a) Justice in tumult: on the turmoil in Supreme Court

There is absolutely no doubt that the Chief Justice of India is the master of the roster. So, it is impossible to dispute the legal reasoning behind Chief Justice Dipak Misra’s ruling that no one but he can decide the composition of Benches and allocation of judicial work in the Supreme Court. However, the circumstances in which he had to assert this authority have the potential to greatly diminish the court’s lustre. The scenes witnessed in the court amidst troubling allegations of possible judicial corruption are worrisome for their capacity to undermine the high esteem that the judiciary enjoys. Chief Justice Misra chose to stick to the letter of the law, but there remain troublesome questions about potential conflict of interest in his decision to overrule Justice J. Chelameswar’s extremely unusual order that delineated the composition of a Constitution Bench to hear a writ petition seeking a fair probe into the corruption allegations. It is a fact that in the Prasad Education Trust case, the petitions alleging that some individuals, including a retired Orissa High Court judge, were plotting to influence the Supreme Court, had been heard by a Bench headed by Chief Justice Misra. However, it would be perverse and irresponsible to attribute corrupt motives without compelling evidence. At the same time, by heading the Bench himself, the Chief Justice may have contributed to the perception that he will preside over a hearing in his own cause, rather than leaving it to another set of judges to reiterate the legal position on who has the sole say in deciding the roster. Justice Chelameswar, the senior-most puisne judge, may have passed his order based on the petitioner’s claim that there would be a conflict of interest were the Chief Justice to choose the Bench. But in doing so, he chose to ignore the principle that allocation of judicial work is the preserve of the Chief Justice. Both justices may have found themselves in a situation in which law and strict propriety do not converge. As for the lawyer-activists involved, it is one thing to flag corruption, another to foster the impression that they want to choose the judges who will hear them. The only way to end the current turmoil in the judicial and legal fraternity is to ensure that the Central Bureau of Investigation holds an impartial probe in the case registered by it. The involvement of serving judges may only be a remote possibility, but it is vital to find out whether the suspected middlemen had any access to them. Unfortunate fallout of the controversy is the perception of a rift among the country’s top judges. To some, the charges may represent an attempt to undermine the judiciary. These perceptions should not result in the sidestepping of the real issue raised by the CBI’s FIR: the grim possibility of the judiciary being susceptible to corruption. Tumult and turmoil should not overshadow this substantive issue.

b) Why ABBA must go: on Aadhaar

In a sickening way, October 2017 was like October 2002.

Fifteen years ago, in Rajasthan’s Baran and Udaipur districts, there was a spate of starvation deaths. The government of the time made up fanciful stories to deny that the deaths had anything to do with hunger or government failure. In October 2017, the death of an 11-year-old Dalit child, Santoshi Kumari, of Jharkhand, was widely reported. She had been pleading with her mother to give her rice as she slipped into unconsciousness and lost her life. The government insists that she had malaria but in video testimonies, her mother, Koyli Devi, says she had no fever. After Santoshi’s death, more hunger deaths have been reported, of which at least one, Ruplal Marandi, is related to the government’s Aadhaar experiment. The starvation deaths in 2002 became the springboard for positive action on many fronts, which included the passing of judicial orders and even political action. Since then, there has been a perceptible improvement in programmes of social support including, but not limited to, the Public Distribution System (PDS). In Baran, it led to a recognition of the vulnerability of the Sahariyas — a tribal community in Baran — and a special PDS package consisting of free pulses and ghee being announced. Similar action is required today. Instead, the government remains in denial. The Food Ministry in Delhi issued an order in late October that is silent on the crucial issue of reinstating wrongly cancelled ration cards and makes token concessions (with no guarantee of implementation).

Targets and the reality

For months, the Central government has been insisting on 100% Aadhaar “seeding” across schemes such as the PDS, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and pensions. Seeding refers to the practice of entering Aadhaar numbers for each household member on the ration card. It is a pre-requisite for the Aadhaar-based Biometric Authentication (ABBA) system, the practice of using an electronic point of sale (PoS) machine to authenticate each transaction. The government has made seeding and the ABBA mandatory in the PDS. As explained below, the distinction between seeding and the ABBA is important. In their zeal to achieve 100% Aadhaar-seeding targets, some field functionaries just deleted the names of those who did not submit Aadhaar details. Others waited till the deadline and then struck off names. The government claims that all of these were “fake”, detected due to Aadhaar, thus saving crores of rupees. Santoshi’s family was one such example. According to the State Food Minister, their ration card was cancelled in July because they failed to seed it with Aadhaar.

Exclusions are not savings

Some people blame the aggrieved for failing to seed Aadhaar. But many of them are unaware of the seeding requirement. When pensions in Jharkhand suddenly stopped for many pensioners, they had no idea why. No one had told them about Aadhaar. In some cases, the middlemen had seeded it wrongly. Others still had tried repeatedly and failed. Seeding is not as simple as it sounds. Seeding is just one of the many barriers that the ABBA has created in the smooth functioning of the PDS. The ABBA requires that family members be enrolled for Aadhaar and correct seeding. At the time of purchase, the ABBA requires power supply, a functional PoS machine, mobile and Internet connectivity, State and Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR) servers to be ‘up’, and for fingerprint authentication to be successful. Ruplal Marandi’s family passed the first two hurdles, enrolment and seeding, but was tripped at the last stage by the ABBA. For no fault of his own, the Marandi family was excluded from the PDS. His daughter told journalists that he had died of hunger as the family could not collect rations because of a biometric mismatch at the PDS shop. There is enough evidence to show that the ABBA does not work. The Finance Ministry’s latest Economic Survey, based on micro-studies, reports high biometric failure rates. In Rajasthan, government data for the past year show that around 70% of cardholders are able to use the system successfully. The rest have either been tripped up by one of the ABBA hurdles or, less likely, they did not attempt to buy PDS grain. In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the ABBA’s poster child States, it is used to disburse MGNREGA wages and pensions: biometric failure rates are between 8 and 14%. In some months, one in four pensioners returns empty-handed.

A case against ABBA

What most people don’t realise is that the ABBA has no role in reducing corruption. If the ABBA helps reduce corruption, it might be worth fixing these failures. Quantity fraud is the practice of cheating on quantities sold. Neither seeding nor the ABBA can stop quantity fraud. In a survey in Jharkhand, dealers continue to swindle people by cutting up to a kg of their grain entitlement despite successful ABBA authentication. Identity fraud, for example in the form of duplicate ration cards, only requires Aadhaar-seeding; the ABBA is unnecessary. Two caveats on seeding: it can be foolproof against identity fraud only in a universal system. More seriously, it raises privacy issues. Further, in Aadhaar’s rulebook for example, an elderly person asking a neighbour to fetch their grain would count as identity fraud. In fact, it is flexibility that is lost when the ABBA is made mandatory. Thus, each month, people are being forced to cross five meaningless hurdles in the form of electricity, functional PoS, connectivity, servers and fingerprint authentication in order to have access to their ration. Failing any one hurdle even once causes anxiety in subsequent months. Think of the ATM running out of cash, post-demonetisation, just when it was your turn. The resultant anxiety defeats the very purpose of such forms of social support. Failure in consecutive months leads to people giving up entirely. They stop trying. States such as Rajasthan were planning to treat such households as dead or non-existent. The ABBA must be withdrawn immediately from the PDS and pensions in favour of alternative technologies such as smart cards. This will allow us to keep the baby (offline PoS machines with smart cards) and throw out the bathwater (Internet dependence and biometric authentication). If the government continues to insist on the ABBA, there is only one conclusion that can be drawn. That it is actively trying to sabotage the PDS, which, quite literally, is a lifeline for the poor.


1) Assert

Meaning: State a fact or belief confidently and forcefully.

Example: “the company asserts that the cuts will not affect development”

Synonyms: Declare, Maintain

2) Diminish

Meaning: Make or become less.

Example: “the new law is expected to diminish the government’s chances”

Synonyms: Decrease, Decline

Antonyms: Increase

3) Lustre

Meaning: A gentle sheen or soft glow.

Example: “the lustre of the Milky Way”

Synonyms: Gleam, Glimmer

Antonyms: Dullness, Darkness

4) Worrisome

Meaning: Causing anxiety or concern.

Example: “a worrisome problem”

Synonyms: Worrying, Alarming

5) Esteem

Meaning: Respect and admiration.

Example: “he was held in high esteem by colleagues”

Synonyms: Respect, Admiration

Antonyms: Disrespect

6) Troublesome

Meaning: Causing difficulty or annoyance.

Example: “schools are removing troublesome pupils”

Synonyms: Annoying, Irritating

Antonyms: Simple, Cooperative

7) Delineated

Meaning: Describe or portray (something) precisely.

Example: “the law should delineate and prohibit behaviour which is socially abhorrent”

Synonyms: Describe, Present

8) Plotting

Meaning: Secretly make plans to carry out (an illegal or harmful action).

Example: “the two men are serving sentences for plotting a bomb campaign”

Synonyms: Plan, Arrange

9) Perverse

Meaning: Showing a deliberate and obstinate desire to behave in a way that is unreasonable or unacceptable.

Example: “Kate’s perverse decision not to cooperate held good”

Synonyms: Awkward, Difficult

Antonyms: Accommodating, Cooperative

10) Roster

Meaning: A list or plan showing turns of duty or leave for individuals or groups in an organization.

Example: “next week’s duty roster”

Synonyms: List, Register

11) Puisne

Meaning: (in the UK and some other countries) denoting a judge of a superior court inferior in rank to chief justices.

12) Propriety

Meaning: The condition of being right, appropriate, or fitting.

Example: “they questioned the propriety of certain investments made by the council”

Synonyms: Rightness, Correctness

Antonyms: Impropriety

13) Converge

Meaning: Tend to meet at a point.

Example: “a pair of lines of longitude are parallel at the equator but converge toward the poles”

Synonyms: Meet, Cross

Antonyms: Separate, Diverge

14) Fraternity

Meaning: A group of people sharing a common profession or interests.

