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Daily Current Affairs 03.06.2022 (No respite for people booked under UAPA, Blinken flags rising attacks in India, Liquid mirror telescope in Devasthal sees first light)

Daily Current Affairs 03.06.2022 (No respite for people booked under UAPA, Blinken flags rising attacks in India, Liquid mirror telescope in Devasthal sees first light)

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1. No respite for people booked under UAPA

Freeze on sedition has not transformed into bail for Kappan and Khalid as they face case under UAPA

The Supreme Court’s freeze on sedition proceedings under the colonial Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code seems to have not yet made a ripple on the ground for persons who have also been charged under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) of 1967 in the same case or separately.

The effect of the apex court’s May 11 order to keep in abeyance the use of the colonial provision of Section 124A has not transformed into bail for journalist Siddique Kappan and activists Umar Khalid and Sharjeel Imam, who also face charges under the UAPA.

The Supreme Court, while suspending criminal trials and court proceedings under Section 124A, had made it clear that adjudication with respect to other sections of law, if any, would proceed if the court concerned was “of the opinion that no prejudice would be caused to the accused”. 

53% arrested are youths

Imam had recently approached the Delhi High Court for bail in a case involving his speeches against the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act on the strength of the Supreme Court order. He was advised to approach the trial court. He had recently moved the lower court. Kappan was arrested by the U.P. Police on October 5, 2020, en route to Hathras where a Dalit woman was allegedly killed. He was booked for sedition, promoting enmity, and later under the UAPA. Khalid faces charges under both Section 124A and UAPA in a case connected to the Delhi riots.

The Home Ministry is reported to have said in Parliament last year that nearly 53% of persons arrested under the UAPA in 2018, 2019 and 2020 were below the age of 30.

An amendment made in 2019 has made the Act even more powerful. Now it can designate individuals, and not just associations, as ‘terrorists’. The Supreme Court’s judgment in National Investigation Agency versus Zahoor Ahmad Shah Watali in 2019 has also made bail in a UAPA case a virtually insurmountable task.

The judgment has confirmed the “high burden” placed by Section 43D(5) of UAPA on an accused to demonstrate that the prosecution’s charges against him were not based on “reasonable grounds”. It has held that a trial court could reject bail on finding that the relevant material produced by the investigating agency was “indicative of the fact that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the accusation is prima facie true”.

So, as far as persons facing both Section 124A and UAPA charges in the same case or variously, the suspension of the Section 124A, though a great relief, would hardly lead to freedom. Continued incarceration under the post-colonial UAPA may be their reality.

This is when the almost non-existent chance of bail under UAPA seems to violate the principle of the SC’s own 1977 judgment in State Of Rajasthan vs Balchand, which had held that bail, and not jail, should be the norm.

History of Sedition Law in India

  1. 1837 – Thomas Macaulay (Famous for his Macaulay Minute on Indian Education 1835) drafted the Penal Code in 1837.
  1. Sedition was placed in the Penal Code 1837 as Section 113.
  2. Later, it was omitted, to only be readded in 1870 back in the Penal Code by an amendment introduced by Sir James Stephen.
  3. British Raj in India had introduced this section on sedition under the title “Exciting Disaffection”.
  4. IPC Amendment Act of 1898 – It made amendments to the changes brought through the Penal Code in 1870.
    • The current Section 124A is said to be similar to the amendments made to it in 1898 with few omissions made in 1937, 1948, 1950, and by Part B States (Law) Act, 1951.

Section 124A of IPC – Sedition

The IPC Section 124 A says, “Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government estab­lished by law in India shall be punished with [im­prisonment for life], to which fine may be added, or with impris­onment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.

What is Disaffection towards Government?

Disaffection includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.

What does not constitute an offence under Sedition?

  • When comments disapprove of government measures but with a view to alter them lawfully i.e. ‘Comments expressing disapprobation of the meas­ures of the Government with a view to obtaining their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection.’
  • When comments disapprove of government’s administrative actions without exciting all feelings of enmity – Comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection.

Punishment for the Sedition Offence

  1. It is a non-bailable offence.
  2. Imprisonment up to three years to a life term, to which fine may be added.
  3. The person found guilty of this offence is not eligible for any government job.

Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA)

  • It was enacted to provide for more effective prevention of certain unlawful activities of individuals and associations, and for dealing with terrorist activities.
  • It was amended in the years 2004, 2008, 2013, and 2019 to add certain provisions relating to various facets of terrorism.

Key provisions:

  • Both Indian and foreign nationals can be charged.
  • It is applicable even if the offence is committed outside India.
  • A charge sheet can be filed in maximum 180 days after the arrests.
  • The investigation has to be completed within 90 days and if not, the accused is eligible for default bail.
  • A Special Court under the UAPA conducts trials.

2019 Amendment under UAPA Act, 1967:

  • Union government may designate an individual or an organisation as a terrorist organisation if it:
  • Commits or participates in acts of terrorism,
  • Prepares for terrorism,
  • Promotes terrorism, or
  • Is otherwise involved in terrorism.
  • Approval of Director- General for seizure of property if the investigation is conducted by an officer of the National Investigation Agency (NIA)
  • Officers of the rank of Inspector or above in NIA can investigate cases.
  • International Convention for Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005)  is added under the schedule under which terrorist act is committed.

Issues Surrounding UAPA

  • Misuse: It has been seen in the past that the Acts like POTA and TADA, which were specifically enacted to counter terrorism, were being misused.
  • Federalism: Police is a state subject under VIIth Schedule. Giving NIA authority to investigate and attach property is viewed as encroachment over the state’s jurisdiction.
  • Denial of Bail: Under Section 43D(5), bail cannot be granted to a suspect if the court is of the opinion that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the charges are prima facie true.
  • Burden of Proof: Accused has to show that the case is false which is opposite of other criminal offences where the burden is on the State.

2. Blinken flags rising attacks in India

The U.S. Secretary of State releases report on International Religious Freedom

India has seen an increase in attacks on people (due to religious intolerance) and places of worship, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday.

“…In India, the world’s largest democracy, and home to a great diversity of faiths, we’ve seen rising attacks on people and places of worship,” Mr. Blinken said, as he released the State Department’s 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom (IRF).

The Secretary also cited Vietnam and Nigeria as examples of countries where religious expression was being curtailed.

Compiled by IRF

The report, which contains assessments of the state of religious freedom in countries in 2021, is compiled by the Department’s IRF department, led by Rashad Hussain, the Ambassador for IRF.

The document is distinct from the IRF report released by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

In April, the Commission had recommended to the State Department, for the third year in a row, that India be classified as a ‘Country of Particular Concern (CPC)’, the category of countries with the worst records on religious freedom.

The State Department, which releases its CPC list towards the end of the calendar year, is not bound by the USCIRF recommendations and has not, in the last three years, categorised India as a CPC.

“As the Secretary stated, in India, some officials are ignoring or even supporting rising attacks on people and places of worship,” Mr. Hussain said on Thursday.

In another set of examples of countries with restrictions on religious freedom, Mr. Blinken cited U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, as well as China, Pakistan and Afghanistan (where the Taliban have taken charge, following the U.S.’s chaotic exit in August last year).

Religious freedom is not just a fundamental right but a “vital foreign policy priority”, Mr. Blinken said on Thursday. In April, during the U.S.-India “2+2” joint press conference of Defence and Foreign Ministers in Washington D.C., Mr Blinken had said the U.S. was tracking “recent concerning developments” with regard to human rights in India.

On Thursday, Mr. Bliken cited Morocco, Timor Leste, Taiwan and Iraq as examples of countries where progress had been made on religious freedom. Mr. Blinken said some countries were not respecting the “basic rights” of citizens — including by using apostasy and blasphemy laws and curtailing religious expression — such as by restricting religious attire.

“Attacks on members of religious minority communities, including killings, assaults, and intimidation, occurred throughout the year. These included incidents of ‘cow vigilantism’ against non-Hindus based on allegations of cow slaughter or trade in beef,” the India segment of the report said.

The India segment also highlights anti-conversion laws in the country, noting that 28 States have these laws and the arrests made under them. It also notes that several State governments announced plans to introduce anti-conversion laws. However, some State-level courts had dismissed charges, the report notes, brought against individuals allegedly converting others for the purposes of marriage.

“The police arrested non-Hindus for making comments in the media or on social media that were considered offensive to Hindus or Hinduism,” it noted.

“Suspected terrorists targeted and killed civilians and migrants from the Hindu and Sikh minorities, including Hindu migrant labourers from Bihar,” in J&K, the report says, adding that as per reports, this caused extensive fear in the Hindu and Sikh communities, leading to an exodus of migrants from the area.

US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) 

  • USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan US federal government commission, dedicated to defending the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad.
  • It is an advisory body to the US Congress.
  • USCIRF’s 2022 Annual Report provides recommendations to enhance the U.S. government’s promotion of freedom of religion or belief abroad.
  • It is Headquartered in Washington DC.
  • Established by the US government in 1998 after the inaction of the International Religious Freedom Act, recommendations of USCIRF are non-binding on the state department.
    • Traditionally, India does not recognize the view of USCIRF.

CPCs

  • CPC is designated to a nation guilty of particularly severe violations of religious freedom under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998. The term ‘particularly severe violations of religious freedom’ means systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.

Observations made about religious freedom in India by USCIRF:

  1. This year, USCIRF said that religious freedom conditions in India “continued their negative trajectory”.
  2. The government promoted Hindu nationalist policies resulting in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.
  3. It particularly noted the passage of the “religiously discriminatory” Citizenship Amendment Act.
  4. The report indicated that there was seeming police complicity in the Delhi riots.
  5. Further, the report alleged that “government action including the acquittal of all individuals accused of demolishing the Babri Masjid mosque—as well as government inaction to address religious violence contributed to a culture of impunity for those promulgating hate and violence toward religious minorities.

Recommendations made by USCIRF:

  • The administration should impose targeted sanctions on Indian individuals and entities for ‘severe violations of religious freedom’.
  • It should promote inter-faith dialogue and the rights of all communities at bilateral and multilateral forums “such as the ministerial of the Quadrilateral [the Quad].”
  • Raise issues in the U.S. – India bilateral space, such as by hosting hearings, writing letters and constituting Congressional delegations.

3. Liquid mirror telescope in Devasthal sees first light

Once trained using AI tools, the telescope can help track transients such as supernovae, space debris and meteorites

The four-metre International Liquid Mirror Telescope (ILMT) saw the first light recently, gazing out from its vantage on Devasthal, a hill in Uttarakhand, into the deep sky.

The telescope, staring at the sky overhead, will make sky surveys possible and obtain images that can help observe transient phenomena such as supernovae and record the presence of space debris or meteorites — basically, watch the skies.

The telescope has been built by a collaboration of scientists from Canada, Belgium and India. It is located at an altitude of 2,450 metres on the Devasthal Observatory campus of the Aryabhata Research Institute of Observational Sciences (ARIES) in Nainital district, an autonomous institute under the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India.

A large pool of mercury placed in a vessel is spun around so fast that it curves into a parabolic shape. Since mercury is reflective, this shape helps in focusing the reflected light. A thin sheet of mylar protects the mercury from the wind.

“It was thrilling to see the formation of the primary mirror. Nearly 50 litres of mercury, weighing close to 700 kilograms, is spun hard to form a paraboloid mirror of just 4 mm thickness and a diameter of about 4 metres,” says Kuntal Misra, Project Investigator at ARIES. She has worked in this project since January 2020.

First image

The first image made by the telescope consisted of several stars and a galaxy, NGC 4274, which is 45 million light years away.

The telescope, having a primary mirror that is liquid, cannot be turned and pointed in any direction. It “stares” at the zenith and watches the sky as the earth rotates, thereby giving a view of different objects.

This property can be used to scan and survey the sky, observe transients and moving objects such as meteorites.

It will work in tandem with the existing 3.6-metre Devasthal Optical Telescope.

Once it starts making observations, the telescope will collect gigabytes of data, which will need to be analysed using artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI and ML) tools.

“In a night’s observation, it will make thousands of images which cannot be analysed by just looking at them. We will need to develop and train AI and ML tools to do this,” says Dipankar Banerjee, Director of the ARIES Observatory.

With the monsoon expected soon in the area, the real observations may start only in October, after the rains, according to Dr. Banerjee.

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