1. U.S. Deputy NSA warns India of ‘consequences’
Daleep Singh cautions against trade deals with Russia
There will be “consequences” for any country, including India, that conducts local currency transactions through Russia’s central bank or constructs a payment mechanism that subverts or circumvents the United States’ sanctions against Russia, American Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economics Daleep Singh said in New Delhi on Thursday, hours before Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov landed.
Mr. Lavrov is due to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on Friday, and is expected to brief them on the war in Ukraine, peace talks, keeping defence supplies running and alternative payment mechanisms in the face of Western sanctions.
In a first for the U.S. administration, Mr. Singh also publicly stated that India must not expect that Russia, as a “junior partner” of China, would assist India if there were more incursions along the Line of Actual Control.
“I come here in a spirit of friendship to explain the mechanisms of our sanctions, the importance of joining us, to express a shared resolve and to advance shared interests. And yes, there are consequences to countries that actively attempt to circumvent or backfill the sanctions,” Mr. Singh told journalists between his official meetings.
‘Don’t prop up rouble’
“We are very keen for all countries, especially our allies and partners, not to create mechanisms that prop up the [Russian] rouble, and those that attempt to undermine the dollar- based financial system,” he stated in reply to a question from The Hindu.
Bank officials’ meeting
This week, officials of the Bank of Russia, the country’s central bank, met Reserve Bank of India officials to discuss alternative payment mechanisms and routing through banks that are immune to international sanctions. Mr. Jaishankar told Parliament that a special inter-ministerial group led by the Finance Ministry had been tasked with resolving the payment issues for import and export with Russia caused by the sanctions.
Asked how India’s ties with Russia could affect its partnership with the U.S. in the Quad, Mr. Singh said there was a “shared recognition in the Quad that China is a strategic threat to a free open and secure Indo-Pacific”.
Why were the sanctions placed?
The Russian government recognized Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) and Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) as independent regions and signed an agreement with them to establish a military presence in the eastern part of Ukraine. Doing so has made the US term this agreement as to the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine and has thus placed sanctions on Russia.
Other Sanctions Placed on Russia
Following the agreement of Russia with Luhansk and Donetsk, along with the US, other European nations have also placed sanctions on the country. The approval of Nord Stream 2, a USD 11 billion gas pipeline across the Baltic Sea owned by Russia, has been halted in Germany. The UK has placed sanctions against five Russian banks and three Russian billionaires and has threatened that if Russia continues to attack Ukraine, it will be designated as a “pariah state.”
What is a pariah state?
A pariah state, also known as a global or international pariah, is a country that is considered to be an outcast globally. Sanctions, international isolation, or even invasion may be placed on a pariah state by the other countries who find its existence, actions, and policies to be unacceptable.
About Russia-Ukraine crisis
Since 2013, tensions between Russia and Ukraine have escalated over a trade and landmark deal conducted by Ukraine with the European Union. In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea on the excuse of protecting its national integrity. Russia asked for Ukraine to join the Eurasian Economic Community (EAEC), a free trade agreement that was established in 2015 which was refused by Ukraine. Since then, Ukraine is inching towards NATO which is opposed by Russia and Russia considers this to be an expansion by NATO which they say will affect the borders of Russia. All these have led to the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
2. Areas under AFSPA regime reduced: Shah
‘Security situation has improved in three States’
The Union Home Ministry has considerably reduced the “disturbed areas” under the Armed Forces (Special) Powers Act (AFSPA) in Assam, Manipur and Nagaland, Home Minister Amit Shah announced on Thursday.
The order, effective from April 1, would be applicable for six months.
“Reduction in areas under AFSPA is a result of the improved security situation and fast-tracked development… and several agreements to end insurgency by PM @narendramodi government,” Mr. Shah tweeted.
A Ministry official said, “areas under the AFSPA have been considerably reduced in these three States; it has not been completely removed.”
The Ministry constituted a committee on December 26 last to study if the AFSPA could be withdrawn from some areas in Nagaland after outrage against a botched Army ambush that led to the killing of 13 civilians at Oting in Mon district on December 4.
In the State, the AFSPA was being removed from the jurisdiction of 15 police stations in seven districts but would remain active in 57 police stations in 13 districts. The decision was taken based on the committee’s recommendation.
In Assam, the AFSPA was being removed completely from 23 districts and one district would be covered partially under it.
What is AFSPA, 1958?
The Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 is an act of Parliament that gives the armed forces the power to maintain public order in “disturbed areas”. It gives the armed forces the authority to use force or even open fire after warning a person who is found to be in contravention of the law.
