Emerging ‘(dis) Order’ of International and National Governance: Some Reflections

corporations v democracy

The canvas of the theme of the Seminar is too vast and the sub themes of it are too many. It becomes difficult for me to select issues to reflect my mind. To avoid any controversy and to make my address meaningful and to infuse in it the contemporaneity I have prepared the framework of my speech revolving around some of the major issues identified by the community of Nations in the adoption of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015. However, I am only concentrating my discussion on ten SDGs and the three other concepts evolved by the United Nations – human development, human security and good governance.

 Let us know what are these Goals which the world community and the UN have committed to achieve by 2030. They are summed up here – Goal 1: No poverty; Goal 2: Zero hunger; Goal 3: Good health and well-being; Goal 4: Quality education; Goal 5: Gender equality; Goal 6: Clean water and sanitation; Goal 7: Affordable and clean energy; Goal 8: Industry, innovation and infrastructure; Goal10: Reduced inequalities; Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities; Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production; Goal 13: Climate action; Goal 14: Life below water; Goal 15: Life on land; Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions; Goal 17: Partnership for the Goals.

1.      Fragile world peace

Due to many types of war (conventional war, nuclear war, cold war, proxy war, guerrilla war, cyber war, chemical war, civil war, ideological war, hegemonic war, total/world wars, war on terror, star war, just war, intrastate Conflicts), World Peace becomes fragile and the destruction of property and inflation affect the people. Look at World War I, which was one of the deadliest conflicts in the history of the human race leading to over 16 million deaths. The total number of both civilian and military casualties is estimated at around 37 million people. The war killed almost 7 million civilians and 10million military personnel. Another estimate reveals that the total dead and wounded alone came to 46,000,000, i.e., 4.6 crore. Also, the estimated direct cost of war reached a little over 200 billion dollars. Indirect cost – destruction of property, sinking of ships, etc cost 150 billion dollars. Indeed, the war led to the economic exhaustion of Europe and dislocation of the world economy. Mounting national debt, inflation, unemployment, food shortage, and poverty became endemic. The war also destroyed Europe’s industrial supremacy in the world. In place of Europe, the USA and Japan emerged as the new leading industrial nations of the world.

The War also caused the downfall of four monarchies: Germany, Turkey, Austria-Hungary, and Russia.

Also, the war made people more open to other ideologies, such as the Bolsheviks that came to power in Russia and fascism that triumphed in Italy and even later in Germany.

            World War II was, arguably, the most significant and influential event of the twentieth century. The devastation is almost incalculable: total military and civilian deaths are estimated at 70 to85 million, about 3 percent of the global population during that time. World War II also saw the dawn of the nuclear age.

            Estimated to cause 10 million military deaths,7 million civilian deaths, 21 million wounded, and 7.7 million missing or imprisoned. Other estimates state that over 60 million people died in World War II. Estimated deaths range from 50-80 million. 38 to 55 million civilians were killed, including 13 to 20 million from war-related disease and famine. Accurate count of casualties of these World Wars is missing. We find innumerable discrepancies in the data available.

In 2021 world military expenditure surpassed the two trillion US dollar mark for the first time, reaching $2113 billion (more than 2 trillion). Global spending in 2021 was 0.7 per cent higher than in 2020 and 12 percent higher than in 2012.           

            Look at the regular biennial budget of the UN for 2016-2017was $5.4 billion, which pays for UN activities, staff and basic infrastructure. For peacekeeping, the budget for the year 1 July 2016 to 30 June 2017 was $7.87 billion. In comparison, every year the world spends nearly $2 trillion on military expenditure. Peace is far cheaper than war and a good value for money.

2.      Issues of Global Poverty/Growing Inequality

As the rich and powerful from across the globe gather here for the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting 2022, Oxfam International on Monday said the COVID-19 pandemic has seen one new billionaire emerging every 30 hours, while nearly one million people could be pushed into extreme poverty every 33 hours this year.

