Current Affairs 10th July

Terrain, facilities will affect delimitation in J&K, says ECI #GS2 #Governance

The Jammu and Kashmir Delimitation Commission will base its final report on the 2011 Census and will also take into account the topography, difficult terrain, means of communication and convenience available while delimiting seven additional seats for the 83-member Assembly of the Union Territory (UT), besides granting reservation to the Schedule Tribe (ST) and Schedule Caste (SC) communities.

“Delimitation is not a mathematical exercise. It must reflect the political aspirations of society bound in a particular geography. Though the population forms the base [for delimitation], the Commission shall take into account constituencies’ practicality, geographical compatibility, topography, physical features, means of communication and convenience available,” Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra said on Friday, after the three-member panel completed its four-day consultation tour of J&K.

The earlier delimitation panels did not acknowledge the difficult terrains and people’s difficulties, he pointed out. Mr. Chandra clarified that 24 seats reserved for Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK) would not be delimited in this process. “The Commission will also specify the number of seats to be reserved for the SCs and the STs in the Legislative Assembly of the U.T. It will be for the first time that seats will be reserved for the STs in J&K.

J&K has already seven seats reserved for SC people, mainly in the Kathua-Samba belt in the Jammu region. It will be for the first time that STs, including Bakerwals and Gujjars, will get reservation in this delimitation exercise. The maximum population of Gujjars and Bakwerwals are from the Pir Panjal Valley, comprising Poonch and Rajouri districts, in the Jammu region.

Mr. Chandra said the Commission had taken into account the representations made by 290 groups, comprising 800 people. A draft report will be prepared, wherein the suggestions of the associate members will also be taken into account. Thereafter, it will be in the public domain for a consensus. Only after the fresh comments, the final draft will be prepared. Opportunity will be given to people at large to take into account all the views. Mr. Chandra dismissed the Peoples Democratic Party’s charge that the panel’s decisions were pre-planned.

India concerned at events in Afghanistan, says Jaishankar #GS2 #IR

India is concerned at the “direction of events” in Afghanistan, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said on Friday in Moscow.

Addressing a joint press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Mr. Jaishankar said that there is a “legitimacy aspect” to whoever gets to govern Afghanistan. Mr Jaishankar completed his visit to Russia and left for a special tour of neighbouring Georgia where he is the first Indian External Affairs Minister to visit since the post-Soviet country attained freedom in 1991.

“Yes, of course we are concerned about the direction of events in Afghanistan. In many cases, when there is volatility in a society, we leave the people of that country to work it out. But Afghanistan is a very different case because for more than 30 years there have been international conferences… there have been groups, and formats to discuss how to stabilise and bring peace to Afghanistan, because it has proven implications for regional security and stability. So the point we stress is that there has to be a reduction in violence,

The press conference in Moscow was convened within hours of the Taliban’s declaration that around 85% of Afghan territory is now under its control. Mr. Lavrov confirmed that Taliban has taken over border crossings with Iran and Tajikistan after dislodging Afghan military forces.

The two ministers said they had discussed the evolving situation in Afghanistan during the bilateral talks held earlier in the day as both New Delhi and Moscow are watching the fast evolving situation in Kabul, which is reportedly surrounded by Taliban forces.

Mr. Jaishankar’s visit to Moscow coincided with an interaction between Zamir Kabulov, Special Envoy of the Russian President for Afghanistan, and a Taliban delegation, led by Sheikh Shahabuddhin Delawar.

The Taliban delegation promised not to allow “any one to use the soil of Afghanistan against any one country, nor will tolerate intervention of others,” said Suhail Shaheen, Taliban’s ‘spokesman for international media (English)’. He also assured that the Taliban “are not going to target diplomats, embassies and consulates, NGOs and their staff”.

The assurance of safety for the diplomatic missions and staff is important for India which has been closely monitoring the security situation in Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif housing Indian missions.

Mr. Lavrov emphasised the need for a “political solution” and said the world wants to see the agreement between the United States and Taliban implemented but cautioned that the ongoing clashes between Taliban and Afghan security forces may “spill over to the allied countries”.

The Afghan situation will also come up for further consultation at Dushanbe where the ministerial meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) will take place next week. The issue will come up also at Tashkent which will host a conference of Central and Southern Asia. “We hope all the participants (at Dushanbe and Tashkent) will send a strong message to all the people of Afghanistan to start negotiating for real.

In a symbolic move, Mr. Jaishankar left for Georgia after his interactions in Moscow. In Georgian capital Tbilisi, he is the first Indian External Affairs Minister to visit since the country attained freedom from Soviet control in 1991.

