Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes
Framing an anti-lynching law
India has seen a spate of lynching lately. A recent survey found that 28 people were killed in 63 such incidents in between 2010 to 2017.
An overwhelming 97% of these attacks took place after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government came to power in May 2014.
About 86% of those killed were Muslims. In 21% of the cases, the police filed cases against the victims/survivors.
Cow-related lynchings rose sharply in 2017, with 20 attacks in the first six months. This marks a 75% increase over 2016, which had been the worst year for mob lynchings since 2010.
Campaign for law:
The groundswell of public disgust at the lynchings crystallised under the banner of the National Campaign Against Mob Lynching (NCAML), which has initiated a campaign for a law against mob lynching.
Also known as ‘Masuka’, short for Manav Suraksha Kanoon (law to protect humans), a draft of the proposed legislation is currently up on the Internet, awaiting suggestions from the public.
The NCAML’s draft Protection from Lynching Act, 2017 defines the terms ‘lynching’, ‘mob’ and ‘victim’ of mob lynching.
It makes lynching a non-bailable offence, criminalises dereliction of duty by a policeman, criminalises incitement on social media, and stipulates that adequate compensation be paid, within a definite time frame, to victims and survivors.
It also guarantees a speedy trial and witness protection.
Benefits of such a law:
It will fill a void in our criminal jurisprudence. At present there is no law that criminalises mob killings. The Indian Penal Code has provisions for unlawful assembly, rioting, and murder but nothing that takes cognisance of a group of people coming together to kill (a lynch mob).
It is possible, under Section 223 (a) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), to prosecute together two or more people accused of the same offence committed in the course of the “same transaction”. But the provision falls far short of an adequate legal framework for prosecuting lynch mobs.
1) The potential for abuse:
The provisions empowering local law enforcement officials to take pre-emptive action could easily be invoked to criminalise peaceful public assembly, especially if the gathering is of workers or members of marginalised communities agitating for their rights.
For instance, the police could use this law to detain a group of labourers planning a dharna, on the grounds that they constitute a mob that poses a threat to company officials.
The ‘Review Committee’ that would monitor the prosecution of cases under this law is supposed to be headed by a senior police officer. In a scenario where the police often serve as the handmaiden of the ruling dispensation, it is not realistic to expect one member of the police force to hold another accountable.
2) The underlying premise that a generic anti-lynching law could address India’s lynching problem.
A major reason for the recent rise in lynchings is impunity. It can be reasonably assumed that the lynch mobs that murdered Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri, Pehlu Khan in Alwar, and Hafiz Junaid in Haryana were confident of getting away with it. So far, the state has done little to shake that confidence.
This confidence has little to do with legislative lacuna. Rather, it has everything to do with the law enforcement machinery taking the side of the lynch mob.
Put simply, the problem is not mob lynching per se but the mob lynching of minorities, for that is where impunity kicks in. We can be certain that if a mob of factory workers were to lynch someone from the management, retribution would be swift. Example is of the lynching of Maruti Suzuki’s HR manager in July 2012. The police arrested 148 workers and charged all them with murder.
Evidently, the state can act, if it wishes to, using the existing provisions of the law. It is a matter of whether it is in its interests to do so.
Targeting communal lynching rather than lynchings:
Lynching is actually a minority issue; the majority needs to take it up. A truly ‘civil’ society should feel no hesitation in demanding that the state protect its minorities because protection of minorities is one of the biggest responsibilities of any democracy.
We already have laws to combat the impunity enjoyed by anti-minority lynch mobs. The first is the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2011, or the Anti-Communal Violence Bill. The Anti-Communal Violence Bill was buried because it was felt that it threatened the autonomy of States by mooting a parallel structure that undermined federalism.
It fixes command responsibility for communal incidents.
It needs to recognise that targeted communal violence disproportionately victimises minorities.
It needs to create a mechanism to insulate investigations of communal violence from political interference.
Police reforms are vital, and a purely legislative approach to tackling anti-minority violence could prove ineffective. The police reforms are pending despite the Supreme Court ordering their implementation.
The draft anti-lynching law needs to be revised to incorporate these key elements of the Anti-Communal Violence Bill. Second, the demand for an anti-lynching law needs to be buttressed by a parallel campaign for police reforms. All said and done, even the best of laws can achieve little in the face of a law enforcement machinery primed to do the bidding of its political masters.
