WHY IN NEWS?
Samvidhaan has been selected as the Oxford Hindi word of the year for 2019.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN IN MODERN TIMES?
With modernity, it has come to mean the rules a society chooses to live by, those basic principles under which politics, society and individuals find themselves.
Like the bones that form the frame for the human body — usually unnoticed by the conscious mind, but sources of overwhelming pain when they crack and break — the structures on which India is built are under strain. For some time, the values of the Constitution were taken for granted, and society and state chugged along. In the last few years, though, these core principles have been challenged.
WHAT ARE THE QUESTIONS BEING RAISED ABOUT THE CONSTITUTION?
What is the relationship between faith and equality, and to what extent can the state interfere in the former in the interests of the latter? Can the compact between a state and the Union be unilaterally revoked? And, of course, is the road to Indian citizenship mediated by the religion of the applicant? These are the questions that have made “samvidhaan” the word that defined 2019.
In 1950, it was after extensive samvaad (dialogue) that the Constituent Assembly finalised the samvidhaan. Today, there is samvaad of a different, but perhaps no less important kind. As the debate about the Constitution takes it from the bookshelf to the street, if only because of the alleged destruction of the values it espouses, members of a new generation have found a resource to define themselves.
ISSUE: BANKING REFORMS
WHY IN NEWS?
On Tuesday, the Union Finance Ministry announced its decision to modify the 2015 framework on large value frauds, doing away with the “personal responsibility” of the managing director and the chief executive officer of public sector banks for large-value frauds.
WHAT GOVERNMENT HAS DONE?
The government has now delegated powers to boards of banks to put in place suitable mechanisms for ensuring compliance with the various timelines laid out by the RBI and the CVC.
With this decision, the government hopes to placate bankers who have been reluctant to take decisions for fear of being hauled up by the 3Cs — the CBI, CAG and CVC — if loans turn non-performing, even after appropriate appraisals.
With the heads of several banks facing action, bankers have tended to play it safe — preferring not to act rather than risk retribution later — on grounds that the lines between genuine commercial failure and culpability were being blurred. This fear has made bankers cautious in loan disbursements, slowing credit flow in the economy. These fears have in the past also made banks reluctant to resolve their bad debts by taking haircuts for fear of being investigated either on the rationale or the quantum of the haircut by investigative agencies.
WHAT DOES GOVERNMENT HOPES?
The government hopes that with this modification and its stated intent to protect honest commercial decisions taken by bankers, and ensuring that distinction is made between genuine commercial failures and culpability, these fears will be eased and credit flow to the economy will pick up, stimulating economic activity.
Bankers need to be able to take decisions without fear. Doing away with the “personal responsibility” of bank MD or CEO does not go far enough. Doing away with the problem altogether requires either outright privatisation or lowering the level of government ownership in public sector banks below the threshold of 51 per cent (not retaining their public character). So far though, the government has not shown any intention of doing so.
ISSUE: BREXIT DEAL APPROVAL BY EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT
WHY IN NEWS?
The European Parliament Thursday approved the terms for the UK’s departure from the European Union. There were 621 votes for and 49 against the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement deal, with 13 abstentions. This marked the final stage in the ratification process of Brexit, or Britain’s exit from the EU, a process that has been going on for more than three years.
When did the Brexit process start?
The first public vote on Brexit happened on June 23, 2016, when 52 per cent of voters chose to leave the EU. David Cameron, who was the prime minister at the time, had announced he will hold a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU if his party won the 2013 general elections. After Cameron was voted in for a second term, the European Union Referendum Act, 2015 was passed and the referendum was held in June 2016.
Cameron resigned a day after the referendum since he supported UK staying in the EU. He was succeeded by Theresa May.
Brexit was meant to happen on March 29, 2019 two years after May had triggered Article 50, which officially signified the decision of the UK to leave the EU. These two years were given to May’s government to come up with a deal to leave the EU.
The March 29 deadline was delayed twice after MPs rejected the withdrawal deal negotiated by May with the EU.
This withdrawal deal was negotiated by May with the EU and was agreed upon in November 2018. After the MPs rejected the deal for the third time, May resigned and was succeeded by Boris Johnson. The central sticking point for the MPs were the Irish backstops, which determine the nature of the border between Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland.
At present, people and goods can move freely between the two areas because both are part of the EU’s single market and customs union, but the border situation will change post-Brexit.
Having the backstops means there would be no border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, something which was opposed by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland since they see the backstops as weakening Northern Ireland’s position within the UK.
Essentially, having backstops would mean Northern Ireland would follow the same rules as the Republic of Ireland and the EU. In fact, these backstops were one of the main reasons why May had to resign.
Now under Johnson, the backstops have been removed and instead his deal will lead to the creation of a barrier between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
What is the significance of the European Parliament’s vote?
The Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) became law on January 23, 2020 when it was passed all stages in Parliament and was given the Royal Assent. WAB gives the UK government provisions through which it can ratify the Brexit process.
According to BBC, Wednesday’s session was “largely symbolic” since it was “inevitable” that the deal would be endorsed by the Parliament, given its main committees have already given their approval. Therefore, the ratification by the European Parliament was simply a formal approval of a decision that was already known.
After the UK leaves the EU a 23.00 GMT on January 31, there will be an 11-month long transition period, during which the UK and EU will negotiate the nature of their post-Brexit economic relationship.
Until then the UK will remain in the EU’s single market and customs union and the movement of people between the UK and the rest of the EU will also continue.