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Food & Fuel Inflation: CENTRE-STATES ACTION VITAL, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 4 May 2022 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 4 May 2022

Food & Fuel Inflation

CENTRE-STATES ACTION VITAL

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

 

The rising prices of food, fertilizer and fuels have reached centre stage with growth expectations becoming lower and monetary tightening on the anvil. Experts are of the opinion that it is debatable how long fiscal policy can withstand the adjustment of financing pressures of higher food, fuel and fertilizer prices. At the global level, the war and related sanctions have pushed up prices of oil commodities, fertilizers, foodgrains, metals etc.

 

Though Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said a few days back that the country has not breached the inflation target “so badly” while referring to the recent surge in retail inflation which hit a 17-month high of around 6.9% in March, experts believe that prices are in fact destined to increase in the coming months. RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das indicated that the bank’s monetary policy committee (MPC) needs to constantly reassess the situation and tailor response accordingly. According to him, the increase in crude oil price and its direct and indirect effects on CPI contributed to around 60% of the upward revision in projections with the other major contributor being the spillovers coming from global food price shocks.

 

Das observed that the MPC had stated in mid-April that though food prices may ease with a likely record rabi harvest, edible oil prices are likely to remain elevated in the near term due to export restrictions by key producers as well as loss of supply from the Black Sea region.  

 

Going by the views of the former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan, the Indian central bank will have to raise interest rates at some point of time to fight inflation and that any such move should not be seen as anti-national. He made these observations in a recent Linkdin post and it comes after retail inflation shot past the upper tolerance limit (6%) of the RBI for three consecutive months. Rajan pointed out that the war against inflation is never over while adding that prices have been rising in the country and, at some point, the RBI will have to raise prices.

 

Even IMF Chief Economist Pierre-Oliver Gourinc has observed the war was slowing growth and spurring inflation as a “clear and present danger” for many countries. Plus, disruptions to Russian supplies of oil, gas and metals, along with Ukrainian exports of wheat and corn will ripple through commodities markets and across the global economy.

 

Rising prices around the world show no signs of abating, the IMF pointed out, even if supply chain problems ease. It expects inflation to remain elevated throughout the year, projecting a 5.7% in advanced economies and 8.7% in emerging markets. However, a more realistic projection was made at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a Washington think tank, wherein economists expect global growth to decline from a rapid 5.8% in 2021 to 3.3% annually in 2022 and 2023.

 

The inflation rates in the US and the EU exceeded that of India. From mid-March, the Union government steadily passed on higher import costs to retail prices of all fuels. The unemployment rate remains high as the situation is yet to reach pre-pandemic levels while consumption remains depressed. The 7.2% anticipated growth isn’t as strong and even if there is a rise, it should not be forgotten that this is followed by a -6.6% contraction last year.

 

A section of economists attribute the present trend to what may be called Kondratieff – named after Russian economist, Nicholai Kondratieff – which is caused by technological changes and can last quite long for years together. If such a cycle has begun, commodity prices would keep rising.

 

As per data released recently in India, inflation, based on the wholesale price index (WPI), jumped to14.6% in March higher than the 13.1% in February and 7.9% in March 2021. WPI inflation has been in double digits for 12 months in a row, the first time ever, highlighting the entrenched price pressures. The present inflation has hurt household budgets and the economically weaker sections and consumption growth has been drastically reduced. Besides, it has been seen that wheat prices rose an annual 14% while fuel and power jumped by 34.5%. Even potatoes soared by 24.6% and vegetables increased by 20% in March.

 

The chief concern before the country is the steep increase in food prices where the growth outpaced that of rural wages, squeezing real disposable incomes. Food inflation in the country has the singular capacity to encourage households to expect higher inflation in other goods and services in future. It dents demand for consumer items like refrigerators, ACs, motorbikes, cars etc. Already reports indicate that sales of cars and bikes have come down drastically in the last two months, at least in the eastern States.

