Editorials January (for Current Affair class- 6and 7th July) Making laws work for rape victims

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Quash the ban, screen the film

The delay in overturning the unjustifiable ban on Kamal Haasan’s Vishwaroopam is beginning to appear every bit as unjustifiable. It is difficult to fathom the rationale behind the Madras High Court deferring its decision on the film’s screening. Earlier, the court had ruled the film cannot be shown in Tamil Nadu until January 28, by which time the judge hearing the case would see it for himself. Now that the special screening has been held, what basis can there possibly be for deferring the decision once again and asking Kamal Haasan to “negotiate the matter and sort the issue out amicably”? Courts exist principally to dispense justice, not to hand out advice which, in this case, seems entirely gratuitous. Of course, there have been occasions when the judiciary has adopted a pragmatic, even reconciliatory, approach, one that attempts to find a common ground between adversarial parties; the gulf between formalism and actual judicial practice is a little wider than most people assume. But in this case, the court has not even attempted to resolve the dispute. It has simply thrown the ball back at Kamal Haasan, asking him to find a way out of a mess that was not his making. In doing so, it has risked the unfortunate perception that it is reluctant to take a hard and forthright decision based on law.

There should have been no place for such temporising given the clear judicial precedents in such cases. It was only two years ago that the Supreme Court set aside the two-month ban on the Hindi film Aarakshan on the ground that States cannot proscribe films that have been cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification on the mere apprehension that screening them may cause a law and order problem. As we pointed out recently in this space (“Responsibility To Protect,” January 25, 2013), the landmark case that set the tone for such judgments was S. Rangarajan v/s P. Jagajivan Ram , where the Supreme Court held that “freedom of expression cannot be suppressed on account of threat of demonstrations and processions and threat of violence.” It is true there have been regrettable aberrations to a judicial approach that has strongly refused to cower before blackmail and intimidation. Only recently, the Supreme Court dismissed a petition challenging the Tamil Nadu government’s ban on the release of the film DAM 999 . The ban on Vishwaroopammust be quashed and the police directed to provide adequate protection to theatres and moviegoers. While it is the right of the fringe Muslim groups who are offended, seemingly or otherwise, to protest against the film, any demonstration should be staged only peacefully. Anyone who threatens or takes recourse to violence deserves to be dealt with strictly and punitively.

Stop subsidising the rich

There is stubborn inflation, high interest rates and low growth keeping India’s SDI/HDI low. Then why are we avoiding the obvious and simple solution?

We are going through a prolonged period of high inflation that seems to have no real solution, forcing interest rates to be kept high and affecting GDP growth.

Some economists are recommending interest cuts to spur growth, but the Reserve Bank of India seems firm on keeping interest rates at the current high levels until fiscal deficit is brought under control — seen as the reason for high inflation.

While several positive measures are being taken to rein in the fiscal deficit, at the cost of impacting the a am aadmi , by way of a reduced gas cylinder subsidy, decontrol of diesel prices and a possible increase in fertilizer prices, or by trying to save through improvements in the Public Distribution System and direct cash transfers, we may not get to where we should in terms of reining in the fiscal deficit.

The prices of natural resources and energy have risen steeply; the prices of manufactured goods too have risen steeply on the back of very high input costs.

Our export competitiveness in most manufactured items seems to be suffering consequent to high input costs and despite a much weakened rupee. High interest rates are just one of the reasons.

The rich are left out

Therefore, we need to look beyond conventional ways of reducing fiscal deficit to rein in the huge deficit without making compromises on accelerated infrastructure improvements, and through it signal interest rate reduction and growth to improve our inclusiveness in growth.

All along, we have been focusing on reducing the subsidy outflow to the weaker sections, without looking at reducing the subsidies enjoyed by the very rich. Often we believe that giving subsidies to the very rich by way of near free resources will result in cheaper manufactured products or offered services. This is completely untrue. In fact, those who get these resources are the ones who are selling their manufactured products much higher than international prices by getting themselves several policies put in place to protect their pricing power

While iron ore sells at Rs.6,000 plus per ton in the international market, those with captive mines are able to extract it at less than Rs.1,000 per ton. Similarly, coal costs less than 25 per cent of domestic prices to those who have captive mines and at a much lower percentage when compared to international prices. The same is the case with other resources like bauxite, limestone, river sand and granite. Resources are being made available at less than 15 per cent of international costs by the States and the Centre.

The people of India, to whom these resources belong, are forced to give them away near free at these cut rates by elected rulers, and they do not get the benefits of the difference between the market price of the manufactured product and the giveaway price of the resource. These virtual freebies to the rich are far in excess of Central and State deficits put together.

