TABLE OF CONTENTS
A. GS1 Related B. GS2 Related POLITY AND GOVERNANCE 1. 16 ex-PAC jawans held guilty for Hashimpura massacre 2. Assam residents get relief from SC 3. Disabled persons can perform Haj: Centre to HC 4. SC warns HCs over vacancies INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 1. India protests China-Pakistan bus via PoK C. GS3 Related ECONOMY 1. India jumps to 77th rank in the Ease of Doing Business Index 2. Core sector growth slows down 4.3% ENVIRONMENT 1. 461 elephants electrocuted in country in 8 years since 2009 INTERNAL SECURITY 1. It’s not yet time to revoke AFSPA: Biren Singh D. GS4 Related E. Editorials ECONOMY 1. Always a fine balance (RBI and the Government of India) POLITY AND GOVERNANCE 1. Has the CBI’s credibility been compromised? (CBI) F. Tidbits 1. SC: live-in partner can seek maintenance 2. Be ready to trace the origin of messages, WhatsApp told 3. Now, visit Supreme Court on a guided tour G. Prelims Fact 1. Deal inked for biofuel research H. UPSC Prelims Practice Questions I. UPSC Mains Practice Questions
A. GS1 Related
Nothing here for today!!!
B. GS2 Related
- More than 31 years after 38 Muslims from Hashimpura were rounded up and shot dead by the Uttar Pradesh Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC), the Delhi High Court on Wednesday sent 16 former jawans to life imprisonment, holding them guilty of murder.
- The incident took place in the evening hours of May 22, 1987, when 42 to 45 elderly men and boys belonging to the Muslim community were rounded up by the PAC personnel, packed into a truck and taken away; 38 of them were later shot in cold blood and the bodies were thrown into the Gang Nahar (canal) and Hindon river.
- After communal riots had taken over Meerut in April 1987, in a communally charged atmosphere; PAC was called in, but was withdrawn as the riots subsided.
- However, violence erupted again around 19 May, when 10 people were killed as arson escalated, thus the Army was called out to stage a flag march.
- Seven companies of CRPF reached the city during the day, while 30 companies of PAC were being rushed in and an indefinite curfew was declared.
- The following day, mobs burned down Gulmarg cinema hall, and as the death toll rose to 22, plus 75 injured, shoot-at-sight orders were issued on 20 May 1987.
- On the night of 22 May 1987, 19 PAC personnel, under platoon commander Surinder Pal Singh, rounded up Muslims in the Hashimpur mohalla in Meerut. The old and the children were later separated and let go.
- They allegedly took about 40–45 of them, mostly day wage labourers and weavers, in a truck to the Upper Ganga canal in Murad Nagar, Ghaziabad district instead of taking them to the police station.
- Here some were shot, one by one, and thrown into the canal. A bullet also injured one of the PAC constables. After some were killed, the headlights of passing vehicles made PAC personnel flee the spot with those alive.
- Four of those shot escaped by pretending to be dead and then swimming away; one of them filed a first information report (FIR) at the Murad Nagar Police Station.
- The remaining men were taken in the truck to the Hindon River Canal near Makanpur village in Ghaziabad, shot and their bodies thrown into the canal. Here again, two of the people who were shot at, survived and lodged an FIR at the Link Road Police Station.
- The Supreme Court on Thursday came on the same page as the government, allowing more than 40 lakh people left out of the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam to use five additional documents, including the ration card, to claim their Indian legacy.
- Consequently, the court extended the last date for filing of claims and objections from November 25 to December 15.
- The deadline for issuing notices to claimants, after digitisation and completion of all formalities, is January 15, 2019. The verification of their claims would begin on February 1 next year. Further details of the time schedule, including the time for completion of verification/enquiry of the claims, will follow at the appropriate time.
What is the National Register of Citizens?
- It is a register containing the list of bona fide (genuine/real) Indian citizens. Those failing to enlist their names in the register would be deemed, illegal migrants.
- The first list was made in 1951, covering the whole of India, as per the census of that year.
- Currently, the list has been updated for the first time in Assam.
- The Centre on Thursday told the Delhi High Court that it has made changes in the Haj policy and allowed disabled persons to also perform the annual pilgrimage.
- Central government standing counsel Ajay Digpaul told a Bench of Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice I.S. Mehta that only persons with serious illnesses such as cancer or tuberculosis are barred from the pilgrimage.
- The new Haj policy, issued by the Ministry of Minority Affairs in November last year, debars “persons suffering from polio, tuberculosis, congestive and respiratory ailment, acute coronary insufficiency, coronary thrombosis, mental disorder, infectious leprosy, AIDS, or any other communicable disability or handicapped” from applying for the Haj pilgrimage.
- A petition was filed before the High Court claiming that the new Haj policy, which will be effective for the next five years starting 2018, was “discriminatory, arbitrary and highly irrational” as it violates fundamental rights of disabled persons.
- Digpaul, appearing for the Ministry, said that the Haj Committee of India has “unanimously decided to allow persons with special needs to apply” for the pilgrimage under the general category.
- The amended policy has made it clear that “physical disability of a person will not be construed as adverse physical health”.
- Digpaul said on selection, such a person with special needs can perform Haj if he or she can undertake the journey on their own, or else they may be accompanied by an able-bodied person who will have to be a blood relation and bear responsibility during the pilgrimage.
- The Supreme Court on Thursday cautioned the States and the High Courts that it would resort to a “centralised selection mechanism” if they did not act promptly to fill the over 5,000 judicial posts lying vacant in the lower judiciary.
- A Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, said the States and the High Courts were under its “constant gaze” on this issue. “We will do it ourselves,” the Chief Justice warned them in a suo motu hearing on the vacancies in the subordinate courts.
