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.
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
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.
Courtesy: The Hindu