Releasing a report titled ‘Profiting from Pain’ here in Davos, the rights group further said as the cost of essential goods rises faster than it has in decades, billionaires in the food and energy sectors are increasing their fortunes by $1 billion every two days.

The WEF, which describes itself as an international organisation for public-private partnership, is hosting its annual meeting in Davos after a gap of more than two years.” Billionaires are arriving in Davos to celebrate an incredible surge in their fortunes. The pandemic and now the steep increases in food and energy prices have, simply put, been a bonanza for them. Meanwhile, decades of progress on extreme poverty are now in reverse and millions of people are facing impossible rises in the cost of simply staying alive,” said Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam International.

The report showed that 573 people became new billionaires during the pandemic, at the rate of one every 30 hours. “We expect this year that 263 million more people will crash into extreme poverty, at a rate of a million people every 33 hours,” Oxfam International said. Billionaires’ wealth has risen more in the first 24 months of COVID-19 than in 23 years combined. The total wealth of the world’s billionaires is now equivalent to 13.9 percent of global GDP. Bucher further said billionaires’ fortunes have not increased because they are now smarter or working harder. “Workers are working harder, for less pay and in worse conditions. The super-rich have rigged the system with impunity for decades and they are now reaping the benefits. They have seized a shocking amount of the world’s wealth as a result of privatization and monopolies, gutting regulation and workers’ rights while stashing their cash in tax havens – all with the complicity of governments,” she added. Bucher further said, “Meanwhile, millions of others are skipping meals, turning off the heating, falling behind on bills and wondering what they can possibly do next to survive. Across East Africa, one person is likely dying every minute from hunger. This grotesque inequality is breaking the bonds that hold us together as humanity. It is divisive, corrosive and dangerous. This is inequality that literally kills.”

Oxfam’s new research also showed that corporations in the energy, food and pharmaceutical sectors — where monopolies are especially common — are posting record-high profits, even as wages have barely budged and workers struggle with decades-high prices amid COVID-19.

According to 2022 Oxfam report, in India, during the pandemic (since March 2020, through to November 30th, 2021) the wealth of billionaires increased from INR 23.14lakh crore (USD 313 billion) to INR 53.16 lakh crore (USD 719 billion). More than 4.6 crore Indians meanwhile are estimated to have fallen into extreme poverty in 2020 (nearly half of the global new poor according to the United Nations.) The stark wealth inequality in India is a result of an economic system rigged in favour of the super-rich over the poor and marginalised. (https://www.oxfamindia.org/press-release/inequality-kills-india-supplement-2022 ). The report further reveals that “richest 98 Indians own the same wealth as the bottom 55.2 crore people”. The collective wealth of India’s 100 richest people hit a record high of INR 57.3 lakh crore (USD 775 billion) in 2021.

According to the report, five of the largest energy companies – BP, Shell, TotalEnergies, Exxon and Chevron – are together making $2,600 profit every second, and there are now 62 new food billionaires.

Together with just three other companies, the Cargill family controls 70 per cent of the global agricultural market and the family alone now has 12 billionaires, up from eight before the pandemic.

           From Sri Lanka to Sudan, record-high global food prices are sparking social and political upheaval, while 60 percent of low-income countries are on the brink of debt distress.” While inflation is rising everywhere, price hikes are particularly devastating for low-wage workers whose health and livelihoods were already most vulnerable to COVID-19, particularly women, racialized and marginalized people. People in poorer countries spend more than twice as much of their income on food than those in rich countries,” Oxfam said.

It further said that 2,668 billionaires – 573 more than in 2020 – own $12.7trillion, an increase of $3.78 trillion, while the world’s ten richest men own more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of humanity or 3.1 billion people.

It said the richest 20 billionaires are worth more than the entire GDP of Sub-Saharan Africa. “A worker in the bottom 50 per cent would have to work for 112 years to earn what a person in the top 1 per cent gets in a single year. High informality and overload due to care tasks have kept 4 million women in Latin America and the Caribbean out of the workforce. Half of working women of colour in the US earn less than USD 15 an hour,” other findings of the research showed.

