Category Archives: Current Events

No wasteland in India, only wasted land: Jairam Ramesh

Sowmini G Prasad

Jairam Ramesh speaking on the New Draft National Forest Policy and the Deteriorating State of Environment in India in Bengaluru on 13th April, 2018.

Jairam Ramesh, Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha)

Mr. Jairam Ramesh, Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) and former Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) (independent charge), spoke on the new draft forest policy and the deteriorating state of environment in India in an interaction organised by the Environmental Support Group and Actionaid Association (Bangalore). The interaction, a question and answer session, covered a wide range of issues. However, this blog post focuses mostly on the discussions held around the new draft National Forest Policy, 2018 (NFP), the Forest Rights Act, 2006, (FRA) and the importance of institutions like the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and Parliamentary Standing Committees.

On the new draft NFP, Mr. Ramesh was of the view that while there are certain elements of continuity from previous policies, there are certain significant departures as well. The new draft NFP, uploaded by the MoEFCC for public comments in March 2018, has been criticised for its attempt to shift the approach to forestry in India – specifically, from a local community and ecology-centric approach emphasised in the 1988 policy – to one on timber and forest-based industries (The Wire 2018). While the requirement to maintain one-third forest cover in the country as per NFP, 1952 continued into the NFP, 1988, it has received additional focus in the new policy as forests have been recognised to act as huge carbon sinks. However, he did admit that the policy gives an idea of the government’s thinking on forests and environment, as the departure from the previous policies can viewed to be geared towards a business led GDP growth. The thrust on forestry in the new policy can be seen to be driven by two forces – one, to meet the COP21 commitment on increasing the carbon sink through a faster rate of increase in forest cover and two, with around 40 percent of India’s forest cover considered to be degraded, it opens up an opportunity for participation of private sector, satisfying its long standing demand to create captive plantations for wood-based industries. On the issue of grassland ecosystem not finding place in the current policy like the previous policies, he admitted that the progressive loss of grasslands is a great tragedy and attributed it to the spread of agriculture and irrigation. He also pointed to how for many years grasslands have been considered as wasteland and that in reality there no wastelands in India, but only wasted land. Addressing apprehensions on the potential of the policy to change or water-down existing legislations in the long term, by changing the definitions of forest areas which are protected under current legislations for example, he pointed to how the government cannot meddle with the definitions too much and that the forests were a state subject.

On FRA and its objectives, Mr. Ramesh spoke about how the legislation is an important instrument which can aid in redressing historical injustices meted out to the forest dwelling communities and how it can be used to deliver justice in the future as well. The objective of FRA is to recognise both individual and community forest rights. While around 14 lakh families have received individual rights, he mentioned how there has been a failure to recognise community forest rights. He pointed to the existence of a fear, especially in the forest department, that granting community forest rights might lead to a sudden empowerment of community-based institutions like the gram sabhas. He quoted the transfer of rights over revenue from such forest land from the forest department to the gram sabhas arising from a situation of recognition of community forest rights as an example of the source of such fears. However, he stressed on the importance of having gram sabhas as the pivotal point of community rights. He gave the examples of Jamaguda village in Orissa and Gadchiroli district in Maharashtra where community forest rights have been successfully recognized to emphasise that not all hope was lost. On the arguments that the FRA is in conflict with the need for maintaining sacrosanct spaces for wildlife, Mr. Ramesh highlighted the importance of the legislation and the need for a consultative process. He also added that any project in a forest area cannot be cleared unless the rights have been settled, pointing to the fact that on account of this requirement, many mining and coal projects had to go through a due diligence process. He emphasised that the key is to recognise due rights of the forest dwelling communities, make them partners in regeneration and conservation of forests, and where necessary, provide them with viable and attractive options to relocate.

The third issue that Mr. Ramesh stressed on was the role of institutions like the National Green Tribunal and the Parliamentary Standing Committees. On NGT, he spoke about the importance of ensuring its independence and maintaining its control outside the reach of the government. He spoke about this in the context of the provisions contained in Finance Bill, 2017 which sought to give the power to appoint NGT members to a government appointed nominee, while the NGT rules provide for such appointments to be made by a committee headed by a sitting Supreme Court judge (The Hindu 2017). He added that NGT is a people’s institution and that it has brought environment related grievance redressal closer to people through its dispute settlement mechanism. He also stressed the importance of having forums where elected representative come to the people to hear their voices. In this context, he spoke about how the standing committee of the environmental ministry can play a significant role through its powers to review policies and call for evidences, including the suo-motu power to call for a review.

Finally, on the difficulties that the environment ministry faces in carrying out its tasks, he spoke about the importance of balance in decisions relating to environmental conservation and how economic growth cannot be dismissed. While India has good policies and legislations, he pointed to weak and sometimes missing enforcement and the need for people holding political power to walk the talk on environmental decisions.

