The Indian Express | 1 week ago | 06-08-2022 | 05:50 pm
The Indian Express’ UPSC weekly news express covers some of the most important topics of current affairs news from this week to help you prepare for UPSC-CSE. Try out the MCQs and check your answers provided towards the end of the article.Shift to commercial cropsSyllabus:Preliminary Examination: Economic and Social DevelopmentMains Examination: General Studies III: Major crops-cropping patterns in various parts of the countryWhy in news?—A combination of lower realisations and good monsoon rains have led farmers to move away from pulses and plant more commercial crops, especially soyabean and cotton that are trading much higher than their minimum support prices (MSP).Key takeaways—According to the Union Agriculture Ministry’s latest compiled data as of July 29, farmers have so far sown 106.18 lakh hectares (lh) area under pulses in the current kharif cropping season from June 1. This is above last year’s corresponding area coverage of 103.23 lh.—However, the picture is different when one looks at individual pulses and state-wise acreages. Arhar/Tur (pigeon-pea), the country’s largest produced kharif pulses crop, has seen a dip in area sown from 41.75 lh to 36.11 lh.—Moreover, the only major pulses-growing states to have registered significant rise in area are Rajasthan (from 21.65 lh to 32.10 lh), Madhya Pradesh (17.83 to 18.28 lh) and Uttar Pradesh (6.22 to 7.08 lh). Others have seen reductions, notably Maharashtra (20.69 to 17.81), Karnataka (18.32 to 16.94 lh), Telangana (4.11 to 2.21 lh), Gujarat (3.80 to 2.86 lh) and Odisha (3.08 to 2.41 lh).—There is a clear explanation for the above trend. Arhar is selling at around Rs 7,300 per quintal and soyabean at Rs 6,300 in Maharashtra’s Latur market. Their corresponding MSPs are Rs 6,600 and Rs 4,300 per quintal, respectively. The gap between the ruling market price and MSP is, thus, higher in soyabean.—The cumulative all-India acreage under soyabean has gone up from 111.89 lh to 114.69 lh.—Besides soyabean, pulses have also lost out to cotton, with 117.65 lh being sown under the fibre crop, up from 111.69 lh last year at this time. Maharashtra alone has seen an increase in area from 38.12 lh to 41.21 lh. In Gujarat, cotton has gained acreage (21.77 to 24.50 lh), mainly at the expense of groundnut (18.68 to 16.27 lh).—Cotton acreage has also gone up because all the main cotton-growing states – in the South, West and Northwest India – have received surplus rainfall this monsoon season. Being a 6-8 month duration crop, typically harvested over 4-5 pickings till December and right up to February, cotton requires more water than soyabean, groundnut or pulses.—Commercial crops are grown for sale in the market or are used as raw materials for industries. It is an agricultural crop that is grown for sale to return a profit. It is typically purchased by parties separate from a farm.Point to ponder: Which are the important cash crops of India? What were the important causes for Commercialisation of crops?1. MCQ:Which of the following is/are a commercial crop in India?1.Mustard 2.Tobacco3. Jute4. WheatSelect the correct code:(a) 2 and 3 only(b) 1 and 2 only(c) 1, 2 and 3 only(d) 2, 3 and 4 onlyIndia’s unique job crisisSyllabus:Preliminary Examination: Economic and Social Development-Sustainable Development, Poverty, Inclusion, Demographics, Social Sector Initiatives, etc. Mains Examination: General Studies III: Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization, of resources, growth, development and employment.Why in news?—According to Amit Basole, who heads the Centre for Sustainable Employment at Azim Premji University in Bengaluru, the share of India’s working population engaged in farming has fallen quite significantly during the last three decades.Key takeaways—In 1993-94, agriculture accounted for close to 62% of the country’s employed labour force. That proportion – based on data from the National Statistical Office’s Periodic Labour Force (previously known as ‘employment and unemployment’) Surveys – dropped almost six percentage points by 2004-05 and even more (9 percentage points) over the next seven years. The declining trend continued, albeit at a slower pace, in the subsequent seven as well.—Overall, between 1993-94 and 2018-19, agriculture’s share in India’s workforce came down from 61.9% to 41.4%. That isn’t insignificant. It is estimated that given its level of per capita GDP in 2018 – and comparing with the average for other countries in the same income bracket – India’s farm sector should be employing 33-34% of the total workforce. 41.4% may not be a substantial deviation from the average.—There’s been a reversal of the trend in the last two years, which has seen the share of those employed in farms rise to 44-45%. This has primarily to do with the Covid-induced economic disruptions. The Periodic Labour Force Survey years are from July to June. The 2019-20 survey results will, hence, also cover the first lockdown period from late-March to end-June 2020. The reverse migration of people back to the farms should be a temporary blip, though, with the surveys from 2021-22 hopefully revealing a restoration of the long-term trend.—Secondly, even the movement of workforce from agriculture that India has witnessed over the past three decades or more does not qualify as what economists call “structural transformation”. Such transformation would involve the transfer of labour from farming to sectors – particularly manufacturing and modern services – where productivity, value-addition and average incomes are higher.