|E D I T O R I A L
P A G E
Wednesday, January 13, 1999
great watershed of Siachen
deep are your roots?
Second labour panel
STRANGE are the ways of the governments. Even when they claim to be rushing ahead, they move at a pace that can keep them in step with a snail. The Indian Labour Conference had recommended the setting up of the second National Commission on Labour way back in September, 1992. Finally, more than six years later, the government has announced that it will set up the commission this month. Going by the present speed, the task of an in-depth and critical review of labour and labour laws can only be completed by the middle of the next century! This sarcasm is not borne out of exaggeration but a regrettable sense of realism because the track record of the Labour Ministry has been such. The first Labour Commission was set up under the chairmanship of Justice P.B.Gajendragadkar 32 years ago. When the Labour Minister, Mr Satyanarayan Jatiya, announced on Monday that the second Labour Commission would enable the Government to review and frame the labour policy in the right perspective resulting in not only improved welfare of the working class, but also better industrial climate and increased productivity, he did not care to mention as to why the first Commission itself had not been able to accomplish this task. There is no doubt whatsoever that the countrys economic environment has undergone radical changes. Equally true is the fact that the large number of existing labour laws are not adequately equipped to tackle the emerging situations. But this change has not come about overnight. It has been a gradual process and the Government has obviously not been able to keep pace with it, much to the detriment of the labour force, which has been the unwitting loser.
The country has a total
workforce of over 350 million. Of these barely 30 million
persons are in the organised sector while the other 320
million come under the unorganised sector. It is the
latter category which has been exploited heartlessly all
these decades. Since most of those falling in the
unorganised sector come from the agriculture segment, it
is doubtful how much the government will actually be able
to do for them because any attempt to improve their lot
is frustrated by powerful lobbies. It is good that the
second labour panel has been asked to make suggestions to
rationalise laws for workers in the organised sector and
recommend an umbrella law to protect labour
in unorganised employment. Technological changes that
have come about, especially during the past one decade,
have coincided with economic liberalisation. These have
led to remarkable changes in the methods, timings and
conditions of work in industry, trade and services.
Delayed that the setting up of the panel is, one hopes
that it would get down to work at the earliest. It would
be expected to not only take into account the labour
market needs and demands of today but also of the future.
Making the labour laws flexible enough to absorb
unforeseen technological changes and economic growth
would be the benchmark of the success of the commission.
While ensuring that the labour gets adequate protection
and welfare measures, it will also have to ensure that
protectionism does not degenerate into a situation where
disruptive tendencies are encouraged.
Govt wins, party loses
YET again UP Chief Minister Kalyan Singh has emerged victorious in the war of nerves involving two groups within the state unit of the BJP. His opponents led by Uttar Pradesh BJP Chief Rajnath Singh have been asked to lie low by the party bosses in Delhi. The development must be demoralising for the Rajnath Singh-Lalji Tandon-Kalraj Mishra group. There were so many factors at play against Mr Kalyan Singh. His style of functioning is generally disliked by most party leaders and the BJPs allies. He appears to be the least bothered about the partys upper caste following, which has started shrinking. His continuance in the present position is perceived to be a serious threat to the social equilibrium by the state RSS leadership, and that is one reason why it has been in favour of his removal. The state is faced with a major financial crisis, and the Chief Minister has been mainly busy with saving his government or consolidating his position against his detractors. There was a kind of understanding among BJP President Kushabhau Thakre, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Home Minister L.K. Advani to bring Mr Kalyan Singh to Delhi as a Central minister to end the strife in the partys UP unit, which could also help the BJP to strengthen its upper caste support base. At one stage Mr Lalji Tandon, considered close to Mr Vajpayee, was believed to have convinced the Prime Minister about the need to replace Mr Kalyan Singh with some other leader. This could also ensure an undisturbed continuance of the coalition arrangement in Lucknow, as he thought.
