January 27th, 2021
LAW, POLICY & GOVERNANCE
1. Petition in Supreme Court seeks guidelines for electronic media
The Supreme Court has decided to examine a petition seeking the framing of guidelines outlining the broad regulatory paradigm within which the right to free speech of broadcasters and electronic media can be judicially regulated. The plea has also sought the setting up of an independent Media Tribunal to hear and expeditiously adjudicate complaints against “media businesses” filed by viewers and citizens.
A Bench, led by Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde, has issued notices to the Centre and Press Council of India, among others. The plea said the right to life and dignity envisaged the right of citizens to “free, fair and proportionate media reporting”.
Analysis : Pandemic and India : Snippets from the Oxfam Report
- Oxfam International’s annual report on inequality for 2021, aptly titled ‘The Inequality Virus’, puts the uncomfortable but imperative spot-light on the obscene inequality between the few and the overwhelming majority.
(ii). How it has panned out till now
- Over two million people have died, and hundreds of millions of people are being forced into poverty while many of the richest, both individuals and corporations, are thriving. The pandemic saw hundreds of millions of people lose their jobs and face destitution and hunger. Globally, women are overrepresented in the sectors of the economy that are hardest hit by the pandemic.
(iii). India's standing
- India introduced one of the earliest and most stringent lockdowns in the face of the pandemic, whose enforcement brought its economy to a standstill triggering unemployment, hunger, distress migration and untold hardship. The wealth of Indian billionaires increased by 35% during the lockdown and by 90% since 2009. This is despite the fact that most of India has faced a loss of livelihood and the economy has dipped into recession.
(iv). The Oxfam report snippets
- The Oxfam report undertook a survey of 295 economists from 79 countries. Of the respondents, 87% expected that income inequality in their country was going to significantly increase as a result of the pandemic. These levels of inequality are not viable and will have a deeply harmful impact.
(v). The way forward
- We must recognise that a radical and sustained reduction in inequality is the indispensable foundation for a just India, as envisioned in the Constitution. Four things could be done on priority. One, invest in free universal healthcare, education, and other public services. Two, the virus has shown us that guaranteed income security is essential. Three, reintroduce wealth taxes and ensure financial transaction taxes while putting an end to tax dodging. Four, we need to invest in a green economy that prevents further degradation of our planet and preserves it for our children.
Analysis : Robustness of blockchain and voting
- The Electronic Voting Machine has survived intense scrutiny over its use largely because of one strong reason – the fact that this standalone single chip device is not connected to any network. With the addition of the Voter Veriﬁable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) to the EVM, “auditability” was added to the process even as the machine has suﬀered glitches, which the Election Commission of India (ECI) has managed to tackle reasonably well. The announcement by Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora that the ECI is commencing trials of a “remote voting project” is sure to bring back scrutiny.
(ii). The need and safeguards
Concept of remote voting : Remote voting, as an option, has gained some priority during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to address social distancing.
The blockchain method implements an online public bulletin board that allows for a linear ordering of data to which a user can only further append data. The board itself is public and available for anyone to read and verify. The technology has been put in use for cryptocurrencies – the Bitcoin blockchain records a list of transactions that can be read to ﬁnd out who owns which bitcoins without any centralised authority.
In the block chain based voting system, the voting authority will have to authenticate this bulletin board in which users sign in using cryptographic signatures to register their votes in a ledger. While this system, with its cryptographic features, promises data security and veriﬁability, the fact that it will depend upon a network and devices could introduce vulnerabilities that are present in any Internet based system. Beyond the vulnerabilities faced by any Internet based system, block chains also introduce issues related to complexity and their management.
NATIONAL NEWS/ INTERVENTIONS
1. Tractor rally turns violent as farmers enter Capital
Delhi witnessed chaotic scenes as groups of protesting farmers broke off from the planned Republic Day tractor parade routes and swarmed into the heart of the national capital, hoisting a union flag and a Sikh religious flag inside Red Fort. Police used tear gas, water cannons and lathicharge to stop the farmers at several locations in the city, including at ITO, where one protester died.
The Delhi police said 83 personnel and one civilian were injured in the protests. By evening, the Home Ministry deployed additional paramilitary forces, and suspended mobile Internet services in several parts of the city. In a statement issued late in the evening, the Delhi police said the protesting farmers had breached the agreement with the unions and began their march before the scheduled time.
2. Yadav: I take responsibility, feel ashamed
Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav said he felt “ashamed” of the way the farmers’ tractor parade turned out on Tuesday, and took responsibility for it. “Being a part of the protest,” he said, “I feel ashamed of the way things proceeded and I take responsibility for it.”