His interaction with Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani is likely to be watched by Moscow which continues to have tense bilateral ties with Tbilisi. The visit is being interpreted as a subtle message to Moscow which in recent years has developed working relationship with Pakistan, especially on the security front to establish connection with Taliban.

NGT bench in Delhi not superior to zonal benches #GS2 #Governance

Observing that all five zonal Benches of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) are equally powerful and that their orders would be applicable pan India, the Madras High Court has disapproved of a 2017 Central notification which terms the north zone Bench in Delhi as the principal Bench.

Passing interm orders in a case, Justices N. Kirubakaran and T.V. Thamilselvi wrote: “Though in the notification dated August 10, 2017 the north zone Bench in Delhi is called principal Bench, it is prima facie contrary to the NGT Act of 2010 as the latter does not speak about any principal Bench.

Authoring the order, Justice Kirubakaran observed, “Vesting of power only with the Bench in Delhi is not contemplated anywhere in the statute, even though power is actually concentrated in Delhi.”

The orders were passed on a writ petition filed by environmental activist K. Saravanan of Chennai against a decision taken by the south zone Bench on June 15 to transfer his case to the Principal Bench in Delhi, since orders to be passed would have a pan-India effect.

Not in agreement with such a decision taken by the south zone Bench, the judges stayed the operation of the transfer order.

“The decision taken by any Bench of the NGT will have a pan-India effect, and it cannot be said that only if the issue is decided by Delhi, it will have a pan-India effect,” they said.

They said the country was divided into five zones — north, west, central, south and east — and one Bench of the NGT was established for each of them, with territorial jurisdiction over specified States, only for the convenience of litigants residing in the zones. “The jurisdiction of every Bench has been distinctly given, and it is only to enable citizens to approach the forum constituted in their zone and not to make them travel to Delhi, spending huge amounts of money, which is not possible for everyone for each and every issue,” the judges said.

They went on to add, “If such a procedure [of transferring cases to Delhi] is adopted, it will amount to denying access to justice as is being done in other matters.” Easy access to justice was the primary reason for establishing courts at the taluk level, and that was the reason even High Court Benches were being created in different parts of a State, the judges said.

Privacy policy will be on hold till law is framed: WhatsApp #GS2 #Governance

WhatsApp LLC told the Delhi High Court on Friday that till the Data Protection Bill comes into force, it will not compel users to opt for its new privacy policy as it has been put on hold, and will be implemented “if Parliament allows it”.

WhatsApp clarified before the Bench of Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh that it would not limit the functionality of the app for users who are not opting for the new privacy policy in the meantime.

Appearing for the instant messaging platform, senior advocate Harish Salve said, “We voluntarily agreed to put it [the policy] on hold… We will not compel people to accept.” Mr. Salve said that WhatsApp would nonetheless continue to display the update to its users.

In response, the court observed that even though the implementation had been put on hold, the policy still continued to exist. “You are not implementing it but the policy is with you and any day it can come. Mr. Salve reiterated that the approach would be maintained till the Data Protection Bill becomes the law.

“Commitment is that I will do nothing till the Parliament’s law comes in. If Parliament allows it, I will have it. If it doesn’t, bad luck… I’ve taken it off till the Parliament makes a law. Either we fit in or we don’t,” Mr. Salve said.

The Personal Data Protection Bill seeks to regulate the use of an individual’s data by the government and private companies. The Joint Committee of Parliament examining the Bill has been given extension till the monsoon session of Parliament to submit its report.

The court was hearing the appeals of Facebook and its firm WhatsApp against the single judge order refusing to stop the Competition Commission of India’s (CCI) order directing a probe into WhatsApp’s new privacy policy. Last month, an application was moved by WhatsApp for an interim stay on the probe.

Mr. Salve argued that since the genesis of the probe — the privacy policy — has been stalled for now, the inquiry into the same by the CCI had become academic. The objectionable part [of the app’s new privacy policy] was ‘take it or leave it’. For present, ‘take it or leave it’ is something we are not doing. Opt in, opt out is not there. Everybody is using,” he said.

He also urged the court to grant WhatsApp time till the end of July to respond to the questionnaire sent by the CCI to the messaging platform in relation to the inquiry.

Graded response plan approved #GS3 #Environment

A Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) was passed at a Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) meeting chaired by Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal to discuss the COVID situation in the Capital with Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Friday.

After detailed deliberations and presentations made by Health Department and ICMR, it was decided to notify the GRAP that will “objectively and transparently” ensure an “institutional and automatic” response with regards to enforcement measures, lockdowns and unlock activities, an expert present at the meeting said.

The government said the plan was prepared in comparison with ascent data of the four waves at specific positivity rates of 0.5%, 1%, 2% and 5% and also considered on the basis of the earlier four waves.

Activities under various categories will now be allowed or restricted based on the cumulative positivity rate, the number of cases and the occupancy of oxygenated beds in the city either being breached or receding from a defined threshold.

“This GRAP is of extreme importance. There will be a sense of certainty and accountability on our part towards the people of Delhi. The plan descriptively elaborates upon when the lockdown will be imposed and when it will be lifted,” Mr. Kejriwal said at the meeting.

New variants

Concerns arising out of new variants like Delta Plus and LAMBDA were discussed at length and measures like vaccination, genome sequencing, testing, tracking and surveillance were suggested as the most effective steps to mitigate their spread, said experts present in the meeting. An expert said it was felt that the guard against the virus could not be let down and concerns were expressed over the flouting of COVID-appropriate behaviour.

Violations during travel

“It was stressed that apart from enforcement efforts on part of various agencies the onus of ensuring and enforcing COVID-appropriate behaviour lay with stakeholder organisations like MTAs and RWAs as well,” an expert said. People travelling in large numbers to tourist destinations and violating COVID guidelines was also flagged as an area of concern even as an ICU bed capacity of 12,000, sufficient oxygen, drugs and ambulances were stressed upon to deal with any future surge or wave.

IT rules: govt. plea listed for July 16 #GS2 #Governance

The Supreme Court on Friday listed for July 16 a government petition to transfer the cases challenging the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, from various High Courts to itself.

A Bench of Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and Sanjiv Khanna tagged the plea to a pending special leave petition titled ‘Justice for Rights Foundation versus Union of India’. Justice Khanwilkar said the case would be listed before an appropriate Bench on July 16. The government petition is likely to come up before a Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud.

The ‘Justice for Rights Foundation’ case, pending before the Justice Chandrachud-led Bench, primarily concerns the regulation of content shown on the over-the-top (OTT) platforms. The Bench has been examining the issue in the backdrop of the new IT Rules. On March 23 last, it stayed all proceedings in High Courts on the issue.

The government has said in the top court that the IT Rules provide a “comprehensive” mechanism to check the content on OTT platforms.

The current transfer petition deals primarily with cases in High Courts challenging the regulatory framework for social media intermediaries in the Rules. One of them is being heard in the Delhi High Court and concerns Twitter. Recently, the government informed the court that Twitter has failed to comply with the law regulating tech companies rendering their services as ‘intermediaries’.

Ministry’s affidavit

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, in an affidavit filed before the court, stated that despite three months granted to all Significant Social Media Intermediaries (SSMIs) to comply with the Rules, Twitter failed to fully comply with the same.

Judges should not act like emperors, says SC #GS2 #Governance

The Supreme Court said that judges should not behave like “emperors” and summon government officials “at the drop of a hat”.

The apex court said there would be a “reaction” if judges cross the line of separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive to call officers to court “unnecessarily”. The apex court prescribed modesty and humility.

‘Drop of a hat’

“A practice has developed in certain High Courts to call officers at the drop of a hat and to exert direct or indirect pressure. The line of separation of powers between judiciary and executive is sought to be crossed by summoning the officers and, in a way, pressurising them to pass an order as per the whims and fancies of the court.

Justice Gupta, who authored the judgment, said officials were also performing their duties as the third limb of governance.

“The actions or decisions by the officers are not to benefit them, but as a custodian of public funds and in the interest of administration, some decisions are bound to be taken. It is always open to the High Court to set aside the decision which does not meet the test of judicial review, but summoning of officers frequently is not appreciable at all. The same is liable to be condemned in the strongest words,” the court observed.

Judges must know their limits. The dignity and majesty of the court was not enhanced when an officer was called to court. Respect to the court had to be commanded and not demanded and the same was not enhanced by calling public officers, Justice Gupta noted.

At times, officials had to travel great distances and wait for hours in court. His official work was delayed, creating an extra burden on the officer

‘Power of the pen’

“Summoning of the officer is against the public interest… Courts have the power of the pen, which is more effective than the presence of an officer in Court. If any particular issue arises for consideration before the Court, and the advocate representing the State is not able to answer, it is advised to write such doubt in the order and give time to the State or its officers to respond.

Pregnant women should take vaccine for safety of self, child #GS3 #SnT

Pregnant women should take the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible as we now know that the virus brings along some serious complications, including pre-term delivery, V.K. Paul, NITI Aayog (Member).

Addressing a Health Ministry press conference, Dr. Paul said it was now established that a COVID-19 infection during pregnancy might result in rapid deterioration of the mother’s health and could also affect the foetus.

“Pregnant women who develop COVID-19 are more likely to require intensive care than their non-pregnant counterparts. Apart from the mother, there is risk to the child in case she contracts the infection. Pregnant women should get vaccinated. It is very important and now the Ministry has released guidelines for the same,” said Dr. Paul.

NTAGI recommendations

On July 2, the Health Ministry had announced inclusion of pregnant women in the ongoing vaccination drive after it accepted the recommendations of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) on this subject.

Dr. Paul added that the second wave of the pandemic was not over yet. “The war is not over and as long as the virus is there in some areas of the country, the threat remains. It is also a warning that the situation can explode any time if we aren’t careful,” he said.

“Until we get down to reporting less than 10,000 cases per day for at least three successive weeks, we are not safe. The current rate of new cases indicates that the virus will take an upper hand soon if we don’t follow norms. Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary, Health Ministry, said 80% of the new cases were from 90 districts, with maximum cases coming from districts in Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

From two States

“Also, more than half of the new cases are now coming from two States — Maharashtra and Kerala. This is a matter of concern. We cannot lower our guard. A new risk is being seen at tourist spots where COVID-appropriate behaviour is not being followed,” he said.

Mr. Agarwal said the Health Ministry had now dispatched a six-member Central team to Kerala where Zika cases had been reported.

Himalayan yaks to be insured #GS3 #Environment

The high-altitude yak, feeling the climate change heat across the Himalayan belt, will now be insured. The National Research Centre on Yak (NRCY) at Dirang in West Kameng district, Arunachal Pradesh, has tied up with the National Insurance Company Ltd. for insuring their livestock.

“The countrywide population trend shows that yak population has been decreasing at an alarming rate. Further, climate change and inexplicable changes in the weather pattern have been reported from the yak rearing areas throughout the country,” NRCY director Dr. Mihir Sarkar said.

The insurance policy would shield the yak owners against the risks posed by weather calamities, diseases, in-transit mishaps, surgical operations and strikes or riots. A four-year-old report said the number of yaks across the country declined by almost 24.7% between 2012 and 2019.

The total yak population in India is about 58,000. The Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir have some 26,000, followed by 24,000 in Arunachal Pradesh, 5,000 in Sikkim, 2,000 in Himachal Pradesh and about 1,000 in West Bengal and Uttarakhand.

Dr. Sarkar termed it “a landmark development in providing financial security to yak rearing communities in Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh”. According to the policy, the owners would have to get their yaks ear-tagged and provide a proper description in order to get their animals insured.

Revival bumpy, sentiment to improve’ #GS3 #Economy

India’s economic recovery after the ebbing of the second COVID-19 wave remains uneven, despite an uptick in several economic indicators through June. Consumption sentiment, it added, was likely to improve as recent relief measures announced by the government begin to kick in.

Attributing the spike in retail inflation over the last two years to higher food inflation, the Ministry said that prices were expected to cool in the short term from the 6.3% inflation mark reported in May, due to healthy monsoons, gradually rising Kharif crop sowing and unlocking by States. While this would slow food inflation, and thereby headline inflation, the Ministry said input cost pressures and the global spurt in commodity prices remained major risks.

Consumption sentiment is expected to pick up due to recent measures such as enhanced employment support (through Employees’ Provident Fund subsidies under the Aatmanirbhar Bharat Rozgar Yojana), and targeted support to the urban poor through the credit guarantee scheme for microfinance institutions and the widening of the BharatNet’s digitisation coverage.

Higher highway toll collections, power usage and record UPI transactions suggest ‘India is on the move again’, the Ministry said in its monthly economic review for June. “However, recovery remains uneven with indicators such as port traffic, air traffic, PMI Manufacturing and Services demonstrating lagged revival from the impact of the second wave. Latest industrial production estimates show sequential moderation in growth of… eight core industries at 16.8% [year-on-year] in May 2021, 8% lower than pre-COVID May 2019 level,” it added.

E-way bill generation rose 37.1% in June, compared with May, which augurs well for GST collections in coming months, while resilient tax collections over April and May bodes well for a ‘continued economic recovery’ driven by capital spending, the Department of Economic Affairs noted. On predictions of a third wave, the Ministry said its emergence could be ‘significantly buffered by expanded vaccination and meticulous observance of COVID-appropriate behaviour’.

‘Food’s high weightage’

On inflation trends, it said retail inflation that averaged 5.9% in FY15 ‘fell continuously’ till it reached 3.4% in FY19. From 4.8% in FY20, it surged to 6.2% last year.

“Since the weightage of food in CPI is very high, the impact of food prices on overall CPI inflation is high,” the Ministry reasoned. The government, it said, is taking a variety of measures to rein in food inflation, including the imposition of stock limits and trade restrictions to regulate domestic availability.