The BJPs central
leadership has gone by the long-term interests of the
party, and hence its rejection of the idea of a
leadership change in UP. While the state has been saved
from political instability though no one knows for
how long it will be there the party has been
prevented from undergoing a Delhi-like disastrous
experience. The BJP-led coalition in UP is so fragile
that it can collapse any time. As part of his survival
strategy, Mr Kalyan Singh had inducted 12 of the 15
Jantantrik BSP members of the Assembly and all of the
three Loktantrik Congress MLAs in his jumbo-size
ministry. Most of them are Ministers of State without any
portfolio, and are highly critical of the Chief
Ministers attitude towards them. Their leaders
Mr Narendra Singh of the Jantantrik BSP and Mr
Naresh Aggarwal of the Loktantrik Congress are
being properly looked after by Mr Kalyan Singh, but it
will be difficult for them to keep the flock together
under the circumstances. The Chief Minister continues to
have with him as many as 30 portfolios. Now he may part
with some of the portfolios to end the unrest among his
Ministers of State. But nothing can prevent the weakening
process that has set in the coalition. In the event of
its breaking up, the state will have to face mid-term
elections. The BJP leadership, both at the Centre and in
the state, must be aware of the fact that this is not the
right time to take such a risk. Whenever there is talk of
elections Mr Kalyan Singhs name comes on top of the
list of the state-level leaders who have a considerable
vote-gathering capacity. He has been working as the chief
architect for the enlargement of the BJPs support
base among the backward classes and the Scheduled Castes.
And this is a much larger base compared to the one the
BJP has among the upper castes in UP. The party cannot
afford to go against the wishes of Mr Kalyan Singh. His
position is almost unassailable.
Run-up to February 28
PRE-BUDGET consultations, somewhat of a routine during the past two decades or so, started on Monday and picked up momentum when the captains of industry and the various chambers of commerce meet the Union Finance Minister on Tuesday. As in the past, they presented a list of demands which may or may not be in the larger interests of overall growth. This time around, the industry is demanding restructuring of excise duty into three slabs and the retention of the 4 per cent special additional duty imposed in last budget, but the abolition of the special import duty of 2 and 3 per cent. In the days to come the Finance Minister will meet other special interest groups, senior editors and economists. This format, set by Mr Pranab Mukherjee when he presided over the Ministry, has continued unchanged although the problems have multiplied demanding a radically different approach. For instance, this prevents an overall view of both the structural and cyclical weaknesses of the economy and instead leads to ad hoc measures. This way a problem tackled in one sector, or even in a part of the sector, can accentuate another elsewhere. Barring economists the others who will offer their ideas belong to the sectarian-solution brigade. They have not caused much harm until now for the simple reason the Finance Minister often just hears them and ignores the advice. This time he has one major advantage. He has had the opportunity to hear a broad range of views during the Prime Ministers confabulations with industrialists and economic experts and can use his own meeting to seek clarifications or to test his own or the Ministrys proposals.
The task before the
Minister is very challenging. The current year has been
particularly bad. Growth has been sluggish; the feel-good
factor he anticipated to sprout in September, is still
absent. Prices of essential goods had shot up although
official statistics show the inflation rate sliding to
5.34 per cent at the wholesale level. The stock market
had been bearish for much of the year, although there has
been a sharp revival since December. An analysis in an
economic newspaper shows that the Indian stock market was
the second worst performer in Asia in dollar terms. It
lost 21.6 per cent in 1998, a big part was contributed by
the loss of value of the rupee against the dollar
from Rs 39.9 to Rs 42.5. The stock market health goes a
long way in attracting investment both in industry and in
shares. And this can be a good starting point to restore
investor confidence. The Finance Minister should initiate
strong measures to stimulate the market which is now
infested with unlettered brokers or ruthless operators.
There are adequate financial resources in the country;
the trick is to convert them into investment capital. As
has often been stated earlier, it is time, if it is not
late, to restart the cycle greater investment,
greater demand, greater profit and greater saving. Only a
vigorous stimulus will do the restarting.
THE NAVAL EPISODE
THE round of accusations and counter-accusations is more or less over. Now is the time to determine the truth. Let us wear wigs and act as judges. The case before us is that of Admiral Vishnu Bhagwats dismissal from the office of Naval Chief. The general charge against him is that he committed a series of acts of disobedience, defiance, lies and threats.
The charges can be specified thus: (1) He seriously jeopardised national security concerns. (2) He lodged a written protest directly with the Pakistan High Commission against a Pakistani surveillance aircraft tailing an Indian naval vessel. (3) He publicly criticised the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). (4) He defied civilian authorities on a sustained basis. (5) He deliberately kept away from the Defence Minister the representations by Vice-Admiral Sushil Kumar, now the Naval Chief. (6) He went out of the way to stall the appointment of Vice-Admiral Harinder Singh.
Let us take up the case charge by charge. The first that of endangering national security is the most grievous one. A top officer found tampering with security eight months before retirement is, indeed, disturbing. If it is true, he deserved to be court-martialled, not just dismissed. The government has given no evidence to prove how Admiral Bhagwat acted against Indias security. The official statement says that his series of actions threatened national security but does not tell how. Defence Minister George Fernandes refrains from elaborating in his TV interview. All that he says is that he cannot talk about it as it concerns national security.
They are meaningful words. But they suggest more than what they say. With great difficulty I have obtained from official sources one evidence. This is an interview by Admiral Bhagwat that was published in The Hindu on October 2. The allegation is that he leaked out information regarding nuclear submarine. The pertinent part of his interview is: The world has no better vehicle for ensuring second strike or retaliatory capability than the nuclear submarine. These are, of course, principles we are theorising about.
How does this observation violate security considerations is not understandable. Firstly, Admiral Bhagwat revealed nothing. Secondly, he emphasised that he was only theorising. The impression that the government has left in the minds of people is as if he was passing on defence secrets to the enemy. It is a pity that the Defence Ministry should stoop so low to question the patriotism of a person like Admiral Bhagwat on the basis of an interview which, even when stretched does not disclose anything.
The second charge is that he approached the Pakistan High Commission directly to lodge the protest. This betrays his unfamiliarity with the rules of diplomatic corps, not disloyalty to the country. He authorised his directorate of naval intelligence to write to the Naval Adviser to the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi. He sent copies of the communication to the Defence and External Affairs Ministries. When the Ministry of External Affairs advised him not to employ such channels, he issued instructions not to engage the Pakistan High Commission directly. It was a procedural mistake. To interpret it as an act of insubordination is a deliberate act of vindictiveness by the Defence Ministry.
Admiral Bhagwats remark that RAW was incompetent is indiscreet, but by no means it violates national security demands. As an officer of long standing, he may have come across examples of RAWs ineptness. He gave vent to his annoyance. At worst, it was an outburst, which should have been ignored as it was done when he made it. The Defence Minister could have mentioned it at one of his weekly morning meetings with the Service Chiefs. Why pick up peccadilloes to make a case?
The governments unhappiness over not forwarding as many as six representations by Vice-Admiral Sushil Kumar has a point. He wanted to be posted to an operational command. But the representations were addressed to the Naval Chief. Vice-Admiral Sushil Kumar did not even want to pursue his statutory complaint to the Defence Minister. Admiral Bhagwat should have been told not to stall any representation in the future. But this is too flimsy a ground to be construed as a challenge to the civilian authority. He denies Mr Fernandes charge that Vice-Admiral Sushil Kumar was threatened with court-martial. It is a lie, he says. He is ready to face an inquiry. Is Mr Fernandes prepared for this?
Finding fault with Admiral Bhagwat for having sat over the appointment of Vice-Admiral Harinder Singh does not tally with facts. In a letter to Cabinet Secretary Prabhat Kumar, Admiral Bhagwat has written: It is respectfully reiterated/clarified to the honourable members of the ACC (Appointment Committee of the Cabinet) through the Cabinet Secretary that the Chief of Naval Staff has never once stated that the directions of the ACC will not be implemented. Admiral Bhagwat is a stickler for rules. He said the order was unimplementable because the appointment was violative of the relevant/basic features of the Constitution of the Indian Navy Act, 1975. His grievance was that the rules had not been brought to the notice of the ACC members.
