Gist of The Hindu: January 2017

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Gist of The Hindu: January 2017


Cool the world

Although it took seven years to come to fruition, the Kigali agreement to amend the Montreal Protocol and substantially limit the emission of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) that contribute to global warming represents major progress. The important role played by this group of chemicals, used in refrigeration and air conditioning, is evident from the scientific estimate that without a mitigation plan, HFCs could warm the world by an additional half a degree Celsius by the end of the century. As with other such global compacts on environmental matters, India pressed for a more lenient deadline at the Rwanda negotiations. Ultimately, it agreed to start freezing HFC use in 2028, four years later than its peer club countries China, Brazil and those in Africa, and achieving maximum reduction by 2047, two years after they do. In welcome contrast, however, India has ordered the manufacturers of HFC 23 - a by-product of another chemical used in refrigerant gas manufacture and with a staggeringly high contribution to global warming - to now capture and dispose of it at their own cost. The decision is of particular significance, considering the expansion of refrigeration and air conditioning in India with a rise in incomes, leading to higher levels of HFC release into the atmosphere.

One of the questions before India in its implementation of Montreal Protocol commitments is the need to align its goals for 'Make in India' with green technologies in order to remain competitive in global markets. Inducting alternatives to HFCs, such as hydrocarbons, ammonia and carbon dioxide, in the relevant industries should happen sooner than anticipated and possibly become even attractive as the cost of technologies falls. The changeover is actually an opportunity to achieve a leapfrog effect. The imperative, in any case, should be environmental. It is worth recalling that the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer adopted in 1985 (operationalised later by the Montreal Protocol) followed a phase when major producers of chlorofluorocarbons, the earlier generation of refrigerants, tried to discredit the link between the chemicals and the developing problem of the ozone hole. Persistent and credible science, however, swayed public and political opinion in favour of a phase-out of CFCs. As with the Paris Agreement on climate change, which is strengthened by the Kigali amendments, developing countries will legitimately expect rich countries to aid them as they seek to acquire green technologies for industrial use. Given the impact of global warming, countries and people who have historically never been part of the problem should not have to argue their case for liberal assistance.

Reimagining BRICS

With India announcing that all five BRICS member states are united in acknowledging the global threat posed by terrorism, and that those who support terror are as much a threat to us than those who perpetrate acts of terror, the eighth BRICS summit came to an end on in Goa. The BRICS agenda moved forward a bit with the BRICS leaders united in their "view to establish the BRICS Agriculture Research Platform, BRICS Railway Research Network, BRICS Sports Council, and various youth-centric fora" and agreeing "to fast track the setting up of a BRICS Rating Agency" based on market-oriented principles to "further bridge the gap in the global financial architecture." Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the Goa declaration laid down "a comprehensive vision for our cooperation and coordination, within BRICS and on international issues." But it was clear from the way India shaped the agenda of the Goa summit that Mr. Modi was working towards a different end game this time, looking beyond the immediate BRICS mandate.

The Prime Minister's focus, by and large, remained on the issue of terrorism. Without naming Pakistan, he used the BRICS platform to refer to the country as the "mothership of terrorism", and forcefully argued that a "selective approach against terrorism" would be both futile and counterproductive. In more ways than one, he made it plain to his BRICS partners that this is an issue on which India feels rather strongly and that "BRICS needs to work together and act decisively to combat this threat."

This message was primarily aimed at China, a country with which India has had differences on the issue of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism against India. Mr. Modi was not very successful in convincing the Chinese leadership to change Beijing's stance on Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief Masood Azhar, who India believes was behind the Pathankot attack this year and the Parliament attack of 2001. China had recently put a technical hold once again at the United Nations and prevented Azhar from being designated a global terrorist, despite JeM being a UN-proscribed terror group.

Recognising the limits of bilateral Sino-Indian engagement, India seems to have now decided to use the leverage of a multilateral platform to put China on notice. New Delhi would be hoping that, by suggesting that "those who nurture, shelter, support and sponsor such forces of violence and terror are as much a threat to us as terrorists themselves", it might eventually succeed in pressurising China to alter its position. However, with China refusing to budge, it is now hoped that Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi, who the leaders decided would travel to India again, would meet National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and discuss the issue further.
The other change that India introduced to the BRICS agenda was also significant as it underscored India's changing priorities. India used the summit to reach out to its neighbours by initiating the BRICS-BIMSTEC outreach. Founded in 1997, the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) now includes Nepal and Bhutan apart from Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Set up with the objective of enhancing technological and economic cooperation among South Asian and South-east Asian countries along the coast of the Bay of Bengal, it has been neglected so far by its members.

New Delhi has now decided to lead the regional economic cooperation efforts against the backdrop of Pakistan's marginalisation in South Asia. The cancellation of the SAARC summit in Islamabad, with Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan deciding to stay away like India, has galvanised New Delhi's efforts to look at new ways to foster regional cooperation. India's outreach to BIMSTEC during the BRICS summit is an important signal that New Delhi is serious about its role as a facilitator of economic cooperation in South Asia.

