Satyananda Mishra | Former chief information commissioner
The Indian Express
Mishra observes that the recent SC judgment that brought the CJI’s office under the ambit of the RTI Act has “delved deep into the concepts of fiduciary relationship, public interest, privacy and confidentiality”. He writes that the RTI has entered the 15th year of its existence and has met three major challenges ever since. The first major challenge was “when the central government refused to disclose the file noting” in government records. The then-CIC stated that file noting was information and must also be disclosed and the government relented.
The second challenge came when “Subhash Agarwal sought information from the Supreme Court regarding collegium proceedings” and personal assets of judges, which was denied by SC but the CIC and later the High Court ruled in his favour. The SC registry appealed in the Supreme Court and 10 years later, the apex court ruled in Agarwal’s favour. The third major challenge “came when the CIC order bringing political parties under the RTI was summarily disobeyed” and while some people approached the SC over this, the court has not passed any order on the issue.
Thus, Mishra maintains that the “relationship of the RTI with the judiciary has been fraught from the beginning”. He argues that there are many orders passed for citizens seeking information “but the high courts and the Supreme Court… have directly or indirectly shrunk their right and strengthened the hands of the government”. He adds that the “present order is likely to be used by information officers to block disclosure of all… information of a personal nature”.
Inger Andersen | Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme
Andersen argues that the “most apt description” for air pollution affecting cities everywhere is “self-inflicted”. He notes that according to the World Health Organisation, the air quality crisis “causes seven million premature deaths each year”.
In India, “air pollution deaths will rise from 1.1 million in 2015 to 3.6 million annually by 2050 unless additional measures are taken”, writes Andersen. He adds that India’s decision to join the Climate and Clean Air Coalition demonstrates its “commitment to addressing its air pollution crisis”.
Andersen argues that it is “key for developing nations” to limit “open burning of waste and the use of biomass and fossil fuels for cooking, lighting and heating”. Additionally, “cleaner mobility is the most important issue for urban areas”. He states that “nature-based solutions can come to the rescue” such as “green belts in cities filter pollutants” and reducing the need for power-hungry cooling. If “we take advantage of the solutions at hand, we won’t just improve air quality” but we “will also contribute to reversing the global climate crisis”, concludes Andersen.
Mohammed Ayoob | University Distinguished Professor, Michigan State University
Ayoob observes that “Lebanon and Iraq seem to be on the cusp of far-reaching political change but it is too early to predict the final outcome of the struggles taking place in both countries”. However, he notes that the anti-government protests in the countries send three clear messages.
First, “the average citizen is fed up with corrupt ruling elites that engage in all sorts of manoeuvres to remain in power”. Second, “sectarian divisions are breaking down with members of all sects joining hands in challenging established primarily sect-based parties and their leaders”. Third, “there is revulsion among the Iraqi and Lebanese populations against foreign interference and the outcome of the protest movements could have a major impact on the balance of power in West Asia.”
He argues that there is a “major international angle to these developments as well”. If the “upheavals in Lebanon and Iraq succeed, the biggest loser will be Iran” as these disturbances may curtail Iran’s growing regional influence. However, Ayoob notes that the hard question is whether these “protest movements in Lebanon and Iraq have the organisation and the staying power to bring down the current regimes”. If the protests succeed, “they will herald the beginning of non-sectarian and democratic future for West Asia” but if they fail, “the Arab world will continue to remain mired in the same dysfunctional mess in which it has been trapped for the past several decades”, concludes Ayoob.
Madan Sabnavis | Chief Economist, CARE Ratings
Hindu Business Line
Sabnavis reviews the government’s Rs. 25,000-crore package to the ailing real estate sector. This “may be just a breather, not an actual cure for the challenges faced by the industry”, he writes, but also credits the government’s for “putting in money directly”.
The scheme entails an Alternative Investment Fund (AIF) by the government that will lend to around 1,600 projects and around 4.6 lakh stalled housing units. It will target “affordable and middle income group housing” and those projects “whose net worth is higher than the cost of completion of the project”, he explains. “The second plus point”, he writes, is that the banks and NBFCs that have lent money to these projects will recover their dues. This, however, depends on whether units can be sold or unsold and given low demand, builders must lower their prices, recommends Sabnavis.
There are concerns that Rs. 25,000 crore won’t be enough and given that since this amount wasn’t mentioned in the Budget, it is “vulnerable to several shortfalls in corporate tax collections, GST, customs collections and disinvestment”, he writes.
Himanshu | Associate professor, JNU
Himanshu identifies the sudden rise in food inflation, currently at 7.9 per cent, the highest since August 2014, as a cause for concern. He writes that this will not only limit the government’s ability to revive the economy, but will also take a toll on India’s poor.
The rise in food inflation has much to do with the government “hoarding a large part of the produce that was procured in the run-up to the general election of 2019”, he explains. Furthermore, while food inflation has been on the rise, wholesale inflation and rural wages have been declining. This points to “supply-side structural issues” and may also indicate that demand has weakened, writes Himanshu.
“Given that food still constitutes almost two-thirds of the consumption basket of the poor”, rising inflation and falling rural incomes “places a double burden” on the poor, he argues and states that the only solution is for the government to raise wages for the poor.
Puja Mehra | Delhi-based economist
Mehra criticises the BJP government’s economic policies that lack a “pro-markets worldview”. She writes that ironically it was RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat that “hit the nail on its head… while bemoaning ‘swadeshi consciousness’ being forgotten” during his annual Dussehra speech this year.
Mehra criticises the right-wing BJP and RSS for the absence of an economic cell and explains how the government is reluctant to “give up economic controls” and seeks to “reinstate controls that were dismantled in the post-1991 decades” when the economy was first opened up. GST, which has “replicated many of the complexities of the extant indirect tax system”, and India’s decision to opt out of RCEP are prime examples, writes Mehra.
“Wherever there is a problem, the standard response in government is to rely upon the policy tool of economic controls” and alternative policy action is seldom considered, she writes. “The more government expands, the more markets shrink, and scarce administrative resources get spread more thinly,” she warns. Mehra concludes by saying that “Other than rejecting technically trained pro-markets economists and their ideas, India’s political right and its affiliates have no clear idea of what an Indian pro-markets model for economic progress can be.”