Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Legality is not guidance to morality

There are a number of issues about the relationship between morality and law in any pluralistic, secular democracy. Among them are whether legislation should reflect moral principles, whether judges should interpret laws in light of moral values and principles, whether laws should enforce morality, whether laws are binding if they do not reflect moral principles, whether it is moral or not to disobey bad laws, and what gives law its authority. 
  • Normally laws are desired to be crafted carefully and with regard for our moral notion of justice and fairness and with utilitarian regard to their fostering good, rather than harmful consequences. 
  • Not all morality is enshrined in the law. Many unfair and wrong business practices are not anticipated and were not made illegal until someone invents and uses them in a way mistreating others. These practices are wrong and immoral from inception, but not illegal until law catches up to them. 
  • In a sense morality is complete and applies to all acts, but the law typically is incomplete and only applies to behaviors legislation has already addressed. 
  • Law has to be invented or manufactured but morality only has to be recognized. Laws do have loopholes but morality does not have loopholes. It is impossible to make a complete set of laws that anticipate, enumerate, fully describe, and forbid every possible specific wrong behavior. 
  • Upholding morality is not the main purpose of most laws. Most laws are there to maintain order and safety or to promote efficiency. Laws are never meant for moral guidance.
  • Traffic laws are not based on morality. They are moral because they are a way of promoting social benefits of a certain kind in an optimal way. 
  • There are some government programs set up by law that simply harmed the people they were intended to help, such as aspects of the welfare rules that ended up trapping people in poverty rather than assisting them to escape it. 
  • Not all morality should be enshrined in law, because enforcing some morality would be far worse than not enforcing it. 
  • Society has a legitimate right to enforce morality in preventing great harm, it need not and should not make everyone do the right thing all the time. 
  • What makes people voluntarily obey laws --  they believe the law is in conformity with what is morally right (or if it is a procedural law, it does not conflict with what is right) and is just and beneficial.
  • It is always possible that people will obey the bad laws of any government out of fear or risk of punishment or reprisal. But that does not give law rightful authority. They have the power, but not the authority. 
  • Many morally good people will disobey laws they think are very wrong, either in a form of civil disobedience, or in order to get away with it because they believe the law does not have moral authority then. And if the government passes sufficiently many bad laws it will lose obedience by rebellion or revolution, because citizens will believe that the laws and the government are too immoral to have any authority that deserves their obedience.
The law is something like a formal system of rules and procedures that is meant to invoke and instantiate our moral sense of justice. People have an expectation for law to try to do that in the best way it can, so that even with institutional and administrative limitations, the law gives the most morally optimal results that can be achieved. The law should always be trying to live up to that expectation, not acting as, nor trying to be, a substitute for it. 

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Protests & street agitations

Certain events of civil unrest in India — violent crowds, protests and riots — put a serious strain on the secular foundation of the society. Be it the Swadeshi Movement of 1905 or Satyagrah in 1930, movements have shaped the history of the nation. 
  • A court has said people are out on the streets as what should have been said inside Parliament was “not said”. Additional sessions judge made the observation during a bail hearing case. While these observations are not legally binding but do carry certain heft, especially at a time the Modi government has been creating an impression that the Anti CAA protests are against the national interest.
  • The judge asked: “What is the problem with going to Jama Masjid? What is wrong with dharna? It is one’s constitutional right to protest. Where is the violence? What is wrong with any of these posts? Have you read the Constitution? “You are behaving as if Jama Masjid was Pakistan and even if it was Pakistan, you can go there and protest. Pakistan was a part of undivided India,” the judge said.
  • Expecting decisions without agitations is like expecting crops without ploughing the ground; rain without thunder and lightning. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

Some famous quotations:
  • Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization. Progress is born of agitation. It is agitation or stagnation ... Eugene V. Debs
  • Progress is dependent upon a productive and dynamic tension between institutionalism and insurrectionism. Insurrectionists keep our institutions honest ... Christopher Hayes
  • Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world would do this, it would change the earth ... William Faulkner
  • We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented ... Elie Wiesel 
  • Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient are slaves ... Henry David Thoreau
  • Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence ... Leonardo da Vinci
  • One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws .. Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable ... John F. Kennedy
  • A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government ... Edward Abbey
  • Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it ... Howard Zinn

