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Pratap Bhanu Mehta on CAB’s ‘insidious message’, Chinoy notes ‘demand element’ in slowdown

The best of the day’s opinion, chosen and curated by ThePrint’s top editors.

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The morning after CAB

Pratap Bhanu Mehta | Contributing editor, The Indian Express
The Indian Express

Mehta writes the Citizenship Amendment Bill “uses a legal instrument to send an insidious political message: Religious identities will play a dominant role in assessing claims to citizenship”. He argues that this bill “is a clever way of keeping the communal pot boiling under a legal imprimatur”.

He raises the question of “where does politics go, after CAB?” The Supreme Court “has badly let us down in recent times, through a combination of avoidance, mendacity, and a lack of zeal on behalf of political liberty”. What makes this “constitutional moment pivotal” is that there is “a looming air of irretrievable finality about the changes that are being enshrined”. However, it is time to realise that this “direction is going to be set by the mob, by brute power, by mobilisation”.

The final adjudication “will be a product of what collectively citizens of India are able to convey about the kind of country they want to create”. The BJP “moves the law, not by appealing to it, but by changing the norms in politics and society that shape our imagination of the law”.

Finally, Mehta maintains that “it will be a mistake to rely on the Supreme Court”. The political challenge here is “to make sure that one party’s diabolical version of what is reasonable is not mistaken for common sense”.

Power over privacy

Nikhil Pahwa | Volunteer,
The Times of India

In a report by the Centre for Internet and Society, it was estimated “that personally identifiable data for 130-135 million Indian citizens had been leaked, thus putting them at risk”. Pahwa states that “around that time, the Indian government was instead arguing in the Supreme Court that privacy isn’t a fundamental right under the Indian Constitution”.

He calls for the need of “strong privacy law that holds even the government responsible” and “a strong data protection authority that is independent and has powers to penalise” government officials. Pahwa writes that the Modi government’s Personal Data Protection Bill disappoints on many counts.

The “members of the Data Protection Authority (DPA) will no longer be appointed by independent entities from diverse backgrounds”, writes Pahwa. Moreover, the central government “can issue directions to DPA, which DPA will be bound by”. Further, the bill also gives “power to the government to exempt any agency from the provisions of the bill for processing of personal data, which includes acquiring data from any public or private entity”.

Pahwa writes it is unfortunate that IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad is “sending the bill to a select committee, given the fact that such significant changes to the bill should have led to another public consultation”.

The ‘Delhi dogma’ fallacy of the right

Happymon Jacob | Author
The Hindu

Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar’s speech at the 4th Ramnath Goenka Lecture “reflects a practitioner’s hands-on knowledge of India’s foreign policy, has, unfortunately, not yet received the critical treatment it deserves”. The Minister “makes a strong pitch to practitioners and analysts to think beyond the ‘Delhi dogma’ that has traditionally… constrained” the pursuit of India’s foreign policy.

Jacob argues that the minister’s speech is “riddled with several empirical and conceptual issues”. It was a “product of a certain messianic presentism of the Indian right that Mr Jaishankar is a part of”. This could also be seen as “an ideological attempt masquerading as an objective shocktaking of India’s foreign policy”. It also “makes the cardinal mistake of critiquing history from the luxury of the present, removed from the temporal constraints that forced the decisions of the past”. Further, “unwilling to appreciate this complex journey of a weak power is being ahistorical”.

Jacob maintains that “foreign policy of any regime” should be “judged on the basis of concrete outcomes”. But Jaishankar’s speech “points towards very little concrete outcomes achieved by the BJP-led governments”. The foreign minister also “seems to argue that the Government’s policy on Kashmir is brilliant because India can militarily contain the situation in Kashmir”.

“…this assessment reeks of foreign policy arrogance”, writes Jacob.

Parliamentary committees matter

Chakshu Roy | Head of Legislative and Civic Engagement, PRS Legislative Research
Hindustan Times

Roy highlights Rajya Sabha chairman, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu’s concern “about the functioning of parliamentary committees”.

Data shows “only 18 out of the 80 RS MPs attended all the meetings of their committees”. Roy states this number “looks dismal when you consider that eight out of 18 are chairmen of these committees”.

