Current Public Administration Magazine (AUGUST 2022)

Sample Material of Current Public Administration Magazine

1.Accountability & Responsibility

  • Supreme Court’s modern family: Society needs to catch up with court

The Mother’s Day celebration at her school has Stella worried sick. The little girl has grown up with Papa and Daddy and a whole host of loved ones whom she calls family. But who could she possibly invite for her class celebrations who would fit in as Mummy? Her friends ask her questions as the class works on invites and decorations. Who is it that packs her lunch and reads out stories at bedtime? Who holds her close when she takes a tumble and kisses her hurt away? By the time the day of the event rolls in, Stella knows who to bring to the celebration — her two fathers, of course, but also her Nonna, and her uncle, aunt and cousin, her very own circle of love. And she is not the only one. At the event, there are others with families as atypical as hers. A friend arrives with two mothers, another with a grandmother. Reading Miriam B Schiffer’s Stella Brings the Family (2015), a picture book for four to eight-year-olds, offers a glimpse into the possibilities of a modern family — flexible, diverse — and quite unrecognisable from our community life in India, where the idea of the cisgendered unit of mother, father and their children at the core of a family remains unwavering.

It’s a story that has stayed with me long after my child moved past picture books, and it is this book that comes to mind while reading the Supreme Court’s recent observations on familial relationships that expand on its traditional understanding. In an order granting maternity leave to a central government employee, who had previously availed it for the care of her husband’s children from an earlier marriage, a bench comprising Justices D Y Chandrachud and A S Bopanna observed that “atypical” families — “domestic, unmarried partnerships or queer relationships” — were as deserving of both legal protection and the benefits of social-welfare legislation as traditional families.

The observations open up possibilities of reimagining relatedness, still so tightly bound by heteronormative strictures that anything that falls outside them is wilfully ignored. The Cambridge dictionary explains a family as “a group of people who are related to each other, such as a mother, a father, and their children”.

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2. Indian Government and Politics

  • Live streaming Supreme Court proceedings: The case for and against

History was made on August 26 when the proceedings from the Chief Justice’s Court in the Supreme Court (SC) were live streamed. In the SwapnilTripathi judgment, in September 2018, the SC had cleared the deck for live streaming of cases of national and constitutional importance.

The case for live streaming of SC cases of constitutional/national importance is quite strong. Such cases impact various aspects of people’s lives. Therefore, the public’s ability to participate in this conversation by watching these proceedings will not just increase legal literacy but potentially enhance the public’s continuous engagement with the Constitution and laws. Such direct engagement is better than a process mediated through some Delhi-based lawyers or court reporters, especially when inexpensive technology allows such live access.

But even as we proceed, there are reasons to be cautious. With the advent of social media, every citizen became a potential journalist. This was seen as empowering initially because news/views could not be curtailed by the vested interests of editors and news establishments. Yet, with more than a decade’s experience, the increasing realisation is that lack of editorial control has in fact meant informational anarchy, with fake news and propaganda dominating YouTube and social media feeds. There is a growing consensus that, contrary to the initial hope, social media has on the whole weakened democracy. At Stanford University, in April 2022, former US president Barack Obama flagged that “you just have to flood a country’s public square with enough raw sewage. You just have to raise enough questions, spread enough dirt, plan enough conspiracy theorising, that citizens no longer know what to believe”.

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3. Social Administration

  • Economist Abhijit Sen believed in power of policy to achieve growth, and alleviate poverty

Professor Abhijit Sen, economist and former faculty at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning (CESP) in Jawaharlal Nehru University passed away on August 29 due to a sudden heart attack. Primarily a teacher, he was also involved in policy-making in various roles for more than a decade — as a member of the Planning Commission (2004-14), the 14th finance commission and chairperson of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Price (CACP), among several other positions that he held during his almost two decades of involvement with policy making. But even during his leave of absence to advise the government on policy issues, he continued teaching and supervising research scholars at CESP throughout the three decades that he was associated with the centre. He remained a quintessential teacher-at-large for several students at JNU and elsewhere, bureaucrats, journalists, activists and anyone else who was willing to learn. It was not unusual for him to pick up a marker/chalk and start teaching in formal meetings or during informal get-togethers.

Sen was primarily an agricultural economist, starting from his seminal PhD thesis submitted at Cambridge University on the ‘Agrarian Constraint to Economic Development’. His basic proposition that agricultural problems remain the primary constraint to growth, based on a careful analysis of the post-Independence economic growth of the first three decades, remains relevant even today. His thesis argued that the root of the agrarian problem lies in the structure of Indian agriculture and increasing input intensity or institutional mechanisms such as share-cropping are unlikely to take care of the problems of surplus labour and poverty in agriculture. The nature of the agriculture problem is unlikely to be resolved without state intervention given the existing agrarian structure. For Sen, the resolution of the agrarian problem was not just key to overall growth but also necessary to take care of the problem of mass poverty.

