19 FEBRUARY 2016
Restore propriety in Arunachal Pradesh
The revocation of President’s Rule in any State ought to be welcomed, as it paves the way for the installation of a popular government. The latest Supreme Court order allowing the Union government to withdraw the proclamation bringing Arunachal Pradesh under Central rule may end the prevailing uncertainty and help avoid a constitutional vacuum, but it may not prevent more legal tangles. There will certainly be a political tussle over the course of action that Governor J.P. Rajkhowa ought to adopt as soon as the suspended Assembly is revived. The Congress argues that its regime headed by former Chief Minister Nabam Tuki will stand automatically restored. However, there is enough indication that the Governor’s favoured option will be to invite the Congress rebel Kalikho Pul, who has the backing of the Bharatiya Janata Party, to form the government. Mr. Pul may have little difficulty in passing a floor test as he claims the support of 32 MLAs in the Assembly, which now is 58-strong. While lifting its earlier directive to maintain the status quo, the Constitution Bench has not interfered with the Gauhati High Court order staying the disqualification of 14 legislators by Speaker Nabam Rebia. This may mean that the 14 Congress dissidents will be allowed to vote on the confidence motion. At the same time, the Bench has asked the High Court to expedite the final hearing on their petitions challenging the legality of their disqualification.
Legally, there is no bar on the Governor inviting anyone who, in his opinion, is in a position to command a majority to form the government as early as possible. However, a question will surely arise as to whether he should not first allow Mr. Tuki an opportunity to test his majority, especially if the 14 MLAs whose disqualification has been stayed are allowed to vote. Another issue of propriety would be whether the Governor should ask for a vote in the House before the High Court decides on the validity of their disqualification. And if Mr. Pul is invited first and he demonstrates his majority thanks to the clutch of Congress rebels with him, a piquant situation would arise if the Constitution Bench declares the imposition of President’s Rule illegal. The Tuki regime may have to be reinstated even though the House has reposed faith in another Chief Minister! There is little doubt that constitutional propriety has taken a beating in Arunachal Pradesh in the last couple of months. The list of unseemly developments is long. Dissidents managed to unseat a Chief Minister with active support from the Raj Bhavan, whose incumbent advanced a scheduled Assembly session; a farcical ‘sitting’ of the Assembly took place at a makeshift venue; questionable resolutions were passed to ‘remove’ the Speaker and the Chief Minister, and President’s Rule was imposed in the midst of a Supreme Court hearing. Indisputably, democracy works through political processes, but it becomes a travesty when partisan politics overshadows constitutional norms.
A landmark for Indian scientists
The Union Cabinet has finally granted in-principle approval for a gravitational wave detector in India. The clearance, awaited for five years, comes close on the heels of the detection of the elusive gravitational waves for the first time; the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) based in Washington and Louisiana in the U.S. found evidence of gravitational waves coming from two black holes colliding and fusing together 1.3 billion light years away. By virtue of having the same sensitivity as the LIGO detectors in the U.S. and being geographically separated by thousands of kilometres, the Rs.1,200-crore LIGO-India project, scheduled to become operational in about eight years, will at once vastly improve the level of accuracy and ability to detect new gravitational wave events. Since all detectors may not be operational all the time — for instance, the VIRGO detector, based near Pisa in Italy, had remained shut on September 14, 2015 — the addition of an Indian detector will increase the chances of detecting events that generate gravitational waves. When the advanced LIGO and LIGO-India detectors reach their full sensitivity, many more events will become detectable and the ability to detect faraway signals would also increase dramatically. For instance, 50 to 100 gravitational wave-generating events a year may become detectable. And in the case of neutron stars, signals from as far away as 600 million light years could be detected as compared with 200 million light years now.
Though Indian scientists were part of the LIGO project, their involvement was limited to theoretical aspects and data analysis. The LIGO-India project will change this altogether as the construction, commissioning and running of the observatory will be India’s responsibility. It will offer unprecedented opportunities for Indian industry and scientists from diverse fields to be actively involved in a scientific project of a scale never before seen in the country. For instance, though many of the critical components such as mirrors and lasers will be shipped from the U.S., an ultra-high capacity vacuum system that can handle one million litres of vacuum (as in the case of CERN), and secondary optics, have to be manufactured in India. An active programme to develop optics for the laser system that could be used in future upgrades to the detectors is already under way at the Indore-based Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology. Currently only a few students from Indian institutions are able to participate in the LIGO project, but this will change completely when the observatory becomes operational in India, providing easier access for a larger number of students. Besides playing a pivotal role in gravitational wave astronomy, the Indian observatory could thus be a catalyst in changing the landscape of Indian scientific efforts. Together with other mega projects such as the India-based Neutrino Observatory project, experimental science will at last get a much-needed boost in the country.