Current Affairs 27th August

Inaccessible UIDAI system leaves Aadhaar users in lurch #GS2 #Governance #GS3 #SnT

The IT systems of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) have been down over the past week, sending Aadhaar holders into a tizzy as deadlines loom to link their UIDAI identity details with their Employees’ Provident Fund accounts and the Income Tax Department’s Permanent Account Number (PAN).

That the new Income Tax portal is yet to become fully functional, has compounded problems for those seeking to link their Aadhaar to PAN by September 30. Separately, by August 31, all EPFO members are required to link their Aadhaar cards to continue to get their monthly PF contributions deposited.

Down since last week

Even those who just want to update their Aadhaar particulars to correct mismatches with other identity documents are at their wits’ end, with several users complaining that attempts to update details were not possible online or at Aadhaar centres due to technical issues. An official source confirmed that there were some glitches due to which the systems were down last week.

“The system downtime impacted multiple cities,” he said. However, it could not be ascertained if this was a national outage and whether the systems are now back online.

Queries to the UIDAI on the issue did not elicit any response till the time of going to press. When contacted, a senior officer at the NIC, the Government of India’s IT arm, said they were not aware of any such issue.

Pune resident Indraniel Bhattacharya told The Hindu that he has been trying to update his address on Aadhaar for at least a week. “After multiple failed attempts to put in a request to change my address online, I was asked by the UIDAI customer care executive to visit the physical centre,” he said.

“I went to a post office in Pune, and then a private bank… but at both places, I was told the Aadhaar systems are down nationally and they have no information on what the issue is or when the systems will be back online.”

Some users also took to social media to register their complaints. As per the UIDAI website, in order to link Aadhaar with PAN, ideally, the citizen’s demographic details such as name, gender, date of birth, should match in both the documents. In rare cases where the Aadhaar name is completely different from the one in PAN, then the linking will fail.

Can PM-Cares help COVID orphans, asks SC #GS2 #Governance

The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Union government if it can immediately release money from the PM-Cares Fund for the education of children who have been orphaned or have lost legal guardians or either of their parents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao and Aniruddha Bose highlighted that education was a fundamental right of children. Children needed to stay in school. The Bench was especially anxious about the future of children who studied in private schools where the fee may be on the higher side and had lost their parents after the COVID-19 virus began disrupting lives since March 2020.

“Children should not lose the benefits of education because of the pandemic… Can the PM-Cares Fund come forward and immediately release some funds for the education of these children at least for the year? Is there any facility for that,” Justice Rao asked Additional Solicitor-General Aishwarya Bhati.

He said the Centre could coordinate with the States and help with the funds for education of children.

He told Ms. Bhati to enquire with the Central authorities about the release of funds later in the day so that the court could pass an appropriate order.

The Bench observed, “We can say that the States can contact the Central government for funds for the education of these children…” . Justice Rao asked whether children who were eligible for financial help under the PM-Cares Fund had so far been identified.

Three categories

Ms. Bhati said, “The children have been separated into three categories — those who have lost both parents, those who have lost either parent and those who have lost their legal guardians”. The onus of identifying the children had been given to the district magistrates concerned.

Privacy invasion: HC comes to rescue of actor #GS2 #Governance

The Delhi High Court has observed that ‘right to privacy’ includes the right to be forgotten and the right to be left alone while directing various online platforms, including YouTube, to take down certain objectionable video clips of a Bengali actor.

Justice Asha Menon was of the opinion that “the right to privacy of the plaintiff (woman) is to be protected, especially when it is her person that is being exhibited, and against her will”.

The woman, who claimed to be a well-known actor in Bengali films, said she was approached by Ram Gopal Verma Studios for filming a web series. She said on the promise made to her of giving her the lead role in the web series, she was lured into participating in a demonstration video/trailer, comprising explicit scenes of complete frontal nudity. However, the project fell through and the web series was never produced.

In December 2020, the woman came across the videos, which had been uploaded by the producer on his YouTube channel and website. On her request, the producer later removed them. However, without her consent, several other websites uploaded those videos.

‘Anonymous callers’

“Some of them also superimposed objectionable and obscene commentaries on the videos. As a consequence of such action, the plaintiff was constantly subjected to anonymous callers and also subjected to insults,” the plea said.

Justice Menon rejected the argument made by some of the websites that the videos had been shot with the consent of the woman and hence she would not be entitled to any relief. “The plaintiff in this case has not permitted even the producer of the videos to publish them on his YouTube channel and website and the producer has respected her decision by taking down the videos,” the judge said.

“In the present case, it is explicit videos that are being circulated, having a clear and immediate impact on the reputation of the person seen in the videos in a state of nudity,” the court said while directing removal of the videos, footage, clip audio from the Internet till further order.

