Current Affairs 15th July

SC to examine plea challenging sedition #GS2 #Governance

The Supreme Court will examine a petition filed by a retired Major-General who said a nearly 60-year-old judgment of the court that helped sedition survive in the Indian Penal Code was behind time and needed a relook.

A Bench, led by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana, on Wednesday listed the case for hearing on July 15 and asked Major-General S.G. Vombatkere (retd.), represented by advocates P.B. Suresh and S. Prasanna, to serve a copy of his petition to Attorney General K.K. Venugopal.

The petitioner argued that the 1962 judgment in the Kedar Nath case, which upheld Section 124A (sedition), a relic of the colonial legacy, was given at a time when doctrines such as ‘chilling effect’ on free speech were unheard of.

“The doctrine of ‘chilling effect’ on speech considers the probability of a legal provision causing psychological barriers in the free exercise of the right… This doctrine had not sufficiently developed in 1962. Even in the U.S., the doctrine was established only as late as 1967… The most concrete pronouncement on a statutory provision causing a chilling effect on speech is as recent as 2015 in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India.

‘Sea change’

The Kedar Nath judgment was delivered during an era when the extent, scope and inter-relationship of fundamental rights such as liberty, equality and dignity were “rather restrictive”, the plea said.

In the judgment, the court had reasoned that without Section 124A, the state would be in jeopardy if the government was subverted. It, however, said that Section 124A would apply only to expressions that either intended to or had the tendency to cause violence were punishable as ‘sedition’.

The maximum punishment was life imprisonment. The offence was classified as ‘cognisable’ and ‘non-bailable’. This judgment could hardly be seen as a beacon of light now, the petitioner contended.

He referred to the Supreme Court’s recent judgments decriminalising homosexuality and declaring privacy as a fundamental right as testaments of how the times and attitudes have undergone a “sea change” over the years.

Afghanistan’s future can’t be its past: Jaishankar #GS2 #IR

The world will not legitimise a Taliban regime that comes to power in Kabul by force, indicated External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, amid rapid advances made by the militant group on towns and border check-posts in various parts of Afghanistan.

Speaking at the “Contact Group” meeting of the eight-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Dushanbe on Wednesday, which also issued a joint statement decrying the violence, Mr. Jaishankar said the future of Afghanistan “cannot be its past”, referring to the previous takeover of the country by the Taliban in 1996, adding that the world “must not let” the new generation of Afghans down.

“The world is against seizure of power by violence and force. It will not legitimise such actions,” Mr. Jaishankar told the grouping which included Ministers from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.

Instead, Mr. Jaishankar said, peace negotiations would need to result in an “acceptable compromise” that reflected the Doha, Moscow and Istanbul-Heart of Asia processes, and produced an “end state” that ensured a democratic and neutral Afghanistan free from terrorist attacks on civilians and ethnic groups, and a neighbourhood that was not threatened by “terrorism separatism and extremism”.

The representatives of the SCO countries, including Mr. Jaishankar, will travel on Thursday to Tashkent along with representatives of about 40 countries for a “Central and South Asia” connectivity conference that will see Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani take centrestage together for the meeting hosted by Uzbekistan President Shovkat Mirziyoyev. U.S. Special Envoy on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad will also attend.

While the original focus of the conference was to be on projects like the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan railway projects and transit trade agreements, and the Uzbekistan-Iran-India trilateral on the Chabahar project connecting Central and South Asia, the security situation is expected to be at the top of the agenda.

Taliban militants have claimed to have taken control of some border check-posts along Iran, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Diplomatic officials here told The Hindu that the Central Asian countries are in particular worried about the possible spillover of violence across their borders with Afghanistan, revival of splinter jihadist groups and refugee influx if situation deteriorates.

India’s neurological disease burden rising #GS3 #SnT

The contribution of non-communicable neurological disorders and injury-related neurological disorders to the total disease burden has more than doubled between 1990 and 2019, said the first comprehensive estimates of disease burden due to neurological disorders and their trends in every State of India published in The Lancet Global Health by the India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative.

Stroke caused 6,99,000 deaths in India in 2019, which was 7.4% of the total deaths in the country, it stated.

The burden of non-communicable neurological disorders was increasing in the country, mainly due to the ageing of the population, the paper noted. “Stroke, headache disorders, and epilepsy are the leading contributors to neurological disorders burden in India.” High blood pressure, air pollution, dietary risks, high fasting plasma glucose and high body-mass index were found to be the leading contributors among the known risk factors for the neurological disorders’ burden.

The disorders include non-communicable ones (stroke, headache disorders, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, brain and central nervous system cancer, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, motor neuron diseases and other neurological disorders), communicable ones (encephalitis, meningitis and tetanus), and injury-related disorders (traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries).

