Two deaths, no FIR: How UP’s criminal justice system failed Pappi Devi and her baby

Pappi Devi died soon after childbirth. Her in-laws claimed her baby was stillborn. Her father suspected foul play, but his complaints to the police fell on deaf ears.

Two deaths, no FIR: How UP’s criminal justice system failed Pappi Devi and her baby

We didn’t go looking for Pappi Devi’s story. In fact, that’s part of the problem. Nobody went looking for Pappi Devi, or her baby, or her story.

We first heard of her on September 23, during a conversation with Rajeev Pandey, a criminal lawyer who has been practising at the Lakhimpur Kheri civil court for 19 years. We were meeting Pandey to discuss how three girls had been raped and murdered in Lakhimpur Kheri within a span of 21 days, between August 14 and September 3.

“What about women’s safety?” we asked.

He almost laughed.

“A woman’s life is in danger before she is born,” Pandey said. “A year ago, Pappi Devi was pregnant. Her husband and his family wanted a boy but a girl was born. Between when the mother and child were discharged and the family reached their home, they had disposed of the girl child. The next morning, the mother died.”

Two suspicious deaths and yet it took four months for the police to even file an FIR, Pandey said. “That’s women’s safety for you.”

That was how we learned about Pappi Devi.

Her father said Pappi Devi’s husband and in-laws wanted her to have a son. But she gave birth to a girl. She died soon after, as did her baby. Her in-laws claimed the baby had been stillborn, a claim refuted by a doctor and a few other people present at the time of her birth.

Pappi Devi’s father, Sri Krishnan, 50, suspected foul play and repeatedly went to the police to file a complaint. It took the police over four months to file an FIR, on September 1 this year, and launch an investigation, which seems to have gone nowhere.

This, then, is the story of a father’s struggle to find out how he lost his daughter and granddaughter, and an apathetic state’s relentlessness in thwarting him.

The tragic story couldn’t have had a happier beginning, with Pappi Devi marrying Bablu on May 15 last year at her father’s home at Tamolipur village in Lakhimpur Kheri, Uttar Pradesh. She left to live with her in-laws in Lalapurwa, about half-an-hour’s drive away from where Krishnan has lived his whole life, and raised three daughters and a son with his wife Kushma Devi.

It wasn’t long before trouble started, Krishnan said. “They demanded a lot of dowry from us. They wanted a cooler, a fridge, a motorcycle,” he explained. “I don’t make enough money for all that. I borrowed money and gave them whatever I could but that was never enough for them.”

Krishnan works at a sugar mill near his village, earning Rs 4,000 per month. He spent Rs 3 lakh on Pappi Devi’s wedding and dowry. Much of the money was borrowed and he’s still repaying it.

In October, five months after the wedding, Pappi Devi’s in-laws “beat her”, Krishnan alleged, and sent her to his place. “In December, I negotiated with them to take her back,” Krishnan said. “She was pregnant by then.”

It’s a decision Krishnan and his family will regret forever. Today, the father wishes his daughter had been more vocal about her troubles.

“She had said she was never given food on time and that they weren’t treating her properly. But then she would also tell me to let it go and that it was okay,” he said. “So, I also thought these were normal fights.”

His wife, Kushma Devi, said whenever Pappi Devi telephoned them, her in-laws would stay close as she spoke. “She would try to tell us something and they would beat her,” she alleged.

Then, at around 10 am on April 22 this year, a month after the Indian government had imposed a national lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus, Krishnan received a call from his daughter’s neighbour in Lalapurwa.

Pappi Devi was dead, the neighbour said.

Krishnan and Kushma Devi recalled conversations with Pappi Devi’s in-laws during her pregnancy. They claimed her husband Bablu and his parents demanded she give birth to a male child, as if she had a say in the matter, and allegedly threatened to harm her if she didn’t.

Sri Krishnan shows a picture of his daughter.

FIR not filed

Soon as he got the call from his daughter’s neighbour, Krishnan rushed to Lalapurwa. Pappi Devi’s body lay in the courtyard of her in-laws’ house. Nobody from the family was home. A neighbour told him Pappi Devi had given birth to a baby girl early that morning.

That’s how Krishnan found out he had become a grandfather. He didn’t know where his grandchild was or how his daughter had died. He enquired from Pappi Devi’s neighbours who said she had given birth to a stillborn girl that had been “buried immediately”.

“Everybody said my daughter had given birth to a stillborn baby girl, whose last rites had been performed the previous night,” he recalled. “And Pappi Devi had died soon after from health complications, they said.”

As Krishnan stood in the courtyard, an ambulance arrived, accompanied by the police, to take Pappi Devi’s body to the district hospital. Krishnan wasn’t sure who had called the ambulance. “Perhaps someone from Pappi Devi’s husband’s side,” he said, adding that the husband and his parents were nowhere to be seen.

As far as Krishnan remembered, it was the ambulance staff and the police that took Pappi Devi’s body away. “Nobody was listening to me and I was not allowed to enter the ambulance,” he claimed.

Two hours later, at around noon, a desperate Krishnan telephoned his three brothers. They rushed to the Dhaurahra police station, which has jurisdiction over Lalapurwa as well as Tamolipur.

“I didn’t believe my daughter had died a natural death,” Krishnan said. “But the police officer refused to file an FIR. He told me, ‘If you make a fuss about it we will send you to jail.’” Instead, he alleged, he was made to “sign a few papers” he didn’t understand.

The police station’s general diary, which Newslaundry accessed, documents Krishnan’s visit on April 22. It records a complaint signed by him at 12.44 pm stating that he was told Pappi Devi had given birth to a “dead female child” that morning, and later died under “doubtful circumstances”. He asked for a postmortem.

The police, however, added a note to Krishnan’s complaint describing Pappi Devi’s as an “accidental death”. And they didn’t file an FIR.

Five months later, Krishnan struggled to precisely recount the events of that day. His daughter’s postmortem took place at 3.53 pm. That evening, he said, “someone” told him Pappi Devi’s body had been returned to her in-laws’ and she was being cremated immediately.

Save for a nephew who managed to reach the cremation ground quickly, Krishnan and his family were unable to attend his daughter’s last rites.

It would take Krishnan four months, 15 letters to the district police chief, multiple trips to the police station, and a visit to the director general of the Lucknow Zone police to finally have an FIR filed in his daughter’s death, and find out more about his dead grandchild.

Pappi Devi’s postmortem

Pappi Devi’s postmortem was conducted at the Lakhimpur Kheri district hospital. The postmortem report, seen by Newslaundry, lists “shock and haemorrhage” as the cause of death and notes that she had suffered from postpartum haemorrhage, or excessive bleeding following childbirth.

Between July 1 and July 30, Krishnan wrote seven letters to Poonam, then Lakhimpur Kheri’s superintendent of police. In his letters, he asked for an FIR to be filed and for the baby’s body to be located. Poonam was transferred out on July 26, and replaced by Satyendra Jain.

Having received no response from the district police, Krishnan on July 20 wrote to the additional director general of police, Lucknow Zone, Satya Narain Sabat, appealing for help. Krishnan said he had sought to file an FIR regarding his daughter’s death but the station house officer, Hari Om Srivastav, had turned him away. “Sir, I request that my FIR be logged in Dhaurahra police station, the corpse of the newborn girl be located and her safety be ensured,” he wrote in his letter to Sabat.

‘Baby was healthy’

In August, the lawyer Rajeev Pandey took up Krishnan’s case. They filed an RTI request for hospital records of Pappi Devi and her baby.

These records tell a disturbing story.

Pappi Devi was admitted to the local community health centre at 11 pm on April 21 by her husband Bablu. She had a normal delivery, giving birth to her first child, a girl, that weighed 2.34 kg at 2.30 am.

The hospital records clearly establish that Pappi Devi’s child was born alive, not stillborn. The baby was “normal” with no complications, and cried, urinated and defecated immediately after birth. Skin-to-skin contact was established between mother and child. From 2.50 am, Pappi Devi breastfed the baby for 30 minutes.

A post-delivery checklist notes that Pappi Devi was in a “poor” condition. She was bleeding heavily due to postpartum haemorrhage, or PPH, and required to be shifted to a better facility. The delivery registry says she was “referred to the district hospital due to PPH”.

A doctor who attended to Pappi Devi at the health centre confirmed to Newslaundry that she had given birth to a healthy child. Pappi Devi herself had been in critical condition, added the doctor, who did not want to be identified for fear of police action.

The community health centre where Pappi Devi delivered her baby.

As per protocol, an Accredited Social Health Activist, or ASHA, was present during Pappi Devi’s delivery and attended to her that night. Mariamma G, the ASHA, said when Pappi Devi’s condition deteriorated she was referred to the district hospital.

But was her baby stillborn?

“No, not at all,” Mariamma said. “She delivered a healthy baby and the child had no complications.”

Both mother and child left the health centre alive, Mariamma said, but in a private vehicle, not an ambulance.

“After they left, I have not been in touch with them,” she said. “I don’t know if she reached the district hospital or not. I have had no contact with them since.”

Krishnan suspected Pappi Devi had not been taken to another hospital. His daughter may have died due to haemorrhage, he argued, but her in-laws could have saved her life if they had taken her to a better medical facility.

From multiple accounts, it appears Pappi Devi left the health centre with her baby, husband, and his family members, and bled to death at her home a few hours later.

The baby was last seen at the health centre, alive and well. Only Bablu and his family can explain what happened to her.

When Newslaundry contacted Bablu, he refused to even confirm if he was Pappi Devi’s husband. He reluctantly said Pappi Devi “died on the way” from the health centre. Contradicting the medical records, the doctor, and the ASHA, he claimed that the baby’s condition was “not stable” when they left the health centre.

The only testimony to the baby’s life are records that show that on April 22, her heart was beating. There is no photo, no video. The only identity marker is a hospital record showing a baby’s footprints alongside a thumb impression of Bablu’s mother, a witness to a life that barely lasted.

Baby’s exhumation

In August, after multiple letters and much pleading from Sri Krishnan, the Lakhimpur Kheri district magistrate, Shailendra Singh, ordered that the baby’s body be exhumed and a postmortem conducted to determine the cause of death.

And so on August 20, the baby’s body was exhumed. Her grave was probably pointed out by her father’s family members who had buried her, just metres away from where Pappi Devi was cremated.

Not much was left of the baby except a few bones.

The postmortem was conducted by a panel of three doctors at the Lakhimpur Kheri district hospital at 8.10 pm on August 20. Under “name of child”, the postmortem report said, “Loose lying human bones said to be of neonate of late Pappi Devi”. Four pieces of skull and six other bones were identified, and the cause of death “could not be ascertained”.

The bones were then sent to an overburdened forensics laboratory in Lucknow.

Pappi Devi's mother and sister at their home.

Finally, an FIR

On August 31, several things happened.

An exasperated Krishnan wrote to the police superintendent, Satyendra Jain: “I’m tired of the relentless harassment by the police and I have decided that either the police file an FIR quickly or mercy kill our entire family.”

He accused the police of creating a “fake GD” – the general diary entry about Pappi Devi’s “accidental death” – and said he felt “powerless”. He also listed the 12 other times he had written to the district police chief.

It wasn’t just a question of writing a letter and posting it, Krishnan told Newslaundry. Every time he wrote a letter, he would travel from Tamolipur to the Kheri main town, about an hour away by bus, forgoing a day’s wages, and using public transport during a pandemic. Yet, he had received no response and no action was taken.

On the morning of August 31, Krishnan, his wife, son, and daughter met the district magistrate, Shailendra Singh, and showed him a letter they had written to Jain. The family then sat in protest outside Singh’s office until 11 pm, demanding that the FIR be filed.

