5 MAY 2018
Citing the Karnataka poll to delay the Cauvery scheme is a poor excuse
The Centre’s excuse for being unable to submit a draft scheme on the Cauvery issue is so poor that it will convince nobody. That it was extremely reluctant to take a decision which could have electoral repercussions in Karnataka, which goes to the polls on May 12, is well known. But the Attorney General’s explanation that the draft scheme could not be readied because the Prime Minister and other ministers were busy “travelling” in Karnataka is laughable. While the world of politics is sometimes ruled more by expediency than law, the Centre has cut a sorry figure by admitting in court that its leaders are too preoccupied with an election campaign to fulfil a court directive — one over which it could be punished for contempt. That the Attorney General asked for the contempt petition to be taken up a day after the Karnataka election gives the game away. There are several reasons why the Centre’s stand is legally untenable and morally wrong. First and foremost, the framing of a scheme to implement a river water tribunal’s award is the Centre’s statutory obligation, and it is not open to the government to weigh its political or electoral implications in the face of such a deadline. Besides, the plea that the Prime Minister and the Union Minister concerned were unavailable is questionable — a day before the submission was made, the Cabinet had met and announced important decisions.
In its verdict on February 16, 2018, the apex court granted six weeks’ time to the Centre for framing the scheme. It added for good measure that no extension of time would be granted on any ground. Yet, on the eve of the expiry of the deadline, the Union government chose to file an application seeking three more months. Tamil Nadu filed a contempt petition. In its application for more time, the Centre had mentioned that it had convened a meeting of representatives of the four States and had also cited the differences of opinion among the States over the composition of the proposed mechanism. There was at least a ring of truth to this, given that consulting the parties over the composition of the scheme was necessary to frame it. Even then, the Supreme Court was unimpressed; it had asked the Centre to prove its bona fides by submitting a draft scheme on May 3. That it not only failed to do so, but also chose to cite the Prime Minister’s preoccupation with the campaign is bound to raise questions about its commitment to impartial governance and its disdain for judicial orders. The Centre’s attitude suggests that it hopes to persuade the court that a degree of political expediency in the light of the election is normal and acceptable. Clearly, it is not as keen on proving its own bona fides as it is on improving its prospects in Karnataka.
The Windrush scandal marks another episode in Europe’s hardening politics on immigration
The scandal over the targeting of Britons of Caribbean origin is the latest twist in Europe’s recent politics over immigration, denting the continent’s image as being open, liberal and tolerant. The development comes at an awkward moment for London, which hopes to negotiate trade agreements with the countries of the British Commonwealth as it withdraws from the European Union. The Windrush generation, named after one of the many vessels that ferried some half a million people from the Caribbean islands to the U.K. in the late 1940s, has fallen victim to a ruthless policy that stipulates annual net immigration objectives. In its wake, people with cultural links to the region but who have lived all their lives in the U.K. are having to provide proof of residence for every year of their stay of up to 60-70 years. Inability to furnish such evidence has been met with job losses, threat of deportation, withdrawal of welfare benefits and even denial of critical medical care. For Britons of West Indies origin, the enormous emotional trauma of being regarded as aliens in a country that had invited their families to rebuild its economy must be hard enough to endure. Knowledge that they are at the receiving end of a policy devised by Prime Minister Theresa May when she was in charge of the Home Office only adds to their anxiety. In the event, Ms. May’s apology to the heads of Commonwealth governments over the mistreatment of people from Britain’s former colonies, and the resignation of Amber Rudd as Home Secretary, brought too little comfort and too late. The Windrush saga is a reminder of the grotesque response from some central European governments in 2015 to prevent desperate Syrian migrants from entering their territory.
It is arguable whether the debate over the so-called illegal immigration across the industrialised world has focussed attention on systemic shortcomings and genuine violations. But surely, the controversy has typified the inability of governments to manage the political fallout from the current phase of globalisation and trade liberalisation. This is especially true of the EU, which has enshrined the free movement of people as a fundamental principle. Consequently, the 2004 expansion of the bloc into the countries of the erstwhile Soviet Union afforded nations in Western Europe cheap immigrant labour and compliance with better standards. But the process also gave a fillip to xenophobic parties of the extreme right across the region, threatening to halt immigration. Similarly, populist parties in Britain fuelled public anger over the dynamics of closer integration to target EU migrants during the 2016 referendum. The country’s two mainstream parties, although committed to remaining in the bloc, could hardly counter the trend. The lessons from the Windrush scandal are too fundamental to miss.