Current Affairs 11th March

HC restrains Centre on new IT rules #GS3 #Security

The Kerala High Court on Wednesday restrained the Centre from taking coercive action against Live Law Media Private Ltd., which owns a legal news portal, for not complying with Part III of the new IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.

The court issued notice to the Centre on a petition filed by the firm challenging the rules regulating digital news media, curated content (OTT platforms), and social media intermediaries.

When the petition came up, counsel for the Centre submitted that there was time till March 24 for complying with the rules.

The petition said Part III of the rules imposed an unconstitutional three-tier complaints and adjudication structure on publishers.

‘Chilling effect’

This administrative regulation on digital news media would make it virtually impossible for small or medium-sized publishers, such as the petitioner, to function. It would have a chilling effect on such entities, the petition said.

The creation of a grievance redressal mechanism, through a governmental oversight body (an inter-departmental committee constituted under Rule 14) amounted to excessive regulation, it contended.

The petitioner pointed out that Rule 4(2), which makes it mandatory for every social media intermediary to enable tracing of originators of information on its platform, purportedly in furtherance of Section 69 of the IT Act, violated Article 19(1)(a) (freedom of speech and expression).

It also deprived the intermediaries of their “safe-harbour protections” under Section 79 of the IT Act.

The petition also added that the rules obligating messaging intermediaries to alter their infrastructure to “fingerprint” each message on a mass scale for every user to trace the first originator was violative of the fundamental right to privacy of Internet users.

India not part of Russian meet on Afghanistan #GS2 #IR

Close on the heels of U.S. plans for a United Nations regional conference on Afghanistan, Russia has announced it will hold a conference of special envoys from the U.S., China, and Pakistan, along with representatives of the Afghanistan government, Taliban and other senior Afghan leaders next week.

Unlike the UN-led formulation, however, India has not been invited to the Russian conference, officials confirmed, adding that Moscow has kept New Delhi apprised of the two-year old “Troika” process involving consultations between U.S., Russia and China. “A regular meeting of the expanded ‘troika’ is scheduled for March 18 in Moscow at the level of special representatives of Russia, China, the United States and Pakistan, dedicated to the intra-Afghan settlement,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova.

Apart from the Afghan representatives of the Ghani government and the High Council for National Reconciliation, leaders including former President Hamid Karzai and Qatar’s envoy have also been invited.

“The meeting is expected to discuss ways to assist advancing the intra-Afghan talks in Doha, reduce the level of violence and to end the armed conflict in Afghanistan,” Ms. Zakharova said. A joint statement is expected to be released after the three-day conference.

U.S. Special Representative on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad is yet to confirm his participation in the expanded Troika meet, although he was part of at least two meetings of the “Troika plus Pakistan” in 2020. An Afghanistan Foreign Ministry spokesperson said the composition of the final delegation that would travel from Kabul was under discussion, but that the Ghani government would participate.

No comment from MEA

The MEA declined to comment on India’s exclusion from the meeting, which would be the first such meeting with Afghanistan and Taliban representatives present, ever since the Doha talks process ran into trouble earlier this year.

Diplomatic sources said the Troika process was an “already established mechanism”, and that there was no attempt to “leave India out” of the proposed talks. The sources said Russia is committed to the path of building “regional consensus” for Afghanistan’s peace process, and that it hopes to include India in the talks framework at a later date.

Officials also said the Moscow “Troika Plus” meeting next week would run “in addition to” and not “counter to” the U.S. proposals for the future roadmap for Afghanistan. The proposals include discussions on a ceasefire and power sharing in a “more inclusive” government in Kabul, and indicated that the U.S. is still considering whether to pull out its final 2,500 troops from Afghanistan by May 1 this year.

Cabinet clears fund for health care #GS2 #Governance

The Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has approved the Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Nidhi (PMSSN), a single non-lapsable reserve fund for health from the proceeds of Health and Education Cess levied under Section 136-b of Finance Act, 2007.

In its release issued the government said the major benefits of PMSSN will be the enhanced access to universal and affordable health care through availability of earmarked resources, while ensuring that the amount does not lapse at the end of the financial year.

In the 2018 Budget, the Central government while announcing Ayushman Bharat Scheme, also announced replacement of existing 3% Education Cess by 4% Health and Education Cess, the released added.

“Proceeds of share of health in the Health and Education Cess will be credited into PMSSN and accruals into the PMSSN will be utilised for the flagship schemes of the Health Ministry,” noted the release.

The release added that administration and maintenance of the PMSSN is entrusted to the Health Ministry.

U.S. Defense Secretary to visit India #GS2 #IR

American Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will visit India from March 19 to 21 and meet Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and other leaders as part of his maiden visit abroad, the Pentagon announced on Wednesday. The dates of the visit were released by the Defence Ministry. The Secretary, whose trip begins on Saturday, will also visit Japan and South Korea and the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii. It would reinforce the U.S.’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific, the Pentagon said.

“Secretary Austin will meet his counterparts and other senior officials to discuss the importance of international defence relationships, and reinforce the United States’ commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region — founded on respect for international rules, laws, and norms,” the Pentagon said.

“In India, Secretary Austin will meet his counterpart, Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh, and other senior national security leaders to discuss deepening the U.S.-India Major Defense Partnership and advancing cooperation between our countries for a free, prosperous and open Indo-Pacific and Western Indian Ocean Region,” the statement said.

“Both Sides are expected to discuss ways to further strengthen bilateral defence cooperation and exchange views on regional security challenges and common interests in maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. 

Discussions regarding defence cooperation would also focus on how both countries could consolidate military-to-military cooperation and defence trade and industry cooperation,” a Defence Ministry statement said, adding that India being part of Mr. Austin’s first official trip as Secretary underscored the strength of the U.S.-India strategic partnership.

India and the U.S. have witnessed a deepening of their security partnership, across both Democrat and Republican administrations. Growing Chinese assertiveness has also brought them closer in terms of security cooperation. There are several defence deals in the pipeline. A proposal for 30 armed drones, 10 for each Service, from General Atomics estimated at over $3 billion, is at advanced stages of being cleared by the Defence Ministry.

Indo-Pacific is key priority: White House #GS2 #IR

The scheduling of the first-everQuad leaders’ summit-level meetingwithin 50 days of the Biden administration signified the importance the administration places on the Indo-Pacific, the White House said on Tuesday.

“That President Biden has made this one of his earliest multilateral engagements speaks to the importance we place on close cooperation with our allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters about Friday’s virtual meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan.

The White House is expecting a range of issues to be discussed, includingCOVID-19, economic cooperation and the climate crisis.

In his interim strategic guidance to administration agencies and departments issued earlier this month, President Biden had said China was “the only competitor potentially capable of combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to mount a sustained challenge to a stable and open international system.”

Yet, the Biden administration has been careful to portray the Quad as something bigger than a grouping centred around the China challenge. It reiterated this position on Tuesday.

“It (Friday’s meeting) will showcase the Quad’s ability to pool our capabilities and build habits of cooperation to address some of those urgent challenges we face. At the same time, I would just note that the Quad is not about any single challenge. It’s not about any single competitor,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said. He was responding to a question on the extent to which the China-U.S. adversarial relationship would be discussed on Friday.

Common interests

“This is an entity forged and formed because we share common interests. There, maritime security is, of course, an important one, but our shared interests go well beyond that. And I think you will see reflected in the agenda, the breadth of those shared interest in the aftermath of the Quad meetings.

Mr. Price also said the fact that President Biden was due to meet with his counterparts on Friday and that Mr. Blinken had already held discussions with his Quad counterparts in February, signalled the U.S.’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific.