20th APRIL 2016
Handwara rejoices as Army bunkers are dismantled
Kashmir’s Handwara town, the epicentre of fresh unrest in the Valley, on Tuesday saw heavy machines dismantling four concrete Army bunkers at the town square, after more than two decades.
As curfew was lifted on the eighth day in Handwara, after assurances to remove Army bunkers and act against those behind civilian killings, locals unfurled a huge banner naming the town square as ‘Shaheed Nayeem Chowk.’ A huge crowd watched as the bunkers were removed.
Cricketer Nayeem Qadir Bhat was among the five civilians killed in security forces’ firing in Kupwara district since Tuesday last.
Protests were fuelled by allegations of a molestation bid by a soldier on a local girl, who denied it later.
Meanwhile, the police have arrested one youth, who, “assaulted, dragged and confronted” the Handwara girl, when she came out of the restroom located near the Army installation.
Eight government employees of Kupwara district have been suspended following allegations that they were involved in the street protests.
Centre rejects T.N. proposal to free Rajiv Gandhi killers
The Centre has rejected the proposal of the Tamil Nadu government to release seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. This is the second time in two years that the State had written to the Centre seeking its views on its decision to remit their sentence. The first letter was sent during the UPA government’s tenure in February 2014.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has told the State that “since the matter is sub judice in Supreme Court, it has no authority to release the prisoners.”
A senior Home Ministry official told The Hindu , “We had sought the Law Ministry’s opinion on the letter sent by the State government. Now we have replied to them that they cannot release the seven prisoners.”
On March 2, two days before the model code of conduct came into effect in the State, which goes to the polls on May 16, Chief Secretary K. Gnanadesikan sent the letter to the MHA.
In a letter to Union Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi, Mr. Gnanadesikan had said, “The Government of Tamil Nadu has now received petitions from the convicts with requests to release them since they have spent more than 20 years in prison … the Government, after taking into consideration the petitions of the seven convicts, has decided to remit the sentences of life imprisonment as they have already served imprisonment for 24 years.”
The seven convicts are V. Sriharan alias Murugan, A.G. Perarivalan, T. Suthendraraja alias Santhan, Jayakumar, Robert Payas, Ravichandran and Nalini.
In 1999, the Supreme Court found the seven guilty of conspiring to assassinate former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991.
The death sentences of Sriharan, Perarivalan and Suthendraraja were commuted to life imprisonment by the Supreme Court in 2014 due to delay in disposal of their mercy petitions. Nalini’s death sentence was commuted to life by the State Cabinet in 2000. The remaining three are serving life sentence.
Govt. rolls back PF withdrawal norms
The government on Tuesday announced a complete and unconditional rollback of new norms that barred employees from withdrawing their provident fund corpus before retirement, over a month after it scrapped the Union budget proposal to tax employees provident fund savings at retirement.
Labour and Employment Minister Bandaru Dattatreya, who on Monday said the new rules would be partially relaxed and their implementation deferred, announced the climb-down on Tuesday evening, minutes after his Ministry reiterated Monday’s decision in a statement.
Protests against the new norms that started in Bengaluru on Monday turned violent on Tuesday, prompting Union Labour Secretary Shankar Agarwal to assess the situation with the PF Department by afternoon. Thereafter, Mr. Agarwal recommended that the Minister announce a complete rollback.
“We are cancelling the February 10 notification [restricting complete withdrawal of PF savings] and the old system will continue,” Mr. Dattatreya said.
Only States can declare drought: Centre to SC
Reiterating that the onus is entirely on the States to declare a drought, the Centre on Tuesday informed the Supreme Court that it has released over Rs. 19,000 crore to States under the MNREGA scheme to handle the crisis.
In a hearing before a Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur and N.V. Ramana, Additional Solicitor General P.S. Narasimha said the duty of the Centre was to provide immediate relief to the States once the latter exercises its authority to declare drought.
Mr. Narasimha said it was for the States concerned to explain the delay in declaring drought and not on the Centre to shoulder that burden in the Supreme Court.
The Centre centred his response to this on the federal structure of governance in which a democratically elected State government should take on the responsibility of analysing the ground situation in its drought-hit areas, sounding the alarm and implementing relief works if necessary.
Mr. Narasimha said that the provisions of the Disaster Management Act cannot be applied to all events of tragedy or loss.
On the issue of restructuring of crop loans to farmers, he said farmers suffering from the drought are entitled to get their loans restructured in order to reschedule their payments.
In the previous hearing on the PIL filed by NGO Swaraj Abhiyan to declare drought as a national emergency, the court had slammed the Gujarat and Haryana governments for “hazy” presentation of facts and outdated charts on rainfall data.