—Simply put, the structural transformation process in India has been weak and deficient. Yes, there is movement of labour taking place away from farms – even if stalled, possibly temporarily. But that surplus labour isn’t moving to higher value-added non-farm activities, specifically manufacturing and modern services (the familiar ‘Kuznets Process’ named after the American economist and 1971 Nobel Memorial Prize winner, Simon Kuznets). Instead, as Basole’s work demonstrates, the labour transfer is happening within the low-productivity informal economy. The jobs that are getting generated outside agriculture are mostly in low-paid services and construction; the latter’s share in employment has even overtaken that of manufacturing.—Weak structural transformation and persistence of informality also explains the tendency, especially by rural families, for pursuing multiple livelihoods.Point to ponder: How Weak structural transformation is one of the reason behind few people now in agriculture? What is Kuznets theory?2. MCQ:Consider the following statements and answer the question below:1. Considering the importance of the availability of labour force data at more frequent time intervals, Niti Aayog launched Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS).2. One of the objectives of PLFS is to measure the dynamics in labour force participation and employment status in the short time interval of three months for only the urban areas in the Current Weekly Status (CWS). Which of the following statement is/are correct?a) only 1 b) only 2c) Both 1 and 2 d) Neither 1 nor 2Weapons of Mass DestructionSyllabus:Preliminary Examination: Current events of national and international importance.Main Examination: General Studies II: Important International institutions, agencies and fora- their structure, mandate.Why in news?—The Weapons of Mass Destruction and their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Amendment Bill, 2022, was passed in Rajya Sabha. The Bill, passed by Lok Sabha in the previous session, was passed by a voice vote in the Upper House.Key takeaways—The Bill amends The Weapons of Mass Destruction and their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Act, 2005, to provide against the financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems in line with India’s international obligations.—The Bill bars persons from financing any prohibited activity related to weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems. To prevent persons from financing such activities, the central government may freeze, seize or attach their funds, financial assets, or economic resources (whether owned, held, or controlled directly or indirectly). It may also prohibit persons from making finances or related services available for the benefit of other persons in relation to any activity which is prohibited.—The 2005 Act prohibited the manufacturing, transport, and transfer of weapons of mass destruction, and their means of delivery.—According to the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill, the need to amend the Act has arisen from the fact that “in recent times, regulations relating to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems by international organisations have expanded”, and “the United Nations Security Council’s targeted financial sanctions and the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force have mandated against financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems”.—The expression “weapon of mass destruction” (WMD) is usually considered to have been used first by the leader of the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1937 to refer to the aerial bombing of civilians in the Basque town of Guernica by German and Italian fascists in support of General Franco during the Spanish Civil War.—The expression WMD entered the vocabularies of people and countries around the world in the early 2000s after the US under President George W Bush and the UK under Prime Minister Tony Blair justified the invasion of Iraq on the grounds that the government of Saddam Hussain was hiding these weapons in the country. No WMDs were ever found.NBC weapons—While there is no single, authoritative definition of a WMD in international law, the expression is usually understood to cover nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) weapons. According to the United States Department of Homeland Security, “A weapon of mass destruction is a nuclear, radiological, chemical, biological, or other device that is intended to harm a large number of people.”—India’s 2005 WMD Act defines:* “Biological weapons” as “microbial or other biological agents, or toxins…of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes; and weapons, equipment or delivery systems specially designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict”; and* “Chemical weapons” as “toxic chemicals and their precursors” except where used for peaceful, protective, and certain specified military and law enforcement purposes; “munitions and devices specifically designed to cause death or other harm through the toxic properties of those toxic chemicals”; and any equipment specifically designed for use in connection with the employment of these munitions and devices.Control over use of WMDs—The use of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons is regulated by a number of international treaties and agreements.—Among them are the Geneva Protocol, 1925, that banned the use of chemical and biological weapons; and the Biological Weapons Convention, 1972, and Chemical Weapons Convention, 1992, which put comprehensive bans on the biological and chemical weapons respectively.