The most reprehensible part of the entire episode is that no disciplinary action has been taken against Vice-Admiral Harinder Singh, who tried to communalise appointments and promotions. He went to the extent of alleging that Admiral Bhagwat was prejudicial because of his wife, Niloufer, half Muslim and half Parsi. By attending the New Year eve party at Vice-Admiral Harinder Singhs headquarters in the Andamans, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has committed an act of indiscretion, which is neither explainable nor forgivable. When Vice-Admiral Harinder Singhs allegation had appeared in the Press, former Defence Minister Sharad Pawar had written to the Prime Minister to take action against Vice-Admiral Harinder Singh for introducing communalism in the services. That Agriculture Minister Surjit Singh Barnala met Mr Fernandes on behalf of Vice-Admiral Harinder Singh supports the allegation that the Akali Dal had interfered in the matter.
There is nothing in the levelled charges against Admiral Bhagwat. He, in turn, has alleged that the BJP-led government has punished him for his secular views. As far back as August, his wife wrote to Mr Fernandes: What is particularly disturbing and inexplicable is that Ministry of Defence officials have not deemed it appropriate to direct Vice-Admiral Harinder Singh to explain the violation of his oath to the Constitution of India and his mala fide referring to the religious roots of the family of the incumbent chief of the Naval Staff....
It appears that the matter had been simmering for several months. The Congress wanted to raise it in the last session of Parliament but did not do so because it expected an early settlement. Why didnt the Defence Minister take timely steps to sort it out? Instead, the government went ahead with the dismissal of Admiral Bhagwat and then tried to cover up by raising unrelated questions. The feud between the services and the Defence Ministry is nothing new. The ministry cannot justify Admiral Bhagwats dismissal by issuing a Press note that the government has the responsibility of ensuring that our armed forces function effectively, objectively and with their traditional mentality, within the democratic set-up. There was no basis for this type of thinking in the first instance.
If the government was still determined to find fault with Admiral Bhagwat, he should have been given notice to explain his conduct. It cannot stage a coup as it did. Admiral Bhagwat came to know about his dismissal 15 minutes before his successor walked in. A RAW plane flew in the latter from Kochi. It had no permission from the Naval Chief to move away from his headquarters. Under whose authority did he travel to Delhi?
And it is intriguing how Vice-Admiral Sushil Kumar came to be selected from among the four equally ranked officers. Dossiers of all the four were lying in the safe custody of Admiral Bhagwat. Were the other three considered and rejected? The hush-hush operation does not suggest that.
Where does the government
go from Admiral Bhagwats dismissal? Two Congress
leaders, Mr Sharad Pawar and Dr Manmohan Singh, were
claimed to have been consulted on the
dismissal, but they have denied it. The entire
Opposition, including the coalition partner, Ms
Jayalalithas AIADMK, has criticised the dismissal
and demanded an inquiry. Even President K.R. Narayanan
has reportedly said that it was a mistake. That the
morale of the armed forces remains high is no credit to
the government. They have refused to get involved in
politics. They are a professional force, committed to the
dictates of democracy. Someone in the government must
make amends for the mistake committed in Admiral
deep are your roots?
ON weekends, I used to come from Sussex University in Brighton to London. It was a journey of two and a half hours by train. The fare was 2.5 pounds. I was on a paltry allowance of 4.5 pounds a day from the British Council. That was too small an amount for London. So, I would spend the night at some friends house. The BBC was generous to me. It would give me programmes at one pound a minute. The normal broadcasting time was 10 minutes. That meant 10 extra pounds. And that was godsend.