“Violence impacts any kind of protest in a wrong way. I cannot say at the moment who did it and who did not, but prima facie it looks like it has been done by the people that we kept out of the farmers’ protest,” Mr. Yadav said. “I appealed continuously that we stick to whatever route was decided and not deviate,” said Mr. Yadav.
3. Pursuing national interests, at the UN high table
New Delhi’s entry into the UNSC coincides with the emergence of a new world order, one marked by systemic uncertainty, little care for global commons, absence of global leadership, the steady division of the world into rival blocs, and an age marked by unabashed pursuit of narrow national interests, putting even the rhetoric about a value based global order on the backburner.
India’s seat at the UNSC is also significant vis-à-vis China because the next two years will be key to ensuring checking further Chinese incursions along the Line of Actual Control and building up enough infrastructure and mobilising sufficient forces in the forward areas.
Greater Indian alignment with the West at the UNSC, an unavoidable outcome, could, however, widen the growing gulf between Moscow and New Delhi given Russia’s increasing dependence on Beijing in more ways than one.
The issue of terrorism has been a major theme in the country’s national security and foreign policy discourse for decades now, more so of this government. India must, however, formulate its policy towards terrorism with far more diplomatic finesse and political nuance especially given that it is chairing the Taliban sanctions committee while courting the very same Taliban.
Perhaps more significantly, New Delhi’s UNSC strategy should involve shaping the narrative and global policy engagement vis-à-vis perhaps one of the biggest grand strategic concepts of our time – the Indo-Pacific.
India as a permanent member of UNSC ? India’s past global engagements and efforts have often been contingent on the hope that it would one day be admitted to the UNSC given its irrefutable claim. But a cursory glance at the recent debates on UNSC reforms and the state of the international system today should tell us that bending over backwards to please the big five to gain entry into the UNSC will not make a difference. So New Delhi must focus its energies on what it can achieve during the short period that it would be in the UNSC rather than what it wishes happened.
4. In the footsteps of the legendary Muktijoddhas
As New Delhi and Dhaka celebrated the 50th anniversary of the 1971 Liberation War, a 122-member triservice contingent of Bangladesh marched on Rajpath at the Republic Day parade. It had soldiers drawn from the units of that year.
Coinciding with the diamond jubilee of the 1971 war and also 50 years of the establishment of ties, New Delhi and Dhaka have agreed to hold a series of commemorative events throughout the year. It is these fraternal ties between the two countries that make the relations transcend even a strategic partnership.
In 2017, when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina honoured Indian soldiers who took part in the war during her visit to India, Maj. Singh said he presented a photograph of ‘Bangabandhu’ (Sheikh Mujibur Rehman) taking the salute of their unit’s parade in Dhaka in 1972.
5. ‘Inclusive reforms must for UNSC to be effective’
India has said that the UN Security Council is finding itself unable to effectively address increasingly complex issues of international peace and security as it lacks inclusivity of those who need to be members of the powerful organ of the world body.
India, along with Brazil, Japan and Germany are pressing for urgent reform of the UN Security Council and for a permanent seat in the reformed 15member top organ of the world body. “It has been nearly 13 years since the Intergovernmental Negotiations (IGN) started,” said India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador T.S. Tirumurti. “The Security Council is being called upon to address increasingly complex issues of global security. Yet, it finds itself unable to act effectively, for it is lacking inclusivity of those who need to be there, and therefore lacking legitimacy and credibility,” he added.
6. Meghalaya government talks tough on illegal coal mining
Six miners, all from Assam, died after a crane collapsed into the pit in a forest, Sorkari, in East Jaintia Hills district on January 21. Insisting that action was being taken against illegal rathole coal mining, banned by the National Green Tribunal since April 2014, Deputy CM Mr. Prestone Tynsong said a few people have been picked up in connection with the mishap.
The Meghalaya government has been facing ﬂak from the Opposition Congress and ally BJP for failing to stop illegal mining and transportation of coal.
7. School of Public health launched in Rajasthan
A new School of Public Health (SPH) has been launched to make policy intervention for building public health capacity and skills and bridge gaps between education and practices in Rajasthan. Named after Indian Institute of Health Management Research (IIHMR) chairperson S.D. Gupta, the school will provide technical support to health systems and render help to the State government in harnessing new technologies.
IIHMR Dean (Research) D.K. Mangal said that the SPH has taken up a study on non-communicable diseases, climate change and antimicrobial resistance as its ﬁrst project to identify priority areas in public healthcare. The study will examine the scope for data analytics and artiﬁcial intelligence as the key segments for the public health sector.
Dr. Mangal said the major thrust areas for the school would be digital health technology and evaluation of surveillance mechanisms that could help the policy makers in identifying the challenges and bringing changes to ensure “equity and inclusion” in public health.
8. Soren vows 75% jobs in private sector for locals in Jharkhand
- Announcing a host of welfare measures on the Republic Day, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren said his government will soon formulate a new domicile policy and reserve 75% jobs in the private sector for the people of the State. He also said that the government will recruit schoolteachers and police personnel.
9. Col. Santosh Babu awarded the Maha Vir Chakra
Galwan hero Col. Santosh Babu was awarded the Mahavir Chakra on the 72nd Republic Day celebrations in Telangana. His spouse Bikumalla Santoshi was felicitated remembering her husband’s martyrdom in the 2020 India-China skirmishes in the Galwan Valley in June, and the Centre’s recognition of the sacriﬁce with Maha Vir Chakra, the second highest wartime gallantry award.
The family however felt that the recognition with a Param Vir Chakra would have been more appropriate. “Param Vir Chakra would have been more appropriate,” Mr. Upender (father) said, adding, “Santosh Babu’s team endured the harshest climate for some 13 months. They caused double the loss to Chinese troops, erased the opinion that India was inferior to China, and also inspired the youth of the country.”
INTERNATIONAL NEWS/EVENTS/ PERSONALITIES
1. As pandemic rages on, Italy PM Conte quits
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte resigned in the hope of forming a new government after weeks of turmoil in his ruling coalition, leaving Italy rudderless as it battles the deadly coronavirus pandemic. He tendered his resignation to President Sergio Mattarella, the ultimate arbiter of Italian political crises, who invited him to stay on in a caretaker capacity pending discussions on what happens next.
The uneasy coalition that has led Italy since September 2019 was fatally weakened earlier this month by the withdrawal of former premier Matteo Renzi’s small but crucial Italia Viva party. Ahead of a key vote in Parliament this week that he looked set to lose, Mr. Conte informed his Cabinet that he would quit in what supporters said was a move to form a new government.
Italy was the first European country to face the full force of the COVID-19 pandemic and has since suffered badly, with the economy plunged into recession and deaths still rising by around 400 a day. Parts of the country remain under partial lockdown, the vaccination programme has slowed and a deadline is looming to agree plans to spend billions of euros in European Union recovery funds.
2. U.S. announces restoration of relations with Palestinians
- U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration announced Tuesday it was restoring relations with the Palestinians and renewing aid to Palestinian refugees, a reversal of the Donald Trump administration’s cutoff and a key element of its new support for a two-state solution to the decadesold conflict agreed to by Israelis and Palestinians.
3. Myanmar Army raises prospect of coup after voter-fraud claims
- Myanmar‘s powerful military raised the spectre of staging a coup as it ramped up demands for an investigation into alleged voter fraud during last year’s election, swept by Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling party. The National League for Democracy (NLD) won November’s poll in a landslide, but has been much criticised by rights groups for its disenfranchisement of voters in conflict-wracked regions. The military-aligned opposition disputed the results, while the Army has for weeks alleged widespread voter irregularities, claiming to have found 8.6 million cases of fraud.
ECONOMICS & FINANCE
1. Cairns threatens Indian asset seizures
A month after it won an international tribunal award of $1.2 billion in damages against India in the retrospective taxation case, U.K. based Cairn Energy Plc has threatened that it may be forced to begin attaching Indian assets including bank accounts in diﬀerent world capitals, unless the government resolves the issue.
Cairn’s top leadership has said that the “necessary preparations have been put in place” for the tribunal verdict to be “enforced against Indian as sets in numerous jurisdictions around the world” if India fails to discuss paying the amount awarded. The assets already under consideration could include Embassy bank accounts, non-diplomatic premises, Air India planes and state-owned ships in several places including the U.K., Holland, France, Canada and the U.S. The company maintained that it would only consider this extreme option if the Indian government did not respond, as it was under pressure from its shareholders who “expect early resolution”.
Cairn also cited clauses in the U.K-India Bi lateral Investment Treaty, the UNCITRAL arbitration rules, and the New York Convention to which India is a signatory, that would be breached if India fails to pay the dues, which reportedly include about $220 million in accrued interest in addition to the $1.2 billion award.
The three member tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague that had delivered its verdict on December 21, 2020 had held unanimously in favour of Cairn and against the Indian government, ruling that the tax levied fell afoul of the bilateral investment pact, and also awarded Cairn $1.2 billion in damages for the tax authorities’ decision to take by force and subsequently sell the company’s shares, and freeze dividend payments as well as tax refunds, to recover the disputed tax dues.
In a similar arbitration case it lost against Vodafone, the government has ﬁled an appeal in a Singapore court to defend the retrospective tax demand on the telecom ﬁrm, and oﬃcials have stressed that the government’s sovereign right to levy taxes cannot be questioned under bilateral pacts.
2. GDP to contract 8% in FY21, FICCI survey shows
India’s GDP is expected to contract by 8% in 2020-21, according to the latest round of FICCI’s Economic Outlook Survey. The annual median growth forecast by the industry body is based on responses from leading economists representing industry, banking and ﬁnancial services sectors. The survey was conducted in January.
“The quarterly median forecasts indicates GDP growth to contract by 1.3% in the third quarter of 2020-21. The growth is expected to be in the positive terrain by the fourth quarter with a projection of 0.5% growth,” estimates the survey.
3. Budget likely to raise agri-credit target
With the aim of doubling farmers’ income by 2022, the government is likely to raise farm credit target to about ₹19 lakh crore in Budget 2021-22 to be presented on February 1, according to sources. For the current ﬁscal, the government has set a farm credit target of ₹15 lakh crore. The government has been raising credit targets for the farm sector every year and this time too, the target is likely to be increased to around ₹19 lakh crore for 2021-22.
The agricultural credit ﬂow has increased consistently over the years, exceeding the target set for each ﬁscal. For instance, credit worth ₹11.68 lakh crore was given to farmers in 2017-18, higher than the ₹10 lakh crore target set for that year. Similarly, crop loans worth ₹10.66 lakh crore were disbursed in 2016-17, higher than the credit target of ₹9 lakh crore. Credit is a critical input in achieving higher farm output. Institutional credit will also help delink farmers from noninstitutional sources where they are compelled to borrow at usurious rates of interest.
4. India set to grow 11.5% in 2021 : IMF
The IMF projected an 11.5% growth rate for India in 2021, making the country the only major economy to register double digit growth this year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The International Monetary Fund’s growth projections for India reﬂected a rebound in the economy, which is estimated to have contracted by 8% in 2020 due to the pandemic.
China is next with 8.1% growth in 2021 followed by Spain (5.9%) and France (5.5%). The IMF said that in 2020 China is the only major country which registered a positive growth rate of 2.3%. India’s economy, the IMF said, is projected to grow 6.8% in 2022 and that of China by 5.6%. IMF Chief Economist Gita Gopinath said that India had a somewhat faster pace of recovery, but cumulatively by the end of 2022, its GDP is expected to be 9% below its pre-pandemic projected level.
“In fact, we are seeing a very strong decline in cases, which is again a bit diﬀerent from other parts of the world. So, these factors, including what we’re seeing in terms of high frequency indicators, point to [a] somewhat faster pace of recovery. But again, there is still some distance to go,” she added. Earlier this month, IMF MD Kristalina Georgieva had said India “actually has taken very decisive action, very decisive steps to deal with the pandemic and to deal with the economic consequences of it”.
5. Data privacy and non-price competition : CCI
Data privacy can take the form of nonprice competition and abuse of dominance can lower privacy protection, a study by the Competition Commission of India(CCI) has said. The study also made observations about other non price factors such as quality of service (QoS), data speeds and bundled oﬀerings, which are likely to be the new drivers of competitive rivalry between service providers in telecom sector in addition to just price.
CCI noted that an aspect of data in the context of competition in the digital communications market is the conﬂict between allowing access and protecting consumer privacy. Privacy can take the form of nonprice competition. Abuse of dominance can take the form of lowering the privacy protection and therefore fall within the ambit of antitrust as low privacy standards imply lack of consumer welfare.
On other non price factors of competition, CCI found that consumers ranked network coverage at the top followed by customer service, tariﬀ packaging and lower tariﬀ as the most important factors for the preference of a particular network.
1. Extension of judicial custody and Article 21 https://rb.gy/xraw75
2. Enhanced Interrogation techniques and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 https://rb.gy/hjej2b
3. Fate of an UAPA prisoner https://rb.gy/mtwmep
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Sources referred to : The Hindu, The Indian Express, Live Law, Bar & Bench