Current Affairs 1st July

SC pulls up govt. on ex gratia #GS2 #Governance

The Supreme Court pulled up the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), of which the Prime Minister is the ex officio chairperson, for failing in its duty to recommend ex gratia to the families of those who lost their loved ones due to COVID-19.

“The National Authority [NDMA] failed to perform its statutory duty… ex gratia assistance on account of loss of life is part of minimum standards of relief which has to be provided to persons affected by disaster – in the present case COVID-19 pandemic,” the court observed.

A Bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan, Vineet Saran and M.R. Shah gave the NDMA six weeks to frame guidelines for fixing the ex gratia meant for these families. The guidelines, however, would not stop individual States from separately providing ex gratia to the families from their own funds. The court refused a plea of PIL petitioners, advocate Gaurav Kumar Bansal and Reepak Kansal, to order an ex gratia of Rs. 4 lakh each to the families of the COVID-19 deceased.

Drones, flying toys banned in J&K district after attacks #GS3 #Security

The Rajouri district administration banned the sale or possession of drones or flying objects after at least five sorties of drones around security installations in Jammu since Sunday, including the IAF’s technical airport, have the security agencies on the tenterhooks. The move comes two days after two explosions, apparently caused by two drones, rocked the technical airport of the IAF in Jammu on Sunday.

Officials suspect that one more drone sortie was spotted in the Kunjwani area on Wednesday morning. Rajouri is close to the Line of Control (LoC). “In exercise of powers under Section 144 of the CrPC, a ban is imposed on storage, sale, use and transport of any drone or small flying objects, toys in the district,

Elections no guarantee against tyranny: CJI #GS2 #Governance

Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana said the mere right of the public to change the “ruler” once every few years by itself need not be a guarantee against “tyranny”.

“In the 17 general elections held so far, the people have changed the ruling party or combination of parties eight times, which accounts for nearly 50% of number of general elections. In spite of large-scale inequalities, illiteracy, backwardness, poverty and alleged ignorance, the people of Independent India have proved themselves to be intelligent and up to the task.

The masses have performed their duties reasonably well. Now, it is the turn of those who are manning the key organs of the State to ponder if they are living up to the Constitutional mandate. The Chief Justice referred to the colonial period when law was used as a “tool of political repression”. “I think any law backed by a sovereign must be tempered by certain ideals or tenets of justice. He was speaking at the 17th Justice P.D. Desai Memorial Lecture.

Chief Justice Ramana said it was time to pause and ask to what extent the rule of law was used to protect ordinary lives during the pandemic.

“I do not intend to provide an evaluation of the same. Both my office and my temperament prevent me from doing so. But I began to feel that this pandemic might yet be a mere curtain raiser to much larger crises in the decades to come. Surely, we must at least begin the process of analysing what we did right and where we went wrong,.

‘Total freedom needed’

The CJI said the judiciary requires “complete freedom” to apply checks on governmental power and action. “The judiciary cannot be controlled, directly or indirectly, by the legislature or the executive, or else the Rule of Law would become illusory,” the CJI underscored.

The CJI said it was imperative to start a discourse on the impact of social media trends on institutions. The Chief Justice said the amplified noise produced in social media was not “necessarily reflective of what is right and what majority believes in”.

India flags ‘green pass’ issue #GS3 #SnT

India took issue with the European Union’s plans to institute a “green pass” from July 1, with government sources warning that India will introduce a “reciprocal policy” only allowing ease of travel for those European countries that recognise Indian vaccines Covishield and Covaxin.

The latest twist to the controversy of the European Union’s Digital Covid Certificate came a day after External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar met with his EU counterpart High Representative Josep Borrell Fontelles.

In a tweet after the meeting, Mr. Jaishankar indicated that he raised the issue of possible restrictions on Indian travellers in the EU if they do not have one of four vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), that include the European-made AstraZeneca vaccine but not the Indian-made Covishield by the Serum Institute of India (SII) or Covaxin by Bharat Biotech.

