The Hindu Today News & Editorials – 24 February 2021

1) Human rights are everyone’s business.

India must realise that a democracy cannot be reduced to only demanding praise from the rest of the world.

GS-2: Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability.

GS-4: Strengthening of ethical and moral values in governance; ethical issues in international relations.


Context:

  1. The denial of democratic and human rights of the ongoing farmer protests drawn international attention getting strong statements of support from numerous international celebrities.
  2. The official response of Ministry of External Affairs was disproportionate to international community on the name of its matter of democracy and human rights, left unstated were India’s ‘internal affair’.
  3. Government must realise that democracy and human right cannot be reduced to only demanding praise from the rest of the world.

 

Is “Democratic and human right” volition is domestic issues?

  1. It is misdirected in a defense, “as country internal matter’ like the one a wife-beating husband deploys with his neighbours that it is not their business.
  2. The arrest of the environmental activist, Disha Ravi, for amplifying the farmer protests internationally, unmasked the government’s designs to criminalise those who speak for human rights.
  3.  This attitude of government also visible in the Home Ministry’s directions to social media companies to block accounts those speaking and expressing view contrary to that of the government.

 

The democracy not insures human rights in sense of security:

  1.  It is Syrians on an Italian shore, the Rohingya in Myanmar, Hindus in Pakistan or stateless refugees on a border in Mexico etc, democracy does not ensure and secure universal rights for its citizen have different justification.
  2. No government has immunity because it violates human rights in its jurisdiction. India could not have been more misplaced, when government spoke ‘Foreign Destructive Ideology’ in Parliament.

 

The Nation and the idea of rights:

  1. India played a signature role in drawing the world together to oppose the apartheid government of South Africa, and it took till 1962 to override the sovereignty shield used by the government to continue oppressing the Black population.
  2. India stayed firm from the 1950s till a resolution was adopted and a United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid was set up by the United Nations.
  3. India’s work, in consistently creating awareness and resistance against the demonization of Nelson Mandela via the Rivonia trial in 1963, checked the Apartheid regime from awarding him the death sentence.

 

The principle document signed in 20th century:

  1.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights laid down the terms for the post-war world; it enshrined the rights and the freedoms of all people, living everywhere
  2.  India was a member of the first Human Rights Commission, which was to draft the ‘international bills of rights.
  3. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted from January 1947 till December 10, 1948, when it was eventually adopted by the UN General Assembly.

24 February 2021: The Hindu Editorial Analysis

 

The Indian freedom fighters and Human rights:

  1. The Charter of the United Nations signed in San Francisco in 1945, Indian freedom fighters did their best to influence it and make its brief wider and more effective.
  2. Mahatma Gandhi issued a press statement in April 1945 which was directed at participants of the San Francisco conference and he extensively quoted from the All India Congress Committee resolution of August 8, 1942.
  3.  “The AICC the Committee is of opinion that the future peace, security and ordered progress of the world demand a world federation of free nations-Thus the demand for Indian independence is in no way selfishness”
  4. The Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit who becomes the first woman President of the UN General Assembly, powerfully advocated Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru’s ideas and emphasized their universality and the indivisible nature of rights that all human beings must enjoy.
  5.  The work of Indians like Hansa Mehta, Minoo Masani and Lakshmi Menon conveyed the message as being the same as that of the freedom movement  of freedom from oppression for all human beings

 

The Rights are indivisible:

  1. The makers of the Indian Constitution did not invoke paranoia about respecting Indian tradition, customs or hiding perverse practices.
  2. Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan says on “the Objectives Resolution” that the endeavour was “a fundamental alteration in the structure of Indian society, to abolish every vestige of despotism, every heirloom of inorganic tradition.”
  3. The triad of ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’ engraved in the Preamble, drew significantly from the slogan which had proved influential following the French Revolution.
  4.  To quote B.R. Ambedkar who on the eve of the adoption of the Preamble explained how Liberty, Equality and Fraternity were connected and locked into each other firmly:
  5. “Without equality, liberty would produce the supremacy of the few over the many. Equality without liberty would kill individual initiative. Without fraternity, liberty would produce the supremacy of the few over the many.
  6.  And “Without fraternity, liberty and equality could not become a natural course of things. It would require a constable to enforce them.”

