The taxpayers’ and common man’s views should prevail over that of political parties. Well said, by the Supreme Court while dealing with a petition seeking an end to the culture of public money being used for freebies to lure voters. But who will bell the cat, is the big question? On Wednesday last, the court sought proposals from petitioners/respondents on what could be best—formation of a committee, which can go into the issue “dispassionately” and make recommendations. The Centre surprisingly is in favour of curbing the practice as “populist announcements… distort the informed decision-making of the voter. They don’t know what’s going to fall on them. This is the way we are heading towards economic disaster”. The mood of the States is uncertain as political leadership would differ. Plus, the big question is how can the freebies be checked? The bench shot down few suggestions: One, a model manifesto by ECI for “It won’t be effective,as there were such proposals in the past for model manifestoes against criminal antecedents of candidates etc…these are all empty formalities.” Two, a debate in Parliament. “Do you think it will debate this issue at all?…Which political party will agree?… No political party…will allow to take out these freebies. The reason is everybody wants these freebies. This is the reality….” Instead, the court sought some brainstorming: All stakeholders, beneficiaries and people opposing these freebies, plus government and bodies like Niti Aayog, Finance Commission, RBI and Opposition parties must be involved with the composition of committee and make recommendations. Tall order and a given status quo?
UAPA Dismal Convictions
It’s official. Figures provided by the Union Home Ministry to Rajya Sabha on the conviction rate in UAPA cases are indeed dismal to say the least. During 2018-20, only 149 were convicted of 4,690 persons, according to NCRB. On July 2020, just 212 of 24,134 people arrested under UAPA were convicted during 2016-20. Further, of those arrested 53% were in the age group of 18 to 30, 1,850 (39%) in 30-45 age group, and 329 aged 45-60. Both figures put together shockingly reveal that a majority– 97.5% of those arrested under the anti-terror law, which doesn’t allow bail, are behind bars for years together waiting for trial! Figures of 2016-20 reveal that 3,047 people were undertrial prisoners since 2016, 4,098 since 2017, 4,862 since 2018, 5,645 since 2019 and 6,482 since 2020. However, MoS, sought to dispel fears saying numbers of arrested had declined by 32% in 2020 with 1,321 arrests compared to 1,948 in 2019 and number of convictions rose by 135% from 34 in 2019 to 80 in 2020. However, the buck was passed on to States viz arrests and conviction rates. Predictably, Uttar Pradesh tops the list of number of arrests made in 2020, i.e. 361, followed by J&K (346), and Manipur (225). Having a rethink on the law, was conveniently ignored.
States which have gone into a demolition overdrive with bulldozers should heed to some sound advice. On Tuesday last, the Delhi High Court ruled: A person can’t be evicted from their residence with a bulldozer at their doorstep early in the morning or late in the evening and render them completely shelter-less without any notice. Hearing a plea by Shakarpur Slum Union regarding demolition of several jhuggi jhopris in Shakarpur area, the judge said the Delhi Development Authority must act in consultation with the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board and ‘a reasonable period has to be given to such persons and temporary location has to be provided to them before embarking on any demolition activities.’ Besides, ‘action of DDA in removing a person, whom it claims to be an encroacher, overnight from his residence, also cannot be accepted’. Importantly, the judge also noted it’s not uncommon to find a jhuggi dweller, with the bulldozer at the doorstep, desperately trying to save whatever precious little belongings and documents they have, which could perhaps testify to the fact that the jhuggi dweller resided at that place.The same yardstick must apply, but who cares? Uttar Pradesh’s model of bulldozer politics sadly is being adopted by many a BJP-ruled States!
Mend your ways or face the music, is the Centre’s warning to Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh. Peeved over Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel putting up his hands to implement the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Gramin, the Union Ministry of Rural Development has not only withdrawn the scheme from the State, but warned it shall be compelledto reconsider its support to other core rural schemes such as the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak YojanaandShyama Prasad Mukherji Rurban Mission! New Delhi justifies its stand saying it’s the ‘first time’ it has been forced to take such a step against any State as despite repeated ‘persuasion’ the Chief Minister has done precious little. However, the latter hopes the Centre will undo its decision given its reasoning of being unable to pay its share of the scheme due to the pandemic. A construction target of 7.8 lakh houses under the scheme during 2021-22 was targeted, but the State failed to release its share of Rs 562 crore, plus there was ‘unsatisfactory’ progress. Fingers will be crossed for if the Centre refuses to budge, the State shall lose out on over Rs 11,000 crore development. Perhaps, Baghel may have to mend his ways too for last month during a protest in front of the ED office in Raipur, he challenged the Centre saying if it has ‘courage’ it should install cameras and live telecast the questioning of Sonia Gandhi in a money laundering case. More than meets the eye?
Jharkhand Govt Shaky?
Is the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-led government, of which Congress is a part, going to lose out to the BJP, is a question doing the rounds in political circles. The signs are ominous, with three Congress MLAs arrested by West Bengal Police after close to Rs 50 lakh in cash was seized from a car in which they were travelling. The Congress is hurling accusations at Assam Chief Minister Sarma and New Delhi of attempting to destabilise the government. Recall the Shiv Sena rebels were hosted in his State, before they brought down the MVA government. It is said that on Wednesday last, West Bengal’s CID team was ‘restrained’ by Delhi Police from carrying out a search at a property of an accused ‘closely associated with one of the MLAs’ despite having a court warrant. Additionally, Guwahati police too prevented the team to carry out the probe. The Delhi police says it provided all aid to the team before it found certain ‘legal discrepancies’ in execution of search warrant, and Guwahati police too says it extended ‘full cooperation’ to its counterparts from neighbouring state. The Congress rubbishes the claims alleging BJP was offering Rs 10 crore each and a ministerial berth to the MLAs, whereas the latter says Congress was trying to hide its own corruption. Who’s right? Time will tell.
MP’s Pliant Dist Admin!
‘We were right’, the Congress can very well say in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh. It’s allegation that the district administration was working in cahoots with the Shivraj Singh Chauhan government through the course of the panchayat election, through June and July, has a leg to stand on. In an order on Wednesday last, the Madhya Pradesh High Court ticked off the District Collector of Panna for acting like a “political agent” of the BJP during the poll and recommended he be removed given he “has no regard for principle of natural justice”. For the Vice President post, a contestant had received the most votes and was even given the winner’s certificate, but the DC declared his election as ‘null and void,’ after his opponent, who had received one vote less, challenged it through an poll petition. The DC dismissed the former’s election and through a draw of lots, declared the latter a winner! A peeved bench contemplated recommending to the ECI, State EC, and other similar entities that ‘in future, sensitive matters such as elections petitions or conduct of polls aren’t referred to this DC’. The question is whether it will be considered by such entities, as institutions are said to be crumbling. District administration is only a tiny but critical part of the system toeing the line of the ruling party!