Shimla- In the past few days, there has been unrest in the country over two actions of the parliament i.e firstly, due to introduction of a law called Citizen Amendment Act (CAA), which deals with granting of citizenship to refugees, and secondly, due to the declaration that India will soon have a register of citizens (NRC) where all citizens will have to prove their citizenship with documentary evidence.
About 60 petitions already stand filed in the Supreme Court challenging the (CAA) law. This is the first time in the history of the nation that religion has been considered as a determining factor for grant of privileges in a state enactment. The concern of the people is whether there exists a threat to fundamental values of “fraternity”, “equality”, and “secularism” upon which this nation is built upon. The question is “Whether Something which is not allowed to be done directly is being done indirectly i.e exclusion based on religion in the grant of citizenship”.
Another decision of the Government, the “NRC (National Register of Citizen)” is being sought to be imposed nationwide. This exercise has cost public funds from between 1200 Cr to 1600 Cr in Assam already. It has also led to 40 lakh people being declared stateless by the Government in the first instance, just in Assam. This exercise was, however, erroneously done, and on re-checking, the Courts found that the number was 19 lakh. There was an error of 20 lakh “Human Beings”, who stood declared stateless.
The number of deportation affected by this entire exercise of NRC in Assam is negligible. This begs the question, what is the need for conducting such an expensive and unreliable process and whether the present decisions of parliament are even necessary. Most importantly, if Acts themselves at all are permissible from the perspective of constitutionality, humanity and ethical standards.
Citizen Amendment Act (CAA)
The Law as it Was Before The Amendment:
The law before the amendment essentially said:
If you are in India and you are a non-citizen, without relevant papers, then you are an “illegal immigrant” and, in that case, you have no right be in the country and you are liable to be subjected to be detained and ultimately deported.
An exception to the above rule was;
If one could show that he was a person who was in India, and had come to India due to legitimate fear of being persecuted on any ground in the home country, then he would be eligible for a long term visa. The idea was that if someone is a refugee fearing persecution, then he can stay in India on long term visa basis and the case would be evaluated on ‘case by case basis’.
Notably and rightly so, “religion” had no role to play in the unamended law whatsoever.
The New Law
The 2019 amendment changes the above provision/ position. It creates classes of people who would be entitled to immunity. These classes have been made on the bases of “Religion and Nationality”.
The amendment distinguishes persecuted people who have been living in the country from, on or before, December 31, 2014. It puts them into two categories and says that; one category who are of a particular religion and nationality would be entitled to benefit in “grant of Indian citizenship” and other sets of people who belong to certain “Religion and Nationality”, would be ineligible for immunity in “grant of citizenship”.
The Act also reduces the requirement of residence in India for citizenship by naturalisation from 11 years to five years for these particular communities.
Classes of People Who Stand Excluded under Section 2 (B) of CAA 2019 are:
1. Based on Religion–Anyone who is not a Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, and Christians. The exclusion of Muslims, Atheists or any other religion is apparent.
2. Based on Nationality – a classification based on country, by restricting the benefit of acquiring citizenship through naturalisation to minority immigrants only from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
In other words, it says that for certain classes of people there is no immunity from being deemed illegal immigrants, and these classes of people can be denied citizenship and coupled with NRC they can even be put in detention centres or deported to their home country.
Due to such grave consequences, a closer examination of this classification made by the State warrants scrupulous scrutiny.
Violation of Equality
In the new law, the distinction is drawn between “persecuted people living within India” like refugees from before 2014. Amongst these persecuted people, one set is given benefit by the state and the other set is not. The distinction between persecuted people has been drawn just based on religion and nationality. In a secular country, religion cannot become the basis of granting or denying privileges to any person, be it citizen or a non-citizen. This idea goes against the mandate of “Fraternity”, “Equality” and “ Secularism” hence violates the basic structure along with various other constitutional provisions.
It is a settled position/principle of law that whenever there is an exclusion based on classification then;
a. There must be a yardstick to differentiate between those included in and excluded from the group, and
b. That yardstick must itself be reasonable.
Where a legislation discriminates based on an “intrinsic and core trait” of an individual, which in the present case is religion, it violates the “Right to Equal Protection from Laws”. This protection is available to non-citizens settled in India also. Classification based on religion does not form a reasonable classification based on an intelligible differentia.
Therefore, the yardstick is reasonable only if it is not based on an “intrinsic and core trait” of an individual such as religion or sex, this is a constitutional limitation placed on the power of the State.
The determining principle for granting citizenship can never be religion, the only relevant factor was ‘persecution’, as it was in the unamended law.
Citizenship can be granted on the grounds of birth, descent, persecution, and naturalisation alone. Bringing religion as a criterion for granting citizenship cuts through the guarantees of Fraternity, Equality, and Secularism which form the basic structure of our constitution.
For example, if you have 10 people living in India as refugees from the past 40 years, all of them have been persecuted. Now you want to save them; you can choose to save all of them or none. However, if you chose to save few and not save the others, then those few who are excluded cannot be excluded purely on grounds of their religion, there has to be some other basis of making this choice. In the old law, it was just persecution. A secular state is bound by principles of secularism and cannot make decisions based on the identity of religion.
It is a capricious and unconstitutional law supported by impermissible sense of purpose. Few important legal positions are;
1. It is incorrect to say that the Act only applies to non-citizens and that Indians need not worry about it. Even though CAA does not at present impact Indian citizens, it impacts human beings who are living in India, who are being treated unequally and the State is acting against the fundamental fabrics of our constitution in handing out such treatment.