Example: “members of the hunting fraternity”

Synonyms: Profession, Association

15) Perception

Meaning: The way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted.

Example: “‘He wouldn’t have accepted,’ said my mother with unusual perception”

Synonyms: Insight, Sharpness

16) Sidestepping

Meaning: Avoid dealing with or discussing (something problematic or disagreeable).

Example: “he neatly sidestepped the questions about riots”

Synonyms: Avoid, Evade

Antonyms: Tackle

17) Susceptible

Meaning: (of a person) easily influenced by feelings or emotions; sensitive.

Example: “they only do it to tease him—he’s too susceptible”

Synonyms: Impressionable, Vulnerable

Antonyms: Doubtful, Dubious

18) Tumult

Meaning: A loud, confused noise, especially one caused by a large mass of people.

Example: “a tumult of shouting and screaming broke out”

Synonyms: Rumpus, Commotion

Antonyms: Silence

19) Overshadow

Meaning: Be more impressive or successful than (another person).

Example: “he was always overshadowed by his brilliant elder brother”

Synonyms: Outshine, Eclipse

20) Substantive

Meaning: Having a firm basis in reality and so important, meaningful, or considerable; Having a separate and independent existence.

Example: “there is no substantive evidence for the efficacy of these drugs”

21) Sickening

Meaning: Causing or liable to cause a feeling of nausea or disgust.

Example: “a sickening stench of blood”

Synonyms: Repulsive, Repellent

Antonyms: Wholesome, Delightful

22) Starvation

Meaning: Suffering or death caused by lack of food.

Example: “thousands died of starvation”

Synonyms: Famine, Want

23) Fanciful

Meaning: Over-imaginative and unrealistic.

Example: “ever more fanciful proposals were raised”

Synonyms: Imaginative, Inventive

Antonyms: Literal

24) Unconsciousness

Meaning: The state of being unconscious.

Example: “someone gave me a crack across the head and I slipped into unconsciousness”

Synonyms: Insensibility

Antonyms: Consciousness

25) Springboard

Meaning: a thing that lends impetus or assistance to a particular action, enterprise, or development.

Example: “an economic plan that may be the springboard for recovery”

26) Perceptible

Meaning: (especially of a slight movement or change of state) able to be seen or noticed.

Example: “a perceptible decline in public confidence”

Synonyms: Noticeable, Detectable

Antonyms: Imperceptible, Inconspicuous

27) Reinstating

Meaning: Restore (someone or something) to their former position or state.

Example: “the union threatened strike action if Owen was not reinstated”

Synonyms: Restore, Rehabilitate

28) Concessions

Meaning: The action of conceding or granting something.

Example: “this strict rule was relaxed by concession”

Synonyms: Admission, Acceptance

Antonyms: Denial, Retention

29) Struck off

Meaning: To remove a doctor, lawyer, etc. from an official list so that they are no longer allowed to work in that job, usually because they have done something dishonest or illegal.

Example: Company directors can be struck off if they are caught employing illegal workers.

Synonyms: Remove

30) Seed

Meaning: The cause of a feeling or situation, or the early stages of it.

Example: From these early seeds of their friendship, they grew into lifelong companions.

Synonyms: Beginning

31) Aggrieved

Meaning: Feeling resentment at having been unfairly treated.

Example: “they were aggrieved at the outcome”

Synonyms: Resentful, Disturbed

Antonyms: Pleased

32) Barriers

Meaning: A fence or other obstacle that prevents movement or access.

Example: “the mountain barrier between Norway and Sweden”

Synonyms: Fence, Hurdle

33) Tripped

Meaning: Make a mistake.

Example: “taxpayers often trip up by not declaring taxable income”

Synonyms: Miscalculate, Blunder

34) Disburse

Meaning: Pay out (money from a fund).

Example: “$67 million of the pledged aid had already been disbursed”

Synonyms: Spend, Expend

Antonyms: Claim

35) Swindle

Meaning: Obtain (money) fraudulently.

Example: “he was said to have swindled £62.5 million from the state-owned cement industry”

Synonyms: Defraud, Cheat

36) Entitlement

Meaning: The fact of having a right to something.

Example: “full entitlement to fees and maintenance should be offered”

Synonyms: Right, Prerogative

37) Caveats

Meaning: A warning or proviso of specific stipulations, conditions, or limitations.

Example: “there are a number of caveats which concern the validity of the assessment results”

Synonyms: Warning, Caution

38) Subsequent

Meaning: Coming after something in time; following.

Example: “the theory was developed subsequent to the earthquake of 1906”

Synonyms: Following, Succeeding

Antonyms: Previous, Former

39) Consecutive

Meaning: Following each other continuously.

Example: “five consecutive months of serious decline”

Synonyms: Successive, Following

Antonyms: Separate

40) Sabotage

Meaning: Deliberately destroy, damage, or obstruct (something), especially for political or military advantage.

Example: “power lines from South Africa were sabotaged by rebel forces”

Synonyms: Wreck, Vandalize