The downslide in federal relations

The Indian Express | 5 days ago | 19-09-2022 | 10:50 pm

The downslide in federal relations

Dear Reader,Soon after becoming the Prime Minister in 2014, Narendra Modi spoke about cooperative federalism as an idea that could guide Centre-state relations. His long experience as Chief Minister of Gujarat, presumably, may have been an instructive influence in shaping his vision of governance. Unfortunately, federal relations have been on the downslide for some years now.Historically, Centre-state relations have been a fraught issue since the 1960s, especially during the premierships of Indira and Rajiv Gandhi. The tension would exacerbate whenever an Opposition party would win power in a state. In fact, the Kerala crisis in 1959 was a harbinger of how this tension could build into a stand-off between the Union and the state governments. In the heyday of the Congress and Jawaharlal Nehru in the 1950s, Kerala had voted in a CPI government. Just two years after it was sworn in, the Congress-led Opposition, in cahoots with caste/ communitarian groups that were upset with the radical tenancy and education reforms, launched a mass movement calling for the ouster of the communist government. In 1959, reportedly under pressure from the then Congress president, Indira Gandhi, the Nehru government invoked Article 371 to dismiss the EMS government, which enjoyed a majority in the Assembly. Thereafter, successive Union governments, with support from pliable governors, have dismissed inconvenient state governments and imposed President’s Rule in Opposition-ruled states. This tendency peaked in the 1970s and 80s under Indira and Rajiv. Parties such as the CPM, citing the examples of Kerala and West Bengal, used to campaign against the Centre’s “step-motherly treatment” of Opposition-run states. This was the backdrop of the Sarkaria Commission (1983) that looked into Centre-state relations and made numerous proposals for its improvement. Despite Modi’s assurances, federalism seems to have taken a knock as an ambitious BJP seeks to dominate the polity at all costs. The ongoing controversy over the Vedanta-Foxconn project, which this newspaper has tracked in depth, as well as the mass defections in Goa seem like a throwback to the 1970s and 80s, when the Congress used to ignore constitutional and institutional propriety to further its political goals.Last week, it was announced that the Rs 1.54 lakh crore Vedanta-Foxconn project, originally planned for Maharashtra, would come up in Gujarat. The Opposition in Maharashtra alleged that the Centre used its leverage over the promoters to shift the project to Gujarat. Until recently, the Maha Vikas Aghadi, an anti BJP alliance, was in office in Mumbai. Moreover, Gujarat is headed for elections later this year. This war of words between the BJP-Shiv Sena (Eknath Shinde faction) and the MVA has threatened to open old fault lines in federal relations as well as the state’s political economy. Also, ethnic tensions that date back to the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement in the 1950s have started to feature in political debates. Girish Kuber (‘A troubling trend’, September 16) fleshed out the details of the controversy while an editorial (‘Whose project’, September 16) cautioned against an emerging chill in Centre -state relations. The editorial said: “There is no reason why cities or states within India must not compete among themselves for investment and industry. In fact, they should. At the same time, the political gloves are off, Centre-state chill is deepening, many MLAs have become fungible assets, making for tricky terrain when it comes to who decides to invest where. The stakes are high when the fault lines run deep, watch this space.”The defection of eight Congress MLAs in Goa to the BJP, reminiscent of similar movements in Arunachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Karnataka, exposed the lead Opposition party’s inability to keep its flock together in the absence of power. An editorial (‘Aya Ram, Gaya Ram’, September 15) pointed out the weakening of the Opposition space as the BJP seeks to consolidate the political space. If the slogan was Congress-mukt Bharat in 2014, today it seems to be Opposition-mukt Bharat. As majorities are upturned or enhanced, the anti-defection law, which was introduced in the 1980s with the intent to raise the bar for party hopping, has been thoroughly exposed. Legislators seem ready to switch sides shamelessly — in Goa, the elections were held as recently as March — with the confidence that voters may be willing to condone their act. In Karnataka, most of the MLAs who defected got reelected on their new party symbol. Perhaps, Parliament should tweak the anti-defection law and ask defecting legislators to sit out one term before they seek endorsement of voters in their new avatar!As the Opposition space gets squeezed elsewhere, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin announced that his government will provide breakfast to primary school students. This is in addition to the universal mid-day meal scheme that has been a part of public education in the state since the 1980s. What is interesting is that Stalin has sought to give a political spin to his initiative by stating that the scheme is welfare, not a freebie, and it is his “duty” to provide such welfare. The breakfast scheme is part of a slew of initiatives in the education sector that Tamil Nadu has introduced in recent months. These interventions in education are framed as conscious political acts and in step with the Dravidian Model of governance as against the preference of Hindutva politics for a polarising nationalism and other majoritarian agendas. This could become the core of a new Opposition politics.One of cinema’s greatest auteurs departed last week. Jean-Luc Godard, French director and film theorist, reportedly died by assisted suicide at the age of 91 in Switzerland. Godard was one of the leaders of the French New Wave and inspired filmmakers all over the world. His films were political to the core and constantly explored the politics of the image and sound. He constantly reinvented himself as an artist to keep his autonomy and agency and from being appropriated by the state and its institutions as well as to keep up with upheavals in politics, science and technology. C S Venkiteswaran (‘Conscience of cinema’, September 14) and Amrit Gangar (‘Godard on the Borivali local’, September 15) wrote touching tributes to the maestro.Last week also saw a new development in the Gyanvapi mosque case, with a district court in Varanasi agreeing to hear a plea by five Hindu devotees that their right to worship at the site be protected (‘Law and politics’, September 13). The hearing is set to begin on September 22. Faizan Mustafa (‘Not by the law’, September 13) warned against over-dependence on litigation to maintain social harmony.That’s all for this week.Thank you,AmrithAmrith Lal is Deputy Editor with the Opinion team

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Float tenders for bullet train systems without delay: India to Japan
The Indian Express | 1 hour ago | 25-09-2022 | 05:50 am
The Indian Express
1 hour ago | 25-09-2022 | 05:50 am

India has told Japan that tenders for electrical and signalling systems, as well as the rolling stock, for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed rail corridor should be floated without delay as land issues faced by the project appear to have been resolved.Sources said that Japan and India have agreed to put a cap on the cost of the systems and rolling stock, and that if the prices for these quoted by Japanese companies go beyond that cap, the balance will be footed by the Japanese side, outside the scope of the loan agreement for the project.This puts to rest a longstanding impasse that the project has faced, with prices for many of the critical items to be supplied by Japanese companies indicated to be up to 90 per cent higher than project consultants’ estimates.The Japanese government’s Japan International Cooperation Agency is covering 80 per cent of the cost of the bullet train project with a soft loan to India that compels the project to source critical components only from Japanese suppliers. The project is expected to cost Rs 1.6 lakh crore.Officials estimate that the Gujarat portion of the corridor will be fully operational by 2027, followed by the Maharashtra portion by 2029.“Since there is a cap agreed by both parties, and since civil works are now being executed at a fast pace, there is no roadblock to floating the systems tenders for the Japanese firms,” a source said.In the sixth meeting of the Joint Working Group for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Project, the Indian side communicated to their Japanese counterparts that the tenders for the systems, especially the electricals and signalling, should be awarded by December-March, it was learnt.The meeting, held earlier this month, was co-chaired by V K Tripathi, the chairman and CEO of the Railway Board, and Satoshi Suzuki, the Japanese ambassador.In a major sign that the project may finally be able to put its land-related troubles in Maharashtra behind it, the National High Speed Rail Corporation, the implementing agency of the project, on Friday floated the tender for the 21-km tunnel in the state. Seven kilometres of the tunnel will be under the sea.Newsletter | Click to get the day’s best explainers in your inboxThe Indian Express had last month reported that the project was getting its land-acquisition issues sorted out under the new government in Maharashtra.The tunnel is the most complex piece of civil engineering work in the 502-km corridor. The tender for the tunnel is open to global competition, with both Japanese and Indian companies allowed to tie up with other international players to make bids.Another area of concern for the project was the procurement of the rolling stock — the actual train sets. As per Japan, only Kawasaki and Hitachi are eligible to supply the rolling stock. Sources said the Indian side had wanted to avoid a situation where both the companies jointly submit a bid, which could raise the price.However, with a price cap being agreed by both sides, this concern has been alleviated.