This time, Singh acted. He signed an acknowledgement of the letter to Jain and asked for a proper investigation to be conducted.

Finally, at 2.34 pm on September 1, an FIR was filed at the Dhaurahra police station. It named six people in connection with Pappi Devi’s death – Bablu, his unnamed mother, his father Jamuna Prasad, his brother Chotu, Chotu’s wife Chandni, and another relative Kanhaiya Lal. All six face charges under the Indian Penal Code related to cruelty, voluntarily causing hurt, dowry death, murder, and disappearance of evidence, as well as under the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.

Apart from Bablu, Newslaundry was unable to speak to any of Pappi Devi’s in-laws named in the FIR despite repeated attempts.

But why did the district magistrate take so long to act? Why wasn’t the FIR filed earlier?

“As far as the FIR is concerned, it has been filed,” Shailendra Singh said. “Regarding the delay, I can’t comment. Only the circle officer of Dhaurahra, Arvind Verma, can answer that question post investigation.”

On November 9, over two months after the FIR had been registered, Verma said, “No arrests have been made.” Asked if Pappi Devi’s in-laws had been questioned, he said, “No, we are waiting for the forensic report.”

But a forensic report isn’t required to start an investigation? “Now,” Verma replied, “just because somebody names someone in an FIR doesn’t mean we can just arrest them or question them, does it?”

Contrary to Verma’s claim, the police have the authority to investigate, question and hold in custody a suspect named in an FIR.

Not long after the FIR was filed, Jain was transferred and replaced as the district police chief by Vijay Dhul. He didn’t “know enough about the case”, Dhul said. He refused to comment on the delay in filing the FIR, but said that if they found “any negligence from the side of any police officer, we will immediately take strict action”.

It was Hari Om Srivastav, the station house officer of Dhaurahra, who had taken down Krishnan’s complaint but not filed an FIR. He has since been transferred. “I wrote the complaint that the man had,” Srivastav said. “He wanted a postmortem. It was being done anyway. Apart from that, I don’t know anything.”

Why didn’t he file an FIR at the time?

“They had no complaints so why would I lodge an FIR?” Srivastav said, referring to Krishnan and his brothers. “They said the baby was born dead so we wrote that.”

Asked why it took four month to file an FIR, Hari Om Srivastav simply said, “There was no delay in filing an FIR.”

Newslaundry also accessed Pappi Devi’s inquest panchnama, filed the same day. The panchnama is a record attested by five witnesses of the condition in which the body was found. The panchnama states that Pappi Devi had given birth to a stillborn. But one of the witnesses, tehsildar Anil Kumar Yadav, told Newslaundry he is “not really involved” in the case. “I don’t know about the baby,” he said. “I only went for Pappi Devi’s panchnama.”

Crucially, neither Srivastav nor Yadav checked with the local health centre, where hospital records would have shown that Pappi Devi had delivered a healthy baby.

Sapna Devi shows her sister's books.

‘I can’t take this pain anymore’

Rajeev Pandey, who is fighting Pappi Devi’s case, is exasperated.

“What is the point of schemes such as Beti Padhao Beti Bachao if the administration refuses to even acknowledge the loss of a woman’s life?” he asked. “All these schemes are useless if the mindset of even our leaders doesn’t change.”

Kushma Devi collapsed while talking about her daughter. Clutching her stomach, she sobbed, “My stomach hurts, my body hurts, my head hurts when I think of her. I can’t take this pain anymore. Everything in this house reminds me of her.”

Pappi Devi was Kushma Devi’s only child to graduate college. Her sister, Sapna Devi, 17, has studied only till Class 10. Leafing through her sister’s textbooks, Sapna said Pappi Devi loved studying. “We would start crying when we had to go to school, Didi would get ready, say namaste to our parents, and quickly leave,” she said.

Her mother added, “My daughter would encourage other girls in our village to study. In our family, no one has studied as much as she had.”

Did Pappi Devi have dreams of pursuing a career? “I don’t know,” Sapna said. “Even if she did, how would my father have fulfilled her dreams? So she just got married. And then she and her baby died.”

Pictures by Akanksha Kumar.

Anil Verma, Riya Agarwal, and Diksha Munjal contributed reporting.

Content retrieved from: https://www.newslaundry.com/2020/11/23/two-deaths-no-fir-how-ups-criminal-justice-system-failed-pappi-devi-and-her-baby.

Delhi Police Files Supplementary Chargesheet Against Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam

The 930-page supplementary charge sheet was filed under sections 13 (unlawful activities), 16 (terrorist act), 17 (raising funds for terrorist act) and 18 (conspiracy) of the UAPA.

New Delhi: The Delhi police on Sunday filed a supplementary charge sheet in a court here against former JNU student leader Umar Khalid and JNU student Sharjeel Imam in a case related to the alleged larger conspiracy in the communal violence in northeast Delhi in February.

The charge sheet was filed before Additional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat against Khalid, Imam and one Faizan Khan under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and sections related to criminal conspiracy, murder, rioting, sedition, unlawful assembly and promoting enmity on the grounds of religion, language, caste, etc of the Indian Penal Code, according to sources.

The offences entail a maximum punishment of death penalty.

The 930-page supplementary charge sheet was filed under sections 13 (unlawful activities), 16 (terrorist act), 17 (raising funds for terrorist act) and 18 (conspiracy) of the UAPA.

The accused have been charged under IPC sections 120 B (criminal conspiracy) read with sections 109 (abetment), 114 (abettor present when offence is committed) 124A (sedition), 147 and 148 (rioting).

Also read: India’s ‘Extraordinary’ Laws Need to Be Revoked, Not Revamped

The three have also been charged under sections 341 (wrongful restraint), 353 (assault to deter public servant), 395 (dacoity), 419 (cheating), 420 (cheating), 427 (mischief), 435 (mischief by fire), 436 (mischief by fire), 452 (house trespass), 454 (house breaking), 468 (forgery), 471 (using forged document as genuine) and 34 (common intention) of IPC and under relevant sections of the Arms Act and Prevention of Damage to Public Properties Act, the sources said.

While Khalid and Imam are currently in judicial custody in the case, Khan had been granted bail by the Delhi high court.

The main charge sheet was filed in September against Pinjra Tod members and JNU students Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal, Jamia Millia Islamia student Asif Iqbal Tanha and student activist Gulfisha Fatima.

Others who were charge-sheeted included former Congress Councillor Ishrat Jahan, Jamia Coordination Committee members Safoora Zargar, Meeran Haider and Shifa-Ur-Rehman, suspended AAP Councillor Tahir Hussain, activist Khalid Saifi, Shadab Ahmed, Tasleem Ahmed, Salim Malik, Mohd Salim Khan and Athar Khan.

Communal violence had broken out in northeast Delhi on February 24 after clashes between citizenship law supporters and protesters spiralled out of control leaving at least 53 people dead and around 200 injured.

Content retrieved from: https://thewire.in/rights/delhi-police-umar-khalid-sharjeel-imam-uapa.

Debate: Plurality of Hindi’s Linguistic Trajectory Belies Claims of Colonial Creation

Devdan Chaudhuri’s response, “It’s Not Exaggeration to Say the British Codified the Language We Know as ‘Hindi’ Now rightly pointed out an oversight in my piece “Was Hindi Really Created by India’s British Colonial Rulers?”, published in The Wire in September 2020. Here, I engage with the ideas in Chaudhuri’s essay, which are held by a wide range of both Hindi speaking and non-Hindi speaking intellectuals.

In my original piece, I referred to the resentment against the politicised role of Hindi in 20th century nationalism, citing Chaudhuri’s 2019 article “Hindi was Devised by a Scottish Linguist of the East India Company – It Can Never be India’s National Language”. However, as Chaudhuri wrote, his article had been prompted by a recent event and it did not directly refer to the 20th century nationalist discourse on Hindi. However, both sides of the debate in that article reprise old 20th century positions.

The language question for the 21st century is not whether Hindi will impose itself on India as national language but, rather, how will Indian regional languages, including Hindi and Bengali, resist the enormous pressure they face from English. While there was a chance in the 20th century to introduce Hindi as national language, in the 21st century, any gestures towards such an action can – at most – be considered symbolic.

Today’s elite does not deem regional languages good enough even for kindergarten education. Debates about regional languages might appear to have intensified these days, but, given the choice, bhasha-premis are more likely to send their children to English-medium schools. Furthermore, regional languages are losing their intellectual vitality, and in the 21st century, one can rightly talk in terms of “death of vernaculars”, as the title of Vasudha Dalmia’s article warned already in 2006.

Let me start with the idea of Hindi as a British invention mentioned in Chaudhuri’s rejoinder. I would like to address three aspects to this claim, writing the language in the Devanagari script, the standardisation of its grammar and the purging of its vocabulary. The agents for these actions are usually held to be the teachers at Calcutta’s Fort William College in particular, and the introduction of print culture, which was a corollary of colonialism for all Indian languages in general. Let me examine the side that seems unique to Hindi, the role of Fort William College, Calcutta.

As I demonstrated in my earlier article, by the time the college was established, writing Khaṛī Bolī in the Devanagari script had already been a tradition for almost 200 years. I have cited some examples in the article and let me add one more to them. Below is the kabitt quatrain by Bājīd (fl.1600) that includes the confused speech of gopis to Krishna’s messenger Uddhava. This quatrain is one of more than a dozen in several Devanagari manuscripts, the earliest of them copied in 1654 (word-separation, line breaks and commas are mine):

गोपी गाय ग्वालनि तौ बेहाल हैं बिहारी बिन,
होता न मालूंम मकसूद क्या तुम्हारा है।
इनायात रहै, मकाम कीने है कमल-नैन,
मैनमथि मारै, माधौ, चारा क्या हमारा है।
जौ तौ तकसीर कछु भई है हमारी, हरि,
कीजिये जू माफ, तुम जीते, हम हार्या है।
तुम तौ सखा हौ, साखी सांची किनि कहौ, बलि,
ऊधौ, ब्रजनाथ ब्रज काहे तैं बिसारा है।

gopī gāī gvālani tau behāla haiṁ bihārī bina,
hotā na māluṁma makasūda kyā tumhārā hai |
ināyata rahai, makāma kīne hai kamala-naina
mainamathi mārai, mādhau, ćārā kyā hamārā hai |
jau tau takasīra kaćhu bhaī hai hamārī, hari,
kījīye jū māpha, tuma jīte hama hāryā hai |
tuma tau sakhā hau, sākhī sāṁćī kini kahau, bali,
ūdhau, brajanātha braja kāhe taiṁ bisārā hai || 7||

Without Krishna the gopis, the cows and the cowherds are despondent. It is not known what you are up to.
The lotus-eyed one favoured us by taking up residence in us — We have been smitten by the Soul-Churning Love for Krishna, what is our way out?
If we ever offended O God please forgive us, you have won, we are defeated.
You are his friend — who else can I call a true witness? — Uddhava, why has the Lord of Braj abandoned us?

Although there is an abundance in north Indian archives of such Nagari Rekhta poetry, written in an unstandardised form of Khaṛī Bolī in Persianised style, hardly any of this literature has been published or discussed in Hindi or Urdu literary histories. Over the past two centuries, they have become “homeless texts”.

Let us now consider the standardisation of the grammar. What later came to be called Khaṛī Bolī showed more features of Braj in the 17th to mid-19th centuries in northern India than it does today. These features were gradually eliminated. Mir Taqi Mir’s (1723-1810) poetry is a good example of the level of standardisation that the literary language had achieved by the middle of the 18th century. Yet occasionally even he relied on Braj forms (e.g. ćāhte hai so āp kare hai, چاہتے ہیں سو آپ کرے ہیں).