The paper found that the burden of many disorders varied substantially across the States. Dr. Lalit Dandona, director of the India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative and senior author of this paper, stated that the study, based on collaboration with leading neurology experts in the country, provided policy-relevant insights into the trends of the disorders across the States.

“While the burden of infectious neurological disorders has fallen in India, this burden is higher in less developed States. On the other hand, the burden of the disorders related to injury is higher in more developed States. Among non-communicable disorders, stroke is the third leading cause of death, and dementias are the fastest growing disorders,” he said.

Modi, Maldivian President hold talks #GS2 #IR

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih “took stock” of bilateral cooperation in a telephone conversation. Mr. Modi called the Indian Ocean island nation the “central pillar” of India’s “neighbourhood policy”, and maritime vision of Security and Growth for All in the Region or ‘SAGAR’, the statement said.

The call assumes significance at a time when sections within the Maldives have mounted an “#Indiaout” campaign online, criticising India’s engagement with the Solih administration.

It also comes amid reported tensions within the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), with Parliamentary Speaker and former President Mohamed Nasheed, according to Male-based media, telling party colleagues recently that he cannot align himself to President Solih any more due to “ideological differences”.

Mr. Nasheed — undergoing treatment in the U.K. after surviving an attempt on his life — was not reachable for comment. The MDP has not commented on the development.

“President Solih thanked Prime Minister Modi for the India’s cooperation and support in the fight against the pandemic,” the Ministry said. India has provided three lakh doses — two lakh as a gift and one lakh for commercial procurement — of COVID-19 vaccines to the Maldives. “Both leaders reviewed the progress of the India-supported development projects in the Maldives and expressed satisfaction at the rapid pace of implementation despite the constraints of the pandemic.

It made no mention of the proposed consulate in the Maldives’ Addu atoll, which the Indian Cabinet cleared, setting off a controversy in the island nation. India sceptics termed the move “heavy-handed”, in the absence of any official statement on it from the Maldivian authorities. Mr. Modi also conveyed his congratulations to President Solih on the election of Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid as the President of the UN General Assembly

Permanent Commission for 147 women officers #GS3 #Defence

The Army said on Wednesday that 147 additional women officers had been granted Permanent Commission (PC) taking the total number of women officers granted it to 424 out of the 615 officers considered since the landmark judgment by the Supreme Court last year.

Following the judgment on grant of PC to women officers in the Army, a special selection board was constituted and 277 women short service commission officers received it after medical scrutiny. Further, in March 2021, the Supreme Court directed reconsideration of some cases of women officers who were not granted PC by laying down revised parameters.

“The women officers were reconsidered as per directions of the Supreme Court and fresh results have now been declassified. Consequently, 147 more women officers are being granted PC, taking the total PC granted to 424 out of the 615 officers considered,” the statement said. Results of a few have been withheld for administrative reasons and awaiting outcome of a clarification petition by the government in the Supreme Court, it said.

PC to women officers in junior batches has commenced from December 2020.

India, Russia to hold 2+2 Ministerial meet #GS2 #IR

India and Russia will hold the first 2+2 Ministerial meeting later this year before a summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian envoy Nikolay Kudashev.

On India-Taliban Talks, another senior Russian Embassy official said it was India’s sovereign decision and it was useful to deal with everyone in the region. “Taliban is present in Afghanistan also in a manner it is a party to intra-Afghan talks. Certainly, it will be useful to deal with everyone in the region so that national interests will be better ensured.

Mr. Kudashev said in a virtual press interaction that the recent visit of External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar to Moscow demonstrated the attention both sides were paying to satisfy the common desire to maintain strong dynamics of bilateral high-level contacts, which was especially important in view of the preparation for the next big events planned later this year.

“They include both trade and economic as well defence intergovernmental commissions, the first 2+2 Ministerial meeting and, of course, the summit – undoubtedly, it will be a new huge cornerstone of the special and privileged strategic partnership, which is really unique,” he stated.

Putin visit

The details of a possible visit of Mr. Putin were being discussed, he said. He added that the “epidemiological situation” would be a very important factor. “At the same time, our leaders are planning to jointly participate in BRICS under the Indian presidency, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summits in September as well as the G20 summit in October.

India largest source of govt. info requests, says Twitter #GS2 #Governance

India is the single largest source of government information requests during the second half of 2020, accounting for 25% of the global volume, as per the biannual Twitter Transparency Report released.

Globally, Twitter received 14,561 such requests for 51,584 accounts in the six-month period from June to December 2020, of which 3,615 requests for 7,762 accounts were from India. For India, this is an increase of about 38% from the first half of the year when the number of such requests stood at 2,613.

“Over the past year, we’ve experienced and continue to navigate severe global challenges, including the coronavirus pandemic. We’ve also seen concerted attempts by governments to limit access to the Internet generally and to Twitter specifically,” the company said in a blog. It added that global governments and law enforcement agencies submitted approximately 15% more information requests compared to the previous reporting period.

For the June-December period, the compliance rate for government information requests was 30% globally, and 0.6% in India. The second highest volume of information requests originated from the United States, comprising 22% of global information requests.

During the period, Twitter received a total of 38,524 legal demands to remove content specifying 1,31,933 accounts. The platform withheld or otherwise removed some or all of the reported content in response to 29% of these global legal demands.

For India, the number of legal requests stood at 6,971, up 151% from 2,772 such requests in the first six months of 2020. As a result of legal requests, Twitter withheld 60 accounts and 598 tweets. In addition, 1,310 accounts were either suspended or some content was removed for violating Twitter’s Terms of Service or Twitter Rules.

The U.S.-headquartered firm said 94% of the total global volume of legal demands originated from only five countries — Japan, India, Russia, Turkey, and South Korea. “Accounts of 199 verified journalists and news outlets from around the world were subject to 361 legal demands, a 26% increase in these requests since the previous reporting period.

LAC impasse is affecting bilateral ties #GS2 #IR

The impasse between Indian and Chinese troops at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is “visibly impacting” bilateral ties “negatively”, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar told Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi as they met in Dushanbe on the sidelines of the SCO meeting.

Highlighting the lack of movement in the disengagement process apart from the initial withdrawal of troops around the Pangong lake area earlier this year, Mr. Jaishankar said India had hoped China would “follow through” in resolving issues at the LAC, as had been agreed in a five-point agreement with Mr. Wang when the two Ministers had last met in Moscow last September.

While Indian and Chinese troops completed the first round of disengagement in February 2021, withdrawing from areas and posts around the Pangong lake, officials have said China continues to stall talks on withdrawing from the other areas where PLA troops have amassed since April 2020, including at Depsang, Gogra and Hotsprings areas in Ladakh.

“[Mr. Jaishankar] pointed out to State Councillor [Mr. Wang] that the successful disengagement in the Pangong Lake Area earlier this year had created conditions for resolving the remaining issues. It was expected that the Chinese side would work with us towards this objective. EAM noted, however, that the situation in remaining areas is still unresolved.

Ahead of the Foreign Ministers’ meeting, however, both New Delhi and Beijing denied reports of fresh tensions along the LAC. The Army also insisted that the agreements with China have not “collapsed” as claimed in an article published.

“Ever since the disengagement agreement in February this year, there has been no attempt by either side to occupy the areas from where the disengagement had been undertaken. There have been no clashes in Galwan or any other area,” the Army statement said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said he was not “aware of the situation mentioned” in the report as well. Mr. Jaishankar and Mr. Wang “agreed to remain in touch”, as India hoped that “all remaining issues” would be discussed at the next round of Senior Military Commanders talks as decided by the WMCC group on June 25.

In contrast to their last meeting in Moscow, there was no joint statement issued by the two sides after the Jaishankar-Wang meeting. According to the Ministry’s statement, Mr. Jaishankar also made it clear that other bilateral relations on other issues could not proceed successfully unless the present LAC situation is resolved.

WPI inflation remains ‘high’ #GS3 #Economy

Wholesale price inflation stayed high in June as costlier fuels and manufactured products pegged the provisional headline number at 12.07%, following May’s record 12.94%. While industry fretted about the risks of sticky wholesale prices pushing up production costs, economists voiced concerns about the spillover effect on retail inflation and its impact on monetary policy calibration.

The Office of Economic Adviser in the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade attributed the ‘high’ inflation to a low base effect combined with the rise in prices of petrol, diesel, naphtha and ATF, as well as those of basic metals and food products.

The Wholesale Price Index inched up 0.75% over May’s level, with the fuel and power prices index rising 2.9% from the preceding month, the most among major groups in the index.

Wholesale inflation in fuel and power in June was also the highest among the WPI constituents on an annual basis at 32.8%, though it slowed from May’s 37.6%. Inflation in wholesale food prices eased to 6.66% from 8.11% in May, but price gains in manufactured products accelerated slightly to 10.88% from 10.83% in May.

The spurt in raw material and fuel and power prices was affecting small businesses already struggling from the pandemic’s impact and a squeeze on working capital, said PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Sanjay Aggarwal.

“We urge the Government to consider bringing petroleum products in the ambit of GST to rationalise prices,” Mr. Aggarwal said, stressing inflation was affecting Indian industry’s competitiveness locally and globally.

‘Core inflation to rise’

“While the core inflation hardened further to 10.4% in June, from 10% in May, the pace of the month-on-month uptick in this index eased to a four-month low of 0.5%,” said Aditi Nayar, chief economist at ICRA, who expects core inflation to rise further in July, before commencing a gradual downtrend from August. The WPI trend could inject ‘uneasiness’ into the RBI’s policy tone by way of spillover risks.

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