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D Devadas on Kashmiri Muslims’ need to feel secure, P Bhushan on Foreigners Tribunals

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What J&K’s special status meant

David Devadas | Journalist and author

The Times of India

Devadas writes that Article 370 was invented to safeguard the Muslim identity of Kashmiris, and along with the separate constituent assembly for the state, it provided Jammu and Kashmir an “open door for independence”.

Sheikh Abdullah chose to “drag” the people of his state into India based on two assumptions. First, he believed his friend Jawaharlal Nehru would help J&K gain independence with “maximum autonomy”. Second, he felt the Muslim identity of his people would be safer in India than Pakistan as long as Nehru’s legacy survived. But this presumption is questionable now as the current regime has “done its best” to kill that legacy, writes Devadas.

Article 370 was already redundant by the time it was scrapped on 5 August as most concessions of the New Delhi Agreement from 1952 had ceased long since. However, the people of J&K were more concerned with Article 35A which prevented people from other parts of the country from buying land and settling down in Kashmir.

Now, in the face of Hindutva dominance, the Kashmiri Muslims would need a “sense of security” about their Muslim identity more urgently, adds Devadas.

Courts of injustice

Prashant Bhushan & Cheryl D’souza | Advocates, Supreme Court

The Indian Express

After 19 lakh people were excluded from Assam’s final National Register of Citizens (NRC) list, the ball is now in the court of Foreigners Tribunals. But the constitutionality of these quasi-judicial bodies is already in question, Bhushan and D’Souza write.

The tribunals were set up in 1964 by an executive order, but according to Article 32B these are not meant to address matters of citizenship. “Judicial experience” was an important criteria to appoint its members but this eligibility was changed in June. Recently, 221 members were appointed to the tribunals without written tests. Members are selected through by Gauhati High Court and appointed through the home and political department of the Assam government. In the absence of proper mechanisms, these tribunals can’t function freely and impartially.

The Indian Constitution abhors systemic targeting of minorities and xenophobia. But in the Sarbananda Sonowal case (2005), the Supreme Court “itself laid the ground for xenophobia”, write Bhushan and D’souza, by repealing the illegal migrants Act and placing the burden on the citizen to prove they are not foreigners. That judgment set the tone for all future proceedings of the Foreigners Act.

India needs a new social contract

Minouche Shafik | Director, London School of Economics and Political Science, and former deputy governor of the Bank of England

Hindustan Times

Shafik writes that as India sees economic growth, increased urbanisation, technological advancements and better gender equality, its social contracts must evolve to adapt to these changes.

Social contracts are failing in many advanced countries. There are fears among people that they won’t benefit from development, improved technology will take their jobs away, and immigrants are changing their societies, writes Shafik.

India has been redefining its social contracts since Independence, with each successive government aiming to reduce poverty. In the 1990s and 2000s, policies like school meals, the Integrated Child Development Service and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act were pivotal in improving the social contracts, he writes.

However, India’s new social contracts should include a minimum income for all citizens, investment in female talent, childcare and elderly care. There is still heavy reliance on unpaid female labour, and if “more women in India were supported to work in the paid labour market, India would be much richer”, concludes Shafik.

Being mindful of diversity

Pulapre Balakrishnan | Professor, Ashoka University & senior fellow, IIM-Kozhikode

The Hindu

Balakrishnan contests Home Minister Amit Shah’s statement this week that Hindi is the only way to unite India.

In 1965, Congress’s attempts to impose Hindi upon the country led to arson in several regions — it is unlikely that south Indians will forget this.

South Indians strongly believe they are Dravidian language speakers and Hindi belongs to a group of Indo-European languages that is as foreign as English. More importantly, they feel “privileging any one Indian language would be discriminatory”, and the rationale that it should be privileged because it is spoken by the largest number of people is nothing but crass majoritarianism, he writes.

The assumption that a common language is needed to feel connected is a “fallacy” as Indians have a shared history of several millennia. The Maurya dynasty ruler Ashoka unified his kingdom by spreading his ideals, issuing edicts that conveyed the same message in different languages. Ashoka wasn’t concerned with “narrow linguistic nationalism”, and Shah, too, should focus on uniting India through the internet instead, even Jammu and Kashmir, concludes Balakrishnan.

Compete, not also-run

Pradeep S. Mehta | Secretary general, CUTS International

The Economic Times

The Modi government’s measures to address the current economic slowdown may increase demand but will do little for market competitiveness in the long-term, writes Mehta.

He calls for structural competition reforms alongside “mature foreign policy”, writing that a National Competition Policy can “unleash a new wave of competition reforms”. India’s domestic industries can enter global value chains once the Centre builds “necessary infrastructure” and gradually depreciates the “artificially overvalued rupee”. Free trade agreements can help increase their footprint in export markets.

India should aim to compete against Singapore and Hong Kong in providing tax packages for entrepreneurs to kick off their businesses, he suggests.
Mehta, unimpressed by the recent bank mergers, writes that special privileges to government-owned enterprises need to be scrapped so that banks can compete globally. For this, India’s corporate tax rates will have to reduce and a competition assessment of sector-specific policies should be in place.

(The Modi government did announce a reduction in corporate tax rates Friday.)

The best way to reform India’s architecture of fiscal federalism

Sudipto Mundle | Distinguished Fellow, National Council of Applied Economic Research

Mint

In his piece, Mundle calls for the restructuring of India’s fiscal federalism by reviving the Inter-States Council.

Currently “dormant”, the council could become a federal decision making body outside the home ministry. It can be chaired by the prime minister with state chief ministers as members and “a secretariat of experts” to design programmes and fiscal allocation among the states, he writes.

This can address growing concerns that the Centre wants to encroach upon the states’ fiscal economy and use their resources to fund defence and internal security. These concerns arose when the government amended the terms of reference of the 15th Finance Commission in late July, writes Mundle.

Given the current slowdown, the government is “well aware” that another expenditure shortfall will further reduce growth, and is therefore “scrambling for resources”. The scrapping of Article 370 has also raised worries over the Modi government’s swift passage of laws, he adds.

Government is right in banning e-cigarettes

Pankaj Chaturvedi | Deputy director, Centre for Cancer Epidemiology, Tata Memorial Centre

The Financial Express

E-cigarettes contain nicotine, a highly toxic and addictive substance, and the Modi government’s decision to ban it is the right one, argues Chaturvedi.

“Over-the-counter sale of e-cigarettes will promote easy, and unregulated access to very high doses of nicotine for recreational, rather than medicinal use,” he writes.

The belief that e-cigarettes have medical benefits is untrue and no study actually backs such a claim. People have a tendency to smoke e-cigarettes along with cigarettes and thus are inhaling a double dosage of nicotine. The countries that have attempted to regulate e-cigarettes are facing an epidemic, writes Chaturvedi.

Since the consumer base of e-cigarettes is small, this ban will be effective. The rise in the share prices of cigarette companies is “inconsequential” since their usage is “steadily declining”, adds Chaturvedi.

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