Sole Khadi Flag Unit on Strike Ahead of I-Day as Polyester Replaces Homespun; PMLA Ruling a Reminder That Due Process Urgently Needed
No women judges in 5 High Courts, Karnataka BJP IT cell workers log out en masse, Congress to fight Irani in Delhi HC on Goa bar matter, polygyny in decline and suspended MPs have great sleepover
A newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas | Contributors: MK Venu, Seema Chishti, Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia, Sushant Singh and Tanweer Alam | Editor: Pratik Kanjilal
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Snapshot of the day
July 29, 2022
The Allahabad High Court yesterday came down heavily on Namami Gange, a Modi flagship scheme once tom-tommed as a convergence of religious, cultural and sanitary goals. The court said a sewage treatment plant is no good and UP’s pollution control authorities dysfunctional. It said that the project was meant to distract: “aankhon mein dhool jhhonkne waali hai” (sleight of hand). [In Hindi]
The Karnataka Khadi Gramodyoga Samyukta Sangha (KKGSS) at Bengeri in Hubballi, the only unit manufacturing the national flag recognised by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), is on strike as India nears its 75th Independence Day. An indefinite protest began in Hubballi on Wednesday against the amendment to the flag code by the Modi government which allows the use of polyester cloth along with khadi. Since polyester is cheaper than khadi, KKGSS fears a major loss in income as orders dwindle. Following the promotion of ‘Har Ghar Tiranga’ (tricolour in every home), the unit had expected a surge in orders. Instead, demand has been halved.
In the face of concerted heckling yesterday, Congress President Sonia Gandhi sought out senior MP Rama Devi to clear the air about Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury’s supposed ‘misunderstanding’ of Hindi idiom, a thin alibi for his patriarchal mindset. BJP leaders cried sexism, though they had been conspicuous by their silence when Narendra Modi once alluded to Gandhi as a “Jersey cow” and Shashi Tharoor’s wife as a ‘50 crore ki girlfriend’. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is back in the House and hollering, but inflation, GST and unemployment aren’t being discussed. The government had held off the discussion while she was recovering from Covid, but now she is back.
The BJP’s aggressive social media strategies are at the cutting edge, but it’s wounded in Karnataka, where workers manning the IT Cell have quit en masse. As many as 166 social media personnel working out of Bijapur and Bagalkote districts have resigned over the murder of Praveen Nettaru, a worker of the party’s Yuva Morcha, which has been read as a sign that the BJP can’t protect its own.
More trouble in Karnataka: a young man was stabbed to death outside a textile shop at Surathkal on the outskirts of Mangaluru by unidentified assailants last evening. The incident occurred while Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai was on a visit to the home of Praveen Nettar. The deceased has been identified as Mohammed Fazil, a resident of Mangalpete near Surathkal.
Protests outside Parliament by suspended MPs continue at a new site. The Opposition has chosen the entrance to Parliament as its new protest spot as it wants to remind PM Modi of the day he entered the House for the first time in 2014, and touched his forehead to the stairs. The DMK provided the protesting MPs with a lunch of idlis and the TMC served them fish fry. The TRS will handle dinner. MPs brought their own bedlinen and mattresses and one got Odomos for all at night. The mood is upbeat.
The number of beneficiaries under most schemes launched by the Ministry of Minority Affairs has declined since 2019-20, Union minister Smriti Irani said in a written reply in the Lok Sabha, though allocations for some schemes increased between 2019-20 and 2021-22.
A vaccinator allegedly used the same syringe to administer Covid-19 vaccines to 39 children at a private school in Sagar, Madhya Pradesh. It happened at the Jain Higher Secondary School during a mega vaccination drive. Parents caught out the vaccinator and an FIR was registered.
In June, seven of the 16 indicators in Mint’s macro tracker were in the green and nine in the red. The tracker provides a comprehensive monthly report on the state of the Indian economy. This was a deterioration since May, when eight indicators had been in green. Perhaps it signals that the base effect is weakening.
