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May 2019

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

[op-ed snap] Wrong step


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Debate on directive of banning Niqab in Sri Lanka


President Maithripala Sirisena has taken the extraordinary step of effectively banning the niqab, a face covering worn by some Muslim women, under the country’s Emergency regulations, promulgated after the Easter Sunday bombings claimed by ISIS. It makes Sri Lanka the only country outside Europe to take such a decision.

Problems With the directive

It is unfortunate that President Sirisena took such an extreme step without wider consultation, as it goes against the fundamental freedoms set out in the Sri Lankan constitution.

1.Violating Freedom -Even accepting that the Emergency gives the government vast powers to suspend some freedoms, this is an unwarranted and extreme measure.

2.Not commonly used -The niqab is an import from the Middle East.It is not a common sight in Sri Lanka. Few women wear it.

3. Demand for Ban on other garments –There is now the danger that the ban on the niqab will be read up in its implementation to include the more commonly worn hijab and burqa, especially as there have been demands earlier by Buddhist extremists that these garments should be banned.

It could also open up demands for banning other visible identity markers, such as caps and bears worn by men.

4. Steps were already taken by civil society – Significantly, even before the President took the step, Muslim civil society organisations and the clergy had already urgently appealed to their “sisters” to stop wearing the full face veil or desist from being seen in public spaces wearing it.

5. Fear of repercussion – It is clear the community, which is more integrated into the Sri Lankan polity and economy than the Tamils, are fearful of the repercussions of the attack, and wants to play down identity markers.

6. No consultation with women – It is unclear if the women in the community were consulted. They are being asked to shoulder the burden of holding up the community’s credentials.

Ineffective Directive

  • It cannot be stressed enough that the problem that has erupted in Sri Lanka has not been caused by women’s apparel.
  • Banning the niqab may make the government look as if it is taking action, but it is hardly the way to meet the challenge posed by radicalism of the ISIS kind. From 2015 at least, Sri Lanka has been aware that some of its young citizens have been attracted to ISIS and were travelling to Syria for battle innoculation. There is no evidence to show that it acted seriously on this information.
  • True, Sri Lanka was still in the first flush of the post-Rajapakse years, and the government was more focussed on dismantling some of the authoritarian structures from his time.
  • Still, it is beyond comprehension that the government did not have an accurate handle on the radicalisation of even the handful of ISIS recruits.

Issues related to Economic growth

[op-ed snap] An employment-oriented economic policy


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Ways to correct macroeconomic policy to boost employment and growth.


In the heated debate on jobs, the crucial link between macroeconomic policy and unemployment has not been flagged.

Tasks associated with economic Policy

  • The first is to review the conduct of macroeconomic policy.
  • Though it must come across as arcane, this is an element of public policy that makes a difference to whether we enjoy economic security or not.
  • This brings up the second task for the winner, namely employment generation.

Impact of poor Macroeconomic Policy

1. Fiscal consolidation

  • The government has continued with fiscal consolidation, or shrinking the deficit, while mandating the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to exclusively target inflation leaving aside all other considerations.
  • This has contracted demand.
  • That high fiscal deficits and high inflation per se can never be good for an economy does not justify a permanently tight macroeconomic stance.
  • The rationale given for one is that it is conducive to private investment, said to be shy of fiscal deficits and held back by inflation.
  • Both the deficit and inflation have trended downward in the past five years, yet investment as a share of national income has remained frozen.

2.Inflation targeting

  •  Arguably though, India has seen a virtual inflation targeting since 2013 when the policies of the RBI became more closely aligned to the practices of central banks in western economies.
  • Thus in 2013-14 the real policy rate saw a positive swing of over four percentage points, and it has more or less remained there.
  • Admittedly, at double digits, inflation had been high in 2012-13 but that could have been due to abnormal hikes in the procurement price and not due to runaway growth.
  • The high interest rate regime in place since 2013 could not but have had a negative impact on growth by raising the cost of capital to industry.

Reviewing RBI’s role

1.Reasons for review

  • A regime of high-interest rates can be bad not only for investment — and thus for growth and employment — but also for financial stability.
  • Sharp increases in interest rates can trigger distress.
  •  There has been a growth of non-performing assets of banks even after a change in the method of classification first resulted in their surging in 2015. This feature along with the spectacular collapse of the giant Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services Ltd (IL&FS) recently point to the need to review the role of the RBI.

