Tuesday, September 1, 2015

#GE2015 - Why can’t Singapore trust its youngsters?

It’s election time in Singapore! Most of my friends in Singapore (1992 born) shall be getting only their first opportunity ever to vote in a General Election unlike my Indian buddies who have already voted in a General Election as well as several state elections.

Though in the words of Singapore’s first Prime Minister, (Harry) Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore has moved ‘From third world to the first’, Singapore still maintains its colonial hangover of having a minimum voting age of 21 though Britain and most of the rest of the world has already reduced the voting age to 18 if not lower.

Along with Singapore, the other members of the group of countries with a high voting age are, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Tonga and Tokelau! Is this really the group of countries that Singapore wants to identify with? (Yes, neighbouring Malaysia also retains a high voting age of 21 but just because they have a colonial hangover doesn’t mean that Singapore should too. And this applies to not just the voting age but other issues such as 377A, preventive detention and judicial caning too.)

Most Commonwealth countries, and western democracies have reduced the voting age to 18 during the 1960s and 1970s. Even in Singapore’s own backyard, all ASEAN countries apart from Singapore and Malaysia allow their citizens to vote at atleast 18 years of age. Japan, one of the last developed countries also holding on to a high voting age, just recently amended its law and has reduced the voting age to 18 this year. 

“Old enough to fight, old enough to vote”

In the United States and Great Britain, one of the most prominent arguments for lowering of the age of voting was that anyone who was considered old enough to fight and die for the nation, should be considered old enough to take part in the nation’s decision making processes. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who led the American forces in Europe during the Second World War and then became the President of the United States himself stated that he believed that those who were old enough to be conscripted should be considered old enough to vote. The logic behind this argument is a fairly straightforward one, if someone is going to be sent to war, he should have a say in choosing the leaders who make those decisions regarding going to war (or not). More simplistically, if you can trust someone with handling lethal weapons (and multimillion dollars worth military technology and platforms such as fighter planes, radars and submarines), you should be able to trust them to make a simple choice for their leaders at the polling booth.

Even at the worst of times, United States has only had a ‘draft’ or ‘lottery’ system of conscription while Singapore has universal conscription for all men. Thus, the “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote” argument applies just as much, if not more, to Singapore as it did to the United States. It is imperative that the Singaporeans conscripted into the SAF have the opportunity to vote for the leaders who make the decisions about their deployment.

Clumsy Justifications of the Ministry of Law, Singapore

At present the Singapore Ministry of Law justifies the high voting age by simply stating that Singapore does not have a single threshold age of majority for all purposes. Adulthood is attained through a gradual process, with a progressive increase in rights and responsibilities. The example given is that the right to drive is attained at 18 while voting and making a will is allowed only at 21. This is at best a description of the situation at hand and by no means is it an explanation or justification regarding why the voting age is 21.

Why does Singapore believe in a system where some rights are given at each threshold rather than all at 18? Even if it has to be a progressive system why the right to vote only at 21? Why cant it come before the right to drive? 

The letter by Ministry of Law representative (reproduced above) provides no answer to these questions, nor does it give any logical connection or showing how acquisition of certain rights makes citizens better enabled to choose their representatives at a later point in time. Did learning to drive or rather having the right to drive really make anybody better qualified to vote or choose a representative? I don’t think so. 

The letter also makes a reference to citizens having had work experience and NS experience by the age of 21 without demonstrating how exactly that makes one better able to gauge electoral candidates. The laws made by the Parliament affect all the citizens equally rather than just those who are employed, so there is hardly any natural link between employment and assessing candidates for parliamentary elections or their policies.

Just trust the teenagers

Unlike what the Ministry of Law believes, voting is simple matter. It is not some complex level of decision making requiring hyper maturity which young Singaporeans don’t have. All you have to do during an election is to choose a candidate who you think could represent you and your area (constituency) the best. You have to look out for your self interest. Looking for one’s self interest is such a basic human attribute that even children do not need to be taught. With one of the highest literacy rates in the world, Singaporean teens are definitely educated and mature enough to understand national policies and to evaluate candidates. Many of the polices are even discussed in the Social Studies (Combined Humanities) classes in Secondary Schools and General Paper Classes in the Junior Colleges. Similarly, teens are also exposed to the electoral process on a smaller level in the elections for students council / prefects et al in their schools.