—India has signed and ratified both the 1972 and 1992 treaties. There are very few non-signatory countries to these treaties, even though several countries have been accused of non-compliance.—The use and proliferation of nuclear weapons is regulated by treaties such as Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).Point to ponder: How does the WMD bill address the issue of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction?3. MCQ:Which of the following statements is not true?a) Non Proliferation Treaty can be described to have three objectives of non-proliferation, disarmament and peaceful uses of nuclear energy. b) New START Treaty is a treaty between the United States of America and China on measures for the further reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms.c) Geneva Protocol of 1925 banned the use of chemical and biological weapons.d) India has ratified Biological Weapon Conventions and Chemical weapon Convention.Taiwan issue and India’s stand on One China policySyllabus:Preliminary Examination: Current events of national and international importanceMain Examination: General Studies II: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.Why in news?—On August 2nd, US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan.—This triggered a fresh round of tension that risks pushing US-Chinese relations to a new low and brings into focus China’s threat of using force o control the island. Nancy Pelosi has been a vocal critic of China over the years.Where is Taiwan?—Earlier known as Formosa, Taiwan is a tiny island off the east coast of China, separated from the mainland China by the Taiwan straight.—It is a part of what is called the “first island chain”- a string of islands nations/territories, including Japan, South Korea and Philippines that are seen as pro-US.—Taiwan is also located close to the South China Sea, a region where many east Asian countries have contested claims.What is the tussle between China and Taiwan?—While China sees Taiwan as a breakaway province, Taiwan sees itself as independent. Taiwan has stood against China’s reunification goal. Only 15 countries most of them small island nations, recognize Taiwan.What is One China Principle and One China Policy?—It is important to distinguish between the One China Principle and the One China Policy to understand the cross-Taiwan Strait problems.—The PRC follows the One China Principle, a core belief that sees Taiwan as an inalienable part of China, with its sole legitimate government in Beijing. The US acknowledges this position but not necessarily its validity.—The US instead follows the One China Policy — meaning that the PRC was and is the only China, with no recognition for the Republic of China (ROC, Taiwan) as a separate sovereign entity. At the same time, the US refuses to give in to the PRC’s demands to recognise Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan — it only acknowledges the Chinese position that Taiwan is a part of China.—Warren Christopher who was US Deputy Secretary of State under President Jimmy Carter said,“the word ‘acknowledge’ is determinative for the US,” told a Senate hearing when the Chinese attempted to change it to “recognise”.—The US has stuck to this position ever since — and used the “strategic ambiguity” that it creates to maintain the status quo and preserve stability in the Taiwan Strait.What is the US Position?—While US maintains ties with Taipei and sells weapons to it, it officially subscribes to PRC’s ” One China Policy”- where Taiwan does not exist as a sperate entity. This position is premised on Beijing not invading taiwan. It is this delicate diplomatic balance that Pelosi’s visit may have disturbed.—On October 1, 2021, during the 72nd anniversary celebrations of PRC, China flew over 100 fighter jets into Taiwan air defence identification zone, setting off alarm bells. Every spike in China – Taiwan tension worsens the already strained US-China relationship.What has been India’s position?—India does not have any formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan yet as it subscribes to the One China Policy.—India has an office in Taipei for diplomatic functions — India-Taipei Association (ITA) is headed by a senior diplomat. Taiwan has the Taipei Economic and Cultural Center (TECC) in New Delhi. Both were established in 1995.—Their ties focus on commerce, culture and education. Now in their third decade, these have been deliberately kept low-profile, owing to China’s sensitivities.—For example, parliamentary delegation visits and legislature-level dialogues have stopped since 2017, around the time the India-China border standoff happened in Doklam.—But as its ties with China have come under stress of late, India has been playing up its tension withTaiwan.—In 2020, after the Galwan clashes, New Delhi handpicked diplomat Gourangalal Das — then jointsecretary (Americas) in the Ministry of External Affairs — to become its envoy in Taipei.—The Taiwan government is keen on expanding areas of cooperation with India as it is one of the priority countries for Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy. So far, it’s been largely an economic and people-to-people relationship.Point to ponder: What is the difference between One China Policy and One China Principle? What is India’s stand on the issue of Taiwan?4. MCQ:Consider the following statements and answer the question below:1. China follows One China Principle while US follows One China Policy.2. India does not subscribes to One China Policy and maintains diplomatic ties with Taiwan.Which of the statements is/are true?a) Only 1 b) Only 2c) Both 1 and 2 d) Neither 1 nor 2Govt gives nod to stronger climate targets for 2030Syllabus:Preliminary Examination: General issues on Environmental ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate ChangeMains Examination: General Studies III: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.Why in news?