Pakistan has custody of 682 prisoners who are Indian or are believed to be Indian. Interestingly, only 17 have been in custody from before this regime took charge. The majority have been rendered prisoner over the past 10 years.
The Indian Navy yesterday took delivery of two MH-60R multi-role helicopters at Kochi as part of a 24-chopper deal signed with the US to modernise India’s ageing naval helicopter fleet. They were flown to India from the US in a C-17 heavy-lift aircraft. The government-to-government contract for the helicopters was worth around Rs 14,000 crore, and three of these choppers were earlier delivered to the navy in the US. An Indian Air Force Mig21 Bison fighter crashed in Rajasthan’s Barmer district yesterday evening. Both pilots died.
Some 150 incidents of system and component malfunctions have occurred in aircraft operated by airlines in India in just three months, between April and June, the civil aviation ministry told Parliament yesterday.
India said yesterday it was aware of reports about a Chinese vessel’s planned visit to Sri Lanka's Hambantota port, built with money from Beijing. Consulting firm Belt & Road Initiative Sri Lanka recently said on its website that the Chinese scientific research vessel Yuan Wang 5 would be in Hambantota port for a week from August 11.
The twelve-day Kanwar Yatra which concluded on Tuesday and attracted over 3.8 crore kanwariyas from across the country, also witnessed the deaths of 35 of them due to road accidents, health issues and drowning incidents, police said. Jal Police ― the special water wing of the Uttarakhand Police ― carried out rescue operations in the Ganga, accompanied by the Indian Army’s Bengal Engineer Group squad and managed to save 266 kanwariyas from drowning at various ghats both near the Ganga and the Ganga Canal.
A three-and-a-half foot idol of Chola queen Sembiyan Mahadevi, apparently stolen from a temple in Nagapattinam in 1929, has been traced to the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington DC, by the Idol Wing police, which has initiated steps to retrieve it.
How did Kerala Police nab the criminals on India’s biggest bank heist in 2007? An excerpt from India’s Money Heist: The Chelembra Bank Robbery, by Anirban Bhattacharya, tells the story.
And fact-checker and journalist Mohammed Zubair is back on Twitter.
Irani restaurant slugfest continues
Allegations that Union minister Smriti Irani’s daughter was illegally running the Silly Souls Cafe and Bar in Assagao, Goa – a charge Irani denies – have stirred up a political slugfest. The BJP and the Congress trading potshots but Irani has not clarified why she said she was proud of her daughter when a flattering review of the restaurant was posted on Instagram if she had nothing to do with it.
In an unusual move, the a single judge bench of the Delhi High Court on Friday accepted Irani’s request that Congress leaders be ordered to delete the tweets they had posted about the issue. “Grave injury has been caused to the reputation of the plaintiff in view of the tweets and retweets carried out due to the press conference of the defendants,” the court said, giving Jairam Ramesh and the others 24 hours to comply. “We will challenge and disprove the spin being put out by Ms. Irani,” Ramesh tweeted soon after.
Mamata abandons tainted minister.
TMC head and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has removed arrested minister Partha Chatterjee from her Cabinet. He was once among her closest allies but the discovery of stashes of gold and cash, the proceeds of a recruitment scam, left the party with nowhere to hide. TMC general secretary and spokesperson Kunal Ghosh called for Partha Chatterjee’s expulsion from the party and his ministry. He has been removed from all party posts.
Meanwhile, Chatterjee’s associate Arpita Mukherjee is singing like a canary. Yesterday, she is said to have confessed to the Enforcement Directorate (ED) that she was forced by the minister to allow her houses to be used to store the illegal gains. According to ED sources, Mukherjee also admitted that the cash recovered from her residence was parked there by Chatterjee with the help of a close associate whom she doesn’t know.
Polygyny in decline
National Family Health Survey (NFHS) data has revealed that polygyny – having more than one wife – is prevalent among multiple communities, but is declining across the country. The latest NFHS data from 2019-20 revealed that polygyny is prevalent among 1.3% of Hindus, 1.9% of Muslims and 1.6% of other religious groups. The findings were released after an analysis of NFHS data from the last 15 years by the International Institute of Population Studies, Mumbai. “Overall, polygynous marriage was found to be higher among poor, uneducated, rural and older women. It indicated that socio-economic factors also played a role in this form of marriage, in addition to region and religion,” the authors noted.