If you are a Hindu who came from Pakistan 50 years ago, you get immunity from being an illegal immigrant but if you are a similarly situated Ahamadia or Sufi or Atheist from Pakistan/ Afghanistan/Bangladesh, you don’t get immunity. Such a law cannot be passed by a secular nation.
2. It is incorrect to say that law is inclusive and seeks to benefit immigrants. On the contrary, the irrationality of exclusion is apparent from the fact that now, if a person is suffering from the wrong type of persecution, he won’t get immunity. Persecution in itself is not enough as it earlier was when the old law was in force. Now a determination of citizenship grant is made dependent upon a fact-finding probe into an individual’s religious beliefs.
A human being who has been persecuted have been divided unreasonably, arbitrarily into impermissible categories (religion), hence benefit is being denied in violation of Article 14.
3. The amendment arbitrarily pics up the three nations without any rationale. If you are a persecuted person living in India and you belong to the privileged group of countries, only then you get this immunity and if you don’t belong to these three countries, then you don’t get this immunity. These three countries are not the only neighbouring countries where people have been subjected to violence and religious persecution, for example, Tamils And Rohingyas, or Buddhists from Tibet. There is a ‘pick and choose’ method without having any determining basis or underlying rationale in selecting these three countries. Religious persecution has happened in other countries around us and there are people settled in India, from other countries, who are being excluded from this benefit. This action of exclusion based on nationality is manifestly arbitrary as there is no basis for choosing these three particular countries.
4. The inclusion of a few religions and nationalities is a welfare measure, but the problem is that persons who are equally entitled to get this immunity are being denied of this protection. This offends the equality principle and is discriminatory.
5. It is an incorrect argument to say that Policy matter cannot be tested upon the constitution and cannot be struck down on being arbitrary. The most fundamental principle of equality is that every person in India is entitled to equal protection of laws. Equal protection of law allows the govt to draw certain classifications, which must be reasonable, non-arbitrary and with a defined purpose.
If the purpose of this act is to save people from persecution then it cannot draw these distinctions. And if the purpose of the act is to save only certain religions from persecution, then the purpose itself becomes discriminatory, being only on grounds of religion. On this ground alone, the policy can be struck down.
Is a Law/Policy Undermining Fraternity Constitutionally Permissible?
A law can be struck down if it violates the basic structure of the constitution. One of the basic features of the Constitution along with “Equality” is “Fraternity” which is mentioned in its preamble. Fraternity is a prime value from where other principles like secularism take root. It is the first time in the history of the country that a law has been passed where the “determining principle” of classification of human beings is based on their “religion” alone. This has naturally caused unrest in the country, but among the protests, the voices of “unity of religions” and “brotherhood” are being raised. The voices counter a “Law” which on the face of it, is being perceived to be against the unity of the nation and drawn on communal grounds. As mentioned earlier, the law cannot solely be based on religion, as that would violate the equality principle and Article 14. Besides, this law also offends the principle of fraternity.
In a country such as India, with several disruptive forces, such as religion, caste and language, the idea of fraternity is imperative for ensuring “unity of the nation”, through a shared feeling of a common brotherhood.
According to various decisions of the courts this value has been understood to be of prime importance, though not many precedents exist. None the less, there are few which have given the meaning of this principle and have applied it for circumventing State’s power.
Looking at the issue raised in the present case, this principle can be expounded by the Apex court, as the heart of this problem lies in the values of “fraternity and brotherhood” amongst human beings.
According to the jurisprudential understanding, a fraternal bond is one that does not relate to the shared use of goods but rather a shared feeling that is intrinsic to the existence and functioning of the agents themselves. Any law which undermines or poses a threat to fraternity should outrightly be struck down as the other two great values of “liberty and equality” become illusory in the absence of the fundamental value of fraternity.
Drawing the relation between these three fundamental values, it is said that;
a) Liberty without fraternity, for instance, would bestow upon individuals unlimited powers to pursue individual aspirations, without regard to community sentiments and considerations.
b) Equality without fraternity is characterised as ‘barbaric’ equality, as individuals would have no consideration for the standing of other disadvantaged persons.
In light of this, it becomes imperative to ask that;
a) How have the courts interpreted the rights granted based on fraternity?
b) Can a law be struck down as it offends the “guaranteed commitment to the fraternity” in our Constitution?
c) Have the Courts directed the State to frame policies keeping these principles and constitutional limitations in mind?
The answers to the above questions can be found in the decisions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court. A Couple of important ones are discussed below;
In S.R. Bommai v. Union of India, amongst several conclusions the Court arrived at, it declared that the principle of secularism was an essential feature of the basic structure of the Constitution. In arriving at that conclusion, the Court employed the principle of fraternity in a variety of contexts to assert that the idea of fraternity is a precursor to the attainment of secularism. The Court explained that the inclusion of secular ideals in constitutional provisions was not a product of mere chance but was consciously deliberated upon by the framers in response to the religious foundations of Pakistan. In substantiating this claim, the Court stated that India was historically a country where religious tolerance and a culture of fraternity existed, and the inclusion of secular provisions was accordingly a natural one.
The Court also established that “secularism is the bastion to build fraternity”, and therefore asserted that secular practice and thinking between diverse religious groups, would aid in the fraternal relations between those communities. The outcome of such religious tolerance would have a double impact on fraternity: it would ensure both the unity of the nation through peaceful interaction and the dignity of each citizen.
