a) Whose privilege?

The Karnataka Assembly’s resolution imposing a one-year prison sentence and ₹10,000 fine on the editors of two tabloids is indefensible and deserving of unsparing criticism. The Constitution confers certain privileges on legislative institutions with the idea of protecting freedom of speech and expression in the House and ensuring that undue influence, pressure or coercion is not brought on the legislature in the course of its functioning. Unfortunately, breach of privilege is invoked for the ostensible reason of protecting the image of the House on the whole or its individual members; too often, it is a thinly disguised mechanism to insulate elected representatives from criticism. Without a law codifying the legislative privileges, there is little merit in subjecting anyone, leave alone a journalist, to penal action for allegedly breaching a legislator’s privilege, unless there is a move or attempt to obstruct the functioning of either the House or its members. The articles concerned were published in Hi Bangalore and Yelahanka Voice and were referred to the Privileges Committee in 2014. Whether what Ravi Belagere and Anil Raj, the editors of the two tabloids, published was fair comment or unfair criticism is not germane in this case. What matters is that by no stretch of the imagination could the articles have impeded the independent functioning of the three legislators who had complained against them. If the members felt defamed, they could have opted to pursue an appropriate judicial remedy in their individual capacity. The legislature must use the power to punish for contempt or breach of privilege sparingly, invoking it mainly to protect the independence of the House and not to take away the liberty of critics. Legislators are in a position to clarify facts and refute misconceived criticism. There is no reason for them to seek imprisonment for contempt. There are many unsettled questions about the very nature of legislative privileges. The absence of codification gives the House the freedom to decide when and how breach of privilege occurs. Even if it is conceded that the House has such a right, a moot question is whether the legislature, through its Committee of Privileges, should be a judge in its own cause. Whether the legislature’s power to punish for breach of privilege extends to handing down a prison term is still an open question. The time has come for the legislature to codify privileges and for the higher judiciary to lay down the limits of penal action for breach of privilege. The Karnataka government must consider the public odium it would attract if it acted on the resolution. If the Chief Minister and the Speaker take the lead in getting the Assembly to rescind the resolution, that would better safeguard the dignity of the august House.

b) Being smart

The Centre would like us to believe that the Smart Cities Mission will transform urban life in the agglomerations that enter the elite club. With the latest inclusions, there are 90 cities in the list, each of which proposes to turn ‘smart’, utilising core funding from the Centre and other resources. By all accounts, the provision of basic services in urban India has been worsening, and this is clearly reflected in the winning city proposals: 81 of the selected plans seek funds for affordable housing, new schools and hospitals, and redesign of roads. This is at best a partial list, and there are many more aspects to achieving inclusivity. There is a high-visibility campaign around the Smart Cities Mission, but there is little evidence to suggest that State and local governments have either the fine-grained data or the capability to analyse them in order to understand the evolving needs of their communities. The Centre has apparently decided to skirt such a fundamental problem by adopting a ‘managed urbanisation’ approach in the chosen cities, with the powers of municipal councils delegated to a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), under the Companies Act, that will act in its own wisdom. Given that this is the model adopted by the two-year-old Mission, the Centre must present a status report on what the SPVs have achieved so far. Any serious attempt at improving the quality of life in cities would depend on how governments approach data. It would be smart, for instance, to use sensors to estimate the low of vehicles and pedestrians, and create smart phone applications for the public to report on a variety of parameters. Making such data open would enable citizens’ groups to themselves come up with analyses to help city administrators make decisions, boost transparency and make officials accountable. There are several international examples now, such as the Array of Things sensors being installed on Chicago streets, which let people download the raw data on air quality, transport, pedestrian movement and standing water. Although India’s Smart Cities Mission has identified more than 20 priority areas, interventions by the respective agencies are weak. Access to special funding should make it mandatory for all public transport providers — city bus corporations, Metro Rail and suburban trains — to provide real-time passenger information in the form of open data, an inexpensive global standard that raises both access and efficiency through smart phone applications. Making street-level waste management data public would lead to a heat map of the worst sites, compelling managers to solve the problem. Clearly, there is a lot of low-hanging fruit on the road to smartness, and a nimble policy approach can tap this quickly. More importantly, the ideology that guides the plan should recognise that the vibrant life of cities depends on variety and enabling environments, rather than a mere technology-led vision. Pollution-free commons, walk ability and easy mobility, with a base of reliable civic services, is the smart way to go.


1) Tabloids

Meaning: A newspaper having pages half the size of those of the average broadsheet, typically popular in style and dominated by sensational stories.

Example: The tabloid press.

2) Coercion

Meaning: The action or practice of persuading someone to do something by using force or threats.

Example: It wasn’t slavery because no coercion was used.

Synonyms: Force, Compulsion

Antonyms: Persuasion

3) Breach

Meaning: An act of breaking or failing to observe a law, agreement, or code of conduct.

Example: A breach of confidence.


Synonyms: Contravention, Violation

4) Privilege

Meaning: A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.

Example: Education is a right, not a privilege.

Synonyms: Advantage, Right, Benefit

5) Allegedly

Meaning: Used to convey that something is claimed to be the case or have taken place, although there is no proof.

Example: He was allegedly a leading participant in the coup attempt.

Synonyms: Reportedly, Supposedly

6) Sparingly

Meaning: In a restricted or infrequent manner; in small quantities.

Example: The sharply flavoured leaves should be used sparingly.

7) Moot

Meaning: Subject to debate, dispute, or uncertainty.

Example: Whether the temperature rise was mainly due to the greenhouse effect was a moot point.

Synonyms: Debatable, Open to debate

8) Agglomerations

Meaning: A mass or collection of things; an assemblage.

Example: The arts centre is an agglomeration of theatres, galleries, shops, restaurants and bars.

Synonyms: Collection, Mass

9) Elite

Meaning: A select group that is superior in terms of ability or qualities to the rest of a group or society.

Example: The elite of Britain’s armed forces.

Synonyms: Best, Pick

Antonyms: Dregs

10) Compelling

Meaning: Evoking interest, attention, or admiration in a powerfully irresistible way.

Example: His eyes were strangely compelling.

Synonyms: Enthralling, Captivating

Antonyms: Boring