Security forces' personnel deployed at Sunjuwan Military Station during a terrorist attack
Security personnel deployed at Sunjuwan Military Station during a terrorist attack| PTI
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It is time to rethink India’s witness testimony process

Abhinav Sekhri | Advocate practising in Delhi
Hindustan Times

Sekhri discusses criticisms about India’s criminal justice system and its witness protection programme following the recent accident in the Unnao rape case where police protection was missing for the rape victim. After the PIL filed by witnesses in the Asaram Bapu rape case, the Supreme Court had ordered the Centre and States to implement a witness protection programme. Sekhri points out that, in all probability, this was not implemented. The programme itself is flawed as it requires an understaffed and underpaid police force to offer round-the-clock protection of witnesses. Criminal justice systems need to create processes that are in tune with realities, urges Sekhri. We should also ensure that initial statements made by witnesses are secured and judges make recording of these a norm, not an exception. This ensures that statements can still be used even if a witness dies.

Prove your grandfather is Indian: People who lack flawless paperwork cannot just be jailed as illegal migrants

Rohini Mohan | Independent journalist
The Times of India

Mohan writes about the National Register of Citizens, the final publication of which is due on 31 August, which will potentially make thousands in Assam non-citizens. Mohan had filed an RTI requesting to see court orders that were delivered from July to December 2018 of all 100 tribunals in Assam but received information about five only. Firstly, Mohan writes, most people who were tried are Bengali speakers. Secondly, more Muslims were tried and declared foreigners than Hindus.

Thirdly, 78 per cent of all orders were delivered ex-parte and the accused was never heard. Fourthly, the burden of proof was placed on the accused. Fifth, many who proved their citizenship, periodically faced new complaints about the same. The inconsistent, biased tribunals can force millions out of their homes or be jailed as illegal migrants. “Perhaps others in India can cheer on or look away from this ordeal only because it hasn’t come to their doors yet”, concludes Mohan.

Health care is ailing

K. Sujatha Rao | Former Union health secretary, Government of India
The Indian Express

Rao asks if the new National Medical Commission Bill will address the concerns of why governments regulate medical education. These concerns include ensuring that “doctors are appropriately trained and skilled to address the prevailing disease burden, that ethical practice in the interest of the patients is maintained and corrosive impact of the process of commercialisation on values and corrupt practices is checked”. The NMC Bill seeking to professionalise the Medical Council of India could be a “gamechanger”, says Rao, as it can encourage research and innovation. But it falls short in “curbing unethical practice and commercialisation of medical education”.

Despite the rising number of private medical colleges, the bill allows for colleges to set differential pricing and market-determined fees, relies on the NEXT examinations to recognise institutions which could “abdicate governance”. With more grey areas that leave scope for corruption and production of substandard doctors, Rao suggests the government should have tested waters before introducing the law. “No law is perfect, but will depend on the people who interpret and implement it”, she concludes.

Marking Tipu’s legacy to foster historical temper

Janaki Nair | Professor, Centre for Historical Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University
The Hindu

Nair writes about her recent visit to the memorial of Britain’s controversial King Richard III at the University of Leicester. The memorial delves into the complicated legacy of the King as both a brave hero and his questionable ascent to the throne. It also depicts Shakespeare’s portrait of him as a malevolent ruler. Nair suggests that if India had something like a ‘Museum to Our Conflictual Pasts’, we too could let visitors engage with our controversial history, like that of the Mysore King Tipu Sultan. Tipu is remembered as a brilliant king known for his lust for knowledge, military successes and innovations. But memories about him are also marred with “real and imagined excesses: his zeal for conversion; his massacre of population that he considered hostile and his introduction of Persian as the state language at the expense of Kannada.” “Tipu Jayanti” introduced by the previous Karnataka government was scrapped almost immediately as the BJP regime was sworn into power. A ‘Museum of Conflictual Pasts’ could perhaps offer a channel for viewers to develop a historical temper, probe visitors to think and read history from various vantage points and acknowledge “the inconvenient truths of our past”.

Risks to fiscal federalism

Y V Reddy | The writer is former governor, Reserve Bank of India
Business Standard

Y V Reddy writes that the government has asked the President to mandate the 15th Finance Commission “to suggest ways for allocation of non-lapsable funds for defence and internal security”. He mentions that according to the terms of reference (ToR) of the commission, it has been proposed “to ensure an assured allocation of resources towards defence and internal security imperatives”.

He writes that the additional ToR raises certain questions. First, “how does it fit into the overall scheme of fiscal federalism, Budget and financial management, as per our Constitution?”

Second, he says that defence allocation is the responsibility of the Union government. He asks if it is appropriate for Finance Commission to suggest allocation for such an important sector “with implications both for the spirit of Parliamentary control over expenditure allocations and the changing demands of security considerations”.

He also writes that the Finance Commission is not obliged to give suggestions on each and every ToR.

The problem of low investment in MSMEs and what we can do

Indira Rajaraman | The writer is an economist
Mint

Indira Rajaraman discusses the factors which ail the MSME enterprises in India. She writes that the Economic Survey this year focuses more on the structural problems which impede growth in pre-existing MSMEs and less on the immediate problem which is the lack of fresh investments. She says that while the survey rightly points out the “growth-stifling impact of the size threshold above which stringent restrictions on employee downsizing kick in”, any attempts to change labour laws are difficult in India.

She writes that in the present situation, both poor credit demand and supply side problems due to NBFCs probably explain the low rate of greenfield investments in MSMEs. One possible reason for poor credit demand, she speculates, could be the “GST council’s announcement at its June meeting that the submission forms will change over October-December 2019”. These new forms are more burdensome, she writes.

On the credit supply front, she notes that banks have to now step in because of NBFC crisis which could create processing delays.

Make tax less lax – Dial Down All Those Slabs

Hardayal Singh | The writer was chief commissioner of income-tax
The Economic Times

Hardayal Singh criticises the changes made in the rate structure of income tax in this year’s budget. He says that while the basic tax rate structure remains unchanged, the surcharges on high incomes have been increased. This only makes the process “convoluted”, he adds. He also writes that “the revenue they [surcharges] will generate will be much less than 1 per cent of the target of Rs 13.35 lakh crore fixed for the current financial year”. He adds that the multiplicity of rates in the tax structure is “a throwback to the days of the licence-permit raj”.

The latest surcharges will affect Foreign Portfolio Investors and they “would rethink about continuing their operations in India”. He concludes by saying that had these taxes not been levied, the money would have been saved instead of going to the government. He asks, if “such money is more productive as private investment or public expenditure” and says the answer is obvious.

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