The headmaster of a government school in Pilibhit (Uttar Pradesh) was suspended recently by the district administration following a complaint by a local Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader that he was asking his students to sing religious prayers in the morning assembly.
Do prayers in the morning assembly amount to giving religious instruction?
An institution funded by the state, partially or wholly, cannot have any religious instructions at all. Article 28(3) is absolutely clear that it cannot require a child to attend religious instructions if the school receives even a small [state] aid unless consented to by the guardian.
Using the spiritual heritage of the country to inculcate morality looks good; but the minute it appeals to or refers to something superhuman, it contradicts the spirit of rationality and compromises on scientific temper.
Countries like France and the U.S. have a strict wall of separation between the state and religion. Once we have made a choice that we are a secular country, religions instruction cannot be given at any state-funded institution.
Religion has contributed to ethics, morality and to human civilisation. But, religions have led to bloodshed and persecution. Therefore, a modern, progressive country like India has to make a choice.
The morning assembly is an occasion used for various purposes, and music/singing is part of it. Once you realise that this is some kind of a start to the day, you cannot avoid poetry or language of the country. And once you are in that domain, there is no distinction between the aesthetics of a song and [of] a poem that has spiritual overtones.
It will be very strange to say that government schools should not sing bhajans of Surdas or Tulsidas which are very basic to the cultural, literary and aesthetic traditions of the entire Hindi belt.
Article 39 talks of creating a social ethos in which everyone feels a sense of dignity. That sense of dignity can’t be kept exclusively at the altar of science.
Science is a systematic pursuit of knowledge. The study of religion is also one part of it. Direct religious instruction has to be distinguished from traditions of religion which are part of a cultural ethos of the country.
Are we going to ban paintings which also have spiritual overtones or ban the teaching of temple architecture?
Article 51A of the Constitution says citizens should cherish and follow the noble ideals of those who guided our freedom struggle. Therefore, bhajans such as those of Gandhi’s cannot be banned.
Assembly is part and parcel of private schools and many private schools have beautiful morning assemblies. The beautiful traditions of the country are communicated in morning assemblies.
We need greater autonomy and a far greater intellectual space to engage with our heritage.
The Fifteenth Finance Commission has been asked to examine a separate mechanism for funding of defence and internal security. This has triggered some suggestions on the need to have a relook at and redesign of centrally sponsored schemes (CSS).
State should contribute
Bibek Debroy, chairman of EAC-PM, has recently stated that the Seventh Schedule is not cast in stone and that if the Union government is required to contribute to CSS in the State List, why should states not contribute to items in the Union List like defence.
He also states that any restructuring/rationalisation of the CSS requires a relook at the Seventh Schedule and that this must be done with consultation with the states in an appropriate forum.
The seventh schedule: not caste in stone
The Constitution (except fundamental rights) and, more particularly, the Seventh Schedule is not cast in stone.
There have been as many as 103 amendments so far including a few in the Seventh Schedule.
In fact, Article 368 provides for the amendment by introducing the bill in either house and passing it with a majority of the total membership of the house and at least two-thirds of members present and voting.
In addition, changes in Seventh Schedule requires ratification of the amendment by the legislatures of at least one-half of the states.
In fact, the 42nd amendment actually transferred five subjects from the State List to the Concurrent List which are: (a) Education; (b) forests ;(c) weights and measures ;(d) protection of wild animals and birds and (e) administration of justice; constitution and organisation of all courts except the Supreme Court and the High Court.
The rationale behind Central Sector Schemes (CSS)
The constitutional assignments between the central and subnational governments in federations are done broadly on the basis of their respective comparative advantage.
The provision of national public goods is in the federal domain and those with the state-level public service span are assigned to the states as the latter are assumed to have comparative advantage in providing these services according to the varied preferences of the people.
The transaction cost of providing state level public services at the central level is higher than scale economies. In addition, there are meritorious public services with inter-state spillovers and their efficient provision requires subsidisation.
Thus, while the provision of public services is mandated at subnational levels, financing is done either fully or partially by the Centre to ensure that a minimum standard of such services are provided across the country.
In the Indian context, for this reason, there are central sector and centrally-sponsored schemes. In the case of the former, funding is entirely by the Centre and states are merely implementing agencies.
The CSS is a shared cost programme and is meant to ensure a minimum standard of service across the country. In fact, many of the schemes are introduced by the Centre on subjects in the State List ostensibly for their externalities but also to have a direct appeal to the electorate.
Not surprisingly, several schemes were introduced and they are now restructured into 28 umbrella schemes classified into “core of the core”, “core” and “optional” with states’ contribution fixed at 30 per cent, 40 per cent and 50 per cent respectively for non-special category states.