The Court held that the Constitution strives towards the promotion of secular ideals that would ensure fraternal relations which is the ultimate goal of the framers.
In the Nandini Sundar Case the Courts employed the idea of fraternity in three distinct fashions:
a. As a buffer to unchecked state power;
b. As a mechanism to promote more inclusive policy by the State and finally
c. To reinforce the Centre’s responsibility of upholding human rights in a federal structure.
The governmental policies that disempower humans based on religion are against the constitutional vision. The constitution mandates that power must vest in the State for the welfare of all and not few. The constitutional vision of welfare must be achieved, according to the promotion of fraternity.
The judges in Nandani Sunder case further added that when state power is not exercised responsibly, then there is an inevitable breach of Articles 14 and 21. In using fraternity in such a manner, the Court has elevated the idea of fraternity to a constitutional principle and not merely a noble declaration. In drawing a clear link between unchecked state power and Articles 14 and 21, the Court has created a nexus between the threat to fraternity and a consequent breach of fundamental rights.
The Court also employed the principle of fraternity to judicially review the policy of the State, it stated that it was the responsibility of the Government to ensure the security and integrity of the nation by means which were within the four corners of the Constitution.
The Court in the issue at hand can certainly adjudicate based on the principles mentioned in the above two cases and further expound it. The Courts must preserve constitutional morality which here is an idea of a “unified nation”, where a culture of fraternity flourishes. Hence any policy of the Government which gives rise to “disaffection and dissatisfaction” from its citizens and is a threat to the unity and secular ethos is liable to be struck down on this ground alone.
NRC National Register of Citizens
Assam is a border state and is suffering from the problem of immigration. In the 70s and 80s, the immigration problem led to a strong movement in Assam, which ended with “Assam Accord”. The part of the agreement between Assam and Indian union was the preparation of NRC, which essentially was an exercise of identifying “citizen of India in Assam” and rest who were “non-citizens”.
What we have seen in the last five years is that this NRC process has led to widespread exclusion and disenfranchisement. This is because the NRC procedure relies on documents, the documentary evidence showing that you are a citizen of India.
In a country like India with widespread illiteracy and poverty, this is a very difficult task. The most vulnerable people will be up for exploitation and harassment.
In Assam, the experience shows that 19 lakh people have been left stranded as ‘stateless non-citizens,’ as they have no documents. Amount of more than 1200 crores have been spent on this exercise with negligible deportation. More worrisome is the fact that 20 lakh people in Assam were found to be wrongly excluded by the Supreme Court in this exercise.
Can NRC go National as the Home Minister Has Suggested?
Data collected till now highlights three major issues which have come in the implementation of NRC in Assam, these are;
1. The most marginalised suffer the most and
2. The women suffer more than men due to insufficient documentation
3. A negligible amount of people are deported, and the law does not even serve its purpose efficiently even after consuming lots of time and public money.
Hence, if data shows that these two oppressed groups are the most affected by such an exercise and there has been no benefit achieved, then implementing the same in the rest of the country is illogical.
If you combine CAA and NRC, what you get is that if you are a non-Muslim, who has been left out of NRC, then you still have a possible path of citizenship from CAA. A class of people gets automatic immunity based on religion and nationality. If you are a Muslim, atheist, etc., you are completely ruled out even if you belong to these countries. Ultimately, you are subjected to deportation, or you are put in detention camps. It’s relevant to point out here that the condition of detention camps is terrible and inhumane and is a separate issue in itself.
CAA read alone is discriminatory as it discriminates between persecuted people and divides them in an impermissible category on arbitrary grounds.
The amendment to citizenship Act has brought about disaffection, dissatisfaction and fear in a class of people and has caused unrest in the country. There is internet shutdown (which amounts to the curtailment of the right to speech and expression) in various parts of the country and Section 144 stands imposed in few states. We have an exercise like NRC which wrongly excluded 20 lakh, people, from being a citizen. Now, this is being proposed for the whole country, in the coming days. Worryingly, this might lead to the biggest statelessness crisis of the world causing immense human suffering.
A class is being discriminated based on religion, by state action. The law is arbitrarily neglecting certain communities which is against the Fraternal and Secular values of our country.
The role of the courts as the bastion of fundamental values of the nation is about to be tested. In such times, our commitment to “fundamental duty” and the true values of our country i.e brotherhood and unity and non-violent protests are also under test.
(The post was first published in https://lawumbrella.wordpress.com/ )
HP Govt’s Guidelines Formed in Defiance of GoI and Court Directions Leave Disabled Students Troubled
Shimla-The rights of the disabled aren’t only a human rights issue, but it is also a developmental issue. Yet, in India, this section of society is struggling to get into the mainstream and compelled to go to courts to fight for their rights, including equal access to education. Himachal Pradesh is no different when it comes to adopting a comprehensive approach and modern technology to level the field for these students. Display of sensitivity is limited to showing sympathy and feeling sad for persons with disabilities that undermines their potentials and individual capacities to excel in life.
Owing to erroneous attitude towards persons with disabilities, children trying to access education often face neglect from governments that makes their already hard lives harder.
Very recently, such gross negligence and defiance of court orders on the part of the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment, HP Government, came to light after an autistic student of the first year at Government Degree College, Kandaghat, couldn’t take his exams because the current guidelines of the state government make it a mandatory condition that the qualification of his scribe should be one step below the qualification of the candidate taking the examination.