MPs are “often called upon to legislate on subject areas for which they may not have academic grounding”. In case of an absence of research staff, “they are neither effective in their role as lawmakers nor in questioning the functioning of the government”. A “speech on the floor of the house is more about communicating to the electorate than getting into the complex details required for running a country”. This makes the Parliament an ineffective place for finding governance solutions for the country.

Moreover, “repeated requests to either send or not send or send bills to a joint committee, instead of an already established specialised committee, creates an impression that the committee process is political and not focused on technical scrutiny”.

Roy argues that “supporting and encouraging MPs to engage in Parliamentary committee will ensure that the Parliament becomes the intellectual compass for good governance in the country”.

Overarching GST

S. Murlidharan | Chennai-based chartered accountant
The Hindu Business Line

Murlidharan points out a few ways by which the Modi government is “going overboard on GST”.

First, it is subjecting company branches to GST on expenses allocated to them by head offices. Murlidharan points out that since the branch and the company are the same entity, no money actually changes hands. This is “tax tyranny that borders on irrationality”, he writes.

Second, GST placed on Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) “is even more ridiculous”. RWAs are not traders but mutual associations that are technically “meant to be immune from taxation”, writes Murlidharan.

Also, GST is made applicable to RWAs in which monthly subscription by a flat owner or occupant is more than Rs 7,500. Murlidharan calls this in an “arbitrary” criterion. If RWAs are to be considered service providers, “how does it matter whether it charges Rs. 1,000 per month or Rs. 10,000 per month?” he asks.

The paradox of our rights to information and privacy

K. Satish Kumar | Global head, Legal & chief data protection officer, Ramco Systems

Kumar discusses the paradox between two fundamental rights upheld by the Supreme Court — the right to information (RTI) and the right to privacy (RTP). He asks, “How does the RTP square with the RTI?”, and concludes that the relationship is awkward.

He first explains that the government stores a lot of personal information on individuals, be it income tax returns or medical data. Therefore, when an application is filed under the RTI Act for disclosure of some information on an “identifiable individual”, RTP and RTI come into conflict.

It can be denied if disclosing personal information like medical records invades an individual’s privacy, explains Kumar. However, there is a caveat where public interest may warrant the disclosure of information, he adds. A “conflict resolution strategy” can be a way to harmonise the two rights and demarcating the “extent to which personal information may be disclosed in the general interest” could be a step in the right direction, suggests Kumar.

India’s credit crunch: Demand or supply?

Sajjid Chinoy | Chief India economist, J.P. Morgan
Business Standard

Given the economic slowdown and the sharp fall in core inflation, Chinoy observes “a demand element at play” and more importantly, a “credit crunch among financial intermediaries” that have become more risk averse.

Flow of credit across banks and non-banks has reportedly fallen 90 per cent since last year along with “NBFC retrenchment”, which is understandable given “asset quality issues”, writes Chinoy.

What is surprising, however, is “bank diffidence” and the sharp increase of lending rates that “has likely choked credit off-take and economic activity”, he explains. “Bank diffidence creates a vicious interplay of demand and supply forces,” he adds. External borrowing by banks is more proof of a “domestic supply constraint” but such borrowing only adds pressure to the exchange rate and risks financial instability, he warns.

Chinoy suggests various policy resolutions for the financial sector. Resolve stressed assets, change incentives of PSU banks, “ensure small savings rates actually move with market benchmarks”, address “asymmetric information failure among NBFCs” and finally, plug the “capital/equity gap in systemically important NBFCs”, he recommends.

The New De-Hyphenation

Sanjaya Baru | Distinguished fellow, Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses, New Delhi
The Economic Times

Baru calls for “creative rethinking on our Pakistan policy”. Pakistan has “been at war with India from its very birth” and it is therefore time for “both nations to resolve their differences”, he writes.

The “world is taking a more relaxed view of Pakistan” and willing to “carry on business” with it, he explains. Also, the “trans-Atlantic powers that hold the purse strings” of the IMF are now “liberal with their assistance to Pakistan, even if the terms are onerous”, he adds.

In contrast, “the view about India is taking a beating” is due to three factors. First, Pakistan has shown it is willing to address its own socio-economic problems. Two, Western powers continue to compete with the “Eurasian alliance of China and Russia to retain influence in Afghanistan and Pakistan”. Three, India’s case against Pakistan on cross-border terrorism has become weaker “thanks to the many controversial decisions of the Modi government”.

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