Float tenders for bullet train systems without delay: India to Japan
Safety regulator seeks third party audit for Ahmedabad Metro operations
The Indian Express | 3 hours ago | 25-09-2022 | 03:50 am
The Indian Express
3 hours ago | 25-09-2022 | 03:50 am

Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate Phase-1 of the Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar Metro rail on September 30, the Commissioner of Metro Railway Safety (CMRS) has asked for a third party audit — apart from 90 other conditions to be met — to attest the structural strength and quality of tunnel segments and viaduct and piers of elevated section in the routes to be inaugurated. The CMRS also sought a technical audit of the Tunnel Ventilation System in the underground section of the Metro. It pointed out “deficiencies” such as lack of safeguard to piers against possible train derailment in a section that flies over a railway line, and expressed concern over the time taken in the underground section for evacuation of passengers, during mock drills.During inspections in August and September 2022, CMRS had spotted a number of “deficiencies” that have a direct bearing on the safety of operations and had asked the Gujarat Metro Rail Corporation (GMRC) to take “rectification measures”.The GMRC responded in September 14-15 saying the issues were sorted and that the project was safe for operations. However, the authorisation letter provided to GMRC earlier this week for the opening of Ahmedabad Metro gave a conditional authorisation, including restricting speed to as low as 45 kilometre per hour (kmph) in certain sections. The maximum speed of a metro rail is 80 kmph.Authorisation to operate the Metro to ferry people has been given separately for fully elevated North-South corridor and the East-West corridor that has both elevated and underground sections. A 6.5-kilometre route of the Ahmedabad Metro has been operational on East-West Corridor from March 2019. The PM will inaugurate the remaining 13.3-km stretch of Phase-1 connecting Thaltej and Vastral on the East-West corridor and the 18.83-km stretch on the APMC-Motera route that is part of the North-South corridor. The Gujarat government announced Saturday that both routes would be thrown open to public two days after the inauguration, which would coincide with Gandhi Jayanti. The CMRS authorisation letter, which was seen by The Indian Express, states that the North-South Corridor passes through a “vulnerable zone” adjacent to an Indian Railway line (that connects Ahmedabad to Bhavnagar), and “no special protection” has been provided to safe-guard metro piers from the impact of a possible derailment that might occur on railway lines below. Imposing a speed restriction of 60 kmph between Paldi and Old High Court stations, CMRS stated that “Metro should take needful safety measures such as suitably designed protection wall for piers and guard rail on railway track after carrying out risk analysis through NIT/IIT to ensure safety of metro trains on priority”.The CMRS pointed out that during inspection of the North-South corridor on September 2-3, it had noticed “deficiencies”, including “cracks” in piers and viaducts. “For long term stability and safety, it is advised to confirm adequacy of structural strength and quality of viaduct and piers by getting a third party audit done from IIT in three months time,” the authorisation letter stated.In the East-West Corridor, the CMRS pointed out that apart from Vodafone, there was no mobile network coverage inside the tunnel and the underground stations. “There should be continuous communication in the train inside the tunnel,” it has said.It also sought a third party audit for steel girders, for validating the design and quality of work. CMRS observed that “steel girders of non-standard span” were used at a number of locations on the metro route and “some bolts were seen missing or loose in splice and bracings”.The safety body also observed quality issues on the Sabarmati OWG (Open Web Girder) bridge and said Metro should