Current Affairs 11th May 2022

SC seeks interim protection for people charged with sedition #GS2 #Governance

The Supreme Court on Tuesday indicated a willingness to wait, though wondering for how long, for the government to “re-examine” the colonial law of sedition.

However, the court asked the government to respond within the next 24 hours on how it intended to protect the interests of people already arrested and facing prosecution under Section 124A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code. The court further sought the government’s response on whether the use of the British-era law could be suspended in view of the reconsideration process.

“We will definitely take into consideration that you are doing a serious exercise of reconsideration of the law. We should not appear unreasonable… But there are concerns. One is about cases which are already pending. The other is the future misuse of Section 124A during the reconsideration. The Attorney-General has himself said there is abuse… How are you going to protect the interests of the people from this abuse while the reconsideration exercise is on,” Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana asked Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre.

The court said the reconsideration process could not be an open-ended one. “How long will you take for the ‘reconsideration’ of the law,” CJI Ramana asked.

Govt. non-committal

But Mr. Mehta was non-committal. “I may not be able to say. The process has started,” he said. He urged the court to trust the earnest tone and spirit of the government’s affidavit which promised the re-examination of the law. “There is a serious application of mind,” he assured the court.

“We will decide the question of how much time should be given,” Chief Justice Ramana said. On the issue of protecting people from the misuse of sedition law, Mr. Mehta said those affected could always move the courts. “These cases are booked by the State governments. The Centre does not do it. The aim of Section 124A is to protect the sovereignty and integrity of the nation… Whenever there is misuse, there are the constitutional courts and remedies,” Mr. Mehta submitted.

“Meanwhile, they will be in jail for months,” CJI Ramana retorted. “We cannot ask each and every individual booked for sedition to go to court… That cannot be the case now when the government has itself shown concern about the misuse of civil liberties… Tell us whether people can be protected from abuse while reconsideration is on.”

UN condemns escalating violence in Sri Lanka #GS2 #IR

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet on Tuesday condemned the escalating violence in Sri Lanka amid the severe economic and political crisis and urged the authorities to prevent further unrest. Ms. Bachelet urged restraint and meaningful dialogue to address the grievances of the population, after deadly clashes in the worst violence in weeks of protests.

“I am deeply troubled by the escalation of violence in Sri Lanka after supporters of the Prime Minister attacked peaceful protesters in Colombo yesterday May 9 and the subsequent mob violence against members of the ruling party,” Ms. Bachelet said in a statement.

“I condemn all violence and call on the authorities to independently, thoroughly and transparently investigate all attacks that have occurred. It is crucial to ensure that those found responsible, including those inciting or organising violence, are held to account.” The former Chilean President called on the Sri Lankan authorities to protect the right to peaceful assembly.

She said the authorities should exercise restraint and ensure that measures adopted in the state of emergency comply with international human rights norms and are not used to stifle dissent. Ms. Bachelet said the severe economic crisis had made daily life a struggle for most Sri Lankans, and highlighted grievances which needed national dialogue and deeper structural reforms.

People from various ethnicities and religions have come together to demand greater transparency, accountability and participation in democratic life, the UN high commissioner for human rights added.

“I urge the Sri Lankan government to engage in meaningful dialogue with all parts of society to find a pathway forward and address the socio-economic challenges people, especially vulnerable and marginalised groups, are facing,” Ms. Bachelet said.

“I call on the government to address the broader political and systemic root causes that have long perpetuated discrimination and undermined human rights.” Ms. Bachelet said her office would monitor the situation closely and voiced hope that Sri Lanka would find a peaceful solution to the crisis to alleviate suffering, strengthen democracy and human rights, and prevent further violence.

Supporters of the ruling Rajapaksa family on Monday attacked unarmed protesters who have been demonstrating peacefully for weeks.

‘Plans under way on creation of Integrated Battle Groups #GS3 #Defence

The Army has identified a holding formation on the Western front and a Strike formation on the Northern borders to be converted into agile Integrated Battle Groups (IBG), Army chief Gen. Manoj Pande said while stating that consultations are complete and is now in the process of final compilation.

“The purpose of restructuring our existing formations into integrated battle groups was to have forces which are lean, agile and tailor-made which would afford the commanders the flexibility and more options for their employment in the respective theatres to achieve the desired outcomes. To that extent we have identified a holding formation on the Western front and a Strike formation on the Northern borders for the IBGisation to commence,” Gen. Pande said in an interaction with a group of presspersons on Monday.

These consultations with all stakeholders we have more or less formalised and it is now in the process of final compilation, he said adding, once this happens they will see as to how this can be taken forward and apply to perhaps other formations in the Army.

The concept of IBG has already been test-bedded by the Army’s 9 Corps and was later validated by the 17 Mountain Strike Corps in its exercises.

As reported by The Hindu earlier, each IBG would be tailor made based on Threat, Terrain and Task and resources will be allotted based on the three T’s. The idea is for them to be light with centralised logistics and be able to mobilise within 12 -48 hrs based on the location.

