Thursday, 30 October 2014

Is Abrogating Article 370 a Mistake?

India is a country which embraced Federalism at the time of independence from Colonial rule with many nations existing within its ambit. A noteworthy instance in acknowledging the Federal polity in India is that of Jammu and Kashmir and Article 370 of the constitution which grants the state an autonomous status. Since the BJP-led government assumed office at the Centre in May 2014, the idea of abrogation of this article has been gaining steam. However, this move may jeopardize India’s already fragile relations with the state of Jammu and Kashmir and may lead to a forced Balkanisation of the state and defeat the idea of Cooperative Federalism with which article 370 was enacted.

On July 11, 2014, the Supreme Court of India dismissed a petition challenging the constitutional validity of Article 370. A bench of Chief Justice RM Lodha, Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman dismissed the plea by Kumari Vijayalakshmi Jha, who argued that the article was a temporary provision that lapsed with the dissolution of the state's constituent assembly in 1957.

However, the impact that this proposed move would have on the Indian Federal structure are lost in the din of political rhetoric. Why has this article been the most debated one among all the provisions of the Indian constitution? What is the BJP’s interest in abrogating it and what impact would this action have on not only the people of Jammu and Kashmir, but also India as a whole? These are some of the aspects explored in this essay.

Brief History
At the time of independence, J&K was a Muslim majority state with a Hindu ruler, Raja Hari Singh. The state was a bone of contention between then newly formed Pakistan and India. Being a Muslim state, Pakistan demanded that the state be a part of that country while upholding the ideals of secularism, India staked claim at it.

There was no provision in the British approved partition plan which stated upfront that the Hindu Princely state must accede to India and the Muslim states to Pakistan. The accession of Junagadh was an example of the ambiguity consequent to this. Jinnah accepted the accession of Junagadh to Pakistan in 1947 despite it being predominantly a Hindu province and later a people’s movement revoked that decision and Junagadh became a part of India.

Article 370 was a result of a refusal by the Hindu King Raja Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir to join either India or Pakistan after partition. In order to retain sovereignty of the state, despite Pakistan’s claim over it owing to a Muslim majority in line with the two-nation theory, led to the state’s monarch siding with the Indian side under special circumstances.  All the other princely states had chosen sides among the two countries, however, owing to a political movement under the leadership of Sheikh Abdullah (Father of Farooque Abdullah; later formed the National Conference), who was opposed to merging with Pakistan, J&K was granted a special status. In 1947, coming under attack from NWFP tribes, an Instrument of Accession was signed between Hari Singh and India which agreed upon maintaining the state’s sovereignty unlike other princely states. What this meant in effect was that other than specific matters including defence, communications and foreign policy, the Indian Parliament would have to seek permission from J&K State Assembly before implementing any laws in the state. The article was accepted in the Constituent Assembly in 1947 and was adopted in the Constitution in October 1949.

In 1949, PM Nehru asked Abdullah, who was appointed as the PM of J&K to prepare a draft of the article (then called Draft Article 306-A) to be appended to the Constitution in consultation with Dr. Ambedkar.  The then Law Minister Dr. Ambedkar had refused to draft the article on the grounds that while Abdullah wanted India to defend and develop Kashmir and that Kashmiris have equal rights all over India, the same rights must not apply to citizens from other parts of the country in Kashmir. He felt that it was a betrayal of the national interest. On his refusal, the article was eventually drafted by Gopalaswami Ayengar who was a minister without a portfolio in the first Cabinet of India and a former Diwan of Hari Singh. After being introduced in the Constituent Assembly, the draft Article 306-A faced extensive opposition, with only Mualana Azad standing in its favour. However, with Pandit Nehru’s backing, it was adopted and implemented, initially as a temporary arrangement, with hopes of a full integration in time to come.

The idea of a Plebiscite in J&K to uphold the people’s voice of the state in framing the state’s constitution was taken up briefly in the beginning, being discarded eventually in 1949. The Constituent Assembly of J&K which was to be consulted for any Central Law to be implemented in the state was constituted in 1951 and dissolved in 1957 and in the absence of such a body, abrogation of the article 370 is simply unconstitutional.

