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31st July – Editorials/Opinions Analyses

Contents

  1. Getting ahead of constitutional practices
  2. Indian Women’s poor health indicators
  3. Private firms in Indian railways

GETTING AHEAD OF CONSTITUTIONAL PRACTICES

Focus: GS-II Governance

Introduction

  • The Rajasthan High Court’s order staying the anti-defection proceedings initiated by the Assembly Speaker against the rebel legislators raises important constitutional issues.
  • A petition challenging the issuance of notices by the Speaker to the rebel MLAs turned into one challenging the constitutionality of Para 2(1)(a) of the Tenth Schedule to the Constitution (anti-defection law).

Rules framed under the Tenth Schedule

  • These rules were first framed by the Lok Sabha Speaker in 1985 and adopted by more or less all the State Legislatures.
  • Rule 6 of the Lok Sabha rules deals with the filing of the petition and the forwarding of the same by the Speaker to the Member concerned and related matters.
  • The rule requires the petitioner, and not the Speaker, to satisfy himself about the reasonableness of the ground for disqualification.
  • Rule 7 says that on receipt of the petition, the Speaker shall consider whether the petition complies with the requirements of Rule 6.
  • If he finds that the petition does not meet all the requirements, he shall dismiss it.
  • If it complies with all the requirements, he shall forward the copy of the petition and the annexure to the concerned Member and require him to submit his comments within seven days of the receipt of the copy of the petition.
  • Only through a proper hearing will the Speaker be able to know whether reasonable grounds exist for disqualification.
  • Staying the Speaker’s action is unprecedented and unheard of at the ‘notice’ stage and it will stymie the operation of the Tenth Schedule because any Member can go to court and obtain a stay and put a stop to the proceedings.

Date of the Assembly session

  • Summoning the Assembly is a routine constitutional function of the Governor.
  • As per the normal procedure, once the Cabinet decides to call the session on a particular date, that decision is conveyed to the Governor who signs the summons order and sends it back the same day or the next day.
  • Under Article 174 of the Constitution, the Governor summons the Assembly, but the Governor can act only on the advice of the Council of Ministers.
  • The Governor, being a constitutional head, does not exercise any of the executive powers except where the Constitution assigns him certain functions to be performed in his discretion.
  • The Nabam Rebia case makes it clear that so long as the Chief Minister enjoys majority support in the Assembly, the Governor has no discretional powers and is bound to accept the decisions of the Cabinet in regard to the date of commencement of the session.
  • In Shamsher Singh v. State of Punjab (1974), the Supreme Court said: “The Governor has no right to refuse to act on the advice of the Council of Ministries. Such a position is antithetical to the concept of ‘responsible government’.”

The 21-day period

  • The Constitution does not provide for any 21-day period between summoning and commencement.
  • In 1960s, the Rules Committee of the Lok Sabha recommended that the gap between the date of summons and of the commencement of the House should be 21 days.
  • This was thought of as necessary as the collection, collation and scrutiny of information relating to Questions, at different levels of bureaucracy, before it was placed in the House, was a time-consuming job.
  • Although Parliament changed it to 15 days later, many State Legislatures continue with the 21-day period. It is not an inflexible rule, and says “unless the Speaker otherwise decides”.

-Source: The Hindu


INDIAN WOMEN’S POOR HEALTH INDICATORS

Focus: GS-II Social Justice

Why in news?

The government has set up a special task force to advise it on the issue of raising the age of marriage for girls from 18 to 21 years.

Introduction

  • India is usually near the bottom of the international rankings on gender indicators.
  • India also has the largest absolute number of girls who marry below the age of 18, therefore, raising the age of marriage to 21 could well be seen as a step towards gender equality that also addresses the health problems of young mothers and their infants.

Child Marriage

  • The topic of “child marriage” in contemporary India has not received the attention it needs.
  • In the latest periodic National Family Health Surveys (NFHS) survey of 2015-16 – the proportion of those in the age group 20-24 years who married before reaching 18 years of age – is more than 25% (reducing from more than 45% in 2005-06).
  • Along with such impressive declines, NFHS-4 shows that only 6.6 per cent were marrying below the age of 15.
  • In other words, the problem in India today is no longer of child marriage but late adolescent marriage, and a declining one.
  • It also shows that there are no differences between Hindus and Muslims in these trends.