-At The UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26) last year, PM Narendra Modi promised to strengthen India’s climate commitments.-He made five promises, and called it the ‘Panchamrit’.-Nine months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made those promises at Glasgow, the government, has now, converted two of those into official targets, which would now be part of India’s international climate commitments for 2030.Key takeaways:—India’s NDC, or nationally determined commitments, have been updated with these two promises, both of which are enhancements of existing targets, and would be submitted to the UN climate body.—NDCs or nationally determined commitments embody efforts by each country to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.—The 2015 Paris Agreement requires every country to set self-determined climate targets which have to be progressively updated with more ambitious goals every few years. India’s first NDC was submitted in 2015, just before the Paris Agreement was finalised.What are the three main targets of India’s original NDCs?—India’s original NDC contained three main targets for 2030:* A 33 to 35 per cent reduction in emissions intensity (or emissions per unit of GDP) from 2005 levels* At least 40 per cent of total electricity generation to come from non-fossil renewable sources* An increase in forest cover to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalentWhich targets have been converted into official targets?—At the Glasgow meeting last year, Modi promised to strengthen India’s climate commitments. He made five promises, and called it the ‘Panchamrit’, the nectar that Indians prepare using five ingredients. Two of these were upward revision of existing targets, the ones that have been made official and put in the updated NDC .Accordingly,* India will now reduce its emission intensity by at least 45 %, instead of just 33 to 35 %, from 2005 levels by 2030.* Also, it would now ensure that at least 50 % of its total electricity generation, not just 40 %, would come from renewable sources by 2030.* The forestry target has not been touched.Which two targets have not been converted into official targets?—PM had said that at least 500 GW of India’s installed electricity generation capacity in 2030 would be based on non-fossil fuel sources.—Also, he had promised that the country would ensure avoided emissions of at least one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent between now and 2030.—These two promises have not been converted into official targets.—But these are closely linked with others, and any progress on official targets would get reflected in these goals as well.—Also, to be noted that PM had also announced a net zero target for India for the year 2070.—Net zero is a situation in which a country’s greenhouse gas emissions are offset entirely, either by absorption of carbon dioxide through natural processes like photosynthesis in plants, or through physical removal of greenhouse gases using futuristic technologies.-But net zero is a long-term target and does not qualify to be included in the NDC which seeks five to 10 year climate targets from countries.What has been India’s progress so far in achieving its targets?—Two climate targets — those relating to reductions in emissions intensity and proportion of non-fossil sources in electricity generation — do not come as a surprise.—India is on way to achieve its existing targets well ahead of the 2030 timeline.—India’s emissions intensity was 24 % lower than the 2005 levels in the year 2016 itself, the last year for which official numbers are available. It is very likely that the 33 to 35 % reduction target has already been achieved, or is very close to being achieved. A further reduction of 10-12 % from here, to meet the new target, does not appear too challenging, even though these reductions get progressively tougher to achieve.—The other target — having at least 40 percent of electricity coming from non-fossil fuels — has officially been reached.—According to the latest data from the power ministry, 41.5 % of India’s current installed electricity capacity of 403 GW is now powered by non-fossil fuels. Renewables (wind, solar and others) alone account for more than 28 % of this capacity while hydropower contributes over 11 %.—With most of the new capacity additions happening in the renewable energy sector, a 10 per cent rise in the share of non-fossil fuels in electricity generation is not a unrealistic target.Point to ponder: Why do you think that 2 out of the 5 panchamrit targets have not been made official?5. MCQ:Which of these Panchamarita promises have been converted into official targets or NDCs by the GOI?1. A net zero target for India for the year 2070.2. At least 500 GW of India’s installed electricity generation capacity in 2030 would be based on non-fossil fuel sources.3. India will reduce its emission intensity by at least 45 % from 2005 levels by 2030.a) 1, 2 and 3 b) Only 2c) Only 3 d) 2 and 3Answer to the MCQs: 1 (c) , 2 (b) , 3(b) , 4 (a) , 5 (c)
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
FOR SEVERAL MINUTES late on Monday evening, Bilkis Bano could not believe that the 11 convicts had walked free — she first broke into tears and then went silent, her husband Yakub Rasool told The Indian Express.A day later, when contacted by The Indian Express, Bilkis said: “Please leave me alone… I have offered duas (prayers) for the soul of my daughter Saleha”.“We have been left numb, shocked and shaken,” said Rasool after a Gujarat panel granted remission of sentence to the 11 convicts who were jailed for life in 2008 for gangraping Bilkis and killing 14 of her family members, including her three-year-old daughter, during the 2002 riots.“The battle we fought for so many years has been wrapped up in one moment. A sentence of life imprisonment given by the court has been curtailed in such a manner… We had never even heard of the word ‘remission’. We didn’t even know that such a process exists,” Rasool told The Indian Express over phone from their home at Devgadh Baria in Dahod.After the convicts were welcomed with garlands and sweets following their release, Rasool said that Bilkis, now 41, was “distressed and melancholic”, unable to talk to anyone.“We have not even had the time to process this news and we know that they (the convicts) have already reached their homes…It is not that they never took parole; they did several times. But we did not expect that they would be released in such a manner,” he said.“What happened (in 2002) was so horrific that one can imagine what must be going through her mind… She was brutalised but witnessed the murder of her own daughter… She was violated not just as a woman but also as a mother and a human being — what can be worse than that?” Rasool said.“Now we only want to be left alone, and settle down for our five children. We do fear for our safety but we have not had the time to contemplate the next move,” he said.Sujal Mayatra, District Magistrate and Collector of Panchmahal, who chaired the Jail Advisory Committee (JAC) that recommended the remission, told The Indian Express that “it was a unanimous decision”.“The convicts had completed over 14 years of their life sentence. Their application had come about three months ago… Like in the case of any application for remission or premature release, this case was also considered on the basis of the behaviour of the convicts in prison as well as the tenure and other merits of the case. The recommendation was sent to the state government, and yesterday (Monday), we received the orders for their release,” Mayatra said.According to norms, the JAC has eight members including the District Magistrate (or Chief Metropolitan Magistrate) as chairman, jail superintendent, member secretary, District Sessions Judge, Superintendent of Police (or City Commissioner), District Social Welfare officer, and two local (elected) members.In this case, the elected members were Godhra BJP MLA C K Raulji and Kalol BJP MLA Suman Chauhan. Both were not available for comment tuesday.Another committee member, who did not wish to be identified, said the remission applications also cited medical grounds. “The oldest of the convicts was 70 years old and had health issues. Another convict, nearing 60 years of age, had also cited medical conditions as well as a medical emergency at home as his wife is battling a critical illness,” the member said.Gujarat Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Raj Kumar told The Indian Express that a total of 26 prisoners were released across the state on Monday.Bilkis was gangraped and 14 members of her family, including Saleha, were killed by a mob on March 3, 2002, in Limkheda taluka of Dahod district — the bodies of six were never found. The Supreme Court had ordered a CBI investigation in the case after Bilkis approached the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).In 2004, the Supreme Court directed the trial to be transferred from Gujarat to Maharashtra after Bilkis alleged death threats from the accused. And on January 21, 2008, a CBI special court in Mumbai convicted 13 accused, sentencing 11 to life imprisonment on charges of gangrape and murder. Three years later, the conviction was upheld by the Bombay High Court.In 2019, the Supreme Court awarded compensation of Rs 50 lakh to Bilkis, and asked the Gujarat government to provide her with a government job and accommodation.According to Rasool, the state government awarded the compensation and offered Bilkis the post of a peon in Devgadh Baria but she turned down the offer and sought employment for her husband instead. “The government is yet to consider the application. We are also yet to hear from the administration about the accommodation,” he said.Newsletter | Click to get the day’s best explainers in your inboxAccording to Rasool, the compensation amount of Rs 50 lakh has been placed in a fixed deposit and will be used for the higher education of their children. “Our eldest daughter is 19 and pursuing a B.Com degree. Bilkis wanted her to be a lawyer and help other people seek justice but due to Covid we could not enroll her in the law college as it is outside Devgadh Baria. We have decided that she will graduate in Commerce and pursue LL.B,” he said.The second daughter, aged 16, is also attending college while their 15-year-old son is a Class 10 student in a private school.In the Lok Sabha polls of 2019, Bilkis had stepped out for the first time to cast her vote. “She was beginning to live her life again because justice had lessened our pain but this (remission) has come as a bolt from the blue… we are exhausted,” Rasool said.
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)
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.