Also read: Love of Urdu in Times of Shrinking Diversity

Surprisingly, the only Fort William publication in Devanagari Khaṛī Bolī, Prem Sāgar, written in 1803/4 by Lallu Lal, a munshi at the college, and first published in 1810, appears to be less standardised than Mir’s work. The first ten lines of the 1882 edition of the first story in Prem Sāgar use forms such as हुये huye (for हुए hue), तिनके tinke (for उनके unke), बुलाय bulāy (for बुलाकर bulā[kar]), तैने taine (for तूने tū-ne), तिस्से tisse ([sic] for उससे us-se or उसे use), so सोंहीं (for सामने sāmne), and सतावेगा satāvegā (for सताएगा satāegā). These variations include Braj and regional forms as well as orthographic variants. (It should be mentioned that the various editions of Prem Sāgar differ in their spellings.)

The work of Sadal Mishra, the college’s other Hindi munshi, was even further removed from the modern standard, as it occasionally used not only Brajbhasha, but also eastern Hindi and Bengali forms. Standardisation of Khaṛī Bolī apparently had little association with Fort William College.

Might it still be possible that John Gilchrist, the first principal of Fort William College, standardised the language through A Grammar of the Hindoostanee Language published in 1796? First, Gilchrist’s work was only one in a series of Hindustani grammars written in various European languages starting around 1700 that were aimed at foreign learners and not Indians (for a history of early grammars, see T.K. Bhatia’s History of the Hindi Grammatical Traditions). Secondly, Gilchrist’s grammar does not present standardised Hindi: most examples are given in the Urdu script, supplemented by another few in Kaithi (and not Devanagari). The examples in the Kaithi script are also not in modern standard Hindi (see the page reproduced below). For example, of the four words given in the Kaithi script on page 23, dīragh, gura, laghu, haraśh/haras, only laghu tallies with the modern standard Hindi form (dīrgha, guru, laghu, hrasva in modern Hindi).

Thirdly, and more interestingly, Gilchrist gives examples in both Urdu and Brajbhasha within the grammar. Although he was aware of these language varieties, he did not consider the two to be distinct languages. Also, after the founding of Fort William College, several of its Hindustani publications were published in both scripts with minimal changes, suggesting that the publications were not “exclusive” to one language (see Francesca Orsini’s Between Qasbas and Cities: Language Shifts and Literary Continuities in North India in the Long Eighteenth Century, 2019).

Notwithstanding all the arguments presented so far, Prem Sāgar, the first printed book in modern Hindi and the first prose fiction in Devanagari Hindi, was certainly prepared in and published under the auspices of Fort William College. Similarly, Sadal Mishra created Sanskritised Khaṛī Bolī versions of the Nāsiketopākhyāna (1803) and the Adhyātma Rāmāyaa (1805) in the Devanagari script. To what extent was the college promoting these experiments? While the two munshis were apparently instructed by Gilchrist to produce their work in de-Persianised Hindi, the college as an institution was reluctant in its support. Lallu Lal’s work was interrupted by Gilchrist’s departure in January 1804 and was first published only in 1810 as mentioned above. Neither of Sadal Mishra’s Khaṛī Bolī works were used or published by the college, although his Ramayana was printed in 1860, when the linguistic situation was more favourable to Khaṛī Bolī.

A similar experiment with purified Khaṛī Bolī was also carried out by the Urdu poet Insha Allah Khan, ‘Insha’, who after living in Delhi and Murshidabad, settled down in Lucknow. Insha wrote Rānī Ketkī kī kahānī in the Urdu script in heh, that is, ‘pure’ Hindi. Academic consensus dates it to 1803, which then makes the primacy of the Fort William munshis  questionable. In Hindi Literature of the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries, R.S. McGregor gives three reasons for Insha’s invention. First, he mentions that the polyglot Insha, author of the first Urdu grammar in Persian, realised “the artificiality of literary Urdu in the Indian context and may have composed Rānī Ketkī kī kahānī with this artificiality in mind” (p.65), in other words he experimented with a de-Persianised register on the pattern of de-Sanskritised Urdu. Secondly, following other scholars, McGregor speculates that Insha might have been acquainted with the example of Fort William College. Thirdly, and most importantly, McGregor sees in these works “a broader similarity, in that all are products of the same linguistic circumstances, which have operated variously to impel persons of different backgrounds and interests in the direction of a new and similar use of language.”

Insha Allah Khan ‘Insha’ (c1756-1817). Source: https://rekhta.org/Images/Shayar/insha-allah-khan-insha.png

Kerrin Dittmer’s detailed study of the role of Fort William College has largely gone unnoticed. However, Alison Safadi’s more recent research, on which I rely in the following discussion, is informed by Dittmer’s monograph.

Gilchrist has also been blamed for the establishment of two separate departments for Hindi and Hindustani and, thus, institutionalising the divide. Safadi, however, reminds us that there was no separate Hindi department at Fort William College. From 1802 onwards, the college employed both ‘Bhasha’ and ‘Hindustani’ munshis, and all forms of Hindi and Urdu came under the Hindustani department; Gilchrist likely believed in plurality than in duality of forms.

Would the creation of distinct munshi positions have led to the separation of Hindi from Urdu? Safadi examined the list of college publications and statements on what the college taught. She demonstrated that, apart from Prem Sāgar, which was apparently printed on Lallu Lal’s insistence six years after Gilchrist’s departure, all the published Hindi books were either in Brajbhasha or in Avadhi. Similarly, extant statements about the Hindi taught in the college show that it was ‘Bruj bhakha’ and not de-Persianised Hindi.

The ‘separation’ introduced by the parallel munshi appointments was not between what are now Hindi and Urdu; instead it was based on the pragmatic exigencies of teaching, between the two extremes of the existing literary idioms, Brajbhasha and Urdu. The college might have experimented with Sanskritised Hindi not to create a new idiom, but rather to unite Sankritised Brajbhasha and Khaṛī Bolī Urdu.

Also read: Hindi-Hindu Nationalism and Secular Retreat in the Heartland

Following Dittmer, it is possible to view the purified Hindi works of Insha, Lallu Lal and Sadal Mishra as emerging “curiosities in the literary history of Hindi-Urdu” (p. 61). Safadi, in her conclusion suggests that the division was more the result of the hardening of Hindu-Muslim and of linguistic identities after 1857.

Safadi accepts Gilchrist as the person behind the production of Prem Sāgar, but she reminds us that his agency in producing the de-Persianised register is not beyond doubt. I would not, however, deny the early colonial participation in the formation of the new literary style. In Lallu Lal’s words, Gilchrist appears to have asked him (and apparently also Sadal Mishra) to reproduce Indian classics in non-Persianised Khaṛī Bolī prose as one of the possible styles to write Hindustani. Still, this was a peripheral activity for Gilchrist as well as for the college and he had not thought of creating a new language.

In my previous article I have shown that Khaṛī Bolī had been used for poetry as well as for practical documents, such as the Mahzar-nāma of the inhabitants of Benares, already before the establishment of Fort William College and the use of the language was attested by both travellers and grammarians. As I have mentioned earlier, Hindi was standardised and conceptualised gradually. The separation of Hindi and Urdu from Hindustani and the creation of modern Hindi did not happen in Fort William College, although they definitely had significant roots there.

In The Hindi Public Sphere 1920-1940: Language and Literature in the Age of Nationalism (Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 5-6), Orsini, examining the trajectory of Hindi in the 19th and early 20th centuries, explains the later stages of standardisation through the work of the two towering figures of this process, Bharatendu Harishchandra (1850-1885) and Mahavir Prasad Dvivedi (1864-1938),

“Nineteenth-century writers like Hariśchandra and his circle, while embracing the aim of unity and reform, had actually drawn on all the resources of the language and the various literary traditions in their own creative writing – they used the colloquial spoken language and concrete metaphors in a way that retained the particularity of language use, so that the caste, region, and profession of every character showed in their language … A generation. later Mahāvīr Prasād Dvivedī did exactly the opposite, and exhorted other writers to do so too. By purging print-language of colloquialisms, regional usages and ‘Urdu’ words, by privileging abstract over concrete words and making Sanskrit loanwords the rule, and by fixing syntax along regular subject-object-verb lines, Dvivedī ‘standardized’ Hindi into a sober written language.”

Mahavir Prasad Dvivedi (1864-1938). Source: https://images.assettype.com/indynetwork%2F2019-09%2F22c24e01-20df-4cc9-a3a4-b0638bfa1f0c%2FMP_Dwivedi_2.jpg?w=1170

Orsini’s more recent study of multilingual north India, ‘Between Qasbas and Cities’, calls for a reassessment of the role of Fort William College,

“Rather than a story of momentous literary and linguistic break with the past in the context of Calcutta’s ‘colonial modern,’ then, Fort William College becomes a story of remarkable literary continuity with the literary culture of eighteenth-century North India.”

Furthermore, Orsini observes a new turn in historiography that can also be applied to language development,

“while historiography has come to a more gradual view of the colonial takeover and emphasises the dynamic role played by groups and individuals who took advantage of the political vacuum in competition and collaboration with the increasingly powerful East India Company (EIC), literary historiography still starkly narrates the turn from pre-colonial to colonial culture as a complete epistemic shift.”

There are, however, more interesting questions at play than the role of the British in the development of Hindi and other north Indian languages. I will touch briefly on two of them: the lack of clarity in terminology when talking about what a language is, and the parallel trajectories of north Indian languages.

What is a language? In popular usage, language often refers to a singular speech form. However, in a linguistic sense, language is an umbrella term for a plethora of speech forms, styles, registers, dialects, sociolects and so on. Many of these forms would in popular use be considered as languages in themselves. Thus, we can speak of Premchand’s language when referring to his style, or of Haryanvi language when referring to a dialect (or a group of dialects).

Those who reject the pre-colonial tradition of Hindi appear to use double standards for Hindi and other languages. Languages change over the times, Ćalit bhāā, that is, modern Bangla, is different from Sādhu bhāā, the language of Bankimchandra, which is different from the classical Bengali of the great Mangalkabyas and of Krishnadas Kabiraj, which in turn is different from the archaic Śrīkṛṣṇakīrtana of Badu Chandidas and from the Persianised Dobhāī or Musalmani Bangla.

Linguistic distance, although not measured in India diachronically, and rather referred to anecdotally, cannot be an argument to cut off earlier language forms. The language of works such as the Hindustani Sanandh is not further removed from modern usage than the language of the Manasāmagal, the Eknāthī Bhāgavat or the Amuktamālyada in Bengali, Marathi and Telugu, respectively. On digging deeper, we may find that the linguistic distance between the earliest layers of Namdev’s bhajans or Badu Chandidas’s Śrīkṛṣṇakīrtan is no less than the linguistic distance between Avadhi/Brajbhasha and Modern Hindi. Moreover, poetic language in India can at times be so literarised that it is incomprehensible without special studies. The highly Sanskritised poetry of some of the most outstanding early Telugu poets, such as Nannayya, Shrinathudu or Peddana, lucidly illustrates this.

Codification, too, cannot be an argument for separation. Otherwise, only Urdu would be able to pride itself as having a pre-colonial past among the north Indian vernaculars as it was theoretically codified in the 18th century. Similarly, the argument that printing had a role in ‘creating a language’ would backfire for almost all Indian languages, since early printing in them was done by missionaries or colonial intellectuals. The same is true about the creation of early grammars – at least in north India.

Also read: Pushing Hindi as Politics, Not Hindi as Language

Instead of singling out Hindi as a language with an anomalous history, or rather with a lack of history, it may be more useful to consider the parallel trajectories of Indian, especially, north Indian languages. I draw attention to a little-discussed phenomenon, namely that all north Indian languages developed a Persianised register between the 16th and 19th centuries. Yet colonial and nationalist attitudes towards these language varieties differed widely.