“We have requested EU Member States to individually consider extending similar exemption to those persons who have taken COVID-19 vaccines in India, that is, Covishield and Covaxin, and accept the vaccination certificate issued through the CoWIN portal,” the sources said on Wednesday.

“We have also conveyed to EU Member States that India will institute a reciprocal policy for recognition of the EU Digital Covid Certificate,” the sources added, making it clear that only citizens of those countries in the 27-member grouping who make exemptions for travellers inoculated with the Indian vaccines would be given an exemption from mandatory quarantine on arrival in India.

Letter of protest

The government’s statement, made through officials who did not wish to be identified, came even though the European Union had issued a detailed clarification, denying its plan was discriminatory. The African Union had also issued a letter of protest over the EU proposal saying that it promoted “inequality” for those from India and “lower-income” countries for whom the Covishield vaccine was the “backbone” of the international COVAX alliance programme.

The EU had also explained that SII had not applied for the requisite permissions with the EMA, and had promised to consider its case as soon as it applied. However, New Delhi now appears to be taking the position that the EMA must consider the Indian-made vaccine by accepting the CoWin certificate, regardless of the applications.

The government’s stand is especially significant since while Covishield has received World Health Organization authorisation, Covaxin is yet to be cleared by the global health body.

Notice to Twitter over pornographic content #GS3 #SnT

The Delhi Police has sent a notice to microblogging site Twitter seeking details about the steps taken by it against circulation of child pornographic content on its platform. The police have sought to know the steps taken by the Twitter officials concerned against child sexual abuse content on their platform and details of the accounts circulating such material.

Case registered

The Delhi Police had registered an FIR against Twitter following a complaint by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR). The case was registered under relevant provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and the IT Act, the police said.

This comes days after NCPCR asked Deputy Commissioner of Police (Cyber Cell) Anyesh Roy to explain why no action had been taken against Twitter as per its letter to the Delhi Police dated May 29.

In its letter, the NCPCR had asked Delhi Police to book Twitter on the basis of its recent inquiry in which it had found that child sexual abuse material was easily available on its platform. For its part, Twitter said it has a zero tolerance policy for child sexual exploitation, adding that it will continue to invest in technology and tools that are essential to stay ahead of this issue.

Replying to a query on the FIR against it for allegedly allowing access to child pornography on its platform, a Twitter spokesperson said: “Twitter has a zero tolerance policy for child sexual exploitation and we have a proactive approach to combating sexual exploitation of minors on our service.”

The spokesperson added that the company has been at the forefront of responding to the evolving challenge of preventing the exploitation of children on Internet and will continue to aggressively fight online child sexual abuse. “We will continue to invest in proactive detection and removal of content that violates Twitter rules and work with law enforcement and NGO partners in India to tackle the issue,” the spokesperson said.

It added that all viewing, sharing, or linking to child sexual exploitation material, regardless of the intent, contributes to the re-victimisation of the depicted children and is prohibited on the platform.

It further pointed out that in 2019, the company had launched a feature, in collaboration with the Ministry of Home Affairs and NGOs in India to blacklist specific child sexual exploitation search keywords in Hindi, English, Bengali and Kannada.

Centre’s digital agri proposals raise concern #GS3 #Economy

The Centre’s digital agriculture proposals raise concerns of exploitation of farmers, data protection and consent, mismanaged land records, exclusion of landless cultivators and the corporatisation of agriculture, according to 91 organisations which sent in their feedback to the government. They also demanded that the Centre stop implementation of the pilot projects being rolled out in partnership with tech and retail giants including Microsoft, Amazon and Patanjali.

The Centre published a consultation paper on an India Digital Ecosystem of Agriculture (IDEA) on June 1, and sought public feedback by the end of the month. The 91 organisations, which include some of the farm unions groups protesting against three farm reform laws at Delhi’s borders as well as digital rights advocates, urged the government to extend the deadline to translate the document into other languages in order to hold meaningful consultations with farmers. They noted that there is no farmer representation in the task force which brought out the proposals or in the governance framework of IDEA.

