THE HINDU EDITORIAL- September 15, 2015
THE HINDU EDITORIAL- September 15, 2015
a) Good and simple tax
India’s goods and services tax regime is nearing the end of its first full quarter since roll-out this July. Revenue collections from the first month appear robust, with just 70% of eligible taxpayers bringing in ₹95,000 crore. At this rate, the total tally could well surge close to ₹1.2 lakh crore. This would be significantly higher than the ₹91,000 crore indirect tax target for the Centre and the States on an overall basis. This initial trend will need to be corroborated by inflows for subsequent months, but with many more taxpayers registering in August, the GST appears to have begun well as far as the exchequer is concerned. If revenues remain healthy, the government would, over time, get the necessary fiscal room to rationalise multiple GST rates into fewer slabs and possibly lower levies as a stimulus. However, for businesses the going has been far from smooth, with firms of all sizes across sectors struggling to file their first set of returns under the GST due to significant glitches in the GST Network, its information technology backbone, and issues of connectivity. The government has extended the deadline for GST returns for the first month twice, with GSTR-3 now required to be submitted as late as November 10. A group of Central and State ministers has been tasked with resolving the GSTN’s challenges. To inspire confidence, this group must act not only expeditiously but also transparently — especially with regard to the GSTN’s operational capacity. However, as it stands now the delay in filing returns for the first, and therefore subsequent, months means that taxpayers expecting a refund from the authorities on taxes already paid (for example, by exporters) will end up waiting for almost four months (for the period of July alone). This is bound to crimp their working capital availability and create an unjust burden on their finances, impacting their ability to scale up production ahead of the high-turnover festive season. The problem is most acute for exporters, for whom the Council has now formed a special committee under the Revenue Secretary. Provided there are no further setbacks on these timelines, these procedural problems need to be resolved as soon as possible for industry to be comfortable with this switch-over. Amid all this, the GST Council has already changed the announced tax rates on over 100 products and services within about 75 days of the roll-out. An ever-changing policy landscape is hardly conducive for attracting investment. The fact that industrial output grew just 1.2% in July may not be a coincidence. Clearly, a lot of things were not thought through or tested (such as the GSTN) when the government opted for a July 1 launch for GST instead of the September 16 date that the constitutional changes made last year allowed. Admitting to the errors of judgment so far is essential for a genuine course correction.
b) At home and in the world
Over the past month, from Cox’s Bazar, in the southeast of Bangladesh, smoke can be seen billowing into the grey sky across the country’s border. Villages, home to the Rohingya community, in the fractious state of Rakhine in western Myanmar, are being mercilessly, horrifically burnt down. Nurul Islam, a 30- year-old farmer, who had fled to Bangladesh by boat, told The Economist that he left his home in Myanmar after the military blasted bullets on villagers and set their houses on fire. They separated the women and men, the magazine reported, and raped Islam’s 13-yearold sister Khadiza, proceeding to then mutilate her body. Despite living for centuries in Myanmar, the Rohingya, who are mostly Muslim, have been denied citizenship and have been rendered stateless. In February, a United Nations report had documented numerous instances of gang rape and killings, including of babies and young children, by Myanmar’s security forces. Now, the army’s viciousness, already unimaginably ghastly, has escalated even further.
By any account, the Rohingya are at the centre of a humanitarian catastrophe of terrifying proportions. On Monday, the U.N. human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, called on Myanmar to put an end to this “brutal security operation”. He termed the state’s actions against the Rohingya as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. Some would go further. In October, 2015, a Yale Law School study warned that efforts were being made not merely to forcibly displace the Rohingya but towards committing the crime of genocide through the complete annihilation of the ethnic group. Repercussions of the violence in Myanmar are now being felt around the globe, particularly in nearby countries; in India, where scores of Rohingya are lodged — reportedly totalling 40,000 — it must come to us as a matter of shame that the state is so much as considering returning the refugees back to the jaws of not merely political persecution but of mind-boggling terror and savagery. Going by the statements made by the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju, quite regrettably, it appears India might find itself committing a grave error of substantial moral purport. Although he’s since backtracked from some of his assertions, Mr. Rijiju’s message, delivered over the course of the last week, remains deeply troubling. “They are doing it, we can’t stop them from registering, but we are not signatory to the accord on refugees,” he said, in one interview, when asked about the registration of Rohingya as refugees by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “As far as we are concerned they are all illegal immigrants. They have no basis to live here. Anybody who is [an] illegal migrant will be deported.” These threats are not only chilling on a humanitarian level, if translated into action, they would also constitute a contravention of India’s obligations under both domestic and international law.
