June 1st, 2021
Your 10 minute read!
LAW, POLICY & GOVERNANCE
High Court snippets
(i). Vaccine Production in country not enough : Delhi High Court
The Delhi High Court said COVID-19 vaccine production by two companies in India is not enough and the Centre should expedite the process of clearing samples of Panacea Biotec, which has collaborated with the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) for manufacturing Sputnik V vaccine here.
The Bench questioned the Centre for not processing Panacea’s case on priority as it was producing the same product which has been produced by the Russian company initially and asked as to what more was required to be done in this regard.
(ii). Twitter needs to comply with IT Rules : Delhi High Court
The Delhi High Court said Twitter has to comply with the new Information Technology Rules for digital media if they have not been stayed by the court. The Central government standing counsel said Twitter has not complied with the Rules, but the social media platform claimed that it has complied with them and appointed a resident grievance oﬃcer under Rule 4 of the rules.
The petition said the Information Technology Rules 2021 have come into eﬀect from February 25, 2021 and the Centre had given three months’ time to every significant social media intermediary to comply with them.
Supreme Court snippets
(i). Vaccine policy should be clear, flexible : SC
“The ability to recognise that I am wrong is not a sign of weakness, but of strength,” Justice Chandrachud orally addressed Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta during a virtual hearing. Justice Chandrachud was heading a three judge Special Bench hearing a suo motu case covering the various fronts of the government’s COVID-19 management. Justice Chandrachud said the government could not ﬁght the pandemic on a day today basis in an adhoc manner.
The Bench questioned the government’s dual vaccine pricing policy between the Centre and the States, the vaccination coverage in rural India w.r.t the digital divide in the process of vaccination.
(ii). Justice Arun Kumar Mishra likely to head NHRC
Former Supreme Court Justice Arun Kumar Mishra is likely to be the new Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) after a high-powered recommendation committee proposed his name. The oﬃcial notiﬁcation is yet to be out.
The selection panel consisted of Prime Minister, Union Home Minister, Deputy Chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, Lok Sabha Speaker and the Leader of the Opposition. Leader of Opposition had suggested appointment of a member from either the Dalit, Adivasi or minority communities. He argued that since most complaints at the NHRC pertained to these socially disadvantaged groups, there should be at least one representative from these communities in the Commission.
The concerned NHRC Act did not make any speciﬁc provisions about any group except a woman member. For over ﬁve months now, the NHRC has been without a fulltime head after Justice H.L. Dattu retired last December.
(iii). Supreme Court for 'one price for vaccines across nation'
The government claimed it will inoculate the “entire eligible population” by 2021 end. The Supreme Court questioned the efficacy of the policy, which allows the Centre to procure just 50% of the vaccines while leaving the States to buy their own. The court also challenged the diﬀerential vaccine pricing policy, saying “there needs to be one price for vaccines across the nation”.
The central government represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that the government was in talks with other manufacturers like Pﬁzer. If the discussions succeed, the government would be able to advance its deadline for completing the immunisation.
Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said some States and municipal corporations had gone ahead and ﬂoated their own “global tenders” to buy vaccines. “We want to know if the policy of the country is that all States are on their own to supply tenders,” he asked the Centre.
NATIONAL NEWS/ INTERVENTIONS
(i). Maratha community brought under EWS quota
In a bid to extend relief to the Maratha community in the State, the state government extended the beneﬁts of reservation for the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) to the Socially and Economically Backward Class (SEBC). Previously, the government had decided that the Maratha community could not take advantage of the 10% EWS category as Maratha reservation was in force in the State. The Supreme Court, however, scrapped the SEBC reservation in jobs and education, making it possible for the State government to extend the beneﬁt of the EWS quota to the Marathas.
As per the government resolution, a person fulﬁlling the criterion for EWS would be eligible for 10% reservation in educational institutes, barring minority institutes. This would also be applied for State government recruitment.
(ii). WhatsApp encryption
The new rules mandates that a “signiﬁcant social media intermediary providing services primarily in the nature of messaging shall enable the identiﬁcation of the ﬁrst originator of the information on its computer resource as may be required by a judicial order.” Given the speciﬁcation that a “significant social media intermediary” is one with more than 50 lakh registered users, WhatsApp’s messenger service would clearly be affected.