Centre ‘introducing chaos’: HC
A Division Bench of the High Court of Uttarakhand at Nainital, hearing the case on the imposition of President’s Rule in Uttarakhand, on Tuesday objected to the Centre’s “haste” and said the Centre was “introducing chaos” by intruding into the State’s affairs.
The Division Bench of Chief Justice K. M. Joseph and Justice V. K. Bisht questioned the “haste” with which the Union Cabinet held a meeting in New Delhi, on March 26, where it decided on bringing the State under President’s Rule.
“All hasty decisions are not necessarily absurd but the timing of the decision [to impose President’s Rule] shows that they had already made up their mind on what would unfold [in the Uttarakhand Assembly] on March 27 and March 28 [had the floor test been allowed to be conducted on March 28],” Chief Justice Joseph said. Senior advocate Harish Salve, representing the State in the Court, while arguing that the President was right in invoking Article 356, also spoke of the sting operation video on Mr. Rawat where he is shown attempting horse-trading.
However, the Bench held that “Even if someone has done a sting operation [on Mr. Rawat] …You still have to go for a floor test.”
The Centre also argued that that Mr. Rawat, as an “obligation”, should have resigned on March 18, as he did not have the confidence of a majority of the MLAs in the Assembly on that day.
However, emphasising the importance of a floor test for upholding democracy, the Bench said, “Failing of Money Bill obliges the Chief Ministers to resign, but if they don’t resign then you either bring a no confidence motion or the Chief Minister is asked to seek confidence through a floor test.”
The Bench observed that on many occasions governments don’t resign. “They’ve developed a thick skin. If they don’t resign then that’s not a matter to be seen by the President.” The Centre argued that President’s Rule, under which the Assembly has been placed in suspended animation, would last “only for two months.”
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, the Centre’s counsel in the case, on Tuesday, said, “President’s Rule and suspended animation will last only for two months. It's a temporary freeze. It’ll be taken up in the Parliament. After that there will be a floor test and the Congress government might return [after two months].”
However, Chief Justice Joseph said, “You are introducing chaos…. In two months you are taking back the power of a government which the people had voted to power.” The Chief Justice also observed that if the President took notice of the ongoing corruption in governments then “no government would last for five minutes.”
Pointing to the hasty decision taken by the Union government, and suggesting that its reasons were not sufficient for the imposition of President’s Rule, the Bench stated that considering the Centre’s arguments, it would go “with a magnifying lens seeing what’s going wrong in each Assembly” so that it can impose President’s Rule.
Trading bloc to India: Cut tariffs or exit FTA talks
India has been told to either agree to eliminate tariffs on most products quickly or leave the talks on the proposed Free Trade Agreement (FTA), being negotiated by the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the trading bloc comprising 16 Asia-Pacific countries.
Sources in two ministries told The Hindu that the other RCEP members have issued this ultimatum being irked by what they perceive as New Delhi’s “obstructionist, defensive and half-hearted approach” that is “delaying” the conclusion of the talks. They said the apprehensions were voiced at the last round of negotiations in February in Brunei, adding that the 12th round of RCEP talks slated for April 23-29 at Perth in Australia could be a “turning point” in the negotiations with India.
In particular, trade negotiators from the other RCEP members, comprising the 10-member ASEAN bloc, and China, Japan, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand were upset over India’s protectionist stance, “focusing only on the export of manpower” and not on liberalising trade in goods and other services, as well as investment.
Matters could come to a head as officials in the ministries of External Affairs and Commerce are expected to seek a clear direction from PM Narendra Modi on whether or not India should be part of the RCEP.
The PM, they said, has been concerned over the lack of progress in India’s negotiations on all the major FTAs including the RCEP, and with the European Union, Australia and Canada. “The PM will have to take a strategic call,” on whether the government wants to go ahead with all these FTAs, said a senior official.
The official also said that RCEP members must acknowledge India’s interest in the RCEP as a key component of its ‘Look East’ policy. “We have maintained that we have made very substantial offers and we are seriously negotiating. We cannot be brushed aside as if we were non-serious about it.”
The RCEP is among the proposed three mega FTAs in the world so far – the other two being the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership, led by the U.S.) and the TTIP (Trans-atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the U.S. and the EU).
The sources said that the root of India’s ambivalence on RCEP and other negotiations is internal differences on how to go forward on free trade issues. One group wants India to aggressively push for easier movement of professionals between the RCEP members in return for some concessions that India can offer including reduction (and not elimination) of duties in goods on a lower threshold (that includes a combination of percentage of tariff lines and that of total RCEP imports) over a period lasting beyond 15-20 years. This so-called “defensive” group is also opposed to the RCEP being used as an indirect FTA with China and have cited the industry’s sensitivities in doing so .