Contrary to these “Guidelines for conducting written examinations for the Persons With Benchmark Disabilities” Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in Aditya Narayan Tiwari Vs. Union of India (dated 4.12.18) has clearly directed the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, Government of India, to not fix any qualification and age criteria for scribes until the examining body doesn’t have its own panel of scribes. Following these orders in the said case (a writ petition), and Union Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment and the University Grants Commission had sissued fresh notifications with special clarification on the criteria of qualification and age on January 6, 2019, and February 26, 2019, respectively.
Moreover, the principal of the college was not clear on the guidelines.
The college told the father of the candidate, Mr Vishal Gupta, that it had forwarded the matter to the University for further clarification, which did not come as quickly as it was supposed to. Himachal Watcher also spoke to Mr Gupta.
“My son is suffering autism (60%) and recently got admitted to BA Part-1 course at Government Degree College Kandaghat, Solan. The previous principal was very co-operative and had allowed a scribe after consulting the University. But now, ahead of my son’s house exams, I was asked to visit the college. The college asked me to provide a copy of the guidelines. I told the Principal that the college was supposed to have these guidelines already,” he told Himachal Watcher (HW).
“The Principal told me that the exams of my son will be put on hold and would be considered only after receiving a copy of the guidelines from the University. While all other classmates are taking examinations, my son couldn’t take two exams which begin from March 13, 2021,” he further told HW.
“I don’t blame the college for this. This entire issue and inconvenience stem out of a grieve negligence on the part of the HP University as it did not circulate directions of the UGC in this regard to the colleges,” Mr Gupta said.
However, when HW took up the issue with the University authority, it turned out the varsity was not at fault either. The varsity was yet to adopt the new guidelines issued by the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment in 2020, hence, previous guidelines (2013) were already applicable. Therefore, the varsity wasn’t supposed to issue any new notification.
Mr Gupta contacted Ajai Shrivastava, Chairman of Umang Foundation (NGO) and Expert Member, HP State Advisory Board on Disability, HPU, and brought the matter to his attention.
It’s pertinent to mention that Mr Shrivastava had been fighting vigorously for the rights of the disabled in Himachal Pradesh, especially for their right to equal access to education at all levels for over a decade now. It was on his PIL that the State High Court had given a landmark judgement directing the Himachal Pradesh Government to provide free education to the students with disabilities up to the university level.
The court had also enhanced the amount of their scholarship and awarded Rs. one lac to the Umang Foundation to be spent for the welfare of the disabled children.
Mr Shrivastava, on being contacted by Mr Gupta, immediately wrote to the Chief Minister requesting him to make the Social Justice and Empowerment Department to withdraw its guidelines which are illegal as these did not comply with the court decision and UGC notification. He also held a press conference at the Press Club, Shimla on March 14, 2021.
“Addl. Chief Secretary (SJ&E) to the Govt. of HP has issued and further circulated the “Guidelines for conducting written examinations for persons with benchmark Disabilities 2020” for implementation on 16th December 2020,” he wrote in the letter.
“In fact, the above-mentioned guidelines have been issued by the HP Govt. in violation of the orders of Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in Aditya Narayan Tiwari Vs. Union of India, dated 4.12.18. In this litigation, Ministry of Social Justice and empowerment, GOI; Ministry of Education, GOI, and UGC etc. were respondents,” he further wrote.
Mr Shrivastava clarified that the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment on dated 1.1.2019 issued an Office Memorandum for the “Compliance of orders of Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in the matter of Aditya Narayan Tiwari Vs. Union of India.”
He also clarified that the UGC dated 26.2.2019 wrote to all Registrars of Universities across the country for compliance with the order of the Hon’ble High Court for implementation. The Ministry of S.J. & E. and the UGC, both have reproduced the order of Hon’ble High Court of Delhi as under:
“Till the panel of scribes is formed if any examination is conducted by any of the departments wherein the petitioner and similarly situated persons appear in the exam. the guidelines dated 29.8.2018 shall not be applicable, however, the candidate shall appear in terms of guidelines dated 26.2.2013. ”
Mr Shrivastva further went on to say that it very unfortunate that despite the above, the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment, Himachal Pradesh ignored the directions of the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and issued its guidelines.
“It’s gross negligence on the part of the state government. And, the Department of Higher Education whose examinations are governed by UGC through Himachal Pradesh University, has already implemented the said illegal guidelines. HP State, he said.
Further, he wrote that the Education Board has also implemented it.
Mr Shrivastva asked the Chief Minister to keep in view the directions of The Ministry of S.J. & E. and the UGC, withdraw these guidelines of the State Government issued on dated 16.12.2020 in the interest of justice to persons with benchmark disabilities.
However, the Chief Minister Office seems to have its priorities.
Currently, one of the topmost priority of the current government led by Chief Minister Jairam Thakur appears to be the preparation for the Swarnim Himachal” celebrations and Swarnim Himachal Rath Yatra. Chief Minister is personally looking into preparations and has even constituted a High Power Committee regarding preparation for the said celebration. As a matter of fact, yesterday, the Chief Minister held a review meeting for the same at Peterhof, Shimla. Another priority, which huge billboards placed across the state indicate, is to advertise the “Swarnim Himachal” celebration.
The state of these students is a spoiler for the “Swarnim Himachal” celebration as it contradicts claims of achieving milestones in developmental works.