The earliest Rekhta compositions in Hindustani appear in the 16th century, Marathi became highly Persianised during Shivaji’s reign, and even Assam developed its Persianate register in compositions like the zikrs of the 17th century poet Ajan Fakir. Bengali had Dobhāṣī or Musalmani Bangla committed to writing in various scripts. Gujarati also began to include the Persianised Parsi Gujarati and Musalmani Gujarati in the 19th century, and the Arabicised Lisan al-da‘wa is still used among Gujarati Bohras. Panjabi has developed Sanskritised and Persianised versions with accompanying splits in the scripts.

Ajan Fakir’s dargah in Horaguri (Saraguri) Chapori, Shivasagar, Assam. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Although a parallel development under modern nationalism is clearly observable among Indian languages, that is, languages distancing themselves from the Persianate registers, attitudes to these ‘Musalmani’ versions have varied over the centuries and have included accommodation, marginalisation, suppression and language split.

A parallel phenomenon in language development was the role of colonialism. I have already referred to the introduction of print culture. Another aspect to examine in a comparative light is the colonial attitude towards Persianisation. In her study of the trajectory of Islamic Bangla literature, Ayesha Irani, relying on Dinesh Chandra Sen’s History of Bengali Language and Literature (2007, first published in 1909; vol. 2, p. 915) writes,

“The initial efforts of the Bhaṭṭācāryas, Sanskrit ola pundits, in the College’s employ, resulted in the creation of a language which relied on an entirely Sanskritic tatsama vocabulary, simultaneously purging both the ‘vulgar’ idioms of colloquial tatsama speech (calita bhāā) and Perso-Arabic words”.

Irani points out that the mastermind behind this reform was N.B. Halhed (1751-1830), who in A Grammar of the Bengal Language claimed to present the language “merely as is derived from its parent the Sanscrit” and to have avoided Perso-Arabic wordsHalhed, 1778, pp. xxi-xxii[footnote]. Perhaps Gilchrist borrowed the idea of examining the possibility of non-Persianised Hindustani from Halhed. Thus, later nationalist efforts to purify a language by de-Persianisation may well be indebted to early colonial thinking. However, Halhed imagined a single form of Sanskritised Bengali while Gilchrist was open to accepting Indian linguistic plurality, and by acknowledging the variety within Hindustani, he committed less epistemic violence than Halhed did.

The title page of Halhed’s A Grammar of the Bengal Language (1778). Source: https://www.bl.uk/britishlibrary/~/media/bl/global/early%20indian%20printed%20books/collection%20items/halhead_cover_page/t_6863_0003.jpg?w=608&h=342

The languages of India have developed along parallel trajectories in Persianisation, print culture and other colonial interventions. Within these trajectories, they also had their own fascinating differences. A comparative study of these parallels and differences still remains to be done.

Imre Bangha teaches north Indian languages and literatures at the University of Oxford and has extensively published on Old Hindi literature as well as on Rabindranath Tagore

Content retrieved from: https://thewire.in/history/hindi-plural-trajectory-colonial-creation.

The J&K District Polls Call for an Examination of Local Governance Not Politics

Governance as a process promotes both social and political participation. Similarly, elections ensure social and political participation. However, in areas affected by conflict and violence, every process becomes a tool of political positioning. The process of elections to District Development Councils (DDCs) in Jammu and Kashmir has brought the focus back on the political process in J&K rather than on local governance.

Elections at the local level are no substitute for legislative assembly elections and do not provide adequate representation to every issue and challenge that people face. J&K at this moment faces bigger challenges that cannot be addressed at the local level. Further, elections to DDCs or vacant panchayat seats cannot be used as a litmus test for all the changes that have emerged in the erstwhile state of J&K. This is where the politics-administration dichotomy debates even more relevant.

Halqa Panchayats, Block Development Councils, and District Development Councils are the institutions of local governance. And local governance through Panchayati Raj is at the heart of rural development. Elections to these institutions have to focus on local governance rather than promoting and ‘force verifying’ a particular ideology.

Also read: To Contest or Not: Gupkar Alliance In a Bind About Participation in J&K DDC Polls

Elections to DDCs would complete the three-tier Panchayati Raj in J&K. DDCs would play a significant role in preparing and approving district plans and capital expenditure. They would have elected representatives from rural areas of each district. Within DDCs, there will be District Plan Committees (DPCs) which will consider and guide district development plans. DPCs would indicate priorities for various schemes and consider issues related to the speedy development and economic uplift of the district.

Election officials make preparations for polling at the BDC elections being held across 22 districts of Jammu and Kashmir. Photo: PTI/File

District Development Councils have to be understood within the context of Gram Panchayat Development Plans (GPDP) and Back to Village Programme (B2V) programme. Looking purely from the governance perspective, GPDP has to be the cornerstone of the local development and governance.

GPDP empowers Halqa Panchayats to ensure decentralisation of planning and power at the grassroots level. DDCs would help in the consolidation of planning but councils cannot be substituted for gram panchayats, and yet another tool of centralisation of planning process even if it is at the district level.

The success of DDCs would rest largely on the process of decentralised planning through Gram Panchayat Development Plan and Back to Village (B2V) programme. These twin concepts are aimed at ensuring effective, efficient, transparent and accountable governance at the local level. The focus of this article would be on GPDP and Back to Village concepts (B2V).

From local government to local governance: Shift from means to ends

In other states of India, the debate around local governance has shifted from local government to local governance. The organisation issue has been resolved in other states with the implementation of the 73rd Amendment to the constitution which mandated three-tier structure of Panchayati Raj. In Jammu and Kashmir, elections to the local bodies have been irregular. In 2011, Panchayati elections were held after a gap of 10 years. In 2001, the elections were held after a gap of 23 years. Even when elections were held, those were for Halqa Panchayats only. Now with elections to DDCs, all three structures of the Panchayati Raj would be in place, namely: Halqa Panchayats, Block Development Councils and District Development Councils.

These structures would not be enough. There has to be devolution of functions, finances, functionaries and decentralised planning as mandated by the Act. However, this has not happened and unlikely to happen if there is more political utilisation of local governance institutions.

File photo of women attending a gram sabha meeting in Dungarpur district, Rajasthan. Photo: UN Women Asia and the Pacific/Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Elections are means to an end and not an end in itself. Devolution of functions, finances and decentralised planning as mandated by the Act are yet to be implemented in the actual sense. This is partly due to focus on PRIs as the institutions of local government rather than local governance. The focus has been more on political participation, and PRIs are looked at more as centres of local politics than institutions of governance. It also suffers from bureaucratic hurdles of power-sharing. People’s attitude towards these institutions has been to a large extent indifferent as their participation was limited to voting.

Also read: Cui Bono: Panchayati Raj System and the Structures of Power

There has to be a shift from local government to local governance with emphasis on three Fs, functions, finance and functionaries. The shift should aim to make PRIs action-oriented and goal-oriented units of governance. From mere political representation, the emphasis in governance would mean focus on citizen participation, responsiveness, transparency, equity and inclusiveness, effectiveness and efficiency and accountability.  In the context of PRIs, local governance as a concept would manifest itself through empowerment of gram sabha and gram panchayat, capacity building of panchayats, financial strengthening through devolution, programme delivery, inclusive social and economic development, social justice, and social audit.

Governance includes various processes – elections, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, etc. It is not one of these features that complete the organic concept of governance, but a combination of these. Strengthening one aspect involves strengthening other aspects as well. Institutions, processes and people’s participation are in a way ends of the governance. But on the other hand, these features are means through which the state achieves the larger objectives. That’s true in the context of local governance as well.

Strengthening of local institutions like gram sabha and gram panchayat; people’s participation in local development; and processes like capacity building, community mobilisation and decentralised planning are not an end in itself.

These aspects are the means to achieve effective and responsive service delivery at the local level and ensuring inclusive social and economic development and justice at the grassroots level. There has to be the shift from means to ends which would involve reforming of local governance and strengthening of all aspects of governance to ensure responsive and effective public service at the local level. It starts with PRIs playing a major role in planning at the local level.

Gram Panchayat Development Plan (GPDP) and responsive local governance

Planning is an important process of governance. Decentralised planning has been a long-term objective in developing effective local governance in India. It gained renewed focus in 2015 through Gram Panchayat Development Plan (GPDP).

GPDP is the development plan of the gram panchayat. GPDP are plans formulated by gram panchayats for economic development and social justice utilising the resources available to them. It is expected to be not merely an end product of gram panchayat planning, but a comprehensive and participatory process of governance that involves full convergence with schemes of all related union ministries related to 29 subjects listed in the Eleventh Schedule of Constitution.

A gram panchayat meeting in Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh. Credit: UN Women/Gaganjit Singh

A gram panchayat meeting in Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh. Photo: UN Women/Gaganjit Singh

The convergence is a central aspect of GPDP for the effective implementation of flagship schemes on subjects on national importance for the transformation of rural India as well as localisation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

GPDP re-emphasises that development is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Local needs and demands may differ from panchayat to panchayat. It is a bottom-up approach of planning which seeks to go beyond infrastructure and covers areas like poverty reduction, social development of vulnerable groups, service delivery, and include both resource-based and no-cost interventions.

Also read: Why India’s Governance Policies Often Ends up Being Suboptimal

GPDP through a convergence of schemes at the panchayat level seeks to address deprivations at the grassroots level and achieve inclusive development, poverty reduction, creating better opportunities, improve basic services, health nutrition, malnutrition, education, and women and child development, etc. GPDP as a process of planning takes into account the available resource at the panchayat level, infrastructure status and gaps, needs and demands of local people and prioritises important sectors and activities, etc.

GPDP as a process of governance is a reform tool that improves institutions, people’s participation and processes. It is a reform and development tool both at the level of preparing as well as implementing it. It is a time-bound, participatory, inclusive and transparent process.

There has to be a change in the working of the panchayats, capacity building among gram panchayat and gram sabha members, and convergence of efforts of various functionaries at the GP level, block officials, district officials and at the state level with gram sabha to avoid Riggsian Formalism in the Gram Panchayat Development Plan.

It starts with the awareness generation about the gram sabha and gram panchayat. It is critical for any planning process that people should be able to express their demands. Demands can come from active citizenry. Active citizenry is a byproduct of awareness generation and capacity building. This is where the concept of Back to Village (B2V) of Jammu and Kashmir gains significance.

Back to Village programme

As a concept of governance at doorstep, Back to Village programme ensures active citizenry through community participation in the development and strengthening of panchayats. It has to essentially act as a means to promote local planning rather than yet another tool of bureaucracy-led top-down planning with only difference that it is done at the local level by visiting the villages. It has to act as a behavioural programme as well through the reformed bureaucratic apparatus and there is an effective convergence of officials at the state and district level with frontline functionaries and local elected representatives.

J&K Lt Gov Manoj Sinha inaugurates the Back to Village programme. Photo: By arrangement

Back to Village programme has to essentially act as a prelude to GPDP and complement it rather than act as a parallel framework of local governance and development. The first phase of B2V saw significant participation among the people. The subsequent phases have also been popular with the masses but the participation has been slightly less due to lack of accountability and follow-up on earlier promises. This is where the problem actually exists. The perception goes among people that it is led by the officers when it has to be led and directed by local people which decentralises not only planning but also implementation and accountability as well.

Also read: Outsourcing Governance to the Citizen

Even though Back to Village programme is aimed at involving people of the state and government officials in a joint effort to deliver the mission of equitable development, it has to be led by the people at the grassroots than by the visiting officers and those at district and state level. There is where the change is needed.  There is where convergence is needed between GPDP and the Back to Village programme.