The case in court
Indeed, it is precisely such an argument that a pair of Rohingya refugees, Mohammad Salimullah and Mohammad Shaqir, have made in a petition filed in the Supreme Court. Their submissions rest on two broad planks: one, that any deportation would violate their fundamental rights to equality and to life, under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution, and, two, that any action by India in returning them to Myanmar would infringe international law, particularly the principle of chilling on. When the case comes up for hearing next, on September 18, in response, the government may expand on Mr. Rijiju’s statements. It could point out, first, that India is not bound to follow the principle of non-refoulement, since it is not a signatory to the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and, second, that, in any event, any deportation would be saved by the exceptions to the principle, in that the Rohingya are guilty of committing crimes against peace and are a threat to India’s national security. On any close examination, however, these arguments ought to fail. The principle of non-refoulement is articulated in Article 33 of the 1951 Convention. It mandates that no state shall expel or return a refugee to “the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”. However, it allows for an exception in cases where there are “reasonable grounds” for regarding a refugee as a “danger to the security of the country.” What’s more, the Convention also excludes generally from refugee status individuals guilty of, among other things, committing war crimes or crimes against peace and humanity. Now, India is not a party to the 1951 Convention. But we need to heed the existence of sources of law that stretch beyond treaty obligations. These include norms of customary international law, where binding rules have been crystallised as a result of the practice of states. The principle of non-refoulement is widely regarded as one such rule. In fact, some scholars argue that the principle is so well enshrined that it constitutes a peremptory norm from which no derogation whatsoever is permitted. But even if one were to discount such arguments, there is no denying that non-refoulement is now nearly universally accepted as constituting a fundamental rule of international law. At least two high courts in India have expressly held that the country is bound to follow the principle. In their judgments respectively in Ktaer Abbas Habib Al Qutaifi v. Union of India (1998) and Dongh Lian Kham v. Union of India (2015) the Gujarat and Delhi High Courts have virtually incorporated non-refoulement into the guarantees of Article 21 of the Constitution. “[The principle’s] application,” wrote the Gujarat High Court, “protects life and liberty of a human being irrespective of his nationality. It is encompassed in Article 21 of the Constitution, so long as the presence of a refugee is not prejudicial to the law and order and security of India.”
A foundational principle
Now, the Supreme Court in different cases has incorporated other principles of customary international law into municipal law, where there’s no local statute embodying rules to the contrary. There’s no reason why non-refoulement should be treated any differently. The Supreme Court can have little option but to recognise, as the Gujarat and the Delhi High Courts have done, that no-refoulement is a foundational principle that creates obligations under both domestic and international law alike. On arguments concerning national security, it might well be true that the state must be accorded an element of latitude in shaping its policies. But, in the absence of any material, the government cannot plausibly be arguing that each of the 40,000 Rohingya constitutes a threat to India’s safety, or that each of them is guilty of committing crimes against peace. Ultimately, the petitions led by the Rohingya refugees are an important test of both the Supreme Court and the Indian state’s moral calibre. In an interview on Wednesday, Mr. Rijiju urged an end to the “chorus” branding India as a “villain,” for its apparent stand seeking to return the Rohingyas, a “calibrated design,” in his view, to “tarnish India’s image.” However, the present crisis goes beyond matters of mere perception. It goes to the root of what it means to be a civilised state, of treating every person, irrespective of constructs of citizenship, with equal care, compassion and respect.
Meaning: Confirm or give support to (a statement, theory, or finding).
Example: The witness had corroborated the boy’s account of the attack.
Synonyms: Confirm, Verify
Meaning: A royal or national treasury.
Example: An important source of revenue to the sultan’s exchequer.
Synonyms: Fund, Stock
Meaning: Attempt to explain or justify (behaviour or an attitude) with logical reasons, even if these are not appropriate.
Example: She couldn’t rationalize her urge to return to the cottage.
Synonyms: Justify, Defend
Meaning: A thing that arouses activity or energy in someone or something; a spur or incentive.
Example: If the tax were abolished, it would act as a stimulus to exports.
Synonyms: Stimulant, Encouragement
Antonyms: Deterrent, Discouragement
Meaning: Suffer a sudden malfunction or fault.
Example: The elevators glitched.
Synonyms: Bug, Defect
Meaning: With speed and efficiency.
Example: The directors will move expeditiously to reach a conclusion.
Synonyms: Eagerly, Hurriedly
Antonyms: Inactively, Quietly
Meaning: Compress (something) into small folds or ridges.
Example: She crimped the edge of the pie.
Synonyms: Groove, Ridge
Meaning: (of an unpleasant or unwelcome situation or phenomenon) present or experienced to a severe or intense degree.
Example: An acute housing shortage.
Synonyms: Severe, Dreadful
Meaning: Making a certain situation or outcome likely or possible.
Example: The harsh lights and cameras were hardly conducive to a relaxed atmosphere.
Synonyms: Favourable, Helpful
Meaning: Truly what something is said to be; authentic.
Example: Genuine 24-carat gold.
Synonyms: Authentic, Actual
Meaning: Move or flow outward with an undulating motion.