It should be kept in mind that fighting their battle in courts for their rights wasn’t enough to make the state government attend to this section of students. Further, the deliberate contemptuous approach of the bureaucracy is also clearly visible.
Before jumping to some references to the government’s grieve world of neglect for the disabled, try to realize the sensitivity of the matter with comments provided by Deven Khanna, a practising advocate at the HP High Court.
“It is necessary that an explicit, unequivocal and comprehensive procedural mechanism are constituted for the benefit and betterment of disability rights. It is pertinent to fathom that human rights of those living with disability cannot be fought for and secured in a vacuum,” Deven says.
It is apparent that the issue of disability is linked with several other social, economic and political aspects including those of chronic poverty, gender inequality, mal-administration and political victimization. This must be eradicated to create the ‘disability right’ an actual reality. As far as planning and policy-making process about lives and complete recognition and implementation of the human rights of the disabled and other associated rights are concerned, there must be active inclusion of the disabled people in the same process, he says.
India, one of the first few signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Person with Disabilities, has not complied with the provisions of the same, he says.
The Constitution of India, under Article 41, imposes a duty on the State to generate necessary and effective provisions for securing the right to work, right to education, and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement.
Laws Relating to Disability:
- Constitution of India – Article 19, 21, 41 and 226
- The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.
- UNCRPD Article 9
- Rehabilitation Council of India Act, 1992
- The National Trust for the Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities, 1999
- Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016
- Mental Health Care Act, 2017
“The State must conduct a discussion of human rights for the persons with disabilities in-depth, so that benefit can be availed out of it. As human beings along with access to and realization of all fundamental and elementary rights, persons living with disabilities require a safe, secure, convenient, beneficial and accessible environment which respects their human dignity,” Devens adds.
Now, consider the following references:
In May 2016, Mr Shrivastava had highlighted how the government was violating orders of the High Court by not providing library facility to the blind and deaf students in the special school at Dhalli. Blind students needed digital library apart from Braille books.
There was no science laboratory in the school. The dead line fixed by High Court to appoint new teachers had also expired on 3rd December 2015, he had alleged.
The government had completely failed to implement the High Court orders that had given relief to the disabled children studying in special schools at Sundernagar and Dhalli, Shimla on the PIL filed by Ajai Srivastava.
In September 2016, the Chief Commissioner for Persons with Disabilities (CCPD) from the Centre was visiting Himachal Pradesh to take stock of the status of facilities for disabled persons, Mr Shrivastava had alleged that the state government of portraying a misleading picture of the disability sector. He had submitted to the CCPD alleging the government had not implemented the CCPD’s examination guidelines for the blind persons despite the High Court’s order on his PIL. He had apprised the CCPD that special school for blind and deaf girls at Sundernagar and a special school for boys at Dhalli, Shimla were poorly managed and lack basic amenities.
In a separate case, Indu Kumari, a poverty-stricken girl from the backward region of Chamba district, in her letter on July 21, 2017, told the Chief Justice that she completed her BA from Rajkiya Kanya Manha Vidyalaya College, Shimla.
However, she was denied admission in MA (Political Science) by HP University despite a provision of a five percent quota for disabled candidates under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.
Not just Indu, but several other students were also told that the provisions of the new Act were not implemented in the university. These students had to return disappointed.
However, the High Court had come to the rescue of these students by considering the letter as a Public Interest Litigation (PIL).
In August 2017, as a tight slap on the face of Himachal Pradesh University and the State Government, the State High Court had asked them to explain reasons for not ensuring a five percent quota in higher education institutes for disabled students.
Earlier, the division bench comprising Justices Rajiv Sharma and Tarlok Singh Chauhan has passed a judgment on 4th June on the PIL filed by Umang Foundation (No. 30 / 2011). The bench had directed the Dr. YS Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry (UHF) Solan, Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla and CSK Agriculture University, Palampur to provide free education to disabled children within a period of six weeks. But despite court orders, the UHF Nuani had denied doing so and Ajai Shrivastava had to write to the Registrar of Dr YS Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, warning that if the university does not provide free education as per the court’s order, a contempt petition will be filed.
In September 2017, the Disabled Student Association had alleged the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment of withholding scholarships of the thousands of disables studying at the government educational institutes.
When these students approached the Directorate of Scheduled Cast, OBC, and Minority Affairs; they were simply told that there was no budget for their scholarship. Pertinent to mention here that the majority of these disables belong to economically weaker sections of the society and come to the varsity from remote regions in hope of higher education.
In October 2017, The Disabled Students Association (DSA) wrote to the Governor of Himachal Pradesh Acharya Devvrat and urged him to immediately demanding the implementation of reservation of seats in MPhil and PhD under the Rights of Persons with Disability Act, 2016.
However, it did not bring any relief to them.
Further, this indifference toward disabled students is apparent from the fact that the accessible library for the disabled students of Himachal Pradesh University was inaugurated by Chief Minister Jairam Thakur on July 22, 2019, didn’t have basic facilities like a washroom and students, especially visually impaired girls faced huge inconvenience. For a toilet, the Disabled Students and Youth Association (DSYA), Himachal Pradesh, had to submit a memorandum to the Governor and Chancellor, Bandaru Dattatreya, on December 13, 2019.
It was not surprising that the Chief Minister inaugurated a library facility without basic facilities because it was merely a formality performed in response to an order of the State High Court passed in a PIL filed by a disabled student, Banita Rana, in 2014.
