Unique distinction The SC’s clarification on the use of Aadhaar gives the government space for key reforms
The Supreme Court’s oral observations on Monday regarding the use of Aadhaar numbers by the government are significant, for they alter the narrative and potential scope of the ambitious unique identification programme. While reiterating its position that no beneficiary of a welfare scheme shall be denied benefits due to her for want of an Aadhaar number, a Bench led by Chief Justice J.S. Khehar said the government is free to “press” for Aadhaar for ‘non-welfare’ transactions or activities. These include filing income tax returns, opening bank accounts or getting a mobile phone connection. This assumes significance as the government announced two such changes over the past week itself. First, it included amendments to the Finance Bill of 2017, now approved by the Lok Sabha, making Aadhaar mandatory for all applications for PAN (Permanent Account Number) cards and filing of income tax returns. Earlier, following the surge in bank deposits after the demonetisation of high-value currency notes, the Income Tax Department had already asked banks to ensure that all savings bank accounts are seeded with PAN details by the end of February. The only exemptions to this norm are the no-frills savings accounts such as those opened under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana. Effectively, this means that all other new savings bank accounts will require an Aadhaar number. And last week the Department of Telecommunications directed all telecom service providers to re-verify the credentials of their nearly 100 crore subscribers through an Aadhaar-based, electronically authenticated Know Your Customer process within a year. While the Supreme Court’s observations do not amount to a judicial order, they dispel some of the ambiguity relating to the scope, even future, of Aadhaar. In its interim order in October 2015 the court made it clear that the Aadhaar scheme cannot be made mandatory till the matter is finally decided “one way or the other”. But it has set the stage for the 12-digit Unique Identification (UID) numbers being used as the basic identity proof for all residents. As Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has pointed out, biometrics captured under the Aadhaar enrolment process will ensure no individual can hold more than one PAN card to evade tax dues. Those concerned about privacy may be right about the need for an effective law to ensure that private data aren’t misused. But tagging this concern solely to the UID programme is short-sighted. In an age where data are stored in electronic form, it is possible to collate vast amounts of information from various databases ranging from applications for passports, driving licences, ration cards, and more. The apex court is yet to decide on whether Aadhaar violates the right to privacy. Meanwhile, savings from weeding out ghost beneficiaries have begun to pay off the investment on building the now 111-crore strong Aadhaar database. But the Centre must not stretch the leeway granted by the court.
Whither human rights in Sri Lanka? The singular focus on international rights intervention is killing a once-vibrant local rights movement
From the time Sri Lanka’s civil war ended in 2009, international actors have infused narratives of the war with stories of human rights abuses. Eight years since, it has only become clear how irrelevant current human rights campaigns are to the war-torn people and their struggles. This is not for the lack of inhuman wrongs done by the state and others — there are plenty of them in Sri Lanka as in the rest of the world. Rather, it is the singular focus on international human rights intervention that is killing a once-vibrant local human rights movement in the country. Notes from Geneva Sri Lanka was again in the limelight at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva this month. The September 2015 resolution, adopted months after regime change in Sri Lanka, signalled a departure from the Council’s earlier antagonistic stand, with Sri Lanka itself co-sponsoring the resolution to address war-time accountability. The new resolution, on March 23, co-sponsored by the United States, Sri Lanka and other countries, accedes to Sri Lanka’s request for an extension of two more years to fulfil its commitments on accountability. The Tamil nationalist campaign, including that by many Tamil politicians, was predictably about opposing such an extension. In the island’s Sinhala-majority south on the other hand, the debate centred on whether any future justice mechanism for accountability should include foreign judges or not. That Sri Lanka will get its extension, that foreign judges will never be allowed to enter the country and that the U.S. will shield Sri Lanka at the UN, are political realities that escape those firmly pursuing this prolonged engagement in Geneva. This reality check begs the question: What has eight years of international human rights engagement really achieved? The record is one of reports and counter-reports by the human rights community, the Sri Lankan state and the Tamil nationalist lobby, as well as multiple resolutions in the UNHRC. If only the spotlight on Geneva could be turned towards the ground situation, it will make evident the emptiness of these campaigns. While the state has been rather slow to address the issue of disappearances and military land grabs, these campaigns hardly address the economic deprivation of the missing people’s families and the predicament of the landless. Furthermore, the rights of women, fisherfolk, workers, oppressed castes and the northern Muslims seldom figure in popular human rights narratives. Shift in the movement This was not always the case. The human rights movement had a different character during its early decades. The Civil Rights Movement emerged after the brutal state repression of the 1971 JVP insurrection, an uprising by rural Sinhala youth, and took up the legal cases of those in custody. Some years later in the context of the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1979 and a state of Emergency, the Movement for Inter-Racial Justice and Equality, a membership organisation with a significant presence in Jaffna, mobilised people against state repression of Tamil youth during the early years of the armed conflict. Some of the trade unionists who organised the general strike of 1980, which was crushed by the J.R. Jayewardene-led regime, went on to form the Movement for the Defence of Democratic Rights to resist the authoritarian attacks on democracy. With the war in the late 1980s, the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) tried creating space for the university community to monitor the various armed actors, including the Sri Lankan military, the Tamil armed movements and the Indian Peace Keeping Force. Their work also addressed the disastrous political developments engulfing the Tamil community. These organisations placed political critique and the mobilisation of people at the heart of their work. However, the targeting of activists and increased political repression by the state and the LTTE, curtailed the democratic space for such work, particularly in the north and the east. The growing international attention on the protracted conflict and increasing donor funding for non-governmental organisations (NGO) in Colombo, brought about the shift of appealing to international forums. Over the last decade, with the cataclysmic end to the war and the intransigent authoritarianism of the Mahinda Rajapaksa-led regime, human rights engagement backed by powerful western interests deviated the broad set of rights and justice concerns onto war crimes investigation in Geneva. In effect, the international human rights community, national NGOs and the Tamil nationalist lobby, all placed their bets on internationalisation, without considering the political space that was opening after the war. War-time accountability In this context, the deteriorating rural economy and the political marginalisation of the war-torn people continues even as year after year they are asked to await the verdict of human rights gods. Indeed, Geneva has become a convenient cover for the state’s failings, the Tamil nationalists’ hollow politics and the international donors’ questionable agendas. Together, these actors have made a real mess of post-war reconstruction. The media in Sri Lanka dramatises the proceedings in Geneva, as if Sri Lanka is at the centre of the world. The geopolitical changes with the crisis in Syria, the populist racism of the Trump Presidency and anti-immigrant xenophobia in Europe are rarely considered. The Tamil nationalist fringe continues to forge fantastic demands, such as Sri Lanka’s referral to the International Criminal Court, which even the Northern Provincial Council plays up. For the current Sri Lankan government, defending the country and its military in Geneva has become a selling point to its Sinhala constituencies. While the government rightly claims that the constitutional political solution is the priority over war-time accountability, it has done little to take forward that constitutional process over the past year. The government has not even communicated to the public its vision nor steps towards a constitutional solution. The months before and during the Geneva sessions, result in a bluster of statements, reports and documentaries. Indeed, human rights work has increasingly become about the perverse parading of victims and their families in front of powerful international actors, and dispatching statements signed by NGOs and individuals to the UN. Engaging the state The earlier human rights movement with a left perspective valued international solidarity, for example with Palestine, which necessarily entailed a critique of imperialism. Today’s campaigns have become dependent on western donors. This apolitical variant of human rights activism has no qualms accommodating, or even endorsing, rabid Tamil nationalists who are at the forefront of the campaign for accountability, while remaining silent on the LTTE’s grave crimes. The convergence of the human rights and Tamil nationalist campaigns, both beholden to the West and determined by the geopolitics of forums such as the UNHRC, provides further fuel to the chauvinist fire of the Sinhala Buddhist nationalists. The state is at the core of the historical problems, whether it is repressive militarisation, the reinforcement of majoritarian interests or the centralisation of state power in Colombo. But reforming the state requires direct challenges by its citizenry, rather than flight to international forums. However, that depends on a broad political movement and a domestic process consisting of all the communities, such as the one that threw out the Rajapaksa regime. If the unravelling international order may finally end the internationalisation of Sri Lanka, the tremendous loss of credibility within the country with such internationalisation may make it impossible to revitalise the human rights movement. However, recognising the hollowness of narrow, donor-driven human rights engagement that happily coexists with dangerous nationalist politics, is a necessary starting point for envisioning a broader social justice movement. Such political rethinking and the forging of progressive movements is a priority to address the tremendous challenges facing post-war Sri Lanka. Ahilan Kadirgamar is a political economist based in Jaffna, Sri Lanka
How to be a happy Indian Happiness could be booking a Tatkal ticket, a bribe you didn’t have to pay, or even an Aadhaar number
Trying to stay happy for a day is like being a liberal after the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election results — the universe keeps telling you it is pointless. This I learned the hard way on March 20, the International Day of Happiness. If it is not the news, it is the views that drain the joy. A whiny left, a boring centre, and a scary right is enough to leave anyone politically depressed. Even Yoga, the fount of inner peace, is problematic now with no clarity on politically correct asanas. One wouldn’t want to take the risk with an improper Surya Namaskar. Nowadays, even our Yogis do not come across as paradigms of happiness. There is a heart-warming story behind the International Day of Happiness, of an orphan adopted from the streets of Kolkata who grew up to launch a campaign lobbying all the member states of the United Nations for recognition of happiness as a fundamental human right and goal. A UN resolution authored by that orphan, Jayme Illien, established the International Day of Happiness. It promotes “a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and the well-being of all peoples.” In short, it is the kind of resolution that a ‘JNU type’ might quote in love letters. Throw in climate change and secularism and we have “anti-national” erotica. Tradition of being happy in India The patriots, of course, do not need any UN resolution to be happy when there is a great cultural tradition of happiness on tap. The UN is anyway a great liberal conspiracy that values things like the Human Development Index and Gross National Happiness while it should be appreciating our GDP growth rate. We don’t mind the occasional UNESCO Awards for Best National Anthem and Best Prime Minister, though. The United States Declaration of Independence famously enshrines the founding principles of that nation as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. The framers of our Constitution had such a tough time ensuring life and liberty for all in 448 Articles that there was not much space or time left to legalise happiness or its pursuit. So in India we are left to pursue happiness as a private enterprise, with no government subsidy. But India is a land of opportunities. Happiness is yours for the taking. Happiness could be the Tatkal ticket that you managed to book. It could be the bribe you didn’t have to pay. It could be standing for the national anthem before a Shahrukh Khan movie. It could be the digital wallet on your 2G phone. It could be that feeling of being able to withdraw your own cash from the bank. It could be the right to religion. It could be the right surname. Happiness could even be your Aadhaar number.
The difference principle/ Political Science This refers to the second part of the second principle of John Rawls’s theory of justice. It says that inequalities are legitimate so long as they are designed to yield the maximum benefit to the least advantaged members of a society. People at the bottom end of the ladder should feel persuaded that the institutions within which they function do withstand this moral scrutiny. But this stipulation is subordinate to Rawls’s first principle of justice, wherein each person is equally entitled to basic liberties and rights. This first principle enjoys priority over the second.
Can’t appoint Lokpal for now, Centre tells SC Points to amendments in law pending in Parliament
The Centre on Tuesday informed the Supreme Court that appointment of the anti-corruption ombudsman, Lokpal, is not possible now. Appearing before a Bench led by Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi said the amendments to the Lokpal law, concerning the substitution of the Leader of Opposition (LoP) with the leader of the single largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha on the high-power Lokpal selection committee, is still pending with Parliament. The committee comprises the Prime Minister, Lok Sabha Speaker, LoP and the Chief Justice of India or a SC judge as per the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act of 2013. But the 16th Lok Sabha has no recognised LoP. Mr. Rohatgi said the implementation of the Lokpal law would remain in limbo till Parliament allowed the single largest opposition party leader to take the place of the LoP in the latter’s absence. “Unless the proposed amendment making leader of the largest opposition party as LoP is passed by Parliament, the Lokpal cannot be appointed,” he submitted. Judgment reserved The court reserved the case for pronouncement of judgment. During the hearing, Mr. Rohatgi said Parliament may discuss the amendment in the monsoon session along with other ones in the Lokpal Bill. Senior advocate Shanti Bhushan, for petitioner NGO Common Cause, alleged that the Lokpal Act which came into force in 2014 was deliberately not implemented for ulterior motives. Mr. Bhushan submitted that the court should not leave it to the political parties to pass the Lokpal law, and give directions to Parliament to amend it. He pointed out how the LoP has been substituted with the single largest opposition party leader in other laws concerned with the appointments of the Chief Vigilance Commissioner, the CBI chief and the Chief Information Commissioner. The SC had earlier criticised the government for “dragging its feet” on the appointment of Lokpal to usher in probity in public life.
