from August 20. He urged workers to make elaborate arrangements for the rallies of Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. “Around one lakh people should participate in the rally with 25,000 bikes and 10,000 cars,” he said.In a veiled reference to Gujarat BJP President CR Paatil, Thakor further said, “The Surat man is moving around the state and talking about the page committee and page president but it is all false. Their internal party survey says that the party will not cross 70 seats in the elections.”Gujarat, earlier known after leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel and for its cooperative movement, has now become a hub of drugs, said All India Congress Committee (AICC) Secretary BM Sandeep. “In the past four to five months, drugs worth over Rs 40,000 crore were seized from Gujarat ports. Through media reports and sources, we have come to know that drugs worth over Rs 2 lakh crore landed at Gujarat ports and were supplied to different parts of the country.”He added that the party has toured across the 35 assembly seats of South Gujarat. “During the last assembly elections, we (Congress) could not form the government due to the poor performance in South Gujarat. A majority of the area in the region are tribal and they face great problems such as land acquisitions for different development projects like the bullet train, Vedanta project, leopard park, Par-Tapi-Narmada river-linking project, Express highway project, etc,” he said, emphasising the need to organise meetings with the tribal communities in different parts of South Gujarat.Dr. Raghu Sharma, Gujarat Congress incharge, said his party had already discussed the announcements made by AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal in the state. “Kejriwal should go to Rajasthan and see how the health infrastructure is. Insurance cover of Rs 5 lakh is given to the citizens. During the covid pandemic, the work done by the Rajasthan government was excellent and the work was appreciated by PM Narendra Modi,” he said.