Maratha quota unconstitutional, violates right to equality, says SC #GS2 #governance
A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court unanimously declared a Maharashtra law which provides reservation benefits to the Maratha community, taking the quota limit in the State in excess of 50%, unconstitutional.
The Bench led by Justice Ashok Bhushan found there was no “exceptional circumstances” or “extraordinary situation” in Maharashtra which required the Maharashtra government to break the 50% ceiling limit to bestow quota benefits on the Maratha community.
“We have found that no extraordinary circumstances were made out in granting separate reservation for Maratha community by exceeding the 50% ceiling limit of reservation … The Marathas are in the mainstream of the national life. It is not even disputed that Marathas are politically dominant caste.
Sets aside HC verdict
The Supreme Court struck down the findings of the Justice M.G. Gaikwad Commission which led to the enactment of the Maratha quota law and set aside the Bombay High Court judgment which validated the Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act of 2018.
The High Court had, in June 2019, reduced the quantum of reservation for Marathas from the 16% recommended by the Gaikwad Commission to 12% in education and 13% in employment. The Supreme Court concluded that even the reduced percentages of reservation granted by the High Court were ultra vires .
In fact, the Supreme Court held that a separate reservation for the Maratha community violates Articles 14 (right to equality) and 21 (due process of law). Most important, the top court declined to revisit its 1992 Indra Sawhney judgment, which fixed the reservation limit at 50%. “The judgment of Indra Sawhney has stood the test of the time and has never been doubted by any judgment of this court.
“The ceiling of 50% with the ‘extraordinary circumstances’ exception, is the just balance — what is termed as the ‘Goldilocks solution’ — i.e. the solution containing the right balance that allows the State sufficient latitude to ensure meaningful affirmative action, to those who deserve it, and at the same time ensures that the essential content of equality,” Justice S. Ravindra Bhat on the Bench agreed.
RBI steps in to ease COVID-19 burden #GS3 #Economy
With India’s economic recovery threatened by the COVID-19 second wave, the Reserve Bank of India stepped in with measures aimed at alleviating any financing constraints for healthcare infrastructure and services, as well as small borrowers who may be facing distress due to a sudden spike in health expenditure.
RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das used an unscheduled address to announce a Term Liquidity Facility of Rs. 50,000 crore with tenor of up to three years, at the repo rate, to ease access to credit for providers of emergency health services.
Under the scheme, banks will provide fresh lending support to a wide range of entities, including vaccine manufacturers, importers/suppliers of vaccines and priority medical devices, hospitals/dispensaries, pathology labs, manufacturers and suppliers of oxygen and ventilators, and logistics firms.
These loans will continue to be classified under priority sector till repayment or maturity, whichever is earlier adding that banks were expected to create a COVID loan book under the scheme.
As part of a “comprehensive targeted policy response”, the RBI also unveiled schemes to provide credit relief to individual and MSME borrowers impacted by the pandemic. “Restoring livelihoods has become an imperative.
Workers’ income fell by 17%, says report #GS3 #Economy
The COVID-19 pandemic has substantially increased informality in employment, leading to a decline in earnings for the majority of workers, and consequent increase in poverty in the country, according to ‘State of Working India 2021: One Year of Covid-19’, a report brought out annually by Azim Premji University’s Centre for Sustainable Employment, Bengaluru.
This year’s report, which covers the period March 2020 to December 2020, dwells on the impact of one year of COVID-19 on employment, incomes, inequality and poverty.
100 million jobs
Regarding employment, the report notes that 100 million jobs were lost nationwide during the April-May 2020 lockdown. Though most of these workers had found employment by June 2020, about 15 million remained out of work. As for income, “for an average household of four members, the monthly per capita income in Oct 2020 (Rs. 4,979) was still below its level in Jan 2020 (Rs. 5,989.
The study found that post-lockdown, nearly half of salaried workers had moved into informal work, either as self-employed (30%), casual wage (10%) or informal salaried (9%). The fallback option varied by caste and religion. “General category workers and Hindus were more likely to move into self-employment while marginalised caste workers and Muslims moved into daily wage work.
Education, health and professional services saw the highest exodus of workers into other sectors, with agriculture, construction and petty trade emerging as the top fallback options.
Due to the employment and income losses, the labour share of the GDP fell by 5 percentage points, from 32.5% in the second quarter of 2019-20 to 27% in the second quarter of 2020-21. “Of the decline in income, 90% was due to reduction in earnings, while 10% was due to loss of employment.
This means that even though most workers were able to go back to work, they had to settle for lower earnings,” observed the report. Monthly earnings of workers fell on an average by 17% during the pandemic, with self-employed and informal salaried workers facing the highest loss of earnings.
While the poorest 20% of households lost their entire incomes in April-May 2020, “the richer households suffered losses of less than a quarter of their pre-pandemic incomes.” During the period from March to October 2020, an average household in the bottom 10% lost Rs. 15,700, or just over two months’ income.
Significantly, the study has found a clear correlation between job losses and the COVID-19 case load, with States showing higher case load, such as Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Delhi, “contributing disproportionately to the job losses”.
Women and younger workers were more affected by the pandemic-related measures. During the lockdown and in the post-lockdown months, 61% of working men remained employed while 7% lost their job and did not return to work. But in the case of women, only 19% remained employed while 47% suffered a permanent job loss, “not returning to work even by the end of 2020”.
With 230 million falling below the national minimum wage threshold of Rs. 375 per day during the pandemic, poverty rate has “increased by 15 percentage points in rural and nearly 20 percentage points in urban areas,” the report said. Households coped with the loss of income by decreasing their food intake, selling assets and borrowing informally from friends, relatives and money-lenders. The report notes that 20% of those surveyed said that their food intake had not improved even six months after the lockdown.
These findings are a serious cause for concern in the absence of an inclusive social welfare architecture. Among other ameliorative policy measures, the report calls for extending free rations under the Public Distribution System till the end of 2021, expansion of MGNREGA entitlement to 150 days, and a “Covid hardship allowance” for the 2.5 million Anganwadi and ASHA workers.
5G: China expresses ‘concern, regret’ #GS2 #IR
China on Wednesday expressed “concern and regret” at India’s move to not include Chinese telecommunication firms among the companies permitted this week to conduct trials for the use of 5G technology.
External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, speaking at a Global Dialogue Series event in London, reiterated India’s view that it is “not realistic” to have good relations in other domains when there was tension on the border.
Mr. Jaishankar did not specifically mention the 5G issue, but said broadly on India’s view on the relationship: “I can’t have friction, coercion, intimidation, and bloodshed on the border, and then say let us have a good relationship in other domains. It is not realistic.”
On Tuesday, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) gave permission to several Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) to conduct 5G trials, and did not include Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE. “The applicant TSPs include Bharti Airtel Ltd., Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd., Vodafone Idea Ltd. and MTNL,” the announcement said, adding they had “tied up with original equipment manufacturers and technology providers which are Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung and C-DOT” while Reliance Jio Infocomm will conduct trials using its own indigenous technology.
Reacting to the move, the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi said in a statement it “express[es] concern and regret that Chinese telecommunications companies have not been permitted to conduct 5G trials with Indian Telecom Service Providers in India”.
“Relevant Chinese companies have been operating in India for years, providing mass job opportunities and making contribution to India’s infrastructure construction in telecommunications.
He said moves to “exclude Chinese telecommunications companies from the trials” would “harm their legitimate rights and interests”. “The Chinese side hopes that India could do more to enhance mutual trust and cooperation, and provide an open, fair, just, and non-discriminatory investment and business environment for market entities from all countries, including China, to operate and invest in India.”
Mr. Jaishankar said the relationship was “going through a very difficult phase, because in violation of agreements and understandings of many, many years, the Chinese have deployed a very large part of their military on, and close to, the Line of Actual Control, without explanation, and they continue to be there”.
Mr. Jaishankar noted it had been one year since the LAC crisis began, on May 5, 2020 with reports of tensions then starting in the Galwan Valley and Pangong Lake.
He said China’s “actions have disturbed peace and tranquillity”, including leading to bloodshed in Galwan last June, and India “has been very clear that peace and tranquillity on the border areas is essential for the development of our relations”. The disengagement process was completed in some areas but one year on is still ongoing in others, and both sides had not yet come to the de-escalation part.
On Friday’s phone call with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, the External Affairs Minister said both sides had discussed their mutual interest in cooperating on tackling COVID-19 at a time when Indian companies have placed many orders to source supplies from China amid the current crisis.
He told Mr. Wang that “many of our companies are ordering stuff from China and we are encountering difficulties in logistics, so please take a look at it which is something which we would appreciate”.
“After our conversation things did move,” he said. “Some of our airlines got quicker approvals, the logistics chain is flowing, and that is something which is very laudable.”
Centre alone can identify SEBC: SC #GS2 #Governance
The Centre alone is empowered to identify socially and educationally backward classes (SEBC) and include them in the Central List for claiming reservation benefits.
“The President (that is the Central government) alone, to the exclusion of all other authorities, is empowered to identify SEBCs and include them in a list to be published under Article 342A (1), which shall be deemed to include SEBCs in relation to each State and Union Territory for the purposes of the Constitution.
Justice Bhat said the States could only make suggestions to the President or the statutory commissions concerned for inclusion, exclusion or modification of castes and communities to be included in the List. The Central List is to be the “only list” for the SEBC.
“Once published, under Article 342A (1), the list can only be amended through a law enacted by Parliament, by virtue of Article 342A (2),” Justice Bhat said. “In the task of identification of SEBCs, the President shall be guided by the Commission (National Commission for Backward Classes) set up under Article 338B; its advice shall also be sought by the State in regard to policies that might be framed by it,” the court said.
“If the commission prepares a report concerning matters of identification, such a report has to be shared with the State government, which is bound to deal with it, in accordance with provisions of Article 338B. However, the final determination culminates in the exercise undertaken by the President (i.e. the Central Government, under Article 342A (1),” the court clarified.
However, “the President’s prerogative as far as the identification and inclusion of SEBCs in the List would not affect the States’ power to make reservations in favour of particular communities or castes, the quantum of reservations, the nature of benefits and the kind of reservations, and all other matters falling within the ambit of Articles 15 and 16”.
Committed to free media, says Election Commission #GS2 #Governance
The Election Commission of India (ECI) said it was unanimously against asking for restrictions on the media when it approached the Supreme Court last week against the oral observations made by the Madras High Court that it was responsible for the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, which witnessed Assembly elections recently.
The Election Commission of India has taken note of recent narrative relating to its position in relation to media. The Commission has also come across certain press reports in the same regard. The Commission always has appropriate deliberations before any decisions are taken. In the context of involvement of media, the Commission wishes to clarify that it stands sincerely committed to its faith in free media.
The statement came after the Indian Express reported that there was a disagreement between Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra and Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar on whether to move the top court.
The Commission said: “The Commission as a whole and each one of its members recognise the positive role played by media in the conduct of all elections in the past and present and in strengthening electoral democracy in the country. The Election Commission was unanimous that before Hon’ble Supreme Court there should not be any prayer for restriction on media reporting.”
The Commission added that its approach with the media was one of an ally and that it remained unchanged.
Hearing the case, the Supreme Court had said the media could not be stopped from reporting oral remarks of judges during a hearing.
The Madras High Court had observed that officials of the Election Commission should be charged with murder due to the spread of COVID-19 during the Assembly elections.
Jaishankar holds virtual meetings #GS2 #IR
The United Kingdom has a set of protocols that will be used to deal with the situation that has come up after two members of the Indian delegation, led by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, to the G7 Foreign Ministers’ meeting tested positive for COVID-19, said an official of the British High Commission here.
During a press interaction, British High Commissioner Alex Ellis said officials in London will determine the course of action to be followed to safeguard the health of those involved in the event.
“It is the first summit after the pandemic began. We have a set of protocols. Our approach will be guided by the public health authorities of England and details will be emerging soon about thatreminding that the U.K. had faced a tough COVID-19 scenario last year and that there was a lot to learn from that experience. The G7 summit will be hosted by the U.K. from June 11 to 13 where Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to represent India, a guest country.
Sources here maintained that the Indian delegation did not travel with COVID-19 infection and is now working with the U.K. authorities on the protocol to be followed.
“Entire delegation is in quarantine. External Affairs Minister has made all meetings virtual. Later in the day, we will know what U.K. health authorities suggest. None are unwell, most have been vaccinated fully. They had all had tests before the take off,” said an informed source here who maintained that the tests were carried out when they turned to be negative. The question on the health scare came up after Sky News reported that the two members had tested positive.
Mr. Jaishankar has been in London for the past three days meeting his counterparts. The visit is significant as it is the first in-person meeting of the Ministers of G7 and the partner countries. On Monday, he met Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss COVID-19 related assistance from the U.S.
He met British Home Secretary Priti Patel. Following the meting, Ms. Patel said, “A pleasure to welcome Dr. S. Jaishankar to the U.K. Home Office today as we signed the landmark Migration and Mobility deal as part of our New Plan for Immigration, providing new opportunities for our young people to live and work here and in India as we recover from the pandemic.”
Mr. Jaishankar in a social media post announced that he had conducted business in virtual mode as a precaution. “Was made aware yesterday evening of exposure to possible COVID positive cases. As a measure of abundant caution and also out of consideration for others, I decided to conduct my engagements in the virtual mode. That will be the case with the G7 meeting today as well
‘INSACOG shared inputs on variants’ #GS3 #SnT
The INSACOG consortium of scientists, spanning 10 labs across the country, and involved in sequencing genomes of coronavirus samples in different States, had been giving regular updates on the threat from new strains to the government, said a senior member of the group.
“The INSACOG members have meetings every alternate day. Whatever the results of analysis that emerge from the threat posed by new strains is shared with the National Centres for Disease Control and being a Health Ministry [body] is naturally shared with government,” Rakesh Mishra, Adviser, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, told The Hindu .
Dr. Mishra retired as the Institute’s Director in April and since has been a scientific advisor there. “This system has been in place for most of this year, since the INSACOG system has been put into place.
INSACOG refers to the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genome Sequencing Consortia.
In an interview to the news portal The Wire on Tuesday, Dr. Mishra said that warnings of an increase in cases from the increasing prevalence of new variants were conveyed to the government channels that eventually could likely have made their way to the Prime Minister’s Office.
Health Ministry officials said that information on genome sequencing had been shared with States twice in February, 2021, four times in March 2021, and again four times in April.
In a video conference with States, the Union Health Ministry said it was informed about the current status of Variants of Concern and new mutants and “stressed on increased and stringent public health interventions”.
The current surge in cases could be correlated with the rise in the B.1.617 lineage of SARS CoV-2, popularly known as the “Indian variant” of the coronavirus, the officials added.
Dr. Mishra, in response to the interviewer’s questions in his interview to The Wire , agreed that India’s political leadership should have been more communicative about the risks that events such as political rallies and religious gatherings posed, in the way of crowding, and transmission of newer infectious variants getting magnified.
Small businesses, MSMEs to get relief #GS3 #Economy
The Reserve Bank of India announced measures to protect small and medium businesses and individual borrowers from the adverse impact of the intense second wave of COVID-19 buffeting the country.
In an unscheduled address, RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das unveiled a Resolution Framework 2.0 for COVID-related stressed assets of individuals, small businesses and MSMEs and also expressed the central bank’s resolve to do everything at its command to ‘save human lives and restore livelihoods through all means possible’.
Considering that the resurgence of the pandemic had made these categories of borrowers most vulnerable, the RBI said those with aggregate exposure of up to Rs. 25 crore, who had not availed restructuring under any of the earlier restructuring frameworks (including under last year’s resolution framework), and whose loans were classified as ‘standard’ as on March 31, 2021, were eligible for restructuring under the proposed framework.
In respect of individual borrowers and small businesses who had already availed restructuring under Resolution Framework 1.0, lenders have been permitted to use this window to modify such plans to the extent of increasing the period of moratorium and/or extending the residual tenor up to a total of two years.
In respect of small businesses and MSMEs restructured earlier, lending institutions have been permitted as a one-time measure, to review the working capital sanctioned limits, based on a reassessment of the working capital cycle and margins.
To provide further support to small business units, micro and small industries, and other unorganised sector entities adversely affected during the current wave of the pandemic, the RBI decided to conduct special three-year long-term repo operations (SLTRO) of Rs. 10,000 crore at the repo rate for Small Finance Banks. The SFBs would be able to deploy these funds for fresh lending of up to Rs. 10 lakh per borrower. This facility would be available till October 31.
In view of the fresh challenges brought on by the pandemic and to address the emergent liquidity position of smaller MFIs, SFBs are now being permitted to reckon fresh lending to smaller MFIs (with asset size of up to Rs. 500 crore) for onlending to individual borrowers as priority sector lending. This facility will be available up to March 31, 2022.
To enable the State governments to better manage their fiscal situation in terms of their cash flows and market borrowings, maximum number of days of overdraft (OD) in a quarter is being increased from 36 to 50 days and the number of consecutive days of OD from 14 to 21 days, the RBI said.
Separately, Mr, Das asserted that though the impact of the second wave was ‘debilitating’, it was ‘not insurmountable’. “We do not expect any broad deviations in our projections,” he added.
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