get the deficiencies rectified and get it certified from RITES within a month. Till then, a speed limit of 60 kmph has been imposed on this bridge that passes over seven railway tracks of Indian Railways.The body also pointed out that Sabarmati Metro station was not offered for inspection and the sanction for this needed to be taken separately before opening it to public use. CMRS directed the station to be permanently closed and asked the trains to skip the station. This is an important station as it will connect metro passengers to the under construction multi-modal hub at Sabarmati which will serve passengers of bullet train, Indian Railways and BRTS.It also pointed out malfunctioning Platform Screen Doors or PSD doors at metro stations and asked director systems to certify the quality of the items. It also pointed out that some of the signalling equipment were old as it was of 2018 built-date. “This is not acceptable in new metro works and should be replaced,” the letter stated.In the East-West corridor, the CMRS noted “hair-breath cracks in tunnel segments and seepage marks” in the underground section, besides cracks, exposed reinforcements, casting errors, etc., in piers, viaducts and Sabarmati bridge.A speed limit of 60 kmph has been imposed on Sabarmati bridge, which CMRS stated has casting errors in six spans and other issues. “These shall be rectified in one month and a third party audit done through RITES to confirm structural safety,” stated the stiplulations.For the East-West Corridor, CMRS stated the Tunnel Ventilation System for the underground section needed improvement/upgradation. It sought a technical audit of the tunnel ventilation system and a fire safety clearance from the fire department. CMRS also advised a third party quality audit to confirm structural strength and quality of viaduct, piers and tunnel segments in three months’ time.CMRS inspected this corridor between Apparel Park and Thaltej stations on August 20-22 and September 4. The 6.5-kilometre stretch between Vastral Gam to Apparel Park is already operational. During the inspection, it noticed a “leaning” of one of the piers at Commerce Six roads-Gujarat University section. Imposing a 45-kmph speed restriction on this segment, the GMRC has advised remedial measures and a third party audit for examining the safety and certification of the pier.Like the Sabarmati station, the underground Kankaria East station was not offered for inspection and CMRS has asked trains to skip this station as well.CMRS also asked the GMRC to rectify malfunctioning lifts and PSD doors and install branded water coolers. The groundwork for Ahmedabad Metro — for which DPRs were drawn and redrawn since 2005 — began in March 2015. After seven years of construction, the Phase-1 of the project consisting of a little over 40 kilometres will be fully launched for commercial operations later this month.SS Rathore, Managing Director of GMRC, which is a joint venture of the Gujarat government and Government of India, said, “Every authorisation letter from CMRS is with clauses. Every Metro project gets it with conditions. They are directions and standard conditions that are put. These are standard procedures.”Not willing to discuss the conditions laid out by CMRS, Rathore said,“Some of these conditions are security related and I won’t be able to discuss it with you.” When asked about the third-party audits for reassessing the safety and structural quality of the elevated and underground corridors, Rathore said, “They had sought it even for the first 6.5 kilometres and we had done an audit through IIT three months after the operations began.” The second phase of the Metro project will connect the state capital Gandhinagar with Ahmedabad, which will essentially be the expansion of the first phase. This phase will have two corridors, including 22.8 km from Motera Stadium to Mahatma Mandir, having 20 stations and a 5.4-km route from the Gujarat National Law University to GIFT City having two stations. The entire Phase-II will be on an elevated route.