Example: Smoke was billowing from the chimney-mouth.
Synonyms: Pour, Flow
Meaning: (of a group or organization) difficult to control; unruly.
Example: King Malcolm struggled to unite his fractious kingdom.
Synonyms: Unruly, Uncontrollable
Meaning: Provide or give (a service, help, etc.).
Example: Money serves as a reward for services rendered.
Synonyms: Give, Supply
Meaning: An event causing great and usually sudden damage or suffering; a disaster
Example: An environmental catastrophe.
Synonyms: Disaster, Crisis
Antonyms: Salvation, Godsend
Meaning: Relating to a population subgroup (within a larger or dominant national or cultural group) with a common national or cultural tradition.
Example: Ethnic and cultural rights and traditions.
Synonyms: Racial, Cultural
Meaning: Complete destruction or obliteration.
Example: The threat of global annihilation.
Synonyms: Eradication, Ruin
Meaning: An unintended consequence of an event or action, especially an unwelcome one.
Example: The move would have grave repercussions for the entire region.
Synonyms: Consequence, Result
Meaning: Present (a complaint, appeal, claim, etc.) formally to the proper authorities.
Example: He has 28 days in which to lodge an appeal.
Synonyms: Submit, Register
Antonyms: Refuse, Unsettle
Meaning: Hostility and ill-treatment, especially because of race or political or religious beliefs; oppression.
Example: Her family fled religious persecution.
Synonyms: Oppression, Mistreatment
Meaning: Overwhelming; startling.
Example: The implications are mind-boggling.
Synonyms: Amazing, Stunning
Meaning: The quality of being fierce or cruel.
Example: A crime of the utmost savagery.
Synonyms: Violence, Viciousness
Antonyms: Mildness, Gentleness
Meaning: Appear to be or do something, especially falsely.
Example: She is not the person she purports to be.
Synonyms: Claim, Pretend
Antonyms: Outside, Exterior
Meaning: A confident and forceful statement of fact or belief.
Example: His assertion that his father had deserted the family.
Synonyms: Declaration, Contention
Antonyms: Rejection, Quiet
Meaning: Expel (a foreigner) from a country, typically on the grounds of illegal status or for having committed a crime.
Example: He was deported for violation of immigration laws.
Synonyms: Expel, Banish
Meaning: An action which offends against a law, treaty, or other ruling.
Example: The publishing of misleading advertisements was a contravention of the Act.
Synonyms: Breach, Violation
Antonyms: Agreement, Peace
Meaning: Actively break the terms of (a law, agreement, etc.).
Example: Making an unauthorized copy would infringe copyright.
Synonyms: Break, Flout
Meaning: The forcible return of refugees or asylum seekers to a country where they are liable to be subjected to persecution.
Example: International and EU law prohibit refoulement.
Meaning: Having two or more sections connected by a flexible joint; pronounce (something) clearly and distinctly.
Example: He articulated each word with precision.
Synonyms: Express, Communicate
Meaning: A line or border separating two countries.
Example: Border, Bountry
Meaning: Behaviour that is considered acceptable or polite to most members of a society.
Example: He was an upholder of convention and correct form.
Synonyms: Custom, Usage
Meaning: an act or course of action to which a person is morally or legally bound; a duty or commitment.
Example: “I have an obligation to look after her”
Synonyms: Commitment, Responsibility
Meaning: Make or become definite and clear.
Example: Vague feelings of unrest crystallized into something more concrete.
Synonyms: Emerge, Materialize
Meaning: Preserve (a right, tradition, or idea) in a form that ensures it will be protected and respected.
Example: The right of all workers to strike was enshrined in the new constitution.
Synonyms: Incorporate, Represent
Meaning: Insisting on immediate attention or obedience, especially in a brusquely imperious way.
Example: “‘Just do it!’ came the peremptory reply”
Synonyms: Imperious, Autocratic
Meaning: An exemption from or relaxation of a rule or law.
Example: Countries assuming a derogation from EC law.
Synonyms: Aspersion, Deprecation
Antonyms: Approval, Praise
Meaning: Include comprehensively.
Example: No studies encompass all sectors of medical care.
Synonyms: Cover, Incorporate
Antonyms: Release, Exclude
Meaning: Harmful to someone or something; detrimental.
Example: The proposals were considered prejudicial to the city centre.
Synonyms: Detrimental, Damaging
Antonyms: Beneficial, Advantageous
Meaning: Give or grant someone (power, status, or recognition).
Example: The powers accorded to the head of state.
Synonyms: Grant, Present
Antonyms: Withhold, Remove
Meaning: In a way that seems reasonable or probable.
Example: Both candidates can plausibly claim victory is within their reach.
Synonyms: Possibly, Probably
Antonyms: Uncertain, Improbably
Meaning: Awareness of something through the senses.
Example: The perception of pain.
Synonyms: Appreciation, Recognition, Estimation