- The court had in a judgment given a time frame of one year for completing the recruitment of additional district judges and nine months for civil judges, junior division.
- The remarks from the Bench, also comprising Justices U.U. Lalit and K.M. Joseph, came after it perused the records of various High Courts, which make the appointments to the subordinate judiciary for each State.
- The court said their attitude towards filling the vacancies was at best “casual”. “All High Courts and the Public Service Commission are very casual,” the court observed.
- India on Thursday reiterated its opposition to a proposed luxury bus service between Pakistan and China that would pass through parts of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan — territory that India claims — terming it “a violation of India’s sovereignty”, a day after it had summoned a Chinese diplomat to South Block to lodge a strong protest against the initiative.
- “We have lodged strong protests with China and Pakistan on the proposed bus service that will operate through areas of Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir State under the so-called ‘China-Pakistan Economic Corridor’,” the spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) told reporters. “Any such bus service through Pakistan Occupied Jammu & Kashmir State will be a violation of India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
- Lu Kang, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson stressed that the CPEC was an “economic project”, and did not reflect China’s position on Kashmir. “It is an economic cooperation project between China and Pakistan and not targeted at any third party. It has nothing to do with the territorial dispute and it will not affect China’s principled position on the issue of Kashmir,” Mr. Lu observed.
- The CPEC is the flagship project of the multi-billion dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a pet project of Chinese President Xi Jinping, aimed at enhancing Beijing’s influence around the world through China-funded infrastructure projects.
- The 3,000 km-long China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) consisting of highways, railways, and pipelines is the latest irritant in the India–China relationship.
- CPEC eventually aims at linking the city of Gwadar in South Western Pakistan to China’s North Western region Xinjiang through a vast network of highways and railways.
- The proposed project will be financed by heavily-subsidised loans, that will be disbursed to the Government of Pakistan by Chinese banking giants such as Exim Bank of China, China Development Bank, and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.
- Many experts are not in favour of India supporting CPEC. This is so because any Indian participation would inextricably be linked to the country’s legitimate claims on PoK.
- CPEC rests on a Chinese plan to secure and shorten its supply lines through Gwadar with an enhanced presence in the Indian Ocean. Hence, it is widely believed that upon CPEC’s fruition, an extensive Chinese presence will undermine India’s influence in the Indian Ocean.
- It is also being contended that if CPEC were to successfully transform the Pakistan economy that could be a “red rag” for India which will remain at the receiving end of a wealthier and stronger Pakistan.
- Besides, India shares a great deal of trust deficit with China and Pakistan and has a history of conflict with both. As a result, even though suggestions to re-approach the project pragmatically have been made, no advocate has overruled the principle strands of contention that continue to mar India’s equations with China and Pakistan.
C. GS3 Related
- India jumped 23 ranks in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index 2018 to 77.
- In the 2017 report, the country was ranked 100.
- The Index ranks 190 countries based on 10 indicators across the life-cycle of a business, from “starting a business” to “resolving insolvency.”
- “India’s strong reform agenda to improve the business climate for small and medium enterprises is bearing fruit. It is also reflected in the government’s strong commitment to broaden the business reforms agenda at the State and now even at the district level,” Junaid Ahmad, World Bank country director in India, said.
Ease of Doing Business Index
- Ease of doing business refers to the regulatory environment in a country to set up and operate a business.
- The ease of doing business index is an index created by the World Bank Group. Economies are ranked on their ease of doing business, from 1–190. A high ease of doing business ranking means the regulatory environment is more conducive to the starting and operation of a local firm.
A nation’s ranking on the index is based on the average of 10 sub-indices:
- Starting a business – Procedures, time, cost and minimum capital to open a new business.
- Dealing with construction permits – Procedures, time and cost to build a warehouse.
- Getting electricity – procedures, time and cost required for a business to obtain a permanent electricity connection for a newly constructed warehouse.
- Registering property – Procedures, time and cost to register commercial real estate.
- Getting credit – Strength of legal rights index, depth of credit information index
- Protecting investors – Indices on the extent of disclosure, extent of director liability and ease of shareholder suits.
- Paying taxes – Number of taxes paid, hours per year spent preparing tax returns and total tax payable as share of gross profit.
- Trading across borders – Number of documents, cost and time necessary to export and import.
- Enforcing contracts – Procedures, time and cost to enforce a debt contract
- Resolving insolvency – The time, cost and recovery rate (%) under bankruptcy proceeding.
- Growth of eight infrastructure sectors slowed down to 4.3% in September, the lowest in the last four months, as production of crude oil and natural gas declined. Previously, the lowest growth rate was in May 2018, when the core sectors expanded at 4.1%.
- Infrastructure sectors of coal, crude oil, natural gas, refinery products, fertilizers, steel, cement and electricity grew by 4.7% in September 2017.
- During April-September 2018, the core sector growth was 5.5%.
- Core industry can be defined as the main industry. In most countries, there is a particular industry that seems to be the backbone of all other industries and it qualifies to be the core industry.
In India, there are eight core sectors comprising of
- Coal (10.33%)
- Crude oil (8.98%)
- Natural gas (6.88%)
- Refinery products (28.04%)
- Fertilisers (2.63%)
- Steel (17.92%)
- Cement (5.37%)
- Electricity (19.85%)
These eight Core Industries comprise nearly 40.27% of the weight of items included in the Index of Industrial Production (IIP), which measures factory output. Index of Eight Core Industries is released by Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
- Between August and October 2018, more than a dozen elephants were electrocuted in the eastern and northeastern part of India, including seven elephants in Odisha’s Dhenkanal district.
- While human-elephant conflict remains a major concern for policymakers and conservationists, electrocution of elephants is turning out to be a critical area in the management of India’s elephant population.