References

Agarwal, Sushant. 2018. National Forest Policy Draft 2018 Takes One Step Forward, Two Steps Back. The Wire. 02 April 2018 (https://thewire.in/environment/national-forest-policy-draft-2018-takes-one-step-forward-two-steps-back). 

Rajagopal, Krishnadas. 2017.Govt.’s response sought on Jairam’s plea over Finance Act. The Hindu. 04 August 2017 (http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/govts-response-sought-on-jairams-plea-over-finance-act/article19429207.ece). 

(Sowmini G Prasad is a 2017-19 participant of the Master Public Policy programme at National Law School of India University. She can be reached at sowminigprasad@nls.ac.in)


Image source – http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/land-acquisition-act-will-help-tribals-and-farmers-jairam-ramesh/article5182406.ece

When Judges took to the Press: Looming Public Policy Questions

SHREEJA SEN

In the history of the Indian judiciary, there have been several landmark moments. Some have been marked by sheer judicial brilliance, while others have blotted its history, often coming back to haunt the institution. The events of 12 January 2018 are likely to go down as  one such landmark moment, although time will tell what the impact of this would be.

On Friday, 12 January, four senior judges of the Supreme Court – Justices J. Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, M. B. Lokur, and Kurian Joseph – called a press conference to express their discontent with some of the internal functioning of the highest judiciary. Listing and allocating cases to benches of preference was one of the issues mentioned, bringing into question the role of the chief justice who is responsible for the same. The judges sent a letter to Chief Justice Dipak Misra highlighting this issue as well as other concerns regarding the manner of deciding certain matters of grave importance.

Judges holding a press conference, especially to discuss the functioning of the judiciary, is not a common phenomenon. This is a break from convention, an unsaid rule that judges only speak through their judgments. This is not the first time Justice Chelameswar has spoken out against the internal workings of the Supreme Court. In the time since the National Judicial Appointments Commission was set aside, and the collegium system sought to be made more transparent, Justice Chelameswar has raised his voice whenever he believed there was a problem. Internal functioning of the judiciary has seldom been public, although in recent times, collegium resolutions have been made public (although Justices Lokur and Joseph were against this).

Public Policy Concerns

The judiciary of the present is not only an institution that implements policies. It has taken on a role of also laying down norms and laws. A few recent examples can be the Court’s judgment on right to privacy, police reforms, and recognition of rights of transgenders. Senior judges speaking directly to the press and in essence, to the country, should be a signal about where the judiciary is headed. When matters of public importance are brought to the Supreme Court for decision making, what role does the chief justice have? It is often said that India does not have one Supreme Court, it has thirty-one Supreme Courts owing to the number of judges and the benches they sit on to decide cases. In saying that the chief justice is first among equals, the four judges have brought the issue of the role of the chief justice back to the forefront.

This should, ideally, bring more focus on the functioning of the Chief Justice of India, in his/her administrative capacity. While the Supreme Court Rules mention the role of the Chief Justice as the one who makes the decisions regarding allocation of cases to particular benches, the rest is left to his/her discretion. There needs to be a standard set of rules of procedure for the role of chief justices of the high courts and the Supreme Court. As of now, owing to the nature of the tenure of the chief justice (seniormost judge becomes the chief justice), there is no such standardised manner of functioning, other than those developed by unsaid norms of practice.

Concerns regarding transparency and accountability of the judiciary are also ones that still need to be addressed. While some judges of the Supreme Court themselves agreed that court proceedings ought to have audio and video recording, there has been no such decision to enable implementation of the same.

Last, and certainly not the least, this break from tradition along with other recent events like the case of a seven-judge bench hearing a contempt case against Justice C.K. Karnan, the question of the Memorandum of Procedure of judicial appointments, and the general lack of both transparency and inclusivity in the judiciary, must force the institution to introspect. Finally, as one of the pillars of democracy, the judiciary, with the Supreme Court in the lead, ought to find its moral compass arising out of the Constitution and as an institution of justice.

(Shreeja Sen is is a 2017-19 participant of the Master Public Policy programme at National Law School of India University. She can be reached at shreejasen@nls.ac.in)


Image source – http://ecourts.gov.in/koraput/supreme-court-india

BOOK LAUNCH: Kandhamal Introspection of Initiative for Justice by Vrinda Grover and Saumya Uma

SMITA MUTT

Kandhamal: Introspection of Initiative for Justice is an investigation into the justice process that followed an outbreak of communal violence in the Kandhamal district of Orissa in 2007-08. The initiative assesses the performance of these processes, including witness protection, rehabilitation and Fast Track courts nearly a decade later. The Bangalore launch was held at St. Josephs College for the Arts and Sciences and co-organised by Alternative Law Forum  and PUCL Karnataka. In Delhi, where this book was released at the Constitution Club, Justice AP Shah reportedly claimed that it provides a convincing overview of the “optimism of law and the depressing reality of practice”.

