Context: Pending ratification from Bhutan, India plans to operationalise BBIN motor vehicle agreement (MVA) with Bangladesh and Nepal for seamless movement of passenger and cargo vehicles.
Background: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) had signed a framework MVA in June 2015 to enable movement of passenger and cargo vehicles across borders among the four countries. Bhutan has not yet ratified the pact for its entry to come into force. However, Bhutan has given its consent for the BBIN MVA to enter into force amongst the other 3 countries i.e. Bangladesh, India and Nepal, who have already ratified it.
About BBIN agreement: The agreement encapsulates the spirit of economic integration emphasised in the SAARC Charter. The main objective of the agreement is to provide seamless people-to-people contact and enhance economic interaction by facilitating cross border movement of people and goods.
It would permit unhindered movement of passenger and cargo vehicles among the four countries. Cargo vehicles do not have to be changed at the border, a practice that has prevailed until now. As per the agreement, member countries would allow vehicles registered in the other countries to enter their territory under certain terms and conditions.
Customs and tariffs will be decided by the respective countries and these would be finalised at bilateral and trilateral forums. The BBIN agreement will promote safe, economical efficient and environmentally sound road transport in the sub-region and will further help each country in creating an institutional mechanism for regional integration
Asean regional forum, provides a setting for annual ministerial discussions on peace and security issues across the Asia-Pacific region. Established in 1994, it draws together 27 member states, including key players like the US, China, India, Japan, Russia, Australia and the two Koreas.
The regional forum’s most recent discussions were held along with three other meetings this month – the 18-nation East Asia Summit (whose membership extends from the US and New Zealand to India and Russia), the Asean Plus Three (China, Japan and South Korea) and Asean’s own annual ministerial discussions. These meetings, all at foreign minister level and held in quick succession in Singapore, advertised Asean’s esteemed centrality.
However, the Asean-centred extra-regional initiatives, characterised by minimal institutionalisation and consensual decision-making, serve primarily as “talking shops” for confidence building and improved co-operation. Like in Asean itself, the politics of lowest common denominator tends to prevail.
These forums have yet to move to a strategy of preventive diplomacy or conflict resolution. They have also not been able to tangibly contribute to building a rules-based order, including by reining in aggressive unilateralism by their own members, like China, Russia and the US.
Despite their limitations, the forums are seen by members as offering good value for promoting their foreign policy objectives.
The highlight of the Singapore meetings, however, was the announcement by China and Asean that they have agreed on a draft document that would serve as a basis for further negotiations for a code of conduct, or COC, in the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest waterways.
A COC was mandated by the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which exhorted all parties “to exercise self-restraint” with regard to “activities that would complicate or escalate disputes”. But that appeal was essentially ignored by China, which has fundamentally changed the status quo in the South China Sea in its favour, without incurring any international costs.
Sixteen years after that declaration, just an intention to negotiate a COC has been announced. By the time the actual COC emerges, China will have fully consolidated its control in the South China Sea, with the code only serving to reinforce the new reality. This explains why Beijing has delayed a COC while it presses ahead in the South China Sea with frenzied construction and militarisation.
Today, the South China Sea has emerged as Asean's Achilles heel, with its failure to take a unified stance aiding Beijing’s divide-and-rule strategy.
The rift in Asean between pro-China members and the rest has now become difficult to set right. By conveying disunity and weakness, Asean has emboldened China’s territorial and maritime revisionism, which, in turn, has made the South China Sea the world’s most critical hotspot.
Against this backdrop, the much-hyped announcement of a single draft document for future negotiations, with Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan hailing it as “yet another milestone in the COC process”, was just the latest example of how Asean has been playing right into China’s hands.
In fact, that announcement came soon after the second anniversary of the landmark ruling of an international arbitral tribunal, which knocked the bottom out of China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea. Since that ruling, which is now part of international law, China has only accelerated its expansionism, as if to make the verdict meaningless.
This is a reminder that international law by itself is no answer to China’s expansionism. If southeast Asia, a region of nearly 640 million people, is coerced into accepting Chinese hegemony, it will have a cascading geopolitical impact across the Indo-Pacific.
In Indra Sawhney vs Union Of India, 1992, the court capped caste-based reservation, ruling that “no provision of reservation or preference can be so vigorously pursued as to destroy the very concept of equality”.
“Since this Court has consistently held that the reservation under Articles 15(4) and 16(4) should not exceed 50% and the States and the Union have by and large accepted this as correct it should be held as constitutional prohibition and any reservation beyond 50% would liable to be struck down.”