The year was 1976. My friend, Amar Nath Arora, with whom I was staying, had planned to take me to Hyde Park. Nothing special there, but Hyde Park is Hyde Park. If the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, all other battles, verbal, of course, which England has been fighting from time immemorial, have been fought and won or lost in Hyde Park. Fish and chips, costing 75 pence, was all that you needed to watch those glorious events.
It so happened that that Sunday, my friends car refused to move. He fiddled with it, but no results. London does not work on Sunday. All workshops are closed that day. But there lived a Punjabi mechanic not far away from my friends place. A friend in need is a friend indeed. Wherever I have gone, I have found all good Punjabis following that golden principle. My friend went to the mechanics place. The gentleman indulged in no dilly-dallying. He came, along with my friend, in his own car. And even though he knew that the Brits who might be watching him, and there were some who did watch, would frown at him for working on a Sunday which was not in tune with whatever is meant by British culture, he opened the car and quickly detected what was wrong with it.
Some part had worn out. He said that he had that part, a new one, at his house for emergencies like the one in which we were placed. He went home in his own car and brought the new part with him. He had all the tools that he needed and he had something much more. That something was to enable my friend to see that his friend from Brighton was not let down.
It took him no more than half an hour to replace the worn-out part and to set the car moving. As he was working on his job, he asked me all the questions Punjabis ask fellow Indians all over. When he came to know that I was from Delhi, he asked me, raising his head aside the car bonnet, whether in Delhi I got the opportunity to visit Karol Bagh. Once in while, I answered, I live on Pandara Road and that is a bit away. Next time you go to Karol Bagh, said he, do me a favour. There in Naiwali Gali no. 5 lives my mother. Kindly meet her and tell her that I am all right and that she should have no worry on my account and rather take care of her own health.
I did ask the man whether he was not in correspondence with his mother. I am, said he, but you have seen me in person and if you talk to her, she will be more convinced.
Growing power of mass media
WHEN in the nineteenth century the Press was declared the Fourth Estate or peoples parliament permanently in session, the gentlemen of the Press (no ladies then) must have felt greatly elated and flattered. Today the Press or the media is not the Fourth but the First Estate. The modern revolution in communication has brought unprecedented importance to the Press. Every department, every minister or leader, any commercial or other organisation has its public relations department. A leader whose statements and photographs are frequently published in the newspapers is assured of a brilliant political future, while anyone who is neglected or blacked out becomes a person of no importance. However worthy or brilliant he may be, he finds his place in the dustbin of contemporary history.
British Prime Minister Llyod George, who is supposed to be a winner of World War-I, used to say: print my name, preferably with my photograph on the front page of mass circulation papers (even in abuse or virulent criticism) and then my Prime Ministership is assured. It is not the leaders genius or extraordinary competence that matters; it is the publicity that you bring to it.
Governments are made or unmade by public opinion (for instance, the seemingly invincible Emergency regime of Indira Gandhi), and public opinion is made or unmade by the newspapers or the electronic media. Propaganda has a high place even in winning or losing wars. As Kaisar, the Emperor of Germany, said in 1918: We (Germany) were defeated not by the British shells (the chief weapon then), but by the British propaganda. Propaganda strengthens or saps the morale of the armies and that does the rest.
Ours is an over-busy generation. A common citizen has neither the time nor the expertise to form his independent opinion on the basis of facts, that are becoming more and more technically complex and beyond the comprehension of the common man with common intelligence. He gets his opinions readymade by the daily paper that he reads (we are getting more and more articles readymade, rather self-made, even bread). It used to be once said partly in earnestness, partly as in humour, that Punjab thinks what the Editor of The Tribune writes in his editorials. It is the English newspapers that carry the day even though the vernacular Press has superiority in the matter of numbers of readership. Press opinion stands for the half a dozen English dailies.
Now TV seems to be getting some preference even over newspapers. No longer does an expectant reader stand at his door, waiting for the vendor to deliver his paper. The paper on which he pounced and which he read vociferously over his morning cup of tea, while the housewife complained why the husband spent so much of prime time on the newspaper rather than with her or on her household affairs. Today the reader has already known all the news (even about local events) on his TV (radio has become a poor relation), and the stringed newspaper can be seen often lying on the outer verandah; of course, the importance (women call it craze) of the newspaper is not much lessened.