 

The scenario is distressing, affecting not just the EWS and the low income groups but shall also have a cascading effect on consumption per se. Moreover, the government will not be able to bring down prices of petrol and diesel, even after international prices come down, as it would have to take care of the fiscal deficit. Already the stock market prices are showing a downtrend as prospects of consumption growth in the present fiscal appears bleak.

 

Rising food costs would have a major impact on vulnerable households, with one section suffering from under-nutrition while pushing some into poverty and hunger. Moreover, though food prices are high in metros and towns, the farmers are not getting adequate prices that compensate for the rising costs of production.

 

In the national perspective, it is quite inevitable that development would suffer, at least to a certain extent, as funds would have to be diverted towards fertilizer subsidies, thereby slowing down infrastructure growth. A few days back, against the allocation of Rs 21,000 crore for the first half of the year, the government will now spend Rs 61,000 crore towards subsidy on phosphate fertilizers. The hike in Nutrient Based Subsidy (NBS) is likely to push the government’s fertilizer subsidy bill to around Rs 2 lakh crore, based on current price trends.

 

Therefore, the Finance Minister’s observations regarding inflation are possibly not tenable. This as there are enough indications the inflation, which breached the upper tolerance level, is expected to remain high at least till June/July, if not longer.   

 

The Indian food security and nutrition situation remains a puzzle and the effect of higher food prices needs to be looked at seriously. The very high rates of economic growth, the decline in per capita calorie consumption as well as the relatively poor improvements in nutrition indicators would be further hampered if food prices continue to rise.    

 

What action the Centre and States would take in such a situation is unknown. However, it would be desirable if the Centre calls a meeting with the States’ Food Ministers to resolve the issue in a judicious manner. The Centre could take some measures in reducing excise of petrol and diesel and request the States to make similar moves. Controlling inflation is critical to boost up consumption demand. Finally, it may be said that more than freebies, regulating food prices are vital for controlling inflationary pressures, as they affect the poor and the impoverished sections of society. ---INFA

 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

Modi In Europe: TAKEAWAYS FOR INDIA, By Dr. D.K. Giri, 6 May 2022 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 6 May 2022

Modi In Europe

TAKEAWAYS FOR INDIA

By Dr. D.K. Giri

(Prof International Relations, JIMMC)

 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi dashed off to three countries in Europe from 2-4 May 2022. He went to Germany, Denmark and for a stopover in Paris on the way back home. This is his first visit to Europe since the war in Ukraine last month which has engaged almost the entire international leadership on its repercussions on world politics. The point to note is the divergence of reactions to the war: Europe calling Russia out as the aggressor and India remaining neutral. Modi has had to wade through this heavy diplomatic division with Europe.

 

To recall a slice of history, India has taken a critical posture towards Europe, mainly the construction of European Union. Prime Minister Nehru in 1960s, as the European Union was being shaped up, derided its prospect by calling it a ‘capitalist club’. He may have detected a colonial bent in building of European Economic Community in 1957 under the Treaty of Rome as, at the same time, Nehru along with Tito Nasser was crafting the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). What happened to NAM and the EEC could be evaluated by contemporary political historians. Suffice to say that NAM disappeared in the sands of history, whereas EEC emerged as a big economic block, transforming into a political entity called European Union.

 

The misreading of growth of EU in its formative stage by Nehru reflected a serious mismatch between India’s economy and foreign policy. Since the foreign policy was security driven, the focus of our bilateral relations was on Pakistan and Russia. Pakistan has been the adversary and Russia an ally for defence supplies. Europe was overlooked although about 60 per cent of our trade deficit was accounted for by EU. India’s economy suffered from lack of investment, technology and market. Curiously, the same trend continues even today as is seen in India’s stand on Ukrainian war. New Delhi is not able to name Russia.

 

Although Modi has been critical of fault lines in India’s foreign policy created by Nehru, he has not been able to correct these. This has been experienced in New Delhi’s relations with Beijing, with Moscow and in unresolved tensions with Islamabad. Even under globalisation when growth in economy became a measure of country’s strength, India lagged behind despite its demographic dividend and the size of the market. Will it change now, in regard to Europe, as Modi has acknowledged the European countries as “India’s important partners in her quest for peace and prosperity?”