WhatsApp’s contention is that for compliance and traceability, it would have to break its end-to-end encryption service that allows messages to be read only by the sender and the receiver. Its argument is that the encryption feature allows for privacy protections and breaking it would mean a violation of privacy.
A release by the Ministry of Electronics and IT has said that the traceability measure will be used by law enforcement as the “last resort.” The assertion suggests that this requirement is in line with the Puttaswamy judgment that clariﬁed that any restriction to the right of privacy must be necessary, proportionate and include safeguards against abuse.
The Government can already seek access to encrypted data under Section 69 (3) of the IT Act, and Rules 17 and 13 of the 2009 Surveillance Rules that require intermediaries to assist with decryption when they have the technical ability to do so and when law enforcement has no other alternative. The Government needs to revisit its position on traceability commitments of intermediaries and instead revise the IT Act, 2000 in line with existing global best practices besides legislating the long pending Data Protection Bill.
INTERNATIONAL NEWS/EVENTS/ PERSONALITIES
(i). As births decline, China to allow couples to have third child
China will for the first time allow couples to have a third child, the country’s government said, in a further relaxation of family planning rules five years after a “two-child policy” largely failed to boost birth rates. The announcement followed a meeting of the 25 member Politburo, chaired by China’s President and Communist Party of China General Secretary Xi Jinping, “to hear reports on major policy measures to actively address the ageing of population during the 14th FiveYear Plan period (2021-2025)”, State media said. The change comes less than three weeks after the release of China’s once-in-a-decade population census that painted an alarming picture of declining births.
The census said China’s population was 1.41 billion in 2020, an increase of 72 million since the last census in 2010, reflecting a 5.38% growth in this period and a 0.53% annual growth.
Forecasts say the population could peak in the next couple of years and most likely by 2025, when India will become the world’s most populous country.
(ii). U.S. spied on Merkel, European allies with Danish help: media
The U.S. spied on top politicians in Europe, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, from 2012 to 2014 with the help of Danish intelligence, Danish and European media reported. Danish public broadcaster Danmarks Radio (DR) said the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) had eavesdropped on Danish Internet cables to spy on top politicians and high-ranking officials in Germany, Sweden, Norway and France. The NSA had taken advantage of a surveillance collaboration with Denmark’s military intelligence unit FE to do so, it said.
The U.S. spying, if confirmed, was going on during and after the 2013 Snowden affair, which erupted when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed thousands of classified documents exposing the vast U.S. surveillance put in place after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Among other things, those documents showed the U.S. government was spying on its own citizens and carrying out widespread tapping worldwide, including Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone.
(iii). Singapore to vaccinate schoolchildren soon
Singapore will start vaccinating schoolchildren against the coronavirus soon, the Prime Minister said, after officials warned that new strains were affecting youngsters more. The citystate, with a population of 5.7 million, recently tightened curbs following a slight uptick in cases, after months of reporting barely any local cases. This included closing schools amid signs that new variants, such as the one first detected in India, were affecting children in greater numbers.
Health regulators approved the Pfizer/ BioNTech vaccine for 12 to 15year olds this month. It was previously only allowed for those aged 16 and above.
(iv). Saudi talks under way in ‘good atmosphere’: Iran
Iran’s Foreign Ministry said that the Islamic republic is continuing talks with regional rival Saudi Arabia in a “good atmosphere,” in the hope of reaching a “common understanding”. Media reports last month revealed that Iranian and Saudi officials met in Baghdad in April, their first high level meeting since Riyadh cut diplomatic ties with Tehran in 2016.
Ties between the two countries were cut in 2016 after Iranian protesters attacked Saudi diplomatic missions following the kingdom’s execution of a revered Shia cleric.
(v). Thousands of Rohingya protest at Bhashan Char
Several thousand Rohingya staged “unruly” protests against living conditions on a cyclone prone island off Bangladesh where they were moved from vast camps on the mainland, the police said. Since December, Bangladesh has shifted 18,000 out of a planned 1,00,000 refugees to the low lying silt island of Bhashan Char from the Cox’s Bazar region, where around 8,50,000 people live in squalid and cramped conditions.
Monday’s protest involved up to 4,000 people, the police said, and coincided with an inspection visit by officials from the United Nations refugee agency. An international rights activist said several protesters were injured in police action. A UNHCR spokesperson said the delegation was able to meet with a large group of refugees and to listen to the various issues that they raised, which the delegation will further discuss with the Bangladesh authorities.