A disturbed area is one where the “use of armed forces in aid of civil power is necessary”. Under section 3 of the AFSPA, any area can be declared disturbed due to differences or disputes between members of different religious, racial, language, or regional groups or castes or communities. The power to declare any territory “disturbed” initially lay with the states, but passed to the Centre in 1972.
The Act also allows the forces to arrest a person and enter and search premises without a warrant.
The AFSPA also protects security forces from legal proceedings unless cleared by the centre. The Act applies not only to the three armed forces but also to paramilitary forces such as the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Border Security Force.
This controversial law is in place in Nagaland, Assam, Manipur (excluding seven assembly constituencies of Imphal), and parts of Arunachal Pradesh, besides Jammu and Kashmir. Tripura and parts of Meghalaya were removed from the list.
The Armed Forces Special Powers Ordinance of 1942 was promulgated by Viceroy Linlithgow for the British colonial government on 15 August 1942 to suppress the Quit India Movement.
Later during the Partition of India in 1947, four ordinances- the Bengal Disturbed Areas (Special Powers of Armed Forces) Ordinance; the Assam Disturbed Areas (Special Powers of Armed Forces) Ordinance; the East Bengal Disturbed Areas (Special Powers of Armed Forces) Ordinance; the United provinces Disturbed Areas (Special Powers of Armed Forces) Ordinance was invoked by the Indian government to deal with the internal security situation in the country.
Article 355 of the Constitution of India confers power to the Central Government to protect every state from internal disturbance.
The Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act, 1958:
1951: There was a boycott of the first general election of 1952 by the Naga National Council, which later extended to a boycott of government schools and officials.
To deal with the situation, the Assam government imposed the Assam Maintenance of Public Order (Autonomous District) Act in the Naga Hills in 1953 and intensified police action against the rebels.
As the situation worsened, Assam deployed the Assam Rifles in the Naga Hills and enacted the Assam Disturbed Areas Act of 1955, providing a legal framework for the paramilitary forces and the armed state police to combat insurgency in the region. But the Assam Rifles and the state armed police could not contain the Naga rebellion and the rebel Naga Nationalist Council (NNC) formed a parallel government “The Federal Government of Nagaland” on 23 March 1956.
The Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Ordinance 1958 was promulgated by President Dr. Rajendra Prasad on 22 May 1958. It was replaced by the Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act, 1958 on 11 September 1958.
Later the territorial scope of the act also expanded to the seven states of the North-East – and the words “The Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act, 1958” were substituted by “Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958”, getting the acronym of AFSPA, 1958.
The Armed Forces (Punjab and Chandigarh) Special Powers Act, 1983:
The central government enacted the Armed Forces (Punjab and Chandigarh) Special Powers Act on 6 October 1983, to enable the central armed forces to operate in the state of Punjab and the union territory of Chandigarh during the militancy days.
The act was withdrawn in 1997, roughly 14 years after it came to force. Punjab was the first from where the act was repealed.
The Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990:
The act was enacted in Jammu and Kashmir due to extreme security instability in the area where it remains in force.
Supreme Court verdict, 1998:
In the case of Naga People’s Movement of Human Rights vs. Union of India, the validity of AFSPA was challenged before the Supreme Court and the five-judge bench concluded that the act cannot be considered as a violation of the Constitution and the powers conferred under the section 4 and 5 of the act are not arbitrary and unreasonable and therefore not in violation of the provisions of the Constitution.
The Jeevan Reddy Committee:
On November 19, 2004, the Central government appointed a five-member committee headed by Justice BP Jeevan Reddy to review the provisions of the act in the northeastern states.
The Committee had recommended a complete repeal of the law. “The Act is a symbol of hate, oppression, and an instrument of high-handedness,” it said.
The committee submitted its report in 2005, which included the following recommendations:
- AFSPA should be repealed and appropriate provisions should be inserted in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967
- The Unlawful Activities Act should be modified to specify the powers of the armed forces and paramilitary forces
- Grievance cells should be set up in each district where the armed forces are deployed.
The 5th report of the Second Administrative Reforms Commission on public order has also recommended the repeal of the AFSPA.
3. SC strikes down T.N. Vanniyar quota
‘Reservation was based on antiquated data’
The Supreme Court on Thursday confirmed that the grant of 10.5% internal reservation to Vanniyakula Kshatriya community violates the fundamental rights of equality, non-discrimination and equal opportunity of 115 other most backward communities (MBCs) and de-notified communities (DNCs) in Tamil Nadu.
A Bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao and B.R. Gavai held that the 10.5% reservation to a single community from within the total MBC quota of 20% in the State, leaving only 9.5% to 115 other communities, was without “substantial basis”.
The Special Reservation Act of 2021, enacted by the AIADMK government in consultation with Tamil Nadu Backward Classes Commission Chairperson Justice (retired) M. Thanikachalam, scooped 10.5% of the MBC quota for Vanniyakula Kshatriyas alone, citing their “extreme backwardness”.
The top court upheld the Madras HC’s conclusion that the quota for the community under the 2021 Act was based on “antiquated data”.
4. Dam Safety Act can end disputes, says SC
‘2021 law provides for almost everything, other than how to settle political scores’
The Supreme Court on Thursday found in the Dam Safety Act of 2021 a panacea to end the “perennial” legal battle between Tamil Nadu and Kerala over the Mullaperiyar dam.
A Bench led by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar said that the new law provided for almost everything, other than how to “settle political scores”, to resolve inter-State disputes over dams.
The Act comprehensively postulates for surveillance, operation and maintenance of dams to prevent disasters.
Moreover, the Central statute, which came into force last December, mandates the setting up of two specialised bodies, National Committee on Dam Safety and National Dam Safety Authority (NDSA) to evolve policies, recommend safety norms and resolve disputes between the States.
Kerala and Tamil Nadu have been trading charges over the safety, operation and maintenance of the Mullaperiyar dam.
A few days ago, the Supreme Court was in search of an answer to the “perennial problem” between the two neighbours. It had mooted the idea of extending the powers of its own supervisory committee to take over charge of the safety and maintenance of the dam.
However, on Thursday, Additional Solicitor-General Aishwarya Bhati, who is appearing for both the supervisory committee and the Central Water Commission, showed the court an alternative in the 2021 law and the NDSA.
“So, the Mullaperiyar dispute may be the first one to be handled under this Act?” Justice Khanwilkar asked Ms. Bhati. The Bench even wondered whether the supervisory committee should now continue as the 2021 Act has made it redundant.
However, Kerala said the Centre was yet to appoint specialists to the NDSA.
“When will this authority [NDSA] become functional?” Justice Khanwilkar asked Ms. Bhati. The court asked Ms. Bhati to give a detailed note by Tuesday on the Act and the responsibilities of the NDSA.
Dam Safety Bill
- Surveillance of dams:
- The Bill provides for the surveillance, inspection, operation, and maintenance of all specified dams across the country.
- These are dams with height more than 15 metres, or height between 10 metres to 15 metres with certain design and structural conditions.
- 2 national Bodies:
- The National Committee on Dam Safety (NCDS):
- Its functions include evolving policies and recommending regulations regarding dam safety standards;
- It will be chaired by the National Water Commissioner.
- The National Dam Safety Authority:
- Its functions include implementing policies of the National Committee, providing technical assistance to State Dam Safety Organisations (SDSOs), and resolving matters between SDSOs of states or between a SDSO and any dam owner in that state.
- The National Committee on Dam Safety (NCDS):
- 2 state bodies:
- State Committee on Dam Safety,
- State Dam Safety Organisation.
- These bodies will be responsible for the surveillance, inspection, and monitoring the operation and maintenance of dams within their jurisdiction.
- Schedules of the Bill:
- Functions of the national bodies and the State Committees on Dam Safety have been provided in Schedules to the Bill.
- These Schedules can be amended by a government notification.
- An offence under the Bill can lead to imprisonment of up to two years, or a fine, or both.
- Article 252:
- Dams are a State Subject.
- Article 252 of the Constitution requires a resolution from two or more states for enacting a law by Parliament on a subject which is in the state list.
- Against federalism: Act is a legislation passed by the Union through brute majority to blatantly usurp the States’ power.
- Centre’s control: Act usurped the power of the State governments and placed the operation of specified dams under the control of the Centre.
- Specified dam: Certain terms including the word ‘dam’ in the Act, had been deliberately defined vaguely to give unbridled power to the Centre to treat any dam as a ‘specified dam’.
- If those definitions were followed, almost all dams in the country would fall under the purview of the Act.
- Entry 56 of Union list: The power of the Centre under Entry 56 of Union list was only with respect to inter-State rivers or river valleys and nothing more.
- Entry 56 cannot be stretched to include dams and embankments exclusively within the control of the States.
- Confusion: Power over the subject ‘interstate river and river valley’ cannot be confused with the control over dams.