Lastly, there is no right way to make a choice about whom to vote for that needs to be learnt. In a vibrant democracy, people choose whom to cast their votes for, for various different reasons. Some people cast their based on the party, some look at the candidates, policies are important for some while the manner of speaking / persona or charm maybe the key for others. None of this is wrong or right, it is just one of many ways in which to make a choice. As long as someone has basic education and ability to make simple decisions in self interest, it is enough. Some countries are now even moving to a 16 years voting age so the least Singapore can do is to trust its young men and women to vote at 18 like the rest of the world.

Note: One of the images used in the blogpost is a screenshot of the following webpage. The copyright over the content in the image vests with AsiaOne. Webpage - 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Ordinance Finally Brings Clarity regarding Cheque Bounce Cases

Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 contains the offence of ‘dishonour of cheque’, commonly known as ‘cheque bouncing’. Though it is one of the most commonly used provisions of criminal law in India – in several court complexes there is a designated courtroom dealing with only section 138 cases all year round – yet there has been great confusion regarding the jurisdiction of courts in these cases which the government sought to settle once and for all by promulgating the NegotiableInstruments (Amendment) Ordinance, 2015.

Section 138 lays down that the person who receives a cheque which bounces when presented for payment can approach a magistrate for bringing criminal action against the drawer of the cheque if the cheque amount is not paid within 15 days of giving a notice to the drawer.

The Multiple jurisdictions system and its problems
For several years, the victim who received a cheque which bounced had the freedom to lodge a complaint before either the magistrate in whose jurisdiction the collecting bank (bank branch where cheque was presented for payment) is located or with the magistrate in whose jurisdiction the drawee bank (bank branch in which accused has an account and on which the cheque is drawn) is located or even the magistrate of the place from where the notice was issued. Infact the 1999 Supreme Court judgement (K Bhaskaran v. Sankaran Vaidhyan Balan) regarding jurisdiction in such matters was so broad that there could even be five possible jurisdictions based on where each of the five elements of the offence is committed. This often led to abuse of the system where complainants presented the cheques in faraway places or issued notices from cities with no link to the transaction just so that they could file the complaint from these third cities.

Supreme Court changes course
However, the Supreme Court upset the existing status quo when in Dashrath Rupsingh Rathod v. State of Maharashtra, it held that the offence was committed only when the cheque was returned by the drawee bank for the lack of funds and thus only the magistrate of the place where the drawee bank is located had the jurisdiction to hear the case. This now meant that if a cheque drawn on a bank branch in Srinagar was given to a person living in Chennai and it bounced when presented it for payment at a bank branch in Chennai, the victim shall have to travel all the way from Chennai to Srinagar to file a case. This is because the offence is committed when the bank in Srinagar returns the cheque for lack of funds and not before that.

Problems Galore
The Dashrath Rupsingh Rathod decision of the Supreme Court meant that lakhs of cases had to be transferred to other courts or withdrawn to be filed again. Further complications were added because many banks now issue cheques that are ‘payable at par’. When presented for payment, these cheques are processed not by the bank branch on which they are drawn but by the same bank’s branch closer to where the cheque is presented for payment. The Supreme Court had not clarified where exactly the offence is deemed to be committed and where the jurisdiction shall lie in such cases.

The Ordinance Fix
The ordinance promulgated by the President on Tuesday again changes the jurisdiction in cheque bounce matters by adding section 142(2) –
(2) The offence under Section 138 shall be inquired into and tried only by a court within whose local jurisdiction the bank branch of the payee, where the payee presents the cheque for payment, is situated
 As per the ordinance, the local court within whose jurisdiction the cheque is presented for payment shall have jurisdiction over the matter meaning that if you issue a cheque drawn on a bank in Srinagar and give it to someone who presents it to his bank branch in Chennai for deposit in his account, only the courts of Chennai shall have jurisdiction. In the past, in cases of multiple cheque bouncing, some complainants used to present the various cheques which they held in different places in order to harass the accused by have commencing criminal proceedings in various different cities. However, the new ordinance puts an end to such harassment by making it clear in section 142A(2) that once one cases is filed in one court, for all the future cheque bounce instances between the complainant and the accused, the same court shall have jurisdiction regardless of where the cheques are presented for payment by the complainant.

 The ordinance shall once again prompt large scale transfers of cases, however by incorporating a clause pertaining to jurisdiction within the Act itself, it eliminates the possibility of future conflicting decisions of the courts on this issue. Furthermore, by prohibiting complainants from approaching more than one court in respect of several cheques of a single person, it also adequately takes care of the interests of the accused and thus must be seen as a positive step.

