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20 February 2017 Editorial


20 FEBRUARY 2017

Marred by violence

UPDATED: FEBRUARY 20, 2017 00:22 IST

Grace and poise in the face of imminent defeat is a rare political virtue. Even so, the behaviour of the MLAs of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam during the confidence vote moved by Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami in the Tamil Nadu Assembly marks an abysmal low. When it became clear that Mr. Palaniswami would carry the confidence vote, DMK members resorted to violence to stall the proceedings citing one excuse or another. They tore up papers, broke furniture, smashed microphones and took over the Speaker’s chair. After adjourning the House to see if he could restore a measure of calm, Speaker P. Dhanapal ordered the eviction of the DMK members. Members of the Congress, an ally of the DMK, walked out in protest. Those left in their seats were only the two factions of the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, one led by Chief Minister Palaniswami and the other by former Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam. Admittedly, this is hardly the ideal situation in which to hold a trust vote. However, the fact that Mr. Palaniswami won the vote 122 to 11, getting four votes more than what constitutes an absolute majority in the 234-member legislature, has lent his victory the political legitimacy he sorely needed at this juncture. True, some of the MLAs voted for the motion fearing disqualification, but this is no argument for the vote to have been conducted by secret ballot. Governor Ch. Vidyasagar Rao, after due consideration, had quite correctly not taken to the idea of a composite floor test, a course which might have given protection to members from disqualification on ground of defection. Mr. Palaniswami was sworn in on the basis of signed letters of support from AIADMK MLAs, and he did not lose time in convening the House for the motion of confidence. If there were procedural irregularities during the trust vote, these were largely on account of the actions of DMK members.

The Leader of the Opposition, M.K. Stalin of the DMK, might have his reasons to feel aggrieved by the turn of events, but the proper forum for him to approach is not the Raj Bhavan or the court, but the legislature. If he believes that the AIADMK members, who were confined in a beach resort by the party leadership for the better part of two weeks, need more time to make an informed choice in the confidence vote, he can move a no-confidence motion against the government after giving due notice. But the suggestion that AIADMK members have statutory protection from disqualification under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution is irrational. Mr. Stalin cannot look for political short cuts by condoning violence in the Assembly and questioning the legitimacy of a government enjoying, to the extent it can be institutionally ascertained, the support of a majority of the elected members of the House. Mr. Stalin’s time may well come, but he needs to show more patience than he did last Saturday.

Composite floor test

  •  If there is more than one person staking claim to form the government and the majority is not clear the governor may call for a special session to see who has the majority.
  •  Some legislators may be absent or choose not to vote.
  •  The majority is then counted based on those present and voting.
  •  This can be done through a voice vote, where the legislators respond orally, or through a division vote.
  •  In case of a division vote, voting can be done using electronic gadgets, slips or in a ballot box. Ballot box is usually a secret voting - just like how people vote during state or parliamentary elections.
  •  The person who has the majority will be allowed to form the government.
  •  In case there is a tie, the speaker can cast his vote.
  •  In 1998 experiment in Uttar Pradesh, such a composite floor test was ordered, and the winner decided, under the direction of the Supreme Court.

Smoke on the water

The extraordinary sight of a lake in Bengaluru on fire, with a massive plume of smoke that could be seen from afar, is a warning sign that urban environments are crashing under the weight of official indifference. If wetlands are the kidneys of the cities, as scientists like to describe them, Karnataka’s capital city has entered a phase of chronic failure. No longer the city of lakes and famed gardens, it has lost an estimated 79% of water bodies and 80% of its tree cover from the baseline year of 1973. Successive governments in the State have ignored the rampant encroachment of lake beds and catchment areas for commercial exploitation, and the pollution caused by sewage, industrial effluents and garbage, which contributed to the blaze on Bellandur lake. The neglect is deliberate, since some of the finest urban ecologists in the city have been warning that government inaction is turning Bengaluru into an unliveable mess. It is time the State government took note of the several expert recommendations that have been made, including those of the Centre for Ecological Sciences of the Indian Institute of Science. The priority, clearly, is to end pollution outfalls into the water bodies, which will help revive them to an acceptable state of health. Identifying all surviving wetlands and demarcating them using digital and physical mapping will help communities monitor encroachments, while removal of land-grabbers and restoration of interconnecting channels is crucial to avoid future flooding events.

Loss of natural wetlands is an ongoing catastrophe in India. A decade ago, when the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History released a conservation atlas for all States using space applications, it reported the tragic fact that 38% of wetlands had already been lost nationally; and shockingly, in some districts only 12% survived. The Centre has since issued rules for conservation and management, and chosen 115 water bodies in 24 States for protection support, but this is obviously too little. Moreover, research studies show that the concentration of heavy metals in such sites is leading to bioaccumulation, thus entering the plants and animals that ultimately form part of people’s food. It should worry not just Bengaluru’s residents, for instance, that soil scientists have found higher levels of cadmium in green vegetables grown using water from Bellandur. More broadly, the collapse of environmental management because of multiple, disjointed agencies achieving little collectively and legal protections remaining unimplemented pose a serious threat to public health. Every city needs a single lake protection authority. India’s worsening air quality is now well documented, and most of its wetlands are severely polluted. Citizens must assert themselves to stop this perilous course.

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