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Editorials/Opinions Analysis For UPSC 09 December 2023

  1. No Fait Accompli On Abrogation of Article 370
  2. Has SAARC Lived up to its Expectation?


Context:

Over five and a half years have passed since an elected government collapsed in Jammu & Kashmir, leading to the imposition of Governor’s rule and the suspension of the elected Assembly. This event marked a significant turning point, triggering the removal of Article 370, which granted special status to the region.

Relevance:

GS-2

  • Federalism
  • Co-operative Federalism
  • Constitutional Amendments
  • Centre-State Relations

Mains Question:

In the context of the recently passed Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Amendment) Bill, 2023 and the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation (Amendment) Bill, 2023, discuss how can the present status quo can act as a hindrance in their implementation. (15 marks, 250 words).

Abrogation of special status under article 370:

  • Article 370 of the Indian Constitution conferred special autonomous status upon the former state of Jammu and Kashmir, initially included as a temporary provision allowing the state to have its own constitution.
  • With the exception of defense, foreign affairs, finance, and communications, the state government’s agreement was required for the application of all other laws by Parliament.
  • The unique position of Jammu and Kashmir stemmed from the circumstances of its accession to India.
  • The Government of India asserted that the people of the state, through their constituent assembly, would determine the state’s constitution and the jurisdiction of the Indian government.
  • The provisional nature of Article 370 was intended as an interim arrangement, outlining the substance of the provision in the Constitution.
  • While Article 370 still exists in the Constitution, the substance granting it special status has been abolished.
  • The timeline of scrapping Article 370 includes the imposition of President’s rule after the governor’s rule ended, enabling Parliament to exercise the powers of the Legislative Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir. A presidential order was issued under Article 370(1), specifying matters applicable to the state with the concurrence of its government.
  • Additionally, an amendment to Article 367 was made, altering the interpretation of “Constituent Assembly of the State” in Article 370(3) to mean “Legislative Assembly of the State.”
  • Originally, Article 370(3) required amendments to Article 370 with the concurrence of the Constituent Assembly, but the amendment allowed for changes through the recommendation of the state legislature.
  • In essence, the government utilized the power under 370(1) to amend a constitutional provision (Article 367), subsequently amending Article 370(3).
  • This sequence triggered the statutory resolution for the repeal of Article 370, with the concurrence of the governor considered as the “Jammu and Kashmir government” during the period of President’s rule.
  • The State was subsequently bifurcated, with Jammu and the Kashmir Valley forming a new Union Territory and Ladakh becoming a separate entity.

Recent Developments:

Jammu & Kashmir Reservation (Amendment) Bill, 2023

  • Objective: The primary goal of the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation (Amendment) Bill, 2023, is to modify the existing Jammu and Kashmir Reservation Act of 2004.
  • Context: The J&K Reservation Act, 2004 initially provided reservations in job opportunities and admission to professional institutions for individuals belonging to Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), and other socially and educationally backward classes.

Key Provisions of the Bill:

The Bill aims to substitute the term “weak and underprivileged classes (social castes)” in the J&K Reservation Act, 2004, with “other backward classes” as declared by the Union Territory.

Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Amendment) Bill, 2023

  • Objective: The main purpose of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Amendment) Bill, 2023, is to amend the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act of 2019.
  • Context: The J&K Reorganisation Act, 2019 was enacted to facilitate the reorganization of the state of Jammu and Kashmir into the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir (with legislature) and Ladakh (without legislature).

Key Provisions of the Bill:

  • Increases the total number of seats in the J&K Assembly from 107 to 114, based on the recommendations of the Delimitation Commission.
  • Introduces reservation of 9 seats for Scheduled Tribes, marking a significant development.
  • Grants the Lieutenant-Governor the authority to nominate three members in the Assembly, including two members from the Kashmiri migrant community (one being a woman) and a third member representing individuals from PoK who sought refuge in India after the wars with Pakistan in 1947, 1965, and 1971.

Associated Challenges:

  • Common decency would have suggested that these changes could have been postponed until the Supreme Court delivers its imminent verdict on the legality of revoking special status and the bifurcation of the former State, along with the procedures involved.
  • The absence of elected representatives from Jammu & Kashmir in this process makes the proposed changes in the Lok Sabha appear as predetermined actions imposed on the Union Territory’s citizens.
  • This observation should be considered in conjunction with the fact that the past five and a half years have witnessed the suspension of political and civil liberties for politicians, arbitrary arrests and detentions, communication shutdowns, a stifling impact on the media, and more recently, prolonged power outages.
  • Any alteration to the political landscape of Jammu & Kashmir, given its status as a region affected by separatism and terrorism, should not be implemented in a manner that leaves citizens feeling alienated.