 

On the first leg of the tour, Modi landed in Germany to co-chair the 6th India-Germany Inter-Governmental Consultation (IGC), along with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, from the Progressive Social Democratic Party. Notably, IGC is a unique biennial format which India conducts only with Germany. India and Germany have had a long historic relation. India was one among a few countries to extend diplomatic recognition to Federal Republic of Germany after the Second World War. Berlin and New Delhi have been strategic partners since 2000. Germany became economical strong and the leader of the EU attracting several economic and trade partners, including India. Currently, Germany holds the G-7 presidency. Modi’s diplomacy will show if he gets India invited to the G-7 outreach summit in June.

 

Modi and Scholz would have jointly thought about dealing with Russia. Germany is trying to reduce its energy dependence on Moscow. Likewise, New Delhi should strive innovatively to reduce its dependence on Moscow for its defence supplies. Both countries in their respective ways should try to extricate from Russian bear-hug. Russian gas pipelines were coming through Ukraine to Germany carrying major energy supply. If Berlin could forgo that supply due to its solidarity with NATO allies, New Delhi could do so in the defence procurement.

 

The next stop for Modi was Copenhagen. He had twin purposes in visiting Denmark – to consolidate bilateral relations with the country and to attend the second India-Nordic summit in Copenhagen. On bilateralism, Copenhagen and New Delhi have become green strategic partners since September 2020. New Delhi could explore new elements of partnership with resourceful Copenhagen in the field of skill development, shipping, agro-technology, and mobility. These are the prospective areas indicated by Indian Foreign Secretary Kwatra.

 

Modi will look up for four Nordic leaders – Prime Ministers of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland in addition to the host, Prime Minister of Denmark Mette Frederiksen. In particular, Modi will nudge these leaders for India-Nordic cooperation in Arctic. Significantly, Sweden and Finland possible membership of NATO and a threat of strong retaliation with nuclear bombs may figure in the deliberations with Modi.

 

There is also a brief stopover in Paris for Modi to congratulate President Emmanuel Macron, who won a hard and bitterly fought presidential elections on 25th of April. Modi and Macron have been active around the Russia-Ukraine war, Paris and New Delhi have a strategic partnership. Both the leaders might explore the next phase of this important partnership. France is holding the EU presidency this year, hence Macron’s role in European politics, including Ukraine will be closely watched.  

 

France is being regarded by observers as new Russia for India for its continued and solid support in international arena. On trade and economy, both the countries share a close relationship – in defence and security cooperation, robust economic partnership, space cooperation and civil and nuclear cooperation. The new areas for cooperation are being explored. What is important to watch is their exchange of notes on the war and if they could reach a point of convergence.

 

Prime Minister Modi’s three-day visit to Europe, to three countries mentioned above was hectic and packed. He had 25 engagements with eight world leaders, 50 business honchos and 1600 strong Indian Diaspora in Germany which included students, research scholars, professionals and businessmen. Modi, as usual, used the opportunity to have a dig at his opponents back home and exulted in India’s economic achievements. He said, “there were 200-400 start-ups in 2014, now India hosts 68000 start-ups and dozens of unicorns…. Some of whom have already become deca-corns with 10-billion dollars valuation”.

 

Prime Minister’s emphatic presentation of India as a secure and grown-up economy was perhaps aimed at enticing the Indian Diaspora to globalise ‘Indian story’. He was also wanting to attract European business into Indian market. He even mentioned Article 370 to boost up the morale of Indian Diaspora on India’s unity, strength and integrity. This is alright for psychological and cultural diplomacy with the Diaspora, which feels usually nostalgic. 