GPDP aims at getting wide spread participation, and Back to Village would assist in strengthening systematic efforts to mobilise community and getting them involved in the process of their own development. Community awareness and mobilisation would essentially mean behavioural change. The behavioural change involved in the process is to own common problems and not leave them to the government (perceived as external agency).

One of the aspects that should be added to Back to Village programme and GPDP is to engage a team of community volunteers. These volunteers can be given training about planning, implementation and monitoring of development programmes. These community volunteers can be used to do community mobilisation as well as capacity building. Community mobilisation through volunteers has to focus on capacity building and information dissemination and leave the leadership role to the members of the community themselves. They have to act more as facilitators for sustainability of such process.

GPDP as a holistic plan has to deal with several subjects and would need much more participation and involvement of the people. Planning is a technical process and it is true that people at the local level know their problems and needs, but may not effectively be able to plan about their solutions. This is one aspect which often leads bureaucrats to presume that leaving planning to people wouldn’t serve the purpose. However, capacity building is possible.

Also read: Why Has the ‘Back to Village’ Programme Failed to Take-Off in Kashmir?

One critical aspect of GPDP is the formation of Gram Panchayat Planning Facilitation Team (GPPFT). It has to be a starting point of GPDP implementation, and in J&K, B2V exercise should be used to facilitate capacity building of GPPFT since officers are available at the local-level during such programmes.

GPPFT would have to create working groups or use standing/functional committees to deal with different subjects, such as health, sanitation, education, nutrition and social welfare, etc. It would need involvement of such people who have interest in such matters or knowledge or experience of such matters. Facilitators and volunteers would first build capacity of working groups of the GPPFT before the larger community mobilization is initiated.

J&K Lt Gov Manoj Sinha distributes sports kits as part of the Back to Village programme. Photo: By arrangement

Devolution of funds was a major challenge to the functioning of the local governments. This issue to some extent has been resolved through the devolution of funds to the local governments under the 14th Finance Commission. In fact, it was the 14th Finance Commission that played a major role in increasing prominence of PRIs.

The 14th Finance Commission awarded a fixed amount of Rs. 2,00,292.2 crore to panchayats across India for 2015–20, which is more than three times the grant of the 13th Finance Commission. This devolution of funds augmented the financial health of PRIs. It has also made the exercise of GPDP meaningful. Even though funds are still limited GDPD can play a role in effective and efficient utilisation of available funds. One of the major lessons of B2V was the mismatch between what people need and what people are provided. GPDP would ensure that funds are utilised for works depending upon the priorities set by people themselves at the village level.

Back to Village programme has also assisted in strengthening twin concepts of ‘self-coordination and self-adjustment’ which are fundamental to GPDP.  Self-coordination and self-adjustment relate to coordination by direct control and coordination in the early stages. It means that there is direct access to Halqa Panchayat leadership to common people. Halqa Panchayat is in convergence with the line functionaries in the gram panchayat and that this involvement is at the initial stages and continues from planning to implementation stage. Problem solving has to be a shared goal among people, village leadership, block and district leadership and above. Once a particular problem gets solved, it would shape the behaviour of people and increase their interest and participation in the activities of gram panchayat.

Also read: ‘More Visiting Officers Than Villagers’: Inside J&K Govt’s ‘Back to Village’ Outreach Programme

GPDP would provide a role for civil society organisations and state institutes of rural development. The role of civil society organisations and state institutes of rural development is essential to train elected representatives, community volunteers and frontline functionaries in the planning process. These bodies would also help in data collection and analysis that is at the heart of Gram Panchayat Development Plan. The role of community volunteers can be used to collect information about financial resources available, own funds, number of ponds, wells, check dams, the status of grazing lands, condition of buildings, schools, health sub centres, toilets, infant mortality, school drop-outs, institutional births and drinking water in Anganwadi, etc. This would make planning at the local level effective.

GPDP plans have to be realistic and must factor in situational analysis and demands of various groups to prioritise activities for development in a year. Community mobilisation and community ownership would ensure equal focus on social development. For long, gram panchayats have focused mostly on infrastructural development. This has largely been due to lack of awareness and lack of demands by various groups in the gram sabha. Community mobilisation and active participation of people in gram sabha ensure that there is expression of needs and ensuring of focus on social development and service delivery. It also leads to focus on many costless or low-cost activities which are largely dependent on community awareness and mobilisations, such as quality education, provision of mid-day meals in schools, proper sanitation, enrolment of school drop-outs, immunisation, institutional delivery and social forestry, etc.

Way forward

The way forward for local development is the effective utilisation of the twin concepts of governance-GPDP and Back to Village. It needs the fundamental change in the understanding of governance both by the officials as well as the people. If these concepts are implemented in the letter and spirit, then there is a strong possibility of a shift from local government to local governance; and from top-down to bottom-up planning; and more importantly from bureaucracy led to community-led development. Without utilising these concepts, it is unlikely that sustainable development would reach to the grassroots.

Dr. Zubair Nazeer is an assistant professor of public administration at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. Dr. Shafia Wani is an assistant professor (Rural Development) at J&K Institute of Management, Public Administration and Rural Development, Srinagar (J&K).

Content retrieved from: https://thewire.in/government/kashmir-district-polls-strengthening-local-governance-keeping-politics-bay.

CJI Bobde’s View of Article 32 is Linked to Apex Court’s Vacillation on Basic Structure Doctrine

This is the fourth article in a six-part series on the basic structure doctrine – which the Supreme Court of India propounded in 1973 when it said there are features of the constitution which are unamendable by parliament under any circumstances. The Wire is revisiting the doctrine as various aspects of it figure in several important cases currently before the apex court. 

Also read:  Part I/Part II/ Part III

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New Delhi: Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde’s statement this week that the Supreme Court is keen on discouraging petitioners from resorting to Article 32 of the constitution  has drawn criticism from scholars and practitioners of law for the Article is considered one of the constitution’s basic features.

In L. Chandra Kumar v Union of India (1997), a seven judge bench said that the power of judicial review – vested in the high courts under Article 226 and in the Supreme Court under Article 32 – is an integral and essential feature of the constitution, constituting part of its basic structure. In paragraph 81, the court reiterated the view of Ambedkar – expressed during the constituent assembly debates – that Article 32 is the “heart” and “soul” of the constitution (see the draft Article 25 debate on December 9, 1948, paragraph 7.70.172).

If, as Arun Thiruvengadam suggests in his book, The Constitution of India: A Contextual Analysis, the basic structure doctrine has come to be one of the most momentous innovations of the Indian judiciary, CJI Bobde’s remark indicates a certain judicial hesitation, even unwillingness, to harness its full potential. In the past, the BSD has allowed Indian judges to adopt radical strategies of initiating public interest litigation, using methods such as the creative remedy of continuing mandamus (through which it can keep a case alive even after it has been decided, sometimes for decades, to ensure its implementation).  Not so anymore.

Also read: Eight Cases That Will Test Whether ‘Basic Structure Doctrine’ Can Safeguard India’s Democracy

Basic structure as trigger

Contrary to popular belief about the basic structure doctrine having played a stellar role in safeguarding India’s democracy, evidence points to the Supreme Court’s reliance on it only in seven instances, since its birth, to strike down constitutional amendments.   They are: 

1. Kesavanand Bharati v State of Kerala (1973).

The 25th Amendment Act, 1971 had inserted Article 31-C to confer immunity on laws pursuant to Directive Principles from being held void on ground of inconsistency with  Articles 14, 19 and 31.  The Supreme Court, in this case, declared a sub-clause stating that ‘no law containing a declaration that it is for giving effect to such policy shall be called in question in any court on the ground that it does not give effect to such policy’ unconstitutional.  Later, the 44th Amendment Act deleted Article 31 (compulsory acquisition of property) from the scope of Article 31-C, apart from Article 31 itself.

2. Indira Gandhi v Raj Narain (1975).

The Supreme Court struck down Clause 4 of the 39th Amendment Act, 1975, which inserted Articles 71(2) and 329A.  These Articles provided that disputes regarding the election of four high constitutional functionaries , namely, the president, vice-president, the prime minister and the speaker of the Lok Sabha should be adjudicated by whatever authority and procedure as provided by law, and that any court order, made before its commencement, declaring such an election to be void, should be deemed null and void.  Later, the 44th Amendment Act restored the original form of Article 71 and deleted Article 329A.

3. Minerva Mills v Union of India (1980)

In this case, the Supreme Court  struck down Section 55 of the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976, which added clauses (4) and (5) to Article 368.   Clause 4 provided that no amendment of the Constitution shall be called in question in any court on any ground.  Clause 5 provided that there shall be no limitation whatever on the constituent power of Parliament to amend by way of addition, variation or repeal the provisions of this Constitution.

In the same case, the Supreme Court also declared amendments in Article 31C – introduced by Section 4 of the 42nd Amendment Act – unconstitutional, as they sought to give primacy to directive principles over fundamental rights.

4. Samba Murthy v State of Andhra Pradesh (1986)

In this case, the 32nd Amendment Act, 1973 had inserted Article 371D of the Constitution, which excluded the high courts’ power of judicial review.  The Supreme Court struck down clause (5) of Article 371D along with the proviso, as void.  This proviso conferred power on the state government to modify or annul the final order of the administrative tribunal.

5. Kihoto Hollohan v Zachillhu (1992)

In this case, the Supreme Court struck down Paragraph 7 of the 10th Schedule to the Constitution, inserted by the 52nd Amendment Act, 1985, to disqualify elected members of Parliament and state assemblies on the ground of defection, as unconstitutional. Paragraph 7 had barred the jurisdiction of courts from considering the validity of the speaker’s decisions with regard to disqualification.

6. Chandra Kumar v Union of India (1997)

In this case, the validity of Section 46 of the 42nd Amendment Act, 1976 was the issue.   This provision had inserted Articles 323A and 323B dealing with administrative tribunals and tribunals for other matters respectively.  The Supreme Court declared Clause 2(d) of Article 323A and Clause 3(d) of Article 323B as unconstitutional as they excluded judicial review by the high courts.

7. Supreme Court Advocates-on-Record Association v Union of India (2015)

In this case, the Supreme Court struck down the 99th Amendment to the Constitution, establishing the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) replacing the collegium framework for appointment of judges to the higher judiciary.  As the NJAC Act took away judicial primacy in the appointment of judges, the Supreme Court found that it infringed upon judicial independence, violating the basic structure doctrine.  Unlike the previous partial striking down of amendments, it was the first and only time when the Supreme Court struck down the entire Amendment Act as unconstitutional.

Basic structure doctrine v ordinary laws

Since the constitution bench in the Fourth Judges case (2015) had invalidated the 99th amendment invoking the basic structure doctrine, it did not find the need to apply the same doctrine while setting aside the NJAC Act.

Yet, it is interesting to note how the judges disagreed on the question.  Justice J.S. Khehar, in his judgment, found no problem in challenging the Act based on the doctrine because such a challenge would be based on a set of articles in the constitution, which the statute violated. While Justice Lokur offered a contrary view, other judges on the constitution bench avoided the issue as unnecessary.

File photo of Justice Madan B. Lokur. Photo: PTI

Justice Lokur noticed that in Madras Bar Association v Union of India, the Supreme Court had held that the basic structure doctrine could be invoked to challenge ordinary laws. But Justice Lokur chose to rely on the seven-judge bench decision in State of Karnataka v Union of India, which held that basic structure doctrine cannot be used to challenge ordinary laws. The only exception to this perhaps could be a statute placed in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution, he noted.