2.Changes in Responsibility

  • Experience suggests that it must be tasked with far greater responsibility for maintaining financial stability while being granted wider powers.
  • Finance Ministry and its nominees on the RBI Board should desist from insisting upon actions that could jeopardise financial stability in trying to quicken the economy.
  • It also suggests that the movements in the financial markets are to be treated as the bellwether in economic policy-making.
  • Actually, over the past 30 years, from Mexico to southeast Asia, financial markets can be seen to have been fickle, self-serving and capable of causing great harm as they switch base globally in search of profits through speculation.


Job creation

1.Strengthening Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS)

We can assist the unemployed by strengthening the employment programme we already have, namely the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).

Timely Payment

First, there have been reports that though the budgetary allocation for the scheme may have increased, workers face delay in payment.

Extending the MGNREGS to urban India

Second, as has been suggested, there is a case for extending the MGNREGS to urban India for there is unemployment there.

Review of MGNREGS

  • However, as with macroeconomic policies, a thorough review of how the MGNREGS works on the ground is necessary.
  • The MGNREGS should target the waste dotting our countryside, and when extended to urban India should aid municipal waste-management efforts.
  • We would then have a cleaner environment and have at the same time created jobs.
  • That would a fitting tribute to the man after whom the programme is named, one who had worked for a clean India much of his life.

Child Rights – POSCO, Child Labour Laws, NAPC, etc.

Explained: Age of consent & age gap under POCSO Act


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : POCSO Act, Definition of Child

Mains level : Read the attached story

  • While acquitting a young accused of sexual assault charges under the POCSO Act, Madras High Court made two significant suggestions that:
  1. the age for the definition of a “child” be taken as 16 rather than 18, and
  2. the Act account for the difference in age between the offender and the girl involved in consensual sex

Madras HC Judgement

  • The definition of ‘Child’ under Section 2(d) of the POCSO Act can be redefined as 16 instead of 18.
  • Any consensual sex after the age of 16 can be excluded from the rigorous provisions of the POCSO Act and such sexual assault, if it is so defined can be tried under more liberal provision.
  • The Act can be amended to the effect that the age of the offender ought not to be more than five years or so than the consensual victim girl of 16 years or more.
  • While legal experts and child rights activists welcomed the redefinition of “child”, some of them called for further discussions on the suggestion for an amendment that would factor in the age difference.

Why decriminalizing the consensual act?

  • A senior Supreme Court advocate called for decriminalization of consensual sex between those aged between 16 and 18.
  • This provision denies young person falling in this age bracket consensual sexual agency, and subjects them to the control of families which motivated by casteist, communal or orthodox and regressive views lodge false criminal complaints.
  • Various studies tell us in the age group between 16-18, there is a lot of experimental consensual sexual acts that take place.
  • However in most of the cases, the parents of the girl lodge a complaint against the boy that it was non-consensual.
  • The judgement will help eliminate the unwarranted criminalisation of consensual or romantic sexual relations.

Enabling more scope for fair trial

  • The issue of consent would have to be decided from the circumstances rather than putting the victim on the stand and asking her if she gave consent.
  • In consensual sex both are offenders or both are victims.
  • Many activists feel that consensual sex cannot be criminalised at an age when sexual exploration is common, but argued against singling out the boy.
  • Normally the boy is tried under JJ and the girl is sent to CWC. They are equal partners.

Way Forward

  • There can always be a discussion on what should be the age gap between alleged offender and victim.
  • It is important to acknowledge that the law at present on this subject is very harsh and does not leave any scope for details and dynamics of a relationship to be taken into account by courts.

Delhi Full Statehood Issue

LG’s role in Puducherry


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : LG: Powers and Functions

Mains level : LG of Puducherry vs. LG of Delhi

  • The Madras High Court has that the Lieutenant-Governor (L-G) of Puducherry could not interfere with the day-to-day administration of the Union Territory when an elected government was in place.
  • The court said incessant interference from the L-G would amount to running a “parallel government.”

What did the court say?

  • The Central government as well as the Administrator [the term used in the Constitution to refer to the Lieutenant-Governor] should be true to the concept of democratic principles.
  • Otherwise, the constitutional scheme of the country of being democratic and republic would be defeated.
  • The judge made it clear that government secretaries were bound to take instructions from the ministers concerned and the Council of Ministers, headed by the CM, besides reporting to them on official matters.
  • The secretaries are not empowered to issue orders on their own or upon the instructions of the Administrator.