Government’s interest in revoking article 370
The BJP has indicated in the past that once in power, it would work on abrogating Article 370. Now that they have a government at the Centre, this seems like an impending reality. A junior Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Jitendra Singh recently said in a statement “We are in the process of repealing Article 370 and are in talks with the stakeholders,” starting fresh speculations on the issue. Also veteran BJP leader L K Advani, in his blog, called for the same in order to facilitate Kashmir’s further integration into the country.  This blog was a tribute to the founder of Jan Sangh, Shyama Prasad Mukherjee who died in a jail in J&K in 1953 while leading agitation against the article.

The reason for BJP to want the article gone is rooted in the history of how it came about. Being a Right-wing Hindu Nationalist Party, the BJP maintains that after the implementation of Article 370 in J&K, Sheikh Abdullah was appointed the Prime Minister of the state. He brought about reforms in the state, especially pertaining to land which adversely affected the Kashmiri Hindus (especially the upper caste Pandits) and led to them being relegated in their social standing. The land-owning Hindu community, as a consequence to the law limiting maximum land individual holding of 22.75 acres, lost their land during the redistribution process where any surplus land holdings was distributed among the peasants who worked on it, mostly Kashmiri Muslims. This led to the idea of land redistribution mistaken for communalism.

Moreover, since 1950, on several occasions, various provisions of Article 370 have been overruled by Constitutional orders. As it stands now, out of 395 total articles in the Indian Constitution, 135 are alm0st identical to that of the J&K Constitution and 260 articles have been applied to J&K making the article virtually irrelevant. Although, officially, J&K still enjoys an autonomous status, in reality, the state is farther away from autonomy now than it was at the time of independence. 

Unfortunately, the larger implications of scrapping this legislation would impact India’s relations with J&K, a state which agreed to be a part of the country on the sole condition of retaining its autonomy. Any attempts at abrogating this article, would therefore, fuel the already-existent mass resentment against the Centre. The article, as it is, hasn’t been followed through in entirety, however, scrapping it completely would lead to a further trust deficit in the people of the sate towards the Union. For the BJP too, to move past the labels of being a majority-appeasing, radical Hindu party, it is important to drop this issue. Moreover, PM Modi, in his Republic Day message this year as the Chief Minister of Gujarat had emphasized on the critical importance of a vibrant and functional federal structure in India as the Centre may not always be able to do justice to the potential and needs of various states. Repealing article 370 wouldn’t uphold the same vibrant and functional federal structure he spoke about.   

Abrogating the article a mistake
There is a widespread opposition in the state against speculations of the Centre abrogating article 370 with the current government being politically opposed by both, the separatists and the NC.

Article 370 grants the state of J&K special provisions with regards to its political structure. This article, according to the constitution, can only be abrogated or modified by the President with the nod from the state government and an approval by the state’s constituent assembly. By this definition, constitutionally, the article cannot be abrogated because J&K’s constituent assembly was dissolved in 1957 after the accession of the state was deemed complete and ceases to exist now.

Since 1956, when the Indian constitution was amended at Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad’s insistence, J&K has slowly but steadily been losing the powers it was guaranteed under section 370. In 1957, the Delhi Amendment was applied to the state, abolishing the Sadr-e-Riyasat and PM position in J&K, replacing them with Governor and CM. There started the complete dilution of autonomy.

The provisions of the article have time and again been ignored by respective central governments in India and consequently, it has already been diluted to an extent of only remaining as a symbolic right to the people of J&K. However, abrogating it completely would send out a message to the Kashmiri population that the Centre has failed to recognize the state’s autonomy which was the essential condition at the time of accession. In an environment of an already high level of distrust in Kashmiris towards the Indian state, this move could be seen as an attempt to completely disregard their voice in the constitutional process, that they have no right over their own political fate.

Essentially, the problem is in the perception of how the article is seen by the central government and the state. The state sees it as a constitutional right to autonomy and self governance while the Centre sees it as an extended temporary provision which has run its course.