 

In sum, Modi’s visit in these tumultuous times in Europe will bring rich political and economic dividends for India if he managed to correct the perception that India is beholden to Russia and therefore could not take a bold stand even when international political norms are violated. Many observers and supporters of South Block and Prime Minister Modi will endorse India’s position on Ukraine as pragmatic and prudent. Will Europe, which professes openly democracy, human rights and freedom in relation to individuals or countries will be convinced by such logic. Prime Minister Modi’s visit should a prelude to a radical shift in India’s foreign policy. Will it? ---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

New Delhi

4 May 2022

 

Hindi Vs Others: WHAT ABOUT MINORITY LANGUAGES? By Sagarneel Sinha, 5 May 2022 Print E-mail

Events & Issues

New Delhi, 5 May 2022

Hindi Vs Others

WHAT ABOUT MINORITY LANGUAGES?

By Sagarneel Sinha

 

India is a diverse country where many languages and dialects are spoken. According to a report of the 2011 census, there are around 19500 languages or dialects spoken. Only 22 of these are recognised in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution as the official languages. There is no national language, although a section believes that “Hindi” is.

 

Recently a popular Bollywood actor Ajay Devgan created a controversy when he tweeted that Hindi is the national language. Uttar Pradesh Minister Sanjay Nishad, supremo of NISHAD party, claiming to represent the communities of fishermen and boatmen and an ally of BJP, said, as reported in the media, that those who don’t speak Hindi should leave the country!

 

When it is very clear in the Constitution of the country that there is no national language, then why do some public figures keep saying that “Hindi is the national language”? First of all, let’s agree that Hindi is the most popular language and is the most understood one in the country. Although in the 2011 census around 44% identified Hindi as their mother tongue, there is also a section which understands Hindi, despite the fact that it isn’t their mother tongue. Out of them, many can even speak the language. So, those who argue that not even a half of the nation’s population speak Hindi aren’t exactly right as over half of the population understands it. However, this doesn’t give the language a national status.

 

Trust our politicians not to lose an opportunity to woo and strengthen their vote bank, even if it means joining the bandwagon of the language debate without understanding its intricacies. That’s the reason that a politician from the Hindi belt doesn’t even think twice before saying that those who don’t speak Hindi are “foreigners”. Then there are politicians from the South to convey the message, as loudly as possible, that the imposition of Hindi is completely wrong and they are proud speakers of Tamil or Malayalam or Telugu or Kannada, depending on the State of that politician. How can politicians from West Bengal stay away from such debates which automatically provide them a platform “to show how much they love Bengali”?

 

No doubt that India is a land of many languages, this tradition has to be preserved, and no language should be imposed on any State or any region. But unfortunately for the politicians, be it from the north to south or east to west, the row triggered by the language debate is more often seen as an opportunity to polarise the voters by keeping them away from the real issues that threaten their electoral prospects. The ultimate aim is to win elections by painting a language as an evil, and this “evil language” varies from States to regions.

 

This is not to say that no language faces any issue in this country. There are dogged controversies. For example, say the Assamese language, one of the 22 official languages. The last census in 2011 revealed that only 48% of Assam’s population speak Assamese, meaning that it is no longer spoken by the majority. This is definitely a matter of concern.

 

But apart from 22 official languages, there are many other languages or dialects which are fighting for their existence. Sadly, in the debate of language politics, these don’t find a  mention. One such language is Bishnupriya Manipuri, the mother tongue of this writer. The speakers are largely concentrated in Assam, particularly in Barak Valley, and Tripura, apart from a few districts of Manipur like Jiribam.

 

Although the Left Front government in Tripura then introduced the Bishnupriya Manipuri language at primary levels in areas dominated by the community in the State in 1995, it wasn’t introduced in Assam then. This led to protests called the Bishnupriya Manipuri Bhasa Andolan in 1996 in the Barak Valley where a young woman activist called Sudeshna Sinha sacrificed her life, as a result of police firing, for the recognition of her mother tongue. The date was March 16, commemorated every year by the Bishnupriya Manipuri community.

 

Later in 2001, the Assam government finally introduced the Bishnupriya Manipuri at primary levels in areas of the Barak Valley where the community dominates. Yet the language still faces many difficulties. A major issue is that in the Census the name of the community isn’t properly represented. Instead of Bishnupriya Manipuri, the Census has identified Bishnupuriya as a “language”, upsetting the community. Umpteen demands have been made by their organisations to rectify this mistake.

 

Another demand is to include the language into the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, apart from the ST-Plain status and an autonomous council in the satellite system for the Bishnupriya Manipuris in community-dominated localities of Assam, Tripura and Manipur. Unfortunately many political parties aren’t interested as the community isn’t a significant vote bank in either of the three States.

 

Then there are Nepali-speaking Gorkhas in Darjeeling Hills of West Bengal who have often raised their voice against the imposition of Bengali and demanding recognition of their language. The State’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who otherwise is very vocal against imposition of Hindi in her State, has been criticised by the Gorkhas for doing the same to them. Then there are regional and tribal languages such as Gondi, Chhattisgarhi, Garo, Kokborok, Kamatapuri, Bhojpuri, Lepcha, Mizo, Ho, Angika and many others, which seek inclusion in the Eighth Schedule.

 

If Hindi is made compulsory in the present three language policy, other than English, an important language, it is likely to be challenging for the minority languages. For example, in  Tripura, if this policy is introduced, it is likely to leave no space for Kokborok, the language of the majority of tribals, as the third language would be Bengali, the State’s dominant language. This is likely to create resentment among the tribals.

 

In my old village school, three languages are taught -- Bengali, English and Sanskrit. There is a fourth -- Bishnupriya Manipuri but only for students of the community. If Hindi, a language already the most popular and which doesn’t need to be imposed, is introduced, one language has to be replaced. Is learning Sanskrit, another endangered language and a key to India’s ancient treasure of knowledge, not important? Or is learning Bishnupriya Manipuri not significant for its community?

 

The fact is that many local languages are on the verge of extinction and such a loss would have an adverse impact on age old traditions and culture, among others. The language debate should focus on larger and critical issues. Let’s not turn Hindi versus Others into yet another vote bank politics. Can there be restraint before it damages the diverse social fabric?---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

 

WANTED: BAN ON COMMUNAL PARTIES, by Inder Jit, 7 May 2022 Print E-mail

REWIND

New Delhi, 7 May 2022

WANTED: BAN ON COMMUNAL PARTIES

By Inder Jit

(Released on 17 April 1990)

The reconstituted National Integration Council got off to a promising start last Wednesday. One day’s meeting was far from enough for the vital issues involved even though the Council met for about nine hours. Most of the time was spent in a general discussion on the challenges facing national integration with special reference to Punjab, Kashmir and the explosive Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri dispute. The NIC should have really met for two days with the second day devoted to interaction. Happily, however, the NIC was able to adopt a timely resolution reaffirming the nation’s commitment to ensuring India’s freedom and integrity. Mr. V.P Singh also took positive note of the suggestions. The Council, which assembled after a gap of more than three and a half years, will meet again at Bombay early in June and thereafter thrice every year --- between sessions of Parliament. What is more, the Council decided to set up a Committee to formulate an action plan to combat the growing menace of communalism. Importantly, the Council will be given a small secretariat to monitor follow-up action and development.

The discussion was candid. No punches were pulled. At least one member said it was time for someone to say that the King had no clothes. Nehru was both eulogized and criticised. One question was posed pointedly: Is the Government serious about combating communalism and other divisive forces? Does it have the required political will? We will no doubt have to wait and see what Mr. V.P. Singh and his Government will do. Meanwhile, one thing alone is clear. Even where we are agreed on the solution, little comes to be done. As mentioned by me last week, Nehru failed to implement for 16 years a resolution adopted by the Constituent (Legislative) Assembly as far back as April 3, 1948. The resolution stated that “no communal organization which admits to or excludes from its membership persons on ground of religion, race and caste or any of them, should be permitted to engage in any activity other than those essential for the bona fide religious, cultural, social and educational needs of the community and that all steps, legislative and administrative, necessary to prevent such activities should be taken.”

The truth is that Parliament today is in a much stronger position to enforce secularism and combat communalism than during the time of Nehru --- or even up to 1977. We the people of India gave ourselves a Constitution which originally provided in its preamble for the establishment of a “Sovereign Democratic Republic”. However, the preamble was amended by the Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act 1976 by adding two key words --- socialist and secular. The opening sentence of the preamble now reads: “We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic, and to secure to all its citizens: Justice …” Thus, India is no longer merely a Sovereign Democratic Republic in accordance with the original preamble of the Constitution. It is today a Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic (emphasis mine). The amendment was voted by Parliament in the winter session of 1976 and came into effect on January 3, 1977.

The then Union Law Minister, Mr. H.R. Gokhale explained as follows the significance of the change: “This is not a play of words… The preamble is the key to the whole Constitution…. It is the most fundamental part of the constitutional structure which gives direction to the whole Constitution… Even courts have taken note of the fact that the preamble being the key to the Constitution, is something you cannot ignore … Therefore, the objectives which we had always in view, namely socialism and secularism… will be more accurately and correctly implemented in the basic part of our Constitution, namely the preamble. Let anyone say that ‘socialism’ or ‘secularism’ is incapable of definition. Well, if that argument were to be accepted, even ‘democracy’ in that sense is incapable of definition because is it not understood in different ways in different countries? But we understand what kind of democracy we stand for. In the same way, we understand that ‘socialism’ stands for and what ‘secularism’ stands for.”

More than anything else, this change in the preamble provides great help to the Centre in tackling any difficulty which Article 19 of the Constitution relating to fundamental freedoms could pose in regard to a ban on communal parties. Article 19 (1) (c) provides for the basic “right to form associations or unions”. This provision has been thrown by communalists in the face of those advocating a ban on communal (political) parties. Nevertheless, clause (4) of the same Article 19 also empowers Parliament to impose reasonable restrictions on this right to form associations or unions. Specifically, it provides: “Nothing in sub-clause (c) of the said clause shall affect the operation of any existing law insofar as it imposes, or prevents the State from making any law imposing, in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India or public order or morality, reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause.” Importantly, wider grounds have been provided by the Constitution 42nd (Amendment) Act 1976 by inserting Article 31-D which, according to Basu’s Commentary, “would take a law completely out of Article 19.”

Importantly, Article 31-D lays down: (1) Notwithstanding anything contained in Article 13, no law providing for (a) the prevention or prohibition of anti-national activities: or (b) the prevention or formation of, or the prohibition of anti-national associations, shall be deemed to be void on the ground that it is inconsistent with or takes away or abridges any of the rights conferred by Article 14 (equality before law) or Article 19 or Article 31: (2) Notwithstanding anything in this Constitution, Parliament shall have, and the Legislature of a State shall not have, power to make laws with respect to any of the matters referred to in sub-clause (a) or sub-clause (b) of clause (1).” Clause (4) of Article 31-D makes two important clarifications. First “Association” means an association of persons. Second, “anti-national activity” means any action which, among other things, “disclaims, questions, disrupts or is intended to disrupt the sovereignty and integrity of India or which is intended… to threaten or disrupt harmony between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities.”

My study also shows that adequate enforcement of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 could help us greatly in enforcing a ban on communal parties. This Act provides for disqualification for membership of Parliament on several grounds, including corrupt practices. Section 123 (iii) of this Act provides for disqualification on the ground of “appeal by a candidate or his election agent to vote or refrain from voting for any person on the ground of his religion, race, caste, community or language or the use of, or appeal to religious symbols… or for prejudicially affecting the election of any candidate.” Clearly, any person who contests any election as the candidate of a party bearing a communal name, such as the Muslim League or the Hindu Rashtra Party, exploits the religious factor for furthering his own prospects of “prejudicially” affecting those of his rivals. His appeal may only be implicit and not explicit. Objectively, however, such appeal constitutes a corrupt practice which should attract disqualification. This has never been done.