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Bargaining in flea markets

Bargaining is an art that can help you bring down the price of a product in direct proportion to your skills. Connecting well with people and having a psychological advantage over salespeople also result in a good negotiation and can fetch you a better price than you had bargained for.
  • It's foolish not to bargain at a flea market. 
  • Bargaining is the accepted and expected method of finding a compromise between the merchant and the customer.
  • Prices can vary drastically among vendors at the same flea market. If prices aren't marked, assume there's a double price standard: one for locals and one for you. 
  • Watch to see what others would be charged. 
  • Usually traders raise the price to sometimes double the original cost. Ideally, one should bargain up to 20-30% of the quoted price.
  • Marked prices can distort your idea of an item's true worth. Many people think that if they can cut the price by 50% they are doing great. So the merchant quadruples his prices and the customer happily pays double the fair value. The best way to deal with crazy price tags is to ignore them. 
  • Before you even find out the price, determine the item's value to you, considering the hassles involved in packing it or shipping it home.
  • Merchants hate to lose a sale. Work the cost down, but if it doesn't match with the price you have in mind, walk away. That last amount the merchant hollers out is often the best price you'll get. If that price is right, go back and buy. Prices often drop at the end of the day, when merchants are about to pack up.
  • Keep a poker face and don't settle for the first counter-offer.
  • Cash speaks volumes at a flea market. Offer to pay cash instead of credit cards. They're often more willing to strike a deal if you pay cash, since they save on credit-card fees. Often, vendors don’t even accept another form of payment.
  • Look for defects. Inspect your item and point out the flaws prior to asking for a discount. If defects doesn't bother you much, you can bargain for additional discount too.
  • Don't hurry. Bargaining is rarely rushed. Make sure you are dealing with someone who has the authority to bend a price downward. Bid respectfully. If a merchant accepts your price, you must buy the item.
  • Don't show up in your designer duds and jewels and expect to get a discount. 
  • Remember to ask respectfully. Don't be too petty by haggling over small amounts. If your item is priced at Rs.1000 then don’t be stingy and offer Rs.50. The vendor needs to make money too. But make your offer a little lower than you are willing to pay so there is room for negotiation. A few rupees is worth more to the shopkeeper than to you.
  • Bargaining applies to goods, not to food sold at stands or outdoor produce markets. 
  • As in all areas of life, kindness matters at the flea market too.
  • Caution: If you buy an item (which you really don't need) at 40% discount, you haven't saved 40% but lost 60%. Buy only what you really need.

After retirement, I realized that while shops in malls, prices and discounts are fixed where we end up paying huge amounts not only for the higher quality goods but also for the ambiance, packaging and services. Similar goods, usually little lower in quality, are significantly cheaper and at times taxes not loaded in smaller shops. Hence I decided to buy most items from small street shops (rather than in malls) and never to indulge in tough bargain in flea markets but to just leave if I suspect prices are exorbitant.

Thursday, 28 November 2019

India’s ominous future: too little water, or far too much

The monsoon is central to Indian life and lore. It shapes the fortunes of millions of farmers who rely on the rains to nourish their fields. It governs what you eat. 
  • Climate change is now messing with the monsoon, making seasonal rains more intense and less predictable. Decades of short-sighted government policies are leaving millions of Indians defenseless in the age of climate disruptions, especially the poor.
  • The lakes that once held the rains in the bursting city of Bangalore are clogged with plastic and sewage. 
  • The rains are more erratic today. Extreme rainfall is more common and more extreme. The number of days with very heavy rains has increased, with longer dry spells in between. Less common are the sure and steady rains that can reliably penetrate the soil. This is ruinous for a country that gets the vast share of its water from the clouds.
  • Global warming has destroyed the concept of the monsoon. 
  • India’s insurance policy against droughts, the Himalayas, is at risk, too. The majestic mountains are projected to lose a third of their ice by the end of the century if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at their current pace.
  • Climate change isn’t the only culprit to blame for India’s water woes. Decades of greed and mismanagement are far more culpable. The lush forests that help to hold the rains continue to be cleared. Developers are given the green light to pave over creeks and lakes. Government subsidies encourage the over-extraction of groundwater. Groundwater is drawn faster than nature can replenish it.
  • By 2050, the World Bank estimates, erratic rainfall, combined with rising temperatures, stand to “depress the living standards of nearly half the country’s population.”
  • Since 1950, annual rainfall has declined by 15% in Marathwada. In that same period, cloudbursts have shot up threefold. But during that same period, Marathwada, along with the rest of India, has seen a boom in the production of one of thirstiest crops on earth: sugar cane.
  • In India, one of the most water-stressed countries in the world, the government subsidizes electricity, encouraging farmers to pump groundwater for their fields, as well as fertilizers, which are used in vast quantities. State-owned banks offer cheap loans, which are sometimes written off.