- An analysis of data pertaining to elephant deaths in India due to electrocution between 2009 and November 2017 points out that, every year, about 50 elephants have died on average due to electrocution.
- Karnataka, which has the highest population of elephants, has recorded the highest casualties by electrocution, numbering 106. While 17 elephants died in Kerala, in Tamil Nadu, the number of deaths in the same period was 50.
- The data has been sourced from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEFCC).
- Explaining why the east-central and northeastern parts of the country are witnessing greater number of incidents of human-elephant conflict, well-known elephant expert and Professor, Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, Raman Sukumar, said elephants are expanding base all across the country and moving out of forests towards agricultural areas.
- Along with taking measures to stop illegal electrical fencing, and having proper guidelines for maintaining the height of high tension electrical wires, Dr. Sukumar said, “We need to come up with a proper zone-wise management plan for different elephant landscapes — where to allow elephants and where to restrict their movement,” he said.
- According to the all-India synchronised census of elephants in 2017, their population was 27,312. The States with the highest elephant population are Karnataka (6,049), followed by Assam (5,719) and Kerala (3,054).
Related Concept – Project Elephant
- It is a centrally sponsored scheme; launched in 1992
- To protect elephants, their habitat & corridors
- To address issues of man-animal conflict
- Welfare of captive elephants
Main activities of the Project are as follows
- Ecological restoration of existing natural habitats and migratory routes of elephants;
- Development of scientific and planned management for conservation of elephant habitats and viable population of Wild Asiatic elephants in India
- Promotion of measures for mitigation of man elephant conflict in crucial habitats and moderating pressures of human and domestic stock activities in crucial elephant habitats
- Strengthening of measures for protection of Wild elephants form poachers and unnatural causes of death
- Eco-development and Veterinary care
- The time has come to review the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Manipur but it cannot be completely lifted as yet, Chief Minister N. Biren Singh said.
- “I want to request the Centre to lift it, but we have borders with foreign countries and the insurgency movement is still a little bit there. Right now I cannot claim that AFSPA can be totally removed,” Mr. Singh said in an interaction with a group of visiting journalists from New Delhi in his office.
- He said any review has to consider these factors. AFSPA, which gives immunity to security forces operating in insurgency-hit areas, has already been lifted from a 34 sq km denotified zone in Imphal.
- On the improved situation in the State, Mr. Singh stressed, “The present situation in Manipur is totally different compared to the past.”
- On the cases in the Supreme Court over alleged human rights violations Mr. Singh said that justice has to be provided to everyone and observed, “Dealing with counter-insurgency in Manipur and Nagaland and the northeast is very difficult. It is not similar to what is happening in Jammu and Kashmir.”
- In Jammu and Kashmir, he said, the terrorist is coming from outside but in Manipur he is from the same State and country and “identifying who is who is very difficult.”
- “Sometimes mistakes from the security forces also happen. I cannot say totally that they are doing all the things right,” Mr. Singh said, stating that the Supreme Court is looking into the matter.
What is AFSPA?
- Armed Forces (Special Powers) Acts(AFSPA) are Acts of the Parliament of India that grant special powers to the Indian Armed Forces and the state and paramilitary forces in areas classified as “disturbed areas”.
- It gives powers to the army, state and central police forces to shoot to kill, search houses and destroy any property that is “likely” to be used by insurgents in areas declared as “disturbed” by the home ministry.
- AFSPA is invoked when a case of militancy or insurgency takes place and the territorial integrity of India is at risk.
- Security forces can “arrest a person without warrant”, who has committed or even “about to commit a cognizable offence” even based on “reasonable suspicion”.
- It also provides security forces with legal immunity for their actions in disturbed areas.
- While the armed forces and the government justify its need in order to combat militancy and insurgency, the Act has been associated with several human rights violations including fake encounters, rape, torture, abduction, etc.
D. GS4 Related
Nothing here for today!!!
Role of the Reserve Bank of India and the Ministry of Finance
- The Reserve Bank of India and the Ministry of Finance do have a number of options for stabilisation.
These include the following:
- overtly intervening in the forex market,
- selling non-resident Indian bonds (as last done in 2013) and
- conducting a sovereign bond issuance
The Government at loggerheads with the RBI:
- The government and RBI have been at loggerheads over a few issues for some time now.
- The government believed that easing of lending rules for the banks under the prompt corrective action (PCA) framework could help reduce pressure on MSMEs.
- However, the regulator stood its ground arguing that such a move would put the clock back and undo clean-up efforts.
- Further, with the credit markets tightening after the IL&FS default in September, 2018, non-banking finance companies lobbied the government for more liquidity.
- However, the RBI maintained its position since the banking system did not witness any spike in borrowing costs and the market was just repricing risk in an evolving situation.
- Reportedly, the government and the RBI disagree on a large number of important issues such as classification of non-performing assets (NPAs) and setting up of a payments regulator independent of the RBI.
A look at the issue concerning setting up of a payments regulator independent of the RBI:
- Recently, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) said there is no case for having a regulator for payment systems outside the central bank.
- The RBI had submitted a dissent note, against certain recommendations of the inter-ministerial committee for finalization of amendments to the Payment & Settlement Systems Act, 2007.
- The draft Payment and Settlement System Bill, 2018 had made an important observation. It said that an independent payments regulatory board (PRB) needs to be established to regulate the payments sector aimed at fostering competition, consumer protection, systemic stability and resilience in the payments sector.
- However, according to the RBI’s dissent note, the central bank believes that the PRB must remain with the central bank and headed by the RBI governor. The RBI and the government may nominate three members each to the board, with a casting vote for the governor.
- Crucially, the RBI had cited the report of the Ratan Watal Committee on digital payments as recommending the establishment of the PRB within the overall structure of the RBI, arguing therefore that there is no need for any deviation.
