Current Affairs 6th July

SC aghast that Section 66A of IT Act is still used #GS2 #Governance

The Supreme Court found it “distressing”, “shocking” and “terrible” that people were still booked and tried under Section 66A of the Information Technology (IT) Act even six years after it struck down the provision as unconstitutional and a violation of free speech. Section 66A had prescribed three years’ imprisonment if a social media message caused “annoyance” or was found “grossly offensive”.

The court, in the Shreya Singhal judgment authored by Justice Rohinton F. Nariman in March 2015, had concluded that the provision was vague and worded arbitrarily. On Monday, senior advocate Sanjay Parikh and advocate Aparna Bhat, for the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), said the number of cases registered under Section 66A had actually increased post the judgment.

‘Only as a footnote’

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal pointed out that law books published post the verdict featured the non-existent Section 66A “in full”. “The police officer, while registering a case, looks at only the Section in the main text… The fact that the Section has been struck down is given only as a footnote.

Twitter failed to comply with IT rules: Centre #GS3 #SnT

The Centre informed the Delhi High Court that micro-blogging site Twitter had failed to comply with India’s law regulating tech companies, losing its immunity as ‘intermediaries’.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), in an affidavit filed before the court, stated that despite three months time being granted to all Significant Social Media Intermediaries (SSMIs) to comply with the Information Technology (IT) Rules 2021, Twitter had failed to fully comply with the same.

Twitter, last week, had informed the High Court that the interim Resident Grievance Officer and the interim Nodal Contact Person in India had resigned from their positions in June. The tech giant stated that it was in the final stages of appointing replacements; meanwhile, “grievances of Indian users are being addressed by the Grievance Officer”.

The MeitY, however, pointed out that as per the details gleaned from Twitter’s website, grievances from India were currently being handled by its personnel situated in the United States, “which amounts to non-compliance with the IT Rules 2021”.

In India, Section 79 of the IT Act shields social media platforms or intermediaries such as Twitter from liability for any third party information, data, or communication link made available or hosted by it in certain cases. The Ministry said when an intermediary fails to observe the IT Rules, the intermediary could be liable for any punishment under any law for the time being in force in respect of the offending content.

The Ministry stated that immunity conferred on intermediaries is a “conditional immunity” subject to the intermediary satisfying various conditions. “The IT Rules, 2021 are the law of land and Respondent No. 2 (Twitter) is mandatorily required to comply,” it added.

The Ministry’s affidavit came in response to a petition by advocate Amit Acharya, seeking to appoint a Resident Grievance Officer under Rule 4 of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Ethics Code) Rules 2021.

Facial recognition used to verify jab beneficiaries: govt. #GS3 #SnT

Even though the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) admitted in a recent RTI query response to the use of facial recognition technology (FRT) for online verification of beneficiaries at vaccination centres, it failed to provide any legislative or legal order that authorised the use of such technology.

The MoHFW also said no privacy impact assessment of the use of FRT was conducted prior to its deployment. “Facial recognition authentication is used as one of the methods for Aadhaar authentication for online verification of beneficiary prior to COVID-19 vaccination wherein facial template is captured and sent to UIDAI for verification of image of beneficiary,” the Ministry said in response to an RTI filed by the not-for-profit Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF).

It also stated that no additional procurement had been made for the implementation of FRT-based verification, and a pilot project for such authentication is still under way.

ONORC scheme in Delhi, Bengal soon #GS2 #Governance

Delhi and West Bengal are expected to roll out the ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ (ONORC) scheme by the end of the month, while Chhattisgarh is still in the process of acquiring the necessary devices. However, the low penetration of Aadhaar in Assam due to concerns linked to the National Population Register (NPR) is hampering the implementation of ONORC there

“In Assam, the basic reason is that the Aadhaar penetration is still low and we are working with UIDAI on that. As Aadhaar seeding improves, then Assam should also follow. We are pushing hard,” he said. “There are issues related to the National Population Register, so Aadhaar seeding [of ration cards] itself is only 36-38% in comparison to the national rate of 92%,” he said.

However, he declined to elaborate on how Aadhaar for ration purposes is linked to the NPR, or the National Register of Citizens (NRC). The Centre is engaged in political battles with the non-BJP governments in Delhi and West Bengal regarding their failure to roll out ONORC, but has taken a different tack so far on Assam, which is a BJP-ruled State.

“In the case of Chhattisgarh, process for procurement of ePOS [or electronic Point of Sale] has begun. Almost 4000 devices are expected to be delivered in July, and the remaining in August. “Delhi and West Bengal will be coming on board very soon as their ePOS machines have been installed and testing trials are happening. Central and State teams are working together in close coordination on this.”

These are the only four States that are not implementing the ration card portability scheme that the Centre has been pushing as the solution for migrant workers’ difficulty to access subsidised food, especially during the pandemic.

CoWin made open source: PM #GS3 #SnT

The CoWin platform is being made open source and it will be available to all countries, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the CoWin Global Conclave here. He said that with nearly 200 million users, the Aarogya Setu app was a readily available package for developers.

“There is no parallel to such a pandemic in hundred years and no nation, however powerful, can solve a challenge like this in isolation, and added that all had to work together. “Guided by the approach of ‘One Earth, One Health’, humanity will certainly overcome this pandemic.

Trustworthy proof

Stating that India has adopted a completely digital approach while planning its vaccination strategy, the Prime Minister said a secure and trustworthy proof helped people establish when, where and by whom they had been vaccinated. “Digital approach also helps in tracking the usage of vaccination and minimises wastage.

“Furthermore, vaccinated people do not need to carry around fragile pieces of paper to prove anything. It is all available in digital format,” the Prime Minister said. He also highlighted the customisability of the software to the local requirements of the countries interested in it.

Speaking about the CoWIN Global Outreach Programme, R.S. Sharma, CEO of the National Health Authority, said India endeavoured to share this tech-enabled vaccination platform as a free public good with the world.

“It is a known fact that nations across the world are endeavouring for universal vaccination amidst the steepest timelines,” said Dr. Sharma, adding that “it’s clear that as we thrive in the age of digital in the 21st century, we can’t rely on methodologies from a century ago of achieving herd immunity by letting a pandemic leave the society devastated, like the Spanish Flu did.”

“Persistent immunisation is going to be, by far, the most effective means to keep our people safe, globally,” he said. Dr. Sharma said that CoWIN has become the fastest tech platform in the world to amass over 200 million registrations in a record four months, and then 300 million registrations in a mere five months.

Cities along rivers urged to include conservation plans #GS3 #Environment

Cities situated on river banks will have to incorporate river conservation plans when they prepare their Master Plans, says a policy document from the National Mission for Clean Ganga.

The guide document, while spelling out provisions in the National Water Policy that emphasise the need for such plans, also says that these “river-sensitive” plans must be practical and consider questions of encroachment and land ownership.

“There is a need for a systematic rehabilitation plan for such encroaching entities that emphasises on alternative livelihood options in addition to a relocation strategy. Planners should make every attempt to engage with such entities during the preparation of the Master Plan in order to develop empathetic and humane solutions,” the document notes.

The recommendations are currently for towns that are on the main stem of the the Ganga. There are, as per the estimate of the policy document, 97 of them encompassing five States — Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal.

The plan must also clarify on land ownership. A key aspect of conserving and protecting river and riverine resources involves increasing green cover in the vicinity of the river by creating green buffers, removing concrete structures and employing “green infrastructure.”

However, implementing such solutions will require restrictions on the Floor Area Ratio, ground coverage and setting limits on the maximum permissible heights of buildings. “Ascertaining the land ownership in these areas is, therefore, important to avoid legal complications while the Plan is being implemented,” says the document.

The Master Plan should n0t mandate specific technologies, but it can “create an environment” for facilitating the use of state-of-the-art technologies for river management. These include satellite-based monitoring of water quality; artificial intelligence for riverine biodiversity mapping; big data and citizen science for river-health monitoring; and unmanned aerial vehicles for floodplain mapping. These were being used across the world successfully.

Cities with an ongoing Master Plan tenure ought to be conducting an “immediate analysis” of the extent to which these the river guidelines could have been adopted and this “will help” in incorporating the appropriate revisions when the current plan is reviewed.

Survey of Class 3 students to set baseline for literacy goals #GS3 #Economy

The Centre’s NIPUN Bharat Mission has set a goal that by 2026-27, every Class 3 child should be able to read with understanding at the rate of at least 60 words per minute, be able to read and write numbers up to 9,999 and solve simple multiplication problems. For this purpose, Rs. 2,688 crore has been set aside under the existing Samagra Shiksha scheme for 2021-22

A National Achievement Survey of Class 3 students to be conducted this November will set a baseline to track future progress. “Until grade 3, children are expected to ‘learn to read’ and acquire basic skills. After grade 3 children are expected to be able to ‘read to learn’. If this does not happen, the learning gap continues to widen from that point, as the texts in the language textbooks and mathematical concepts become more complex and abstract in later grades. “Thus, grade 3 is the inflection point and this is where children who have not made it, get left behind.”

Apart from reading with comprehension, a child of 8 or 9 years should be able to write grammatically correct sentences, and converse with clarity using suitable vocabulary in the home or school languages. Together with simple number problems and the ability to identify shapes, time and date, fractions, and measurements in real-life situations, these goals are collectively being called the foundational literacy and numeracy skills every child should possess.

Stage-wise targets

Similar stage-wise targets are being set in a continuum from the pre-primary or balvatika classes. The NIPUN Bharat strategy includes changes in curriculum and teaching methods to include more activity, art and story-telling, creation of print-rich materials and resources, teacher training, and stress-free assessment methods in order to reach these goals.

NIPUN Bharat also emphasises the importance of using a child’s mother tongue in teaching, a principle of the National Education Policy 2020, which received some criticism. “The mother tongue of the child must be the language of communication [if not the medium of instruction] with the child in school in the formative years, so that the child does not suffer any confusion in understanding the transactions and is able to grow with free expression,” said the guidelines.

It noted that most children, given sufficient instruction, can learn to read in their own home language within 4-6 months if there is oral comprehension.

Services shrink most since July #GS3 #Economy

India’s services sector shrank the most last month since July 2020, with the survey-based IHS Markit Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) for services at 41.2, reflecting a second successive monthly contraction in new business and increased job shedding by firms.

International demand for Indian services deteriorated further with new export orders falling for the sixteenth straight month. The sharp contraction in the June Services PMI, followed May’s 46.4. A reading above 50 denotes expansion and one below it signifies a contraction in business activity.

“Business activity and new orders decreased in four out of the five broad areas of the service economy, with the fastest rates of contraction registered in consumer services. “Transport and storage was the only segment to post growth,” the firm added.

Jobs fell in tandem with new orders. “The fall in employment was the seventh in consecutive months and the fastest over this period. The decline in jobs was widespread across the five monitored sub-sectors, and led by consumer services. The overall level of business sentiment was down for the third month in a row in June, reaching its lowest mark since last August,” IHS Markit added, with the COVID-19 pandemic seen as the main threat to the outlook.

Uncertainty weighs

“Uncertainty about the path of the pandemic restricted business confidence among services firms, who were generally neutral in their forecasts for output in the year ahead,” said Pollyanna De Lima, Economics Associate Director at IHS Markit.

June’s manufacturing PMI had earlier slid to 48.4, and with services activity also retreating, the Composite PMI Output Index declined from 48.1 in May to 43.1, again registering the sharpest contraction since July 2020.

Global investors flag some AatmaNirbhar reforms #GS3 #Economy

International trade and investment flows into India could be affected by several aspects of the AatmaNirbhar Bharat programme as they posed ‘perceived as well as real’ challenges for global investors, the U.K. India Business Council (UKIBC) said.

The UKIBC stressed that some of the reforms announced under the programme could have ‘negative consequences for U.K. and all multi-national companies’, even as it took note of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assertion that the self-reliant India program is about integrating with global supply chains, not isolating from them.

Warning that the spate of ‘unexpected and sharp’ increases in import tariffs could be ‘counterproductive’, the UKIBC has suggested ways to mitigate the ‘new challenges’ posed by AatmaNirbhar Bharat and urged the government to correct course. U.K. businesses must not be affected by ‘restrictive measures’, they have pleaded, possibly by creating a ‘carve-out’ for them in the bilateral trade pact being negotiated.

‘Strengths, not tariffs’

“India should attract investors due to its strengths rather than by using tariffs as a tool to push international businesses to invest and make in India… Moreover, the Government of India should be flexible in its ‘vocal for local’ approach,” the UKIBC has underlined in a report highlighting British investors’ views on the Aatmanirbhar Bharat policy.

“To be a manufacturing hub, India will need to be part of international supply chains, which will mean importing as well as exporting. If tariffs make manufacturing in India too expensive, investors will go elsewhere,” the report noted. Even if India chooses tariffs as a policy tool, it should signal how import duties will rise over the coming years so investors get an incentive and the time to create domestic supply chains, it added.

“It has to be recognised that certain aspects of the initiative have the potential to curtail international trade and investment, such as increased tariffs, non-tariff restrictions on imports, and import substitution,” it emphasised.

The ban on the sale of items such as Scotch Whisky in the CSD canteens sends a wrong signal, the Council said, stressing that some products simply cannot be produced in India. Attempts to renegotiate power purchase agreements and ad-hoc policy shifts are also unnerving for infrastructure investors, it indicated.

While the campaign has opened up several sectors for foreign investors, including defence, atomic energy, agriculture, insurance, healthcare and civil aviation, the UKIBC has outlined concerns and challenges across sectors in its report titled ‘Road to a UK-India Free Trade Agreement: Enhancing the Partnership and Achieving Self-reliance’.

Policy black holes spook space investors #GS3 #SnT

Potential foreign investors in India’s space sector are unsure if their licence applications would get ‘a fair consideration’ and are wary of a possible conflict of interest given that the Department of Space is both the sectoral regulator and a service provider by way of its role overseeing the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

Observing that the reforms announced in June 2020 to open the sector to private investors were a significant departure from the ‘virtual monopoly’ of state-controlled ISRO and allied entities, the U.K. India Business Council said there was, however, a ‘lack of clarity’ about several aspects related to the procedures.

Foreign Direct Investment up to 100% has been allowed under the government route in satellite-establishment and operation, subject to the sectoral guidelines of the Department of Space and ISRO. The processes for authorisation to launch a satellite, the frequency allocation mechanism and even the details of different agencies involved in these clearances were not clear, the Council said, calling for the regulatory structure to be refined.

“Today, the Department of Space acts as the regulator, but since it is a major service provider through ISRO, there is scope for a conflict of interest,” the UKIBC said. “Service delivery and decision making are critical challenges. ISRO is a party involved in both, thus creating doubt in the mind of investors, if their licence applications will receive fair consideration,” it added.

Emphasising that the private sector was concerned about sharing its intellectual property with the government, the business group said: “If ISRO is serious about partnering with the private sector, policymakers will have to view the industry as more than just a collection of manufacturers or service providers.”

Global investors are also keenly tracking developments over the scrapped Antrix-Devas deal in the wake of the Indian government losing an international arbitration and Devas eyeing judicial enforcement of the arbitral award in overseas jurisdictions.

Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), a newly created regulatory body, has received at least 26 applications from Indian and foreign firms that include proposals to set up ground stations and make and launch satellites.

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