Kurukshetra IAS Academy Blogs

1. SC declares AAP leader Mayor of Chandigarh

The top court sets aside results, initiates action against Returning Officer for ‘defacing’ ballots

Court dashes BJP’s hopes for fresh polls, says it would compound the ‘serious misdemeanour’

Bench says it would not tolerate ‘subterfuges’ that destroy electoral democracy even at local levels

The Supreme Court on Tuesday said that it would not tolerate “subterfuges” that destroy electoral democracy even at the local level, while declaring the Aam Aadmi Party’s Kuldeep Kumar as the new Mayor of the Union Territory of Chandigarh.

A three-judge Bench headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud initiated action against Anil Masih, the Returning Officer who presided over the controversial mayoral elections on January 30, whose “defacement” of eight ballot papers was caught on security cameras. Mr. Masih’s “furtive” conduct had swung the electoral results in favour of the BJP’s Manoj Sonkar. The Supreme Court had intervened on February 5 to sequester the ballot papers and video records of the polling day.

By declaring Mr. Kumar as Chandigarh Mayor in a single stroke on Tuesday, the court dashed the BJP’s hopes for fresh polls to the municipal corporation.

On Monday, Chief Justice Chandrachud had voiced “deep concern” about the “horse trading taking place”.

His remark was made in reference to the sudden shift of allegiances of three AAP councillors to the BJP, coinciding with Mr. Sonkar’s resignation as Mayor on the eve of the SC hearing.

“This court is duty-bound in exercise of its powers to do complete justice under Article 142 to ensure that the process of electoral democracy is not thwarted by such subterfuges. Allowing such a state of affairs to take place would be destructive of the most valued principles of democracy our country depends on,” he observed.

‘Exceptional situation’

The Bench said that what had happened at the mayoral elections was an “exceptional situation”. “The court must step in to ensure that the basic mandate of the electoral democracy, albeit, at the local participatory level, is preserved,” Chief Justice Chandrachud said.

The decision to declare Mr. Kumar as the winner was taken immediately after perusing the eight ballot papers specially brought to the court. The Bench said that the eight votes were clearly cast for Mr. Kumar, taking his tally to a majority 20 votes out of a total 36 polled. Mr. Masih’s declaration of Mr. Sonkar as winner was quashed and set aside.

The court agreed with Punjab Advocate General Gurminder Singh, senior advocate A.M. Singhvi and advocate Shadan Farasat that there was no need to call for fresh polls as that would only work to compound the “serious misdemeanour” of Mr. Masih. It said the aberration was only in the counting of votes by the Returning Officer.

The court said that Mr. Masih’s misconduct, by “making a single line in ink by way of a mark in the bottom half of the eight ballot papers so that these votes would be treated as invalid”, led to the “destruction of the fundamental democratic principles”.

The Bench played the raucous video recording of the polling day on open screens placed around the courtroom for the benefit of all present, including Mr. Masih.

The Bench concluded that Mr. Masih misused his capacity as a Returning Officer to unlawfully alter the course of the mayoral elections. He further made a “patently false statement” in the Supreme Court on Monday that the eight ballot papers were already defaced by the time they had reached him. “He has to be held accountable… He could not have been unmindful of the fact that he was making a statement prima facie false to his own knowledge,” Chief Justice Chandrachud told senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, Mr. Masih’s counsel.

The Bench ordered the Supreme Court Registrar (Judicial) to issue a show cause notice to Mr. Masih under Section 340 (conduct affecting the administration of justice) of the CrPC. He was given three weeks to submit his response to the show cause notice.

2. Maharashtra clears 10% quota for all Marathas

Walking the caste tightrope ahead of the Lok Sabha election, Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and his Cabinet approved a Bill to provide a 10% quota for the Maratha community in education and government jobs, which was later passed unanimously by all parties during a special session of the Maharashtra on Tuesday.

The “historic” legislation fulfilled his promise to create a “foolproof” Maratha quota within three months, Mr. Shinde said.

However, activist Manoj Jarange-Patil, who has embarked on multiple hunger strikes on this issue, was unsatisfied with the new legislation, terming it a “betrayal” of the community. He is seeking a Maratha quota carved out from the existing reservation for other backward classes (OBCs), which is more likely to pass Supreme Court scrutiny.

The Bill, passed by the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council, is similar to the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2018 introduced by the then-government led by Devendra Fadnavis, which was struck down by the top court in May 2021. This is the third time in the last decade that the State has introduced legislation for a Maratha quota.

While seeking to fulfil demands of poorer Marathas , this Bill does not disturb the existing OBC quota. It will push total reservations in Maharashtra to 62%, above the Supreme Court-mandated limit of 50%.