The time has come for those who are elected to represent and protect peoples’ interests to start market pricing resources that are now being away almost free to the very rich. This would solve all our fiscal side issues at one go and get us to double digit growth rate in quick time. This would go a long way in improving the quality of life of our people substantially. It would also help us get to interest rates on a par with the developed world.

(Manikam Ramaswami is the CMD of Loyal Textiles.)

The time has come to start charging industry the right prices for resources that it gets virtually free

Living together, separately

I recently came across some fascinating news reports, dating from the year 1914, on the then growing demand for a separate state for Telugu speakers. In towns such as Guntur, Nellore and Vijayawada (known at the time as Bezwada), many meetings were held, asking for a separation of Telugu-speaking districts from Madras Presidency, with areas from the Nizam’s Dominions being added on later when conditions permitted.

Tamils on Telugus

The Tamil intelligentsia did not take kindly to this movement for an ‘Andhra desa’. Thus, in its issue of 6th June 1914,Swadesamitran , a widely circulated newspaper published out of Madras, wrote disparagingly of a conference in Guntur which claimed that Tamil domination blocked the progress of the Andhras. The Andhras, it was argued here, needed to break free of the Tamils to realise their hopes and ambitions.

Swadesamitran said it could not “understand the rationale of this argument. If Tamilians are forward in education, etc., their company can only infuse a spirit of emulation in the minds of the Andhras. How can it impede the progress of the latter? The Andhras are not a set of uncivilised barbarians. They are an intelligent community with an ancient civilisation and the example of the Tamilians is bound to create in them new desires and aspirations. This is exactly what is happening. The present feeling among the Andhras that they have not been progressing much, and their demand for a separate province and equal privileges with the Tamilians indicate only this new desire and aspiration. We are at a loss to understand the meaning of their demand that they should be separated from the Tamilians. Is it that they do not want the Tamilians to step into their portion of the country? The patriotic leaders of the country are striving their best to do away with the distinction of caste and creed in India, which prevents the union of the people and impedes the progress. It is therefore regrettable that the Andhras should try to separate from others and form an independent community.”

Despite Tamil scepticism, the movement for a separate state of Telugu speakers persisted. Through the 1920s and 1930s, Congress leaders from the Andhra districts raised the demand at meetings of the party. Within the Congress, these Andhrawallahs had one strong ally — Mahatma Gandhi, who early on, recognised the importance of linguistic states — and several strong opponents, such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel, who worried that such demands would weaken the unity of the nation-in-the-making. Already, by the 1930s, Muslim intellectuals had begun moving away from the Congress, finding refuge instead in a newly revived Muslim League, now headed by the brilliant Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

Renewed demand for separate state

The demand for a separate Muslim state gathered pace, and eventually resulted in the creation of Pakistan. However, once India gained its independence, the Andhra speakers renewed their demand for the reconfiguration of provincial boundaries to create compact units whose populations spoke the same language. But Nehru and Patel were worried that (as with the Muslim League and Pakistan) separate provinces could become the launching pad for separate nations.

Meanwhile Gandhi died, removing from the scene the most influential non-Andhra supporter of Andhra Pradesh. The Congress high command now thought that the demand would slowly ebb away. Instead, it intensified, with protest meetings being held all across the Madras Presidency.

In October 1952, a veteran Congressman named Potti Sriramulu went on a fast demanding the immediate constitution of an Andhra State. The Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, C. Rajagopalachari, and the Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, both ignored him. But Sriramulu was undeterred. He fasted, and fasted, dying during the night of 15/16 December after 56 days without food. His martyrdom provoked widespread public anger, with hartals and dharnas held across the Telugu country, and demonstrators attacking and burning government offices and railway stations.

Unnerved by the scale of the protests, and the intensity of the anger, Nehru and Rajaji capitulated. An Andhra State was formed in 1953, provoking Kannada, Marathi, and Malayalam speakers all to demand separate states of their own. A States Reorganisation Commission was formed, which recommended the constitution of linguistic states.

Unity and linguistic states

I have long held that the creation of linguistic states has safeguarded the unity of India. Pakistan was divided, and Sri Lanka subject to a protracted civil war, because Bengali speakers in the one case and Tamil speakers in the other were refused the autonomy and dignity they wanted and deserved. On the other hand, the fact that in India citizens are free to educate and administer themselves in their own language has created a feeling of comfort and security.

Linguistic states were crucial at one stage of Indian history, but have they now outlived their usefulness? In north Karnataka, in the inland districts of Andhra Pradesh and of Maharashtra, and in the hilly districts of northern Bengal — in all these places there are vigorous movements calling for separation from the parent province. Are these movements legitimate, and will they persist? Or are they spurious and hence to be disregarded?