In March 2020, visually impaired and other disabled candidates, who were qualified for teaching posts, had to approach the Himachal Pradesh High Court complaining that the government is violating the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2017 by not implementing reservation to visually impaired and other disabled candidates, who are qualified for teaching posts, in schools, polytechnics and colleges.
Considering the way disabled students were made to fight for their right to equal access to education and even the most basic facilities, previous and current governments laid more focus on their political interests than attending to the hardships of these children.
Unfortunately, while the previous Congress Government failed these disabled children, the current BJP Government went one step ahead in making their lives harder by passing new Guidelines of its own in 2020 which contradicts court orders and directions of the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.
The topmost priority, not only of the current government but also previous ones, is to ensure retention of power through politics than attending to very sensitive and urgent matters, like making education equally accessible to disabled children of the state.
Regarding Court Orders in Writ Petitions Filed in 2013 and 2018 Over Availing Scribe for Written Examinations
On a Writ Petition filed in the Delhi High Court (Subhash Chandra Vashishth vs Institute of Chartered Accountants of India) in 2012, the Court in its judgement given on 11, 2013 had directed the Government of India “to abolish current restrictions/conditions imposed on scribes in terms of qualifications.”
Later, in Aditya Narayan Tiwari Vs. Union of India case dated 4.12.18, the Delhi high court clarified on revised guidelines and made it clear that “Till the panel of scribes is formed if any examination is conducted by any of the departments wherein the petitioner and similarly situated persons appear in the exam. the guidelines dated 29.8.2018 shall not be applicable, however, the candidate shall appear in terms of guidelines dated 26.2.2013. ”
But no such panel was formed and the responsibility of availing scribe still lies on the candidate.
Based on a notification issued from the Ministry of Social Justice and Welfare in January 2019, in February 2019 UGC issued a notification to all concerned Universities directing them to communicate the same to all colleges/institutes affiliated with it.
Here is What CM Jairam and MLA Dhawala Said While Proposing Legalization of Cannabis (Hemp) Cultivation in Himachal
Shimla-As usual, while the Budget presented by the Himachal Pradesh Government for the 2021-22 financial year is being hailed by legislators and leaders of Bharatiya Janata Party, the oppositions are terming it an eye-wash and a directionless budget. As usual, the budget speech contains a plethora of promises including filling up about 30,000 functional posts and constructing 12,000 news houses for the poor.
However, there is one proposal that deserves appreciation in particular. Not only it would open more doors of employment in rural areas, but could also prove to be a crucial decision in revolutionizing the state economy. A potential source of income that remained untapped.
It’s about permitting commercial hemp cultivation in the state. In his budget speech, Chief Minister Jairam Thakur told the House that the State Government would frame a policy to legalize hemp cultivation.
“Commercial hemp cultivation is permitted & regulated in many countries and in some States in India. This creates investment and employment opportunities. State Government proposes to frame a policy to permit commercial hemp cultivation with the proper regulatory framework,” he said during his budget speech on March 6, 2021.
The State High Court had already given its nod and put the ball in State Government’s court by stating that it has no objection over permitting the cultivation of industrial and medicinal hemp. Himachal Watcher had covered the issue when it was in court.
It’s pertinent to mention here that Hemp is one of the varieties of Cannabis sativa, which cannot be used as a psychoactive substance to get high. In simple words, it would not get you high even if you try to do so by smoking it because it contains a negligible amount (.1%) of the psychoactive substance Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
On March 5, 2021, Ramesh Chand Dhawala, MLA of Jawalamukhi constituency, introduced a resolution in the Budget Session proposing the legalization of the cultivation of hemp. He had argued over the benefits of doing so at a length. Chief Minister Jairam Thakur had also agreed that the state should frame a policy and undertake the cultivation of cannabis in a controlled manner. Chief Minister had also said that cannabis is has a strong association with the culture of the state. He admitted that traditionally fibre obtained from cannabis plants, which is known as “Shail” was used to make ropes, shoes and matts. He mentioned how extracting cannabis oil to use it in winters with food or as body lotion was common practice. Further, these seeds were used to be a part of the famous Himachali cuisine “Siddu”, he mentioned.
“American Cancer Research Association has found that cannabis is effective in slowing down the development of brain tumour and lung and breast cancer,” he said in the House.
Further, he mentioned that the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) has remove cannabis from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs — where it was listed alongside specific deadly, addictive opioids, including heroin, recognized as having little to no therapeutic purposes.
Dhawala, prior to Chief Minister’s reply, told the house that the NDPS Act was introduced to check substance abuse, not to prevent the manufacturing of clothes and medicine. Traditionally, the cannabis plant was used locally to create clothing. Currently, he said, 70-80 percent of prisoners are booked under the NDPS Act. Record cases under NDPS have come to light in Kullu and Chamba for the illegal cultivation of cannabis.
These include poor people who remain behind bars for decades as trials take a huge amount of time. The use of cannabis as a drug is rising among youth who are getting addicted to it. Legalizing hemp cultivation can solve this problem along with opening new doors for employment, he told the House.
In higher hills, the rural people can harness only one crop as the land remains covered in a thick blanket of snow for six months. Which pushes these people to get indulged in illegal cultivation of cannabis and paddling of smokable substances extracted from cannabis plants, like charas and hashish, for livelihood.
While those who are caught with a quantity more than 100 grams and kingpins must be acted upon, there are youngsters who are booked for possessing even small quantities, he said.