However, Justice Lokur was part of the five-judge constitution bench which decided State of Tamil Nadu v State of Kerala, on May 7, 2014, declaring as unconstitutional the Kerala Irrigation and Water Conservation (Amendment) Act, 2006, which fixed and limited the Full Reservoir Level (FRL)  of  Mullaperiyar dam owned and maintained by Tamil Nadu at 136 ft.   The bench, relying on the court’s judgment in Mullaperiyar Environmental Protection Forum 1 case pronounced  on February 27, 2006, held that raising the water level from 136 ft to 142 ft would not jeopardise the safety of the dam in any manner.  The bench concluded that the 2006 Amendment Act was usurpation of judicial power, and therefore, violative of the doctrine of separation of powers, a basic feature of the Constitution, and also of the rule of law.  This subtle change in Justice Lokur’s opinion in the course of one year thus is noticeable on this issue and is also indicative of the lack of clarity among the Supreme Court judges on whether BSD could be applied to test the validity of ordinary laws.

Judicial independence the key concern for Supreme Court

The seven instances of striking down of constitutional amendments on the ground of violation of basic structure doctrine would show that in all these, the court did so only because the amendments threatened judicial independence, considered as a basic feature.

So far, the Supreme Court has not yet invalidated a constitutional amendment on the ground of violation of basic features, other than judicial independence.  This shows that the Supreme Court is inclined to invoke the basic structure doctrine as a last resort only if it finds that its own independence from the legislature or the executive is at stake, while striking down constitutional amendments.

As Krishnaswamy observes, there is an overzealousness that characterises Supreme Court’s willingness to protect the independence of the judiciary.  In the last two decades it has intervened in the selection of district court judges, their conditions of service including payment of salaries as well as the selection and functioning of tribunal and regulators.

Is this a case of institutional self-dealing where the court is protecting and advancing its own?  Krishnaswamy told me in an interview that he would agree if there was evidence that the Indian state invests heavily and pampers the court system.  “Unfortunately, the courts and the legal system are in a dismal state of disrepair, and hence judicial intervention in this arena appears to be more benign”, he said after the judgment in the NJAC case.

Interestingly, judicial independence or primacy were not listed by the majority Judges as basic features in the Kesavananda judgment, but have been elevated by the judiciary as basic features subsequently.   According to Chief Justice Sikri, the basic structure consists of just six features: supremacy of the Constitution; Republican and democratic form of government; secular character of the Constitution; separation of powers between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary;  federal character of the Constitution; and the dignity and freedom of the individual.

To this, other majority Judges added the unity and integrity of the nation, social, economic and political justice, liberty of belief, faith and worship, and equality of status and opportunity.  Mandate to build a welfare state, limitation on the amending power that it is not used to alter or damage the basic structure of the Constitution and independence of the judiciary were other additions.  It was possible for the subsequent benches of the Supreme Court to add to this list because the majority Judges in the Kesavananda had held that their list of basic features was only illustrative, and not exhaustive.

In Delhi Judicial Service Association v State of Gujarat (1991), which dealt with the power of the Supreme Court under Article 129 to punish for contempt of subordinate or inferior courts as well, the Supreme Court observed:

“Under the Constitutional scheme this Court has a special role in the administration of justice and the power conferred on it under Articles 32, 136, 141 and 142 form part of the basic structure of the Constitution.”

Citing the above passage, Raju Ramachandran finds it difficult to appreciate how Article 142, which gives the Court the power to pass any order in order to do ‘complete justice’ can be a part of the basic structure or how again the power of the Supreme Court under Article 136 to grant special leave can form part of it.

In cases where constitutional amendments are not under challenge, however, the Supreme Court has been more liberal in invoking the basic structure doctrine.

This has been so notwithstanding the aberration in A.D.M.Jabalpur v Shivkant Shukla (1976) when the Supreme Court held that the Presidential proclamation suspending Article 21 did not leave the citizen with the right to protect his liberty.  Because of this decision, a right which, applying the basic structure test, could not be taken away even by amending the Constitution, could be taken away by an executive proclamation.   But the court has, in subsequent years, not only considered A.D.M. Jabalpur unworthy of being followed as  a precedent for this decision, but specifically overruled it in 2017.

Former Chief Justice of India Y.V. Chandrachud. Photo: PIB

In  Special Reference Case 1 of 2002, while answering an advisory opinion sought by the president on the question of holding assembly elections in Gujarat in the aftermath of the post-Godhra carnage against minorities in the state, the Supreme Court held that holding of free and fair elections is a basic feature; therefore, the Election Commission was bound to hold elections within six months of dissolution of the assembly.   The EC wanted to delay the holding of elections in the state, in view of the tense situation in the state at that time, notwithstanding its constitutional obligation to hold the elections in time.

Over the years, the basic structure doctrine has been used more as an interpretative tool to test the validity of a law or executive action or determine the meaning of a constitutional provision.

BSD and recently decided cases

In K.S. Puttaswamy v Union of India, the Supreme Court’s nine-judge bench held that when a constitutional right such as the right to equality or the right to life assumes the character of being a part of the basic structure of the constitution, it assumes inviolable status:  inviolability even in the face of the power of amendment.   Statutory rights are subject to the compulsion of legislative majorities.  The purpose of infusing a right with a constitutional element is precisely to provide it a sense of immunity from popular opinion and, as its reflection, from legislative annulment.   Constitutionally protected rights embody the liberal belief that personal liberties of the individual are so sacrosanct that it is necessary  to ensconce them in a protective shell that places them beyond the pale of ordinary legislation; Entrenched constitutional rights provide the basis of evaluating the validity of law, the bench held.   These observations are a clear pointer that BSD can be applied to test the validity of ordinary laws, whatever the previous precedents.

Justice J. Chelameswar, in his separate and concurring judgment in Puttaswamy, observed:  “The implications arising from the scheme of the constitution are the “constitution’s dark matter” and are as important as the express stipulations in its text.  The principle laid down by this court in the Kesavananda that the basic structure of the constitution cannot be abrogated is the most outstanding and brilliant exposition of the ‘dark matter’ and is a part of our constitution, though there is nothing in the text suggesting that principle. …  Romesh Thappar and Sakal Papers are the earliest acknowledgement by this court of the existence of constitution’s dark matter.  The series of cases in which this court subsequently perceived various rights in the expression ‘life’ in Article 21 is a resounding confirmation of such acknowledgment”.

In the Ayodhya judgment, the Places of Worship Act, 1991 came for review.  The bench held that the state has, by enacting the law, enforced a constitutional commitment and operationalized its constitutional obligations to uphold the equality of all religions and secularism which is a part of the basic features of the Constitution.   The bench relied on S.R. Bommai v Union of India, in which the Supreme Court reiterated that secularism is a basic feature of the Constitution as affirmed in Kesavananda and Indira Nehru Gandhi.  “Any step inconsistent with this constitutional policy is, in plain words, unconstitutional”, the court had observed in that case.  The Act is intrinsically related to the obligations of a secular state, the bench in the Ayodhya case said.

A November 1990 photo of the Babri Masjid, still standing. Photo: PTI

Curiously, though the decision in the Ayodhya case was expected to deal more with secularism as a basic feature, the court invoked its relevance as a facet of BSD only while discussing the Places of Worship Act, 1991 in the judgment.  Many, therefore, would consider the bench’s non-reliance on BSD to reach its conclusion in the Ayodhya case a disappointment. Rather, the court decided the case the way it did because it paid only a lip service to the BSD, by relying on it just in passing, to suggest how to deal with such issues in future.

As the Supreme Court braces itself to decide the pending cases which implicitly involve an interpretation of the Constitution’s ‘dark matter’, it is its judgment in the Puttaswamy case which should offer it guidance, rather than its silence in the Ayodhya case.

BSD and the future of democracy

Against this back drop, a key question for our times is whether the basic structure doctrine can come to the rescue of Indian democracy in the face of a ruling dispensation determined to push its agenda?

The answer to this perhaps lies in how the Supreme Court’s judges  consider the application of the basic structure test to particular cases before them. Experience suggests that if they find alternatives to adjudicate an issue, they prefer those alternatives, rather than to use the basic structure test. In a given case, it may prove to be an easy alternative for a judge to rely on an abstract principle, and consider it as a basic feature of the constitution.

In many cases, however, judges find it problematic to apply the BSD to a given case when the impugned amendment/law/executive action only seeks to tweak or tinker with the constitution, but does not threaten to bring down its edifice.

Also Read: Inside Story of the Centre’s Turf War with the Supreme Court Collegium

In the NJAC case, for example, critics ask whether the Supreme Court was right in equating judicial primacy (which is just one facet of judicial independence) with judicial independence to strike down the constitutional amendment and the NJAC Act.  They ask whether the same judicial primacy is not sacrificed when the Supreme Court’s collegium is indifferent to the executive’s non-compliance with its recommendations in judges’ appointments or transfers even when reiterated.

While the abstraction of a basic structure principle may appear to be an invitation for its easy adoption by the judiciary in a given case, the standard of review required – whether the impugned legislative or executive action threatens to bring down the edifice of the constitution itself – may be a difficult criterion to satisfy, thus forcing a judge to consider alternatives to basic structure.

In State of Karnataka v Dr.Praveenbhai Thogadia, (2004) for example, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court found the BSD a useful tool, in terms of Supreme Court’s declaration of secularism as a basic feature in S.R. Bommai (1994), to justify preventive action by the executive to stop any individual or group of persons from sowing seeds of mutual hatred, to create disharmony and disturb equilibrium, by their caustic and inflammatory speeches.

In the recent Firoz Iqbal Khan v Union of India (Sudarshan TV – UPSC Jihad show), the Supreme Court first restrained itself from imposing a pre-broadcast injunction against the television channel telecasting its controversial programme called “Bindaas Bol”, which allegedly tarnishes the Muslim community.  The precedent set in Thogadia could well have been applied in this case, without giving an opportunity to the channel to telecast the first four episodes of the controversial program allegedly facilitating hate speech.

The Supreme Court changed its view and imposed a pre-broadcast injunction over the remaining episodes of the programme only after the hate-speech content of the first four episodes already telecast were brought to its notice. The Supreme Court is apparently in search of principles to balance the free speech rights of the television channel with its responsibility to maintain the equilibrium.  In other words, the court finds the case before it too complicated for an easy adjudication on the basis of the BSD, as the court had done in 2004 in the case of Thogadia.

These two cases dealt with in the span of two decades by different judges bring to the fore the vacillation of the top court in recent years in adjudicating an issue on the basis of the BSD.

CJI Bobde’s recent off-the-cuff remark on discouraging resort to Article 32 of the constitution ˆ even while reprimanding in another case the Maharashtra legislative assembly secretary for threatening TV anchor Arnab Goswami for invoking the very provision – is one more proof of this vacillation among the judges of the Supreme Court on the application of the BSD.

Content retrieved from: https://thewire.in/law/cji-bobdes-view-of-article-32-is-linked-to-apex-courts-vacillation-on-basic-structure-doctrine.

NIA and Maharashtra Govt Too Is Responsible for Varavara Rao’s Failing Health

Mumbai: Telugu poet, writer and activist Varavara Rao was 78 years old when the Pune police arrested him in August 2018. At the time of his arrest, Rao was already suffering from several age-related health issues. His prolonged incarceration, coupled with the lack of medical care in prison and the sudden outbreak of COVID-19, has exacerbated his condition even further.

In May, Rao first showed signs of serious illness. He had fallen on the ground unconscious inside Taloja central prison and had to be rushed to the state-run JJ hospital for treatment. Along with physical frailty, Rao had developed a serious neurological illness.

Ever since, Rao’s health has only continued to deteriorate. His family, lawyers and human rights defenders have been rallying for his release – but it has been denied on each occasion.

Rao, accused of being an “urban Naxal”, is one of the 16 activists and academics who have been arrested for allegedly instigating violence at Bhima Koregaon near Pune on January 1, 2018. They have been arrested for their alleged role in arranging the Elgar Parishad conclave on December 31, 2017, at Shaniwarwada in Pune, which according to the investigating agency had led to a violent attack on the Dalit community visiting Bhima Koregaon the next day.

