17th July 2018
Answer questions in NOT MORE than 200 words each. Content of the answer is more important than its length.
Links are provided for reference. You can also use the Internet fruitfully to further enhance and strengthen your answers.
Q1. By accepting curative petition in the matter of its own ruling in 2013 that Section 377 the supreme court of India has empowered the LGBTQ community.Comment. Do you agree that a lack of political will is responsible for the delay in repealing of this archaic Section of theIPC?
- Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) criminalises sexual intercourse considered “against the order of nature“. In effect this criminalises all intercourse other than the procreative. The colonial administrator had an eagle eye, as he had even identified animals as potential partners of man in this unholy act. For over 150 years an Indian minority whose numbers we are unable to divine with accuracy has been yoked to a law without a narrative. Post-colonial India, though a democracy with some considerable achievements, has failed miserably to interrogate the laws under which it is governed; laws made to serve the colonial project of Britain. But now, with an urgency that has surprised the country’s LGBT community the Supreme Court of India has turned the tables by entertaining a curative petition in the matter of its own ruling in 2013 that Section 377 is not violative of India’s Constitution.
- The court has given an opportunity to LGBT activists to make their case, for the religious groups that oppose the decriminalisation of consensual same-sex acts to state their position and asked the Government of India what it has to say about retaining Section 377. In one fell swoop the Court has empowered a group marginalised beyond imagination, one not just excluded from social life but actually criminalised on the basis of mere prejudice. It matters little what the final ruling will be in the case for one thing is certain. There will be no return to the original scoreboard so far as sexual rights is concerned. The idea of sexual equality has now been sown and will only gain currency.
LACK OF POLITICAL WILL
- Even as the hearings in the Supreme Court have been covered extensively in the media, it has willy nilly drawn attention to a related aspects – namely the role of the political class and the question of the democratic content of the Indian LGBT movement itself.
- The political class manages a democracy. In the Westminster model that we follow, this opportunity goes to the political party that gains power every five years. It is astounding that India’s political parties have had next to nothing to say on the repeal of Section 377 while the hearings are on. Even the Indian Psychiatric Society has rushed through a position paper stating that homosexuality is not a mental disorder. Though this has come a full 45 years after a similar ruling by its American counterpart, it at least reflects a concern with being seen as credible.
- No such concern appears to afflict our political parties. Clearly the Bharatiya Janata Party’s cultural nationalism does not extend to erasing a colonial stain on Indian life. The repression that grips its psyche is reflected in the deposition reportedly made in court by the Government of India that not even “unnatural sex” in private need be treated as an offence.
- As for the Congress party, whose leadership considers it to be India’s answer to social democracy, its silence leaves it open to the charge of cowardice. In a party that otherwise makes a show of its concern for the minorities, its own foreign-educated strategists appear to have missed the observation by John Rechy, a pioneer of the American gay movement, that gay men are “the only minority against whose existence there are laws”.
- The groups claiming to represent the religious minorities, while scouring the political space for every privilege, try to deny the most basic rights to a secular minority, the LGBT.
Q2. The proposed amendments to the RTI in the monsoon session of the Parliament may go against accountability and transparency. Comment
- The government has, in the coming monsoon session of Parliament (from July 18), has decided to amend The Right to Information (RTI) Act 2005 – for Introduction, Consideration, and Passing.
- Since 2005, the RTI Act has helped transform the relationship between the citizen and government, dismantle illegitimate concentrations of power, legitimise the demand for answers, and assist people in changing centuries of feudal and colonial relationships. But public servants, troubled by accountability, have seen this as interference. As a result, the RTI Act has been under constant threat of amendments. At least two major attempts to amend the Act have been met with such strong popular resistance that the government of the day has had to back off
- Bureaucratic jargon such as “consideration” is a euphemism for pushing the amendment through without due consideration of parliamentary processes. For some time now, major pieces of legislation, including those that affect the transparency regime, are being pushed through without being sent to multi-party standing committees.
