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Bills to Overhaul Colonial-Era Criminal Codes Tabled in Parliament; After Tomato Turmoil, Government Faces Onion Apocalypse
Khaps want VHP and Bajrangis banned from Haryana, Kashmir Gujjar-Bakarwals may trigger Manipur-like unrest, pension protests back, forest law violates right to life, Russian lander chases Chandrayaan
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Snapshot of the day
August 11, 2023
In the Lok Sabha, the Home Minister has introduced the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) Bill, the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS) Bill and the Bharatiya Sakshya (BS) Bill, 2023, to replace the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Criminal Procedure Act, 1898, and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. The need to update colonial era laws has been felt for decades. The names of the new legal codes are pointedly in Hindi. New features include capital punishment for mob lynchings and the rape of minors. Sedition (124(A) of the IPC) will be replaced by new offences like secession, armed rebellion, subversive activities, separatism and endangering the sovereignty or unity and integrity of India. In the Indian Express, Apurva Vishwanath says that actually, the ambit of sedition law has been widened under other heads.
The Joint Students’ Body comprising the Zomi Students’ Federation, Kuki Students’ Organisation and Hmar Students’ Association rallied yesterday in Churachandpur, Manipur, to observe 100 days of the ethnic strife and remember the resistance of village defence guards. Coincidentally, the Prime Minister broke his silence on Manipur in the Lok Sabha 100 days after violence broke out in the latter part of this speech to the Lol Sabha yesterday.
The BJP’s Meitei MLAs and Kuki MLAs have given separate memorandums to the PM, asking for diametrically opposite action about the Assam Rifles. Forty legislators, mostly Meitei, want them out, perceiving a bias, but 10 Kuki MLAs want them to stay for the security of tribals. Yesterday in the Lok Sabha, PM Modi commended Home Minister Amit Shah for explaining government action in Manipur, but it appears that the party can’t even keep its flock together, never mind the populace.
The atrocities committed against Kuki women in Manipur, which were captured on video, have brought together tribals across India. Adivasis have protested in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. “Violence against the Kukis in general and women, in particular, has shaken the consciousness of the tribal people beyond their narrow boundaries,” Adivasi sociologist Virginius Xaxa told Scroll.
“Narendra Modi has swatted away an attempt by the Opposition to hold him to account over the bloody three-month ethnic conflict in Manipur, easily surviving a vote of no confidence,” notes the Financial Times. In passing, it says that the Opposition was not hoping for victory but to force him to break his silence on the violence. The Opposition says that Modi made no mention of Manipur for 90 minutes, but used Parliament as an election podium.
The Guardian is less diplomatic: “Ethnic frictions have been sharpened deliberately by political forces that are against the acceptance of religious pluralism. The conflict provides a cover for those who want to eradicate every other religion.”
Today, AAP MP Raghav Chadha was suspended from the Rajya Sabha for “gross violation of rule, misconduct, defiant attitude and contemptuous conduct”. He is accused of forging the signatures of five Rajya Sabha MPs.
After the PM’s speech in the House, the Lok Sabha suspended Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, leader of the Congress in the House, for “repeated misconduct”. The PM had directed several barbs personally at him in the course of his speech, just for laughs. Chowdhury called it the “tyranny of the majority” and said: “Modi-ji is nirav on the Manipur issue. Nirav means to be silent. My intention was not to insult PM Modi.” But the PM’s courtiers had made a connection with fugitive diamond-wallah Nirav Modi. Rahul Gandhi’s comment, which got him suspended from the House, still rankles.
Nirva, the last African cheetah in the wild in Kuno National Park, is elusive. The search for the last survivor, for a health examination, has been on ever since the other free-ranging animal, Dhatri, was found dead on August 2.
RBI raised the inflation projection marginally to 5.4% due to a spike in the prices of fresh produce. RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das stressed that domestic activity is maintaining resilience, and retained the GDP growth projection for the current fiscal year at 6.5%.
Mahatma Gandhi’s great grandson will register a criminal defamation complaint against Shri Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan founder Sambhaji Bhide for denigrating his lineage. Bhide already faces a case in Amaravati, and another for speaking ill of Gautam Buddha, Jyotiba Phule and Periyar.