How did the rule come about? In 1979, the Janata Party government constituted the Second Backward Classes Commission – popularly known as the Mandal Commission after its chairman, the Bihar MP Bindheshwar Mandal – with the mandate to identify India’s socially or educationally backward classes.
At the time, India already had reservation for Dalits and Adivasis. The Mandal Commission’s report, submitted in 1980, called for giving reservation to the Other Backward Classes, a vast conglomeration of castes that broadly fit the “shudra” category of the caste system. Soon after the report was submitted, however, the Congress returned to power and it was put in cold storage.
It took a decade and another non-Congress government, this time led by VP Singh, to implement the Mandal Commission’s recommendations, sparking a storm of protests and a petition to the Supreme Court which came to be known as the Indra Sawhney case.
Ruling on the petition, the court partially accepted the government’s new policy, allowing for 27% reservation for the Other Backward Classes, but put in a crucial rider: socially and economically advanced individuals among the Other Backward Classes will not be covered. The court also held that the share of jobs, or educational or legislative seats reserved for different communities cannot together exceed 50%.
Why 50%? The Other Backward Classes, as identified by the Mandal Commission, make up about 52% of India’s population according to the 1931 Census, the last enumeration of castes in the country. The court, however, did not deal with the question of population while ruling that although reservation was fine, it must be capped.
“Just as every power must be exercised reasonably and fairly, the power conferred by Clause (4) of Article 16 should also be exercised in a fair manner and within reasonably limits – and what is more reasonable than to say that reservation under Clause (4) shall not exceed 50% of the appointments or posts, barring certain extra-ordinary situations as explained hereinafter.”
The court has never explained why 50% is “reasonable”when the Other Backward Classes alone are at least 52% of the population. In any case, the 50% ceiling meant the Other Backward Classes received 27% share in the reservation pie while Dalits and Adivasis together got 22.5%, bring the total to 49.5%.
Why does Tamil Nadu have 69% reservation? If the lack of clarity on why 50% was a “reasonable limit” was not enough, Tamil Nadu added to the confusion by ensuring the Supreme Court’s judgement did not weaken its reservation system, which was more extensive than anywhere else in India. The state’s Assembly passed the Tamil Nadu Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Reservation of Seats in Educational Institutions and Appointments or Posts in the Services under the State) Act, 1993 to keep its reservation limit intact at 69%. The law was subsequently included into the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution through the 76th Constitution Amendment passed by Parliament in 1994.
As per the Disaster Management Act, 2005, “disaster” means a catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or man-made causes, or by accident or negligence which results in substantial loss of life or human suffering or damage to, and destruction of, property, or damage to, or degradation of, environment, and is of such a nature or magnitude as to be beyond the coping capacity of the community of the affected area.
A natural disaster includes earthquake, flood, landslide, cyclone, tsunami, urban flood, heatwave; a man-made disaster can be nuclear, biological and chemical.
There is no provision, executive or legal, to declare a natural calamity as a national calamity.
The 10th Finance Commission (1995-2000) examined a proposal that a disaster be termed “a national calamity of rarest severity” if it affects one-third of the population of a state.
The panel did not define a “calamity of rare severity” but stated that a calamity of rare severity would necessarily have to be adjudged on a case-to-case basis taking into account, inter-alia, the intensity and magnitude of the calamity, level of assistance needed, the capacity of the state to tackle the problem, the alternatives and flexibility available within the plans to provide succour and relief, etc.
The flash floods in Uttarakhand and Cyclone Hudhud were later classified as calamities of “severe nature”.
When a calamity is declared to be of “rare severity”/”severe nature”, support to the state government is provided at the national level. The Centre also considers additional assistance from the NDRF. A Calamity Relief Fund (CRF) is set up, with the corpus shared 3:1 between Centre and state.
When resources in the CRF are inadequate, additional assistance is considered from the National Calamity Contingency Fund (NCCF), funded 100% by the Centre. Relief in repayment of loans or for grant of fresh loans to the persons affected on concessional terms, too, are considered once a calamity is declared “severe”.
As per the National Policy on Disaster Management, 2009, the National Crisis Management Committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary deals with major crises that have serious or national ramifications.
For calamities of severe nature, inter-ministerial central teams are deputed to the affected states for assessment of damage and relief assistance required. An inter-ministerial group, headed by the Union Home Secretary, studies the assessment and recommends the quantum of assistance from the NDRF/National Calamity Contingency Fund (NCCF).
Based on this, a high-level committee comprising the Finance Minister as chairman and the Home Minister, Agriculture Minister, and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman as members approves the central assistance.