In 1949, India had taken the matter to the UN and thereafter, several resolutions were passed relating to it, most of which concluded that bilateral negotiations between India and Pakistan would be the only way to solve this conundrum. Despite that, there hasn’t been much said about the issue by either of the countries openly in the recent times, although, tensions remain on the surface.

There have been attempts within India to solve the tensions between the Centre and the state leadership, Beg-Parthasarthy Accord of 1975 being one of them. In 2010 also, a special group headed by Justice Saghir was sent by then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to negotiate the terms of article 370 with the state. However, none of the efforts by any of the governments has yielded any concrete positive results.

If this article is abrogated, the next step would be the Balkanisation of the state into Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh regions at the behest of the Centre. History proves that such a move can have only a detrimental impact on the people of such states. States emerging from erstwhile Yugoslavia serve as a reminder to this grim reality.

The call for abrogation is also indicative of a complete misunderstanding of Indian federalism which is founded in the theory of unequal federalism. The constitution has abundant provisions providing special status to various other states too. Then there are the Fifth and the Sixth Schedule for the Tribal and Northeastern states. Would these be revoked too in time to come?  How then would the centre protect the rights of those who have neither sufficient representation nor, adequate opportunities for progress? This unequal but special provision guarantee these protections to the most marginalized and neglected communities in India, revoking their rights would result in a sure descent into a similar undemocratic structure which our founding fathers opposed and fought against. 

Medha Chaturvedi

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Caste Atrocities in India: Time to Review the PoA Act, 1989

The constitutional commitment of equality, liberty, justice and dignity to all Indian citizens is the expression of our vision of building a nation without any discrimination including deep-rooted discrimination based on caste. In the past 68 years of independence, this commitment made in the Preamble has been translated into action through various public policies to abolish discrimination. Yet caste discrimination remains a widespread phenomenon throughout India. The cruelest outcome of caste discrimination against Dalits and Adivasis is the physical violence against them by socially advantaged caste groups in India. Recognizing such crimes and vulnerability of Dalits and Adivasis, the government of India enacted ‘The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act’ in 1989 (PoA Act) to deter such violence and ensure justice and protection to them. However, its implementation remains very weak and the vulnerability of SCs and STs has barely improved. Dalit rights organizations and various other public institutions indicated towards non-implementation of the law, in-effectiveness of law to deter commonly committed caste base atrocities, lack of statutory arrangements in the states, corruption in police system and influence of caste system in public institutions. Considering all these loopholes in the Act, it has been demanded by various stakeholders to amend this law in order to ensure higher protection of victims and prevent caste-based atrocities. UPA-II government in the end of its tenure brought an ordinance to amend the PoA Act in March 2014. The newly formed NDA government introduced ‘The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2014 in the Lok Sabha to replace the ordinance

The Scheduled Castes (Dalits) and Scheduled Tribes (Adivasis) together accounts around one fourth of Indian population. Caste system deprives this entire section of population from enjoying a life as it is articulated in the Preamble of the Indian Constitution. Practices of the caste system such as untouchability and discrimination many times lead to the gross physical atrocities. The literature on atrocities shows that it is an all-India phenomenon legitimized by same principle of caste hierarchy. Government of India enacted The Untouchability (Offences) Act in 1955 to abolish practices of untouchability and protect rights of individual. Even after this legislative mechanism, frequency of atrocities against Dalits and Adivasis remain unchanged. Under the pressure from Dalit Members of Parliament (MPs), the Government of India started monitoring atrocities against SCs from 1974 and in the case of STs from 1981 onwards, with special focus on murder, rape, arson and grievous hurt.

The caste system is so deeply rooted in Indian society that mere monitoring of atrocities and enacting a law to abolish untouchability did not result into betterment of Adivasis and Dalits. The socially and culturally legitimized caste system leads to the complex manifestations such as discrimination, untouchability, atrocity on vulnerable sections of the society. The enactment of PoA Act in 1989 as a special law recognized complexity of caste base atrocities and higher vulnerability of victims. This special law treats various IPC and other offences against STs and SCs by any non ST and SC member in a different manner. It prescribes stronger punishment and provides protection to the victims. The Act states that, “despite various measures to improve the socio-economic conditions of SCs and STs, they remain vulnerable. They are denied a number of civil rights; they are subjected to various offences, indignities, humiliations and harassment. They have, in several brutal incidents, been deprived of their life and property. Serious atrocities are committed against them for various historical, social and economic reasons .”

