Administrator’s laws put Lakshadweep in the middle of nowhere

The Federal | May 26, 2021

Take a close look at what he has proposed in the name of development – a larger picture being communally polarized in a small tribal territory

Lakshadweep’s new Administrator Praful Khoda Patel’s draft proposals have drawn huge public outcry with many criticizing them as a product of a communal agenda against the majority Muslim population in the island with an intention to tarnish their culture and tradition. A reading of the proposed laws brings out a larger picture that has multiple objectives aimed at creating polarisation in the guise of development.

Here are the proposed laws in chronological order:

The Goonda Act (January 28, 2021): The draft law named as a The Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-social Activities Prevention 2021 which is colloquially known as ‘Goonda Act’ provides arbitrary powers to the Administrator of the island. It empowers the police to detain a person for seven days without giving him the opportunity to represent before a court of law.

“It is meant to terrorize people and prevent protests. Goonda Act is the beginning of their saffronisation project in the island,” says Mohammad Faizal, MP from Lakshadweep, while talking to The Federal. He alleged the Administrator was trying to impose authoritarian rule in the island.

Under this law, several offences under IPC which are bailable and those amounting to punishment of less than three years are included. The law empowers the police to keep any person in detention even if there is an apprehension that he may commit an offence causing harm to public interest.

As per this proposed law, a “cruel person” and a “dangerous person” can be taken into custody on the grounds which appear satisfactory to the authority under the Administrator. Section 2 of the draft law defines “cruel person” as one who violates or intends to violate the ‘Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960’.

A dangerous person is defined as one who commits a range of offences such as theft, unlawful assembly, mischief, criminal intimidation, breach of trust, criminal trespass and misconduct by a drunken person in public. In addition, the proposed Goonda Act creates a new category of offence as ‘property grabber’. Section 2(O) of the draft law defines ‘property grabber’ as one who illegally takes possession of land belonging to the government or local authorities.

Several of these offences listed in the draft law are bailable; even non-cognizable which attract punishment for less than three years or six months or fine. The offences like ‘unlawful assembly’ are often used against protesters who gather for any social or political cause.

Under the proposed ‘Goonda Act’ any person can be detained even before committing any offence on the grounds that there was reasonable apprehension of his committing any of the offences. The person can be kept in custody without even being informed the reasons for his arrest for seven days.

Lakshadweep Town & Country Planning Regulation 2021 (April 28, 2021): The law proposes formation of a development authority which is to be empowered to notify any area of land classifying into any of the four categories as ‘residential, commercial, agricultural and industrial’.

In the guise of development, the authority is empowered to acquire any land notified under the Land Acquisition Act of 2013. Under this law, the government is entitled to declare any land as planning area by notification.

According to Section 35 of the draft law, the people — owners of the notified land — have to seek approval of the town planning authority for any ‘change of use’ of the land. This includes even the alteration of houses in the exterior. The permission is granted only for three years which has to be renewed; failure or delay in renewal will lead to a fine of up to ₹ 2 lakh (section 37). “This literally takes away one’s right over one’s land,” says Advocate Rohit, a lawyer at the Kerala High Court who handles law suits in Lakshadweep as well.

Rohit argues that the new law is brought to overrule the land rights entitled to the tribal community in Lakshadweep by the Land Revenue and Tenancy Regulation Act of 1965 pertaining to Lakshadweep and Minicoy islands. (Only revenue land can be used for any development activity by the government according to this Act).

“Lakshadweep, a tribal majority Union Territory with a 94.8 per cent tribal population should enjoy protection under Article 244 of the Constitution as it is notified as a scheduled area under the Fifth Schedule and PESA Act of 1996,” says C.R. Bijoy, an expert on land rights.

Besides, the authority of town planning is vested in the local bodies according to 73rd Amendment of the Constitution.

Notification for the transfer of powers from the PRIs to the Administrator (May 5, 2021): Many say the notification has close links to the proposed law for creating an authority to have the powers to take over the land. The notification transfers the entire establishments of agriculture, fisheries, animal husbandry, health and education with immediate effect to the hands of the Administrator. The order explains that the transfer of powers to the PRIs in 2012 ‘had overburdened the PRIs which caused an adverse impact upon the efficiency of the execution of schemes’ which is cited as the reason for this current decision.

