Current Affairs 16th July

Why do you need the ‘colonial law’ of sedition, CJI asks govt. #GS2 #Governance

Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana, in what may be an unprecedented judicial criticism of the way the sedition law is used by the government to crush liberties, asked why a colonial law used against Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak continued to survive in the law book 75 years after Independence.

“Sedition is a colonial law. It suppresses freedoms. It was used against Mahatma Gandhi, Tilak… Is this law necessary after 75 years of Independence?” Chief Justice Ramana, heading a three-judge Bench, orally addressed Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal and Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre.

The CJI said the sedition law, or Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, was prone to misuse by the government. “The use of sedition is like giving a saw to the carpenter to cut a piece of wood and he uses it to cut the entire forest itself.”

The CJI’s oral statement in open court takes a significant note amid rising public denouncement of Central and State law enforcement agencies using the law to silence dissent, muzzle free expression and deny bail to jailed activists, journalists, students and civil society members. A number of petitions have been filed highlighting the “chilling effect” sedition has on the fundamental right of free speech. The CJI’s remarks have also opened the floor for debate and introspection on the court’s own verdict in 1962, in the Kedar Nath case, which upheld Section 124A.

The CJI drew the attention of the Attorney General to the conviction rates under sedition. “If you look at the history of use of this Section 124A of IPC, you will find that the conviction rate is very low. There is misuse of power by executive agencies,” the Chief Justice said.

The CJI asked the government why it did not throw out the sedition law along with the hundreds of “stale laws” it had expunged from the statute books. “Your government is taking out a lot of stale laws from the law books, why have they not looked into this,” Chief Justice Ramana asked Mr. Venugopal. People had suffered and were scared of the misuse of the sedition law, Chief Justice Ramana said.

“We are not blaming any particular government or State. But do look at how Section 66A of the Information Technology Act is continuing to be used… How many unfortunate people have suffered? And there is no accountability for all this…” he noted.

‘People are scared’

The CJI said the sweeping powers of Section 124A gives even a village police officer carte blanche to trample on the right to liberty and free speech of ordinary citizens.

“If a police officer wants to fix anybody in a village for something, he can use Section 124A… People are scared. Our concern is misuse of the law and the lack of accountability. Why has it continued in the statute book even after 75 years of our Independence,” Chief Justice Ramana asked the government’s law officers repeatedly. The Chief Justice said the Supreme Court would “definitely look into this Section 124A”.

“The situation on the ground is grave… If one party does not like what the other is saying, Section 124A is used… It is a serious threat to the functioning of individuals and parties,” Chief Justice Ramana noted.

Mr. Venugopal submitted that the court need not strike down Section 124A. “It is enough to see if there were any excesses in its use and limit the Section to its real purpose… That would be enough. The Bench issued notice to the Centre on a petition filed by retired Army General S.G. Vombatkere, represented by advocates P.B. Suresh and Prasanna S., to quash Section 124A.

In its order, the court has also issued notice to the government on a writ petition filed jointly by the Editors Guild of India and cartoonist Aseem Trivedi.

The Bench noted that two other petitions filed by Kishore Chandra Wangkemcha and M/s Aamoda Broadcasting Company Private Limited, the latter against the Andhra Pradesh government, was pending before the apex court. Both cases concerned sedition charges.

A Bench led by Justice U.U. Lalit had issued notice in the Wangkemcha case. The Aamoda petition is before a Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud. The CJI Bench on Thursday said all these petitions posed “similar questions of law”. The Bench ordered that the cases be listed before an appropriate Bench for hearing.

Meanwhile, senior journalist Arun Shourie and NGO Common Cause, both represented by advocate Prashant Bhushan, has moved the Supreme Court to quash Section 124A. Their petition contended that a “presumption of constitutionality does not apply to pre-constitutional laws as those laws have been made by foreign legislature or body”.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/why-do-you-need-the-colonial-law-of-sedition-cji-asks-govt/article35355065.ece

Simpler drone rules in the offing #GS3 #SnT #GS2 #Governance

Simplified drone rules, which abolish the need for a large number of approvals and give impetus to research and development, are in the offing in the country. The Ministry of Civil Aviation on Thursday released the Draft Drone Rules, 2021, for public consultation until August 5. The rules will replace the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2021, notified on March 12, 2021.

“The intent is to make the rules user-friendly and to encourage drone research and development. This is another important step towards realising the vision of India as a drone hub. Drones are bringing the next big tech revolution around the globe with reduced costs, resources and time taken for operations. It is upon us to ride on the new wave and facilitate its uptake, especially among our start-ups.

The number of forms to be filled to seek authorisation before operating a drone has been reduced from 25 to six, according to a statement issued by the Ministry.

While most drones will need a unique identification number, a certificate of airworthiness, a remote pilot licence for the person controlling the drone and prior permission, no such approvals will be required for drones used for research and development by entities and educational institutions recognised by the Union government, State governments or Union Territory Administrations, start-ups recognised by Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade and drone manufacturers having a Goods and Service Tax Identification Number.

Unlike the previous rules, which required drone operators to have a principal place of business within India, there are no such restrictions for foreign-owned companies registered in India in the new proposed rules. Drones will also not need security clearance before registration or licence issuance.

The Quality Council of India and certification entities authorised by it will issue airworthiness certificates for drones, instead of the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation.

In order to encourage indigenous manufacturing, import of drones and drone components will be regulated by the Directorate-General of Foreign Trade. Moreover, the Union government may specify certain standards for obtaining a certificate of airworthiness for drones, which will promote the “use of made-in-India technologies, designs, components and drones; and India’s regional navigation satellite system named Navigation with Indian Constellation [NavIC].

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/simpler-drone-rules-in-the-offing/article35354986.ece

2 million Indian accounts banned during May-June #GS3 #Security

WhatsApp banned two million Indian accounts to prevent harmful behaviour and spam on its platform between May 15 and June 15, according to the company’s first monthly transparency report released.

“Our top focus is preventing accounts from sending harmful or unwanted messages at scale. We maintain advanced capabilities to identify these accounts sending a high or abnormal rate of messages and banned 2 millions accounts in India alone from May 15-June 15 attempting this kind of abuse. The company identifies an Indian account via +91 phone number.

Stating that more than 95% of such bans are due to the unauthorised use of automated or bulk messaging, the company added that these numbers have increased significantly since 2019 because its systems have increased in sophistication, and hence are detecting more accounts even as it believes there are more attempts to send bulk or automated messages.

“We ban the vast majority of these accounts proactively, without relying on any user reports,” the Facebook-owned firm said. Globally, the monthly average of accounts banned or disabled on the platform is about 8 million. The company also received 345 grievances from users during the period relating to issues such as ban appeal, product support, account support and safety support.

Of this, the company took remedial action in 63 instances. The majority of users who reach out to WhatsApp are either aiming to have their account restored following an action to ban them or reaching out for product or account support.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/2-million-indian-accounts-banned-during-may-june/article35354976.ece

Jaishankar, Wang differ on way forward for India-China ties #GS2 #IR

While External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar conveyed to his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, that the continuing impasse along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) was “visibly impacting the relationship in a negative manner”, the Chinese Minister offered a starkly different message, calling on both sides to “place the border issue in an appropriate position”.

Mr. Jaishankar reiterated India’s view in their talks on the sidelines of the SCO meeting — their first meeting since September last year in Moscow — that the LAC crisis would have a bearing on broader ties. “Assessing the overall relationship, the External Affairs Minister emphasised that maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the border areas has been the foundation for the development of ties since 1988,” the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) quoted him as saying, adding that the attempts to change status quo last year “disregarded commitments under the 1993 and 1996 agreements” and “have inevitably affected ties”.

Mr. Wang, in contrast, said in China’s view the boundary should be kept “in an appropriate position” and it should be addressed while both sides looked to “expand the positive momentum of bilateral cooperation and create favourable conditions for resolving differences through negotiation”. He said ‘cooperation’ should be “the main theme” of ties, while interaction “should still be seeking mutual benefits and complementarity, pursuing healthy competition and avoiding confrontation”. India has said normalcy in other areas of ties will not be possible until there is disengagement and then de-escalation along the border.

Mr. Wang also repeated China’s view that “the responsibility does not lie with the Chinese side” for the LAC crisis — another point of difference. Both also differed in their assessment of how to tackle the remaining issues along the LAC, with problems unresolved in several areas, including Depsang, Demchok, Gogra and Hot Springs, after the February disengagement at Pangong Lake.

Mr. Jaishankar said “the successful disengagement in the Pangong Lake Area earlier this year had created conditions for resolving the remaining issues” and noted that “the situation in remaining areas is still unresolved”. Mr. Wang did not refer to any remaining issues. He said since their September meeting, frontier troops “disengaged in the Galwan Valley and the Pangong Lake areas, and the overall situation in the border area was de-escalated”. He said China “is ready to find a solution acceptable to both sides on the issue that needs emergency response through negotiation and consultation”, yet talks between the military to find a solution since February have made little headway.

The MEA statement noted the agreement between both sides at the last meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on border affairs on June 25 to “convene at the earliest” the next meeting of military commanders. This was not mentioned in the Chinese readout, and the view in New Delhi is that Beijing has since February dragged its feet on talks to resolve the pending issues.

Both sides did agree that neither should take unilateral actions and that the current situation suited neither. Mr. Jaishankar said “both sides had agreed that a prolongation of the existing situation was not in the interest of either side”. Mr. Wang, for his part, said “relations still stay at a low level, which is not in the interest of either side”.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/jaishankar-wang-differ-on-way-forward-for-india-china-ties/article35354992.ece

Jaishankar meets Ghani, discusses Taliban #GS2 #IR

Worries over growing violence and Taliban gains in Afghanistan overshadowed External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s meetings ahead of a connectivity conference here on Thursday, as he called on Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and met the U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser and Special Envoy as well as other Foreign Ministers.

“Discussed the situation in and around Afghanistan. Reiterated our support for peace, stability and development of Afghanistan,” Mr. Jaishankar tweeted after the meeting, which focused on the rapid developments and advances by the militia within days of the U.S. and NATO troops’ pull-out from the Bagram airbase this month.

The Afghan president’s office said that Mr. Jaishankar had also promised to continue India’s humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, with a gift of 150,000 tonnes of wheat.

According to sources, the Ghani government is conducting a review of the Afghanistan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) military strategy, which could see it shift tactics in dealing with the Taliban that have claimed several key towns and border checkpost areas in the last week.

This was the first high-level meeting between Delhi and Kabul since the government decided to pull out all Indian personnel from the Consulate in Kandahar. Internal assessments have suggested that while the Taliban has not been successful in moving in to many more populated cities, it will seek to control Kandahar, which was its traditional base. Officials said President Ghani was “determined” to take back some of the strategic areas taken over by the Taliban.

Mr. Jaishankar also met U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall and U.S. Special Representative on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, who are attending the conference, and are understood to be discussing the possibility of an American military base in one of the Central Asian countries, including in Uzbekistan, where the U.S. had shut down its Karshi-Khanabad base in 2009.

Mr. Jaishankar said he had “exchanged views on the evolving situation in Afghanistan”.

In his speech on Friday, Mr. Jaishankar is expected to speak about the importance of security in the region for connectivity to prosper, including an end to terrorist safe havens and support cross border terrorism.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/jaishankar-meets-ghani-discusses-taliban/article35354978.ece

SC sends strong message to government #GS2 #Governance

Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana’s remarks in open court on Thursday sends a strong message to the government that the Supreme Court is prima facie convinced that sedition is being misused by the authorities to trample upon citizens’ fundamental rights of free speech and liberty. The Chief Justice has sent a clear signal that Section 124A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code may have passed its time.

The CJI has made it clear that the court is sensitive to the public demand to judicially review the manner in which law enforcement authorities are using the sedition law to control free speech and send journalists, activists and dissenters to jail, and keep them there.

In a way, the court has questioned the need for the continuance of Section 124A — a colonial provision which was used to jail the Mahatma — in the law books of a modern democracy. This is a step away from the court’s own Kedar Nath judgment of 1962 which had upheld Section 124A but read it down to mean any subversion of an elected government by violent means. The court will have to re-examine whether this 59-year-old judgment holds in the modern context when the State is itself using a punitive law to impose serious burdens on free speech.

The CJI’s reference to low conviction rates under the sedition law resonates with a petition filed by senior journalist Sashi Kumar highlighting the “dramatic jump in charging a person with the offence of sedition since 2016”.

“In 2019, 93 cases were on the ground of sedition as compared to the 35 cases that were filed in 2016. The same constitutes a 165% increase. Of these 93 cases, chargesheets were filed in a mere 17% of cases and even worse, the conviction rate was an abysmally low 3.3%.

The National Crime Records Bureau reports show that in 2019, 21 cases of sedition were closed on account of no evidence, two were closed being false cases and six cases held to be civil disputes. Mr. Kumar referred to the sedition cases registered against climate activist Disha Ravi, filmmaker Aisha Sultana and journalists Vinod Dua and Siddique Kappan.

‘Defining limits’

The CJI’s observations culminates the resolve shown by the Supreme Court in recent months to examine the sedition law.

In May, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said that “it is time to define the limits of sedition”. The judge had flagged the indiscriminate use of the sedition law against people who aired their grievances about the government’s COVID management, or even for seeking help to gain medical access, equipment, drugs and oxygen cylinders, especially during the second wave of the pandemic.

“This is muzzling the media,” Justice L. Nageswara Rao, another Supreme Court judge, had noted while considering a plea made by two TV channels, TV5 and ABN, against the Andhra Pradesh government for using the sedition law to “silence” them. The CJI Bench issued notice on Thursday to the government on a petition filed by the Editors Guild of India to quash the sedition law. Senior journalist Arun Shourie has also challenged the constitutionality of Section 124A.

Justice U.U. Lalit, in his recent judgment quashing a sedition case against Mr. Dua for his alleged remarks about the Prime Minister and the Union Government in a YouTube telecast, upheld the right of every journalist to criticise, even brutally, the measures of the government with a view to improve or alter them through legal means.

The time is long past when the mere criticism of governments was sufficient to constitute sedition. The right to utter honest and reasonable criticism is a source of strength to a community rather than a weakness, the judgment recorded.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/sc-sends-strong-message-to-government/article35354994.ece

Delta Plus variants found in less than 1% of samples #GS3 #SnT

The Delta Plus variants constituted less than 1% of coronavirus samples that were sequenced in India in June and continuing outbreaks in India were primarily being led by the Delta variant, said a report from the India Sarscov2 Genome Consortium (INSACOG).

The Delta variant (B.1.617.2) as of Thursday constituted 88% of the nearly 1,300 coronavirus samples genome-sequenced in June, a little more than in May when they made up 87% of the nearly 8,700 samples sequenced. The decline in samples processed in June, a scientist familiar with the sequencing told, was because it often took a few weeks before samples for a particular month were processed.

“Delta sub-lineages AY.1 and AY.2 are declining globally with near zero cases in the last week of June in either the U.K. or the U.S., where they were most frequently seen. They also continue to be below 1% in available sequences from June in India. It is likely that neither AY.1 nor AY.2 is more transmissible than Delta,” the INSACOG noted in a July 9 release that has just been made public.

Meanwhile AY.3 has been identified as a new Delta sub-lineage. It is primarily seen in the U.S. with single reclassified cases in the U.K. and India. There are no known significant properties of this mutation, but since it is a Delta VOC sub-lineage, INSACOG will continue to monitor it.”

The INSACOG has, as of Thursday, sequenced 42,869 coronavirus genomes from India. The 10-lab consortium primarily tracks international variants of concern (VOC) namely the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta (and their sub-lineages) variants. These are the variants globally monitored for the increased infectivity and resistance to vaccination or treatments. It also scans for variants of interest (VOI), which have not yet become serious enough to warrant more stringent surveillance.

As of Thursday, 13 States had provided over 1,000 samples to the various INSACOG labs for analysis with Maharashtra having provided the most (7,868) followed by Delhi (5,353) and Kerala (4,721).