Two additional steps could be taken apart from enforcing the aforementioned provision in regard to “corrupt practices”. First, the scope of the words “corrupt practices” under the Representation of People Act, 1951 could be widened to separate religion from politics. Specifically, one could treat the use of religious places or religious funds or religious symbols as a corrupt practice. True, it would not be easy to prove use of religious funds by a candidate, as things stand at present. But the difficulty could be overcome by taking a fresh look at the law relating to poll expenses. Second, disqualification is also attracted if a person is convicted for certain penal offences. We could add to these penal offences as well as enlarge the scope of the existing offences to hit communal parties effectively. At present, any person convicted under Sections 153-A, for instance, stands disqualified. This section relates to promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence etc. and doing acts prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony.

That is not all. We could also impose a ban on communal parties by doing one other thing which I have been advocating for the past many years in the context of a healthier democratic system: a full-fledged law for the political parties, as in the Federal Republic of Germany. Such a law could provide effective registration of political parties --- a lot more than formal registration with the Election Commission, as at present. Communal or caste-based parties could be denied registration. However, there is no substitute for political will or character and much-needed determination on the part of the Government at the Centre to root out the evil. India’s Terrorism and Disruptions Activities Prevention Act is one of the strongest enactments on the subject. Yet it has not helped to snuff out terrorism. Defects in national character cannot be removed by legislation. In the final analysis, the reconstituted National Integration Council needs to be clear on fundamentals. Either we stand for secularism or we do not. We only invite disaster if we continue to beg the basic question and indulge in sanctimonious humbug. --- INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

Hanuman Chalisa Vs Azaan: MAKING PEACE WITH NOISE?, By Poonam I Kaushish, 3 May 2022 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 3 May 2022

Hanuman Chalisa Vs Azaan

MAKING PEACE WITH NOISE?

By Poonam I Kaushish

 

Ever get up cursing in the wee hours of the morning? Thanks to a loudspeaker blaring, upsetting your beauty sleep, breaching a beautiful dream or blinding headache from a drunken hangover. Welcome to our noisy raucous country where your freedom ends where my ears begin!

 

Last fortnight and ongoing is a high decibel political controversy over ban of loudspeakers used by mosques with the Hindutva Brigade threatening to recite the Hanuman Chalisa over amplifiers to drown the noise of azaan from mosques. In Yogi’s UP over 54000 ‘illegal’ loudspeakers have been removed and sound level of 60,295 lowered citing an May 2020 Allahabad High Court order that held azaan could be recited by a muezzin (Islamic priest) from mosques minarets without using any amplifying device or loudspeakers as it is not an integral part of religion warranting protection of Fundamental Right.

In Maharashtra, Chief Minister Udhav Thackeray’s cousin Raj, Navnirman Sena Chief too echoed this, demanding loudspeakers removal at mosques 3 May failing which he would amplify Hanuman Chalisa. An Independent MP Navneet Rana and her MLA husband languish in jail because they threatened to recite Hanuman Chalisa outside the Thackeray residence considered sacrosanct by Shiv Saniks.

In Bengaluru the police issued notices to 125 mosques, 83 temples, 22 churches and 71 other establishments for loudspeakers use during banned hours or crossing 60 decibels limit of noise level. In Gujarat the High Court is hearing a PIL against loudspeaker use by mosques. In Bihar the BJP demand for ban is nixed by Chief Minister Nitish.

Amidst this ongoing nok-jhok, it is hardly surprising that loudspeaker piercings have landed in courts and reviews multiple times, yet nothing has changed. In fact, laws on their use continue to be observed more in breach and moulded routinely to meet religious and political interests. Questionably, has India made its peace with noise?

 

Over the years various courts have ruled on the issue. The Supreme Court in July 2005 banned use of loudspeakers and music systems between 10 pm to 6 am (except in public emergencies cases) at public places citing serious effects of noise pollution on peoples’ health. In October it modified its order by allowing loudspeakers till midnight on festive occasions for 15 days a year.

 

Some State Governments appealed the order contending that Supreme Court’s blanket ban had taken away their right under the Noise Pollution (Control and Regulation) Rules 2000 whereby loudspeakers cannot be used by anyone  --- including places of worship and religious institutions --- unless they obtain written permission from a relevant local authority (Rule 5) which was overruled.