The proposed beef ban, omission of meat from the noon meal and the lifting of liquor ban in the name of tourism are widely criticized as provocative steps challenging their culture, tradition and religious practices.

The creation of a new category of offence as ‘property grabber’ and bringing the same under Gunda Act, the suppression of fundamental rights, the introduction of a law that empowers the authorities to acquire any land for development and the shifting of powers from the PRIs to the Administrator set the alarm bells ringing for the people of the island.

Children raise voice against MP govt to save Buxwaha forests

Web India 123 | May 27, 2021
Children in Madhya Pradesh have come forward to raise their voice against the proposal by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government to handover the forests of Buxwaha located in Chhatarpur district of Bundelkhand to a private company for mining diamonds.

Children have not only pointed out the impact of cutting down forests to the state government but have appealed to it not to cut them.

In the past Bundelkhand was vastly rich in terms of water and forests. Unfortunately, the area is no longer covered with greenery and has scarcity of water sources. This exploitation of the environment continues and now the last green cover left is being slowly plundered.

The Buxwaha forests have been given on lease for diamond excavation but protests have also started growing against it. This is probably the first time in Bundelkhand when public awareness to protect the environment is taking centrestage because the Covid-19 pandemic has made the people realise the importance of oxygen.

Oxygen is considered to be essential for the survival of Covid-infected patients which is emitted by trees.

To protect the forests of Buxwaha, people are raising their voices not only in Bundelkhand but in many parts of the country. The children which are the future of the country are also not far behind.

Several videos of children have gone viral on social media where they are trying to tell the government about the significance of trees for the people. Children have penned poems to save the Buxwaha forests and urged the government with folded hands to reconsider cutting down trees through these videos.

People of all classes and age groups have joined the campaign to save the Buxwaha forests and are trying to give the message that they will not allow forests to be cut.

On the one hand, the forest is an important part of the environment and on the other hand, it is also a means of livelihood for thousands of families living in villages in the Buxwaha area besides being the habitat of wildlife. There are rich water sources and these forests are revered in Indian culture so everyone is coming forward in the campaign to save the forests.

There is a huge stock of diamonds in the forests of Buxwaha with nearly 34.4 million carat diamonds believed to be buried here estimated to be worth several thousand crores of rupees.

The private company which has shown keen interest in taking up diamond mining has demanded nearly 382 hectare of land in the area. If this happens then 2.5 lakh trees in this area will be cut down.

Why no action against Vedanta directors, cops for Thoothukudi ‘massacre’?: NAPM

Counterview Desk | May 24, 2021
Recallig the third anniversary of Thoothukudi “massacre” in Tamil Nadu, in which 15 people were gunned down for resisting Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper Plant, India’s civil society network, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) has called for the ending corporate impunity by carrying forward the global campaign launched on May 14 by the Anti-Sterlite People’s Movement and other organisations.
In a statement, NAPM said, “While the protestors faced legal charges, no police officer has been charged and convicted till date under appropriate sections of the law, for the murders and injuries.” “Similarly”, it regretted, “Vedanta whose Sterlite Copper Plant was shut down due to fraudulent and unlicensed operation and expansion for over 20 years, gas leaks and pollution, still hasn’t been prosecuted for any of its crimes.”
Text:
National Alliance of People’s Movements remembers with anger and pain the 15 people of Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu who were brutally killed by the armed police, this day in 2018, for peacefully protesting against Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper Plant. We reiterate our solidarity with people of Thoothukudi and communities across India, resisting Vedanta and other mega-corporates, who, with absolute state support, are on a ruthless and endless spree of exploitation of lands, resources and people’s rights. We commend the global campaign efforts from May 14 to 22 organized by Anti-Sterlite People’s Movement and various organisations to build support for the struggle.
The people’s struggle in Thoothukudi has been fought over decades, to challenge Vedanta’s impunity to pollute the villages for its own profits. The historic mass agitation on May 22, 2018, which was a culmination of 100 days of continuous protest, led to a lethal firing by the Tamil Nadu police.