In principle, these schemes have expiry dates, but going by past experience, they are never folded up and always get repackaged. In fact, each of the schemes has multiple objectives and service delivery standards are not clearly defined.
In principle, there should be consultations with states in designing the schemes, but this is hardly done. The classic example is the health insurance scheme announced by the prime minister in his Independence Day speech in 2018 which evolved into “Ayushman Bharat”.
The Finance Commissions are aware of the need for specific purpose transfers to ensure minimum standards of meritorious services and leave some fiscal space to the Centre to undertake CSS. Thus, the Fourteenth Finance Commission stated that the Union government should continue to have fiscal space to provide grants for functions that are broadly in the nature of ‘overlapping functions’ and for area-specific interventions.”
Can states pay for defraying expenditure on items in the Union List?
In fact, Article 282 has this provision when it states that the Union or a State may make any grants for any public purpose.
However, the important question is that should the states be asked to pay for defence? Here, there are two specific reasons why they should not.
First, defence is a national public good and keeping in view the principle that the beneficiaries of services should pay for it, it becomes the primary responsibility of the Centre to defray the cost of protecting all the people of the nation.
Second, given the fact that the assigned expenditure responsibilities of the states are much larger than their revenue potential, the Constitution provides for the sharing of taxes collected by the Centre and making grants to them from the consolidated fund of the Centre based on the recommendations of the Finance Commission.
The Finance Commission is supposed to take into account the capacities and needs of the Union and different states in making recommendations and the Centre’s need includes the requirements for defence of the country.
Once the commission makes recommendations after assessing the requirements including those for defence, the responsibility for defraying the expense falls on the Centre.
The states simply do not have the resources to spend beyond the subjects in their domain because the Finance Commission will not provide for it in its assessment.
Indeed, there is a need to reform the CSS. There should be consultations in formulating, designing and closing them down. “The one-size-fits-all” approach cannot succeed in a large and diverse country like India.
As the schemes are implemented by states, they should have substantial flexibility to ensure that the schemes benefit the targeted groups.
Wuhan was meant to stabilise India-China ties at a time of major global changes; the basic understanding must continue.
Analysing India-China relations
The recent calm in India-China relations might have erased images of the turbulent chapter that preceded it.
For much of the period between 2014 and 2017, uncertainty regarding the other side’s policies and intentions leading to tension, mistrust, and competition characterised the relationship. It was an unusual spike in the post-Cold War era and only subsided in 2018.
Over the past decade, three historical forces have been shaping India-China relations. Some of these forces have been pushing both countries towards competition and some impelling them towards cooperation and collaboration.
The first is a changing world order and the rise of Asia, a phase that is generally traced to the period after the 2008 global economic crisis.
The second is the idea that with the West’s declining capacity and inclination to responsibly manage international and Asian affairs, India, China and other re-emerging powers are being thrust into new order building roles that would require coordination and cooperation.
The third is a changing South Asia with China’s 2013 and 2014 policy declarations of deepening ties with its periphery including with subcontinental states, followed soon after with the ambitious Belt and Road initiative and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in April 2015.
While all three factors contributed to the complexity of India-China relations in the period leading up to 2017, the region became the main arena of interaction, with both sides adopting antagonistic approaches and strategies.
Much of this acrimonious build-up can be traced to China’s decision to expand linkages with its southwestern periphery and India’s perception and reaction to that process.
The Doklam episode in the high Himalayas was really the culmination of a deeper festering question — how would India and China relate to each other as their footprints grew in their overlapping peripheries? It was only with the outbreak of the border crisis and the possibility of a conflict that both leaderships undertook a sober assessment of the complex historical forces at play.
When situated against the broader picture of an emerging multipolarity and uncertainty on the future of globalisation, it led to a similar conclusion by the two leaderships: a lessening of regional tension was in the national interest of both countries. This, in essence, was the backdrop to the April 2018 “informal summit” in Wuhan, where both sides decided to arrest the deterioration in the relationship and attempt to chart a fresh course.
The Wuhan Summit
Wuhan 1.0 was an attempt to articulate some norms that could serve as a renewed set of guidelines to policymakers and bureaucracies in both countries. It was built on five pillars.
The “simultaneous emergence of India and China”, two major powers with independent foreign policies is a reality.
The relationship has regained importance and become “a positive factor for stability” in the global power flux.
Both sides recognise the “importance of respecting each other’s sensitivities, concerns and aspirations”.
Both leaderships would provide “strategic guidance to their respective militaries” to manage the border peacefully.