A Note on the Ratan Watal Committee on digital payments:
- This Committee on Digital Payments was constituted by the Ministry of Finance, Department of Economic Affairs under the Chairmanship of Shri. Ratan P. Watal, Principal Advisor, NITI Aayog and former Finance Secretary to the Government of India.
- In its Report, the Committee had recommended a medium-term strategy for accelerating growth of Digital Payments in India with a regulatory regime which is conducive to bridging the Digital divide by promoting competition, open access & interoperability in payments.
- The Report recommended inclusion of financially and socially excluded groups and assimilation of emerging technologies in the market, while safeguarding security of Digital Transactions and providing level playing to all stakeholders and new players who will enter this new transaction space.
- It had suggested inter-operability of the payments system between banks and non-banks, up-gradation of the digital payment infrastructure and institutions and a framework to reward innovations and for leading efforts in enabling digital payments.
A Closer Look:
- The RBI observed that it would prefer the Payments Regulatory Board to function under the purview of the RBI Governor.
- “There is no case of having a regulator for payment systems outside the RBI,” the note read.
- In support of its stance, the RBI stated that the activities of payments banks come well within the purview of the traditional banking system, which the central bank oversees as the overarching financial regulator.
- Thus, according to this logic, it might make better sense to have the RBI oversee the activities of payments banks as well instead of creating a brand new regulator for the growing industry.
- The RBI, in essence, is pointing to the interconnection between the payments industry and the banking system to back the extension of its regulatory powers.
- In conclusion, the RBI’s case makes good sense when seen from the perspective of the cost of regulatory compliance.
- As stated above, there is definite overlapping between the current regulatory powers of the RBI and the proposed regulations for the payments industry.
- Further, it is important to note that a unified regulator can thus help in lowering the compliance costs and enabling the seamless implementation of rules.
- Also, there is the real risk that a brand new regulator may be unable to match the expertise of the RBI in carrying out necessary regulatory duties.
- As a consequence of this, it makes better sense to have the RBI take charge of the rapidly growing payments industry which can ill-afford regulatory errors at this point.
- The fact that the RBI has made public its dissent against the Union government’s idea, suggests that the central bank has serious problems with the dilution of its current powers over the financial sector.
- However, the RBI’s demand for the centralisation of regulatory powers also brings with it the need for exercising a greater degree of responsibility.
- One must note that when we are at a time where there are increasing risks to the stability of the domestic financial system, both the government and the RBI must look to work together to tackle these risks instead of battling over regulatory powers.
A Brief Note on Section 7:
The RBI is an entity independent of the government as it takes its own decisions. However, in certain instances, it has to listen to the government. This provision in the RBI Act is contained in its Section 7 which says:
(1) The Central Government may from time to time give such directions to the Bank as it may, after consultation with the Governor of the Bank, consider necessary in the public interest.
(2) Subject to any such directions, the general superintendence and direction of the affairs and business of the Bank shall be entrusted to a Central Board of Directors which may exercise all powers and do all acts and things which may be exercised or done by the Bank.
(3) Save as otherwise provided in regulations made by the Central Board, the Governor and in his absence the Deputy Governor nominated by him in this behalf, shall also have powers of general superintendence and direction of the affairs and the business of the Bank, and may exercise all powers and do all acts and things which may be exercised or done by the Bank.
Thus, it is clear from the above that this section empowers the government to issue directions in public interest to the central bank, which otherwise does not take orders from the government.
Why is it that Section 7 is seen as an extreme measure?
- It is important to note that Section 7 has never been used till now.
- It was not used even when the country was close to default in the dark days of 1991, nor in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis.
- Importantly, it is not clear how this Section operates since it has never been used.
- Some sections believe that this aggressive move could scandalise a section of academia and experts, while raising questions about the government’s intentions and the impact on the RBI’s autonomy.
- A speech made last week by Viral Acharya, the deputy governor of the RBI, which brought the tensions between the RBI and the government to the fore, might have been provoked by the government’s invocation of Section 7.
What did the speech hint at?:
- Stressing the importance of the central bank’s autonomy, Acharya had sounded a warning to the government — keep your hands off the RBI. Supporting his arguments with illustrations, principles and insights, Acharya made a case of central bank’s autonomy for long-term financial stability in the country.
It is important to note that this is not the first time that the RBI’s autonomy has come under focus, and it will surely not be the last. Successive Governors have fought against what they felt were transgressions — formal and informal — on the central bank’s autonomy by powerful Finance Ministers.
- Yaga Venugopal Reddy, a former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, (RBI), once famously quipped to a journalist: “I’m very independent. The RBI has full autonomy. I have taken the permission of my Finance Minster to tell you that.” On a more serious note, he clarified that the RBI is independent, but within the limits set by the government.
- In his book, “Advice and Dissent: My Life in Public Service”, he explains his understanding of this autonomy under three functions. These functions are:
- operational issues,
- policy matters, and
- structural reforms.
In the case of the first, he believed in total freedom; on the second, he preferred prior consultation with the mandarins in North Block; and on the third, he worked in “very close coordination” with the government.
- Dr. Reddy describes the interactions with the government as “walking on a razor’s edge” and concedes that the sovereign is ultimately supreme.
Why does he believe so?
- This is because the RBI Act allows the government to give written directives to the RBI in the public interest.
- On critical issues, often the choice for the Governor is to concede to the government with or without a written directive. But tradition has been that both the government and the RBI have avoided recourse to this provision.
- That has been due only to the mature handling of differences behind closed doors, something that has been absent in the current tussle.
- Duvvuri Subbarao, another former Governor, argues along similar lines in his book, Who Moved My Interest Rate?
