ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Secularism and the Indian Judiciary

The judgment of the Allahabad High Court of 30 September 2010 in the Babri masjid-Ram janmabhoomi case has put the final seal on the acts of installation of statues and demolition of the mosque. In accordance with our constitutional scheme one seeks remedial measures from the judiciary when the executive or even the legislature commits illegal acts. But what can one do when the judiciary itself commits unlawful acts? What is worse is that this verdict is the latest addition to a series of judgments by the highest courts in India which cast doubt on the secular character of the Indian judicial system.

Idols in Law

The findings and orders of the special full bench of the Allahabad High Court on the successful Bhagwan Sri Ram suit and the dismissed Wakf Board suit demand close examination. Central to the final order are two findings - that the disputed site in Ayodhya is the birthplace of Ram, and that it is a juridical entity. Both conclusions are of extremely doubtful legal tenability. In addition, it is on the basis of the dubious legal proposition of faith and belief that the court arrives at a finding of legal and lawful ownership. The placing of idols in the disputed site in 1949 was as much an act of illegality as the events of 6 December 1992, but the court gingerly steps around them. In short, its September 2010 verdict surrenders judicial soundness and integrity for political expedience.

Issues of Faith

For those who have chosen to explore the implications of the Allahabad High Court's verdict on the Ram janmabhoomi-Babri masjid dispute, one of the issues that have been particularly troubling is the question of faith. What is faith? What are the contexts in which it is invoked? And why are some of the implications of such invocations matters of concern? This paper focuses on the narrow perspective from which the richness and diversity of Hindu beliefs and practices have been represented in the verdict. Though many feel that the Ayodhya verdict has been successful in maintaining peace and harmony in turbulent times, what is distressing are the circuitous, even blatantly partisan, ways in which faith has been brought centre stage within legal discourse.

Seeing the Elephant in the Room: Human-Elephant Conflict and the ETF Report

The report of the Elephant Task Force acknowledges the gravity of human-elephant conflicts, and makes a set of potentially far-reaching and forward-looking suggestions to alleviate them. The spirit of most of them is admirable and positive, but the devil, as always, is in the implementation. Managing conflict is as much about protecting farmers and farmlands from elephants as it is about reducing our footprint on the elephant's domain. The first of five articles that discuss the Elephant Task Force report.

Blame the Forest Management System

The Elephant Task Force's report draws attention to the basic difference between tigers and elephants in that the latter do not operate in bounded territories. However, India's forest management system, inherited from the British, is still based on the premise that forests cover a specific territory that have to be governed in a repressive fashion for the extraction of profit. The plight of elephants is only a small part of the larger social and economic conflicts and issues this has thrown up. Unless there is true social and democratic land use planning in the country, there is little hope of the task force's many recommendations achieving anything substantial.

Did the Task Force Get It Right?

The Elephant Task Force's report makes a number of sensible recommendations and the body has by and large done a commendable job in the short time it had. That said, there are some serious omissions, which ought to be remedied before the proposed statutory agency called the National Elephant Conservation Authority with a governing council that includes representatives from various disciplines is set up. In addition, the report sets out a vision for India to become a global leader in elephant conservation. Though a laudable aim, this would require much better preparation and performance by the country's delegations in international forums.

An Elephantine Task

An assessment of the task force report, both in terms of the value of its recommendations and implementability and a comparison with the implementation of the Tiger Task Force recommendations of 2005.

Gajah and Praja: Conservation, Control and Conflicts

The adivasi people living near the Orissa-Andhra Pradesh border face the challenge of having to live with elephants which, according to the Elephant Task Force, have been "displaced" because their home ranges and habitats in the Lakhari Valley Wildlife Sanctuary have been severely degraded. These pachyderms are liable to cause serious human-elephant conflicts in the new areas they move to. Though the task force's prescriptions to mitigate conflicts pay lip service to involving local communities in conservation, in essence they lean towards displacing the adivasis who have lived in the forests for centuries and now have the legal right to do so.

Vertical Sharing and Horizontal Distribution of Resources: The Equity and Efficiency Trade-off

Examining the key recommendations of the Thirteenth Finance Commission that have a bearing on vertical and horizontal transfers aimed at correcting imbalances in the system, this paper takes a critical look at these two aspects as well as the grants given to states. It also reviews the overall design of transfers by decomposing these to identify their vertical and equalising content, pointing to problems that could arise in the long run. Yet it concedes that despite several drawbacks, the commission has arrived at a mechanism for transfers that includes some desirable features.

Report of the 13th Finance Commission: Introduction and Overview

This special issue on the Report of the Thirteenth Finance Commission has eight experts evaluating its recommendations from different perspectives. While acknowledging the many plus points of the report, the writers also draw attention to its numerous drawbacks, ranging from a lack of proper attention and omissions to faulty logic. There is little doubt that some of the recommendations, if implemented in the right spirit, will benefit the management of public finances in the country. However, an awareness of the report's limitations could serve as an antidote to not slipping up again.

Deficit Fundamentalism vs Fiscal Federalism: Implications of 13th Finance Commission's Recommendations

The Thirteenth Finance Commission's recommendation to increase the vertical share of tax devolution to states will help, but its horizontal distribution formula leaves much to be desired. One, its design is such that two of the four key indicators are in conflict with each other. Two, the commission's revised road map for fiscal consolidation at the centre and the states, which recommends state-specific, year-wise, fiscal adjustment paths, not only limits the fiscal manoeuvrability of states but also impinges on their fiscal autonomy. Three, its design of the grant for elementary education has the potential to reduce the expenditure of states rather than augment it. The need to look at intergovernmental transfers from the right perspective of federalism, where the states and the centre are seen as equal partners in development and not from a narrow technocratic viewpoint, cannot be stressed more.

Goods and Services Tax: The 13th Finance Commission and the Way Forward

The Thirteenth Finance Commission was required to look into the revenue impact of the introduction of the goods and services tax. Its report, based on the recommendations of a task force constituted to study the issue, recommends a highly uniform and centralised format that does not adequately recognise a tax reform exercise in a multi-level fiscal system that involves compromises and trade-offs. While several flaws can be pointed out in its design, developments that have taken place before and since the report was submitted have to a large extent rendered the commission's recommendations irrelevant. All this underlines the need for a model that goes beyond uniform rates of tax and allows states to vary beyond a floor, with a fixed classification of commodities and services, so that they can choose an appropriate rate to ensure that their revenue requirements are met.

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