The purpose of writing this book now was to create visibility for the events in Kandhamal since, despite their huge scale, connectivity to the area is poor and public attention to the issue has been limited. Author Saumya Uma was introduced by Father Ajay, a priest from Kandhamal who shared stories of individuals during and immediately after the violence. Orissa was the first state in India to pass both Anti-conversion and Anti-cow slaughter Acts and he alleges that it was the complicity of the state – from the District Collector and police to those in charge of the justice process – that enabled these events to occur. Though the rioting had largely died down after August 2008, he narrated that it took nearly three years for people to return to their villages. The riots were not a sudden explosion of sentiment, he alleged, but planned and supported by the state.

The book itself is divided into sections that examine the status of relief, rehabilitation, compensation and reparations and concludes that all of them have been woefully underprovided by the State. Uma has been studying this particular issue since 2009 and has been actively involved in seeking justice for the victims. Due to her involvement in the process, this book serves not only to draw attention to the events in Kandhamal in 2007 and 2008, but also to document the challenges faced by victims and their families in society, how the official records are meagre and incomplete, how witnesses are being threatened in open court by the accused and the procedural mischief of lower courts. The book is divided into six chapters that provide an introduction and overview to:

(a) the Justice Naidu Commission Report (2015), which has been submitted but not yet introduced into the public domain,

(b) White papers on conversion released in 2007, ‘08 and ‘09 that were ignored by the state,

(c) Reparative Justice and the living situation in relief camps,

(d) The role of the criminal justice system and lack of prosecutions,

(e) The lack of adequate witness protections (with one witness having been abducted from right outside her lawyer’s office) and

(f) The use of false cases to intimidate and punish those who sought justice.

Other guests who discussed and launched the book included Prof. VS Elizabeth of NLSIU, Bangalore and Mr. Shivsundar an eminent journalist and activist with Karnataka Komu Souharda Vedike. The two of them discussed the wider climate of communal tensions today, addressing the process of ‘otherisation’ in contemporary politics, the recent RSS Meet in Goa and the roles played by ordinary people, neighbours and friends during any kind of communal riots. Prof. Elizabeth recalled her student days in Mangalore (the coastal region as well as Uttar and Dakshin Kannada were where the BJP first began consolidating their strength in Karnataka) and how Hindutva forces attempt to divide minority groups, arguing at various times that they are only opposed to Muslims, not Christians or evangelical groups, not the settled groups such as Baptists. Mr. Shivsundar turned his attention to how anything can eventually become accepted as normal whether “economy after Ambedkar, politics after Modi or journalism after Arnab”.

(Smita Mutt is pursuing the Master’s Programme in Public Policy at National Law School of India University. She can be reached at smitamutt@nls.ac.in)

Book Launch: WHEN CRIME PAYS by Milan Vaishnav

TRISROTA DUTTA

“When Crime Pays” lays down the relationship between power and crime in the Indian polity. India being the largest democracy in the world often makes crime committed in the struggle for power appear legitimate. It raises a complex question on the symbiotic relationship between crime and politics. It highlights the importance of empirical research in interpreting political actions. There are a considerable number of politicians running for state/district election who have criminal cases running against them in the court. These men not only contest the election but also win the seats. The book thus raises the question of what is the exact relationship between voters and party leaders that sustain protection of those with criminal cases ticking? The book by Milan Vaishnav is a thorough research on the intricacies of such a relation which dominates political affair not only in India but also in the rest of the world.

when crime paysThe author widely dwells over empirics and data collected mainly in India. The hypothesis which he seems to have drawn is based on statistics collected on the field. It reflects the trend of politics over the years. The thought that political affair is more inclined towards success and away from moral high ground finds basis through his words. A brief run through of statistics while he introduces the audience to his book is not only fascinating but also reflected the abuse of power taking place in political endeavours.

The guest speaker Mr Yogendra Yadav pointed towards a shift in the nature of criminality, where crime is hidden beneath the white collar sophistication. According to him, the high rate of crime is due to the fallout of democracy. Therefore one needs to go out to the field and make the voters aware of this. They must be aware to not vote for a candidate if they do not deserve it, as formal qualification is not an empirical sanction behind good and bad.

WhatsApp Image 2017-03-18 at 1.18.38 PM (2)The event was moderated by Ms Anubha Bhosle who is the Executive Editor for CNN-IBN. She laid focus on identity politics playing a dominant role in the election and the never-ending dilemma faced by common people with regard to whom to vote for. The dilemma, as pointed out by both the author and the guest speaker is permanent as voters are nuanced when they analyse performances. They would generally choose from those who can be occasionally depended on since politics shall always remain the art of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.

(Trisrota is pursuing Master’s Programme in Public Policy at the National Law School of India University. She can be reached at trisrotadutta@nls.ac.in)