And finally, both sides would strive for “greater consultation on all matters of common interest”, which includes building a real “developmental partnership”.
Subsequently, the Wuhan approach was critiqued for not going far enough in terms of laying out a blueprint to resolve differences. There is some merit in that interpretation. Yet, the fact is both sides have contained much of the spiralling competition and mistrust, and, there is little doubt that an uncertain international environment motivated both sides towards such a choice.
It has also been claimed that China had tactical reasons for a truce with India in order to focus on strategic competition with the U.S. This is also true. But what has not been emphasised enough is India too benefits from not having to overburden its military, weak economy, and under-resourced diplomatic corps from having to focus on two fronts in a region-wide rivalry with China.
India’s China policy should be guided by three grand strategic goals:
an inclusive security architecture in Asia that facilitates a non-violent transition to multipolarity without disrupting economic interdependence;
a fair and rules-based open international order to better reflect Indian and developing economy interests; and,
geopolitical peace and sustainable economic development in the neighbourhood.
China is important to the successful pursuit of each of these goals, and the principal task before Indian policymakers is to envisage and execute a policy framework that allows for progress on these three ends.
The more the U.S. and China beat each other up, the more room for maneuver other powers will have. One could equally apply this mantra to India and China.
The recent stability in India-China relations is a choice made by both sides. History is obliging both countries to step up and play constructive roles to shape the emerging world order even as it is impelling both sides to learn to co-exist in a common neighbourhood.
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The present CSS (centrally sponsored schemes) basket has an expiry date of March 31, 2020. From April 1, 2020, we will have a new CSS basket.
Difference between CS and CSS
For CS ( central sector), all expenditure is borne by the Union government while for CSS (centrally sponsored schemes), part of the expenditure is borne by the Union government while States bear the rest.
Revamping of CSS
15th Finance Commission mentions a re-examination of CSSs.
B K Chaturvedi report has recommended restructuring of CSSs.
NITI Aayog has recommended rationalisation of CSSs.
Issues with CSSs
The number of CSSs is around 200.
States find difficulties to meet CSS expenditure.
There should only a total of 15-20 of CSs and CSSs combined.
There should not be CSSs for items in the State List (such as health).
CSS restructuring requires a relook at the Seventh Schedule.
Proper consultation with states for CSS restructuring is necessary.
The order of the Rajasthan State Human Rights Commission on live-in relationships is problematic.
Why has this issue cropped up?
While referring to women in live-in relationships, the State Human Rights Commission of Rajasthan has recently said that the “concubine” life of a woman cannot be termed a dignified life.
Justification of live-in relationships
The Supreme Court has passed several landmark judgments on intimate relationships.
In Shafin Jahan v. Asokan (2018), it held that the right to choose one’s life partner is an important facet of the right to life, and social approval of intimate personal decisions should not be the basis for recognising them.
In Navtej Johar v. Union of India (2018), it read down Section 377 of the IPC which criminalised consensual homosexual relationships.
In light of this, it is important to note that being in a live-in relationship is a valid choice which deserves the recognition and protection of law.
There may also be those who cohabit informally because they cannot formalise their relationships, such as inter-caste/religion opposite-sex couples who are barred from marrying by social norms, or same-sex couples, who are barred from marrying by law.
Issues with informal cohabitations
Informal cohabitation, like marriage, creates vulnerabilities due to divisions of labour that leave one party, usually the woman and her child, in greater need of financial support when the relationship ends.
The law provides ways to address these vulnerabilities in marriages through the provision of rights to maintenance or inheritance, but the needs of informal cohabitants are left up to the discretion of judges, without any legal framework to guide them.
Issues with SHRC’s
The SHRC’s order is problematic on many levels.
One, Article 19 of the Constitution, includes the freedom to express one’s identity, sexual preferences, and love. The right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 includes the right to privacy. The right to choose how to organise one’s personal intimacies is an important facet of the right to privacy and, therefore, outside the purview of the state. Demanding that the government seek to prohibit live-in relationships is therefore brazen contempt of the decisions of the apex court.
Two, the language of the SHRC promotes sexist and heteronormative stereotypes, and ignores social reality. At one level, in stating that women in live-in relationships are ‘kept’ as concubines, it ignores the possibility that such relationships could be a viable alternative in cases where marriage is legally or socially prohibited. It also assumes that marriage is, or ought to be, the only relationship through which women sexually associate with men.
Finally, the language in the order will likely create a chilling effect, preventing vulnerable citizens, in need of legal protection, from seeking redress. The SHRC also demanded that governments run awareness campaigns against live-in relationships.