In the early ages, our papers published day-before-yesterdays news. News travelled slowly by letter or telegram. In those days on December 10 we might be reading the paper dated December 12 or 13, to give us an illusion of up-to-date-ness and futurism.
Today progressive papers publish news that they receive upto 1 or 2 a.m. But in that TV beats them in speed and freshness (It gives instant news). We listen to the same news on TV (on different channels) over and over again, and still our hunger is not finished such is the irresistible attraction of the news.
In the past, the Press was the purveyor of news and reports. Today it publishes dozens of other things comments on economic matters, business affairs, science, technology, computers, etc. Its sphere is vastly widened.
The newspapers provide some extra services matrimonials, personal tax tips, etc as yet out of bounds for TV. The marriages are made in heaven, they say. But today the more important ones are made through the columns of big newspapers, though large numbers of offers only confuse ones judgement.
A single instance can illustrate the tremendous force that the Press exercises in building the image of persons and catapulting them to the worlds centrestage. Diana, the Princess of Wales, and her lover Dodi were not the top personalities of the world in any field. Yet for a whole period after their death in the car crash, they seemed to be on the top of the world. Reams upon reams were written on them. The royal flag on the Buckingham Palace was lowered (as never before, not even when the kings died) and rather unwilling Elizabeth II stepped down the palace to do honour to the great dead over whom the world appeared to have gone mad.
TVs live coverage of cricket Test matches shakes the whole nation, as nothing else. The live broadcasts of tennis, football matches, etc, greatly interest their fans not the whole public as do cricket Tests.
The great watershed of Siachen
AT an altitude of 5,472 metres above sea level the mountain range of the Himalayas enfolds the Siachen glacier that has become the watershed between Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Fourteen years ago, in 1984, India and Pakistan both claimed the wasteland as their territory and mobilised troops in order to grab the more advantageous position along the line. In fact, India had to react to the Pakistanis move of ceding 4,500 sq km north and northwest of Siachen to China from Kashmir territory under occupation amounting to 79,000 sq km. In the Sino-Indian border war of 1962, China occupied 38,000 sq km in Aksaichin, originally part of Ladakh territory.
Bereft of vegetation, the glacier is one of the most inhospitable regions in the world. In winter, the temperature is as low as minus 40 degrees centigrade but blizzards blowing from Central Asian region can bring it down to minus 50 degrees.
Troops of the two countries stand along this dreadful watershed with eyeball to eyeball stance ever since the dawn of Independence. After the hostilities between India and Pakistan ceased in 1949, the ceasefire agreement delineated a ceasefire line up to a point north of the Shvok river. Pakistans claim is that Siachen is a part of the countrys northern areas and has asserted continued administrative control since Independence. India says that undemarcated area was never under the control of Pakistan. While India cites the Shimla agreement in this context, Pakistan cites the boundary agreement of 1963 between Pakistan and China. India controls about two-thirds of the glacier and commands two of the three passes defended by her artillery and a battery of anti-aircraft guns, Pakistan is in control of Gyong La pass that overlooks the Shyok and Nubra river valley and Indias access to Leh district.
For India, the glaciers strategic importance is that its northern mountains divide Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Whoever holds the Siachen glacier, controls the Shyok and Nubra valleys extending to the region that borders China. Indian perception is that if Pakistan is allowed to control the glacier, it would endanger the security of Ladakh and also of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistans great effort of controlling the glacier was to take her border to meet that of China, her close ally and friend but an adversary of India. In order to frustrate this dangerous move of Pakistan India meticulously executed Operation Meghdoot in April, 1984 in which Lt-Gen B.K.N. Chhibber. GOC-in-C. Northern Command airlifted an advance unit from Kumaon Regiment and established permanent posts on Siachen. Pakistan and China had already signed the construction of the strategic Karakorum Highway and it was to pass through the region entering Kashmir territory at Khunjarab. This had further imperilled the security of Indias northern frontier. Two important passes namely Si La and Bilfond La, were now in Indias control.