The Alpha variant prevalence, the INSACOG said, has declined further in India and globally and Beta too was also “at very low levels” in India. The Gamma and Lambda variants had also not been seen in over 10,000 community samples sequenced by INSACOG since May.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/delta-plus-variants-found-in-less-than-1-of-samples/article35355001.ece

Inflation to persist at elevated levels for a while: RBI officials #GS3 #Economy

The tapering of the second wave, coupled with an aggressive vaccination push, has brightened near-term prospects for the economy but inflation will remain elevated for some more months, senior RBI officials wrote in an article on the ‘State of the Economy’ in the RBI’s monthly Bulletin.

While several high frequency indicators of activity were recovering, a ‘solid increase in aggregate demand’ was yet to take shape. On the supply side, agricultural conditions were turning buoyant with the revival in the monsoon, but the recovery of manufacturing and services sectors had been interrupted by the second wave, they added.

The pick-up in inflation was driven largely by adverse supply shocks caused by the pandemic, including increases in margins and taxes, and sector-specific demand-supply mismatches. “These factors should ease over the year as supply side measures take effect. Inflation, which had ruled above the tolerance band during June-November 2020, had again moved above the upper tolerance threshold in May and June.

‘Kharif harvest key’

“The sense is that inflation will persist at these elevated levels for some months before easing in the third quarter of 2021-22, when the kharif harvest arrives in markets. The economy was struggling to regain the momentum of recovery that had started in the second half of 2020-21 before it was interrupted by the second wave.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-business/inflation-to-persist-at-elevated-levels-for-a-while-rbi-officials/article35354931.ece

Financial inclusion is a policy priority: Das #GS3 #Economy

To make the post-pandemic recovery more inclusive and sustainable, financial inclusion would continue to be a policy priority for the RBI, Governor Shaktikanta Das. Considering the role played by microfinance in bridging gaps in the last mile, a consultative document for harmonising regulatory frameworks for various regulated lenders in microfinance had been issued recently.

“The primary objective is to address the concerns relating to over-indebtedness of microfinance borrowers; enable market mechanism to rationalise the interest rates; and empower the borrowers to make an informed decision by enhancing transparency of loan pricing. Stating that financial inclusion promoted inclusive growth by making financial services, including credit and other safety nets, available to the bottom of the pyramid, he said lessons from the past and experiences gained during the COVID-19 pandemic clearly indicated that financial inclusion and inclusive growth reinforce financial stability.

Greater financial literacy would enable banks, NBFCs, and MFIs to enhance their customer base and products and diversify their balance sheets, he added.

Mr. Das said payment systems were seen as the lifeline of an economy. They were increasingly being recognised as a means of achieving financial inclusion and ensuring that economic benefits reach the bottom of the pyramid, the RBI Governor added.

Digital adoption

Highlighting the rapid adoption of digital payments in the country, he said the number of Prepaid Payment Instruments (PPI) had increased at a compounded annual growth rate of 53% from 41 crore in May 2017, to 226 crore in May 2021. The trends indicate that such instruments have become immensely popular for making small-value payments.

The extent of digital penetration, he said, could be gauged from the fact that, each day on an average during June 2021, payment systems in India had processed more than 15 crore transactions amounting to almost Rs. 4.5 lakh crore per day.

The UPI platform facilitating payment transactions through smartphones had revolutionised the payments landscape in India, he said. “UPI has witnessed over 280 crore transactions in June 2021. Globally, there has been a lot of interest in UPI,” Mr. Das added.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-business/financial-inclusion-is-a-policy-priority-das/article35354932.ece

June exports rise 32%, imports surge 74% #GS3 #Economy

Exports from India rose almost 32% to $49.85 billion in June from the year earlier month and were 17.17% higher than the pre-COVID level of June 2019. Imports stood at $52.18 billion, rising 73.65% in June year-on-year and 1.08% higher than June 2019, according to the quick estimates released by the Commerce and Industry Ministry.

Merchandise exports grew 48.3% to $32.5 billion in June and were almost 30% higher than June 2019, while services exports based on an estimation stood at $17.35 billion or 9.1% higher than June 2020 and about 1% lower than June 2019.

“With surging exports and relatively subdued gold imports in May-June 2021 dampening the aggregate trade deficit to a three-quarter low $31 billion in Q1 FY2022, we expect the current account to revert to a small surplus in that quarter.

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-business/june-exports-rise-32-imports-surge-74/article35354936.ece

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