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4. Current Topics

  • Misuse of office

The future of the Jharkhand government hangs in balance after the Election Commission recommended the disqualification of Chief Minister Hemant Soren as MLA under the Representation of the People Act, 1951, last week. The EC has found Soren guilty of misusing his position to allot a stone mining lease to himself last year. Governor Ramesh Bais is yet to take a call on the issue. But the episode could trigger political instability again in a state that has had 11 governments, and three spells of President’s rule, in 22 years. Jharkhand’s largest Opposition party, the BJP, has sharpened its criticism of the state government, while the JMM-led ruling coalition is taking conspicuous steps to keep its flock together — the CM has held marathon meetings and even taken legislators on a bus and boat ride out of Ranchi. This uncertainty could have been avoided had CM Soren, who also holds charge of the mining ministry and the related portfolios of geology and environment, adhered to fundamental norms of political propriety. Conflict of interest was writ large in the award of the mining lease in question.

Jharkhand boasts of 40 per cent of India’s mineral reserves and nearly 30 per cent of the country’s coal deposits. But the state’s record in the governance of these resources has been marred by frequent scams and political instability. In 2017, in a case that had shone unflattering light on the collusion between entrenched mining oligarchies and state agencies, a special CBI court convicted former Chief Minister MadhuKoda for irregularities in the allocation of coal blocks between 2006-2008. Soren came to office in 2019 on the back of a “Badlav Yatra” (campaign for change) during which he promised a pro-people administration in Jharkhand. His government has constituted a task force to investigate issues related to illegal mining and the CM has repeatedly called for urgency in cleaning up the “bad image” given to the state by “the mining mafia”. Plans to install CCTV cameras in mining areas and start a toll-free number to receive mining-related complaints are reportedly on the state government’s anvil.

But the Jharkhand government’s responses to allegations of nepotism against the CM have been far removed from its slogans and claims. For instance, the BJP has accused the state’s industry department — also headed by the CM — of handing out an 11-acre plot in Ranchi industrial complex to a firm headed by Soren’s wife. The department has brazened out allegations of the misuse of the CM’s office with the unconvincing answer that no rule was broken in the land allocation. In the mining lease case too, it’s clear that red lines were transgressed. The CM’s defence that he surrendered the lease is unpersuasive. There can be little doubt that Hemant Soren has severely undermined his position as Jharkhand CM. His party and his allies need to decide on the cost of standing by him.

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5. Indian Administration

  • CAG report reveals the abysmal state of heritage conservation

The news from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) about Anang Tal in Mehrauli did not make big headlines. It was simply reported that on August 22, the Centre issued a notification to take steps to protect this site, after which Anang Tal would be declared a monument of national importance.

In response to this, a former Chairman of the National Monuments Authority (NMA) compared “the national monument stature for Anang Tal” with the “re-coronation of Anang Pal Singh Tomar in Delhi”. If he had used this occasion to indulge in some sober reflection, the NMA chairman would have noted that the reservoir has been reduced to a pitiable state. The CAG’s performance audit on Preservation and Conservation of Monuments and Antiquities that was tabled in Parliament a few weeks before the above-mentioned notification singled out Anang Tal as being “in the last stage of disappearance”. Apart from recording its decrepit state with the aid of photographs, the auditing team’s visit revealed that sewage from nearby areas “was being discharged into the reservoir”.

The CAG reports on the state of India’s heritage — ranging from those relating to museums in 2011 to its findings on the ASI in 2013 — are the most comprehensive public documents on the institutional malaise that dogs the conservation of our monuments and antiquities. Such documents are essential because after 2007, there has been no internal audit of the ASI conducted by the ministry. These excellent reports and those of Parliamentary Committees are what we have for understanding the state of Indian archaeology, monuments and museums. For this reason, some of the key observations of the 2022 report are worth highlighting.

The CAG report categorically notes that there is no national policy on archaeological exploration and excavation. The same is possibly true for antiquities. The ASI has estimated some 58 lakh plus antiquities all over India, but there is no database or inventory in its possession. The ASI budget for exploration and excavations is less than 1 per cent even though it informed the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of its intention to raise the allocation to 5 per cent of the total budget. The failure to do so could well be because of the reduction in the ASI budget. Despite all the public talk of the importance of conserving our national heritage, the budget of the ASI, the primary institutional guardian of monuments, in 2021-2022 has been reduced by more than Rs 200 crore. For an organisation whose total budget is Rs 1,246.75 crore, this is a major reduction.

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