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India Unwrapped: Judiciary pushes Centre on edge, new jobs report a bright spot
Photo Credit: Reuters

Even as the world this week soaked in the historic summit meeting between North and South Korean leaders, events in India were no less extraordinary, with judiciary hogging the limelight, and for all the wrong reasons.

In fact, while murmurs of dissent against the Chief Justice of India, Dipak Mishra, was common knowledge within the corridors of the apex court for a while, the public squabble which followed the appearance of the four senior-most judges before the people’s court to raise their concerns, seeped into this week with the Indian polity divided over what is right, and what is left of being right.

The week started with Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu rejecting the Opposition’s impeachment motion against the CJI, and ended over yet another bitter note with the government controversially rejecting a proposal by the Supreme Court’s collegium to elevate Uttarakhand High Court Chief Justice KM Joseph to the apex court.

The Centre’s decision to clear the appointment of senior lawyer Indu Malhotra as a Supreme Court judge was just an addendum to the out-of-court drama between the judiciary, the executive and the Opposition.

However, despite the negative news notwithstanding, India’s courts did once again steadfastly uphold the law, when controversial and politically well-connected, self-styled godman Asaram was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for raping a minor at his ashram in 2013. The 77 year old, who was seen as being close to the Bharatiya Janata Party, will spend the rest of his life in jail.

Amid all the allegations against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of interfering in and politicising the judiciary, the man himself was on a crucial tour to China – an ‘informal’ summit with president Xi Jinping.

Modi’s visit, just days after two top Indian ministers, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, were in attendance at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit, is being seen as an attempt by both countries to bridge a trust deficit, which has been simmering ever since the standoff at Doklam.

The two leaders are expected to iron out the differences over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the One Belt One Road initiative, India’s membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, trade and border issues, among others.

While Modi raised the pitch over international security issues with the most powerful Asian neighbour and its largest trading partner, his government, too, scored a significant victory on the homeland security front with security forces neutralising 33 alleged Naxals on the morning of 22 April in Chhattisgarh. Reports said the security forces encircled the Maoist camp located near the state’s border with Maharashtra in a manner that left the rebels with no other escape route but to jump into the river Indravati. Even as they returned fire, most were killed in a bloody encounter in the wee hours.

On the economic front, too, the government had something to cheer about. Data released by the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation and the National Pension System showed that more than 2.2 million new jobs were added in the six months leading to February.

However, what proved to be a damper of sorts was the news that the US could deny jobs to the spouses of H1B visa holders – a move that could have a devastating impact on thousands of Indian couples working in the country. The Trump administration now reportedly wants to scrap the so-called H-4 Employment Authorisation Document visa system, which was instituted by the erstwhile Obama regime in 2015, and had since allowed as many as one lakh people to get jobs in the US.

This, even as it was reported that among the top seven Indian IT companies in the US, H1B visa approvals for India had dropped by a whopping 43% between 2015 and 2017. The National Foundation for American Policy, a US-based think tank, said in a report that the top India based companies in the country had received just 8,468 H1B visas in 2017, compared to 14,792 in 2015.

Although the week saw the benchmark BSE Sensex cross the 35,000 mark in more than two months, it looks like the country is nowhere close to seeing the end of its banking woes. Axis Bank reported a massive Rs 2,189 crore loss for the last quarter of 2017-18, going against analysts’ expectations of profit. This translated into the lender setting aside Rs 7,179 crore towards provisioning for bad loans, which was thrice the amount it had set aside during the same quarter last year, indicating a significant hit on its asset quality.

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