The one-sided firing killed 15 people, including 17-year-old minor Snowlin, and left hundreds injured. Instead of dialoguing with the people protesting against the illegal and polluting operation of the Copper Smelter plant, the State government resorted to excessive and unjustifiable force and vilification of the movement.
The shootout itself was a culmination of the everyday violence that the multinational conglomerate unleashed on the locals for over two decades. The plant’s fraudulent and illegal operations and expansion since 1996 poisoned the air that the people breathe and the water they drink.

Farmers, salt pan workers, fisher people, small traders, concerned villagers were all part of the struggle in Thoothukudi and women who played a key role in keeping up the spirit of resistance, despite severe backlash are a symbol of hope in this country, which seems to have reached its pinnacle of corporate-state nexus.
While the shooting was widely condemned across the country, the legal machinery also came down on the protestors with police cases being registered against 71 people. Only after years, the cases, except those under investigation and those concerning destruction of public property, have been dropped by the newly elected Tam Nadu government.

While the protestors faced legal charges, no police officer has been charged and convicted till date under appropriate sections of the law, for the murders and injuries. Similarly, Vedanta whose Sterlite Copper Plant was shut down due to fraudulent and unlicensed operation and expansion for over 20 years, gas leaks and pollution still hasn’t been prosecuted for any of its crimes.
The Thoothukudi police killing was not ‘exceptional’, as the State and dominant sections of the society would want us to believe. This was the premeditated response of a neo-liberal state that sought to suppress the people’s struggles that were gaining momentum and solidarity by perpetrating cold-blooded violence without any regard for democracy and human rights; and with complete disregard for life itself.
We express our support to all demands of the people of Thoothukudi and call upon the Government of Tamil Nadu to immediately:
Ensure that all operations of Vedanta are permanently stopped in Thoothukudi.
Prosecute Vedanta and its directors for fraud and violation of environmental laws and human rights violations.
Identify and take action against police persons responsible for the May 22, 2018 massacre.
Withdraw all pending cases against Thoothukudi residents filed to cover up the state’s collusion with Vedanta and complicity in the violence.
We also urge the National Human Rights Commission to reopen the Thoothukudi enquiry, and make public its findings.
We seek a direction to the Justice Aruna Jagadeesan Committee to examine witnesses online to expedite finalisation of the enquiry into the Thoothukudi massacre.
The actions of police across the world, from Cali, Colombia to Bhopal and most recently, Silger, Chhattisgarh, show that within the existing state apparatus, the institution of police exists only to protect the status quo and do the biddings of the oligarchy.
Even as we pay homage to the departed lives and demand accountability of the State, we note that the struggle is a long-drawn one in Thoothukudi and elsewhere and are committed to extending all forms of solidarity to the communities for whom resistance against is an everyday act.

Centre plans to set up occupational surveillance system for covid-19

livemint | May 26, 2021

The move is in line with the recommendation of the World Health Organization report titled Preventing and Mitigating Covid-19 at Work Policy

The Centre is planning to set up an occupational surveillance system for monitoring the impact of covid considering that professionals, including healthcare workers, are vulnerable to the virus.

The Directorate General of Factory Advisory Services and Labour Institutes (DGFASLI), which comes under the ministry of labour and employment, has constituted an academic committee to study the impact of covid-19 on professionals.

The move is in line with the recommendation of the World Health Organization report titled Preventing and Mitigating Covid-19 at Work Policy. According to the WHO document, an occupational surveillance system for covid-19 enables public health officials and employers to evaluate the efficacy of workplace interventions and is critical to understanding the true impact of the pandemic on professions.

The major occupational diseases and morbidity in India are silicosis, musculoskeletal injuries, coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, chronic obstructive lung diseases, asbestosis, byssinosis, pesticide poisoning and noise-induced hearing loss. DGFASLI serves as a technical arm of the ministry and assists in formulating national policies on occupational safety and health for factories and docks. It also advises factories on the problems concerning safety, health, efficiency and well-being of every employee.

The panel had recently convened a meeting with specialists to identify the burden and impact of the disease among various occupations ranging from hospital staff to sanitation workers, factory workers, pharma company employees and hospitality staff.

“As several respiratory illnesses are a part of the occupational diseases list in India, covid-19, too, qualifies to be a part of it. So far, we have only seen that surveillance of covid-19 has been done largely on healthcare workers who obviously directly deal with the disease,” said Dr T.K. Joshi, member of the DGFASLI committee on covid.