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Ayodhya verdict - Reminiscences

Nearly 3 decades ago, on December 6, 1992, a long-running dispute between Hindus and Muslims over a religious site in the northern city of Ayodhya took a dramatic turn (Babri Masjid demolished) and changed the course of Indian politics forever. Religious riots erupted, and 900 people, both Muslims and Hindus, were killed in Mumbai. And on March 12, 1993, 13 blasts ripped through the Mumbai city in retaliation for the mosque’s demolition, killing 317. Now, a verdict from the Supreme Court (on Nov 9, 2019) has legally closed the most divisive religious conflict and paved the way for the construction of a Hindu temple at the site. The court has insisted that a mosque also be built, but on an alternative plot of land.  This SC decision will allow the BJP and Modi government to bolster its political fortunes further by construction of a grand Ram temple just ahead of elections in Uttar Pradesh due in March 2022.
  • Real closure of the conflict will depend on how, going forward, India treats its more than 175 million Muslim citizens. Anything other than equitable justice will only leave deep scars and gaping wounds.
  • Since there has been no violence and protests, we should not mistake this for indifference. But this doesn't entail Muslims accepting the construction of a Ram temple at the site. The court has said that the demolition of the mosque was “a serious violation of the rule of law” and that “it is necessary to provide restitution to the Muslim community for the unlawful destruction of their place of worship.”  Justice in the Babri masjid demolition case is critical to Indian democracy’s promise of fair play and equality.
  • In the 2019 election, BJP fielded only seven Muslim candidates. In the 2017 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, where the temple will be built and has 19.3% Muslims (about 4.40 crores), the BJP did not field any Muslim candidates. India owes it to Muslim citizens to address this sense of political marginalization.
  • It was the Muslims who suffered the razing of their place of worship; they were also the victims of the violence which followed. The community sought redressal and placed its faith in the institutions for justice. The Supreme Court ruling is riddled with contradictions but its biggest problem is the loss of faith it has triggered among Muslims about the possibility of justice. What can be worse for a democracy when its largest minority group does not hope for justice but fearfully settles for a verdict that they know is no less than injustice to them? -- Arfa Khanum Sherwani writes in
  • Whatever the provocation from Pakistan and whatever the indignities and horrors inflicted on non-Muslims there, we have to deal with this minority [India’s Muslims] in a civilized manner. If we fail to do so, we shall have a festering sore. -- Jawaharlal Nehru
If Babri Masjid was still standing, would SC have had it demolished? 
-- Justice A.K. Ganguly (Retd Judge of Supreme Court)

The PM Modi's appeal for harmony, on the eve of the Ayodhya verdict, and warning against seeing the outcome as a victory or defeat for either side casts doubts about his prior knowledge and influencing the judgement. Muslims may grudgingly and helplessly accept this verdict with a pinch of salt but in the reverse scenario, Hindu groups (RSS, VHP etc) would definitely have pressurized central government to promulgate ordinance allotting Babri Masjid plot for Ram Janmabhoomi temple construction.