This Bill is distinct from the government’s earlier notification on issuing Kunbi OBC certificates to Marathas who had records showing them as Kunbis. Thus, non-Kunbi Marathas will be covered under the legislation passed on Tuesday.

‘Pre-election eyewash’

While the Opposition parties passed the Bill unanimously, the Congress later denounced it as a “pre-election eyewash”, accusing the government of hoodwinking the Maratha community. Maharashtra Leader of Opposition and senior Congressman Vijay Wadettiwar alleged that the Shinde regime had “fooled the Marathas.”

He added that the Opposition had been compelled to support the Bill on Tuesday for fear of accusations of voting against it merely for the sake of Opposition.

Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Uddhav Thackeray, though a Congress ally, expressed his thanks to Mr. Shinde, noting that the OBC community’s reservation had not been affected while granting the quota. He also urged the government to announce jobs and educational benefits for the Maratha youth as soon as the educational year opened.

3. Rules that edge out women from jobs due to marriage illegal: SC

Regulations based on gender-based bias unconstitutional, it says; asks govt. to pay compensation to a woman permanent commissioned officer

Rules that bully women employees out of their jobs for getting married or having domestic issues amount to “coarse gender discrimination” and are plainly unconstitutional, the Supreme Court has said.

“Terminating employment because the woman has got married is a coarse case of gender discrimination and inequality. Acceptance of such patriarchal rule undermines human dignity, right to non-discrimination and fair treatment. Laws and regulations based on gender-based bias are constitutionally impermissible,” the court said in a recent order.

The observations were part of an order which upheld the rights of a woman permanent commissioned officer in the Military Nursing Service who was discharged for getting married.

A Bench headed by Justice Sanjiv Khanna directed the Union Government to pay former Lieutenant Selina John ₹60 lakh in compensation within eight weeks as a full and final settlement of all her claims. The government had come in appeal against a decision of the Lucknow Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal which had ruled in her favour.

Noting that her release from services was both “wrong and illegal”, the Supreme Court found that the rule against marriage was applicable only to women nursing officers. The rule was “ex facie manifestly arbitrary”.

“Rules making marriage of women employees and their domestic involvement a ground for disentitlement would be unconstitutional,” the order noted.

The court also recorded that the Army instruction concerned with the terms and conditions of service for the grant of permanent commissions in the Military Nursing Service was withdrawn in 1995.

4. Study finds rise in blood clots, heart inflammation after COVID vaccination

One of the largest assessments of its kind, spanning 99 million people and investigating reports of adverse reactions following COVID-19 vaccination, found that instances of Guillain-Barre Syndrome, myocarditis, pericarditis, and cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) were at least 1.5 times more than expected following inoculation with mRNA and ChAdOX1 vaccines.

This is in line with previous observations by the World Health Organization and the European Medicines Agency, and was what led to these being classified as rare side effects following the vaccination for COVID-19.

The data set did not include patients from India. However, a majority of Indians were administered the ChAdOX1, or Covishield, vaccines during the pandemic

The need for rapid development and administration of vaccines saw a range of new approaches to vaccination, namely the use of synthetic viral particles, or protein constructs being administered following shortened testing programmes.

Guillain-Barre syndrome is a disorder in which the immune system attacks the nerves. While rarely fatal, it can cause muscular damage and can require prolonged treatment. CVST refers to blood clots in the brain. Myocarditis and pericarditis are inflammation of the heart tissue. All of these are serious conditions and potentially fatal.

The Global Covid Vaccine Safety Project, which made the assessment, compiled electronic healthcare data on adverse events related to COVID-19 vaccines from participants across multiple sites, including Argentina, Australia, Canada, and Denmark.

The analysis involved computing the so-called OE ratios, or observed versus expected ratios. This means first healthcare providers, having a baseline ‘expectation’ of how many adverse events are likely given a certain number of vaccinated people, and comparing it with the number of events actually reported to health systems. Expectations are formed based on experience with the rates of vaccination, and reactions observed historically. Ratios greater than 1.5 or, in other words, 50% more adverse-reaction reports than what is expected, are considered “potential safety signals”, or necessitating a thorough investigation.

“OE ratios >1.5 were observed for Guillain-Barré syndrome and cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (3.23) following the first dose of ChAdOx1 vaccine,” notes the study, published this month in the peer-reviewed journal Vaccine.

As on December 6, 2022, a total of 92,003 adverse events following immunisation have been reported in India since the start of vaccination, the Health Ministry told Parliament. This is about 0.009% of Indians who took COVID-19 vaccines.

5. Having panchayats as self-governing institutions

Three decades have passed since the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments Acts came into effect, which envisaged that local bodies in India would function as institutions of local self government. As a follow up, the Ministry of Panchayati Raj was constituted in 2004 to strengthen rural local governments.