Officially, the polygyny statistic refers to the “percentage of married women in the 15-49 age group who indicate that their partner has more than one wife.” Polygynous marriages decreased from 1.9% to 1.4% between 2005-06 and 2019-20. Northeastern states show a higher prevalence of the practice: it is 6.1% in Meghalaya and 2% in Tripura. Elsewhere, polygyny is more prevalent in Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha.
Among social groups, the practice is most prevalent among Scheduled Tribes, although it’s in decline. Among them, polygyny was at 3.1% in 2005-06 and fell to 1.5% in 2019-20. In fact, the “others” category dominated among religious groups, at 2.5%, followed by Christians (2.1%), Muslims (1.9%) and Hindus (1.3%). The higher percentage among Christians can be attributed to the presence of polygyny in Northeastern states.
Amateur investors burned
During a pandemic-era surge in the stock market, millions poured their savings into equities on advice from dodgy financial advisers and social media ‘gurus’. But the recent slide in markets has laid bare the underbelly of India’s “lax capital market regulations”, reports Bloomberg. Many amateur retail investors, especially the young, “sought to make a quick buck by consulting informal groups on platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram.” Recourse for investments gone wrong is very limited in India.
The Long Cable
PMLA ruling signals that focus on due process is urgent priority
Due process is a concept much needed in India. While recognised as a constitutional standard, the conversation around executive action, especially police action, is mostly around a rights-based framework. To put it simply, the conversation focuses on substantive rights such as liberty, privacy and freedom and broad declarations regarding these rights, rather than an engagement with the minutiae of the criminal justice process. The recent judgement of the Supreme Court, mainly on the constitutionality of the post-2015 amendments to the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, is notable in this respect. The petitioners, about 250 of them, did not challenge the entirety of the statute, but the exceptions that this Act carved out from normal criminal processes under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
The PMLA, under which the Enforcement Directorate investigates and prosecutes the offence of money laundering, has some major departures from normal criminal procedure. ED officers are empowered to record admissible statements, have additional powers of search and seizure, subject to ratification by the Adjudicating Authority under the Act, and there are additional restrictions on grant of bail. All these and certain other aspects of the Act were challenged to circumscribe the powers of the Enforcement Directorate and its officers.
The Supreme Court has upheld all these aspects, stating that the PMLA is a code dealing with money laundering and ED officers investigating under this Act are not police officers, and as such, not bound by the restrictions applicable to the police under the Code of Criminal Procedure. Much has been made of the fact that the ED is staffed by senior officers and that such officers are assumed to be fairer in their conduct than the regular police. To be fair, the PMLA also incorporates penalties against erring officers for vexatious search. Such safeguards have been deemed by the Supreme Court to be sufficient to combat any misuse.
The effect of the judgment may be somewhat overstated, because the ED will likely continue to function in the same manner as it did before it was passed. While affirming its powers, the court has however reiterated the procedural limitations of this Act, including the necessity of a predicate offence before a prosecution for money laundering can be launched. A predicate offence is one mentioned in the schedule to the PMLA, which is the crime which gives rise to the ‘proceeds of crime’, which are then laundered. The clear reinforcement by the Supreme Court of the necessity of a predicate offence is going to help in circumscribing the misuse of the ED’s power.
The court has confirmed that even holding such proceeds of crime is a crime under this Act, and there does not need to be an active conversion of black money into white, so to speak, for an act to be considered money laundering under Indian law. Further observations regarding the necessity of establishing foundational facts and evidence before the reversal of burden of proof under the PMLA comes into effect against the accused are welcome, if not novel, observations.