The suo motu case taken up by the Punjab and Haryana High Court concerning demolitions in Nuh and Gurugram has been transferred to the bench of Justices Arun Palli and Jagmohan Bansal ahead of the second hearing today, reports LiveLaw. On Monday, the matter was taken up by Justices GS Sandhawalia and Harpreet Kaur Jeevan, who asked why demolitions were being conducted without due process, whether the homes of a particular community were targeted, and if the State was doing “ethnic cleansing” on the pretext of maintaining law and order.
The Varanasi district court has barred the media from publishing “unofficial information” about the ongoing ‘survey’ of the Gyanvapi mosque premises by the Archaeological Survey of India, reports the New Indian Express. The Hindu plaintiffs and the ASI have also been barred from giving statements about the survey. The Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee had sought curbs in response to fake news about the survey.
The Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum said that Kuki-Zos felt let down because in the Lok sabha, Home Minister Amit Shah had linked the violence to the influx of Kuki refugees from Myanmar. “Three months of violence has led to the deaths of more than 130 Kuki-Zo tribals, displacement of 41,425 tribal civilians and complete physical and emotional separation of Meiteis and tribals. And the best explanation that the Home Minister can come up with is the entry of refugees from Myanmar,” the ITLF said. It pointed out that Mizoram, which welcomed 40,000 refugees, is at peace. The body blames the violence on Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh.
The ethnic violence in Manipur was triggered by the extension of Scheduled Tribe status to the majority Meitis. The same story is playing out in Kashmir, where Muslim tribal Gujjar-Bakarwal graziers are protesting against the Constitution (Jammu and Kashmir) Scheduled Tribes Order (Amendment) Bill, 2023. It will provide ST status to groups including the Gadda Brahmins and the Pahari Ethnic Group of over 50 communities including upper-caste Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. If the Gujjar-Bakarwals feel cheated, there could be trouble.
While some panchayats in Haryana have called for the expulsion of Muslims, some khaps want peace between communities. The apex Sarvkhap Panchayat wants the activities of the Bajrang Dal and the VHP banned in Haryana, reports the New Indian Express.
Rs 79 crore has been transferred to ineligible beneficiaries under the Ministry of Rural Development’s National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) between 2017 and 2021, the CAG has revealed. Of this, Rs 2 crore was paid to the dead. Simultaneously, eligible beneficiaries were excluded by State negligence in maintaining lists, says Down to Earth.
The space race is on again. The Russian moon lander Luna-25 has lifted off from Vostochny Cosmodrome in a mission to the lunar south pole that may land on August 23. India’s Chandrayaan-3 is expected to land on August 23-24 in the same region, which is poorly explored. The presence of water ice is attracting missions. This is Russia’s first moon mission since 1976, when it was part of the USSR. Like Modi in India, Putin is using space missions to signal Russia’s status.
Pension protests back and threaten to escalate
Thousands of Union government and central PSU employees, including from defence establishments, rallied at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan, brought together by the Joint Forum for Restoration of Old Pension Scheme (JFROPS). The coalition of about 60 unions demanded the revival of the Old Pension Scheme (OPS). Employees recruited after 2003 under the existing National Pension Scheme (NPS) face discrimination and uncertainty in retirement. The memorandum argued that OPS provided a fixed pension while NPS is market-linked, potentially violating Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution.
Many say that the restoration of OPS will determine their future political support. Unless the Old Pension Scheme is reinstated before the 2024 elections, demonstrators signalled their intent to escalate the protest.
To support Braverman’s Rwanda plan, UK may quit human rights convention
Up to a third of UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s cabinet may call for the UK to quit the European Convention on Human Rights if deportation flights to Rwanda continue to be blocked by the courts, The Telegraph reports. The courts have apprehended possible human rights violations among deported asylum seekers. The European Convention on Human Rights is an international treaty and Britain’s commitment to it is unaffected by Brexit.
Since last June, deportation flights to Rwanda have been suspended following an injunction issued by the European Court of Human Rights. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has resisted calls to exit the ECHR, despite the government’s Illegal Migration Act granting ministers the authority to disregard future court injunctions, also known as Rule 39 orders.
