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4 February 2016 Editorial



Time to debate Governors’ powers

By imposing President’s rule in Arunachal Pradesh even before a mandatory floor test could establish conclusively that the Congress government of NabamTuki had lost its majority, the Central government acted prematurely. Indeed, the Supreme Court in seeking reasons for the decision, and observing that “the matter is too serious”, underscored what President Pranab Mukherjee had said in his new year’s message to Governors: they must play, he said, their assigned role while respecting the distinct authority and responsibility vested in the executive, the judiciary and the legislature, and help  “create a harmonious relationship between the Centre and the States”. When the Centre sought his assent for President’s Rule in Arunachal Pradesh, Mr. Mukherjee cautioned against a hasty decision — indeed, one that runs counter to Prime Minister NarendraModi’s promise of cooperative federalism. But the government, projecting it as a ‘textbook case’ for the use of Article 356, had its way. On Monday, the Supreme Court accepted that a Governor is not answerable to the courts for the exercise of the powers of his office. But simultaneously it ordered the Centre to release all documents — including  personal letters of the Chief Minister and  of his ministerial colleagues — to enable Mr.Tuki to prepare a defence against  the contents of Governor J.P. Rajkhowa’s report that accuses him of instigating fellow Nyishis and funding public protests to seek the latter’s exit. The Governor also claimed that he had been abused, threatened and nearly assaulted by Mr.Tuki’s Ministers, who joined protestors and even sacrificed a mithun outside the Raj Bhavan.

However, this is not the first case of a clash between a Governor and the Chief Minister of a State in the past year. The Governors of Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Assam — Tathagata Roy, Ram Naik, KeshariNathTripathi and P.B. Acharya, respectively — have been on a collision course with the Chief Ministers of the States. Mr.Naik clashed with Chief Minister AkhileshYadav’s choice of Lokayukta, and sat over the State’s nominations for five members to the Legislative Council. In Assam, Chief Minister TarunGogoi accused Mr.Acharya of “interfering” in the political affairs of the State. Mr.Acharya also hit the headlines for his controversial “Hindustan is for Hindus” comment. Mr. Roy attracted adverse attention when he said publicly: “Whatever gave you the notion that I am secular? I am Hindu.” The imposition of President’s Rule in Arunachal Pradesh is, in a sense, in keeping with the record of governments of all hues to use pliant Governors to dismiss opposition-run State governments. However, at present there is another concern: many Governors are being seen as active agents working to implement the SanghParivar’sHindutva agenda. Later this month, when the President  hosts the annual Governors’ conference, it would be in order to have a deeper discussion on the constitutional proprieties that should guide a Governor’s word and deed.

Coming to grips with female foeticide

Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi’s clarifications over her remarks on the  existing ban on sex-selective abortions should put the focus back on the real issues. There are three aspects to the proposal that she put forth at a conference in Jaipur: establish the sex of the foetus  when a pregnancy is detected; tell the mother about it and register  the fact in public records; and ensure that deliveries happen only  in institutions and not at home. This twin strategy of tracking sex-determined foetuses and requiring institutional deliveries is expected to ensure that female babies are not aborted, or killed at birth. While this idea might seem persuasive, like many technological fixes it betrays a worrying lack of awareness of social realities. The very attempt to record the status of the foetus involves the obvious risk of exposing women to undue psychological and social pressure to abort female foetuses. Two, such an intrusion by the state into a woman’s personal-biological space is unwelcome,  even Orwellian. That such suggestions are being floated — no matter how quickly they are withdrawn in the face of criticism — is an indication of India’s persisting inability to address  the problem of female foeticide, and the continuum of social ills that this practice reflects.

At the moment, there are few incentives for medical technicians, apart from public interest, to withhold information from families on the gender of the foetus. And when such violations have  come to light, prosecution has been indifferent. Maharashtra is believed to have come down severely on errant doctors and clinics, which is significant given the likely impact the State’s large population could have on child sex ratios. The record of Punjab and Haryana, with a high prevalence of sex-selective abortions, also points to a modicum of enforcement. But there is a long way to go. After all, where traditional cultural norms dictate  a strong  preference for boys, recourse to medical technologies could well reinforce socially detrimental personal choices. Clearly, the emphasis ought to be on the reversal of India’s adverse sex ratio among children in the 0-6 year age group. On a national average, the number of girls for every 1,000 boys in this segment of the population dipped to 918 in the 2011 decennial population Census, with more disturbing regional variations. The corresponding figures were  927 and 933 in 1991 and 2001,  respectively. Notably, Ms. Gandhi’s six-time constituency of Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh has seen a sharp drop in the child sex ratio in the 2001-2011 inter-Census period. At 940, the figure was above the national average in 2001, but declined dramatically to 912 in the last Census. Pilibhit could easily set an example for the whole country, if only by a scrupulous compliance with the spirit of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, under which any disclosure of the foetal status is a  punishable offence.

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