Conclusion:

The foremost priority in Jammu & Kashmir should be the reinstatement of the democratic process through popular elections. This approach would not only address an evident void in public life in the region immediately but also establish the groundwork for resolving longstanding issues that contribute to the persistence of militancy.



Context:

The primary objective behind establishing SAARC was to foster economic, social, and cultural development in the region. However, recent years have witnessed a decline in engagement on these fronts, with living standards deteriorating and widespread human rights violations undermining individual dignity.

Relevance:

GS2- Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and Agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.

Mains Question:

It is time to analyse the journey of SAARC, its achievements and its future trajectory. Comment. (10 marks, 150 words).

About SAARC:

  • The formation of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) took place with the endorsement of the SAARC Charter in Dhaka on 8 December 1985.
  • The concept of regional collaboration in South Asia was initially proposed in November 1980. Following deliberations, the foreign secretaries of the seven founding nations—Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka—convened for the first time in Colombo in April 1981.
  • Afghanistan joined SAARC as its newest member during the 13th annual summit in 2005.
  • The Association’s Headquarters and Secretariat are situated in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Principles of SAARC:

Collaboration within the SAARC framework is grounded in:

  • Adherence to the principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, political independence, non-interference in the internal affairs of other States, and mutual benefit.
  • This collaboration is intended to complement, not substitute, bilateral and multilateral cooperation.
  • This collaboration should align with existing bilateral and multilateral obligations.

Currently, there are nine Observers to SAARC, namely:

  • Australia,
  • China,
  • The European Union,
  • Iran,
  • Japan,
  • The Republic of Korea,
  • Mauritius,
  • Myanmar,
  • The United States of America.

Challenges in the Working of SAARC:

Regional Tensions:

  • The initial vision of regional integrity, a fundamental concept for SAARC, has been significantly challenged by conflicts and tensions, particularly between India and Pakistan.
  • These conflicts have spilled over into various aspects, bringing SAARC’s functions to a standstill and jeopardizing regional peace and harmony.
  • Infrequent meetings: Member states need to increase their involvement, and instead of biennial gatherings, annual meetings should be convened.

Economic Shortfalls:

  • Both SAPTA and SAFTA have fallen short of achieving accelerated economic growth in the region.
  • Additionally, Afghanistan’s incapacity due to political changes has further affected the region’s economy.
  • Political conflicts, especially between the nuclear power states in the region, have hindered SAFTA’s effectiveness.

Recent Initiatives by SAARC:

  • Despite SAARC not functioning as envisioned, individual interactions between member states continue on various cooperative fronts.
  • SAARC’s creation was motivated by the desire to expedite economic growth, leading to the establishment of institutionalized regional economic cooperation through the Committee on Economic Cooperation.
  • The committee aimed to enhance economic and trade relations, leading to the creation of the SAARC Preferential Trading Agreement (SAPTA) in 1993. While SAPTA initially reduced trade barriers, it was later replaced by the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) in 2006.

Importance of SAARC for India:

  • From India’s perspective, SAARC holds importance in foreign policy as the operationalization of SAFTA could reduce customs duties to zero in the region, facilitating India’s economic growth.
  • Energy cooperation under the framework agreement in the South Asian Region could help mitigate electricity shortages and align with green energy goals.
  • Additionally, visa exemption schemes and collaborative initiatives such as launching the SAARC regional satellite could foster regional amity.

Way Forward:

  • To address these challenges, there is a need to strengthen SAFTA and establish a more resilient structure, similar to the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
  • The AfCFTA is projected to significantly boost regional income and lift millions out of extreme poverty by 2035, highlighting the potential positive impact of a well-operationalized SAFTA.
  • Terrorism has been a longstanding issue in the region, often addressed individually by states rather than collectively through SAARC.
  • Establishing a Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) similar to the one in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation could enhance practical and implementable counter-terrorism cooperation among SAARC member states.

Conclusion:

Revitalizing SAARC is crucial for India to counteract the growing influence of China in the region and showcase its commitment to the member states’ development. While SAARC currently remains dormant, there is hope for revitalization, and it is in the best interest of the member states to bring about positive changes and alter the international perception of the region.


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