ECONOMICS & FINANCE
(i). GDP shrinks by 7.3%
India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contracted by 7.3% in 2020-21, as per provisional National Income estimates released by the National Statistical Oﬃce. This was marginally better than the 8% contraction in the economy projected earlier. The NSO has however warned that data collection had been impacted as much as any other activity by the pandemic, so its estimates could undergo sharp revisions.
The Gross Value Added (GVA) in the economy shrank 6.2% in 2020-21, compared to a 4.1% rise in the previous year. GDP had contracted 24.4% in April-June 2020, followed by a 7.4% shrinkage in the second quarter. It had returned to positive territory in the September to December quarter with a marginal 0.5% growth.
With a lower contraction in GDP as well as GVA in 2020-21, the sharp recovery projected for 2021-22 by a number of agencies like the IMF at 12.5% and the RBI at 10.5% may have to be moderated. Chief Economic Advisor to the Finance Ministry K.V. Subramanian said he doesn’t expect GDP forecasts to be signiﬁcantly aﬀected stressing that vaccination was important for the health of the people and economy.
(ii). Sharp deterioration in overall business confidence : FICCI
The worsening conditions and muted near-term expectations due to the second wave of COVID-19 have led to a “sharp deterioration” in overall business conﬁdence among companies, a survey by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) shows. The index fell to 51.5 after reporting a decadal high value of 74.2 in the previous round of the survey released in March 2021.
Participating ﬁrms unanimously felt that the government must ﬁrst focus on controlling COVID cases and that only a massive vaccination drive could decouple India’s economy from another pandemic induced shock. Also, they stressed on the need for another ﬁscal package, focussed on addressing the demand side, along with employment-based incentives to avert any job losses. With household income being severely impacted and past savings already drawn down during the ﬁrst wave of infections, demand conditions are expected to remain weak for longer this time around. Because of a much larger expanse of infection, there had been permanent impairment to income for many households which had faced job losses or had lost bread winners to COVID-19.
(iii). Board agrees to Paytm’s $3bn IPO plan
The board of One97 Communications, the parent firm of Paytm, has given in principle approval for the $3billion (almost ₹22,000 crore) initial public offer (IPO).
“The company expects to raise about ₹21,000 ₹22,000 crore,” the source said, adding it was eyeing October-December quarter for the IPO. As per a note by investment research firm Bernstein, Paytm was on track to break even in 12-18 months and the revenue base may double by FY23 to $1 billion. It’s biggest shareholders include Alibaba’s Ant Group (29.7%) and Softbank Vision Fund (19.6%).
(i). Naomi Osaka withdraws from the French Open
- World Number 2 Naomi Osaka announced her withdrawal from the French Open. The decision comes in the wake of the Grand Slam Board threatening to default her if she continues to dodge her media responsibilities. Her decision to not attend post match press conferences didn't go down well with the authorities. “I have suﬀered long bouts of depression since the US Open in 2018. Though the tennis press has always been kind, I am not a natural public speaker.”
(ii). Brazil set to host Copa America
- The South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) said it would move next month’s Copa America to Brazil, after original host nation Argentina pulled out at the last minute due to a surge in COVID-19 cases. More than 450,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Brazil. Brazil has routinely reported the continent’s highest case numbers and deaths, and ranks second highest in the world for both daily reported cases and deaths at present.
(iii). Career spans of chess players getting shorter
- Five time World chess champion Viswanathan Anand said that the career span of chess players has become shorter than earlier times because of the high level of hard work arising out of intense competition. Anand said the legendary Bobby Fischer was one of the reasons many began to look chess as a career. “It was already a career for people in Soviet Union or the East Block, but that concept didn’t exist anywhere else. But after Fischer, those doors started to open for everybody,” said Anand.
1. Plea on central vista project https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/delhi-high-court-central-vista-project-covid-plea-to-suspend-work-one-lakg-cost-174933
2. WhatsApp vs Central government : Top points to note https://indianexpress.com/article/technology/tech-news-technology/whatsapp-vs-indian-government-over-new-social-media-rules-7-points-to-note-7332708/
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Sources referred to : The Hindu, The Indian Express, Live Law, Bar & Bench