- The spirit of the RTI law lies in not just the filing of an RTI application and getting an answer. It actually mandates the replacement of a prevailing culture of secrecy with a culture of transparency. Under Section 4(2) of the RTI Act, which has been poorly implemented, it says: “It shall be a constant endeavour of every public authority… to provide as much information suomotu to the public at regular intervals… so that the public have minimum resort to the use of this Act to obtain information.” One can understand why there is an attempt to undermine the RTI Act in letter and spirit.
- The popular movement for accountability which swept across the country five years ago has also been successfully neutralised – at least for now. While the RTI Act allowed us to uncover fraud, it was difficult to ensure that the information could be used to hold a bureaucrat or elected representative accountable. The Lokpal debate, for example, highlighted grand corruption, but those who protested across India were personally fed up with the inefficiency of public servants and their impunity. Accountability to the people should have been institutionalised through a strong social accountability and Grievance Redress Act, as promised by the BJP. That promise has been forgotten. The Lokpal Act is now in cold storage. No Lokpal appointments have been made, despite repeated prodding by the Supreme Court; in fact the government has tried to protect bureaucrats by amending the Lokpal Act in such a way that assets of family members of public servants do not have to be disclosed in the public domain.
- It is notable that amendments to the RTI rules that were put up for public feedback have reportedly been withdrawn after objections. It is without justification that a government which could place its rules for public consultation should now shy away from placing amendments in the public domain. Though there have been reports that the proposed amendments seek to change the status of the information commissions, it is not worth discussing these in an opaque framework.
GS-II- SOCIAL-ROAD SAFETY
Q3. What are the reasons for high number of faulty roads and pothole related deaths in India. Discuss some steps taken to improve the situation in India.
According to official statistics, potholes claimed 11,836 lives and left 36,421 persons injured in India from 2013 to 2016. A State-wise analysis of data pertaining to road crashes due to potholes reveals that Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra have maintained a fairly consistent record of being among the top four in road crashes,injuries and deaths due to faulty roads, particularly potholes. Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Odisha and West Bengal feature regularly among the top 10 States in the same category.
REASONS FOR POTHOLES AND FAULTY ROADS
1. No action against negligent authorities: Every year, pothole-related deaths make it to the headlines especially during the monsoon season. The irony of the situation is that instead of booking cases against contractors or engineers for shoddy maintenance of roads, police reports often blame the victims or drivers for ‘death due to negligence’. Negligence on the part of road owners or maintenance authorities is rarely brought to book.
2. Guidelines are not implemented: The Indian Road Congress has prescribed over 100 sets of guidelines to ensure standardised road construction, maintenance and management, including guidelines for repairing potholes. The challenge lies in ensuring that these guidelines are implemented. The absence of a unified statute or law on road construction, engineering and maintenance makes it nearly impossible to ensure that these guidelines are implemented.
3. No provisions to assure accountability of the authorities:The existing legislation for road safety, the Motor Vehicles Act, has no provisions to ensure accountability of road authorities for defects in the engineering, design and maintenance of roads.
4. Lack of drainage system: Potholes are usually caused by the presence of heavy traffic and water on roads. Several studies conducted in cities such as Chandigarh and Mumbai point to the lack of a proper drainage system and weak proportioning of aggregates for road construction as major reasons for pothole formation.
The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2017, which seeks to strengthen the Act, has attempted to address the issue of liability for road defects. For any road crash injury or death caused by defective road design and engineering, thedesignated authority responsible to construct and maintain the road is to be penalised with a sum capped at ?1 lakh. The Bill directs that safety standards be prescribed by the Central government. Unfortunately, road contractors and engineers will still not be held criminally liable for causing deaths and injuries, which organisations like the SaveLIFE Foundation have been demanding. The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2017 aims to rectify several systemic issues by providing a uniform driver licensing system, protecting children and vulnerable road users, rationalising penalties and creating a system of accountability in the construction of roads.
It is necessary to ensure the use of standardised methodology and good quality material when constructing roads. There also needs to be regular maintenance and an effective system to ensure accountability. There is a need to incorporate the Safe System Approach in all aspects of road design, engineering and construction. This approach takes into account the possibility of human error and ensures that the surrounding environment and infrastructure are designed to save lives.
Road safety is a multisectoral issue. At a policy level, the first step is to create an enabling framework that weaves in different progressive aspects across stakeholder sectors under one legislation.