- Adverse impact: It would have an adverse impact on agriculture, fisheries, hydro power generation, and provision of drinking water to the people and so on.
- Criminal prosecution: Act provided for criminal prosecution for not obeying directives issued under the legislation. Bureaucrats will now be kept under fear and threat which will lead to mechanical compliance of the dictates of the Union Government.
5. Dip in Chilika lake’s dolphin population
However, the overall number of dolphins in Odisha increases from 544 to 726 in a year
The dolphin population along Odisha’s coast and in its waterbodies has increased but the number of Irrawaddy dolphins in Chilika lake has fallen.
Months after undertaking a census in different waterbodies and off the coast of Odisha, the Principal Chief Conservator Forest (Wildlife) has provided data, recorded across the State’s Wildlife Divisions, on the number of dolphins, which have overall gone up from 544 in 2021 to 726 in 2022.
The increase in the State’s dolphin population is largely due to high sighting in the Mangrove Wildlife Division of the Rajnagar jurisdiction, where 540 dolphins were enumerated in 2022 compared with 342 in 2021. In Rajnagar, the number of bottlenose dolphins rose from 22 to 135 and humpback dolphins from 281 to 332 in one year.
A total of six species of dolphins — Irrawaddy, bottlenose, humpback, striped, finless and spinner dolphins — have been recorded.
The lake, which is a major tourist attraction known for its Irrawaddy dolphins, saw the numbers of its flagship aquatic animal drop sharply from 162 in 2021 to 151 this year. There has also been a fall in the number of bottlenose dolphins at Chilika, from 26 in 2021 to 16 in 2022.
In the remaining four Wildlife Divisions — Puri, Berhampur, Bhadrak and Balasore — dolphin sighting was negligible. The State has a total of 208 Irrawaddy dolphins.
The census for dolphins and other cetacean species included almost the entire coast of Odisha, where estimation was been carried out within a width of one kilometre from the sea beach using the line transect census method at a distance of 500 metres from the beach. Subsequently, recording of dolphins sighted on either side of the line transect was completed. In all, 48 census units were established all along the coastline.
Indian Dolphins –
Dolphins are one of the oldest creatures in the world along with some species of turtles, crocodiles and sharks. The Ganges river dolphin was officially discovered in 1801. Ganges river dolphins once lived in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli-Sangu river systems of Nepal, India, and Bangladesh. But the species is extinct from most of its early distribution ranges. The Ganges river dolphin can only live in freshwater and is essentially blind. They hunt by emitting ultrasonic sounds, which bounces off of fish and other prey, enabling them to “see” an image in their mind. They are frequently found alone or in small groups, and generally a mother and calf travel together. Calves are chocolate brown at birth and then have grey-brown smooth, hairless skin as adults. Females are larger than males and give birth once every two to three years to only one calf. According to WWF Indian dolphins weighs upto 150kg. The maximum size of a female is 2.67 m and of a male 2.12 m. Females attain sexual maturity at an age of 10-12 years, while the males mature earlier. The gestation period is 9-11 months and a female gives birth to only one calf, once in 2-3 years.
Habitat and Geographical Distribution –
WWF-India identified optimal habitats in 9 stretches in 8 rivers as ideal habitats for Ganges river dolphin population and hence for prioritized conservation action. These include: Upper Ganga River (Brijghat to Narora) in the state of Uttar Pradesh (Proposed Ramsar Site), Chambal River (up to 10 km downstream of Chambal Wildlife Sanctuary) in the state of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, Ghagra and Gandak River, in the state of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Ganga River, from Varanasi to Patna in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar respectively, Son and Kosi River in Bihar, Brahamaputra River from Sadia (foothills of Arunachal Pradesh) upto the Dhubri (Bangladesh Border), Kulsi River a tributary of Brahamaputra. Education and awareness programmes for fishermen and other riparian population are conducted for communities along the rivers. A strategy and Action Plan for the Ganges river dolphin conservation has been formulated for Uttar Pradesh with the help of the State Forest Department. A network of partners for the Ganges River Dolphin Conservation in the country is also created.
Conservation Status –
Indian dolphins have been included in schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife (protection) act , 1972, in appendix 1 of the conversation on international trade in endangered species ( CITES) and in appendix 2 of the convention of migratory species(CMS) and categorised as Endangered on the IUCN red list .
Threats on Survival –
The Ganges River dolphin, or susu, inhabits the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli-Sangu river systems of Nepal, India, and Bangladesh. This vast area has been altered by the construction of more than 50 dams and other irrigation-related projects, with dire consequences for the river dolphins.