Also read: A List of Activists, Scholars and Scribes Whose Personal Liberty Remains at Judiciary’s Mercy

The case, which was earlier with the state police (under BJP rule in Maharashtra), was handed over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in January this year. The current tri-party government in the state – of the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and Congress – had equivocally opposed the Centre’s decision to take over the case and has maintained that human rights defenders were unfairly targeted and wrongly implicated in a politically motivated case. Both NCP chief Sharad Pawar and the state home minister have on multiple occasions announced their intention to set up a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the matter.

Going by the state’s response so far, one would assume that they are empathetic towards the human rights defenders who are in jail and at the least, their right to dignity and access to medical care would be ensured. But that did not happen. It took several months of legal battle to even get Rao access to specialised doctors at a private Nanavati hospital, that too only after the Bombay high court’s order on November 18.

Another accused, Ranchi-based 83-year-old Jesuit priest and tribal rights activist Stan Swamy, had to move court for a straw and sipper to drink water, as he cannot hold a glass because of Parkinson’s disease. “I had brought with me a “sipper-tumbler”, to drink tea and water. However, the same was disallowed at the prison gate, on entry on 9 October. Now, I am using a baby-sipper mug, which I purchased through the prison hospital. I have communicated this need to our lawyers. I am still waiting to receive the sipper-tumbler,” Swamy wrote in one of his letters from prison.

Rao’s bail plea on medical grounds and the writ petition filed by his wife, Pendyala Hemlatha, stating that his incarceration was a violation of his right to health and life, were moved simultaneously. The NIA, expectedly, opposed his bail. Along with the charges levelled in the chargesheet, the central agency also filed an affidavit providing a table of 24 cases from the past. Among them, his lawyer Satyanarayana Iyer says, in 23 cases, Rao has already been either acquitted or discharged.

Along with the NIA, the state too has a role to play, particularly in the application moved on medical grounds. But somehow, instead of presenting a fair picture, the state went on the defensive, even alleging that Rao’s lawyers and family were making false claims.

Also read: An Irish Poet Sends the Fragrance of Invisible Flowers to Varavara Rao

Prisons are a state subject, and regardless of which agency is handling the investigation, it is for the state to ensure that an accused person’s basic rights are safeguarded. But when it came to providing medical attention to Rao, the state prison and health department faltered. When Rao’s family tried to meet him at JJ hospital in May, they found him in an inhuman condition, lying in a pool of urine. Here, he allegedly suffered a head injury. Rao was delirious and was not attended to by any doctors, the family had alleged. He was soon moved to St. George hospital, another state-run hospital, and also a nodal centre for COVID-19 in the city after Rao had tested positive for the virus.

Following the family’s insistence, Rao was moved to Nanavati hospital on July 19 but his family and lawyers had alleged that he was abruptly sent back to Taloja central prison within days. Senior advocate Indira Jaisingh, representing Rao in the Bombay high court, had pointed out that even after constant follow-ups the family was denied his hospital discharge reports. In fact, the state has not made any medical report on Rao available after July 30.

Jaising : Till today Nanavati discharge report is not made available to the family.
Only those reports will tell us what action has been taken or not taken. Nanavati Hospital discharge report, JJ hospital and St George Hospital discharge reports are not available.#varavararao

— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) November 18, 2020
“The family has been kept in the dark about his health. The Taloja jail hospital is incapable of taking care of him,” Jaisingh argued before the high court on November 18, further adding, “There is a reasonable apprehension that he (Varavara Rao) will die in custody.” At Taloja prison, in the absence of a medical attendant, two of his co-accused – Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira – were taking care of Rao. During several phone calls, they had conveyed to the lawyers that Rao had been bedridden, in diapers, with a catheter. “His catheter was not changed for three months,” Jaisingh had informed the court.

On November 12, the Bombay high court had directed the state authorities to conduct a medical check-up via videoconferencing. For a man suffering from dementia, a neurological condition, the presence of a neurologist was a must. So was the presence of a urologist since Rao had been complaining of a urinary tract infection for months. Both specialists, however, were absent. Jaisingh had also pointed out several inconsistencies – including his age and date of a check-up – in Rao’s test reports that were obtained from a laboratory in Panvel.

Also read: Writing as Righting: The Politics and Poetics of Varavara Rao

The deterioration of Rao’s health may have been avoidable. The state ought to have had ensured proper medical treatment for him. If a prisoner who enjoys the privilege of being represented by some of the best legal minds of the country is treated so inhumanely, one can only imagine the condition of the 4,124 other prisoners lodged (as of October 31) in Taloja prison. Despite the pandemic, Taloja prison has a whopping 194% occupancy rate (the average occupancy rate in the state’s prisons stands at 126%) and at least two persons (and a total of six prisoners in state prisons) have died due to the coronavirus.

The Wire has been consistently reporting about the lack of medical facilities in Indian prisons and how the situation only got worse for prisoners during the pandemic. An average of 1,800 deaths have been recorded in the prisons of India every year. Even while most deaths are categorised as “natural”, the reasons and circumstances of these deaths suggest that most lives could have been saved if timely medical intervention had been made available.

In such worrying times, by failing to respond to an octogenarian prisoner, and most importantly someone who is incarcerated in a politically motivated case, the Maharashtra government has failed in protecting a citizen’s right to life and dignity.

Content retrieved from: https://thewire.in/rights/varavara-rao-health-maharashtra-government.

Several States Rejected Centre’s ‘Historic’ MSP Increase, Demanded Higher Prices

New Delhi: Shortly after passing three controversial farm Bills in September, the Narendra Modi government announced the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of six rabi crops.

The announcement was made even as farmers across different parts of the country protested against the newly formulated laws. But Prime Minister Modi hailed the hike in MSP as ‘historic’, claiming that it will benefit crores of farmers.

However, many states have not approved of the MSP of six rabi crops – wheat, barley, gram, lentil, mustard and safflower – fixed by the Centre for the season of 2020-21.

Among the states that registered their protest is the largest wheat-producing BJP-ruled state of Uttar Pradesh. The Yogi Adityanath government had demanded to determine the MSP according to the increased cost of production in the state.

Official correspondence accessed by The Wire reveals that states like Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Chhattisgarh had written to the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare to protest against the existing MSP of rabi crops and demanded that in order to grant fair remuneration to farmers, the minimum support price should be announced after state-wise calculation of all the costs involved in cultivation.

The state governments have argued that the Centre’s decision to marginally increase the MSP would neither benefit the farmers nor rescue them from their plight. However, the Central government has rejected all the demands in this regard.

Jharkhand

In order to ensure financial assistance to farmers, the Jharkhand government had demanded an increase in the MSP citing adverse circumstances arising out of the coronavirus epidemic and the problem of a large number of returning migrants to the state.

In a letter to Union agriculture secretary Sanjay Agarwal dated August 18, 2020, state agriculture secretary Aboobacker Siddiqui P. had asked that the MSP be fixed at Rs 4,254 per quintal for wheat, Rs 6,118 per quintal for lentils and Rs 6,517 per quintal for mustard.

However, the Centre has fixed the MSP of wheat at Rs 1,975 per quintal, which is Rs 2,279 less than the amount proposed by the state government.

Similarly, the MSPs for lentil and mustard are less than the state-recommended prices by Rs 1,018 and Rs 1,867 per quintal respectively.

Jharkhand Rabi MSP Recommen… by The Wire

In the letter, Siddiqui wrote, “Agriculture is the backbone of economy of Jharkhand. Around 70% of the population depends on agriculture for employment. It may further be noted that in the context of COVID-19, many farmers have returned to the state and are looking for employment in the agricultural sector.”

“The state is also developing a roadmap for providing gainful opportunities including in the farm sector, and any reduction in MSP will further increase the stress on the farm sector,” the letter further added. “Many farmers in the state have availed crop loans but due to the unfavourable climatic conditions, they are under severe distress to repay the loans.”

However, the Centre did not accept the state’s proposal.

Also read: As Freeze on Train Movement Bleeds Punjab of Rs 21,000 Crore, Farmers Hold Centre Responsible

Uttar Pradesh

In Uttar Pradesh, which contributes the highest share to the country’s total wheat production, that is 31.5%, the state BJP government had also raised objections to the MSP announced by the Modi government and demanded a hike to help farmers out of the crisis.

According to a confidential letter written by state special secretary Vidya Shankar Singh to the secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare dated August 18, 2020, the UP government had demanded that the MSP of wheat be fixed at Rs 2,710 per quintal, which is Rs 735 more than the MSP announced by the Centre.

Similarly, the state government had asked to fix the MSP at Rs 2,380 per quintal for barley, Rs 5,500 for gram, Rs 4,365 for peas, Rs 5,150 for lentil and Rs 5,205 for mustard.

The MSP proposed by the UP government is much higher for all crops except lentils.

UP Rabi MSP Recommendation by The Wire

Singh wrote in the letter, “The main criteria for determining the minimum support prices of crops is their production cost. The cost of crops depends on the expenditure incurred in their production on human labour, animal labour, machine labour, land rent and agricultural investment, etc. The cost of agricultural investments has increased in general.”

To assess the cost of production, the Uttar Pradesh Agriculture Department had conducted a survey which showed that the cost of production estimated by the state is much higher than that assessed by the Centre’s Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP).

The state government said, “Keeping in mind that the majority of the population in the state is dependent on agriculture and agriculture-based occupations, the minimum support prices of crops should be declared as per the prices recommended by the state government, so that farmers in the state are able to get remunerative prices.”

The letter further stated, “If the MSP is fixed according to the recommendation of the state government, the farmers would be prevented from migrating from the agricultural sector. In addition, by increasing the production of crops, the income of farmers can also be increased.”

While requesting to implement its recommendation, the UP government also cited said that about 92.8% of total farmers of the state are small and marginal, possessing about 65.8% of the total agricultural area available.

Also read: It’s Time for a 10-Year-Plan that Says How Much Rice and Wheat Will Be Procured From Each State

The state also claimed that the average size of land holdings in the state is only 0.73 hectare, of which the average agricultural land with marginal farmers is just 0.38 hectare. The food storage capacity is also very small.

“Due to the small size of the holdings, their resources and ability to use agricultural inputs are also low,” claimed the Adityanath government. “Therefore, it is in the best interest of farmers that they receive a fair price for their produce.”

The Modi government, however, turned down the proposal of Uttar Pradesh government as well. 

Bihar

The BJP-led Bihar government had also protested against the MSP of rabi crops announced by the Centre and demanded that the price be determined on the basis of increased production cost.

According to a letter written by state agriculture secretary N. Saravana Kumar to the agriculture secretary of the Government of India Sanjay Agarwal on August 21, 2020, the Bihar government had demanded that the MSP be set at Rs 2,583 per quintal for wheat, Rs 5,538 for gram, Rs 5,541 for lentil and Rs 5,919 for mustard.

The MSP proposed by the state is much higher than the prices announced by the Centre, that is Rs 1,975 per quintal for wheat, Rs 5,100 for gram, Rs 5,100 for lentils and Rs 4,650 for mustard.

Recommendations sent by the Bihar government.

Arguing in favour of increasing the MSP, Kumar wrote, “There are several factors which have led to an increase in the cost of production. These factors include excessive dependence on human labour, large number of small and marginal farmers, slow pace in adoption of new technology, poor socio-economic status of farmers, excessive dependence on diesel pump-sets for irrigation and increase in prices of seeds as well as phosphatic and potash fertilisers.”

“The Central government should fix the minimum support price keeping in mind the circumstances of the state,” stated the letter.