The constitutionality of the provisions of the Act which were under challenge were always likely to be upheld, given the current environment. Besides, misuse of penal powers is unfortunately by itself not a ground for declaring a law as unconstitutional. The ED’s dismal rate of conviction is public knowledge. The amendments to the PMLA after 2015 are problematic in the wide powers that they give to the ED, which is essentially an untrained police force. A law may be bad, but not unconstitutional. The solution to this is not necessarily legal but political, in that Parliament will have to amend the law to make it more rational and commensurate with its stated objectives. To do so, the political Opposition will have to regain power and numbers in Parliament.
The current travails being faced by the Opposition at the hands of the ED should also serve to remind the political class of the need to ensure fair laws and procedures for all. In a system like ours, where the average person approaching the average police station does so without any great hope for justice, it is due process which is the most urgent need to protect the life and liberty of the poorest and most helpless. The ED, in a perverse democratisation, has brought this fear to the high and mighty. Let the reforms, when they happen, realise the need for due regulation of the ED and all other agencies performing investigative and penal functions. If that happens, this phase of misuse of agencies like the ED, could yet turn out to be an instructive period for the development of the compact between the state and the people of the republic.
(Sarim Naved is a lawyer based in Delhi)
In an outburst, Justice DY Chandrachud of the Supreme Court yesterday asked the media to “give us [judges] a break.” He was miffed at reporting which seemed to cast aspersions on the intentions of the top court, when a petition concerning violence against Christians was postponed. He said he was unwell and could not hear several cases ― and should presumably be cut some slack. But the list of important petitions that have gone unheard for years is long ― habeas corpus, CAA, Kashmir, electoral bonds… With due respect, a break is not what the doctor ordered.
Prime Number: 96
The Law Ministry admitted yesterday that there are only 96 women judges in various High Courts, of the sanctioned strength of 1,108 judges. There are no women judges in Patna, Uttarakhand and three other High Courts.
“A tale of two valleys” ― Silicon Valley and Bengaluru. Bengaluru’s “doddering infrastructure” is what makes news these days. Meanwhile, there’s the impact of Silicon Valley on the culture of San Francisco, a city of tech billionaires and exploding homelessness.
Op-Eds you don’t want to miss
The lionising of VD Savarkar and the diminution of Mahatma Gandhi under the current regime endanger the essence of India’s future, writes Seema Chishti (a contributor to The India Cable).
Pratap Bhanu Mehta says, in the context of the PMLA ruling, that “rather than being the guardian of rights, the Supreme Court is now a significant threat to them.”
Gautam Bhatia evaluates the tenure of Justice AM Khanwilkar, who just retired from what has now become an Executive Court.
Political intent alone cannot transform the armed forces. Empirical experience dictates direct political intervention, writes Lt Gen HS Panag (retd).
Ashok Pal Singh writes on how India’s scam-ridden telecom minister Sukh Ram tried to ‘reform’ the sector. The late minister was a risk-taker, but he had his flaws and perhaps bit off more than he could chew.
The much-anticipated J&K Assembly election could well be put off until 2024, since the BJP is still on shaky ground in Kashmir. It may continue to buy time, banking on the juju of renewed militancy, writes Badri Raina.
Unlike in Western cities, caste, religion and class shape the population across space in Delhi. An excerpt from Neelanjan Sircar’s chapter on spatial inequalities in Colossus: The Anatomy of Delhi.
Devdasis find feminist solidarity in history, memories and secrets in Vaasanthi’s novel Breaking Free, translated from the Tamil by N Kalyan Raman. Read an excerpt.
Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the largest and arguably “the most astonishing religious structure on Earth”, built for Suryavarman II in the 12th century in modern-day Cambodia ― Angkor Wat.
Watch a seminar on the emergence of the modern Indian classic: ‘The Modern Indian Writer in Translation’: the context and issues, produced by the India International Centre and Sahitya Akademi.
Over and Out
Musician Yashraj Mukhate remixes a complainant’s comment into this song. The complainant was miffed at Ranvir Singh for revealing parts of his body.
Norah Jones, Ravi Shankar’s daughter, along with Peter Gabriel and James Taylor appears in an album which pays tribute to Leonard Cohen.
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.