Punjab govt. to give incentives to industries for using stubble #GS3 #Environment

In an effort to check stubble burning menace during the paddy season, the Punjab govenment has decided to permit certain categories of industries to install paddy-straw-fired boilers to claim fiscal incentives.

The decision was taken at a Cabinet meeting, chaired by Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Thursday. The Cabinet also decided to provide cumulative fiscal incentives of Rs. 25 crore to the first 50 existing industries on ‘first come first serve’ basis for using paddy straw as fuel in boilers, said an official statement. The industries that can get this benefit include sugar mills, pulp and paper mills among others.

The Cabinet also approved non-fiscal incentives to industries in terms of availability of ‘Panchayat’ land for storage of paddy straw with lease agreement upto 33 years. Apart from this, balers would be made available on priority in areas where paddy straw is used as fuel in boilers, said the statement, adding that the move would help in tackling the menace of stubble burning during harvesting of Kharif crops, thus also conserving the fertility of soil and saving the beneficial micro-organisms.

‘Significant decision’

The statement said the decision assumes significance in view of the challenge of managing crop residue.

“Post harvesting, while the wheat straw is used as fodder for the livestock, paddy straw in the fields is set on fire by the farmers to quickly clear their fields for next crop. Due to field fire incidents during the month of October-November, the problem of air pollution is widely prevalent in and around the rural area, causing major health effects,” it said.

“Due to the climatic conditions, the air quality in the national capital region also deteriorates, with contribution from various local sources such as domestic, vehicular, industrial and municipal solid waste dump fires. However, farm fires in the neighbouring States is also blamed for air pollution in the NCR. Paddy is cultivated in 31.49 lakh hectare area (2020) in Punjab, resulting in the generation of about 20 million tons of paddy straw.

Drone rules aim to help start-ups, SMEs #GS3 #SnT

The Civil Aviation Ministry has notified the Drone Rules, 2021, under which the weight of a fully loaded unmanned aircraft system has been increased from 300 kg to 500 kg to include heavy payload-carrying craft for use in the logistics and transportation sectors. The rules will also cover drone taxis.

The key features of these rules include the development of drone corridors for cargo deliveries. An unmanned aircraft systems promotion council will be set up to facilitate a business-friendly regulatory regime.

PM hails rules

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the rules would usher in a landmark moment for the sector. He tweeted, “The new Drone Rules will tremendously help start-ups and our youth working in this sector. It will open up new possibilities for innovation & business. It will help leverage India’s strengths in innovation, technology & engineering to make India a drone hub.”

Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia said the rules were aimed at simplifying the procedures and reducing compliance burden for drone operation.

The IT sector body, NASSCOM, welcomed the move, stating that it would enable start-ups and small and medium enterprises to create innovative-use cases and applications in various sectors such as e-commerce, agriculture, mining, healthcare, emergency response and logistics.

No security clearance

Under the new rules, no security clearance will be required before any registration or licence issuance for drones. The number of forms or permissions has been reduced from 25 to just five. No pilot licence will be required for operating nano drones and micro drones for non-commercial use.

The Director General or an entity authorised by it, on the recommendation of the Quality Council of India or an authorised testing entity, will issue a type certificate for drones. No type certificate, unique identification number, prior permission and remote pilot licence will be needed for research and development entities.

The import of drones will be regulated by the Directorate General of Foreign Trade. There will be no restriction on foreign ownership in Indian drone companies.

Digital Sky Platform

Importing and manufacturing drones purely for exports are now exempt from type certification and unique identification number. Manufacturers and importers will be able to generate their drones’ unique identification number on the Digital Sky Platform through the self-certification route.

The online registration of all drones will happen through the Digital Sky Platform.

An interactive airspace map with green, yellow, and red zones will be displayed on the Digital Sky Platform. The yellow zone has been reduced from 45 km to 12 km from the airport perimeter. No permission will be required for operating a drone in the green zones and up to 200 feet in the area between eight and 12 km from the airport perimeter.

Safety features like ‘no permission-no take-off’, real-time tracking beacon, geo-fencing, etc., will have to be notified soon. A minimum six-month lead time will be given for compliance.

A remote pilot licence holder enlisted on the Digital Sky Platform will only be allowed to operate a drone covered under the Rules. The training and examination will be conducted by an authorised drone school. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation will prescribe the training requirements, oversee the schools and provide pilot licences online.

Carriage of arms, ammunition, explosives and military stores and so on on drones has been prohibited.

“No person shall carry dangerous goods on unmanned aircraft unless such operation is in compliance with the Aircraft (Carriage of Dangerous Goods) Rules, 2003,” said the notification. Any accident involving drones should be reported within 48 hours. The maximum penalty for violations had been reduced to Rs. 1 lakh.

Vipul Singh, Co-founder and CEO at drone firm Aarav Unmanned Systems, told The Hindu that the new rules were a major breakthrough for the Indian drone industry, and would make India an over $5 billion drone market in the next three years.

India on wait and watch on Afghanistan: Centre #GS2 #IR

Minister for External Affairs S. Jaishankar on Thursday described the situation in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover as critical, adding that India, like the rest of the world, was following a “wait and watch” policy.

At an all-party meeting on the situation in Afghanistan held at Parliament House, Mr. Jaishankar said the priority of the Government of India at this point was the evacuation of Indian nationals and Afghan partners from the war-torn country.

“It is an evolving situation and I request everybody to be patient so that once the situation normalises, we can tell you what India’s stand is,” the Minister said, addressing presspersons after the meeting.

37 leaders attend

The meeting went on for three-and-a-half hours, and was attended by 37 leaders from 31 political parties, including Congress leaders Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Mallikarjun Kharge and Anand Sharma; Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar; Trinamool Congress leaders Saugata Roy and Sukhendu Sekhar Roy; former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda; Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) MPs Tiruchi Siva and T.R. Baalu; Telangana Rashtra Samithi’s (TRS) Nama Nageswara Rao; Telegu Desam Party’s (TDP) Jayadev Galla; and CPI MP Binoy Viswam. Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla and India’s Ambassador to Afghanistan Rudrendra Tandon were also present at the briefing, as was Leader of the House in the Rajya Sabha Piyush Goyal.

Mr. Jaishankar briefed the MPs on the evacuation of Indian Embassy staff and the closing down of India’s consulates in various cities, and added that a team has been deployed at the Kabul airport after the closure of the Embassy to facilitate evacuation. Mr. Jaishankar said the government had evacuated 175 Embassy personnel, 263 other Indian nationals, 112 Afghan nationals and 15 third country nationals, with the total figure at 565 in six evacuation flights so far.

His presentation to the MPs clarified the tough conditions under which the evacuations were taking place, including a lack of a central command and control, the takeover of Kabul by the Taliban earlier than expected and the bringing forward of the date of U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The presentation also went into details of the various talks held on the Afghan issue and what went on in parallel in terms of the developments on the ground.

Opposition MPs present at the meeting said the government interlocutors also conveyed that the Kabul airport could also be attacked by suspected Islamic State (IS) terrorists, a fear even the Taliban had.

Speaking after the briefing, Mr. Jaishankar said, “On this [Afghanistan] matter, all political parties have similar views. We approached the issue with a spirit of national unity.”

Opposition leaders, while appreciating the briefing, had tough questions for Mr. Jaishankar over the deportation from India a few weeks ago of a woman Member of Parliament from Afghanistan.

Mr. Jaishankar expressed regret at the incident, calling it a decision taken by “overcautious” immigration officials at the Delhi airport. According to sources, this issue was raised by Mr. Kharge, who is also the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. In reply, Mr. Jaishankar, while expressing regret, said it was an isolated incident and that India had rescued many other Afghan parliamentarians.

Fielding many questions from the Opposition on India’s future engagement with the Taliban in Afghanistan, Mr. Jaishankar said India, like rest of the world, was following a “wait and watch” policy.

Mr. Kharge also raised a series of questions on the government’s contingency plan to evacuate Indians if they were stranded beyond the August 31 deadline, and the exact number of Indians yet to be evacuated. Sources claimed that the government did not share the exact number yet to be evacuated.

The Congress delegation also asked about the government’s counterterrorism measures, especially in Jammu and Kashmir, in the wake of the rise of the Taliban. While raising the issue of the Taliban’s impact on security in the region, Mr. Kharge stressed that the political process should be restarted by restoring Statehood for Jammu and Kashmir.

PM’s absence

Questions were also raised about the absence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi from the meeting, adding that it was a courtesy that his predecessor, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, always extended to the Opposition. Mr. Kharge, according to the sources, said Mr. Modi should have been present at such a meeting.

Mr. Gowda said a similar period of uncertainty in Afghanistan had prevailed during his premiership, and that the current government needed to foreground the issue of internal security.

The Revolutionary Socialist Party’s (RSP) N.K. Premachandran, Mr. Viswam and the CPI(M)’s P.R. Natarajan cornered Mr. Jaishankar on what they called the “grand isolation” of India. Mr. Natarajan, as per sources, said U.S. President Joe Biden, in his campaign speeches, had announced that America would be withdrawing its forces from Afghanistan. Despite prior warning, why was India not prepared, the MP asked. He also questioned whether the U.S. had kept India in the loop when they decided to advance the withdrawal of their forces.

The Left and the Trinamool Congress, which was represented by Mr. Saugata, also questioned the government on safeguarding Indian investments in Afghanistan.

“There are 500 projects, including the Afghanistan Parliament, in which India has made some serious investments. We asked what the government’s plan was to secure this investment. But Mr. Jaishankar did not give us a credible reply.

Indian firm to build a bridge in the Maldives #GS2 #IR

The contract for the largest-ever infrastructure project in the Maldives was signed in Male on Thursday. The Greater Male Connectivity Project ( GMCP) will consist of a 6.74-km-long bridge and causeway link between Male and the nearby islands of Villingli, Gulhifalhu and Thilafushi. Indian construction giant AFCONS has been tasked with completing the project.

“Delighted that the contract for the Greater Male Connectivity – Male to Thilafushi Link Project has been signed between the Ministry of National Planning, Housing and Infrastructure and AFCONS Infrastructure Ltd. This is a defining moment in the development journey of the Maldives,” said Abdulla Shahid, Foreign Minister of the Maldives. He described the project as an “enduring tribute to the strong Maldives-India partnership”.

The signing ceremony was attended by Mohamed Aslam, Minister for National Planning and Infrastructure; Faiyyaz Ismail, Minister for Economic Development; Ibrahim Ameer, Minister for Finance; and Minister for Transport Aishath Nahula. Indian High Commissioner Sanjay Sudhir and senior representatives from AFCONS represented the Indian side. AFCONS is known for its “extreme engineering” projects that also include the Chenab Railway Bridge.

The project is funded by a grant of $100 million and a line of credit of $400 million from India.

An official press release noted that the GMCP project would be bigger than the Sinamale Bridge built with Chinese assistance that connects Male with Hulhumale and Hulhule and was completed in 2018.

Jaishankar’s visit to Male

The project is the result of bilateral consultation between India and the Maldives and has been under discussion since the visit of External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar to Male in September 2019.

A major feature of the project will be that it will connect Male with the planned international port of Gulhifalhu and the industrial zone at Thilafushi.

“GMCP comprises three navigation bridges of 140 m main span across the deep channel between each island, 1.41 km of marine viaduct in deep water and 2.32 km of marine viaduct in shallow water or on land and 2.96 km of at-grade roads. The project will use renewable energy. Once completed, it will utilise solar power for lighting.

UN bans British stamps in Chagos island #GS2 #IR

Mauritius has welcomed the UN postal agency’s decision to ban British stamps from being used on the Chagos archipelago, calling it a victory for the island nation in its dispute with London.

The vote by the Universal Postal Union (UPU), a United Nations agency focusing on the mail sector, follows a longstanding spat between Mauritius and Britain over the Chagos Islands, where London and Washington operate a joint military base.

“This is another big step in favour of the recognition of the sovereignty of Mauritius over the Chagos,” Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said.

Although Mauritius became independent in 1968, the Chagos archipelago remained under British control, sparking protests by Chagossians, who accuse London of carrying out an “illegal occupation” and barring them from their homeland.

Following Tuesday’s vote, “the UPU will stop registering, distributing and transmitting stamps” bearing the words British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), the name given by Britain to the archipelago, Mr. Jugnauth said.

In 2019, the International Court of Justice ruled that Britain should give up control of the islands.

Later that year, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution recognising that “the Chagos Archipelago forms an integral part of the territory of Mauritius” and urged UN agencies “to support the decolonisation of Mauritius”.

The British Foreign Office said it was “disappointed” by Tuesday’s vote.

“The U.K .has no doubt as to our sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory, which has been under continuous British sovereignty since 1814. Britain insists the archipelago belongs to London and has renewed a lease agreement with the U.S. to use Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands, until 2036.

Few takers seen for debt recast 2.0 as demand recovers: Crisil #GS3 #Economy

With the recovery in demand and growing confidence in economic growth, very few corporates have opted for or are looking for debt restructuring under the RBI’s Resolution Framework 2.0, according to a report by Crisil Ratings.

Barely 1% of eligible companies in Crisil’s rating portfolio had opted for or were contemplating restructuring under the Resolution Framework 2.0, the debt rating agency said in the report released on Thursday.

The findings came from an analysis of about 4,700 firms rated by the agency. “The quick recovery in demand after moderation during the second COVID-19 wave, and sanguinity around economic growth have led corporates to give the restructuring option a miss,” said chief ratings officer Subodh Rai. The more localised and less stringent nature of restrictions during the second wave has meant relatively lower disruption in business activities compared to the first wave. So, the muted response is par for the course, he said.

On May 5, the RBI had announced Resolution Framework 2.0 for borrowers, including individuals, small businesses, and MSMEs with an aggregate exposure of up to Rs. 25 crore, with some caveats. On June 4, the RBI raised the aggregate debt threshold to Rs. 50 crore.

About 95% of firms that had opted for or were considering the scheme now, were rated in the sub-investment grade rating category, the ratings agency added.

Crisil’s director Nitin Kansal said most of these firms belong to the low-to-medium resilience sectors such as hospitality, educational services, textiles, construction and gems and jewellery.