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Sunday, January 24, 2010

National project: Centre may pick Polavaram

Hyderabad: The state governments efforts to get national project status for four irrigation projects seem to have hit a roadblock. Official sources said the Centre is planning to extend the status to only one project per state as almost all riparian states have made similar demands. The state government is seeking national project stamp to Polavaram, Pranahita Chevella, Dummugudem and Kanthalapalli lift irrigation projects. Former chief minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy had made several representations to the Centre on this issue.

The Polavaram project may be selected by the Centre, sources said, as all required clearances have been obtained. The Central Water Commission has also been informed that the areas to be submerged under the project would be restricted only to areas within Andhra Pradesh. Submergence of areas was a major bone of contention between Andhra, Orissa and Chhattisgarh which have been fighting a long battle on the issue, with the neighbouring states opposing the construction of the project.

This project would have a 163-km length left main canal and would be designed to carry 14,000 cusecs of water. It envisages construction of a reservoir with a live storage of 75.20 tmc ft of water, restricting submersion within the state. The project is estimated to cost over Rs 10,000 crore and will provide irrigation facilities to 23.21 lakh acres in Krishna, West Godavari, Visakhapatnam , Vizianagaram and Srikakulam districts . It will also divert 80 tmc of water to the Krishna delta.
10 laws that shaped THE REPUBLIC

The rule of law is a fundamental requirement for the success of liberal democracy. But laws are not carved in stone; they can, and do, change to reflect changing times and new realities. TOI presents some milestones of Indian legislation in the last 60 years and the landmark tussles over them between the three organs of the State - Manoj Mitta
In the beginning, laws were about laying the Republics infrastructure. As it matured over the years, laws reflected the sophistication of its superstructure . If a law passed in the early years was meant to realize the basic promise of holding free and fair elections, a recent one was designed to make the system more transparent and accountable. The evolution of laws tells its own tale about the 60-year-old Republic.

1. Fleshing out democracy :-The Election Commission of India was constituted on January 25, 1950, just a day before the Constitution came into force. It is no coincidence that the Indian republics first major legislative measure was to implement its Constitutional commitment to usher in universal adult franchise. What has fleshed out the worlds biggest ever experiment in democracy is a set of two laws bearing the same name, which was borrowed from Britain, the Representation of the People Acts 1950 and 1951. While the 1950 Act laid down the procedure and machinery for preparing electoral rolls and demarcating constituencies , the 1951 Act did the same for conducting elections, from their notification to the declaration of results. In the many amendments that have since been made to the two RP Acts, the canvassing period, for instance, has been reduced from a month to a fortnight.

2. Shielding agrarian reforms :-The first Constitutional amendment, piloted by Nehru in 1951, effected far-reaching changes in diverse areas. First, it imposed reasonable restrictions on the freedom of speech and expression and the freedom to practice any profession or carry on any occupation, trade or business. Second , overturning a judicial verdict against reservations , it introduced a clause clarifying that any special provision that the state might make for the educational, social or economic advancement of any backward class could not be challenged on the ground of being discriminatory. Given the priority then of dismantling the zamindari system, the most politically sensitive aspect of the first Constitutional amendment was the introduction of the Ninth Schedule to insulate agrarian reforms from legal challenge. The Ninth Schedule served very well as a shield to the various land reforms laws passed by states in the first three decades after Independence.

3. Reforming Hindu customs:- When Ambedkar introduced his comprehensive Hindu Code Bill in Parliament in February 1951, there was such opposition to it that he resigned as law minister within seven months. It was only after it won the first Lok Sabha elections in 1952 did  Nehru govt muster the courage to revive Hindu reform agenda, that too in the form of piecemeal legislation. Even so, Hindu Marriage Act 1955 was revolutionary as it outlawed polygamy and introduced the concept of divorce in a community that believed that marriage was a sacrament which bound a couple together birth after birth. Equally significant , the Hindu Succession Act 1956 conferred full ownership on women for their share of the family property rather than the limited rights that had been traditionally given.

4.Taking on untouchability:- For all the social reforms made during colonial rule, the Constitution abolished untouchability for the first time. The Republic took another five years to back the abolition with a law that penalizes various manifestations of untouchability, the Protection of Civil Rights Act 1955. Since this law was however confined to instances of caste prejudice and discrimination, the Rajiv Gandhi government came up with the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 to deal with the more violent caste-driven offences. Despite the poor record of their enforcement, the very enactment of the two untouchability-related laws had its own symbolic value. India has been flogging it to counter efforts before the UN to treat caste as a form of human rights violations.