Forest law violates right to life
Amendments to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 contravene Constitutional provisions, experts say. The Forest (Conservation and Augmentation) Act was passed by the Rajya Sabha on August 4. Critics argue that the amendments, neglecting non-regression principles and skirting the National Forest Policy, 1988, violate the original conservation mandate. The problem is blamed on a lack of meaningful debate in Parliament and the government’s impatience with dissenting opinions.
Environmental lawyer Ritwick Dutta, founder of the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment, told Down to Earth that the amendments violate Article 21, which guarantees the right to life. Focusing on national security and limiting the definition of protected forests, the law disregards essential principles established in prior judgments.
EVs booming but still under 1% of vehicles
Electric vehicle registrations in India have grown over 50-fold in the last decade, according to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. Despite this, EVs still constitute less than 1% of registered vehicles. Non-EV registrations have grown 250% in the same period. As of December 31, 2013, nearly 14.27 crore non-EVs and 53,387 EVs were registered across states and Union territories, excluding Telangana and Lakshadweep, Union transport and highways minister Nitin Gadkari told the Rajya Sabha.
The Long Cable
After tomato turmoil, does the government face an onion apocalypse?
Indra Shekhar Singh
With the farmers’ movement still in the backdrop, inflation in the price of vegetables is brewing trouble for the Modi government. A kilo of tomatoes has been worth more than two litres of petrol, and now, onion prices have reportedly doubled. Food inflation is hitting the pockets of the working classes hard.
Other vegetables have been riding the tomato wave, and the spurt in onion prices is propelling an inflation tsunami. The onion is a highly political vegetable, capable of making and breaking governments. The tomato is almost as potent.
The Pimpalgaon Agricultural Produce Market Committee in Maharashtra reported that onion prices jumped from Rs 1,200 per quintal on August 5 to Rs 2,500 on August 8. Prices have been sharply rising in other mandis across the country. Bhojpur district’s Arrah market reported Rs 2,600 per quintal and even in Gujarat’s Vadodara Padra market, prices touched Rs 2,500.
To understand this surge, we spoke with Shankar Darekar, a farmer from Lasalgaon Mandi, Maharashtra, a region that is a major producer of onions. “Climate change affected the onion quality,” he said. “Erratic rainfall has also affected other states and is responsible for late crops.”
What about market supply? “This year, our crop is short, while red onion is still a month away. The Bangalore crop is 15 days late. April and March rains affected the crop in the field and in storage. There was excessive humidity and the shelf life of onions in godowns went down. Much of the crop was lost to fungal disease, which flourished due to the humidity,” said Darekar.
His narrative brings us back to the failure of TOP, the tomato, onion and potato programme. This is the second time that State mechanisms have failed to control prices. NAFED and other agencies need to be alert to the imminent crisis and release buffer stocks if necessary, before onions reduce consumers to tears.
Vijay Jawandhia, Maharashtra farmer and organiser, offered an alternative view: “Prices are rising due to exports, which are fetching $300-350 dollars per tonne. Rs 24-25 per kg are the export prices. Malaysia, Bangladesh and some Middle Eastern countries are the major destinations. Besides, some areas which had sowed onions suffered losses due to untimely rains, reducing the supply further. Farmers were forced to re-sow the onion crop, resulting in late harvests. Also, most of these prices are based on projections.”
“When the farmer gets Rs 2-3, no one complains, but when farmers start getting more, the government starts initiates measures to cut prices. Why can’t the government buy the harvest when the prices were at Rs 13-15 per kg and use it as buffer stock? That way, the farmers, the government and consumers would all be protected,” he added.
Food economy in trouble?
The wheat export ban, spiralling prices of tomatoes, vegetables and now onions ― India is displaying a series of symptoms of a chaotic food economy. Erratic weather has provided artillery support, pushing up prices of fresh produce, and State policy and price stabilisation measures have completely failed yet again.
India is headed for the moon but fails to address basic issues in the food economy, which can be easily removed by efficient political decision-making, starting with planning. Individual farmers can’t be expected to track the weather and plan, but the government spends millions on space technology for weather prediction. They have a fair idea of what is to come, but there were no policy decisions for public procurement or weather alerts and storage advisories. Even if advisories were put out, they weren’t effective. Much of the onion crop was diseased, or was wasted due to low prices at the time of harvests.
