Content

  1. Reclaiming SAARC from the ashes of 2020
  2. Strained ties

Editorial: Reclaiming SAARC from the ashes of 2020

Context:

  • Thirty-six years after it first began, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), appears to be all but dead in the water. The year 2020 marked the sixth year since the leaders of the eight nations that make up SAARC were able to meet.

Relevance:

  • GS Paper 2:  India and its Neighbourhood, Bilateral, Regional, Global groupings & Agreements (involving and/or affecting India)

Mains Questions:

  1. Despite the despondency, the rationale for SAARC existence is intact, and India can use it as a stage for its global ambitions. Discuss. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • About SAARC:
  • Objectives of the SAARC:
  • Significance of SAARC in Contemporary time:
  • Way Forward:

About SAARC:

The South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was created in 1985 as an expression of the region’s collective decision to evolve a regional cooperative framework.

  • Established with the signing of the SAARC Charter in Dhaka in 1985. Its secretariat is in Kathmandu, Nepal.
  • Members: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Objectives of the SAARC:

SAARC aims to promote economic growth, social progress and cultural development within the South Asia region. The objectives of SAARC, as defined in its charter, are as follows:

  • Promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia and improve their quality of life
  • Accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region by providing all individuals the opportunity to live in dignity and realise their full potential
  • Promote and strengthen collective self-reliance among the countries of South Asia
  • Contribute to mutual trust, understanding and appreciation of one another’s problems
  • Promote active collaboration and mutual assistance in the economic, social, cultural, technical and scientific fields
  • Strengthen co-operation with other developing countries
  • Strengthen co-operation among themselves in international forms on matters of common interest; and
  • Cooperate with international and regional organisation with similar aims and purposes.

Significance of SAARC in Contemporary time:

  • Addressing Challenges related to Pandemic: Reviving SAARC is crucial to countering the common challenges brought about by the pandemic.
    • To begin with, studies have shown that South Asia’s experience of the pandemic has been unique from other regions of the world, and this needs to be studied further in a comprehensive manner in order to counter future pandemics.
    • Such an approach is also necessary for the distribution and further trials needed for vaccines, as well as developing cold storage chains for the vast market that South Asia represents.
  • Revival of economic from slowdown: Apart from the overall GDP slowdown, global job cuts which will lead to an estimated 22% fall in revenue for migrant labour and expatriates from South Asian countries, there is an expected loss of about 10.77 million jobs and US$52.32 billion in GDP in the tourism sector alone from the impact of COVID-19.
    • World Bank reports that have estimated the losses have all suggested that South Asian countries work as a collective to set standards for labour from the region, and also to promoting a more intra-regional, transnational approach towards tourism, citing successful examples including the ‘East Africa Single Joint Visa’ system, or similar joint tourism initiatives like in the Mekong region or the Caribbean islands.
  • Creating Goldilocks option: In the longer term, there will be a shift in priorities towards health security, food security, and job security, that will also benefit from an “all-of” South Asia approach.
    • The impact of COVID-19 will be seen in broader, global trends: a growing distaste for ‘globalisation’ of trade, travel and migration all of which were seen to have helped the pandemic spread from China, as well as a growing preference for nativism, self-dependence and localising supply chains.
  • SAARC, as an organisation, reflects the South Asian identity of the countries, historically and contemporarily. It has geographical identity. Equally, there is a cultural, linguistic, religious and culinary affinity that defines South Asia.
  • South Asian countries are closely tied in their socio-political state as they face similar traditional as well as emerging issues like terrorism, energy shortage, hydro-politics, climate change among many others. SAARC can be a platform for starting dialogue for timely addressal of these issues.
  • BIMSTEC can complement but not replace SAARC as there is a huge difference in both. SAARC has had 18 summits in the 32 years of its existence and it has an extensive network of mechanisms, regional centers and conventions as well as a permanent Secretariat. On the other hand, the BIMSTEC has recently got momentum and yet to find its role.
  • Attraction towards other groupings: If SAARC becomes redundant there may be possibility that other neighbouring countries may join SCO, as many have applied for or already have observer status. o If India loses its clout in this region, then it will be a critical setback to its aspirations for a global role.
  • Economic integration: As per world Bank report, with intra-regional trade at less than 5% of total trade, South Asia is the least integrated region in the world, dwarfed by East Asia’s 35% and Europe’s 60%. SAARC is critical for economic integration of the region.
  • Neighbourhood first policy of which SAARC could become the central pillar, and for India to play global role, its regional is the pillar for If we are waiting for the Asian century, South Asia shouldn’t remain fragmented.

Way Forward:

  • To make SAARC more effective, the organisation must be reformed and member countries must reach a consensus regarding the changes required. So, first step should be to setup a mechanism for informal discussions, formal mediation and resolution mechanisms tailored to the region’s specific needs and problems
  • Sri Lanka’s former Prime Minister proposed ‘Economic Integration Road Map (EIRM)’: a “sub-region”, consisting of the five southern States of India and Sri Lanka, to tap the total population of 300 million people and a combined GDP of over $500 billion. o Addressing para-tariffs and non-tariff barriers for successful regional integration, tapping ecommerce and enhancing tourism were crucial to such a road map.
  • Expediting subregional cooperation projects like Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) on the BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA) would help in continuing cooperation, boosting trust among members.