Joshi, a former director-occupational environment and medical programme, Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi, is also a consultant to the Union health ministry and a member of the central pollution control board.

“Covid-19 is also common in pharmacies, airports, among people handling waste from hospitals and pharmaceutical factories, workers in hospitality industry as for last two years many hospital chains were involved in treatment of covid patients. We aim to understand the impact of covid-19 on these occupations also,” said Joshi.

The WHO recommended policy action calls for establishing an occupational health surveillance system for covid. It said that such a system will help countries understand which worker populations are at risk and activities most associated with contracting covid-19.

The global public health agency said local public health agencies involved in contact tracing should be supported by occupational health services and help practitioners determine work-related hazards. It also said that information must be collected during interviews of positive cases for determining risks in contracting covid.

Construction cess not payable on contracts not having any construction component

Lexology | May 24, 2021

The Supreme Court, in its recent judgment, has finally settled a long pending issue by holding that contracts which cover works other than civil works and do not involve any construction, do not attract cess under the Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Cess Act, 1996. The Apex Court in the decision in the case of UP Power Transmission Corporation Limited v. CG Power and Industrial Solutions Limited [Judgement dated 12 May 2021] clarified that mere installation and/or erection of pipelines, equipment for generation, transmission, or distribution of power, electric wires, transmission towers, etc., which do not involve construction work, are not amenable to levy of such cess.

Facts and issues:

  • The Appellant/ Employer – UP Power Transmission Corporation Limited entered into a framework agreement with the Respondent (Contractor), for the construction of a 765/400kV power substation, which was split into four separate contracts, for (i) Supply and delivery of equipment, (ii) Handling, erection, testing and commissioning works, (iii) Civil works and (iv) Operation & maintenance.
  • The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), in its audit, pointed out the lapse on the part of Employer in not deducting cess, as leviable under the Cess Act, from the bills of the Contractor.
  • Based on the CAG’s observations, the Employer sought to recover the cess on the total value of work provided under all four contracts, including supply, erection, testing, and commissioning. Admittedly, there were no proceedings that were passed with reference to the assessment or levy of cess under the Cess Act. The Employer, as a consequence, refused to discharge the Performance Bank Guarantee submitted by the Contractor, to secure recovery of an amount of INR 2.6 crore towards cess payable on works under all contracts including the supply part.
  • The Employer sought to recover the cess for the supply part from the pending bills and by encashment of the Performance Bank Guarantee. The contracts in the present case did not provide for the Employer to withhold any amount from the bills raised by the Contractor on the Employer towards any taxes, cess, or any other statutory dues of the Contractor.
  • Aggrieved by the actions of the Employer, the Contractor approached the Allahabad High Court. The High Court held that, in the absence of any order for levy and assessment under the Cess Act, recovery could not be made solely pursuant to an audit objection raised by the CAG.
  • The order of the High Court was assailed before the Supreme Court by way of an appeal.

Findings of the Supreme Court:

  • The Supreme Court held that the first and second contracts, which do not cover civil works, do not involve any construction and accordingly are outside the purview of levy under the Cess Act.
  • The Contractor was held as not a ‘contractor’, within the meaning as defined under the BOCW Act, nor an ‘employer’ within the meaning provided under the said Act, for the first, second, and fourth contracts. It was observed that the statutory scheme of the BOCW Act excludes a supply contract from within its ambit.
  • The Court clarified that mere installation and/or erection of pipelines, equipments for generation, transmission, or distribution of power, electric wires, transmission towers, etc., which do not involve construction work, are not amenable to levy of cess under the Cess Act.
  • It was held that when there is no assessment or levy of cess under the Cess Act, the Contractor cannot withhold amounts towards such cess payments. Even otherwise, the recovery can be done only in the mode and manner of recovery of outstanding cess under the Cess Act.
  • Further, it was considered that in the absence of contractual provisions, the Employer cannot withhold payments or realize cess by revocation of a Performance Guarantee.
  • Lastly, the availability of an alternative remedy (in this case ‘arbitration’) was held not to prohibit the High Court from entertaining a writ petition in an appropriate case.
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