Implementation of the Act

During two decades of its implementation the PoA Act ensured justice, protection and rehabilitation for thousands of victims of caste atrocities. . It also helped to generate awareness around basic human rights. Dalits and Adivasis have utilized this law to assert their rights and due share in society. However, various obstacles have been identified in its smooth implementation and delivering justice to the victims. According to a NHRC report on Status of Implementation of SCs and STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, police resort to various machinations to discourage SCs/STs from registering cases, to dilute the seriousness of the violence and to shield the accused persons from arrest and prosecution. FIRs are often registered under the Protection of Civil Right Act and IPC provision, which attract lesser punishment than PoA Act provision for the same offence.

The National Coalition for Strengthening SC & ST Prevention of Atrocity Act (a network of civil society organization and Dalit activists) identified following major deficiencies of the Act and its implementation :

·         Under reporting of the cases under the Act and deterred from making complaints of atrocities.
·         Deliberately not registering cases under appropriate sections of the Act.
·         Delay in filing charge sheet
·         Not arresting accused and the ones who are arrested are invariably released on bail.
·         Filing false and counter cases against Dalit victims by accused.
·         Compensation prescribed under the Act 16 is invariably not paid.
·         Victims have no access to legal aid.
·         Non-implementation of statutory provisions in various States under the Act and Rule, 1995.

According to the data of Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, majority of states do not fulfill minimum statutory provisions as per the Act, 1989 and Rules, 1995. Following table shows the status of non-implementation of the provisions of SCs and STs (PoA) Act, 1989 and Rules 1995 by State Governments. 

Although there is provision in the PoA Act for the constitution of Special Courts to expeditiously try atrocity cases, in reality what SCs/STs experience is a huge pendency of their cases before the trial courts. Moreover, the conviction rate is very low. In fact, the conviction rate under the PoA Act is found to be much lower than in cases booked under IPC. According to the NCRB data, in 2013 the average conviction rate for crimes against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes stood at 23.8% and 16.4% respectively as compared to overall conviction rate of 40.2% relating to IPC cases and 90.9% relating to SLL (Special and Local Law) cases. The processing of reported cases for investigation and trail is very slow.  According to the NCRB data, 35645 cases are pending in different courts for trial. Large numbers of cases are pending in States such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, Gujarat and Karnataka.

The National Advisory Council (NAC) during UPA government reviewed the provisions of law and cases of atrocities and found that certain forms of atrocities, though well documented, are not covered by the Act. NAC recommended for the incorporation of various IPC offences and other commonly committed offences under the perview of this law to ensure wider protection to the victims of caste atrocities. The National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) and Justice Punnaiah Commission critically examined deficiencies of the Act and has suggested various amendments to the Act. Human rights organizations have also highlighted various gaps in the enforcement of the Act and Rules. Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and Ministry of Home Affairs have issued various advisories to State governments to fill the gaps in the enforcement.

Status of Atrocities:

The National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data further exposes the poor implementation of the Act and its minimal impact in effectively dealing with caste based atrocities. The data reveals that the number and frequency of crime against SCs and STs are continuously increasing. The prevalent atrocities against SCs and STs includes incidents such as making SCs eat human excreta, and subjecting both SCs and STs to physical assaults, grievous hurt, arson, mass killings and rapes of SC/ST women, etc. Although the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) provides useful data that reveal the extent of atrocities committed against the SCs/STs, these data do not fully reflect the ground reality as most of the cases go unreported due to reluctance by police to register atrocity cases for various reasons. One also finds caste bias and corruption among the police force preventing registration and investigation of cases.