The organisations said it was important to bring the benefits of digital technology to farmers, but emphasised that such digital infrastructure should be owned by the government, not private corporates. They alleged that the current model is more focussed on using the government’s existing databases and geared towards corporate revenue models, rather than ensuring that farmers’ needs and interests are considered.

The proposition of a “farmers’ database” based on digitised land records will lead to problems and exclusions, given the seriously flawed condition of the digitised land recordsand their failure to capture the information of actual cultivators and those operating the landholding.

Google removed 59,350 posts in April #GS3 #SnT

Google removed 59,350 pieces of content from its social media platforms in April last, following over 27,700 complaints received from individual users in India, according to the company’s maiden monthly transparency report.

The report follows the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 that came into force on May 26. The rules require social media platforms with more than 50 lakh users in India to publish compliance report every month mentioning the details of complaints received and action taken.

The platforms also need to mention the number of specific communication links or parts of information they have removed or disabled access to, following proactive monitoring conducted by using automated tools. In an emailed statement, a Google spokesperson said the company has a long history of providing transparency into the different types of requests it receives from around the world, and how it responds.

All of these requests are tracked and included in the company’s existing Transparency Report since 2010.

“This is the first time we will publish a monthly transparency report in accordance with the new IT Rules, and will continue to publish more details as we refine our reporting processes for India.

As per the report, the company received a total of 27,762 complaints from individual users located in India via designated mechanisms and relates to third-party content that is believed to violate local laws or personal rights on Google’s significant social media intermediary (SSMI) platforms, including YouTube. This data also includes individual user complaints accompanied by a court order.

About 96% of the complaints received were related to issues of copyright, followed by trademark (1.3%), defamation (1%), legal (1%), counterfeit (0.4%) and circumvention (0.1%).

“…When we receive complaints from individual users regarding allegedly unlawful or harmful content, we review the complaint to determine if the content violates our community guidelines or content policies, or meets local legal requirements for removal. The figure…shows the total number of removal actions taken during the one month reporting period.

Issue clear guidelines on death certificates: SC #GS2 #Governance

The Supreme Court directed that deaths due to COVID-related complications must be certified as COVID deaths. This would apply to cases where patients had died of COVID-complications even a month or two after being diagnosed and irrespective of whether the patients died at home or in hospital.

“A simplified procedure/guidelines is/are required to be issued by the Central Government and/or appropriate authority for issuance of an official document/death certificate stating the exact cause of death, i.e., ‘Death due to Covid-19’,” a Bench led by Justice Ashok Bhushan directed.

“It is the duty of every authority to issue accurate/correct death certificates stating the correct and accurate cause of death, so that the family members of the deceased who died due to COVID-19 may not face any difficulty in getting the benefits of schemes that may be declared by the government,” the judgment noted.

The court ordered that the guidelines should also lay down the grievance redressal process for the families of COVID-19 patients in case of errors in certificates.

Cabinet clears viability gap funds for BharatNet #GS3 #Economy

The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved a viability gap funding support of up to Rs. 19,041 crore for the implementation of the BharatNet project through Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model in 16 States.

The project will be extended to all inhabited villages beyond the gram panchayats in 16 States — Kerala, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said.

“The Cabinet has in-principle approved implementation of BharatNet in 16 States in a public-private partnership model with a total expense of Rs. 29,430 crore. The Government of India will only spend the viability gap fund of Rs. 19,041 crore,” the Minister said, adding that an estimated 3.61 lakh villages, including gram panchayats, would be covered via BharatNet.

An official release added that the revised strategy will include creation, upgrading, operation, maintenance and utilisation of BharatNet by the concessionaire or the private sector partner, who will be selected by a competitive international bidding process. The private sector partner is expected to bring an equity investment and raise resources towards capital expenditure and for operation and maintenance of the network.