Editorial: Strained ties

Context:

  • The recent three-day-long protest, led by Puducherry Chief Minister, under the banner of the Secular Democratic Progressive Alliance, against Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi came as no surprise, given the strained ties between the two constitutional functionaries.

Relevance:

  • GS Paper 2: Functions & responsibilities of the Union and the States; issues and challenges of federal structure;

Mains Questions:

  1. Discuss the essentials of the 69th Constitutional Amendment Act and anomalies, if any that have led to recent reported conflicts between the elected representatives and the institution of the Lieutenant Governor in the administration of Delhi. Do you think that this will give rise to a new trend in the functioning of the Indian federal politics? 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Article:

  • Importance of the post of the Governor:
  • Constitutional Provisions related to Governor:
  • Issues with role of governor:
  • Way forward:

Importance of the post of the Governor:

  • Under the constitutional scheme, the Governor’s mandate is substantial such as
    • overseeing government formation
    • reporting on the breakdown of constitutional machinery in a State
    • maintaining the chain of command as well as effective communication between the Centre and the State
    • reserving his assent to Bills passed by the State Legislature
    • promulgating ordinances if the need arises.
  • As a figurehead who ensures the continuance of governance in the State, even in times of constitutional crises, his role is often that of a neutral arbiter in disputes settled informally within the various strata of government, and as the conscience keeper of the community.

Constitutional Provisions related to Governor:

  • Article 163: It talks about the discretionary power of governor.
  • Article 256: The executive power of the Union shall extend to the giving of such directions to a State as may appear to the Government of India to be necessary for that purpose.
  • Article 257: The executive power of the Union shall also extend to the giving of directions to a State as to the construction and maintenance of means of communication declared in the direction to be of national or military importance:
  • Article 355: It entrusts the duty upon Union to protect the states against “external aggression” and “internal disturbance” to ensure that the government of every State is carried on in accordance with the provisions of Constitution.
  • Article 356: In the event that a state government is unable to function according to constitutional provisions, the Central government can take direct control of the state machinery. The state’s governor issues the proclamation, after obtaining the consent of the President of India.
  • Article 357: It deals with Exercise of legislative powers under Proclamation issued under Article 356 by the central government.

Issues with role of governor:

  • Misuse of discretionary powers:
    • Article 200 and 201: The Governor has the power to withhold the assent to a bill along with reserving the bill for the consideration of the president. States allege that this provision has often been misused by the governor who acts on behest of the union government.
    • Article 356: To recommend the imposition of constitutional emergency in a state. For political gains, this power has been abused by central governments more than 120 times till date. However, Supreme Court in the case of S.R. Bommai v. Union of India, held that such exercise of control of the Union executive over the State executive is opposed to the basic scheme of the Indian Constitution.
    • Appointment by centre: The post has been reduced to becoming a retirement package for politicians for being politically faithful to the government of the day. Consequently, a candidate wedded to a political ideology could find it difficult to adjust to the requirements of a constitutionally mandated neutral seat.
    • Arbitrary removal before the expiration of their tenure: Even after Supreme Court Judgement in B.P. Singhal v. Union of India calling for a fixed tenure for Governors to encourage neutrality and fairness in the discharge of their duties, it is not being implemented on ground.

Way forward:

  • Sarkaria Commission and a constitutional bench judgement in Rameshwar Prasad v Union of India, 2005 held that:
    • The party or combination of parties with widest support in the Legislative Assembly should be called upon to form the Government.
    • If there is a pre-poll alliance or coalition, it should be treated as one political party and if such coalition obtains a majority, the leader of such coalition shall be called by the Governor to form the Government.
    • In case no party or pre-poll coalition has a clear majority, the Governor should select the CM in the order of preference indicated below:
      • The group of parties which had pre-poll alliance commanding the largest number.
      • The largest single party staking a claim to form the government with the support of others.
      • A post-electoral coalition with all partners joining the government.
      • A post-electoral alliance with some parties joining the government and the remaining supporting from outside.
  • M M Punchhi Commission elaborated that the governor should follow “constitutional conventions” in a case of a hung Assembly.
  • While SR Bommai case related to discretion of Governor does not apply to hung assembly but it laid emphasis on floor test in the house within 48 hours (although it can be extended to 15 days) so that legislature should decide the matter and Governor’s discretion should merely be a triggering point.
  • A possible solution would be not to nominate career politicians and choose “eminent persons” from other walks of life. Both the Sarkaria and M.M. Punchhi Commissions seem to hint at this.
  • Supreme Court to investigate claims of mala fide in the Governor’s report, a similar extension to cover mala fide in the invitation process could be a potential solution.

The rules governing government-formation should be clearly specified in the Constitution itself as the Governor has enough discretion to skew the political process in the direction that the Central government desires. However, The Governor must be true to the oath of office and must ensure that the person he/she invites to be Chief Minister will be able to form a responsible and reasonably lasting government in the State. Even Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in his speech described how a Governor should use his discretion not as “representative of a party” but as “the representative of the people as a whole of the State”.

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