What does Duvvuri Subbarao say?:
- The existence of Section 7 in the RBI Act, even if it has never been used till now, proves that the RBI is not fully autonomous, says Dr. Subbarao.
- Dr. Subbarao points out that the fact that it has never been used is testimony to the sense of responsibility that the government and the central bank have displayed.
Position Taken by the RBI:
- The RBI recently came out with a statement.
- The recent statement put out by the government underlines that the RBI is autonomous but within the framework of the RBI Act.
- It is thus clear that the central bank cannot claim absolute autonomy.
- It is autonomy within the limits set by the government and its extent depends on the subject and the context.
- It is important to note that in a democracy, it is unthinkable that we will have an institution that is so autonomous that it is not answerable to the people.
- Experts point out that the risk of such an institution is that it will impose its preferences on society against the latter’s will, which is undemocratic.
- Experts further add that when seen from this perspective, the limits to the RBI’s autonomy will be clear.
- It is autonomous and accountable to the people ultimately, through the government.
- The onus is thus on responsible behaviour by both sides.
- Finally, there is enough creative tension between the two built into the system.
- The Governor has to be conscious of the limits to his autonomy at all times, and the government has to consider the advice coming from Mint Street in all seriousness, as indeed Dr. Reddy and Dr. Subbarao have pointed out.
- However, what if the Government and the RBI do have fundamental disagreements, as they seem to be having now, and are unable to arrive at a common ground?
- Well, the option of Section 7 is certainly available to the more powerful side; but it is important to note that Section 7 is a deterrent never to be used.
- In conclusion, it is to avoid situations such as the one we are seeing now that former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan argued for a clear enunciation of the RBI’s responsibilities.
- In his book, “I Do What I Do”, former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan points out that the position of the RBI Governor in the government hierarchy is not defined.
- The Governor draws the salary of a Cabinet Secretary, and it is generally understood that he will explain his decisions only to the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister. Argues Dr. Rajan: “There is a danger in keeping the position ill-defined because the constant effort of the bureaucracy is to whittle down its power.”
- Experts believe that the latest tussle between the executive and the central bank will eventually end, in all probability with a compromise.
- However, its purpose would have been served if the debate leads to greater awareness on both sides of the other’s compulsions.
- In a recent surprise midnight move, the government divested Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director Alok Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana of their powers. This was done just hours after Verma directed his No. 2 to go on leave.
- The government intervened after days of intense feuding that threatened to sully the image of India’s premier investigative agency that is probing a series of high-profile corruption cases.
- It is important to note that there has been a long-running feud between the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) top boss Alok Verma and Rakesh Asthana, the special director who is the No. 2 at CBI.
- This long running feud has been marked by allegations and counter-allegations of corruption and interference in high-profile cases, filing of an FIR against Asthana and now the arrest of senior CBI officer associated with him. Below is a brief summary of the origin of the feud and the twists and turns it has taken.
- In October 2017, Asthana, who is a Gujarat-cadre IPS officer, was elevated to the position of No. 2 at the CBI by a selection committee headed by Central Vigilance Commission (CVC).
- CBI head Verma had reportedly opposed Asthana’s elevation on the ground that he was being probed in a corruption case related to a Gujarat-based company Sterling Biotech.
- Verma had placed before the committee a confidential report on Sterling Biotech in which names of various government officials including Asthana were mentioned for allegedly receiving money from the company.
- However, it is important to note that Chief Vigilance Commissioner K V Chowdary said the decision was taken unanimously by members of the selection committee.
- Later, Common Cause, which is an NGO of advocate Prashant Bhushan, moved the Supreme Court against Asthana’s elevation but the court refused to quash Asthana’s elevation.
A Closer Look:
- Experts believe that at one level, what is going on in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is a ‘turf war’, a battle of egos between two individuals at the helm.
- However, the unsavoury developments involving the CBI Director and its Special Director are reflective of a much deeper malaise. This is visible in the big rot at the very heart of the premier investigating agency.
- The fact that the CBI registered a First Information Report against its own Special Director is extraordinary.
- If the Director is justified in embarking on a high-profile probe into bribery charges against Mr. Asthana, it can only mean that corruption is pervasive, and that that even the second-in-command in the agency is not beyond it.
- While, on the other hand, if Mr. Asthana is shown to be wrongly implicated, and his own charges, which are set out in a complaint to the Central Vigilance Commission, that other CBI officers are interfering in ongoing probes are proved right, the situation will be no better.
- Further, experts also believe that the recent abrupt replacement of Alok Verma as Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, even though this was as an interim measure, can be interpreted as a culmination of a series of murky events that would deeply embarrass the Centre.
- Unfortunately, what was perceived as an unseemly internal tussle among top officers of the premier investigating agency has morphed into a full-blown conflict between the Centre and Mr. Verma.
- Further, it is important to note that it is one thing if Mr. Verma had merely challenged the legality of his dismissal. But he more than hinted at interference in his functioning.
- The suggestion that the Centre’s action was meant to protect certain people has led to charges that he was removed because he was politically inconvenient.
- Critics have called out the specific action by the Centre appointing the new acting director, M. Nageswara Rao, who has transferred many officers investigating cases against Mr. Asthana. This has raised the question whether the government is adopting strong-arm tactics against Mr. Verma, despite his tenure and independence being protected by the law.
- As a matter of fact, the Central Vigilance Commission, in its order divesting Mr. Verma of his office, has said that since the atmosphere within the agency had become vitiated due to a factional feud, it had to intervene. It also charged Mr. Verma with not making available the records and files sought by the CVC in connection with a corruption complaint against him — an approach which it held was wilfully obstructionist.
- The unfortunate controversy has raised the important question of whether the statutory changes aimed at insulating the CBI Director’s office from political and administrative interference are adequate.
Prior Precedents where the CBI was brought under a negative light:
- The Supreme Court held that the charges that Ranjit Sinha, when heading the agency, sought to help the accused in several cases and interfered in ongoing probes were ‘prima facie credible’; as a result, he was asked to keep away from the 2G telecom cases.
- Similarly, A.P. Singh, another director, was booked last year for alleged links with meat exporter Moin Qureshi.
- Thus, clearly, the existing procedure for the appointment of CBI Directors, which is made by a committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India and the Leader of the Opposition, has not stripped the office of controversy.
A Look at the Vineet Narain & Others vs. Union of India Case:
- This particular case concerns the historic Hawala scandal in India, which uncovered possible bribery payments to several high-ranking Indian politicians and bureaucrats from a funding source linked to suspected terrorists.
- Following news coverage of the scandal, members of the public were dismayed by the failure of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to initiate investigations of the officials with the apparent intent to protect certain implicated individuals who were extremely influential in government and politics.
- This litigation was the result of public interest petitions filed on these matters with the Court pursuant to Article 32 of the Indian Constitution.
- It is important to note that Article 32 of the Indian Constitution empowers the Supreme Court to issue directions for the enforcement of fundamental rights contained in the Constitution.
- The Court agreed that the CBI had failed in its responsibility to investigate allegations of public corruption.
- Further, the Court laid down guidelines to ensure independence and autonomy of the CBI and ordered that the CBI be placed under the supervision of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), an independent governmental agency intended to be free from executive control or interference.
- This directive removed the CBI from the supervision of the Central Government thought to be partly responsible for the inertia that contributed to the CBI’s previous lack of urgency with respect to the investigation of high-ranking officials.
- The CVC was now responsible for ensuring that allegations of corruption against public officials were thoroughly investigated regardless of the identity of the accused and without interference from the Government.
- It is important to note that the CVC is a statutory body and derives its powers from the Central Vigilance Commission Act, 2003.
Security of Tenure:
- It is important to note that Section 4B of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act assures the CBI Director of a two-year tenure and makes it clear that he cannot be transferred except by the high-power committee. Further, this high-power committee comprises of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of India — that appointed the CBI Director.
- The Honourable Supreme Court will address the question whether the ‘interim measure’ amounts to unlawfully curtailing the Director’s tenure.
- The Honourable Supreme Court will also examine whether the CVC’s power of superintendence has been rightly invoked in the present case.
The Judgement by the Honourable Supreme Court of India:
- The Honourable Supreme Court, while entertaining a writ petition from Mr. Verma questioning the legality of the order divesting him of his powers, has asked the CVC for a quick probe within two weeks into allegations against him contained in a letter sent by the Cabinet Secretary on August 24, 2018.
- Former Supreme Court judge A.K. Patnaik is to supervise the CVC probe.
- Responding to the government’s reservations about such external supervision of the work of a statutory authority (the CVC), whose primary responsibility is superintendence over the CBI in anti-corruption investigations, the court clarified that it is a one-time exception given the peculiar facts of this case.
- The court has addressed the possibility that the crisis could be compounded if the interim Director makes any far-reaching decisions on his own.
- Thus, the Court has asked him to confine himself to routine tasks to keep the agency’s work going.
- A review of Mr. Rao’s early decisions transferring key officers is possible: the court has sought the details in a sealed cover.
- It is important to note that the court’s interim order goes beyond calming the air.
- The order works as a safeguard against any further damage to the institution’s reputation and credibility during the pendency of the case, and is a means to a quick resolution.
- It also preserves the legal questions arising from the government’s action based on the CVC’s order against him.
- Further, notice has been issued to the government in both Mr. Verma’s petition and another by the NGO ‘Common Cause’ challenging the order against Mr. Verma.
- It is important to note that questions such as whether the CVC’s power of superintendence extends to recommending stripping a Director of his powers and functions and whether such a step requires the approval of the committee that appoints the Director are still open for adjudication.
- Finally, judicial intervention often serves to quieten the mood in a surcharged atmosphere. This is of particular importance here.
- It is important to note that there are immediate and arguably more serious dimensions to this crisis. And it revolves around how to repair the image of a CBI that has been covered by a nasty feud.
- Experts believe that the CBI labours under a dual image. This dual image is characterized by that of an independent agency in the perception of those disillusioned with the conduct of the jurisdiction police, and a ‘caged parrot’ or a handmaiden of the ruling party at the Centre in the eyes of the national Opposition.
- Further, the recent developments, in which Central agencies are seen as targeting those in Opposition parties, add to the latter perception and do not augur well for its credibility.
- To a large extent, the political leadership must bear the primary responsibility for such controversies.
- In conclusion, it is difficult to ignore the fact that Mr. Asthana’s appointment as Special Director was made despite Mr. Verma’s vehement objections about his suitability, something the CVC chose to overrule.
- Thus, in such circumstances, it is up to the CVC and the Centre to address the present crisis. A good place to start will be to take Mr. Asthana, whose name already figures in a case, temporarily out of the agency to ensure an impartial probe.
This perspective agrees with the notion that the CBI’s credibility has been compromised.
- It is important to note that the public antagonism between the top two officers of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
- CBI Director Alok Verma was not just at loggerheads with Special Director Rakesh Asthana; he was also convinced that Mr. Asthana was involved in a murky extortion mafia operation.
- Critics believe that India’s democratic institutions are experiencing a serious atrophy; political interventions are assuming a brazen form.
- Experts point out that the CBI may be the most infamous casualty, however, the Election Commission, the CVC, the Enforcement Directorate, the Income Tax Department and the National Investigation Agency all appear immobilised.
Important questions to be answered:
- Firstly, why did the Government impose Mr. Asthana on Mr. Verma when Mr. Verma had written a dissent note against his appointment to the CVC?