Benchmark Age – 18

  • There is an almost global consensus on 18 years as the age of social adulthood.
  • A common threshold for voting rights, driving privileges and much else (with employment and sexual consent at even younger ages), it is also the most common standard for marriage across the world.
  • Scientists have recognised it as the age when the female body reaches full development, such that a healthy woman with adequate ante-natal care can be expected to have a healthy baby.
  • It is already the legal age of marriage in India.

Arguments in favour of raising age limit

  • Raising the age of marriage will raise the age of motherhood, and thus the probability that mother and child will be healthier.
  • It will also lower the fertility rate.

Concerns regarding the proposed “advantages”

  • Our health indicators on young mothers and their infants are as bad as they are because poorer (and therefore more malnourished) women are marrying at younger ages compared to their wealthier counterparts.
  • If poor women continue to remain poor and malnourished, raising their age of marriage by a few years will change very little.
  • Much of the same problems will recur when they marry at 21 years.
  • Moreover, fertility rates in India have been declining sharply.
  • Poor families today are having small families.
  • On the other hand, if the legal age of marriage for women were raised to 21, and the trend shown in NFHS-4 holds, then 56 per cent of Indian women in the 20-24 year age group (who married below 21) would be without legal protections and whose families would be liable for punishment under the new law. This number shoots up to 75 per cent for those in the poorest 20 per cent of the population.

Other things to tackle first

  • Numerous studies show that parents are investing in their daughters’ education (with near gender parity even in higher education), but our education system is failing the young.
  • To bring genuine change, we need free education beyond schooling for girls, coupled with job guarantees, especially for those from rural areas and vulnerable social locations. This would make it genuinely possible for girls to have some say as to whether, how or when they wished to marry.

-Source: Indian Express


PRIVATE FIRMS IN INDIAN RAILWAYS

Focus: GS-III Industry and Infrastructure, Indian Economy

Introduction

  • To upgrade the country’s railway system, the government has laid the roadmap for long-term partnerships with the private sector.
  • The government envisages around Rs 50 lakh crore of investment in rail projects up to 2030, but as per the Union Budget 2019, only a part of it can be financed through government coffers, and public-private partnerships are needed for faster development.

Why private players?

  • It is estimated that almost 70 per cent of freight trains, which now jostle for space with passenger trains on the overcrowded Indian Railway network, will shift to the two upcoming Dedicated Freight Corridors.
  • This will free up a lot capacity to introduce more passenger trains with better services and higher speeds.
  • In the normal course, demand for train seats is much more than available, on all busy routes. The result – waiting lists, overcrowded trains, and even losing business to other modes like air and road.
  • Introducing new, modern trains requires heavy investment in rolling stock like coaches and engines, and the cost of operations.
  • As it is, running of passenger trains is a loss-making business for Indian Railways.
  • In this context, to cut its losses and convert that opportunity into a money-making enterprise, the government has decided that some of the trains to be introduced in the future will be run by private companies, in a business model never tried in India before.

Details

  • This move envisages a total investment of around Rs 30,000 crore into the railway system through rolling stock and other expenditure, to be borne by the private players.
  • The only precondition is that the trains introduced by private players are a definite upgrade from what Indian Railways offers.
  • The idea is to give passengers an option of superior train services without the Railways having to spend any money for it.

What kind of companies are expected to run the trains?

  • Since the business of running passenger trains in India has been a monopoly of Indian Railways, no private company in the country has any experience in this sector.
  • Additionally, the invitation is extended to anyone in the world, with or without any experience in train operations.
  • However, Railways has set certain financial eligibility for companies.

How will private companies make money running passenger trains when Indian Railways suffers loss from the same business?

As per internal studies by Railways, private investors may see between 17 and 27 per cent Equity Internal Rate of Return (IRR), translating into very healthy profits.

What will Indian Railways get from the private players?

  • In this business model, the private operator is supposed to share revenues with Railways.
  • The qualifying company that agrees to share the maximum percentage of the yearly revenue with Railways will win the bid.

What will Railways give to the private players?

  • Railways will be contractually bound to provide “non-discriminatory access” to private trains.
  • This means that even though its own trains on the same route will, theoretically, be in competition with the private trains, Railways being the owner of the network, cannot give unfair advantage to its own trains.

-Source: Indian Express

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