Kurukshetra IAS Academy Blogs

1. Seizure of cargo by India is unjustified, says Pakistan

Pakistan has condemned India’s “high-handedness” over the seizure of dual-use items bound for Karachi from China, saying that the “specifications of the equipment clearly indicate its purely commercial use”.

The Hindu reported on Saturday that two advanced computer numerical control machines manufactured by GKD, Italy and bound for Karachi Port from Shekou Port in Chinawere seized by Customs authorities at Mumbai Port on January 23.

The spokesperson for Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a statement late on Saturday, said this “disruption of free trade underscores the dangers inherent in the arbitrary assumption of policing roles by states with dubious credentials”.

“This is a simple case of import of a commercial lathe machine by a Karachi-based commercial entity which supplies parts to the automobile industry in Pakistan… The transaction was being conducted through transparent banking channels with all the relevant documentation,” the spokesperson said, adding that relevant private entities were pursuing the matter against “this unjustified seizure”.

‘Growing impunity’

Terming reports on this as reflective of Indian media’s “habitual misrepresentation of facts”, the spokesperson added, “Such acts highlight the growing impunity of certain states in violating international norms and taking arbitrary measures in violation of international law”.

The consignment was shipped on January 9 on a merchant vessel CMA CGM Attila.

2. The long road to reforming India’s political party system

With the general election 2024 inching closer, the spate of political defections across the country is no cause for surprise. In Bihar, MLAs from the Congress and the Rashtriya Janata Dal have moved to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) while the elections to the Rajya Sabha that were held recently saw cross-voting in favour of the BJP in Himachal Pradesh. The MLAs concerned have now been disqualified under the anti-defection law. In the Andhra Pradesh Assembly too there have been disqualifications under this law.

However, an adjudicatory development from more than a fortnight ago makes one doubt the perceived need and utility of India’s anti-defection law. On February 15, 2024, the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Speaker delivered his verdict on the split in 2023 within the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). No MLA from either faction of the NCP was disqualified, and the Ajit Pawar faction was recognised as being the “real” NCP. Unsurprisingly, the order appears to be similar to the Speaker’s decision in the split in the Shiv Sena where neither faction was disqualified, and one of the competing factions (in that case, the Eknath Shinde faction) was recognised as the real Shiv Sena.

Transgressions that pass muster

While official copies of both these decisions are unavailable, the reasoning that went into the decision can be discerned from the livestreaming of the Assembly proceedings. Relying on the test of legislative majority, the Speaker noted that the Ajit Pawar-led faction of the NCP had the support of 41 out of 53 NCP MLAs, making it the real NCP. More intriguing was the Speaker’s observations on the applicability of the anti-defection law to these proceedings.

What transpired between June 30 and July 2, 2023, when the NCP split vertically, is termed as an expression of “intra-party dissent”. In uncritical terms, the Speaker has said that such intra-party dissent cannot be subject to the punitive provisions of the Tenth Schedule, and the dissenting MLAs cannot be disqualified from the Assembly. However, the soundness of this observation can be questioned on the ground that if any dissenting group within a political party wishes to distance itself from such a party, it must ideally merge with another party so as to be able to claim protection under the Tenth Schedule. Under the anti-defection law, a faction that splits from its original party cannot claim exemption from disqualification on its own, given that the “split” exception was deleted from the Tenth Schedule in 2003.

The only exemption available now to legislators moving in groups is that of mergers, which mandatorily require a minimum of two-third members to separate from their political party and merge with another. As is well-known, in both the Shiv Sena and NCP splits, the splitting factions (led by Eknath Shinde and Ajit Pawar, respectively), did not opt to either merge with an existing political party or establish an altogether new party. Instead, each of the two factions claimed to be the original political party themselves, and formed an alternate government with other political parties. In neither of these cases was there a merger within the strict terms of the Tenth Schedule.

It would have been interesting to see the Speaker contend with this issue in both these cases purely in terms of the language of the law. Instead, the Speaker made a rather worrying observation to the effect that it is in the very nature of politics for leaders to forge new alliances, undo old relations, and make or break into new forms, and that such political movements cannot qualify as defections under the Tenth Schedule. Why have the anti-defection law in the Constitution when even the most manifest transgressions of the law are allowed to pass muster with the adjudicating authority?

The Speaker’s concern for preservation of inner-party dissent is laudable, especially when he says that the Tenth Schedule cannot be used to silence party members. The Speaker had to go by the legislative strength of each faction to determine the real NCP, because reliable information to that end could not be sourced from the party’s constitution, leadership and organisational structure.