While a Command is the largest static formation of the Army spread across a defined geography, a Corps is the largest mobile formation. Typically, each Corps has about three Divisions. The idea is to reorganise them into IBGs which are Brigade sized units but have all the essential elements like infantry, armoured, artillery and air defence embedded together. The IBGs will also be defence and offensive in nature.

After the terrorist attack on Parliament in 2001, the Indian military undertook massive mobilisation but the Army’s formations which were deep inside took weeks to mobilise losing the element of surprise. Following this, the Army formulated a proactive doctrine known as ‘Cold Start’ to launch swift offensive, but its existence was denied in the past.

‘Govt. can’t speak on Parliament’s behalf’ #GS2 #Governance

The government’s affidavit asking the Supreme Court to keep the sedition case pending during the reconsideration of the colonial law is at odds with a Constitution Bench judgment which held that the government cannot speak for or make promises to the court on behalf of Parliament.

While the Bench led by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana said it “respects the government’s word”, Justice Surya Kant, speaking from the Bench, made it a point to observe that “the government cannot give guarantees on behalf of the Parliament”.

Arguments were made in court that a “reconsideration” of Section 124A would entail the legislative process. The Supreme Court cannot give the Parliament a deadline to complete the process. Neither can the government promise the Supreme Court a specific outcome from the Parliament. The Parliament stands alone and independent in its domain of law-making. Then how can the government, through an affidavit, ask the Supreme Court to halt its constitutional duty to examine the constitutionality of Section 124A?

“The deponents of the affidavits filed in court may speak for the parties on whose behalf they swear to the statement. They do not speak for the Parliament. No one may speak for the Parliament and Parliament is never before the court,” the Constitution Bench had held in the Sanjeev Coke Manufacturing Company versus Bharat Coking Coal Limited case in 1982.

The judgment held that the court was the only “authentic voice” which may echo or interpret Parliament’s voice once a statute leaves the Parliament House.

“Validity of a legislation is not to be judged merely by affidavits filed on behalf of the State, but by all the relevant circumstances which the court may ultimately find and more especially by what may be gathered from what the legislature has itself said,” the Constitution Bench had stressed.

Senior advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, who drew the attention of the top court to the Sanjeev Coke judgment, said there was a “pattern” to the filing of such affidavits by the government side.

“When the Puttuswamy case (privacy) was about to be closed, the government filed a memo in the Supreme Court saying the Justice B.N. Srikrishna Committee has been formed to look into the issues. In the marital rape case before the Delhi High Court, the government said it is reconsidering the law…” Mr. Sankaranarayanan submitted amidst objections from Solicitor- General Tushar Mehta.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal said the court could not wait merely because there was an “intention” to reconsider the sedition provision, the doing of which may take six months to a year. “The legislature makes laws. It is for you [Supreme Court] to decide whether a law is constitutional or not,” he said.

Debt norms cloud States’ borrowings #GS3 #Economy

With States’ borrowing limits for this year set to be cut in tune with their off-budget borrowings since 2020-21, some States that had borrowed more in the pandemic years could face challenges in raising resources, ICRA said on Tuesday.

While the rating agency expects States to borrow Rs. 8.4 lakh crore during FY23, with a borrowing limit of 3.5% of GSDP (Gross State Domestic Product), the off-budget debt calculations could lead to large downward adjustments in some States’ effective borrowing room even as uncertainty around payment of GST compensation dues has confounded borrowing plans.

Noting that while including off-budget borrowings raised by State entities in States’ own debt would raise transparency, some States could find this change difficult to comply with, given the ‘perceived proliferation’ of such borrowings since COVID-19’s onset, ICRA said. Those facing large cuts in their debt ceilings on this account would have to pare borrowings and resort to ways and means advances or overdrafts from the RBI.

It was difficult to gauge the downward adjustments to be made to each State’s borrowing limits due to the paucity of data on off-budget borrowings and guarantees extended by the States, ICRA observed, adding that States like Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Telangana, had sharply raised extension of guarantees to State entities in 2020-21.

The Centre typically conveys the net borrowing ceiling for each State at the start of the fiscal, and this year it has indicated that all incremental off-budget borrowings since 2020-21 will be adjusted from the ceiling. States have also been offered an additional borrowing limit of 0.5% of GSDP tied to specified power sector reforms, and a leeway equivalent to contributions to the National Pension System for government employees.

Tentative participation

The uncertainty about borrowing room appears to be reflecting in States’ tentative participation in auctions of State Development Loans. On Tuesday, even as yields on State Development Loans spiked, Haryana and Punjab borrowed Rs. 2,000 crore though they had not indicated any plan to participate in this week’s issuances. Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh together raised Rs. 500 crore more than they had planned to. Eight States that had planned to borrow Rs. 6,300 crore, however, did not bother to participate.

ICRA economists noted that the timing of revenue flows from the Centre for GST compensation, tax devolution and the Rs. 1 lakh crore loan offered for capital spending will be critical as front-loading the remittances would lift the likelihood of enhanced capital spending, whereas back ending would pare the borrowing amount.