Further, emphasizing on commercial use of hemp, he told the house that a large number of goods that can be manufactured from hemp in addition to cannabis oil, which is in huge demand in the international market for its medicinal use, can bring fortunes to the state and the rural population deprived of any other sources of income.
He referred to other states like Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand etc. where the governments have framed policies to permit the cultivation of commercial hemp. He said industries have been established which uses this cultivated hemp, especially its oil for the manufacture of medicines.
Further, not only goods like cloth, shoes, furniture, ropes etc. but bricks can be manufactured by using waste material. These bricks are highly durable when combined with lime. He said these bricks have more strength, are light-weight and are waterproof. In Island, Mark and Spencer’s company constructed its showroom completely using these bricks and world-renowned car manufactures like Ford are also using hemp for manufacturing of car accessories, he said.
Dhwala also said that legalizing hemp cultivation can also revolutionize the clothing industry. In India, mostly cotton is used in the clothing industry. Cultivation of cotton requires double the land and four times the water required for the cultivation of hemp. Also, hemp can be harnessed within three to four months as compared to cotton which takes about nine months, he said.
He also referred to the mention of cannabis as a medicine in Vedas. All parts of the cannabis plant – root, stem, leaves, fruit, seeds- are usable for various purposes. Ayurveda, in which cannabis is called ‘Vijaya’, also recommend the use of cannabis for cancer, neurological diseases, bacterial infection etc. and modern science also verify it, he said. The United States of America is using cannabis-based medicines for the treatment of diseases like Parkinson’s, Autism, Alzheimerinn ol, and others related to dementia. Other foreign countries are also using it as a medicine to treat heart-blockage, he told the House. Further, it is also used to provide relief to people suffering from disorders like migraine and stress.
Back in old days, cannabis oil was used as a pain reliever to mothers during delivery, he added.
The cannabis plant is the only plant that has up to 80 percent polyunsaturated fatty acids and a high quantity of nutrients Omega-3, Omega- and Omega-9. Other than cannabis, only fish contains these nutrients.
India’s neighbouring country Nepal has realized the potential of this plant and has formed a separate ministry that looks into the cultivation of hemp.
“It’s a matter of surprise that clothing, bags, shoes etc. made of hemp in Nepal are sold at high prices in Dharamshala, McLeodganj, and Manali,” he said.
Instead of wasting time and energy of the police force in uprooting cannabis plants and wasting them, the state government should permit its cultivation for industrial and medicinal use under Section 8, 10 and 14 of the NDPS Act, like it has been permitted in Uttarakhand, M.P, Orissa and some North Eastern States.
Scientists have confirmed that cannabis can be used for the treatment of cancer patients and to stimulate appetite in AIDS patients.
He further argued that currently, the wood used for the manufacture of furniture takes years before it’s ready for use, while a hemp plant takes only four to five months. Comparatively cheaper furniture could be prepared from this plant, which would not only offer an alternate source of income and employment but also prevent deforestation.
Though the United Nations had prohibited cannabis cultivation from 1985 onwards, in 2020, the same organization has lifted the restriction on its cultivation considering its immensely beneficial medicinal use, he told the House.
This plant is in high demand in the international pharmaceutical market and this demand is only growing.
The ban on cultivation relates to using cannabis as a psychoactive drug, which is only one of its 400 characteristics. There are two sub-species of cannabis – one which has a high amount of THC and others which have a negligible amount of THC (.3%), he said. In Uttarakhand, the type of plant which is being cultivated possess a negligible amount of THC and, thus, can’t be used as a psychoactive substance, he said.
Though Himachal Pradesh is known for apple production, the fact is that the cultivation of apple is limited to only Kullu, Shimla, Kinnaur, Bharmaur etc.
He also compared it to alcohol in terms of hazards.
“People die after consuming alcohol, but I never heard that anyone ever died after consuming cannabis, “he argued.
Citing another example to control the use of cannabis as a psychoactive substance, Dhawala said,
“People in a village that doesn’t have a legal liquor vendor start producing and selling home-made liquor. But if a legal liquor shop is allowed, it works as a deterrent for illegal production and sale.”
“Similarly, I believe that cultivation of cannabis should also be legalized so that not only people could get employment but also refrain from indulging in peddling, he said.
He also referred to the dependence of the State on debt taken from the Centre and said legalizing cannabis cultivation can help solve this problem.
“When the laws are more dangerous than the drug itself then a fight for civil liberties becomes necessary. Stopping research and knowledge is not only unconstitutional but a crime against evolution, Deven Khanna, a practising advocate at Himachal Pradesh and the man behind this initiative to transform the state’s economy.
Deven has been working with policymakers and arguing his petition to legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp in the State High Court for the last four years. It was on his petition that the court had given a go-ahead to the government. Not only the court, but Deven had also been collaborating with stakeholders in the hemp industry/villagers and doctors.
“The purpose of my petition was to open the market for non-narcotic/medical and industrial use of Hemp so that the locals have an alternative source of income, patients have access to safer natural medicines and for making available biodegradable /organic alternatives to plastic and construction material in the state,” Deven told Himachal Watcher.
“The foremost objective was empowerment and “creation of choice” for the local inhabitants who presently are being lured into illegal activities due to lack of avenues for making a decent livelihood. The only way to prevent people from doing illegal drug trade is sadly not deterrence which everyone is really fond of, its actually giving them an alternative choice to make a decent life,” he added.