 Oxfam further said the pandemic has created 40 new pharma billionaires and alleged that pharmaceutical corporations like Moderna and Pfizer are making USD 1,000 profit every second just from their monopoly control of the COVID-19 vaccine, despite its development having been supported by billions of dollars in public investments. “They are charging governments up to 24 times more than the potential cost of generic production, while 87 percent of people in low-income countries have still not been fully vaccinated,” according to Oxfam.”

Over two years since the pandemic began, after more than 20 million estimated deaths from COVID-19 and widespread economic destruction, government leaders in Davos face a choice: act as proxies for the billionaire class who plunder their economies, or take bold steps to act in the interests of their great majorities,” Bucher said.” One common economic sense measure above all will put this to the test: whether governments will finally tax billionaire wealth,” she asked.

Oxfam recommended that the governments should urgently introduce one-off solidarity taxes on billionaires’ pandemic windfalls to fund support for people facing rising food and energy costs and a fair and sustainable recovery from COVID-19.

           Argentina has adopted a one-off special levy dubbed the ‘millionaire’s tax’ and is now considering introducing a windfall tax on energy profits as well as a tax on undeclared assets held overseas to repay IMF debt.

 Oxfam also called for ending the crisis profiteering by introducing a temporary excess profit tax of 90 per cent to capture the windfall profits of big corporations across all industries. It estimated that such a tax on just 32 super-profitable multinational companies could have generated $104 billion in revenue in 2020.

The rights group also urged the governments across the world to introduce permanent wealth taxes to rein in extreme wealth and monopoly power, as well as the outsized carbon emissions of the super-rich. An annual wealth tax on millionaires starting at just 2 per cent, and 5 percent on billionaires, could generate $2.52 trillion a year – enough to lift 2.3 billion people out of poverty, make enough vaccines for the world, and deliver universal healthcare and social protection for everyone living in low-and lower middle-income countries, it added. We should remember what the Constitution of UNESCO said: “Poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere.” Aristotle too had opined that “Inequality is a mother of all revolutions”. 

3.      Gender Discrimination & Violence against Women

Gender discrimination and violence Women in many societies were perceived as inherently inferior, intellectually deficient, and physically and emotionally weak and subservient to men. In all countries they were facing discrimination. They had no inheritance rights in customary laws. Within the sanctity of the home, they were subjected to mental and physical violence or sexual abuse, such as incest, rape, dowry deaths, wife battering, genital mutilation, prostitution and forced marriages or sterilization.  During war or conflict, they become easy targets of torture, slavery, mass rape and other crimes against humanity. Son preference in many societies is leading to what Amartya Sen calls, “Missing women”. Sen wrote an article, titled “More than 100 million Women are missing”, in New York Review of Books, on 20 December1990. Since Sen wrote, the figures have changed a little. According to the World Bank World Development Report 2012, 3.9 million women below the age of 60 still go ‘missing’ each year. About two-thirds of them are never born, one-fifth goes missing in infancy and childhood, and the remaining two-fifths do so between the ages of 15 and 59 (p.173). Women are not equal to men in education, availing health facilities, participating in decision making bodies like Parliament or cabinet. They are paid less in comparison to men for the same work. They are considered as caregivers and home managers without any remuneration.  According to the 2011 Report of MDGs, women held only 19.3 percent of seats in Parliament worldwide, although this was a big improvement from 1995 when the figure was 11.6 percent.  In 48 countries in 2011 women made less than10 percent of the members, and nine countries had no women parliamentarians at all (p.20). We should dismantle this patriarchal architecture of discrimination and subjugation of women.

