Friday, January 12, 2007

Enlightenment infrastructure

Will Hutton has written of the importance of `enlightenment infrastructure' in economic development, in a Chinese context:

My hypothesis when I began was that China was so different that it could carry on adapting its model, living without democracy or European enlightenment values. I have changed my mind and now see more clearly than ever the kinds of connection I identified in The State We're In between economic performance and so-called 'soft' institutions - how people are educated, how trust relations are established and how accountability is exercised (just to name a few) - are central. They are equally important to a good society and the chance for individual empowerment and self-betterment.

India made one important step forward on enlightenment infrastructure when the Supreme Court ruled (yesterday) that 288 laws, which had been placed into the "Ninth Schedule", can be challenged at the Supreme Court. Earlier, the "Ninth Schedule" permitted greater disrespect for fundamental rights on the part of elected representatives. Pratap Bhanu Mehta has a great opinion piece on this in Indian Express.

This ruling appears to reduce the opportunities for the State to infringe on personal freedom; it underlines fundamental rights as things that Parliament cannot violate. It is interesting that some of the baggage of illiberal laws that holds back economic progress in India happens to be in this set : it includes the Essential Commodities Act, the Foreign Exchange Management Act, etc. As Ashok Dhamija points out in a comment, this ruling doesn't particularly help in dealing with these.

Update: An edit in Business Standard on 26 January says:

Thanks to the Supreme Court’s judgement about its power to review laws placed in the Ninth Schedule, the Tamil Nadu government has demanded that the Constitution be re-written. The Congress, Left parties and PMK have supported the idea. When Peter Alphonse, a Congress party member of the legislative assembly, is reported to have said that “his party would not be averse to rewriting the Constitution to protect the rights of people belonging to BC, MBC, SC and ST communities (political shorthand for all the deprived communities and minorities)”, the Congress High Command did not issue a statement to the contrary. The JD(U) has also supported the demand.
One way to view this is to dismiss it as grandstanding by the allies of the Karunanidhi government, the real target being his opponents and not the Constitution. Another is to be less dismissive and ask if the fierce competition amongst fragmented political parties may lead to widespread support for the idea of “re-writing” the Constitution. If the purpose, as it seems to be, is to amend the Constitution in such a way that the Supreme Court is prevented from reviewing laws, it is clearly a terrible idea that, moreover, requires the UPA chairperson and the Prime Minister to say what they think about it. As they must know, some bad and dangerous ideas acquire political momentum because political parties take a short-term view of such issues. Two recent amendments to the Constitution—in respect of the ‘office of profit’ issue and the reservation for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward castes in non-minority, unaided private educational institutions—are cases in point.

1 comment:

  1. In so far as the recent Ninth Schedule judgment is concerned, the so-called baggage of illiberal laws holding back the economic reforms is more-or-less irrelevant. The FEMA is not in the Ninth Schedule. The IDR Act is already without its teeth with industrial licensing liberalised greatly. FERA is already repealed so its mention in the Ninth Schedule is only academic. ULC Act is already repealed by the Centre; only a few states like Maharashtra are continuing the legacy. I wonder how Essential Commodities Act comes (substantially) in the way of the economic reforms.

    Many of the second generation reforms (banking, labour, insurance, retail, and the like) do not require anything connected with the Ninth Schedule. They require more of legislative changes and some political courage. I don't think any judicial review or judicial intervention would be needed.

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