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JULY 25,2017

Bilateral catalyst

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to the U.S. is likely to deepen bilateral ties in multiple strategic areas. Among them, science and technology, a key driver for innovation and job creation in both countries, needs to take centre stage.
  • Over the years, knowledge and technology have become central to most of the bilateral agreements and strategic dialogues between the two countries.
    • Bilateral agreements such as the Partnership to Advance Clean Energy and joint participation in mega projects in the areas of fundamental science such as the High Intensity Superconducting Proton Accelerator, the Thirty Meter Telescope, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Observatory and the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar Mission will have a far-reaching impact.

The science landscape

  • Learning from U.S. institutions the practices of the innovation value chain — ranging from ideation to prototyping and business-friendly incubation of the prototypes and the fostering of a proper legal and investor-friendly milieu — will make a visible difference on the ground.
  • Second, an innovation does not necessarily have to be of the cutting-edge kind. The right solutions should be need-based and affordable.
    • The ongoing efforts to promote innovation and entrepreneurship through initiatives like the U.S.-India Science and Technology Endowment Fund, the Stanford-India Biodesign Programme and the Khorana Technology Transfer programme should be strengthened to enhance the efficiency and productivity of our emerging innovation system.

Deepening of ties

  • A database of U.S.-based inventors, their inventions and technologies relevant to India needs to be created.
  • Further, the existing collaborative partnerships and student exchange programmes between research institutions and universities in both the countries need to be strengthened at various levels — including university-to-university, university-to-industry, industry-to-industry, and consortia-to-consortia levels.
  • Joint incubators, to enable Indian start-ups to introduce products in the U.S. market and to facilitate U.S.-based start-ups to enter India with inflow of technologies, mentors and best business practices, should be set up.
  • Finally, the knowledge and skills of the successful Indian diaspora and Indophiles in the American administration should be leveraged to not only support the Indian start-up ecosystem but also to raise funds for programmes that will help India achieve inclusive development.
    • India’s pledge to manufacture locally, create more jobs and stay ahead of the competition can be redeemed to a great extent by marrying the Indian skills of low-cost innovation, for example in launching satellites and in space exploration, with the American prowess in science and technology.


Taxing times for the States

  • The new Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime, introduced by way of the 101st Constitutional Amendment, is based on a fundamental notion that uniformity in tax administration across the country is an idea worth cherishing.

Denting fiscal autonomy

  • The GST, far from being a case of “cooperative federalism”, is really an incursion into the authority that India’s States have been permitted under the Constitution. The resultant withering of the States’ fiscal independence strikes at the core of the Constitution’s basic structure which the Supreme Court has held is inviolable.

Partners in taxation

  • In this constitutional scheme, where State governments are seen as equal partners, the founders thought it necessary to be very careful in allocating the powers of taxation. The partition made for this purpose was highly intricate, and they ensured that the taxes assigned to the Union and the States were mutually exclusive.
  • This division of fiscal responsibility was made with a view to making States self-sufficient, and with a view to supplying to regional powers the flexibility needed to govern according to the respective needs of their people. The underlying idea here was that States should be uninhibited in tinkering taxation policies in whatever manner they desired so long as their laws conformed to the other constitutional diktats.

Confusion over GST Council

  • In endeavouring to pursue the goal of creating a single market through a homogenisation of the tax regime, the amendment grants to both the Union and the State governments concomitant powers over nearly all indirect taxes.
  • To further effectuate this effort, the law also creates a GST Council, which comprises the Union Finance Minister, the Union Minister of State in charge of revenue or finance, and the minister in charge of finance from each State government.
    • In acting as a nodal agency of sorts, this council will recommend a number of things, among others the list of taxes that will be subsumed by the GST, the goods and services that will be exempt from the levy of tax, the rates at which tax shall be levied, and so forth.
    • The council’s decisions will require a three-fourths majority, but the Central government’s votes will have a weightage of one-third of the total votes cast, according, thereby, to the Union a virtual veto.
  • The newly introduced Article 279A, which creates the council, describes its decisions as “recommendations”, but it also grants the council the power to establish a mechanism to adjudicate any dispute that might arise between any of its members in implementing the recommendations. If the council’s recommendations are to be treated as purely advisory, it leaves us wondering why we need a dispute resolution mechanism at all.
  • On the other hand, if these recommendations are treated as obligatory, we are left with a situation where States would have altogether surrendered their fiscal autonomy to the Central government. In such a case, a State would be barred from fashioning its laws in a manner befitting the necessities of its people.

What’s brewing in Darjeeling

The current crisis

  • In May, the West Bengal government announced Bengali as a compulsory language in schools across the State. By June, this triggered protests and claims of ‘linguistic imperialism’ in the Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts (where the lingua franca is Nepali). Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee then decided to hold a Cabinet meeting in Darjeeling for the first time in over 40 years. Little effort was made to include representatives of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA) or the three hill MLAs, eliciting protests. The ensuing clash with police left government property destroyed and many protesters injured. The Army was brought in to staunch unrest, but it escalated instead. Subsequent protests and crackdowns have led to further destruction and deaths.

The crux of the movement

  • The Gorkhaland movement is a long-standing quest for a separate State of Gorkhalandwithin India for Nepali-speaking Indian citizens (often known as ‘Gorkhas’).
  • Contra popular misunderstanding, the movement is neither separatist nor anti-nationalist; it is about inclusion and belonging in India.
  • As Gorkha National Liberation Front founder Subash Ghisingh explained during the first Gorkhaland agitation in the 1980s, “We Nepali-Indians who have nothing to do with Nepal are constantly confused with ‘Nepalis’, that is, citizens of Nepal, a foreign country. But if there is Gorkhaland then our belonging to an Indian State, just like your identity, will be clear.”
  • With those demands unrequited, a second Gorkhaland movement emerged in 2007 under the leadership ofBimal Gurung of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) and has flared intermittently.
  • It stands as a key means to redress the Gorkhas’ enduring history of discrimination, misconception, and marginalisation in India.
  • By demanding Gorkhaland, the people of Darjeeling-Kalimpong are opting out of West Bengal’s domination, and opting in to the democratic frameworks of India writ large.

Reasons for resurgence

  • The political circumstances are equally frustrating.
  • West Bengal’s recent creation of the Kalimpong district (2017) and the State’s doling out of Tribal Development Boards to ethnicities within the Gorkha conglomerate (Tamang, Sherpa, etc.) might appear well-intended gestures but in paving the way for the TMC’s electoral gains, they appear to many as clear examples of ‘divide and rule’ — causing splits in the Gorkha electorate and undermining the already-limited authority of the GTA.
  • For Gorkhas, the troubling realities of colonial and present-day Darjeeling are eerily similar: linguistic chauvinism, ethnic and racial discrimination, resource extraction, unilateral territorial claims, the denial of self-governance, political suppression; and ultimately, an unwillingness to respect the ‘native point of view’. This double bind of colonial nostalgia and neocolonial regional domination produces a sense of constant déjà vu, leading to the desperate feeling that genuine progress is out of reach.