 As of 1 January 2021 (2021 Report on SDGs), women’s representation was far from parity: the global average of women in single or lower chambers of national parliaments was only 25.6 percent, and 36.3 per cent in local deliberative bodies, continuing a slow upward trend. At the current rate, it will take no fewer than 40 years to achieve gender parity in national parliaments. Only 23 countries have at least 40 percent female representation in their lower or single chambers of parliament; 22 countries in local government. Most achieved such progress through the use of gender quotas. In 2020, the share of parliamentary seats won by women in countries with legislated quotas was 27.4 per cent, compared with 15.6 percent in countries with no quota systems. At the local level, use of legislated quotas increased a country’s representation of women by 7 percentage points.

Though women accounted for nearly 39 percent of the global labour force in 2019, they occupied only 28.2 percent of managerial positions. The pandemic’s disproportionate impact on women in the workforce, and especially on women entrepreneurs, threatens to roll back the little progress that has been made in reducing the global gender gap in managerial positions.

Discriminatory laws and legal gaps continue to deprive women of their human rights. Discriminatory laws and legal gaps continue to prevent women from enjoying their full human rights, based on data collected in 95 countries across four areas of law in 2020. In the area of overarching legal frameworks and public life, more than half of the countries with data lacked quotas for women in national parliaments, and close to one fifth maintained discriminatory nationality laws.

In the area of violence against women, 83 per cent of countries included budgetary commitments to implement legislation addressing violence against women, but 63 per cent lacked rape laws based on the principle of consent. In the area of employment and economic benefits, over 90 percent of countries mandated non-discrimination on the basis of gender in employment, but almost half of them continued to restrict women from working in certain jobs or industries. In the area of marriage and family, almost a quarter of countries failed to grant women equal rights with men to enter into marriage and initiate divorce, and three quarters of countries did not stipulate 18 years as the minimum age of marriage for women and men, with no exceptions.

4. Decline of Parliamentary Democracy in India

Despite our celebration of “Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav” during the 75th year of independence in 2022, following grim realities should be acknowledged.

(i)The percentage of bills referred to Parliamentary Committees has drastically reduced from 71 per cent in the 15th Lok Sabha (2009-14) to 27 per cent in the16th Lok Sabha (2014-19), and to only around 13 per cent since 2019.

 (ii)Between 2004 and 2014, 61 ordinances were passed at an average of around six ordinances per year. After 2014, more than 80 ordinances have been passed in eight years, at around ten per year.

(iii)In the 14th (2004-09) and 15th Lok Sabha, a total of 113 short duration discussions were held. In the 16th and 17th (2019-present) Lok Sabha, that has declined to 42.

(iv)In the 14th and 15th Lok Sabha, 152 calling attention notices were allowed. In the 16th and 17th Lok Sabha, this declined to 17.

(v) Between 2004 and 2014, 99.38 per cent assurances were implemented. After 2014, this has dropped down to 79 per cent, with 2021 seeing the lowest ever record of less than 30 per cent assurances being implemented. (Soumyadeep Chatterjee, “The Continuing Decline of Parliamentary Democracy in India”, The Leaflet, 25 May 2022).

4.      Challenges in North East India

The region of North East India comprising eight states has nearly 8 percent of the total geographical area of the country. The region connected to mainland India through a very narrow strip of land with a width of about 22 km called “chicken neck”. North-East India shares international borders with China and Bhutan on its North, Myanmar on its East and Bangladesh on its south and western side. The Northeast region with 99 percent of its boundary being the international border, the problems and peculiarities are even more accentuated. The region is host to an overwhelming proportion of the tribal population. It has over 160 scheduled tribes. Northeast has been the land of thousand Insurgencies. The roots of insurgency in the North-Eastern region are embedded in its geography, history and a host of socio-economic factors. These insurgencies are due to various reasons: social, cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity, terrain, socio-economic development, politico-economic conditions, historical evolution and changes in the environment of the area.