Trump to gut Obama climate policy More federal land will be open to mining and power plants will be allowed to continue on coal
U.S. President Donald Trump is set to issue a sweeping executive order to reverse a multitude of federal measures taken by his predecessor Barack Obama in order to meet American commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement. Collectively, these measures could have moved the U.S. closer to its commitment of reducing its carbon emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025, though they were not sufficient. With Mr. Trump undoing the regulations on fossil fuel, America is making a turnabout in its climate policy. “We’re going to go in a different direction,” a senior White House official told reporters on Monday. “The previous administration devalued workers with their policies. We can protect the environment while providing people with work.” Mr. Trump would dismantle the Clean Power Plan that sought to nudge the U.S. power industry from coal to renewable energy and cancel six executive orders and memorandums, all from the Obama era. More federal land will be open to mining and power plants will be allowed to continue on coal without facing curbs once regulations are lifted. Legal wrangle Mr. Obama’s Clean Power Plan has been caught in a judicial wrangle, with 24 American States and the fossil fuel industry opposing it and 18 States and environmental groups defending it. Mr. Trump’s executive order cannot instantly withdraw the regulations, as it involves a rule-making process of notification and hearings. While the impasse continues, the power industry can go on as business as usual. The new administration would also undo the requirement of social impact of assessment of projects, while also rejecting a presidential memorandum that linked climate change to national security. Mr. Trump was scheduled to sign the new executive order at the Environmental Protection Agency with Administrator Scott Pruitt, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Tuesdayafternoon. Mr. Pruitt, as Oklahoma Attorney-General, had opposed several of the measures that he is now overturning. Energy independence The Clean Power Plan was the cornerstone of Mr. Obama’s climate policy in the run-up to meeting Paris commitment. Mr. Pruitt defended its dismantling as essential for energy independence and job generation in the country. More than government regulations, market forces — particularly cheap natural gas — are making coal mining increasingly unviable in the U.S. Renewable energy sources are also getting cheaper. Coal mining itself has become more mechanised in recent years, employing lesser miners for the same quantity of mining. All this makes Mr. Trump’s emphasis on reviving mining in the U.S. an uphill task. “Cancelling” the Paris Agreement and putting coal miners back to work were promises made by the President during the 2016 campaign. These are issues that resonate well with the conservative constituency. Only 15% of them believe human actions can impact climate, according to a Pew study. In contrast, 79% of liberal Democrats believe human actions impact climate. Environmental groups have announced a protest rally outside the White House on Tuesday evening. “On the heels of the three hottest years on record, President Trump is reversing the biggest steps our country has taken to fighting climate change,” said League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski. Regardless of what America does to combat climate change, India would remain firm on its Paris Agreement commitments, Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said in Washington recently. “Prime Minister is clear that India’s emphasis on renewable energy sources will continue,” he said after a meeting with the U.S. Energy Secretary.
