False dichotomy: On merit versus reservation

The Supreme Court has once again addressed the ‘merit versus reservation’ debate, a misleading binary that has engaged public and judicial discourse for years. While ruling in favour of extending reservation to OBCs in the all-India quota (AIQ) of seats in admission to under-graduate and post-graduate medical and dental courses, the Court has concluded that the binary has become superfluous. The courts have now come to recognise the idea of ‘substantive equality’, which sees affirmative action not as an exception to the equality rule, but as a facet of the equality norm. ‘Formal equality’, or the principle that everyone competes on an equal footing, is inadequate to address social inequalities and the inherent disadvantages of the less advanced sections, necessitating provisions that help them compete with the advanced classes. The competitive examination may be necessary for distribution of educational opportunities, but it does not enable equal opportunity for those competing without
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A stellar fallacy: On hasty assessment of environmental costs

A move by the Union Environment Ministry to implement a ‘star-rating system’ has sparked controversy after one of its official communiqués became public. Under this scheme, State-level environment committees that appraise industrial projects on their potential environmental risk would be incentivised with points for “transparency, efficiency and accountability”. This idea followed a Union Cabinet meeting this month to facilitate the Government’s broader commitment to ‘Ease of Doing Business’. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is one of the cornerstones of ensuring that the ecological costs of infrastructure development are minimal. Prospective projects above a certain size and with a potential to significantly alter the natural environment must be first approved by the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) comprising State officers and independent experts. Projects that are even bigger or involve forest land — category A — must be cleared by an expert committee
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Wrong remedy: On IAS, IPS deputation rule changes

That the wrong remedy could exacerbate an ailment and not cure it is a well understood adage. This holds true for the Union government’s (Department of Personnel & Training – DoPT) proposals to amend Rule 6 related to deputation of cadre officers of the IAS (Cadre) Rules 1954. Reports have shown that the deputation from States to the Union government has been uneven. Some States have not nominated officers for deputation adequately to work with the Union government; in this, West Bengal (11 out of the 280 officers are on central deputation), Rajasthan (13 out of 247) and Telangana (7 out of an authorised strength of 208) stand out. This has led to vacancies across Union government ministries. Numbers accessed by The Hindu show that actual deputation as a percentage of the mandated reserves fell from 69% (2014) to 30% (2021), suggesting that there is merit in the DoPT’s identification of shortages in deputation being an issue. But does this necessitate the rule changes proposed by


Himalayan questions: On environment and Uttarakhand polls

In the run-up to the February 14 Uttarakhand Assembly elections, temples and development are among the issues raised by politicians. Former Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat’s attempt to bring the four shrines of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri as well as other temples under one board ended with the 2019 Act being withdrawn in November 2021, after continued opposition from priests. The new Chief Minister, Pushkar Singh Dhami, who in July 2021 replaced Tirath Singh Rawat, who had replaced Mr. Trivendra Singh Rawat in March of the same year, carried out a review. Mr. Dhami said while the decision to constitute the board may have been taken with good intentions, it had been rolled back after discussion within the Government. Going into the elections, everyone from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to local leaders in the BJP have touted the redevelopment of Kedarnath as among the achievements of what they call the “double engine” government in the Centre and


Court and compensation: On ex gratia to kin of COVID-19 victims

It took much persuasion by the Supreme Court and all its assertiveness to get the Union government to agree last year to pay a token compensation of ₹50,000 to the families of each of those who were claimed by COVID-19. The time has now come for the Court to assert its authority once again to ensure that neither tardiness on the part of the States nor incorrect rejection of claims deprives genuine victims of their right to the ex gratia amount. In the latest hearing, the Court had to pull up a couple of States for not disbursing the amount fast enough and express concern about the high number of rejected claims. In the backdrop of reports that there has been significant under-reporting of deaths due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Bench had passed orders some months ago to the effect that no person’s family shall be denied the benefit on the ground that the death certificate did not specify the cause of death as due to COVID-19. Early experience since the outbreak showed that

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