The issue of inner-party democracy

Undeniably, this highlights the need for better thought-out reform of the political party system — one which accounts for adequate democracy within parties. Defections are often engineered on the premise of an absence of inner-party democracy in the original political party of a turncoat legislator. To systematically remedy this concern, it is time to first conduct a thorough study of how robust democratic structures and processes are within parties, and, second, usher in statutory regulation that compels political parties to ensure greater inner democracy. The 255th Report of the Law Commission of India proposed amendments to the Representation of the People Act, 1951 which could mandate that besides having a constitution, political parties elect an executive committee (for the party), select candidates who are to contest elections to Parliament or State Assemblies, and conduct regular elections within the party at every level. The Law Commission also proposed granting the Election Commission of India the powers to impose monetary penalties or withdraw the registration of a political party in case it failed to comply.

The Law Commission’s recommendations have yet to see the light of day. Evidently, in the absence of more robust means to ensure inner-party democracy, the Tenth Schedule had to be circuitously put into disuse in the Shiv Sena and NCP verdicts — both instances where the anti-defection law could well be applied! The Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Speaker is now presiding over a committee which will review the anti-defection law. Given his recent encounters with this law in two high-profile matters, there could not be a better opportunity than now for India to get an anti-defection law best suited to its felt needs and realities.

ith the Commission’s report, the government had said it has “in-principle” accepted the creation of such a fund in the Public Account of India. “Sources of funding and modalities will be examined in due course,” it had said.

3. Plans for non-lapsable defence modernisation fund put on hold

Officials say all defence funding needs are being met as and when they arise; creating a non-lapsable pool has drawbacks as it affects parliamentary scrutiny and accountability, and money is usually drawn from cesses levied for specific purpose

The idea of setting up a non-lapsable defence modernisation fund is off the table for now, top government officials told The Hindu, stressing that all defence funding needs are being met as and when they arise, and creating a non-lapsable pool has drawbacks as it affects parliamentary scrutiny and accountability.

Among Central Ministries, defence spending accounts for the largest outlays and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had informed Parliament as recently as December 2023 that a “separate mechanism is being worked out” to explore a special dispensation to operationalise a “Non-lapsable Defence Modernisation Fund”.

“As of now, no such decision has been taken on such a Fund and it is not under any active contemplation because there are drawbacks such as reducing parliamentary accountability. The only funds that are non-lapsable traditionally are those funded through cesses levied for a specific purpose,” a top Finance Ministry official said on the issue.

“Except for things financed through a cess, taking away today’s appropriations and saying I will use it tomorrow goes against the basic norms or parliamentary financial accountability. Parliament would like to know whether you spent the money they voted for, or not, and it needs to be told, Yes or No,” the first official said.

Assurance of funding

Ministries would only want a non-lapsable fund for a certain “assurance of funding”, pointed out another government official dealing with the subject. “If we are able to assure that funding without a non-lapsable fund and Budget provisions are made when necessary, then the question of a non-lapsable fund becomes academic. The real question is to make funds available when they are necessary to complete the procurements that are decided upon,” he pointed out.

Asserting that all necessary defence capital spending has been provided for by the Interim Budget 2024-25, the official emphasised that the consolidation of capex demands of the Services under one head instead of three heads for each Service in the Budget provides more space for the Defence Ministry.

“‘Dovetailing the Services’ capex budgets together under one head is aimed at creating a more unified approach to procurements. It is a push towards jointness so the three Services can sit together and optimise their capital expenditure and if one is not able to spend, another can take more money,” the official explained.

While such optimisation used to be done earlier as well, it required the Finance Ministry to get involved to reallocate the outlays. “Now, the power to optimise is within the Ministry of Defence so you are likely to get better utilisation of this money because you will see this inter se fluidity,” he noted.

The 15th Finance Commission had recommended the constitution of a dedicated non-lapsable Modernisation Fund for Defence and Internal Security (MFDIS) after the Centre had included the examination of such a fund’s creation in its terms of reference. In 2021, placing an action-taken report in Parliament along with the Commission’s report, the government had said it has “in-principle” accepted the creation of such a fund in the Public Account of India. “Sources of funding and modalities will be examined in due course,” it had said.

4. Advanced landing systems at airports cut flight delays, but come at a cost

In January, major airports across India witnessed severe flight disruptions owing to bad weather conditions. Hyderabad ended up playing host to international flights diverted from several destinations, including Singapore, London, Kuwait and Colombo. Meanwhile, Chennai airport’s visibility dropped to as low as 100 metres, causing the cancellation of several flights across major cities in India.

The fiasco has raised serious questions about the status of the existing Instrument Landing System (ILS) and the installation of advanced technologies across the major airports.