 

India’s recent moves:

  1. The refer to Atmanirbhar as a counter to international concerns about freedoms, equality and the right to dissent amounts to hiding behind the flimsy excuse of sovereignty to escape the bitter truth of the slithering slope of democratic rights India appears to be going down.
  2. The starkest case where India made human rights of citizens of other countries its business was in 2019 when the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, offered a home for certain persecuted citizens of three foreign countries.
  3. The case the Indian government is making is all the more specious as its own immediate concern expressed, officially by its External Affairs Minister  visiting Sri Lanka, on the Sri Lankan government needing to do more to safeguard Tamil lives belies this principle.
  4. When it comes to universal human rights and international attention, the premier example is of the liberation of Bangladesh which India led and shepherded by invoking these principles.
  5. That India chose to and continues to host the Dalai Lama, who attracts visible support from high-profile global celebrities, is a testament to New Delhi’s commitment to human rights.

 

The issue is a reality problem:

  1. The government has actively courted foreign approval. The foreign envoys were taken on a guided tour of Kashmir last week because getting a favourable opinion from foreigner’s matters to the government.
  2. The craving for approval is natural for any publicity-seeking politician, but a democracy cannot be reduced to only demanding praise from the rest of the world and raising the bogey of ‘internal matters’ when international voices express solidarity with dissenters and raise serious concerns.

 

Conclusion:

  1. UDHR on human and civil rights, the Declaration consists of 30 articles detailing an individual’s “basic rights and fundamental freedoms” and affirming their universal character as inherent, inalienable, and applicable to (Universal) all human beings.
  2. Global concerns about democratic rights in India cannot be dealt with by arresting messengers, bullying ‘amplifiers’ or shutting down social media accounts.
  3.  India does not have an image problem; it has a reality problem. Changing the reality and adhering to best democratic practices inside is the only durable solution if the government wants its image ‘fixed’.

 

2) The excise duty-fiscal policy contradiction.

The increased tax burden due to excise duties cannot help growth.

GS-3: Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization, of resources, growth, development and employment and Government Budgeting.


Context:

  1. The demand for inelastic goods and service and the rise in tax on these goods was expected to be a shot in the arm for the revenue-starved government of our poor country.
  2. The government, excise duty-fiscal policy contradiction led to increased excise duty and tax burden on poor, may not help India’s GDP growth.
  3. Unless the government reduces its expenditure by the same extent, India’s gross fiscal deficit will be adversely affected by the excise duty.

 

The Increase in excise duty:

  1. As opposed to a Budget estimate of 3.5% for fiscal deficit, the revised estimates show a 2.7 times larger deficit of 9.5% for FY 2020-21.
  2. The comparison of the government’s revised Budget estimates with the original Budget estimates reveals a fall in receipts from every source of taxation except excise.
  3. The revised Budget shows a rise of ?94,000 crore on accounts of excise duties alone. The increase comes from the much-debated excise duty increases on petroleum and diesel.
  4.  As far as the Budget documents go, the excise duty rise will hardly compensate for the huge falls in other tax revenues.
  5. It is not surprising, therefore, that despite the excise rise, and the fiscal deficit continues to be higher than the Budget estimate.
  6. The excise duty collection is not large enough to have significantly reduced the inflated fiscal deficit figure.

 

24 February 2021: The Hindu Editorial Analysis

WHAT IS EXCISE DUTY AND its IMPLICETION?

  1. Excise duty is a form of tax imposed on goods for their production, licensing and sale. An indirect tax paid to the Government of India by producers of goods, excise duty is the opposite of Customs duty in that it applies to goods manufactured domestically in the country, while Customs is levied on those coming from outside of the country.
  2. At the central level, excise duty earlier used to be levied as Central Excise Duty, Additional Excise Duty, etc. However, the Goods and Services Tax (GST), introduction in July 2017, subsumed many types of excise duty. Today, excise duty applies only on petroleum and liquor.
  3. The nature of the products on which the excise duty has gone up, prices of commodities will rise in general, directly or indirectly.
  4. This is because all these commodities fall either in the category of final goods, which individuals purchase for personal consumption, or in the category of intermediate goods, which are used to produce a variety of essential services such as public transport, agricultural water supply, hotels and restaurants.

