General Studies 2
- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
- Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health
General Studies 4
- Ethical concerns and dilemmas in government and private institutions; laws, rules, regulations and conscience as sources of ethical guidance; accountability and ethical governance;
- Strengthening of ethical and moral values in governance; ethical issues in international relations and funding; corporate governance.
- Probity in Governance: Concept of public service; Philosophical basis of governance and probity;
Governance and Tobacco
As part for the government policy we have a clear cut framework of discouraging use of tobacco. But investment of government companies and PSUs in large private tobacco holdings is a question worth a debate.
A group of people including the managing trustee of the Tata Trust, have filed a PIL in the Bombay High Court seeking to push PSUs into offloading the equity stakes they hold in Indian tobacco Company (ITC).
- The PIL argues that the investments are in direct conflict with the Government’s tough stand against tobacco consumption and that they go against the constitutional mandate vested in the PSUs.
- The Government is the biggest shareholder in ITC with a 32 per cent stake held through five PSU insurance companies and SUUTI (Specified Undertaking of Unit Trust of India).
- The petitioners also want the court to direct the Centre and the insurance regulator to frame a law to restrain PSUs from investing in tobacco companies.
- It is baffling why the petitioners chose to go the PIL way when they could have directly approached the Centre and/or the insurance regulator.
- The court is usually the last resort when appeals to the executive fail.
Relevance and Conflicting stands:
The question that the petitioners have raised is relevant.
- Is the Centre doing the right thing by investing in a tobacco company that ruins the health of citizens in the process of making its profits?
- The Government is an all-pervasive entity. It is present and functions at different levels.
- So, it levies taxes, spends for the people, invests in infrastructure, enforces the law and also plays the role of guardian by shaping policies that keep citizens away from alcohol and tobacco.
- It has a direct interest in the well-being of its citizens because their bad health imposes economic, financial and social costs on the country.
- Thus, the Government imposes an exceptionally high tax on “sin goods” such as alcohol and cigarettes in order to make them unaffordable and put them beyond the reach of most.
- So, at a philosophical level can it be argued that the Government should not gain from taxing revenue from the sale of products that ruin the health of its citizens?
- Probably not because “sin tax” is not just an element of revenue but also a policy tool to guide citizen behaviour.
The concept of ethical investing is not new.
- The rules governing the $900-billion Norwegian sovereign wealth fund prevent it from investing in companies that pollute the environment or produce weapons, and in tobacco firms.
- Yet the irony is that the fund was built using the proceeds from selling North Sea crude oil.
- Extending similar standards to government would mean that it has to exit from coal, oil, power and many other industries that pollute the environment.
In a country like India with diverse interests and competing value systems, mixing issues will not help. If the idea is to protect the people then eminent citizens like the petitioners should invest in awareness and de-addiction programmes. The concept of CSR can be used widely and more aggressively for all the mentioned concerns.
Connecting the dots
Government PSUs stake holdings in tobacco company has raised concerns. In this light critically discuss the ethical issues involved and how to counter the same.
TOPIC:General Studies 2
- Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.
- Structure, organization and functioning of the Executive and the Judiciary Ministries and Departments of the Government; pressure groups and formal/informal associations and their role in the Polity.
Electoral Reforms and Judiciary
Any law or punishment should be reformative in nature and should create deterrence. However the Supreme Court has encouraged a PIL seeking life ban on convicted people from contesting in elections. The absence of a constitutional right to vote has consequences
In March, the Supreme Court requested the government’s views on a PIL seeking to impose a lifetime ban on contesting elections for those sentenced to imprisonment for more than two years.
- Currently, the ban extends to six years after the completion of a sentence.
- The proposed change, which is supported by the Election Commission, would effectively end the electoral career of many prominent political leaders.
- This case could be the latest amongst a series of Supreme Court decisions modifying the electoral process in recent years:
- The court has held that
- Citizens are entitled to cast a ‘none of the above’ vote;
- Prisoners are disqualified from standing for election during periods of incarceration;
- The concealment of criminal antecedents constitutes a corrupt practice under the law;
- Electoral appeals to caste and religion are impermissible;
Criminalisation of Politics:
Around the turn of the century, the court increasingly began making decisions addressing the ‘criminalisation of politics’.
- Early decisions focussed on disclosure and transparent process — ensuring, for instance, that candidates declared assets and liabilities, educational qualifications, and criminal antecedents.
- It was left to the wisdom of the electorate to decide whom to vote for.
- Similarly, parties were tasked with determining whether it would be appropriate to field candidates with criminal antecedents.
More recently, however, the court has gone further; it has attempted to gradually reshape the ballot.
- At first glance, these come across as welcome developments — after all, who could fault the court for preventing prisoners or those with criminal records from contesting elections?
- Yet, they raise fundamental questions about the nature of our democracy, and are deeply disquieting for a number of reasons.
- First, the court has increasingly used the regrettable, caste-based taxonomy of ‘purity’ and ‘pollution’ in its decisions.
- For example, in 2013, it endorsed the decision of the Patna High Court observing that candidates with criminal records pollute the electoral process, affect the sanctity of elections and taint democracy.
- The court’s language is symptomatic of its conception of its own role — as a sentinel of democracy seeking to ‘disinfect’ the electoral process.
- The court has the power to frame debate and influence the language of argument in ways that perhaps no other institution does.
- Second, the court’s recent decisions have meant that whether the right to vote is a constitutional right or merely a statutory privilege is still a matter of contestation.
- Article 326 of the Constitution provides for universal adult suffrage, but does not specifically mention the right to vote.
- Rights that are not explicitly set out in the Constitution, such as the right to privacy, have routinely been impliedly read into the text.
- But the court has refused to categorically recognise the right to vote as an inalienable constitutional right, frequently holding that it is a privilege that can be taken away as easily as it is granted.
Right of rights:
- Participation in the electoral process is often seen as a gateway right, or a ‘right of rights’.
- Our only response to citizens whose candidate of choice has not been elected is to point towards their right to exercise that choice in the first place.
- The absence of a constitutional right to vote has real consequences, for it makes it easier to impose wide restrictions on who can exercise that right, and the circumstances in which they may do so.
Rights of Prisoners:
- The voting rights of prisoners are closely linked to the refusal of the recognition of right to vote as a constitutional right.
- Blanket prohibitions on voting are the surest way of excluding a political community.
- The embargo is particularly draconian, for all prisoners, regardless of the seriousness of their offences or the length of their sentences, are denied the vote.
- Moreover, prisoners awaiting trial are also denied this ‘privilege’.
- It is one thing for the court to introduce transparency-promoting measures with a view to allowing change to take place organically, but quite another to change the rules of the game to match its conception of the ideal electoral system.
The right to vote and the right to contest elections are fundamental markers of citizenship in a constitutional democracy. Incrementally yet decisively, the court is changing what it means to be a citizen of this country. Fundamental principles of separation of powers have to be respected and judicial restraint has to be maintained.
Connecting the dots
Right to vote is not recognised as a constitutional right. Critically analyse political and legal implications w.r.t. prisoners’ rights and the recent PIL for a life ban on convicts right to contest.
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