Thursday, 31 October 2019


The Constitution vests a lot of power and certain amount of immunity in judges. Fairness and impartiality are the fundamental qualities to be possessed by a judge. Once it appears to the judge that he cannot deliver justice in an impartial manner, ethically he is expected to recuse. The right to recuse is given to the discretion of the judges. But the question that arises is whether such choices of significance be left to the prerogative of the individual judges. 
  • Judges recuse themselves when they take no part in deciding cases that they would otherwise help decide. The judges to recuse themselves from cases where the judge has a financial interest in the case's outcome or where there is otherwise a strong possibility that the judge's decision will be biased. 
  • Any party in a lawsuit may request that a judge recuse him or herself.
  • This question is the pondering of circumstances where an act of recusal becomes a contravention to that judge’s legal responsibility and moral duty to hear a matter and deliver unprejudiced justice.
  • Also, are the judges accountable for explaining the reasons for recusal to the concerned parties?
  • The professional ethics behind recusal of a judge has to do with the opacity about the reasons as to which the recusal has happened. Since India is a liberal democracy, the citizens expect accountability from public servants. By not giving reasons to recusal the judge is putting herself under speculation by the public. 
  • If a judge finds out that his brother/ sister judge recused for a specific reason, there could be an inclination from the new judge to give a favorable verdict for the party in whose favor the other judge recused.
  • Recusal is not an instance where the judiciary is under threat as the aggrieved party would like to know why a judge has recused.
  • Judges must give their reasons in writing for recusing themselves from specific cases.
  • There has to be a requirement of statutory obligation on the judges to inform the litigants as to why there is a decision to recuse from hearing. Recusal should be used sparingly like the emergency provision in the Indian Constitution.
In a 1980 appeal against Shell and BP, in England, in which “the registrar of civil appeals was unable to assemble three judges who had no shares in either defendant.” Invariably, therefore, when a judge owns shares in one of the litigants what we expect is disclosure of the fact, and if neither party objects one might think it’s acceptable for the judge to hear the case. But in the absence of a well-defined rule that helps establish a basic standard, a decision of this kind can prove troubling somewhere down the line.

Independence and impartiality are the twin pillars without which justice cannot stand,
and the purpose of recusal is to underpin them - 
Sir Stephen Sedley

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Indian economic recession

In the budget, the FM Nirmala Sitharaman claimed that India’s economy would hit $5 trillion by 2025. In the weeks that followed, GDP growth rater fell to a six-year low of 5%; the RBI made a surplus transfer of Rs 1.76 lakh crore to the union government; and the government announced the merger of ten public-sector banks into four combinations. These announcements came against the backdrop of the precarious state of the Indian economy. The country is witnessing an economic slowdown that has spread from the auto sector to all other segments, the unemployment rate is at a 45-year high and the tax collections from the previous fiscal year presented an estimated shortfall of Rs 1.67 lakh crore from the revenue expected by the BJP government. The going seems difficult for both Sitharaman and the Indian economy.
  • The RBI has lowered India's growth forecast for FY20 to 6.1% from 6.9% it projected earlier. The World Bank has cut India's GDP growth forecast from 7.5% to 6% this year.
  • India is a consumption-driven economy. When consumers buy goods and services, the wheels of the economy turn. That has not been happening for several quarters and for various reasons.
  • Fewer jobs (at 6.1% in 2017-18, unemployment was the highest in 45 years), a freeze in salary hikes and bonuses, layoffs and uncertainty in businesses are making people cut down on spending.
  • Incomes and wages in rural India, where 67% of India's population lives, have been hit because of low food prices. Agriculture GDP grew just 2% in the first quarter of the current fiscal, compared to 5.1% in the same quarter of the previous fiscal.
  • Consequently growth in private consumption expenditure is down to an 18-quarter low of 3.1% in June 2019. Savings declined to an all-time low because of static or falling incomes.
  • Construction, which is a big employment generator, is decelerating because of the slump in real estate. Exports fell 6.57% in Sept 2019 compared to a year ago. Discoms are groaning under a combined debt of over Rs 2.4 lakh crore. Corporate sector revenue growth fell to an 11-quarter low and investments plunged to a 15-year low.
  • The banking and financial services sector is in a mess. There is liquidity, but no loans are being given. Banks are tottering under a mountain of NPA's of close to 10% of their total assets. They are fearful of giving fresh loans in case they add to their woes. Non-banking financial companies, which are a major source of consumer loans, are in a mess of their own and unable to extend credit. And the string of collapsing financial institutions has further sapped consumer confidence in the system.
  • The government's rescue acts like slashing corporate tax rates and unprecedented interest rate cuts by the RBI seem to be yielding no results in the short term.
  • These are exceptional times and they call for exceptional measures. Indian government could take cue from the US Federal Reserve spent nearly 800 billion dollars to pre-empt an imminent economic meltdown in 2008.
The Indian economy is in a vicious downward spiral and the Modi government needs to stop worrying about the fiscal deficit & inflation etc and start pouring money into the economy to stimulate growth. They need to put money in people's pockets in every way they can. This appears to be the only way to get the jammed wheels of the economy moving again.