Even after low rate of reporting of crime under PoA Act, incidences of crime under this Act has increased from 11602 incidences in 2008 to 13975 incidences in 2013. The incidences of rape have shockingly increased from 1457 in 2008 to 2073 in 2013 (an increase of 42.27%).  There has been no mitigation with annual average of crimes registered against SCs/ST standing at 39408 and daily average being 108.

Proposed Amendments in PoA Act, 1989:

The literature and empirical data on caste atrocities reveals that it made nominal impact in the lives of SCs and STs. However, various assessment of the law reveals that it has created a sense of security and protection among the victims of the caste atrocity. Dalit and Adivasi victims have used it as a tool to assert their basic rights and combat with wrong social and cultural practices. The current situation of atrocities and status of cases pending in police station and in courts led stakeholder to advocate for amendment in the PoA Act, 1989.

The Scheduled Castes and The Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2014 introduced in the Lok Sabha on July 16, 2014 that replaces ordinance enacted by UPA government in March 2014 represents the consensus  of stakeholders to amend the law for better results.

The amendment Bill proposes substantial changes in the chapter on ‘Offences of Atrocities’ (Chapter-II) of the Principal Act. The proposed amendments attempts to increase number of IPC offences under the preview of this act. It also recognizes commonly practiced action in society to insult and harm dignity of person from SC and ST community as an offence. These offences are garlanding with footwear, compelling to dispose or carry human or animal carcasses, manual scavenging, attempting to promote feeling of ill-will against SCs or STs, imposing or threatening a social or economic boycott. The amendments in this chapter further specify duties of public servant in detail and prescribe punishment in case of any neglect of duty by the public servant. The common duties of public servant includes registration of FIR, furnishing a copy of information recorded by the informant in police station, to record statements of victims or witnesses, conduct investigation, file charge sheet within six days and keep records of document.

Addressing issue of long pendency of cases and low conviction rate under the Act, the amendment Bill proposes constitution of Exclusive Special Court and Special Courts to dispose cases within given time-frame. The provision in the bill ensures adequate number of courts so that every case can be disposed within the period of two months from the date of filling of the charge sheet.  The bill has inserted a new chapter namely ‘Chapter IVA’ in the principal Act, that describes the rights of victims and witnesses in detail. Some of the crucial rights of victims and witnesses are as follows:

·   Right of victims, their dependents and witnesses to access state’s support for their protection against any kind of violence, threats, coercion, inducement and intimidation. 
·   Right of victims to access special support from government, that arises because of their age, gender, educational disadvantage and poverty.
·  Right of hearing views of victims at any proceeding under this Act in respect of bail, discharge, release, parole, conviction or sentence of an accused.
·  Right of victims, their dependents, informants and witnesses to access facilities of relocation, rehabilitation and maintenance during investigation, inquiry and trail of the case.
·  Right to access information about trial, enquiry and trial such as recorded FIR and provision of laws and allied schemes of relief for victims, their relatives.
·     Right to access relief in cash or kind.
·    Right of atrocity victims and their dependents to take assistance from Non-Government Organizations, social workers and advocates.

Soon after the introduction of the amendment Bill in the Parliament, the Lok Sabha Speaker referred the Bill to the Parliamentary standing committee for further deliberation.


The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2014 introduced in budget session 2014-15 replaces ordinance brought in by UPA-II government in March 2014. The proposed amendments in the principal act comprehensively addresses issues of non-implementation, in-effectiveness and number of loopholes in the existing law as highlighted by various human rights organizations, Dalit activists and public institutions. The amendments in the Act will ensure wider protection and timely justice to the victims of caste atrocities. It has already been delayed for so many reasons, but now it is up to the Parliament and political parties to understand the urgency of the amendment Bill to provide relief to the SCs and STs who constitute almost one forth of Indian population.
Jeet Singh

Monday, 13 October 2014

Forest Rights Act and Land Ownership in India

Source: the Hindu
Introduction and Brief Background
Forests in India house over 250 million people whose home, hearth and livelihood comes from their forest dwellings for generations. However, forest dwellers in India are among the most marginalized and neglected sections of the society comprising primarily of tribal and Dalit communities whose livelihood depends on the forest produce of the land that they have used for centuries.

During the colonial era, the draconian Indian Forests Act (IFA) was enacted in 1927 divided the forest into the Reserved (no human activity allowed) and Protected (controlled human activity allowed) categories. Some felling was allowed in the latter category, but cultivation and livestock grazing were banned in both. This destroyed the traditional way of life.

The abolition of the Zamindari system exacerbated the situation as more common lands were nationalized and converted into protected forests. This was later amended and the traditional occupants were given titles based on the length of occupancy. This, however, gave disproportionate power to the Patwaris (keeper of land records), and given the non-existence of ownership records corruption became rampant. The FRA sought to rectify this by providing a clear, transparent and environmentally friendly procedure for the resettlement of the people and displaced wildlife.
However, the act is not serving the purpose with which it was enacted. Where is the implementation lagging behind? Would the current government keep up the Centre’s commitment of equality in land ownership notwithstanding the differences political ideology with the previous UPA government? What exactly is the FRA? These are some of the issues examined in this essay.

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 (FRA) was enacted in 2006 to address the sever shortcomings of the 1927 act. The IFA resulted in the alienation of tribals and other forest dwellers. It is an act which protects the land ownership titles in the tribal belt of India and had been demanded for long to safeguard the interests of the most marginalized people of the country. However, the implementation record (including guaranteed land holdings under the act) has been poor.

Discrepancies in tribal forest land allocation and redistribution has also been at the centre of India’s Left Wing insurgency in what is called the Red Corridor. Therefore, he 2006 act’s importance multiplies in not only addressing the injustice done to the traditional forest dwellers over centuries, but also as a means to combat what has been called India’s worst national security crisis.

The 2006 act was radically democratic in many ways as it acknowledged the historical injustices done to the forest dwelling communities and set a forward-looking path to correct those. There are twelve types of rights enlisted in the 2006 act to undo the damage that has already been done and these include rights to land occupation, forest produce, both timber and non-timber, management of community forests and home and hearth. It also empowers and makes accountable the traditional forest dwellers to protect the biodiversity, water resources and other resources of the forest as well as catchment areas and seeks to establish a community based forest administration in the country with the Gram Sabhas at the helm of affairs. The land ownership titles will be ascertained to the maximum limit of 4 ha per person by a committee comprising the District Collector, the Divisional Forest Officer and the Superintendent of Police.

There are many misconceptions surrounding the act for which it has come under criticism. Many people believe that the FRA is meant to redistribute land up to a maximum ceiling of 4 hectares per person. However, the truth is that this act is not a land redistribution act and does not empower anyone to do so. On the issue of land, the FRA requires the state and central government to legally recognise the lands as revenue lands on which forest dwellers have been carrying out farming prior to 13 December 2005.

For non-Scheduled Tribes (STs), this recognition comes after proving that they have been farming on the land in question for the past 75 years. As per the FRA, the traditional forest dwellers and STs will only receive rights to ‘land under their occupation’ and no more, for the time specified up to a maximum of 4 hectares per person. Any claims over the stipulated 4 hectares will not be entertained. No new land distribution will take place and the titles given as per the act cannot be sold or transferred, except through family hierarchy. It is not a welfare scheme and deals with defining the forest land and its occupation.

In 2012, then Minister for Tribal Affairs, Mr. Kishore Chand Deo had written a letter to the CM’s of states, urging them to implement the act properly. However, despite all the efforts by the previous government and civil society activists, the implementation record of the act has remained poor. Moreover, widespread corruption which still exists in the process of implementation has hindered the powers of the act substantially. 

Critics of the FRA say it was enacted by the government for privatizing natural resources and making vote banks out of the forest dwellers. But the basic principles of the act were largely misinterpreted and contorted based on state-wise implementation record.