 

The criticism does not lack wisdom:

  1. With annual output shrinking by an estimated 7.7%, it is straightforward to conclude that unemployment has risen significantly.
  2. The accompanying price rise will be the unemployed persons’ worst nightmare. The result will be severe inequality.
  3. As far as shrinkage in output is concerned, it is the unavoidable lockdown that needs to be blamed rather than the government’s mismanagement of the economy.
  4. The associated inequalities though cannot be delinked from policy and, as political opponents will argue; COVID-19-linked income inequities ought to have been addressed through higher taxation of the rich.

 

The New philosophy on FRBM:

  1. It appears that the philosophy underlying the government’s economic policy framework has changed that has not received adequate attention.
  2. Government may appear to run counter to our own Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) Act, according to which the fiscal deficit must be, capped fewer than 3.5% or so.
  3.  The idea underlying the prescription was that a fiscal deficit automatically transformed to government debt.
  4.  Such debts along with their servicing liabilities have a tendency to magnify over the years, thereby imprisoning governments in debt traps, where present borrowings keep increasing to repay past borrowings and service charges.
  5. This leaves little room for growth enhancing expenditure and reduces a government’s credit worthiness in the eyes of lenders.

 

The New philosophy on Debt-financed fiscal spending:

  1. Debt-financed fiscal spending could well be a driver of growth. It can improve the standard of living of the entire population, without necessarily removing inequality.
  2. The inequality, however, could well be benignant, for even though the rich will grow richer, the poor will escape out of poverty.

 

The New philosophy on fiscal expenditure:

  1. A government’s fiscal expenditure, Professor Blanchard points out, has stronger multiplier effects during recessions than during booms.
  2. In an economic boom, state expenditure may crowd out private expenditure on account of a rise in the interest rate.
  3. During recessions, private expenditure is low in any case, on account of a rise in precautionary savings and the grim state of long-term expectations.
  4.  The government, however, is not affected by such psychological constraints. Its fiscal expenditure produces positive growth and this in turn can generate a feel good factor for the private sector over time, raise animal spirits, and improve the state of the economy.

 

Blanchard’s argument:

  1. The debt-to-GDP ratio can be prevented from exploding if the rate of growth of GDP happens to be higher than the sovereign rate of interest. This is the case in developed economies.
  2. In such economies, debt financed government expenditure will create a positive primary surplus (defined as the total government receipts minus expenditure net of interest payments) out of which interest payments can be made to keep the debt-GDP ratio under control.
  3.  There will, of course, be a maximum value that this ratio can attain, a value that is higher the larger is the excess of the growth rate over the interest rate.

 

Economic Survey support of Blanchard’s argument:

  1. According to the Economic Survey, India’s average interest rate and growth rate over the last 25 years (leaving out FY 2020-21) have been 8.8% and 12.8% respectively.
  2. Hence, Professor Blanchard’s condition is satisfied, so that debt financing of recession ought not to raise FRBM issues involving fear of future taxation to address past debts.
  3. The philosophy of the Economic Survey, on the other hand, appears to be that expenditure causes growth, rather than distributional equality.
  4. With improved growth, standards of living will rise across the population, bringing affluence of a sort to the economically deprived even as it makes the rich grow richer.

 

Conclusion:

  1. The government most emphasizes maintainable debt and expenditure as the vehicle of development as opposed to increased tax burdens.
  2. The contradiction between the governments announced fiscal policy stance and the fiscal regime it is actually running. But the growth rate to exceed the rate of interest, its affect the distribution of income.

 

3) A proper transfer policy needed.

Frequent transfers of public servants affect their morale and weaken administration

GS-2: Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability,

GS-4: Emotional intelligence-concepts, and their utilities and application in administration and governance.