But the Centre ignored these demands.

Chhattisgarh

Similarly, the Chhattisgarh government also sent a proposal to the Centre on September 5, 2020, demanding an increase in the support prices. The state agriculture department had sought the hike in MSP after calculating the cost of rabi crops in detail.

In calculating the cost of production, the state government has considered several points such as the cost of labour, interest on loans, rent of land, expenditure on security and transport, and recommended that the MSP of wheat be fixed at Rs 2,100 per quintal, barley at Rs 1,650, gram at Rs 5,000, lentil at Rs 5,000, mustard at Rs 4,600 and safflower at Rs 5,400.

Also read: Rajasthan: After a Prolonged Battle, Farmers Get Crop Insurance Claims

However, the MSP announced by the Centre for wheat, barley and safflower is lower than the proposed MSP. The state government has claimed that the support prices are not in accordance with the expenditure incurred by farmers on various items as well as agricultural costs.

Note that the Union Ministry of Agriculture’s CACP recommends minimum support prices on the basis of estimated cost of production.

The CACP calculates the average cost of production in all states and determines the MSP based on it. As a result, farmers in some states get a fair price, while in several other states the MSP granted to farmers is not even equal to the production cost.

Expressing serious concern over this, various states including several BJP-ruled states are issuing recommendations to the Centre to determine the MSP of seasonal crops according to the state-wise cost.

A study of various CACP reports also shows that the MSP fixed for crops is less than the production cost in many states or has been increased only slightly.

The Wire had recently reported how there is a huge difference between the MSP announced by the Centre for kharif crops and the prices proposed by several state governments.

Official documents reveal that various state governments, including BJP-ruled states, had demanded that the Centre determine the MSP keeping in mind the increased cost of production. But the demands were not met.

In addition, The Wire had earlier reported how a single MSP for crops across the country is disadvantageous for farmers and how several state governments, including BJP-ruled states, have demanded a state-based MSP calculation.

Translated from Hindi by Naushin Rehman. Read the Hindi original here.

Content retrieved from: https://thewire.in/agriculture/rabi-msp-increase-states-reject.

Nikita Tomar’s Killing – Why India Needs a SCAW Division NOW!

Till now, you all must have seen the viral clip in which a kidnapping attempt was made on 21-year-old Nikita Tomar by a stalker named Tausif during broad daylight in Ballabhgarh, Faridabad. In the viral clip, Nikita can be seen resisting Tausif attempt to force her to get inside a car. After Nikita refused, Tausif shot her point-blank in front of the crowd that had gathered there.

Nikita wasn’t the only one who was shot at during this episode. Shots were also fired at our country’s reputation and the law and order system we all hold dear. Nikita’s family has since alleged that Tausif wanted Nikita to convert to Islam and then marry him. Nikita had refused to his advances, but when your uncle is a Congress MLA then one (Tausif) doesn’t really understand the meaning of the word ‘NO’.

The whole incident caused intense public outrage and the accused was arrested by the cops. A 600-page charge sheet has been filed against the accused which says that the entire incident was a ‘pre-planned’ conspiracy. The issue is currently fresh in people’s minds but inevitably as time passes we all will forget about it. A few days after that, some other woman will get raped or murdered and then the whole cycle of outrage- prolonged investigation- delayed conviction will repeat itself. How to break this cycle?

One thing that could help break this vicious cycle is the establishment of SCAW- Serous Crime Against Women Divison. We know that SCAW will not be able to completely stop all crimes against women but it should help in greatly reducing them.

Why do we need SCAW division?

We have one of the highest crime rates against women in the world, in India, one rape case is filed every 16 minutes totaling to 87 rape cases in just one day. Over four lakh crimes against women cases are registered in India every year. Unfortunately, this rate has only been increasing in the last few years. What is even worse is 99% of all sexual assault cases in India go unreported.

On the other hand, the conviction rate for rapes in the country is at a meagre 27.8% and thousands of women are still waiting for their cases to be resolved. We just need to look at a few high profile cases to understand how difficult it is to get justice for women in this country. Registering complaints, investigation, collecting evidence, interrogating, filing a charge sheet are long and difficult tasks. What makes the situation even worse are forces actively trying to hinder justice.

At a look at the Kathua Rape Case in which an 8-year-old was raped and murdered. Rallies were organized in support of the accused and political pressure was mounted in order to save them. In the Asaram Bapu Rape Case, an entire flock had turned up to save the godman from the law. In Hathras, the victim’s body was cremated by the police against the victim’s family’s wishes. With so many forces working against the attainment of justice, it is a miracle that justice is served in some cases. For example, in the Nirbhya Gang Rape Case which caused massive outrage across the nation. The victims ultimately were hanged for the crimes they had committed but that too seven years after the fact.

All this said, whenever any international publication claims that India is unsafe for women, we deny their claims and actually start hitting back at them. What we need is not denial, what we need right now are solutions and the immediate establishment of a SCAW Division is one of these solutions.

What can SCAW division do?

  • SCAW will have the training and the resources that would help in immediately dealing with cases like Kathua, Nirbhaya, Hathras etc
  • SCAW would be able to quickly and effectively collect evidence against the perpetrators
  • SCAW can take the cases to The Fast Track Courts, ensuring swift justice to the victims
  • They can help in getting clear and clean convictions out of these courts

If those who commit crimes against women are able to see that the government is taking strict and quick action against the perpetrators, maybe they would stop committing these crimes? Okay, got a little too optimistic over there; crimes against women won’t completely stop but fear of action and conviction should be able to at least decrease some of the crime statistics we had mentioned earlier. One thing would be certain though, women like Nikita won’t be shot point-blank in broad daylight.

Establishment of SCAW would not only lead to lesser crime it will greatly improve the entire process from investigation to conviction. SCAW will have its won forensic division which will help in the investigation and alsoits own lawyers who will make the case against the accused. We believe that SCAW, which should be placed directly under the Prime Minister or Home Minister, would help in greatly improving women-safety in this country.

Now, SCAW is not just a figment of our imagination, special crime units similar to SCAW have been established before in our nations. Have you heard of Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO)? SFIO was established by the Vajpayee Government back in 2003 after a series of financial scams gripped the nation.

SCAW like units: SFIO and OCSAE

The SFIO doesn’t investigate the common man, it goes after big businessmen, companies, banks and financial institutions that have been taking part in fraudulent activities. If there can be a dedicated unit for investigation high-level frauds why not a separate unit for investigating crimes against women.

Let’s take another example; recently CBI had established a special unit called Online Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation (OCSAE) Prevention/Investigation Unit. Your normal local police station might not have the necessary skills, training, tools and time to investigate Online Child Abuse cases but OCSAE has all of these things. Recently, OCSAE arrested a Mumbai based artist who used to blackmail children by collecting their nude photos and then used to sell the photos to international ‘clients’.

Conclusion

So, now we know that we already have special units such as SFIO and OCSAE, what we need now is a SCAW division. When potential criminals would daily hear news of rapists being convicted they would think twice before committing any crime against women.

But SCAW is not going to be established overnight, we all will have to come together to demand the establishment of a SCAW Division in India because otherwise the government would just make a new Nirbhaya Fund which would be rarely used and women of the country would still feel uncomfortable about going out at night.

Content retrieved from: https://thedeshbhakt.in/2020/11/09/scaw-division-india/.

The Great Bank Heist: One of The Biggest Loots In India

There was once a time in our country when dark nights, deserted paths and the onset of robbers could mean only one thing…that your money won’t be yours for very long. But, nowadays, this process of “loot” has become much easier than before.

There is no need to get out at night or be mugged by robbers anymore…you can simply stand at a petrol pump and get looted, by buying 200% costlier petrol, you know? Or, you could get scammed by the builder mafia and keep paying EMI for the rest of your lives, and that too, without the house ever being delivered!

Taxes have harassed the middle class since time immemorial. Now, banks have added icing on the top of this “loot cake”. From 1 November, ICICI bank – which is counted as one of the biggest banks in India – started levying “convenience” fee from customers.

  • If you use the services of bank’s ATM anywhere between 6 pm to 8 am, then a fee would be charged.
  • A fee would be charged by the bank if you deposit a sum of 10,000 Rs or more in the account

This ain’t happening with ICICI account holders only…other private banks such as AXIS bank will also charge their customers…a fee for using banking services in “non-banking” hours, plus if money is being withdrawn more than 3 times in a month, then one must pay 150 Rs to the bank. In other words, “paise withdraw karne ke liye bhi paise bharo!”

Banks want us to keep our “precious monies” in the bank accounts only, which is why they’re rolling out excessive fees, hidden charges, and what not! But, we the people, as their customers have a problem…why don’t banks provide us “smart interest” rates, because if they did, we would’ve kept our monies in the banks only, right?

Not very long ago, an account in the bank would mean free and assured basic services…But just like we need to pay money for a window seat in budget airlines today, in much the same way, we need to pay to get things done in the bank.

Well, the economy is already in shambles and the NPA list is getting longer by the day, hence, the banks are in a sorry state themselves. Meaning: “Agar vo bole to bole kya, kare to kare kya?”

Hidden Fees/Charges

ATM transaction fee, cash transaction fee, debit card fee, credit card fee, duplicate statement fee, money transfer fee, minimum balance fee, and so on. Whether it’s corona time or whatever the reason for low balance, banks could not care less!

But the problem is not the fees and charges themselves but the fact that they’re many-a-times hidden. That is, banks don’t reveal these costs to their own customers, and deduct the money directly from their account balance!

Every year, banks earn thousands of crores of rupees through these fees and hidden charges. In fact, between April 2015 and September 2018, banks earned 10,000 crores by just penalizing the common man, from just two fees: minimum balance and ATM usage fee!

(If you think about it, banks have looted us to resolve the bad loans of infamous businessmen such as Vijay Malya and Nirav Modi)

Bank selling in-house products

People have not been spending their money due to an uncertainty in the market caused by corona and lockdown. Seeing this behavior, banks advise their customers to invest their monies in bank’s own ULIPs, mutual funds, pension plans, etc. which keep money with the bank and also earn banks hefty commissions at the same time…two birds with one stone!

For instance, 99% of the mutual funds sold by the SBI were diverted to SBI mutual funds scheme. 55% of the overall commission given by the SBI to its mutual funds distributors was back in the account of SBI…in other words: “ghar ka paisa ghar mein!”

Mis-selling of products

A bigger danger is posed to those who are not that financially savvy, especially the senior citizens, who have accumulated a corpus of wealth, having worked hard throughout their lives, but they don’t know how or where to invest. They are sold “high-commission-based-market-linked” products, which make banking systems pleased and senior citizens poorer by the end.

For example: why do banks sell a 10-year non liquid policy to a 70 year old!? Instead of FD, why sell a 7 year insurance policy with 5 year waiting period!?

No-one to check banks

The banks are relieved because the banking ombudsman that oversees them has neither the manpower nor a lot of rights. But even then, complaints related to mis-selling have doubled in the period between 2017-18 and 2018-19.

The problem lies with us also, as we depend upon our banks, a little too much! From their perspective, we are only customers, and their job is to earn profits off of us. If we trust them too much, we may end up, like the distressed PMC bank depositor.

Solution to bank heist

You and I, as customers, must awaken! We must read bank statements, boring as they may be, we must read all the terms and conditions thoroughly. Credit card bills must be kept in check. Offers must be thought upon twice, before accepting. If anything suspicious, send an immediate email, by which you can keep a record of your exchanges with the bank. Seek relatives or mentors who have deep knowledge of and experience with financial instruments.

Summing up

Banks seek your notes just as much as politicians seek your votes! Educate yourself well before dealing with them and question them both!

Content retrieved from: https://thedeshbhakt.in/2020/11/07/great-bank-heist/.