Finally, India used the Goa summit to re-galvanise its long-standing partnership with Russia, which was in danger of losing direction. Russia's decision to hold military exercises with Pakistan did not go down well with India at a time when it was seeking to diplomatically isolate Pakistan after the Uri terror attacks. Russia, for its part, has been concerned about India's tilt towards the U.S. In Goa, the two states reaffirmed the strategic nature of their friendship once again. India signed three major deals worth billions of dollars with Russia: five S-400 Triumf air defence systems, four stealth frigates, and a joint venture to manufacture Kamov-226T utility helicopters in India.

Recognising the limits of the BRICS mandate at a time of slowing economies and growing intra-BRICS political divergences, India has tried to reimagine the multilateral forum to serve its larger strategic ends. For Mr. Modi, BRICS is an important platform to showcase to his domestic critics that his foreign policy remains independent of, and not subservient to, the U.S. He has cleverly used the BRICS platform to position New Delhi's priorities on to the agenda of the forum. How far he succeeds in achieving Indian objectives will determine Indian investment in BRICS in the future.

Deciding issues of personal law

The last time that Supreme Court sought to rule in a matter concerning personal law was in 1985 resulting in what has come to be known as the Shah Bano amendment. Shah Bano was married to Mohammed Ahmad Khan, an affluent and well-known advocate of Indore, Madhya Pradesh, in 1932. The couple had five children but after 14 years of marriage Khan took a younger second wife. For a time he lived with both, but when Shah Bano was 62, she was thrown out together with her five children. In April 1978, Khan even stopped giving her the paltry Rs.200 per month that is said to have been promised.

With no means to support herself and her children, Shah Bano petitioned a local court in Indore against her husband citing Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), asking for maintenance of Rs.500 for herself and her children. Khan's response: in November 1978 he pronounced an irrevocable talaq (divorce), taking the defence that hence Shah Bano had ceased to be his wife and therefore he was under no obligation to provide maintenance for her except as prescribed under the Islamic law, which was her mehr , promised on marriage, Rs.5,400 in all. While courts at different levels directed payment of different sums, all a mere pittance, holding that Section 125 of the CrPC applies to Muslims, in 1980 Khan took the matter in appeal before the Supreme Court claiming that Shah Bano was no more his responsibility because he had a second marriage, which was permissible under Islamic law.

The Supreme Court of India - in a two-judge Bench of Justices Murtaza Fazal Ali and A. Varadarajan who first heard the matter - held in light of the earlier decisions of the court that Section 125 of the CrPC did indeed apply to Muslims, referred Khan's appeal to a larger Bench. Some Muslim quasi-religious bodies, namely the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, joined the case as intervener.
The matter was then heard by a five-judge Bench chaired by Chief Justice Y.V. Chandrachud and comprising Justices Ranganath Mishra, D.A. Desai, O. Chinnappa Reddy and E.S. Venkataramiah. In a unanimous decision of April 23, 1985 in Mohammed Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum and Ors. (1985 SCR (3) 844), the Supreme Court dismissed Khan's appeal and confirmed the judgment of the high court. It held unequivocally that "there is no conflict between the provisions of Section 125 and those of the Muslim Personal Law on the question of the Muslim husband's obligation to provide maintenance for a divorced wife who is unable to maintain herself". There was no doubt, held the apex court, that the Koran imposes an obligation on the Muslim husband to make provision for or to provide maintenance to the divorced wife. Besides, Section 125 of the CrPC applies to all regardless of caste or creed. So Shah Bano had the right to be given maintenance money, similar to alimony. The court also went on to discuss the desirability of bringing a uniform civil code in India, holding that a common civil code would help the cause of national integration by removing disparate loyalties to laws which have conflicting ideologies.

The source of Muslim Personal Law in India is the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937, a law that is a colonial anachronism enacted to win over the Muslim clergy from what was, thanks to the legacy of the war of 1857, a Muslim population largely hostile to the British. As acknowledged in the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Act, it was in fact moved by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, described in the Act as the "greatest Moslem religious body".

It seemed awhile that this advice had been accepted, although no response was received to my suggestion that the PMO politely decline the request to intervene. Then one day as I entered Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's chamber, I found M.J. Akbar sitting across his table. Rajiv smiled cheerily, "Come in, come in Wajahat, You are one of us."

The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act was adopted in May 1986 and nullified the Supreme Court's judgment in the Shah Bano case. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of this Act clarifies that when a Muslim divorced woman is unable to support herself after the iddat period that she must observe after the death of her spouse or after a divorce, during which she may not marry another man, the magistrate is empowered to make an order for the payment of maintenance by her relatives who would be entitled to inherit her property on her death according to Muslim law. But when a divorced woman has no such relatives, and does not have enough means to pay the maintenance, the magistrate would order the State Wakf Board to pay the maintenance. The 'liability' of the husband to pay maintenance was thus restricted to the period of the iddat only.

The consequences of this Act are open to debate. Yet the message that it brings home is that the application of the usual law, as enunciated by the Supreme Court, would have been of greater benefit and extended to the Muslim woman the rights granted to other Indians. Worse, the Act generated a conflict of interest between the two principal religious communities of India, fostering hostility against each other and the government.

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Courtesy: The Hindu