Now it became the military objective of Pakistan to dislodge the Indian troops from these two strategic and high altitude positions. Two assaults in 1984 and 1985 were beaten back by the Indian troops. In September, 1987, Pakistan deployed her elite Special Service Group (SSG) in a battalion size to dislodge India from Bilfond La only to face a crushing defeat in which Pakistan suffered many casualties. Repeated failures convinced Pakistan that it would not be able to take the advantageous passes in Siachen. As such, Pakistan changed its strategy of containing India and forcing a huge expensive defence on her.
Both countries are paying a heavy price to maintain their respective positions in Siachen. The Newsline of Pakistan has made a study of the cost of defending Siachen in terms of men and money. It is bleeding them white. To maintain three battalions on Siachen icy wasteland Pakistan is spending Rs 10 million a day which adds up to Rs 300 million a month and Rs 3.6 billion a year. By this account, Pakistan has spent Rs 50.2 billion so far on Siachen glacier and has sacrificed 1344 precious lives since 1984.
On an average, one Pakistani soldier gets killed on the glacier every fourth day. The death rate of Pakistani soldiers stands at eight per month and 96 per year since April 1984. On the Indian side, there are reports of deployment of seven battalions on the glacier at a recurring cost of Rs 10 million a day and Rs 14.40 billion a year. On an average one Indian soldier gets killed on the glacier every second day since 1984.
Over 95 per cent of the casualties on the glacier are due to extreme and intolerable weather conditions.
Siachen is included in the
agenda for a dialogue between India and Pakistan. There
have been some unsuccessful moves to consider de-linking
this from other outstanding issues between the two
countries because of the heavy toll in terms of money and
men on both sides. But little progress has been made in
any case. India proposes a six-point formula starting
with cessation of cartographic aggression and culminating
in the withdrawal of forces by both sides. But the
Pakistani side is dramatically opposed to Indias
proposal. Pakistan offers a two-point programme of first
withdrawing forces and then delineating an extension of
the Line of Control beyond NJ 9812 (altitude 98 degrees
East and longitude 12 degrees North). This being the
respective stand of the two countries. It appears there
is hardly a meeting point.
Reappraisal of military justice
AFTER 50 years of Independence, it is necessary and imperative to undertake a reappraisal of military justice because, firstly, the present statute is nothing but a reproduction of the British statute, which was applicable to the Royal British forces and mainly to its dominion. Secondly, in its basic concept and interpretation, it is unjust, arbitrary and unreasonable towards a disciplined soldier of the armed forces.
The Constitution, which is the basic statute for governance and rule of law in independent India, was introduced on January 26, 1950, popularly known as Republic Day.
A special Act was enacted by the Constitution to deal with the Army, Navy and Air Force and other armed forces in July 1950. Thus, a soldier in the Army is subjected to the law of the country and the Army Act, 1950. Above all, he mortgages his prime possession i.e. life, for the safety and integrity of the country during his enrolment in the service.
It is further emphasised that under Article 33 of the Constitution, a soldier is deprived of certain fundamental rights, which are available to all other citizens as enumerated in Part III of the Constitution. Thus, by liberal interpretation of the Constitution, a citizen has a legal redress to any legal injury inflicted on him. Under the provision of Articles 32 and 226, a citizen can approach the Supreme Court and High Court for any infringement of his fundamental rights.
Restrictions or abrogations of fundamental rights in respect of a soldier have been expressly incorporated in Section 20 of the Army Act. These have been further amplified in Army Rules 19, 20 & 21. In a nutshell, these provisions curtail or restrict the freedom of speech as expressly guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (a) and to form an association or union as guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (c).
