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Modi-Xi summit, Dalit unrest, judges’ appointment: What kept govt busy in April

In April, the government engineered radical foreign policy moves like the Wuhan summit. It also challenged judicial verdicts that had triggered Dalit unrest and brought in new policies to deal with sexual assault.

india Updated: Apr 30, 2018 11:01 IST
Hindustan Times
Wuhan summit,Modi-Xi meeting,Dalit unrest
Parliament House of India at Sansad Marg, Janpath Building in New Delhi. (Pradeep Gaur/ Mint photo)

April was a busy month for the government. If, on one hand, it engineered radical foreign policy moves like the Narendra Modi-Xi Jinping informal summit and strongly projected power through a major air force exercise, on the other, it challenged judicial verdicts that had triggered Dalit unrest and brought in new policies to deal with sexual assault. There was a recurring conflict with the court over appointments of judges, which made the executive’s relationship with the judiciary a central political issue. Here is a snapshot of 10 key ministries, the big issues they grappled with in April, their significance, and what to watch out for next:

MINISTRY OF
HOME AFFAIRS
BIG ISSUE
The ministry of home affairs revoked the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from the entire state of Meghalaya and select areas of Arunachal Pradesh. It also decided to relax the six decade old Protected Area Permit regime from Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur for five years with effect from April 1.
SIGNIFICANCE
AFSPA has long been criticised for encouraging impunity. With the government claiming that the security situation in much of NE has improved, it had leeway to revoke it partially. The Act is now applicable only in Nagaland, Manipur (excluding Imphal), Assam and parts of Arunachal.
MINISTRY OF
DEFENCE
BIG ISSUE
The Indian Air Force carried out the biggest exercise in its history, Gaganshakti-2018, involving 1,100 planes that clocked thousands of sorties during the 15-day drill. The two-phase air manoeuvres saw the concentration of the IAF’s deployed assets being moved from the western sector to the eastern front in less than 48 hours.
SIGNIFICANCE
Gaganshakti-2018 sought to test the IAF’s readiness and stamina for a two-front war with China and Pakistan who kept an eye on the exercise. The fighter jets recorded an impressive serviceability rate: 80% of them were available for missions at any given time.
MINISTRY OF
EXTERNAL AFFAIRS
BIG ISSUE
India and China had a landmark informal summit between PM Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping in Wuhan on April 27 and 28. They agreed to sustain ‘strategic communication’ at the top, issue ‘strategic guidance’ to their armed forces to maintain tranquility along the border, collaborate on a project in Afghanistan.
SIGNIFICANCE
After a year of deep strain in ties, including Doklam stand-off, the two powers wanted to iron out their differences at a time when there are re-alignment happening in international relations across the world.
MINISTRY OF INFORMATION & BROADCASTING
BIG ISSUE
The ministry issues a press release, proposing to withdraw accreditation of journalists found guilty of printing or broadcasting "fake news". The proposal elicited a sharp response from the media industry and criticism that it was meant to trample on free speech. The Prime Minister’s Office then had to step in to order the withdrawal of the release.
SIGNIFICANCE
The ministry claimed its proposal stemmed from concern over fake news, and its ramification on elections. But there was widespread concern that the proposed regulation could penalise even innocuous errors and curtail free media.
MINISTRY OF
WATER RESOURCES
BIG ISSUE
India has restarted negotiations this month with the new regime in Nepal on setting up the 6480 MW Pancheshwar multi-purpose hydro-electric project. The governing body meeting of the Pancheswar Development authority which has members of both India and Nepal, was held on April 25, followed by meeting of experts next month.
SIGNIFICANCE
India was waiting for the new regime to settle in Nepal before restarting negotiations. Some clauses of the treaty, like water allocation and power purchase, are still not completely resolved. Pancheswar Dam is important for many interlinking projects.
MINISTRY OF
AGRICULTURE
BIG ISSUE
The agriculture ministry announced an increase in the country’s foodgrains output target by 2% to a record 283.7 million tonnes of foodgrain production in 2018-19. They are basing this on a normal monsoon. The India Meteorological Department has said that the June-to-September south-west monsoon is likely to be 97%.
SIGNIFICANCE
The ministry aims to increase rice production to 113 mn tonnes and wheat to 100 mn tonnes in 2018-19. Higher food production will not just ensure inflation remains low but may also boost exports, as the government works to put a new farm exports policy in place.
MINISTRY OF HUMAN RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT
BIG ISSUE
The government filed a Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the SC to rescind a high court order that made it mandatory for the universities to reserve seats for Scheduled Cases and Scheduled Tribes based on departments and not university wise. All the institutions have been indirectly told new appointments should not be based on the new formula.
SIGNIFICANCE
Government had received a lot of flak and criticism and faced protests by Dalit groups too since the department-wise reservations could shrink number of reserved seats. The representation of SC/ST faculty members is already poor in higher education.
MINISTRY OF WOMEN & CHILD DEVELOPMENT
BIG ISSUE
The President signed the Criminal Law (Amendment) ordinance, allowing courts to award death penalty to convicts accused of raping a girl below 12 years. It also includes provisions for speedy probe and trial of rape cases, an increase in the minimum quantum of punishment for convicts, and scrapping of anticipatory bail if victim is a minor.
SIGNIFICANCE
The move was triggered by the rape of an eight-year-old girl in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua. Before the ordinance, the maximum punishment for aggravated sexual assault on children below 18 was life imprisonment.
MINISTRY OF LAW AND JUSTICE
BIG ISSUE
The ministry refused to elevate a district judge in Karnataka over allegations of sexual harassment. It also refused to accept the collegium’s recommendation of appointing Justice Ravindra Jain of Punjab and Haryana HC as a permanent judge. It sent back to the collegium its decision to elevate Uttarakhand HC chief justice KM Joseph.
SIGNIFICANCE
The executive-judiciary relationship has become a key national crisis. The government’s decision not to merely act as a ‘post-office’ on judicial appointments took place even as the opposition gave a notice for a motion to remove the Chief Justice.
MINISTRY OF SOCIAL JUSTICE & EMPOWERMENT
BIG ISSUE
After protests over the SC’s decision to bar automatic arrests under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989, the ministry filed a review petition in the apex court. It has also said if the SC sticks to its order, it will promulgate an ordinance to keep the act in its original form.
SIGNIFICANCE
While the SC said its March 20 order was to prevent the misuse of the law, government data shows conviction under the Act is below 25%. The Bharat Bandh of April 2 by Dalit groups was widespread, led to violence, and left the government rattled.

First Published: Apr 30, 2018 10:54 IST