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4 April 2017 Editorial


4 MAY 2017

Short-sighted ploy

Move to impeach Nepal Chief Justice is a setback

 The move to impeach the Chief Justice is a setback to the separation of powers in Nepal

By launching impeachment proceedings in Parliament against Supreme Court Chief Justice Sushila Karki, the ruling coalition government in Nepal has ignited yet another crisis at an already fraught political moment - before the scheduled local polls later this month. The proximate reasons for the motion of impeachment relate to the Chief Justice's decision to set aside the appointment of a police chief by the government over the issue of seniority and to recommend the elevation of another claimant. The two biggest parties in the coalition, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist-Centre) led by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and the Nepali Congress of Sher Bahadur Deuba, have accused her of interfering with executive powers. However, the timing of the motion and its implications, with the judge due to retire in a month's time, suggest a narrow-minded political strategy. Since the motion was signed by more than one-fourth of the members of the legislature, Justice Karki was suspended immediately under a constitutional provision that has been misused by the CPN(M-C) and the Nepali Congress. She is seen by Nepal's civil society as being fairly independent-minded in a judiciary that is politicised. The Maoists were upset by a recent court decision to reject clemency for a Maoist leader convicted for a murder committed during the civil war. Mr. Deuba reportedly feared being hauled up on contempt charges, which could have made his elevation to the post of Prime Minister difficult. The government's initiation of impeachment proceedings over a debatable issue of judicial overreach and for such expedient reasons threatens the separation of powers in the fledgling republic.

The impeachment proceedings have political consequences as well. One of the alliance partners, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, has decided to withdraw support to the coalition, making the ruling arrangement more fragile. Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Bimalendra Nidhi, also of the Nepali Congress, has resigned in protest against the motion. With the government unable to rope in the opposition led by the CPN (Unified Marxist-Leninist) to agree to amendments in the Constitution that will address the concerns of Madhesi parties over a federal redrawing of boundaries, the prospects of smooth conduct of local body elections were already dim. The tussle with the judiciary and the frivolous use of impeachment makes any understanding with the opposition prior to the elections even more unlikely. If local elections are not held in May as scheduled, it will also make it difficult for sets of constitutionally mandated parliamentary elections to be held by the January 2018 deadline. All said, the action of impeachment of a serving Chief Justice is yet another indictment of the Nepali political class, which needs to rise above petty and narrow interests after its momentous achievement of overturning the monarchy a decade ago

Infosys, trumped

Case for free trade must not be given up

As IT companies adapt to new visa regimes, the case for free trade must not be given up

Infosys's decision to hire 10,000 local workers in the U.S. has caused concerns over the impact of President Donald Trump's restrictive visa policy for skilled workers. Explaining the move, Infosys CEO Vishal Sikka said it is purely a business decision focussed on building the company's capabilities in fields such as artificial intelligence and cloud computing. Indian IT companies have been under pressure to adapt nimbly to the restrictive visa regimes being put in place not just in the U.S. but also in key markets such as the U.K. and Australia. As a matter of fact, these companies had been gearing up to become visa-independent even before Mr. Trump's rise to power. In 2015-16, for instance, Infosys hired 2,144 people in the Americas, increasing its workforce in the region by over a quarter. In 2016, Tata Consultancy Services, another IT giant, made only about 4,000 U.S. visa applications, compared to about 14,000 a year before. The trend is likely to only strengthen. Not surprisingly, there is now increasing speculation that many Indian IT giants will refrain from sponsoring H-1B visas for junior engineers. The exact impact of Mr. Trump's immigration stance on overseas hiring is difficult to gauge. Going by the numbers, the plan to hire 10,000 local employees looks significant compared to Infosys's current foreign workforce in the U.S., which is estimated to be in the range of 20,000 to 30,000.

Yet, while individual companies adapt to the new political economy in the West, it does not diminish New Delhi's responsibility to make a case for more open immigration policies for India's skilled workers. The economic rationale behind the free movement of labour is that it promotes economic efficiency. This, as economists from David Ricardo to Jagdish Bhagwati have pointed out, increases the size of global economic output despite the costs. It is obvious that the tightening of immigration is likely to have a net negative effect on the global economy. Also, investment in advanced technologies itself, such as by Infosys, could be a measure to deal with high labour costs in the U.S. Artificial intelligence has already helped IT companies cut labour costs. In any case, job losses owing to automation are likely to accelerate, which is of course not an issue that affects the IT sector alone. While putting forward the argument that they create thousands of American jobs makes business sense for companies such as Infosys in their most critical market, it runs the risk of bolstering the narrative against the free movement of labour across borders. Sadly, since the benefits of globalisation are diffused among billions of people while its costs are concentrated on a smaller but organised group, such adjustments often end up validating populist, protectionist policies.



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