Connecting the dots:
A draft anti-lynching law has been proposed. Discuss the need of such a law and apprehensions associated with the provisions of the draft law. Further also analyze how making law would not be enough, an effective enforcement machinery is the need of the hour.
TOPIC: General Studies 3
Indian economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment.
Disaster and disaster management.
Shifting focus from flood protection to flood governance
Although floods are an annual natural occurrence, there is nothing natural about the official response to flooding of the Brahmaputra River in Assam. This year, the official death toll has risen to 77 and around 12 lakh people have been displaced. Given the extent of the devastation caused by a natural disaster that is exacerbated by human interventions, it is time we accept that the focus must shift from flood protection to flood governance.
The vast stretch of alluvial plains from Maharajganj in eastern Uttar Pradesh to Karimganj in Assam’s Barak Valley has been frequently affected by multiple water hazards. This is a densely populated area stretching across Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, and Assam. These four states account for 17% of India’s geographical area, but disproportionately account for 43%–52% of all flood-prone areas of the country.
Although the recurrent floods are a natural phenomenon, they are also an outcome of anthropocentric interventions. It is natural that the high precipitation in the Himalayas—the catchment of most of the tributaries of the Ganga and Brahmaputra—coupled with the sudden fall in altitude results in a large volume of water gushing down river channels from the Eastern Himalayas into the floodplains. This water exceeds the carrying capacity of the river channels resulting in a spillover into adjoining areas.
With increased deforestation in the Eastern Himalayas, the surface run-off has increased at the cost of infiltration leading to tons of sediment being deposited on the riverbed as the river reaches the plains. This further reduces the carrying capacity of the river and enhances the risk of flooding. The plan to build large dams in upstream areas, largely in Arunachal Pradesh, is likely to exacerbate this process.
Issue with embankments:
Historically, embankments have been the gold standard for flood protection but there are various issue associated with them-
Embankments were constructed to create a “safe” area for habitation and they provide these in areas where the embankments are new. But in areas like North Bihar and Assam, where there has been a fairly long history of embankments, the situation is complicated. Large populations continue to stay inside the embankment, that is, outside the “safe” areas, at the mercy of the imminent flood.
Unfortunately, people located in the “safe” area also live in constant fear of embankment breach. Their fear is not completely unfounded—the floods in Assam this year and the Kosi River flood of 2008 were outcomes of embankment breach.
Furthermore, people living inside the embankment face the risk of flash floods. The latter is due to a gradual increase in water level, while the former, as was seen in Uttarakhand in 2013, occurs when there is sudden high discharge from a reservoir into the river channel.
Embankments are cost-intensive structural interventions and they have failed to achieve their full potential.
Focus on structural interventions- Is an issue:
The government’s response to floods has been focused on massive structural interventions like dams, dredging of rivers, and porcupine structures to combat erosion.
Empirical experience shows that dams often get silted quickly, more so in the Eastern Himalayas. To save the dam, water has to be released downstream, tending to cause flooding. This phenomenon has happened year after year, in various districts in lower and upper Assam.
Bamboo porcupines, structural interventions that arrest riverbank erosion, have often been found to be of substandard quality and tend to get washed away.
The floods in Assam, or for that matter Bihar must be tackled by a combination of structural interventions, institutional reforms, and comprehensive initiatives to build resilience in the riverine population.
Flood protection to flood governance:
What is required is an important normative shift that sees floods as a natural phenomenon, and a change in the discourse from flood protection to flood governance.
Flood protection necessarily starts and ends with structural intervention and provision of relief. Flood governance would require the innovative combination of initiatives undertaken at various levels.
It is important to conduct “strategic environment assessment” of all development activities in the ecologically pristine locations of the Eastern Himalayas and aim for river basin management. This might include some structural interventions.
At the institutional level, strengthening the moribund Brahmaputra Board in Assam, and staffing it with scientists from a broad range of disciplines is essential.
The most important shift would be to plan a comprehensive initiative to build resilience within the riverine population through an integrated set of interventions which should be based on three pillars: reducing vulnerability, enhancing access to developmental services that flood-prone populations are deprived of, and creating conditions that enable the optimal use of people’s resources.
Connecting the dots:
With recurrent floods in Assam leading to death tolls and displacement being high and our failure in controlling them it is time we move from flood protection to flood governance.