- Secondly, why did the government mislead the Supreme Court that Mr. Asthana had Mr. Verma’s full endorsement, which has been contradicted by Mr. Verma in his petition to the SC?
- Thirdly, why was there a 1.45 a.m. coup against a police chief who was selected less than two years ago, with the Prime Minister being one of the three selectors?
- On November 12, 2018, the SC will perhaps pass its final order on the indelicate mess. But the CBI has been irretrievably damaged; its reputation is sullied.
- The only silver lining is that future governments will think a thousand times before interfering with its operations. India needs a robust independent entity to investigate big-ticket corruption.
- In conclusion, the CBI must be restored to its foundational objectives. Maybe there is need for a second public agitation to get a Lokpal appointed.
- Fortunately, the Supreme Court is doing all the heavy lifting to protect our constitutional morality. There is hope.
This perspective takes the view that the CBI’s decline has been gradual. There needs to be a comprehensive CBI Act.
It is important to note that the CBI was founded by Lal Bahadur Shastri on April 1, 1963.
Since then, the CBI had acquired a high reputation and won the confidence of the people for its motto: Industry, Impartiality, Integrity.
Experts believe that the agency seems to be in a state of shambles today.
It is important to note that the CBI has had its ups and downs. It has faced challenges in the past, particularly in the years preceding and during the Emergency when Sanjay Gandhi called the shots.
However, never before has any major rift — this time between the top two in the agency, the Director and the Special Director — played out in the open. And never before has the agency registered a serious case of corruption against its own Special Director, for allegedly accepting bribes amounting to crores from someone under investigation.
The accused dashed off a letter to the Cabinet Secretary, levelling allegations of corruption and conspiracy against the Director. One does not know where this will end and what ultimately will be left of the organisation.
A Note on the Decline of the CBI:
- It is important to note that the CBI’s decline has been gradual.
- The first setback came in the Rajiv Gandhi era, with the Single Directive requiring the CBI to take prior permission of the government before initiating an inquiry against “decision-making-level officers”.
- Further, the Supreme Court, in Vineet Narain and Others v. Union of India (1997), apart from passing several orders to uphold the integrity of the CBI, the CVC and the Enforcement Directorate, quashed the Single Directive as unconstitutional.
- However, the political class brought the directive back in the CVC Act of 2003, which was again set aside by the court.
- The government got the corruption law amended in the last monsoon session of Parliament, requiring the CBI to take prior approval for initiating investigation against all categories of government servants.
- In legal terms, this has been a deadly blow to the agency in its work. The earlier it is done away with, the better it would be.
The idea of giving statutory status to the CBI:
- Finally, the challenge to restore the credibility of the organisation needs some deeper thought.
- The CBI came into existence through a Government of India resolution. Even today, the agency continues to function under the archaic Delhi Special Police Establishment Act of 1946, for its powers of investigation and jurisdiction.
- In pursuance of the orders passed by the court in the Vineet Narain case, the CVC Act of 2003 was passed, and later, the Lokpal Act.
- Both these Acts partly deal with the powers and functions of the CBI, including providing some much-needed safeguards.
- However, till date, the CBI does not have an Act of its own, although the need for a comprehensive Act has been felt for a long time now.
- It is important to note that the Estimates Committee of Parliament, under Jaswant Singh, had recommended that the CBI should be given statutory status and have legal powers to investigate cases with inter-State ramifications.
- However, while providing some safeguards to the CBI, the CVC Act also created impediments. It vested in the CVC the “superintendence” of the Delhi Special Police Establishment (and thus the CBI) in relation to investigation under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.
- For the remaining areas, the Act left the “superintendence” to the government.
- So, the “superintendence” over the CBI is something which is shared today between the CVC and the government.
- Crucially, it is important to note that while the answerability for the CBI’s functioning is with the government, the power of “superintendence” in corruption cases lies with the CVC.
- The present crisis owes a lot to this diarchic arrangement in the CVC Act.
This perspective takes the view that the reputation of the CBI would have been destroyed if the government had not taken action.
- It is important to note that the recent developments in the CBI are extremely unfortunate. The war between the two highest officials is not only unfortunate but also unprecedented. It needs to be resolved immediately so that the CBI does not suffer a trust deficit among the masses.
A Closer look at the Crisis:
The fight between CBI Director Alok Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana spilled into the public domain when the CBI registered an FIR against Mr. Asthana and others, including Deputy Superintendent of Police Devender Kumar, on charges of accepting bribe from a person related to the meat exporter, Moin Qureshi, whose case Mr. Asthana was probing.
After the registration of the FIR against him, Mr. Asthana rushed to the Delhi High Court for quashing the FIR and obtained a temporary respite from action against him until the next hearing.
Mr. Asthana had earlier accused Mr. Verma of “interference” in an IRCTC corruption case involving Rashtriya Janata Dal president Lalu Prasad.
As per his allegation, Mr. Verma had tried to stall raids against Mr. Prasad last year, 2017.
Mr. Asthana said he also gave a formal complaint in this regard to the Cabinet Secretary, Pradeep Sinha, who, in turn, sent the complaint to the CVC, which has supervisory powers over the CBI. The CVC took cognisance of the matter and began a probe.
It is important to note that this is a grim scenario, and in the face of this unprecedented crisis, some experts believe that the government acted swiftly and took the decision to send both the warring officers on leave till an independent inquiry is concluded in their respective cases.
To keep the organisation running, M. Nageswara Rao, who had been working as Joint Director in the Bureau, was appointed as the interim Director of the CBI.
In conclusion, many people from the opposition camp are questioning the decision, but given the level and reach of the crisis in the CBI, some experts believe that nothing could have been more appropriate and rational than the government’s decision.