Context:

  1. The Frequent transfers of public servants (public administrators) affect their morale and weaken better administration and Good governance.
  2. No matter how dedicated, innovative and efficient Civil servants may be, but solution to public administrators need a stability of tenure to govern well.

 

The J&K example

  1. Consider the case of Jammu and Kashmir. If the purpose of administering the region is to ensure peace and development, then it is unlikely to succeed till there is a proper transfer policy.
  2. As it stands presently, officers are transferred too often. This denies them the opportunity to settle down into an official role.
  3. The particular administrative location is used as a testing lab where officers keep arriving and leaving, with a deleterious impact on officer morale, leading to a reduction in efficiency and effectiveness.
  4.  The latter effect impacts development and governance and acts as a collective punishment to the population of that place. It has been a major reason for distrust, disconnect and alienation.

 

The Supreme Court guideline:

  1. T.S.R. Subramanian & Ors vs. Union of India (2013) under Article 32 of the Constitution of India has been invoked by few eminent retired civil servants highlighting the necessity of various reforms for preservation of integrity, fearlessness and independence of civil servants at the Centre and State levels in the country.
  2. The independent civil service boards at the centre and the states that would make recommendations on the postings and transfers of civil servants;
  3.  Fixed tenures for civil servants, minimum tenure at list for two year.
  4. The formal recording of instructions/orders/directions from political authorities and legislators, among others, on what they ask civil servants to do.

 

The 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission:

  1. The Commission was set up to suggest measures to achieve a preemptive responsible, accountable, sustainable and effective administration for the country at all levels of the government.
  2. The Commission suggests that an independent ‘Authority’ should deal with matters of assignment of domains, preparing panels for posting of officers at the level of SAG and above, fixing tenures for various posts, deciding on posts which could be advertised for lateral entry etc.
  3. Central Civil Services Authority should be constituted under the proposed Civil Services Bill. The Central Civil Services Authority shall be a five-member body consisting of the Chairperson and four members (including the member-secretary).
  4. To provide legislative backing to these measures, the Commission has recommended enactment of a Civil Services Law which will cover all personnel holding civil posts under the Union. The Commission recommended for the constitution of a Central Civil Service Authority

 

The Civil servants role in good governance

24 February 2021: The Hindu Editorial Analysis

 

The frequent transfer:

  1. The frequent transfer of officials is blamed on the interference of local politicians.
  2.  The participation of local people in governance and development is through civil servants. It is this participation that has been the worst affected due to the frequent transfers.
  3. The issue of frequent transfers is not limited to J&K, of course, but is found across India.
  4.  The analysis of the SUPREMO (Single User Platform Related to Employees Online) database of the Department of Personnel and Training, Government of India, shows that the average posting spell of civil servants in India is only about 15 months.
  5. An oft-repeated argument used for transfers is that they are “in the interest of administration.” However, they essentially weaken administration.
  6. Transfers often reflect administrative favouritism and create divisions among civil servants. If they are done on a political basis, this impacts the neutrality of the civil services.

 

A major shortcoming:

  1. The undermining of transfer guidelines has been a major shortcoming of personnel administration in India.
  2. The Fifth Pay Commission had recommended that no premature transfer should be allowed and that there should be fixation of a minimum tenure for each post.
  3.  The Hota Committee, which argued against frequent transfers, noted that “absence of a fixed tenure of officials is one of the most important reasons for tardy implementation of government policies,
  4.  For lack of accountability of officers, for waste of public money because of inadequate supervision of programmes under implementation and for large-scale corruption.

 

Conclusion:

  1. The core values of the civil services — neutrality, impartiality and anonymity, cannot be maintained without an efficient transfer policy.
  2. The civil service is a harried instrument in government. Routine transfers and very often, irregular and illegal orders have broken its back. Honest civil servants are harassed no end.
  3. Even in states where civil service boards have been constituted, arbitrary transfers and postings are the norm. Random transfers—often to punish “erring” officers—are the norm, need of hours is strong law and clear transfer policy.