Safety regulator seeks third party audit for Ahmedabad Metro operations
Bilkis case convict challenges plea against remission: ‘petitioners have no ties to case’
The Indian Express | 3 hours ago | 25-09-2022 | 03:50 am
The Indian Express
3 hours ago | 25-09-2022 | 03:50 am

DESCRIBING A petition challenging the remission of sentence granted by the Gujarat government to him after 15 years in jail as “speculative and politically motivated”, one of the convicts in the Bilkis Bano case has questioned the locus standi of the petitioners, saying “none of” them “are related whatsoever to the said case and only happens to be either a political activist or a third party stranger”.In an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court through Advocate Rishi Malhotra, convict Radheshyam Bhagwandas Shah referred to cases in which the apex court “has consistently held in clear terms that a third party who is a total stranger to the prosecution has no ‘locus standi’ in criminal matters and has no right whatsoever in filing a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution”.He said that to entertain such petitions “would” therefore “not only unsettle the settled position of law but would also open flood gates and would be an open invitation for any member of the public to jump in any criminal matter before any court of law”.Shah was among 11 convicts in the Bilkis Bano case of gangrape and murder who were released by the Gujarat government on August 15 under its 1992 remission and premature release policy for life-term convicts after he moved the Supreme Court. Deciding his plea, the Supreme Court had ruled that although the trial in the case took place in Maharashtra, the Gujarat government would be the appropriate authority to grant remission based on the 1992 policy.Since their release, the Supreme Court has issued notices on two petitions — one filed by CPI(M) leader Subhashini Ali, journalist Revati Laul and academician Roop Rekha Verma, and another by TMC MP Mahua Moitra — challenging their release. Shah’s petition referred to the plea by Ali and others.Bilkis was gangraped and her three-year-old daughter Saleha was among 14 killed by a mob on March 3, 2002, in Limkheda taluka of Dahod district, during the post-Godhra riots. Bilkis was pregnant at the time. The Gujarat government cited a “unanimous” recommendation of the Jail Advisory Committee (JAC) to grant remission to the convicts on grounds of “good behaviour”.In his affidavit, Shah referred to another case and pointed out that similar questions had been raised when the conviction of some accused under the TADA Act was sought to be challenged under Article 32 of the Constitution by Akali Dal (M) president Simranjit Singh Mann.The Supreme Court, however, held that a petition under Article 32 of the Constitution can only be made for enforcing a fundamental right. “The Supreme Court rightly addressed the issue that the writ petitioner therein did not seek to enforce any of his fundamental rights nor did he complain that any of his fundamental rights is violated,” Shah’s petition stated.Similarly, the petition stated, in the 2013 ruling in Subramanian Swamy vs Raju matter, the Supreme Court “further reiterated the settled position of law that the jurisprudence that has evolved over the decades has assigned the primary role and responsibility at both stages to the State though…in certain exceptional situations there is a recognition of limited right in a victim or his family members to take part in the process, particularly, at the stage of the trial”.“…the law, however, frowns upon and prohibits any abdication by the State of its role at each of the stages and, in fact, does not recognise the right of a third party/ stranger to participate or even to come to the aid of the State at any of the stages,” the petition said.In this matter, the Supreme Court had dismissed Swamy’s appeal against a Delhi High Court order rejecting his prayer to be made a party before the Juvenile Justice Board in proceedings against the minor accused in the Nirbhaya gangrape case.Referring to his release under the 1992 policy, Shah’s affidavit pointed out that the Supreme Court had in a 2010 decision stated that the policy that will apply for remission is the one applicable at the time of conviction by the trial court and not a subsequent policy at the time of consideration.It submitted that in 2010, the “Court went a step further and held that in case there were two policies for premature release existing at the time of consideration, a policy which can be construed liberally in favour of a convict be applied in a case of convict”.

Bilkis case convict challenges plea against remission: ‘petitioners have no ties to case’
FM: Re has ‘held back very well’ against dollar compared to peers Sitharaman
The Indian Express | 3 hours ago | 25-09-2022 | 03:50 am
The Indian Express
3 hours ago | 25-09-2022 | 03:50 am

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Saturday said that the rupee has “held back very well” against the US dollar when compared to other currencies of the world.The rupee breached the 81-mark against the dollar for the first time on Friday, before settling at 80.98, as the greenback continued to strengthen against all other major currencies following an aggressive rate hike announcement by the US Federal Reserve.When asked about the all-time low that the rupee hit against the greenback on Friday, she said the Reserve Bank of India and the Finance Ministry are keeping a very close watch on the situation.On the rising inflation, the Finance Minister said the union government was taking all possible steps to check the price-rise situation and ensure that common citizens do not suffer.Sitharaman’s comments came at the end of her three-day tour of Baramati Lok Sabha constituency.Meanwhile, taking on the opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance for criticising the new Maharasthra government over the planned Vedanta-Foxconn semiconductor unit going to Gujarat, she said that those questioning the moving of plant after initially being proposed in Maharashtra should first respond on the four mega projects that were stalled during the previous government’s tenure.“One has to ask the MVA first on the four mega projects that were stalled during their tenure and then we will speak about one project that has gone to some other state from Maharashtra,” she said.Sitharaman said it was the slugfest between the ruling alliance and the opposition alliance as those in the previous government want to cover up their failures.“Those who exploited the cooperative sector did not think of setting up a separate ministry for its improvement as their efforts were to use the sector only for political gains,” she said, adding that the Central government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is bringing necessary changes to improve it.Newsletter | Click to get the day’s best explainers in your inboxOn her assessment after Baramati tour, where she arrived to strengthen the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) base, the union minister said, “It was focused on meeting with organisational units in the constituency. It is essential for strengthening the party and its unit. Thus, the feedback was gathered from ground onBJP and its service to people.”She said the BJP cadre in Baramati has been providing good service to the public, mainly during the Covid period, adding that the local cadres informed her that only BJP representatives were on the field for service of people in Covid time.

FM: Re has ‘held back very well’ against dollar compared to peers Sitharaman