Centre may expand social security net A lower contributory rate of 10% toward EPF mooted
The Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation’s central board of trustees will meet on Thursday to consider extending social security benefits to volunteers under anganwadi, mid-day meal and Accredited Social Health Activists (Asha) schemes. The EPFO has proposed to the Labour Ministry that a lower contributory rate of 10% of income towards the Employees’ Provident Fund be allowed for scheme workers as against 12% contribution stipulated for the organised workers. According to estimates, there are 14 lakh anganwadi workers, 12 lakh anganwadi helpers, 25.50 lakh mid-day meal workers in the country, as per the agenda of the EPFO’s central board of trustees meeting reviewed by The Hindu. The meeting will be chaired by Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya. No cover There is no mandatory social security cover for such scheme workers at present. However, the Centre can issue a notification to cover any class of establishments with a lower contributory rate under the Employees’ Provident Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952. This will only be applicable to scheme workers in organisations employing at least 20 workers. “The Central Board (EPF) may kindly consider for recommendation to the Central Government to issue notification for the Social Security Benefits to the volunteers of various schemes workers i.e, anganwadi, ASHA, Mid-day Meal Workers under the ambit of EPFO,” according to the agenda of the meeting. Providing social security coverage to the unorganised workers has been one of the key demands of the central trade unions. Wage increase The EPFO will also consider a proposal to increase wage ceiling for its social security coverage to ₹25,000 a month from ₹15,000 a month at present in a bid to bring more workers under the provident fund net. At present, EPF is optional for employees earning more than ₹15,000 a month. The EPFO had sent a formal proposal to the Union Labour Ministry last year to increase the wage ceiling for EPF coverage to ₹25,000 a month. “The purpose of revision of wage ceiling is to ensure that on increase in wages due to inflation etc., minimum social security benefits are continuously made available to intended beneficiaries. Timely revision of wage ceiling is of utmost importance to ensure that new employees who are joining establishments covered under the EPF & MP Act, 1952 are assured of PF benefits,” according to the agenda. The EPFO said that “there is an immediate requirement to enhance wage ceiling under EPP & MP Act, 1952” to ensure workers remain eligible for provident fund benefits. Financial burden However, the move may lead to additional financial burden on the Union government as it contributes 1.16% of the employee’s salary as subsidy towards the Employees’ Pension Scheme. The wage ceiling hike will lead to additional burden of ₹2,708 crore per annum on the central government, the EPFO said. The previous wage ceiling was revised in September 2014 when the limit was increased from ₹6,500 to ₹15,000 per month. At present, out of around 3.7 crore active members are subscribed to EPFO, close to three crore workers are those in the earning category of ₹15,000 and below.
Northeast may get subsidised capital DIPP aiming to reduce cost of funds
The Centre is working on an industrial policy for backward areas of the northeast as well as the Himalayan States to subsidise the cost of capital, a senior official said. “It is a challenge to access funds in India,” said Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) Secretary Ramesh Abhishek. “Cost of funds is high, and the government is working to bring this down and make funds easily accessible. We have interest subsidy schemes specifically for more difficult areas like the northeast. We are trying to come out with an industrial policy for backward areas of northeast and the Himalayan States and we are going to see how we can subsidise the cost of capital in these areas,” he said at an interactive session on Make In India initiative online. Online regulations Mr. Abhishek said norms were yet to be announced by the regulators concerned, including the RBI and the SEBI, regarding regulations for online lending platforms. “Those platforms are doing a good job. So we are hoping that regulators will come out soon with good and positive regulations so online platforms are able to do their business,” the DIPP Secretary said. On state-wise start-up policy, he said as of now there are 16 states that have their respective start-up policies and the Centre has asked the remaining states to soon join the initiative. Noting that start-up policy is important, he said start-ups are the biggest job creators. “We have to turn our youth into job givers not job seekers. Creating a start-up ecosystem [is] also important,” he said. The development of agriculture sector is a key priority area for the Centre, he said. The government is encouraging organic farming across the country and he has sought suggestions in this regard from the public. Mr. Abhishek said Invest India — the national investment promotion agency — in the last one and a half years had promoted foreign investments to the tune of $70 billion, of which already $3.1 billion worth of investments had come into the country. “This kind of hand holding was never done by the Centre earlier,” Mr. Abhishek added.
New Bill on mental illness termed progressive It talks about patients’ right to live in the community
The Mental Health Bill passed on Monday in the Lok Sabha is expected to revive the way mental illnesses are dealt with in the country. While the Bill has been termed progressive by the fraternity, a particular clause that emphasises advanced directive from the patient has been debated widely. Pune-based psychiatrist Dr. Saumitra Pathare, who had drafted the Bill along with Professor Jaya Sagade, said the Bill would turn good lot of aspects in the mental health care. “For the first time, there is an emphasis on rehabilitation within the community. The Bill talks about the patients’ right to live within the community and not in seclusion. This changes the perspective with which we look at mentally ill patients,” said Dr. Pathare, adding that the Bill had a clause that mandated the government to increase the number of mental health workers. Ire over ECT The Bill prohibits Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT) for minors. In adults, ECT can be given only after the use of anaesthesia or muscle relaxant. The Bill also restricts medical institutions from chaining patients or keeping them in seclusion. The Bill states that a mentally-ill person shall have the right to make an advance directive that states how he wants to be treated and who his nominated representative shall be. “However, this is an dicey clause. How will a person who has illusions, or feels that everyone is conspiring against him or her, be in the state to give such a consent,” asks psychiatrist Dr. Rajendra Barve.