There are many reasons for the isolation of North-east India. Poverty, unemployment, inadequate healthcare, and the feeling of neglect has also contributed to insurgencies. Governance Deficit, widespread corruption, lack of accountability exists in NE India. Even the agricultural growth did not take place due to hilly terrain causing food Insecurity. Dependency on the Central Government aid is widespread. Deep rise of alienation exists due to human rights violations by the Security forces, courtesy Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Hostile neighbours like China are extending moral and material support to the insurgent groups. Migration of people from plain areas posing threat to their cultural and indigenous identity. Besides the problems of development, different border segments have different social problems such as incursion, infiltration, migration, smuggling, drug trafficking, AIDS etc.

The tribal people are associated with a territory and have a strong and living tradition of self-governance. Accordingly, special provisions have been incorporated in the Constitution relating to the administration of the tribal areas. The relevant areas in the States of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram have been formally designated as “Tribal Areas” while those in other States as “Schedules Areas”. The provisions of the Fifthand the Sixth Schedules apply to the administration and control of the “Scheduled Areas” and “Tribal Areas” respectively. Let us elaborate how the tribal peoples’ strong and living tradition of self–governance has been ensured in the Fifth and the Sixth Schedules of the Constitution.

The Fifth Schedule has been described as “Constitution within the Constitution”. It gives a lot of autonomy to Scheduled Areas (SAs) in the matter of administration. In the case of SA, the Governor has a special responsibility in respect of administration and control of the SA. The Governor has power to direct non-applicable or application with suitable adaptation of Acts of Parliament or State Assemblies to SAs. Moreover, the Governor can make regulations for peace and good administration of the SAs in consultation with the Tribes Advisory Council, subject to their approval by the President. Such regulations may specifically prohibit or restrict the transfer of land, regulate allotment of land to tribals in such areas and the business of money lending to STs. The Governor has to submit a report on the administration of SAs to the President annually. The executive power of the State in respect of the SAs is subject to the provisions of the Fifth Schedule and the executive power of the Central Government extends to the giving of directives as to the administration of the said areas. The financial outlays necessary for raising the level of administration to that of the rest of the State are not voted on but are a charge on the Consolidated Fund of India under Article 275(1) of the Constitution. The financial sanction in these cases is automatic once a scheme is agreed to.

A unique feature of the Sixth Schedule is the establishment of Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) with legislative, judicial and executive functions, all rolled into one. The legislative functions under Para 3 of the Sixth Schedule cover management of land, water courses, forests not being a reserved forest, regulation of Jhum, village/town administration including police, inheritance, social customs. No law of the State legislature shall extend to a District Council Area without its consent. The District Council can modify or adapt with exceptions such laws if it so desires. In the case of Assam, the Governor can direct by a notification that any Act of Parliament and of the State legislature shall not apply to “an autonomous” district/region” or any part of it or shall apply subject to such modifications and exceptions as he may specify. In the case of Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura, this Power in respect of Acts of Parliament is, however, vested with the President of India.

Despite enormous powers that are given to the Governor under the Constitution, which are automatic, to adopt Central and State laws for SAs and Tribal Areas (TAs). B.D. Sharma, a former Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, critiques that no systematic review of the Central and State laws was made by the President (as per Article 372). And no Governor deemed it necessary to have a second look at those laws in terms of his responsibility implicit in the limitless powers for adaptation under Para 5 of the Fifth Schedule and Para 12 of the Sixth Schedule. There is more to it. Virtually no Governor has used this power ever thereafter to adapt any Central or State law enacted in the last half century. (B.D. Sharma, “Rights of Tribals”, Journal of the NHRC, Vol. 1, 2002, pp.79-132).

Thus, we have an ambivalent situation. Despite Constitutional rights of STs, the tribal people stood deprived of the protective shield of their traditional system of self-governance. The inaction of the Government has made them totally defenceless. Moreover, all sorts of intruders, traders, contractors, criminals and fortune seekers are challenging the simple people of these areas. All human rights embedded in the identity of the community and its natural right of self-governance and command over resources in the traditional territories have been severely limited.