Policy planning on exports is also missing. Knee-jerk banning and unbanning of exports hurts both small and big traders, and eventually farmers and the larger food economy. India needs to have a formula to gauge crops and the export limits for them.
As in the case of wheat and other agri commodities over the last couple of years, prices have been volatile due to excessive exports, especially in times of scarcity. The government needs to wake up to the fragility of the food economy, because many see the current onion price inflation as strike three against its food policies.
(Indra Shekhar Singh tweets at @Indrassingh)
Remember the time when the government was telling us that Aadhaar is voluntary, but you couldn’t get anything done without it, so it was mandatory in practice? The same phenomenon is confusing passengers in Indian airports, who are being told that facial recognition using the DigiYatra app is mandatory, though its use is advertised as voluntary. There are very few boarding gates without DigiYatra. Privacy experts are wary about facial recognition, and many lay people are uncomfortable about it.
Prime Number: 1,208 buildings
It’s not just about elections anymore. Muslims are the targets of the State and the hate that fuels nationalism. The Haryana government has demolished a staggering 1,208 buildings and structures, predominantly owned by Muslims, across 11 towns and hamlets in Nuh district, after communal violence in the region left six dead and 88 injured. The swift five-day operation was conducted without prior notice across cities and villages in Nuh, Nalhar, Punhana and Tauru. It is one of the largest demolition actions in India.
A new generation of Tamil filmmakers is confronting caste-glorification films of the past, but controversy is often quick to follow because Tamil cinema’s history with caste is more complex than is generally recognised. Himal Southasia discusses the cinema of caste in the state ― Thevar Magan, Mannathi Mannan, the two Karnans, Kovilpatti Veeralakshmi and more.
Opeds you don’t want to miss
Over the last decades, the closest parallel to Manipur’s social disintegration is the breakup of Yugoslavia, which was more matrimonially integrated than any federation, writes former MP Manvendra Singh.
Abandoning the rule of law for ‘bulldozer justice’ is the first step towards an authoritarian society where a person’s safety, life and liberty will be at the whims and fancies of state officials, writes Gautam Bhatia of demolition as state-sanctioned collective punishment.
The recent riots in Nuh show a clear pattern of targeting Muslim minorities, writes Shaikh Mujibur Rehman.
Mounting unrest fuelled by fake news, a standoff between the ruling party and Opposition, and mounting diplomatic pressure on Sheikh Hasina to hold free and fair elections ― Bangladesh is at an inflection point, says Avinash Paliwal.
The Data Protection Bill attacks our rights, say Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey. Not only does it sound the death knell for the RTI Act, but it also makes anyone and everyone who deals with someone else’s information liable for prosecution.
Imran Khan had it coming, says Ajay Darshan Behera. He underestimated the military’s powers, made no attempt to strike a consensus with civilian political forces.
After the Taliban banned secondary and higher education for women, leaving 1.1 million without access to formal schooling, an underground schooling movement was born. Secret schools run by women offer teaching online and in classrooms for girls who will not give up their education. Afghan broadcast journalist Sana Safi takes the BBC inside two such secret schools, and into the lives of students seeking a brighter future. Listen here.
Speaking at the Kerala Sahitya Academy Hall Thrissur, author Arundhati Roy said, “Today we are in a situation where women are justifying rape … we have gone psychotic. Something is wrong.”
Over and out
Badami, a cradle of temple architecture in southern India frequented by religious sojourners for centuries, has also been a foreign climbers’ haunt since the 1990s. A second wave of rock climbing activity is on now — this time, it’s led by local climbers.
Amidst the tomato inflation rampage, Homegrown presents a history of ketchup in India, including the period in the Seventies when Kissan responded to tomato price hikes by basing their sauce on pumpkins. Ingredients of the original kê-tsiap from China, which became ketchup in the US, included mushrooms, walnuts, vegetables and fermented fish.
That’s it for today. We’ll be back with you on Monday, on a device near you. If The India Cable was forwarded to you by a friend (perhaps a common friend!) book your own copy by SUBSCRIBING HERE.