Extension of BharatNet to all inhabited villages will enable better access to e-services offered by various governments, enable online education, telemedicine, skill development, e-commerce and other applications of broadband, Mr. Prasad said, adding that it would help bridge the digital divide.

Pilots urged to seek ‘follow me’ services to counter low visibility #GS3 #Defence

The Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has issued an advisory to all airlines to instruct their crew not to hesitate to seek “follow me” vehicle service during poor visibility at airports. The safety guidelines follow after an investigation into an accident revealed that the aircraft, while taxiing to the bay, entered an open drain and suffered extensive damage.

The runway markings were not visible due to rain over the airfield. The Pilot in Command manoeuvred the aircraft, ignoring the advice of the Pilot Monitoring’s request for a “follow me” vehicle service for taxi to the bay.

The DGCA in the advisory issued early this month said during the aircraft ground operations on an aerodrome, operational and/or environmental issues such as human factors, airport design, crew technique, etc., affected the performance of the flight crew. A deterioration in performance may lead to runway or taxiway incursion.

“One of the major contributing factors for runway/taxiway incursions is the lack of situational awareness of the flight crew during ground operations at an airport wherein visibility has reduced due to weather considerations. Accordingly for low visibility operations, ‘follow me’ services are recommended,” the advisory said.

Referring to an Airports Authority of India circular issued in 2011 which recommended use of “follow me” vehicle for guiding the aircraft until such time the pilot reported having sighted the parking/docking guidance signal, the DGCA advised aircraft operators to sensitise their flight crew to inform the Air Traffic Control and not to hesitate to request for “follow me” vehicle service at any time when they had doubts about their location or experienced difficulty in navigating aircraft on ground due to water logging, poor visibility, etc.

In 2017, an Air India Express flight IX-452 from Abu Dhabi to Kochi with 102 passengers on board landed in an open drain amid heavy rains. The accident left three passengers injured and the aircraft heavily damaged.

May’s lower spending pegs fiscal deficit at 8.2% #GS3 #Economy

India’s fiscal deficit in the first two months of 2021-22 stood at 8.2% of the Budget target with revenue receipts rising even as spending contracted by the end of May, data released by the Controller General of Accounts on Wednesday show.

Economists said capital spending contracted by 41% in May after a sharp uptick in April, indicating that State-level restrictions during the second wave of the pandemic had hurt economic activity. They, however, cautioned against interpreting the outcomes over April and May.

“Benefitting from a jump in tax and non-tax receipts amidst a contraction in revenue expenditure, the Government of India’s fiscal deficit was limited to Rs. 1.2 lakh crore in April-May… less than 30% of last-year’s level of Rs. 4.7 lakh crore during the nationwide lockdown,” Aditi Nayar, chief economist at ICRA, wrote in a note.

Sunil Kumar Sinha, India Ratings’ principal economist, said the revenue and expenditure trends of the first two months were unlikely to provide any clarity on the year’s fiscal deficit.

“April and May 2020 were unusual months due to the nationwide lockdown and again April and May 2021 witnessed regional/local lockdowns resulting in loss of economic activities and revenue generation,” he said. The change in the RBI’s accounting year to April-March had advanced the release of its dividend payment, pushing up non-tax revenue collections to 47.9% of the year’s Budget estimates

Core sector output rose 16.8% in May #GS3 #Economy

Output from India’s eight core industries grew 16.8% in May 2021, with six sectors reporting significant positive growth due to the base effects from May 2020 when the country was in a national lockdown.

Steel output rose 59.3% in May, compared to a 40.4% decline in the same month of 2020, while cement grew 7.9%, compared to a 21.4% dip last May. Coal production increased by 6.9% from a 9% contraction in May 2020.

Fertiliser production, which was the only sector to record growth (7.5%) in May 2020, declined by 9.6% this May, according to provisional data released on Tuesday.