There is a ray of hope, however. The reservations in Panchayats and Municipalities for STs are now a constitutional mandate under Article 243D and 243T. The traditional right of self-governance of the tribal community has been given a formal frame under the Panchayat (Extension    to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996. It may be noted here that the Constitution (Seventy-third Amendment) was not extended automatically to the Scheduled Areas, thus it became the first law of independent India not applicable to SAs. Hence the 1996 Extension Act was adopted. Under this Act it is mandatory that not less than 50 percent of seats in Panchayats at any level shall be reserved for STs irrespective of the proportion of their population in the relevant areas and that the chairperson of all such Panchayats shall be a ST.           

Suggestions have been advanced on how to make effective the working of Sixth Schedule.  First, there must be trained members elected in ADCs to ensure a healthy governance system with more responsible officials. Second, there is a need for insertion of provisions in the sixth schedule to make ADCs more accountable towards their functioning. The provisions must mandate the ADCs to make village councils to establish effective interaction at field level. Third, it is identified that local council bodies established under the 73rd amendment have more powers in access to financial assistance with the support of the State financial commission. However, the issues that tribal areas of North-eastern regions are facing in relation to the unequal financial assistance must be resolved with effective measures (The Statesman, 2019). Fourth, the government can establish a body or committee that can monitor all the budget allocation activities in different areas specified under schedule so that such areas can get equal opportunities for growth and development. (Aniruddha Babar, “An Interface between Sixth Schedule and Tribal Autonomy: A Constructive Critique on the working Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India”, 5 December 2019, https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3608831  ) 

Concluding Thoughts

Having bullet trains is not development. Having world’s highest statue of Sardar Patel at the cost of Rs. 641 crore rupees is not development [one advantage” Patel can see how far are Ache Din from India; one disadvantage: how can you lower the status of Jawaharlal Nehru in comparison to Sardar Patel, as the foundation stone of Sardar Sarovar Dam was laid by the first PM]. Buying Rafael is not development. If you can manufacture Rafael or Bofors guns in India, it will be developed. It is a tragedy that a country of 7 crore people (France) is manufacturing Rafael aircrafts, whereas a country of 140 crore people (India) is trying to discover temples below the mosques. How many Indian universities’ names are in the top 1000 universities in the world? On the other hand, we hear a sad news that in the third week of May 2022, the Hyderabad police have arrested the Vice-Chancellor and a former Vice-Chancellor of Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan University (SRKU), a private university in Bhopal, for their alleged involvement in the fraudulent degree certificate racket. The scam was busted by the task force police three months ago.

The real development is what is your global ranking in 2022 – since India wants to become vishw guru (world leader). India’s ranking is poor, e.g., in the human development index (132), environmental performance index (180 out of 180 countries), corruption index (85), hunger index (101), governance index (52 rank), democracy index (46 ranking), world justice project’s ROL index (37), and, world press freedom index (150). Remember Khalil Gibran who said: “Life without liberty is like a body without spirit”.

Both the systems of International and national governance have fallen far short of our expectations on three concepts of human development, human security and good governance and 2015 SDGs. But we should not end this keynote speech with such notes of pessimism. We should be optimists and should hope that “Good Days” will come soon when we all collectively endeavour and march towards our dream (when everyone participates in voting) of building a sustainable society – at all levels, from local, regional, national and international. Every citizen should participate in electing good leaders/representatives. One should not remain apolitical, neutral or unconcerned with politics of the day. “Politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians”, said Charles de Gaulle. Once Plato had said that one of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors. In fact, voters don’t decide issues, they decide who will decide issues. Franklin D. Roosevelt once said: “In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way”. In today’s politics, a lie unanswered becomes the truth within 24 hours.


* Excerpts from keynote address by Professor Abdulrahim P. Vijapur, Emeritus Professor in Political Science, USTM, delivered in 2 Day National Seminar, “Contemporary Issues of National and international Politics”, organized by Department of Political Science, University of Science and Technology, Meghalaya (USTM), 13-14 June 2022.


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