There lies a difference: Delhi and Puducherry

  • The court also went on to point out the differences between the powers conferred on the legislatures of Puducherry and Delhi under Articles 239A and 239AA of the Constitution.
  • The court said though Article 239AA imposes several restrictions on the legislature of Delhi, no such restrictions had been imposed explicitly in the case of Puducherry under Article 239A.
  • While the LG of Delhi is also guided by the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1991, and the Transaction of Business of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Rules, 1993, the LG of Puducherry is guided mostly by the Government of Union Territories Act, 1963.


LG of Puducherry Vs. LG of Delhi

  • The LG of Delhi enjoys greater powers than the LG of Puducherry.
  • The LG of Delhi has “Executive Functions” that allow him to exercise his powers in matters connected to public order, police and land “in consultation with the Chief Minister.
  • Under the constitutional scheme, the Delhi Assembly has the power to legislate on all subjects except law and order and land.
  • However, the Puducherry Assembly can legislate on any issue under the Concurrent and State Lists.
  • However, if the law is in conflict with a law passed by Parliament, the law passed by Parliament prevails.

Electoral Reforms In India

Supreme Court seeks ECs reply on voter prosecution


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Issues over EVM

  • The Supreme Court has sought the Election Commission’s response on a plea which sought striking down of a provision in election rules that envisages prosecution of an elector if a complaint alleging malfunctioning of EVMs and VVPATs cannot be proven.

49MA of the Conduct of Elections Rules

  • 49MA of the Conduct of Elections Rules is sought unconstitutional as it criminalised reporting of malfunctioning of EVM or VVPATs.
  • The plea contended that the onus of proving an allegation cannot be on a voter when machines used for voting showed ‘arbitrary deviant behaviour’.
  • The plea sought direction to the EC to register a complaint of any deviant behaviour of equipment used in the election process while pointing out that the burden of proof rests on the elector at the moment.
  • One risks criminal charges even if the complaint is correct as the machines need not repeat its arbitrary behavior for a second consecutive time.
  • When an elector is asked to cast a test vote, under Rule 49MA, s/he may not get the same result because of a pre-programmed deviant behaviour of EVMs, the plea said.

Then who will report malfunctioning?

  • In the course of reporting deviant behaviour of an electronic machine used in the election process, an elector has to cast two votes; first one in secrecy and the second a test vote in the presence of the candidates or polling agents.
  • A test vote cast subsequently in the presence of others cannot become a conclusive evidence of the deviant behaviour or otherwise of the previous vote cast in absolute secrecy.

Voters need security against persecution. Why?

  • Holding an elector accountable for deviant behaviours of EVMs and VVPATs could deter them from making a complaint, essential for improving the process.
  • This may also create an illusion of free and fair elections, whereas the fact would be that people have simply not come forward to lodge complaints.
  • Since only an elector could be a witness to the secrecy of his vote cast, it would violate Article 20(3) of the Constitution which says that no person accused of an offence shall be compelled to be a witness against himself.

Judicial Reforms

Contempt of Court


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Contempt of Court

Mains level : Judiciary and associated issues

Contempt of Court

  • According to the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, contempt of court can either be civil contempt or criminal contempt.
  • Civil contempt means wilful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to a court.
  • On the other hand, criminal contempt means the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representations, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which
  1. Scandalizes or tends to scandalize, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court; or
  2. Prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of any judicial proceeding; or
  3. Interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.

Penalty for Contempt

  • A contempt of court may be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to two thousand rupees, or with both.
  • This is provided in case that the accused may be discharged or the punishment awarded may be remitted on apology being made to the satisfaction of the court.

Industrial Sector Updates – Industrial Policy, Ease of Doing Business, etc.

Technical Textiles


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Technical Textiles

Mains level : Not Much

  • The Ministry of Textiles has prepared two reports on technical textiles, to tap the potential and also how to utilise it at ‘National Conclave on Technical Textiles’.

Technical Textiles

  • Technical Textiles is a high technology sunrise sector which is steadily gaining ground in. India.
  • A technical textile is a textile product manufactured for non-aesthetic purposes, where function is the primary criterion.
  • Technical textiles include textiles for automotive applications, medical textiles (e.g., implants), geotextiles (reinforcement of embankments), agrotextiles (textiles for crop protection), and protective clothing (e.g., heat and radiation protection for fire fighter clothing, molten metal protection for welders, stab protection and bulletproof vests, and spacesuits).
  • They are functional fabrics that have applications across various industries including automobiles, civil engineering and construction, agriculture, healthcare, industrial safety, personal protection etc.