To enhance the air navigation services infrastructure at airports within the Indian airspace, the Airports Authority of India has started commissioning and upgrading the latest categories of the ILS at several airports in the past few years. Aviation experts also called for urgent action on this front.

Landing aid

ILS is a standard precision landing aid established by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). It is used to provide accurate lateral and vertical guidance to aircraft for landing on the runway under normal or adverse weather conditions.

Interestingly, the need for advanced ILS is now felt in airports which traditionally would not have fog problems, but report visibility challenges due to increased pollution (or smog).

Currently, only six international airports in India, including Delhi, Jaipur, Amritsar, Kolkata, Lucknow and Bengaluru have CAT III B landing facilities, according to data revealed by the Union Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA). Meanwhile, CAT I capability will be enabled in eight airports while facilities will be upgraded from CAT I to CAT II in four airports.

“Flights often get delayed due to challenges in landing at some of the airports which lack advanced ILS [CAT II or CAT III] systems. This trend is particularly pronounced in tier 2 and tier 3 cities of India, leading to a constant knock-out effect in flight delays even in major cities and hence passenger inconvenience,” Rishi Jain, CEO at Jain Aviation Consultants, said.

ILS systems, however, are a costly affair. According to experts, the average cost of installing a CAT III ILS at an airport is about ₹100 crore, with added maintenance cost in the range of ₹40 lakh to ₹50 lakh. Moreover, it is an added cost for airlines as well. “It is a catch-22 situation. Advanced [CAT II or CAT III] ILS installation also requires airlines to invest in the training and certification of their pilots for specific technologies while disrupting their rostering schedules,” Captain Sanjay Karve N.M., retired Accountable Manager and Chief Pilot, Government of Maharashtra, said.

According to the Ministry, so far, 4,804 flight crew qualified for CAT II/III are available with various airlines, including 2,979 captains and 1,825 co-pilots.

Besides this, CAT IIIB installation also demands an obstruction-free environment, to avoid potential interference in localiser signals for the ILS on the runway, creating a serious collision risk for low-flying aircraft.

5. 150 bank accounts linked to syndicate smuggling opioids under ED scanner

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has examined nearly 150 bank accounts linked to an international syndicate, which allegedly supplied opioid drugs in huge quantities to its contacts overseas. The agency is investigating the money-laundering case based on an FIR registered by the Mumbai Police. The proceeds of alleged crime are currently estimated to be around ₹44.50 crore.

It is learnt that these bank accounts were in the name of certain individuals and entities related to a key accused, Ali Asgar Shirazi, who was arrested by the agency in January, and currently in judicial custody.

Over 25 companies, partnership firms, and proprietorship concerns came under the ED scanner and four companies and partnership firms (Hustlers Hospitality Private Limited, Zetetic Techno India, Trans Air Express, Falisha Technoworld LLP, and One Logistics) have been included as accused.

These entities were allegedly instrumental in the projection of drug money as genuine business proceeds. The investments made by some individuals in the share market, market instruments and cryptocurrency wallets were also examined in detail to trace the end usage of the money generated by the illegal sale of opioids.

Mr. Shirazi was initially arrested by the Mumbai Police in May last year when he was attempting to escape to the UAE. The police suspected that he was instrumental in the supply of drugs worth over ₹200 crore overseas. The ED said Mr. Shirazi and others received orders through call centres being run in different parts of the country. The operations were being run through a network of call centres, websites, logistics companies, consultancy firms, and dummy pharma companies for supply of opioids to the U.S. and U.K.

Cash deposits

The ED also allegedly found many instances of cash deposits in the personal accounts and the accounts of logistics companies controlled by various individuals linked to Mr. Shirazi. An inquiry indicated that these entities did not have offices, employees or licences required for running logistics business. Such orders were meant to evade the formal controls on the use of opioids and therefore illegal. The drugs were being procured from the dummy pharma companies and transported abroad using the logistics companies.

Properties attached

About a week ago, the ED attached properties worth about ₹5 crore in the form of flats, a shop, and land parcels purportedly belonging to Mr. Shirazi, Mehreen Shirazi, Abdul Samad, Manoj Patel, and Bhavesh Shah and the movable assets valued at ₹36.81 lakh in the form of fixed deposits and balance in the bank accounts of Ramlakhan Patel, Shobha Patel, and Hustlers Hospitality Private Limited.

As it turns out, one U.S.-based member of the syndicate named Ezhil Sezhian Kamaldoss had been held guilty by a court in U.S. in June 2022 for “conspiring to distribute millions of opioid pills and other illegal controlled substances imported from India and money laundering conspiracy”.

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