The enactment of the 2006 FRA is an example of inclusive, democratic and enabling legislation which came in a favorable pro-poor political environment. However, the implementation rests with local authorities and state governments where the failure is stark. According to Ministry of Tribal Affairs’ report from January 2014, 36, 54,420 claims have been filed and 14, 18,078 titles have been distributed. Further, 15,864 titles were ready for distribution. A total of 31, 06,690 claims have been disposed of (85.01%). Unfortunately, there are no records of details of the amount of land under each title. Whether these gains for the forest dwellers are consolidated in forms of actual substantive rights and access remains an open question. There is also no readily available record of uses for such land. Various non-government report states that this number is grossly inflated and titles to a full authorized 4 ha per person are rare in all the states.

There are also several cases on encroachment still pending in the courts of different states wherein, lack of proof of occupation has led to a traditional forest dweller to be incarcerated as a squatter.

The role of Gram Sabhas has also not been exemplified under the act yet on ground. Moreover, mining activities on traditional forest land in some of the states by corporate houses is still going unnoticed. 

In spirit, this act is phenomenal but the leakages in implementation reduce it to the status of just another act which is supposed to work but isn’t.   

The current government needs to look beyond political differences and keenly push for a better implementation of the FRA under due process. This is one of the landmark legislations which follow the democratic principles enshrined by our founding fathers in our constitution. 

Medha Chaturvedi

Friday, 10 October 2014

Development Roadmap: Threat to India’s Environment and Wildlife

The development roadmap of present government as indicated through their recent

Photo: Survival International
economic policies would sharply pose a threat to India’s marginalized communities, green environment and precious wildlife. Thus with the dilution of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 by the Ministry of Environment and Forest to grant forest clearances for facilitating development projects is a step towards this. The most sensitive areas around tiger reservation, national parks and sanctuaries now would be under the grab of project developers as they have been de-linked from wildlife assessment impacts.

Such kind of policy decision would necessarily help the developers to go ahead with the linear projects of irrigation, canals, highways and power lines, but by massive destruction of India’s rich forest areas and its wildlife. Though providing funds for compensatory afforestation is mandatory, but fair utilization of this fund would be a challenge.

 The present government has also done away with the need for consent of tribals for forest and mine openings in their traditional lands, which clearly violates their rights. The state government can no longer put any additional conditions to protect forest and biodiversity for those projects which have been cleared from the Centre.

All these steps are taken with a justification that India need development, and all its citizens must enjoy the fruits of it. But such a policy roadmap to modernize India clearly in contradiction with the issue of the rights of tribals over their forest land, which would also be at the cost of precious environment and wildlife. This development policy is unsustainable and undemocratic. Can this development ensure the well being of the last and the least in the country or is it a path towards more inequity in the economy?

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Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Billionaires versus the Rest: India’s Skewed Market and Wealth Concentration

Photo Source: Business Today
Widening income inequality between the rich and poor in India is an alarming concern of the policy makers. The report of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (UN - ESCAP) currently has shown that the crude estimation of income inequality - the Gini coefficient has increased in India’s post liberalised phase from 30.8 in 1990s to 33.9 in 2000s. [i] 

Several other studies also reflect similar findings of high income inequality in India, which has gone high in post economic liberalisation phase in 1990s. The idea of liberalisation was to initiate the role of market by ending India’s License Raj system, which can help India to become a competent player in global and open market system. Open market economy then brought a startling growth of about 8% percent for almost a decade in India. Such growth has brought in many changes in the country including successful creation of super-rich club of billionaires. The findings of Gandhi and Walton show that in mid-1990s, India began with two billionaires, worth a combined total of $3.2 billion, and by 2012 there were 46 billionaires with total net worth of $176.3 billion.[ii] The latest newspaper report says that the number of billionaires in India has nearly doubled in 2014 to 109 from 59 in 2013, with total net worth of $ 422 billion. The top 10 of them have wealth worth $ 138.04 billion. Mukesh Ambani is the richest person in India with wealth worth $ 26.89 billion. His wealth has increased by about 37% from last year. Gautam Adani, the 10th richest person in the raw, whose wealth has increased by about 152% from last year and worth $ 7.17 billion. The average age of Indian billionaire is 62, where six of them are below 40 years.[iii] The ratio of total billionaire wealth to gross domestic product (GDP) has grown from mere 1% in mid-1990s to 6.6% in 2006 to 9.9% in 2012.[iv] In 2014, the ratio between the billionaire wealth and the GDP has triggered up to 22%. Only the top ten billionaires share about 8.09% of India’s GDP. It is also interesting to see the regional concentration of these billionaires within India. Mumbai, the financial capital of the country shares 70 of them followed by Delhi, the administrative capital of India sharing 37, and Bangalore, the IT capital of India sharing 23 of them. It is primarily therefore a metropolitan club of billionaires in India monopolising the asset holding and economic power, which bound have a sharp reflection on inequality with rest of India. The NRIs from two nations UK and UAE have maximum contribution in this club with L. K. Mittal being the richest person from UK with wealth worth Rs 97 K crores.