Under Section 125 of the Army Act, if a soldier is involved in any civil case then the same can be transferred to the Army authorities, even though both ordinary criminal courts as well as courts martial may have concurrent jurisdiction. However, if there is a difference of opinion then the same is referred to the government, whose decision on the matter is final under Section 127 of the Army Act.
Most offences committed by soldiers are dealt by a commanding officer of the unit summarily, under various provisions of the Army Act. However, serious and grave offences are dealt by courts martial, which have been enumerated in Section 109 of the said Act. During peacetime, a General Court Martial deals with heinous and grave offences and its composition has been spelt out in Section 113 of the Army Act.
During preliminary investigation a commanding officer may hold a court of inquiry. However, before convening a General Court Martial a summary of evidence is recorded in compliance with Army Rules 22 to 24. In the case of an officer, these provisions, which are analogous to the principles of natural justice are not invariably complied with. However an abstract of the summary of evidence is adduced in case of an officer, thus doing away with the basic concept of legal jurisprudence, which is available to other soldiers, unless an officer demands the same.
It is further stated that as regards the composition of a court martial a restricted meaning to the word corps has been given or interpreted: i.e. an infantry battalion or its equivalent has been interpreted to be a corps. Not only that even an independent company has been declared a corps for the composition of court martial. Thus, members of any court martial are under the command influence of its superiors and do not possess an independent mind. In addition, most of the members, except a representative of Judge Advocate-General branch have no legal knowledge or background, which is possessed by jurist of any civil court. Above all, a court martial does not give any reasoned judgement or sentence before passing a verdict, which can be compared with a judgement/degree of any ordinary criminal court. Thus, it lacks judicial application of mind in awarding a sentence to its subjects. Hence, it is not surprising to read that most of these proceedings do not stand the test of judicial review, when so subjected under the provisions of Articles 32 or 226 read with Article 311.
However, a court martial decision is forwarded under Section 153 of the Army Act for confirmation. In case the officer concerned does not confirm the sentence then the same is reviewed by court martial and the verdict is invariably enhanced. An aggrieved soldier has a right of appeal under Section 164 of the Army Act, in the form of a petition. This is only a poor form of appeal which is available to an aggrieved, disciplined soldier of the armed forces. Since no court has the jurisdiction to entertain an appeal against the sentence of a court martial under the provision of the statute, except to restrict or abrogate the fundamental rights as enshrined in Part III of the Constitution.
In order to rehabilitate confidence of its troops in military justice, the United Kingdom had enacted court of (Appeal) Act, 1951, and subsequently amended it by court martial (Appeal) Act, 1968. Similarly, even in USA the Military Justice Act, 1968, which encompasses the basic principles of natural justice, has amended the code of the 1950 Act.
Therefore there is a definite need to carry out a reappraisal of military justice meted out, to soldiers of the armed forces in this country too. Hence, it can be undoubtedly stated that todays military justice lacks credibility and is primitive in its conception and execution. Nowadays, even a citizen in detention has the right to liberty of life under Article 21, the hallmark of democracy and this has been denied to the armed forces for no cogent reason.
Dr Gopi Chand
THE condolence resolution was supported by Pandit Sant Ram and Dr Gopi Chand. Dr Gopi Chand referred to the work of the deceased, a Municipal Commissioner. When the question of the election of the President came up in the Committee, Pandit Ram Bhaj Dutta was away at Ahmedabad, looking after his wife, Mrs Sarala Devi, who was there suffering from typhoid fever.
The Congress-Khilafat members wanted to elect their own nominee as President. They were, therefore, in need of the deceaseds vote. A telegram was sent to him, and the Pandit leaving behind his ailing wife, hastened to Lahore to attend the meeting.
At other times also he attended the Committee meetings even at the cost of his health, which was indifferent for some time past, when any question of public importance was to be discussed in the Committee.
The resolution was further supported by an untouchable who had been recently reclaimed.
The resolution was then carried unanimously by all standing as a mark of respect for the deceased.
The second resolution that a copy of the first resolution be sent to the Press and the bereaved family was proposed from the chair, and carried unanimously.
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