Further, since both officers have accused each other of misconduct, sending them away was a necessary prerequisite for a fair investigation into the allegations.
Some experts believe that the government has acted in a neutral manner.
It has given a free hand to the authorised agency, the CVC, to investigate the matter in a fair and transparent manner, giving equal opportunity to both officers without presumptions.
The government, committed to its policy of non-interference in the matters of the CBI, is only interested in maintaining the prestige, professionalism and image of the CBI.
Those claiming that the government cannot send the CBI Director on leave cite the Jain Hawala case, where the Supreme Court had said that the CBI Director has a fixed tenure of two years.
Some experts believe that those citing the Jain Hawala case need to be reminded that the Director has been neither removed nor transferred; he has only been sent on leave in the interest of fair play following the principle of natural justice.
In conclusion, it’s only logical that no one should sit in judgment when any high-ranking officer is under investigation.
Therefore, the action of the government is thoroughly justified. It is in terms of the law of natural justice and has been taken to restore the reputation of the institution, which would have been sullied if no action or any other action had been taken.
- A live-in partner can seek maintenance under the Domestic Violence Act, the Supreme Court has said in a recent order.
- The 2005 Act provides an “efficacious remedy” for maintenance even if the victim is not a legally wedded wife, a Bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justices U.U. Lalit and K.M. Joseph observed.
- “In fact, under the provisions of the DVC Act, 2005 the victim i.e. estranged wife or live-in-partner would be entitled to more relief than what is contemplated under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, namely, to a shared household also,” the court pointed out in a short order on October 30.
- What would be significant to note is that economic abuse also constitutes domestic violence under the 2005 Act, the Bench noted in the order.
- The government on Wednesday said it does not want WhatsApp to “decrypt and read” messages sent on its platform but “insists” that the Facebook-owned firm be able to trace the origin of messages that lead to serious crimes.
- This was conveyed to WhatsApp vice president Chris Daniels at a meeting with Electronics and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.
- The government and WhatsApp firm have been at loggerheads over the issue of tracing the origin of fake messages. WhatsApp had earlier said it would not comply with the government’s demand as the move would undermine the privacy of WhatsApp users.
- “Building traceability would undermine end-to-end encryption and the private nature of WhatsApp, creating potential for serious misuse,” the U.S.-headquartered firm had said in August.
- The Minister, on Wednesday, said, “When we talk of traceability, we don’t talk of decrypting the messages but we insist on location and identification of the original sender of WhatsApp messages when such messages lead to provocation of violence, heinous offences and other serious crimes.”
- Whatsapp said it would look into the issue and get back. Mr. Prasad said, “We discussed about the progress made on the issues which were discussed in the last meeting.”
- In August, the government had asked WhatsApp to find a solution to trace the origin of fake messages.
- The Supreme Court of India on Thursday opened its doors to everyone as it launched a web portal to facilitate a guided tour of the complex. The tour would be free of cost and needs to be booked online.
- Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi announced the one-hour tour, in which a maximum of 20 persons will be allowed at a time. It will be open to the general public from 10 am to 1 pm every Saturday, when the courts are not in session.
- At present, the general public is not allowed entry into the apex court’s premises, where only lawyers, law interns, law students, litigants and media persons are allowed.
- The Supreme Court is located in a high-security zone and entry into its premises is regulated: visitors are given an electronic access card or daily passes.
- Visitors will be accompanied by a guide throughout the tour and introduced to parts of historical importance.
- After doing the booking online, the visitors will receive bar-coded messages on their mobile phones. These barcodes will help them gain entry into the premises for the guided tour.
- The guided tour would include a visit to the main lawns, where the statue of justice is located, to courtroom number one, the Chief Justice’s court, the judges’ library, the judges’ corridor, as well as the museum.
- The top courts in the United Kingdom and Canada already allow such guided tours for members of the public.
G. Prelims Fact
- The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has signed a three-year, Rs. 11 crore deal with The Energy and Research Institute to set up a centre to produce “advanced biofuels and bio-commodities.”
- This is the fifth such dedicated centre for bioenergy-research and development set up by the Department.
- The others are located at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi; the Indian Institute of Technology-Guwahati; Transtech Green Power Limited, Jaipur; and the Oil and Natural Gas Energy Centre in the National Capital Region.
- The bio-centre would be focussed on not only developing technology but also commercialising it, said Renu Swarup, Secretary, DBT.
H. Practice Questions for UPSC Prelims Exam
Question 1. With reference to the Krishna River, which of the following statement(s) is/are correct?
- Krishna River originates near Mahabaleshwar (Satara) in Maharashtra.
- It flows only through the Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana.
- It is the biggest river in peninsular India.
Select the correct answer using the code given below:
- 1 and 2 only
- 1 only
- 1 and 3 only
- 2 and 3 only
Question 2. Consider the following statements with reference to Jatropha oil:
- Jatropha oil has high viscosity.
- India for the first time used bio jet fuel-powered flight between Dehradun and Delhi.
Which of the statements given above is/ are correct?
- 1 only
- 2 only
- Both 1 and 2
- Neither 1 nor 2
Question 3. With reference to “Indus Water Treaty”, which of the following statement(s) is/are correct?
The Indus Water Treaty is a water distribution treaty between India and Bangladesh.
It was brokered by the World Bank (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development).
Which of the statements given above is/ are correct?
- 1 only
- 2 only
- Both 1 and 2
- Neither 1 nor 2
I. Practice Questions for UPSC Mains Exam
- Evaluate the need for AFSPA in disturbed areas in the present context. (200 words)
- Air pollution is choking several cities in the northern States once again, as changes in temperature and slowing winds trap soot, dust and fine particulate matter. In this context, write a not the seriousness, reasons and solutions for the Delhi pollution problem. (250 words)
Also, check previous Daily News Analysis
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