When it comes to analysing the status of devolution, it is evident that some States have forged ahead while many lag behind. The commitment of State governments towards decentralisation has been vital in making panchayati raj institutions an effective local governance mechanism at the grass-roots level.

The constitutional amendment has set forth specific details on fiscal devolution which includes the generation of own revenues. Emanating from the Central Act, various States Panchayati Raj Acts have made provisions for taxation and collection. Based on the provisions of these Acts, panchayats have made efforts to generate their own resources to the maximum extent. Participatory planning and budgeting were the end result of such interventions by the Ministry.

That “Panchayats earn only 1% of the revenue through taxes”, with the rest being raised as grants from the State and Centre was highlighted in a ‘Datapoint’ (Opinion page, The Hindu, February 5, 2024). It specifically points out that 80% of the revenue is from the Centre and 15 % from the States. This is an eye-opener for the proponents of decentralisation as the net result is that the revenue raised by panchayats is meagre even after 30 years of devolution initiatives.

Avenues for own source of revenue

The report of the expert committee constituted by the Ministry of Panchayati Raj on own source of revenue (OSR) of rural local bodies elaborates on the details of State Acts that have incorporated tax and non-tax revenue that can be collected and utilised by panchayats. Property tax, cess on land revenue, surcharge on additional stamp duty, tolls, tax on profession, advertisement, user charges for water and sanitation and lighting are the major OSRs where panchayats can earn maximum income. Panchayats are expected to establish a conducive environment for taxation by implementing appropriate financial regulations. This includes making decisions regarding the tax and non-tax bases, determining their rates, establishing provisions for periodic revisions, defining exemption areas, and enacting effective tax management and enforcement laws for collection

The huge potential for non-tax revenue includes fees, rent, and income from investment sales and hires charges and receipts. There are also innovative projects that can generate OSR. This covers income from rural business hubs, innovative commercial ventures, renewable energy projects, carbon credits. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds and donations.

The role of gram sabhas

Gram sabhas have a significant role in fostering self-sufficiency and sustainable development at the grass-roots level by leveraging local resources for revenue generation. They can be engaged in planning, decision-making, and implementation of revenue-generating initiatives that range from agriculture and tourism to small-scale industries. They have the authority to impose taxes, fees, and levies, directing the funds towards local development projects, public services, and social welfare programmes. Through transparent financial management and inclusive participation, gram sabhas ensure accountability and foster community trust, ultimately empowering villages to become economically independent and resilient. Thus, gram sabhas need to promote entrepreneurship, and foster partnerships with external stakeholders to enhance the effectiveness of revenue generation efforts

In several States, gram panchayats lack the authority to collect taxes, while in numerous others, intermediate and district panchayats are not delegated the responsibility of tax collection. When gram panchayats collect 89% of own taxes, the intermediate panchayats collect 7% and the district panchayats a nominal amount of 5%. There is a need to demarcate OSR for the entire three-tier panchayats to ensure equitable sharing.

There are several factors behind the general aversion towards generating own income. With the increase in the allocation of Central Finance Commission (CFC) grants, panchayats are evincing less interest in the collection of OSR. The allocation for rural local bodies from the 10th and 11th CFC was ₹4,380 crore and ₹8,000 crore, respectively. But in the 14th and 15th CFCs there was a huge increase by way of allocating ₹2,00,202 and ₹2,80,733 crore, respectively. The tax collected in 2018-19 was ₹3,12,075 lakh which diminished in 2021-2022 to ₹2,71,386 lakh. The non-tax collected for the same period was ₹2,33,863 lakh and ₹2,09,864 lakh. At one time, panchayats were in competition to raise OSR for their commitment to fulfil basic needs. This has now given place to dependency on grants allocated through central and State finance commissions. Some States have the policy of incentivisation by providing matching grants but which were sparingly implemented. Panchayats also have no need of penalising defaulters as they believe that OSR has not been regarded as an income that is linked with panchayat finance.

Overcoming the dependency syndrome

Despite every enabling factor to raise revenue, panchayats confront several impediments in resource mobilisation: the ‘freebie culture’ rampant in society is the cause for the antipathy in paying taxes. Elected representatives feel that imposing taxes would alter their popularity adversely. Here, the answer is clear. There is a need to educate elected representatives and the public on the significance of raising revenue to develop panchayats as self-governing institutions. Ultimately, the dependency syndrome for grants has to be minimised and in due course, panchayats will be able to survive on their own resources. Panchayats can only achieve such a state of affairs when there are dedicated efforts in all tiers of governance, which includes even the State and central level.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *