Weekend Page : January 9th – January 10th, 2021
LAW, POLICY & GOVERNANCE
1. Centre turns to SC as talks with farmers fail to break deadlock
The eighth round of talks between the Centre and the farmer unions, which saw raised voices and increased tensions, ended without any resolution to the ongoing stalemate. According to union leaders, the Centre told them that the issue is best resolved by the Supreme Court, asking the farmers to appear at the next hearing and suggesting that it would request daily hearings for speedy resolution of the case.
Farmer outfits from Punjab, including the Bharatiya Kisan Union (EktaUgrahan), said the Centre’s hint of getting the farm laws issue resolved by the Supreme Court was a ploy to prolong the issue in a bid to derail the ongoing agitation. “There is no need of going to the Supreme court. The government should listen to farmers demand and immediately repeal the laws”.
2. Supreme Court tells govt. to arm forest officers to fight poachers
The Supreme Court urged the government to arm forest officers and provide them with bulletproof vests and vehicles when told that India recorded the “greatest number of mortal fatalities” among forest officials in the world.
The court said the Centre should consider involving premier organisations such as the CBI to help the forest staff. It suggested that there should even be a separate wing or wildlife division in the Enforcement Directorate with clean officials to track and investigate crimes of the poachers and the proceeds of their crime.
3. Decide on Rajoana mercy plea by Republic Day, SC tells govt.
The Supreme Court pushed the government to take a decision on a mercy petition filed by Balwant Singh Rajoana, facing capital punishment for the assassination of former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh, before Republic Day. Convict’s petition has been pending for eight years.
The President is empowered to take the final decision on whether Rajoana should live or not. Chief Justice Bobde said the government was merely asking for another week or two before taking a call.
4. SC to hear plea against confession
The Supreme Court agreed to consider after three weeks a petition filed by a group of women against the compulsory nature of sacred confessions to priests in Christianity. Appearing before a Bench led by Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde, senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, for the petitioners, said “confessions are being abused”. He said forced confessions violated the right to privacy.
He said the court could examine the issues in the petition as they came within the ambit of the questions of faith, rights of women and equality referred to a nine- judge Constitution Bench in the Sabarimala case. Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, when asked for an opinion by the court, said the whole issue stemmed from the Jacobite Orthodox dispute.
5. Vaccination drive to start on January 16
- The COVID-19 vaccination drive in India will begin on January 16, with priority being given to an estimated three crore healthcare workers and frontline workers. The Ministry, in a release, said the Drugs Controller General of India had granted Emergency Use Authorisation to two vaccines – Covishield and Covaxin. “The vaccination exercise will use the principles of – people’s participation (Jan Bhagidari), experience of elections (booth strategy) and Universal Immunisation Programme”.
6. Proceedings against Snapdeal quashed
The High Court of Karnataka has quashed criminal proceedings initiated against ecommerce website snapdeal.com and its chief executive officer Kunal Bahl and chief operating officer Rohit Kumar Bansal during June 2020, for enabling sale and supply of a drug in contravention of the provisions of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940.
“An intermediary as defined under Section 2(w) of the Information Technology Act would not be liable for any action or inaction on part of a vendor/seller making use of the facilities provided by the intermediary in terms of a website or a marketplace,” The court also found no justification for the delay of six years in lodging the complaint by the drugs authorities. The court also found that Snapdeal had done due diligence of the vendor as per the law and had initiated action on the vendor of the drug as per law, acting on initiation by the drugs authorities.
7. M.P.’s anti-conversion ordinance gets Govt. Nod
- Madhya Pradesh Governor Anandiben Patel gave assent to an ordinance which penalises religious conversions through fraudulent means, including those for the sake of marriage. The Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Ordinance, 2020, provides for 10 years in jail in some cases.
8. Pravasi Bhartiya Diwas
- It is a celebratory day observed on 9 January by the Republic of India to mark the contribution of the overseas Indian community towards the development of India. The day commemorates the return of Mahatma Gandhi from South Africa to Mumbai on 9 January 1915. Suriname President Chandrikapersad Santokhi was chief guest for the 2021 event.
NATIONAL NEWS/ INTERVENTIONS
1. LeT commander gets 5-year jail term for terror financing
Mumbai attack mastermind and Lashkar-e-Taiba operations commander Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi was sentenced to 5 years in jail by a Pakistani antiterrorism court here in a terror financing case, amidst mounting international pressure on Islamabad to bring to justice terrorists roaming free in the country.
The Anti-Terrorism Court also directed law enforcement agencies to arrest the co-accused in the case, Abu Anas Mohsin, due to the availability of sufficient evidence against him. The U.S. had welcomed Lakhvi's arrest last week but said Pakistan should try him for the Mumbai attacks also.
India called the process “farcical”, and accused Pakistan of carrying out quick prosecutions of various UN sanctioned terrorist leaders to avoid punitive action at the upcoming Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meetings, where it has been grey-listed.
Why is the upcoming FATF meeting crucial for Pakistan? Thus far, Pakistan has cleared 21 of the 27 markers according to the FATF, and the APJG will submit its report on whether it has made progress on the remaining six. The FATF plenary session in February will then decide whether Pakistan should remain on the greylist, be downgraded to the “blacklist” of sanctioned “high risk” countries like Iran and North Korea, or let off the list.
2. British MPs flag farmers’ protest
More than a hundred members of the British Parliament have signed a letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson asking him to raise the concerns of protesting farmers outside Delhi, and the “brute force” employed against them, in his discussion with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Indian diaspora and others have also joined in global protests in support of the farmers. Mr. Johnson has cancelled his plans to visit India as the chief guest for Republic Day because of the COVID-19 crisis in his country.
Last month, a similar letter was written to British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who was in Delhi in December. He said he raised the issue with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, but not with Mr. Modi. At that time, India termed the remarks on farmer protests by foreign leaders and politicians as “ill informed” and “unwarranted” as the matter pertained to the internal affairs of a democratic country.
3. Handover of power should be peaceful : MEA on the U.S. election crisis
Handover of power to the Biden-Harris administration in the United States should be conducted in an “organised and peaceful” manner, India said on Friday. The violent incidents in the American capital will not succeed in subverting the democratic process. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said on Thursday that the mob attack on the U.S. Congress had left him “distressed”.
For the Indo-U.S bilateral relations, an immediate issue of bilateral concern is likely to be India’s purchase of a $400 million missile defence system from Russia despite the US objection. MEA spokesperson added that India conducts its foreign policy on the basis of choices made to safeguard its “national security interest”. “We pursue an independent foreign policy. This also applies to our defence acquisitions and supplies, which are guided by our national security interest”.
4. Over half of Army personnel under severe stress, quotes a study
More than half of Indian Army personnel seem to be under severe stress and the Army has been losing more personnel every year due to suicides, fratricides and untoward incidents than in response to any enemy or terrorist activities, according to the ﬁndings of a study by United Service Institution of India (USI), a Service think tank. “Prolonged exposure of Indian Army personnel to Counter Insurgency and Counter Terrorism (CI/CT) environment has been one of the contributory factors for increased stress levels,” the study notes. The research was undertaken during 2019-20 by Col. AK Mor, Senior Research Fellow at the USI.
While operational stressors are well understood and accepted by Army personnel, the study says that non operational stressors that add on “have compounding adverse eﬀects on health and combat eﬃciency of soldiers and thus aﬀecting their respective units too.” The study observes that the overall job satisfaction and pride in uniform remains high amongst JCOs (Junior Commissioned officers) and Ors (Other Ranks).
“Despite harsh and challenging service conditions, Indian Army personnel remain highly motivated to serve in CI/ CT areas voluntarily. However, the Oﬃcers lack a similar level of trust, faith and conﬁdence in their leadership that JCOs and ORs demonstrate,” it states.
“Units and subunits under stress are likely to witness an increased number of incidents of indiscipline, unsatisfactory state of training, in adequate maintenance of equipment and low morale, motivation and esprit-de-corps, thereby, adversely affecting their combat preparedness and operational performance,” it says.
5. Assam to gift Khadi clothes to employees
- The Assam government has decided to gift khadi shirt, endi shawl and endi stole to Grade IV male and female employees. The decision to provide free khadi clothes would be implemented as a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi and his movement for khadi be sides paving the way for Assam to be self-reliant, CM Sarbananda Sonowal said.
6. Ken-Betwa link soon
- Governments of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh were close to an agreement on the Ken-Betwa river linking projects. The Ken-Betwa Link Project (KBLP) is the River interlinking project that aims to transfer surplus water from the Ken river in MP to Betwa in UP to irrigate the drought-prone Bundelkhand region spread across the districts of two states mainly Jhansi, Banda,Lalitpur and Mahoba districts of UP and Tikamgarh, Panna and Chhatarpur districts of MP. Rivers Ken and Betwa are tributaries of river Yamuna.
7. Arunachal Pradesh to recruit porters for moving food grains
- Arunachal Pradesh has sought a return to the British era system of using porters to transport food grains in remote administrative circles to save on air freight charges paid or payable to the Indian Air Force. “This will not only minimize the expenditure on air freight charges but also create job opportunities for the rural youth in areas along the State’s international borders,” said State Food and Civil Supplies Minister Kamlung Mosang.
8. Kerala to set up Kalaripayattu academy
- Kalaripayattu, considered the oldest surviving martial art of the country, with a legacy of more than 3,000 years, is set to see a surge in popularity with the establishment of an academy in the Kerala capital. Lessons in one of the most famous combat styles in the world will now be taught to the new generation at the facility, which will come up at Kerala Tourism’s Vellar Crafts Village en route to Kovalam.
Co-WIN aspires to be a comprehensive digital database of every COVID-19 vaccine that will be administered in India – tracking beneﬁciaries, intimating them about vaccine sites and dates, pre and post vaccination procedures, issuance of vaccination certiﬁcates, and follow up through the booster dose. Currently, self registration is not allowed on the application.
It has been promised that ‘at a later stage of implementation’, Co-WIN will also be available as an application or as a website in multiple Indian languages so that beneﬁciaries can access it to keep track of their own progress and be connected organically to the system, if questions were to arise. It will also be a tool for others to “register” for a vaccine once the ﬁrst line of targeted beneﬁciaries is cleared.
After the second dose, Co-WIN will generate a digital certiﬁcate of completion for individuals who have been vaccinated. Messaging, chatbots and helpline assistance are available on the app, and any adverse event after the vaccination may be communicated back to the authorities through one of these access points.
INTERNATIONAL NEWS/EVENTS/ PERSONALITIES
1. China holds third edition of South Asia multilateral meet
China has held its third multilateral dialogue with countries from South Asia to take forward closer cooperation on fighting COVID19 and coordinating their economic agendas, reflecting a new approach in Beijing’s outreach to the region.
The third dialogue, held virtually on January 6, brought together every country in the region barring India, Bhutan and the Maldives. It was attended by all five countries that have taken part in these dialogues — Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh – and was a followup to the two earlier meetings.
In the previous two rounds, the countries also discussed how to work more closely together under China’s Belt and Road Initiative to boost their post-COVID-19 economic recovery and agreed that countries linked by land ports should establish joint response mechanisms in border areas, apart from committing to greater information sharing and international cooperation.
At the July quadrilateral dialogue with Afghanistan, Nepal and Pakistan, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi proposed extending the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan, as well as taking forward an economic corridor plan with Nepal, called the Trans-Himalayan Multidimensional Connectivity Network.
2. ‘Pfizer vaccine works against virus variants’
New research suggests that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine can protect against a mutation found in two easier to spread variants of the coronavirus that erupted in Britain and South Africa.
Pfizer, along with researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch, found that antibodies from vaccine recipients fended off the virus in lab dishes. The preliminary study is yet to be reviewed by experts.
3. Indonesian cleric linked to Bali bombings freed
A radical cleric linked to the Bali nightclub bombings was freed from prison on Friday, stirring grief and anger among victims nearly two decades after more than 200 people, mostly foreign tourists, were killed in the terror attack.
Abu Bakar Bashir, 82, is seen as the spiritual leader of Islamist terror network Jemaah Islamiyah ( JI), which was responsible for the massive blasts that ripped through a pair of packed bars in October 2002.
He was released after completing an unrelated jail term for helping fund militant training. But he has long been suspected of involvement in the horrific holiday island bombings. Sentenced to 15 years in 2011, his term was later cut due to sentencing reductions handed to most prisoners in Indonesia.
4. Biden picks Sumona Guha for key role on South Asia at NSC
The Biden-Harris transition team announced the appointment of India American Sumona Guha to the role of Senior Director for South Asia at the National Security Council. Ms. Guha co-chaired the South Asia foreign policy working group on the Biden-Harris campaign, and was a member of the transition team.
She will succeed the Trump administration’s Lisa Curtis in the role. Ms. Guha, a former Foreign Service officer, has been a senior vice-president since mid-2018 at the Albright Stonebridge Group, whose chair is former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. She has also worked at the U.S.-India Business Council and, prior to that, in the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff with responsibility for South Asia.
5. U.S. modifies H1B visa selection process
The outgoing Trump administration on Friday modified the selection process for H1B visa, giving priority to salary and skills instead of the current lottery procedures. The notification was published in the Federal Register. It would come into force in 60 days.
What is H1B Visa? : The H1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows U.S. firms to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. The technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China. The next H1B visa filing season is slated to start on April 1. The notification is the latest effort to bar the entry of immigrants to the U.S.
6. Twitter bans Donald Trump, citing risk of violent incitement
Twitter has long given Mr. Trump and other world leaders broad exemptions from its rules against personal attacks, hate speech and other behaviours. But in a detailed explanation posted on its blog on Friday, the company said recent Trump tweets amounted to glorification of violence when read in the context of the Capitol riot and plans circulating online for future armed protests around the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
The official account for the President of the United States, @POTUS, remains live. In fact, Mr. Trump, who issued a statement on Friday evening that denounced Twitter as an enemy of free speech, floated the idea that he might build his own “platform”. The Democrats are considering lightning quick action. The Articles of Impeachment are expected to be introduced on Monday, with a House vote as soon as Wednesday.
OPINIONS & ANALYSIS
Analysis : ZAKIUR-REHMAN LAKHVI The terror mastermind
Just six days after his arrest on January 2, ZakiurRehman Lakhvi, the known Lashkar-e-Taiba mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terror strikes, was sentenced to a five year jail term on terror financing charges on January 8.
The speed with which the wheels of justice turned in Pakistan in the case of Lahkhvi’s terror financing case are in sharp contrast to the years he remained charged in the Mumbai attack case, in which he was eventually bailed out.
(ii). Islamabad and FATF
It’s evident that where Indian pressure and American prodding didn’t work in ensuring Lakhvi’s conviction in the Mumbai terror strikes, in which 166 persons were killed, Islamabad’s fears about punitive action from the Financial Action Task Force, or FATF, seem to have done the trick. Lakhvi’s sentence is also in line with that of Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed’s conviction in four terror financing cases in November and February 2020.
In October 2020, FATF decided that Pakistan would remain on its grey list, pending full compliance with its action plan.
(iii). Terrorism, Pakistan and deep-state
A recent arrest warrant for Masood Azhar, leader of the Jaish-eMuhammad, confirms after years the presence of the wanted terrorist in Pakistan. Azhar was one of the terrorists exchanged by India in return for the passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines flight to Kandahar in December 1999.
Given their being creatures of the Pakistani establishment, and the enduring interest in using non-State actors to foment trouble in Jammu and Kashmir, it’s quite likely that new outfits may have already received the blessings of the deep State. For now, Lakhvi and Saeed are in jail. Azhar’s fate will be keenly watched in India.
Analysis : U.S. CAPITOL: The siege of a historical power centre
- The grand U.S. Capitol building in Washington, home to the Senate and House of Representatives, has hardly been immune to attacks historically, but on January 6, many across the country and the world watched with disbelief as the beating heart of the world’s oldest democracy was subjected to a siege by a violent mob.
(ii). Cause of Mob violence
It appeared to be a dire warning and uncontrolled venting of rage that came with the election results – the loss of Mr. Trump by margin of nearly 7 million despite his garnering around 74 million votes – following which the Republicans also lost control of the Senate after a runoff election in Georgia on January 5 led to two seats of the upper chamber flipping to Democrats.
The violence triggered by these events, and also the evident desire of the mob to disrupt Congressional proceedings to formally certify the win of President elect Joe Biden – an act for which lawmakers boldly reconvened and voted on the same day – only demonstrates the importance of the Senate and House as parallel repositories of legislative power to counterbalance the executive power of the White House. It is undoubtedly for this reason that the Capitol building, as the locus of legislative power, has faced multiple security threats and assaults over many years since it was built.
(iii). History of the US Capitol
President George Washington laid the cornerstone for the capitol in 1793. The construction continued through the early 1800s, while the project cost soared to over $2.4 million by 1827. The building faced its first major attack, a fire set off by British troops in August 1814, during the 1812 war. The first major incident of violence came on January 30, 1835, when a British immigrant attempted to assassinate President Andrew Jackson.
The attacks took an international flavour in 1983 when a leftist group set off a bomb outside the Senate chamber, apparently to protest the U.S. military’s actions in Grenada and Lebanon.
Opinion : Beyond the Central Vista verdict, key questions
The Supreme Court of India has cleared the decks for the intensely contested new Parliament and Central Vista projects in New Delhi. The JUDGEMENT may have put an end to the litigation but it does not necessarily mean that such disputes and bitter situations would not recur. The critical questions on ensuring public commitment in civic projects, improving participatory processes in city building, and effective procurement of professional services remain unanswered. Inadequate regulations that do not incorporate best practices will remain as they are.
The Delhi project is only the most visible of instances, but the problem is widespread. The imprudent planning and reckless abandonment of Amaravati, the proposed capital for Andhra Pradesh, is but an example. As political scientists have explained, most governments ensure that whimsical agendas do not drive public projects by institutionalising ‘horizontal’ and ‘vertical’ accountabilities.
A second regulatory change is required for choosing designers for public projects. Many public projects insist on steep turnover conditions for architecture firms to qualify.
To conclude, practices will improve as economic growth happens and as the country builds capabilities. On the face of it, such an incremental approach appears to make sense. However, it needs to be moderated in light of two facts. First, a comparison of responses to the novel coronavirus pandemic by India and the United States has shown that state capacity is not always directly proportional to wealth but more connected to will and second, state capacity does not grow on its own as wealth increases. It improves only when the state is committed to doing better.
ECONOMICS & FINANCE
1. RBI to phase in normal liquidity management
- The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) said it had decided to restore normal liquidity management operations in a phased manner and would conduct variable rate reverse repo auction of ₹2 lakh crore on January 15. In February, RBI had announced a revised Liquidity Management Framework, but had temporarily suspended it in view of the COVID-19 outbreak.
2. US loses 1.4 lakh jobs amidst surging COVD-19 cases
The U.S. economy shed jobs for the ﬁrst time in eight months in December as the country buckled under an onslaught of COVID-19 infections, suggesting a signiﬁcant loss of momentum that could temporarily stall recovery from the pandemic. The economy has recovered just over half of the 22.2 million jobs lost in March and April. The unemployment rate was at 6.7% in December.
Despite the labour market weakness, the economy is unlikely to fall back into recession, with a backstop of nearly $900 billion in additional pandemic relief approved by the government last week. More ﬁscal stimulus is expected now that the Democrats have gained control of the Senate, boosting the prospects for President elect Joe Biden's legislative agenda.
3. SEBI eases norms for follow-on public orders
Capital markets watchdog SEBI relaxed the framework for follow-on public oﬀers (FPOs), a move that will help promoters of companies to raise funds more easily through this route. The applicability of minimum promoters’ contribution norm and the subsequent lock-in requirements for the issuers making the FPO have been done away with by the regulator.
Earlier, promoters were mandated to contribute 20% towards a FPO. Also, the minimum promoters’ contribution was required to be locked in for three years. SEBI said the relaxation would be available for those companies which are frequently traded on a stock exchange for at least three years. Also, such ﬁrms should have redressed 95% of investor complaints.
4. Public procurement by Central government departments
The Finance Ministry has drafted a model tender document for public procurement by all central government departments, in a bid to standardise the language and clauses included, and avoid contractual disputes.
Public procurement refers to the purchase of goods and services by the public sector or the government, accounting for an average 15% of GDP globally. In India, government procurement is estimated to constitute about 30% of GDP with the central government accounting for a major chunk.
“There is no standardised nomenclature in public procurement in India and a mix of American, European and Indian nomenclature has become common,” the department of expenditure pointed out in an introduction to the document for inviting bids for oﬃcial supplies.
1. India files racial abuse complaint
- The Indian cricket team has lodged a oﬃcial complaint with the match referee, claiming that Jaspreet Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj were targets of racial abuse from sections of the crowd at the Sydney Cricket Ground. The matter will now be dealt with by the International Cricket Council, the game’s governing body, and Cricket Australia.
2. Viswanathan Anand on the AICF's Advisory board
- Five time World champion Viswanathan Anand has consented to be on the All India Chess Federation’s Advisory Board. The re-elected AICF secretary Bharat Singh Chauhan said that Anand’s presence will go a long way in strengthening the initiative to bring on board some of the chess loving people from the corporate sector and his guidance and inputs will be paramount.
1. Irrational and indiscriminate arrests and violation of Human Rights
2. Right to Personal Liberty : Challenges before Constitutional courts
3. Supreme Court and Farmer protests
4. Criminal contempt and well founded criticism
5. Monitoring the performance of judges and judiciary
6. The threat posed by avian influenza
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Sources referred to : The Hindu, The Indian Express, Live Law, Bar & Bench