Current Public Administration Magazine (JULY 2022)

Sample Material of Current Public Administration Magazine

1.Accountability & Responsibility

  • Slowing Justice, the Committee Way

A day before the retirement of Chief Justice N V Ramana, the Supreme Court listed the Pegasus case for hearing before his bench for examining the reports submitted by a technical committee constituted last year. In the midst of the hearing the Chief Justice took the reports on record, unsealed them and read out some portions and then adjourned the case. Later at night, a three paragraph order was released without any operative directions and the reports were resealed. These events have sharpened public cynicism on the possibility of fixing accountability for the use of Pegasus and the role of the Court.

The first strand of a lack of trust in the Court comes from a broader assessment of how it negotiates the process and progress for sensitive cases. It stems from a wider institutional critique of how a range of issues that concern India’s democratic framework and fundamental rights are jettisoned. Here, it almost seems that the SC lacks confidence in its own power and tentatively assesses the response of a muscular executive branch. Take, for instance, the course of the Pegasus case. It took the Court four hearings over two weeks to issue a pre-admission notice to the central government. As per the transcripts made available by court reporters, these four hearings are instructive regarding the failed attempts by the Court to solicit the cooperation of the Union government. For instance, the only written pleading by the Union government till date is a limited affidavit of three pages on August 16, 2021. When examined by the Court, the Chief Justice remarked, “…you don’t want to take a stand…”. It was another matter, that he also stated to the Solicitor General, “We cannot compel you to do something you don’t want to.” This is exactly what the Union government ended up doing.

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2. Indian Government and Politics

  • Judicial Interpretations

The Vijay Madanlal (2022) judgment, which held the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) as valid law, is open for review/reconsideration in Karti Chidambaram with the extension of interim protection by the Supreme Court on August 25. This is a welcome exercise for some and somewhat baffling for others.

William O’ Douglas, an eminent jurist, author and a “Wild Bill” judge who served on the US Supreme Court for 36 years, recounted in his memoirs how, in the highest constitutional court, the judges first decide issues based on “gut feeling” and then employ rhetoric to justify their decision. While this rhetoric is mostly well researched, brilliantly articulated and finely crafted, it is predominantly an emotional bias that does the trick. These judicial emotions, not to be mistaken for some kind of sinister motives or individual whims, are very complex for lawyers and academicians to unravel. The public can get confounded when these emotions shift like sand.

Recently, in Dobbs, on the right to abortion, the argument that resonated with US Supreme Court against its own 1973 judgment was that “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start.” Its reasoning is “exceptionally weak” with “dangerous consequences” to inflame “debate and deep divisions” in society. The court came to an “inescapable” conclusion that the “right to abortion is not deeply rooted in the nation’s history and traditions”. Nor can it be established in a broader concept of liberty under the 14th Amendment in the guise of “privacy” or “choice and autonomy”. It concluded that the right to abortion cannot be an integral part of “ordered liberty” because while “individuals are free to think and say what they wish” they are “not free to act in accordance with those thoughts”.

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3. Social Administration

  • A Museum of Untouchability

I vividly recall the Golden Jubilee celebrations of India’s Independence. As schoolgoing children, we took part in the exercises of nation-building as Bollywood-inspired songs from the black-and-white era, alongside those from the recently released movie Border, blasted through cone-shaped loudspeakers.

The same year, just a couple months earlier, police officials, led by a Maratha, carried out mass killings of Dalits in RamabaiAmbedkar Nagar in Mumbai. Another incident down south, in Tamil Nadu, known as the 1997 Melavalavu massacre, saw six Dalit leaders being hacked to death in broad daylight by the dominant caste, the Thevars. In Bihar, the landlord Bhumihars of the RanvirSena gunned down 58 Dalits in Laxmanpur Bathe. The RanvirSena has been outlawed since 1995, yet continues to operate actively, issuing death threats to Dalits. These gory atrocities occurred a few months before or after the Independence Day celebrations.

Twenty-five years later, the nation is asked to observe AzadiKaAmritMahotsav, another of the government’s initiatives to commemorate Independence.

Earlier this year, JitendraMeghwal, a health worker in Rajasthan, was hacked to death by two Brahmins because he and his mother allegedly “dared to look up” at the Brahmins. In Bengaluru, VijayaKamble was in love with a Muslim girl, but her brother Shahabuddin conspired and killed the Dalit over their inter-caste, inter-religious relationship. ShashikantJatav, an RTI activist from Madhya Pradesh, was beaten up and forced to drink urine. Indra Kumar Meghwal, a nine-year-old boy, was allegedly beaten to death by his teacher Chail Singh because the child is said to have drunk from a pot reserved for the oppressor castes. All of this happened this year.

Should we be celebrating a grandfather’s birthday when the grandchild has been killed in the same house? For India’s outcastes and marginalised groups, Independence is an insult. Asking them to celebrate their death is an act of cruelty.

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4. Current Topics

  • Inclusion of climate change in policy is crucial for a strong economy

As the world copes with the repercussions of legacy emissions, there is growing pressure to achieve climate-compatible growth. Fiscal and monetary authorities will now have to be cognisant of the feedback from climate change to the economy and suitably adapt their policy responses. Exposure of assets to extreme weather events and loss of asset value due to a green transition are imminent risks to the financial system.

Yet, the inclusion of climate change in a central bank’s policy response function is a widely contested issue. Some experts see no harm in the bank’s internal assessment of the impact climate change would have on the economy but shy away from asking the bank to actively set a monetary policy based on such assessments. Others argue that climate change is a significant threat to financial stability and a central bank that does not address climate risk is “failing to do its job”.

Central banks can guide the flow of finance by restricting the flow of credit to fossil fuel-dependent sectors. Central Banks adopt a range of best practices and approaches. For example, the Bank of Lebanon sets different reserve requirements for loans linked to energy savings. The People’s Bank of China offers positive incentives to commercial banks for extending green credit and India includes renewable energy (RE) within priority sector lending.

The RBI has been measured yet receptive in addressing the concern. In 2021, it joined the Network for Greening Financial System, a voluntary group of 116 central banks that promotes the exchange of best practices on green finance. In July 2022, it released a discussion paper that covers the issue of climate risks and sustainable finance. The paper seeks to understand preferred approaches to identification and disclosure of exposures to climate-related risks, frameworks for management of risks and capacity building within the banking sector.

Heeding the shift, RBI’s paper indicates interest in understanding the degree of physical and transition risks. While at the same time it reflects that RBI prefers to tread carefully by assessing the preparedness of the system rather than indicate its own approach to what a central bank can do. The RBI’s approach is reasoned since acknowledgement of risks is a double-edged sword. Not recognising the risks hints at complacency whereas preempting all such risks through regulation means that the already stressed loan books will be aggravated. The paper, therefore, allows the RBI to respond based on existing practices and a better understanding of the risk profiles of banks.

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5. Indian Administration

  • Bilkis Bano case: Will Supreme Court restore constitutional morality?

The Supreme Court (SC) on August 25 issued a notice in a petition challenging the remission of the 11 convicts in the BilkisBano case. The petition was filed by CPI(M) MP Subhashini Ali, journalist RevatiLaul and academic RoopRekhaVerma challenging the Gujarat government’s decision. The court also asked the petitioners to implead the 11 convicts and listed the matter after two weeks.

While discussing the remission granted to the accused in the BilkisBano case, we must first answer the question of whether the communal violence that took place in Gujarat in 2002 was “spontaneous” or if it was waiting to happen through the systemic degradation of the ecosystem due to the long-term build-up of hate speech against the minority community. While the SC held in the Zakia Jafri case that the violence was “spontaneous”, no evidence was placed before the Court to substantiate this statement.

Let us revisit the issue as it unfolded in the SC.

In 2003, a writ petition by the NHRC to the Supreme Court (SC) pointed out that widespread communal violence had taken place in Gujarat. It also noted that the accused were being acquitted without a proper trial and requested the SC needed to intervene. In response, the SC appointed Harish Salve as amicus curiae and set up a Special Investigation Team (SIT). It asked for reinvestigation in nine cases of atrocities in nine districts. While there may or may not have been a conspiracy, one fails to understand the Court’s reason for describing the violence as “spontaneous”. BilkisBano had also approached the Court about the mass murder of her family members and her own gang rape. Salve was also appointed an amicus in her case. The pattern of atrocities now becomes clear.

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