Of all these struggles for separate states, the movement for Telangana is the oldest as well as the most intense. When Andhra Pradesh was constituted, the residents of these inland districts, formerly under the rule of the Nizam of Hyderabad, worried that they would be dominated by the more prosperous and educated parts of the State, which were along the coast, and previously part of the British-ruled Madras Presidency. The inlanders thus asked for special safeguards, and, when these were not granted, launched a major social movement in the year 1969, demanding a separate state of Telangana. Ever since, the demand has been persistently raised, with varying levels of intensity — but it has never gone away.

The leaders and opinion-makers of coastal Andhra do not wish to see their state broken in two. The rhetoric they use in opposing the Telangana movement is strikingly similar to that used by the Tamils, back in 1914 or thereabouts, when they asked the Andhras not to ask for a separate state of their own. Why break up a unity once achieved, they say. And if the residents of Telangana want to progress, does not living with the more advanced residents of coastal Andhra give them the necessary impetus to do so?

Politics of Telangana

It took 40 (and more) years for the Telugu speakers of Madras Presidency to make the Tamils see the sense of the demand for Andhra Pradesh. The Telangana movement is already 40 (and more) years old; and it still hasn’t quite achieved what it aimed for. Before the General Elections of 2004, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti allied with the Congress, which informally promised it would concede the TRS’ main demand, while formally stating that it would create a States Reorganisation Commission if voted to power. The Congress alliance came to power in 2004, but a new SRC did not materialise. This led to a renewal of the protests, whereupon, in December 2009, the then Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, promised that the demand for Telangana would soon be granted. But he quickly backtracked. More recently, the Bharatiya Janata Party has said that it would create a Telangana state within 100 days of coming to power at the Centre. As with the Congress in 2004, this promise may be opportunistic rather than principled — intended only to gain votes and seats for its alliance.

My own view — writing as both historian and citizen — is that while linguistic states were necessary in the first, early, stages of Indian independence, it may now be time for a further reorganisation of states. The proponents of Telangana, Vidharbha, and Gorkhaland all have a robust case.

Their regions are well defined in an ecological and cultural sense, and have historically been neglected by the more powerful or richer parts of the State. Likewise, Uttar Pradesh is far too large to be administered as a single unit. Breaking it up into three or four states would lead to more effective and focused governance.

After 65 testing years of independence, there need no longer be any fear about the unity of India. The country is not about to Balkanise, nor is it about to become a dictatorship. The real problems in India today have to do with the quality of governance. Smaller states may be one way to address this problem.

(Ramachandra Guha’s books include India after Gandhi . He can be contacted at ramachandraguha@yahoo.in)

Advocates of smaller states have a robust case. India should look for further reorganisation as it no longer needs to fear about the country’s unity

The dilemma remains

The monetary measures announced by the Reserve Bank of India in its third quarter review of monetary policy are entirely in line with market expectations. The policy repo rate and the Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR) have each been reduced by 0.25 percentage points to 7.75 per cent and 4 per cent respectively. The latter will inject approximately Rs.18,000 crore into the banking system and thus provide some succour to a market reeling under a liquidity shortage. The central bank, in its previous policy statements, had more or less committed itself to an interest rate reduction at the start of 2013, which incidentally is the first since the unexpectedly large 0.50 percentage points cut in April. However, neither the latest policy measures, nor the guidance in the review, give a clue as to whether a softer interest rate policy characterised by many more — possibly — larger reductions in the repo rate is in the offing. As before, the RBI is hedging its bets: on the expectation of inflation remaining range bound at current levels, there is space, albeit limited, for monetary policy to place greater emphasis on growth, it says.

The RBI’s reluctance to come out with a clearer projection of monetary policy is understandable and is best understood in the light of the two significant macroeconomic trends relating to growth and inflation. The RBI has revised its baseline projection of GDP growth for the current year to 5.5 per cent from 5.8 in October, bringing it in line with official statistics. Headline inflation measured by the WPI index has been moderating recently. A sustained reduction in inflation pressure is contingent upon alleviation of supply constraints and progress on fiscal consolidation. However, taking into account the several positive developments on the inflation front, notably the sustained fall in core inflation, the RBI has revised the inflation projection for March 2013 to 6.8 per cent from 7.5 per cent, set out in the second quarter policy review. Among the several risk factors impinging on macroeconomic management, the widening of the current account deficit to historically high levels in the context of a large fiscal deficit and slowing growth exposes the economy to the dangers of the twin deficits. Global risks remain elevated. A sustained revival in investment is absolutely necessary for stimulating growth and depends on a number of factors such as bridging the infrastructure gaps and better governance. Monetary policy’s traditional dilemma of supporting growth versus countering inflation can perhaps never be fully reconciled but the compact and lucid third quarter review has done a very good job of articulating an inherently complex stance.

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