 Recourse to the ordinance route was necessitated because though the Lok Sabha passed an identical Bill in the previous session of the Parliament, it could not be taken up in the Rajya Sabha due to the lack of time. It is imperative that both houses approve the Bill to replace the ordinance in the next session because allowing the ordinance to lapse would plunge the system back into a chaotic state.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Scholarship - Starting a New Life!

Finally it came. THE LETTER! For the past six months I had jumped through various hoops for this. First an extremely long drawn out application form. Then the dreaded written exam. Three papers of an hour each. One paper so lengthy that I couldn't even finish (but I was glad to find out that no one else did either). And finally there had been that interview. The fourteen year old me and five interviewers, two of them principals of schools in Singapore, I later learnt. For half an hour I had discussed the randomest of things. From why my math scores were not high in the written test, to Indian cricket team, my favourite authors and surprisingly, yoga.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Letter!

“Dad! The postman says you have to sign something. I am not old enough.” Anil heard his daughter shout out. He hurried to the door to see what the matter was. He expected some kind of a “Registered Post” packet for which the receiver has to sign on the acknowledgement card. “Aapke liye money order hai. Aur chitthi bhi.” (There is a money order for you, and also a letter.) 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Umar Bhar Befikar!

Most of us live our lives worrying. Worry about family, work, money and what not. Our lives are often spent doing what we do not want to do but must do because of external compulsions. Thus,  IDBI Federal Life Insurance Company's new tagline Befikar Umar Bhar appeals instantly.

You can checkout the entire advertisement here - 

I cannot help but imagine what would be the things that I would do if I was Befikar Umar Bhar! A whole wide world is literally open to the person who does not have to worry about money and time. So these are the top five things that I would do!

1. Around the World in 80 days 
I absolutely love reading. Commercial Fiction, Literary Fiction, Non Fiction, Comics, Newspapers, Magazines, I read anything and everything that I can get my hands on! However, if there is something I like more, that thing can only be travelling. So when I am befikar umar bhar I shall combine both and retrace the steps of the protagonist of Jules Verne's timeless classic, 'Around the World in 80 days'. I shall take the exact same path he took and try to use the same modes of transport. Whether I shall have the same number of adventures, now that remains to be seen...
Around the World in 80 Days Route
Source : Wikimedia Commons

2. Get myself a Batmobile 
I love the feeling of the wind blowing in my face when I ride any motorcycle. And in motorcycles what can be more top of the range than a Batmobile? I shall commission some top engineers to build me a fully functional Batmobile! Why? Have you seen the thing? 

3. Learn Cocoa Farming in Ghana
One of the problems of the above mentioned itenary of Around the World in 80 Days is that it does not let me explore the African Continent. Jules Verne's hero just made one African stop. Cairo. I however, would like to see more and learn something while I explore Africa.

I have had chocolates from India, Singapore, Malaysia, Switzerland, USA, Belgium and many other countries. I can probably name fifty chocolate brands! However, I realise that I know way too little about the chief ingredient of chocolate, the Cocoa nut! So I would go to see and learn Cocoa Farming in Ghana for a couple of years while I take occasional tours and safaris to other parts of Africa.

Cocoa Pods
Source : Wikimedia Commons
4. Travel on a Cruise from Mumbai to Singapore
I have lived almost my entire life on two islands, Mumbai and Singapore. However, I have never travelled from one place to other by an ocean liner. I would love to go visit my friends in Singapore and enjoy the luxury of a cruise ship while I am on the way! A different cuisine for each meal, sea view throughout the journey and rounds of games to kill time! Or perhaps, I may just buy a cruise ship!

A cruise ship!
Source : Wikimedia Commons

5. Open a Free Legal Aid Clinic
My hero, Batman uses all his wealth and time for a good cause and so shall I. I shall buy a huge house next to the seaside somewhere along Maharashtra's Konkan coast to act as my home and office. There I shall run a free legal aid clinic offering my services as a lawyer to the poor and underprivileged who do not have the means or the awareness and knowledge to resort to legal remedies for their problems. I shall also spread awareness about consumer law so that no one is cheated by vendors. I shall ensure that no poor accused goes undefended and neither the government nor any well off individuals or organisations in the society deprive the aam admi of his legal rights. I shall try to ensure that justice is done. 

This is what I would do if I was #BefikarUmarBhar! Read more about IDBI Fedral's campaign here - http://bit.ly/BefikarUmarBhar 

This post was a part of Indiblogger's Happy Hours Contest!