 

Again in August 2016, Bombay High Court ruled loudspeaker use was not a Fundamental Right conferred by Article 25 and no religion or sect could claim so. “All places of religion are bound by noise pollution rules and no place shall use loudspeakers without permission.” Two years later in June Uttarakhand High Court set a five-decibel limit for loudspeakers even during day time. The noise level of a pin falling on the ground is 10 decibels, same as a person breathing.

 

The Karnataka High Court in September 2018 banned loudspeakers use after 10 pm directing Supreme Court guidelines be followed when authorities ban loudspeakers. In July next, Punjab and Haryana High Court banned loudspeakers at public places, including religious bodies temples, mosques and gurdwaras asserting they could be used only with prior permission and  noise level should not exceed permissible limit10 decibels. In July 2020 Uttarakhand High Court modified its 2018 limiting noise level at five decibels thus paving way for lifting loudspeakers ban at religious institutions.

 

In sharp contrast, the Karnataka High Court in January 2021 directed the State Government to act against illegal loudspeakers at religious places and issue directions to State Pollution Control Board and police to initiate action on loudspeakers use in religious places in violation of Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control ), Rules, 2000 and Supreme Court directions. In November it asked the State Government to explain under what legal provisions loudspeakers had been allowed in mosques, and what action is being taken to restrict their use.

 

Lost in political clamour and legalese, the story of how azaan should be rendered has a complicated history --- from the Prophet himself choosing a human voice instead of a mechanical device, loudspeakers were introduced in mosques in 1930s and used for azaan and khutbah (sermons). But in 1970s Muslims saw loudspeakers as shaitan as it was  installed as a bauble of superficial modernity to reflect the self-esteem of the community.

 

Islamic Saudi Arabia issued a directive in May last restricting mosque loudspeaker volumes to “one third of maximum,” though they are commonplace in Turkey and Morocco. In Netherlands only 7 to 8% of all mosques employ loudspeakers for azaan ditto in Germany, Switzerland, France, UK, Austria, Norway and Belgium. In Israel use of loudspeakers by religious institutions during rest hours is prohibited. Indonesia the world's most populous Muslim nation, has recognized the overzealous use of sound amplification by mosques as an environmental issue and is taking measures to curb the problem.

 

Alas, today loudspeakers are seen as a symbol of Muslim community asserting its presence in public space. This not-too-veiled sentiment is not lost on the majority community. Therefore, the resentment against it, which is deeper than what its sporadic expression suggests, is not against the call to prayer per se, but against the loud, in-your-face stamping of an identity-obsessed self-bothered presence.

 

Liberals aver Muslims need to reflect on whether attaching religious import to loudspeakers amounts to a reprehensible novelty called bid’at, --- an innovation which distorts religion. Also in an age of smartphones one can get numerous Islam apps to set off the azaan at appointed hours.

A random peek in any mosque during prayer time shows not many Muslims respond to the call. The footfall in mosques is negligible except for midday Friday prayers. And those who regularly go five times a day do not depend on azaan to be reminded of prayer time.

 

Undeniably from both practical and religious point there is no justification for using loudspeakers at mosques. Religion is not a ground to violate noise rules as loudspeakers not only create noise pollution that can be avoided but also create disturbances in festivities, mourning, sleep and  upset sick and elderly.

 

The thumb rule should be that sound should not go beyond the premises to enable people undertake their normal religious activities. However, there should be uniformity with rules applying for all religious places. After all, loudspeaker is a 20th-century invention, but religions are millennia old.

 

Ultimately, public morality and collective ethics are shaped by being mindful of one another’s space, individually and groups. If some practice is regularly being called out as nuisance, it is time for reflection rather than indignation. In a pluralist society, with a multiplicity of religions, the modus vivendi is to keep one’s practices private lest they step on another’s toes. Posturing of assertion is not the best formula for amity. What gives? ----- INFA

 

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

 

 

 

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