On the brighter side, such statistics verify the fact that India’s economy has become much vibrant in the liberalisation phase. The rise of such rich class as argued by Gandhi and Walton is both due to business dynamism and business oligarchy. Business dynamism through an active role of corporate sector is significant in India’s economic success story. Thus IT, software industry, biotech, pharmaceuticals, finance and banking, manufacturing have contributed fairly in Indian economy. But India still has a high oligarchic and undemocratic economic and business structure which results such heavy concentration of wealth. Thus ‘rent-thick’ sectors like real estate, infrastructure, construction, mining, telecom etc., still continue to be dominated by India’s traditional merchant classes, Khatris and upper caste communities.[v] ‘Rent-thick’ sectors are those where returns often flow from monopolistic economic power by holding scarce resources and deriving maximum profit. According to Crabtree, about half of India’s billionaires acquired their wealth in such ‘rent-thick’ sectors.[vi]

It is alarming to see that only about few dozens of billionaires (109) in the land of magnanimous 1.25 billion population shares 22% of GDP, and economic rules of the game are still rigged in favour of those handful elites. Such concentration of wealth has been possible due to the functioning of an undemocratic and non-competitive market even in the economic liberalisation phase, which has not worked in favour of vulnerable and poorest section of the society. Fair competition therefore can be a panacea, which refers to a market situation in which each entrepreneur can have an independent bargaining power to achieve the business objectives. Competition according to a Government of India report bound to stimulate innovation and productivity, having optimum allocation of resources in the economy. It guarantees protection of consumer interests, reduces costs and improves quality. This can accelerate growth and development by preserving economic and political democracy.[vii] In practice Indian markets are highly discretionary and weak regulatory environment according to an Oxfam report has set the tune for anti-competitive business practices, and fails miserably to be inclusive in nature. Therefore to create a fair competition, equal opportunity has to be the central tenet, which alone can bring inclusive modern societies, and a socialist structure of the market.[viii] Fair competition can break India’s business oligarchy and economic enclavity, which in turn can provide space for other players to grow. Thus, there arises the need to have a proper regulatory environment which can ensure a healthy competition in the economy so that all business enterprises can grow, expand and stimulate economic development of a country. Competition policy under Competition Act 2002 of India is one such step which attempts to prohibit anti-competition agreements through Competition Commission of India. Well functioning of such policy can ensure competitive outcomes and can prevent concentration of wealth and economic power.

 Rakhee Bhattacharya

[i]‘Poor-rich gap growing in India, Asia Pacific:UN-ESCAP, at
[ii] Aditi Gandhi and Michael Walton, ‘Where Do India’s Billionaires Get their Wealth?’, EPW, Vol XLVII, No 40, 2012
[iii]  Piyush Pandey, ‘Adani breaks into top 1- rich club as wealth jumps 152%’, TheTimes of India, September 17, 2014, New Delhi
[iv] Aditi Gandhi and Michael Walton, ‘Where Do India’s Billionaires Get their Wealth?’, EPW, Vol XLVII, No 40, 2012
[v] ibid
[vi] J. Crabtree, ‘India’s Billionaires Club’, Financial Times, 16 November, 2012
[vii] ‘Competition Protection’, Report by Government of India
[viii] Working for the Few: Political Capture and Economic Inequality’,  178 Oxfam Briefing paper, January 20, 2014