“People are deterred by hunger more than jail. If this plant is used for non-narcotic purpose which generates money for the locals then there is a hope that they will choose the less risky and equally rewarding source of income rather than selling contraband,” Deven said.
“Right now, there is very little choice/opportunity in the villages and the drug mafia is solely controlling this plant. It’s appalling that drugs are easily available in society and medicines are not! What we seek is that the plant is rather put in the hands of our doctors, industrialists, food manufactures and not in the hands of the illegal drug market, he said.
“There are 100s of industries and youth startups who want to open hemp businesses in the State and with a billion-dollar industry the state can prosper a lot, this plant can do more for the people of the state than what apple did many years ago,” Deven said.
HP Budget 2021-22: Key Sector Allocation in Seven Charts
By – Utkarsh Berwal and Vijay Kumar, both Research Scholars at the Centre for Studies in Economics and Planning, Central University of Gujarat
Chief Minister, Mr. Jai Ram Thakur, presented the Budget of Himachal Pradesh for the financial year 2021-22 on March 6, 2021. He referred to the problems created due to the COVID-19 pandemic and potential of the state to overcome it. The focus was on boosting the Service and Tourism sector and in that respect here is the breakdown of the 50,192 Crore budget in seven charts concerning key sectors.
The allocation of the budget to the general services for the coming financial year is Rs. 18146.99 lacs, i.e., less than what was proposed last year. The general services include fiscal services, police, stationery & printing, public works, and other administrative services. Among all the departments, highest allocation of budget is provided for public works (Rs. 9274.99 lacs) and least is provided for fiscal services (Rs. 0.00 lacs). Further, capital outlay on police, stationary & printing, and other administrative services are Rs. 7230, Rs. 42, Rs. 1600 (in lacs) respectively.
The government proposes to spend Rs. 159052 lacs in 2021-22. As per revised estimates, the government spent Rs. 191176.63 lacs in 2020-21. Though 2021-22 budget allocation is higher compared to the actual spending (Rs. 122386.1 lacs) for the year 2019-20 but still it is less than what was proposed in the 2020-21 budget. The social services include: education, sports, art & culture; health and family welfare; water supply, sanitation, housing, and urban development; information and broadcasting; welfare of SC, ST, and OBC; social welfare and nutrition; others. Among all the departments, highest allocation is provided for water supply, sanitation, housing and urban development (Rs. 112667.01 lacs) and least is provided for information and broadcasting (Rs. 61 lacs).
Education, Sports, Art and Culture
It has been around a year since schools and colleges are closed because of COVID-19. The education sector has been shifted towards exploring the online space and due to this many individuals have lost their jobs and educational opportunities. However, instead of increasing the planned expenditure, government reduced the spending in the present year budget plan. The allocation of budget for the education, sports, arts and culture is only Rs. 28400 lacs which is even less than previous year revised estimates (Rs. 34708.37 lacs).
Health and Family Welfare
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a serious strain on the Indian health sector and thus, it was expected by everyone in the state that the allocation for the healthcare sector would rise tremendously. However, allocated spending for healthcare was least in comparison with past budgets. The actual spending for the year 2019-20 was Rs. 22842.74 lacs while the revised estimates of the budget in 2020-21 was Rs. 32857.54 lacs. But for this year, the total amount allocated is Rs. 16304 lacs only. It was totally a surprising step taken by the government considering the present status of the health sector in the province.
In the previous year, budget estimates (Rs. 308780.96 lacs) and revised estimates (Rs. 320494.09 lacs) were less than the 2019-20 actuals (Rs. 340281.45). But this year there is a big jump in the budget estimates for economic services. The allocation of budget to economic services this year (2021-22) is Rs. 429934.15 lacs. The economic services include agriculture & allied services, rural development, irrigation & flood control, energy, industry & minerals, transport, and general economic services. Among all the departments, highest allocation of budget is provided for transport (Rs. 306785 lacs) and least is provided for rural development (Rs. 489 lacs).
Agriculture and Allied Services
As the farmers are opposing the new agricultural law introduced by the centre, it was predicted that the allocation would rise considerably for the agriculture sector. And in that respect a huge difference has been witnessed in the budget allocation for the current year in comparison to the previous years. The government’s plan to spend Rs. 16810.64 on agriculture is a huge rise from the proposed sum of Rs. 11397.25 lacs for the financial year 2020-21. The agriculture & allied services include crop husbandry, soil & water conservation, animal husbandry, fisheries, forest & wildlife, food storage & warehousing, and co-operation. Among all the sectors, highest allocation of budget is provided for crop husbandry (Rs. 7338.05 lacs) and least is provided for co-operation (Rs. 17 lacs).
It was predicted by economic pundits that the allocation would rise for the tourism sector as this sector is the backbone of Himachal’s economy, but such an enormous increase in the budgetary allocation was quite surprising. Tourism industry of the hill state has been badly affected by the COVID-19 and to overcome this, the government has allocated Rs. 5376.01 lacs for the year 2021-22. The allocation for the specified sector is nine times more than the previous year allocation.
Overall, the budget amount is Rs 1061 crore more than the last budget. Also, the debt liability of the state is at an all-time high at 60,500 crores and it remains to be seen whether the gamble taken on some key sectors will pay off in these unprecedented times where a new coronavirus wave is very well on the cards. Especially concerning the increase of the allocation to the tourism sector and allotment of a very low amount for the health and education sector. Rest, only time will tell whether this was the correct move by the government.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Himachal Watcher or its members.
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