5. Redrawing the political map:- The seventh Constitutional amendment enacted in 1956 introduced the concepts of linguistic states and Union territories, both of which have stood the test of time. Though the demand for linguistic states was widespread, the impetus came from the fatal hunger strike of Potti Sreeramulu in 1952 for carving out Andhra state from the Telugu-speaking districts of the composite Madras state. The formation of the Andhra state in 1953 was followed by the appointment of the States Reorganization Commission (SRC), which did not however agree with  idea of redrawing boundaries purely on linguistic basis. Though SRC recommended formation of a separate Telangana state with Hyderabad as its capital, the government , bowing to the pressure of Andhra leaders, merged the two Telugu-speaking regions in 1956 to create Andhra Pradesh. Similarly, though SRC recommended that Bombay remain a composite state encompassing Gujarati and Marathi speaking districts, the govt yielded in 1960 to the demand for creating Maharashtra by merging all the Marathi speaking districts.

6. Checking defections:- After bagging the largest ever majority in the 1984 election held under the shadow of Indira Gandhis murder and the subsequent massacre of Sikhs, Rajiv Gandhi came up with the long overdue anti-defection law, in the form of the 52nd Constitutional amendment in 1985. But it only made defections harder, not impossible. Politicians exploited the loophole that recognized a defection by at least onethird of the members of a legislature party as a split. The Vajpayee government plugged this loophole with the 91st Constitutional amendment in 2003. The only way defections can now take place is through the merger route, when at least twothirds of the members of a legislature party agree to its merger with another.

7. Special law for Muslims:- This law is widely believed to have triggered a chain of events that under -mined secularism: Rise of Hindutva , revival of BJP, outbreaks of communal violence, demolition of Babri Masjid and terrorism. For, when the Rajiv Gandhi government came up with the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce)Act 1986, it was seen as an attempt to appease Muslim fundamentalis-ts by overturning the Supreme Court verdict in the Shah Bano case. While the court rendered a Muslim husband liable to pay maintenance to his deserted wife, the law enacted in the wake of the judgment gave the man the option of making a one-time provision within three months for her lifetime depending on his economic status. Ironically , for all the calumny heaped on this special law, the benefits received under it by Muslim women in many cases have turned out to be far greater than they could possibly have got under the secular law.

8. Grassroots democracy:- The Gandhian dream of Gram Swaraj (village self-governance ) entered the realm of possibility in 1992 when the Narasimha Rao government pushed through the 73rd Constitutional amendment . Panchayati Raj, which had for decades been ad hoc and notoriously bereft of powers and funds, suddenly acquired Constitutional trappings. Besides taking democracy to the grassroots, the Panchayati Raj law demonstrated the efficacy of reserving one-third of the constituencies for women, a provision that has been repeatedly blocked in the case of the two higher layers of governance . It was also closely followed by the 74th Constitutional amendment to institutionalize Nagar Palikas in urban areas.

9. Piercing the veil of secrecy:- If this law enacted barely five years ago has put even the Chief Justice of India on the defensive , that too repeatedly, there can be no better measure of the extent of its impact. Not surprising , given that the Right to Information Act 2005 is acknowledged as one of the most  progre -ssive transparency laws in the world. Besides specifying the limited organizations and categories of information exempted from its purview, RTI provided for independent appellate bodies and penalties for errant officials. But the Manmohan Singh government, instead of basking in glory of its enactment, has already made two abortive attempts to dilute it. It is increasingly clear to rulers that whoever opposes RTI is on the wrong side of history.

10. Welfare on steroids:- No list of Indias seminal laws can be complete without the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) 2005. For, this law, recently renamed after Mahatma Gandhi, is undoubtedly the most ambitious welfare scheme in the 60-year history of the Republic. The security of guaranteed employment for 100 days in a year to every rural household volunteering to do unskilled manual work has shown the greatest potential as an anti-poverty measure. If Rajasthan can claim credit to have pioneered RTI before it was adopted at the national level, Maharashtra is the progenitor of the concept of guaranteed rural employment. There is happy synergy between the two major enactments of the Manmohan Singh government. RTI is being used by activists as a safeguard to prevent intermediaries from diverting or misusing NREGA funds.
Day of destiny: Why 26 Jan became our Republic Day

No political campaign in history has ever succeeded without symbolism. Indias freedom movement was no exception. Its careful adoption of many potent symbols helped unite a large, diverse land to fight for freedom in singular fashion. January 26 was one such symbolic choice, a selection made to recall a distinct moment in the long march to Indian independence . That choice of date was made at the 1930 Lahore session of the Indian National Congress, where the Tricolour as we know it was raised for the first time. It was decided there that January 26 would from then on be marked by all freedom fighters as Purna Swaraj Day , a call for complete self-rule . This was an Independence Day before the actual event. August 15 was not a matter of choice given to the Congress, as events hurtled to make the British transfer power to Nehrus provisional government on that day in 1947. India gained freedom to become a dominion then, still formally owing some allegiance to the British Crown its why coinage and stamps of that period still retain a bust of George VI.

A constituent assembly was formed soon after to rectify that, and a drafting committee was given the responsibility of coming up with a Constitution. It did that job admirably by the middle of 1949, and the assembly approved a new constitution on November 25. It was signed by all members on January 24, 1950 and came into effect two days later, as Rajendra Prasad took office as President of the new Republic of India . Almost by design, it appeared, January 26 had returned to the national consciousness , always to be celebrated as Republic Day.

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