The Ganges River dolphin lives in one of the world’s most densely populated areas, and is threatened by removal of river water and siltation arising from deforestation, pollution and entanglement in fisheries nets. In addition, alterations to the river due to barrages are also separating populations.
This dolphin is among the four “obligate” freshwater dolphins – the other three are the baiji now likely extinct from the Yangtze river in China, the bhulan of the Indus in Pakistan and the boto of the Amazon River in Latin America. Although there are several species of marine dolphins whose ranges include some freshwater habitats, these four species live only in rivers and lakes.
The survival of the Ganges River dolphin is threatened by unintentional killing through entanglement in fishing gear; directed harvest for dolphin oil, which is used as a fish attractant and for medicinal purposes; water development projects (e.g. water extraction and the construction of barrages, high dams, and embankments); industrial waste and pesticides; municipal sewage discharge and noise from vessel traffic; and overexploitation of prey, mainly due to the widespread use of non-selective fishing gear.
Habitat loss and degradation
More than 50 dams and irrigation-related projects have had an adverse impact on the habitat of this species. These projects result in major changes in the flow, sediment load, and water quality of rivers, which affects the quality of waters downstream.
About Indus River Dolphins-
Indus river dolphins are believed to have originated in the ancient Tethys Sea. When the sea dried up approximately 50 million years ago, the dolphins were forced to adapt to its only remaining habitat—rivers. Today, they can only be found in the lower parts of the Indus River in Pakistan and in River Beas, a tributary of the Indus River in Punjab, India. In Pakistan, their numbers declined dramatically after the construction of an irrigation system, and most dolphins are confined to a 750 mile stretch of the river and divided into isolated populations by six barrages. They have adapted to life in the muddy river and are functionally blind. They rely on echolocation to navigate, communicate and hunt prey including prawns, catfish, and carp.
Need of Humane Approach –
Dolphins are blind creatures . They use echolocation to move and to listen . Echolocation is a technique used by bats, dolphins and other animals to determine the location of objects using reflected sound. This allows the animals to move around in pitch darkness, so they can navigate, hunt, identify friends and enemies, and avoid obstacles. Bats, whales, dolphins, a few birds like the nocturnal oilbird and some swiftlets, some shrews and the similar tenrec from Madagascar are all known to echolocate. Another possible candidate is the hedgehog, and incredibly some blind people have also developed the ability to echolocate. For dolphins and toothed whales, this technique enables them to see in muddy waters or dark ocean depths, and may even have evolved so that they can chase squid and other deep-diving species. Echolocation is the use of ultra-high frequency sounds for navigation and locating prey.
6. This is a criminal attack on privacy
The Criminal Procedure (Identification) Bill 2022 erodes the privacy of those convicted of crime and the ordinary citizen
Springing a surprise, the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Ajay Mishra Teni, on Monday introduced the Criminal Procedure (Identification) Bill 2022. The Bill was neither put up for pre-legislative consultation nor indicated in the session’s legislative agenda in Parliament. Seemingly technical, it is a legislative proposal that undermines the privacy of not only persons convicted of crime but also every ordinary Indian citizen as it proposes replacing a law that is over a 100 years old.
What needs scrutiny
Let us first understand why it is being introduced, and what it intends to achieve. The Bill aims to replace the Identification of Prisoners Act 1920 that has been in need of amendment for several decades. Back in the 1980s, the Law Commission of India (in its 87th Report) and the Supreme Court of India in a judgment titled State of U.P. vs Ram Babu Misra had nearly simultaneously suggested the need to amend the statute. The criticism and the need for amendment was predominantly in respect of the limited definition of ‘measurements’ as under that Act. It seems that this is one of the primary issues that the proposed legislation is designed to resolve.
In this regard, it might be unexceptional, being an expression of long-held views within the legal establishment. However, the devil is in the details, with three expansions in the power of state surveillance (in the name of criminal reforms) that merit further scrutiny.
First, the definition of measurements is not restricted to taking measurements, but also their “analysis”, when the definition now states “iris and retina scan, physical, biological samples and their analysis, behavio[u]ral attributes including signatures….” This definition is nebulous and vague. It goes beyond the scope of a law which is only designed for taking measurements and could result in indirectly conferring legislative backing for techniques which may involve the collection of data from other sources. For instance, using facial recognition technology where measurements of persons as under this law are compared with samples taken from the general public.
At present there are extensive facial recognition technology programmes for “smart policing” that are deployed all across the country. For instance, the Delhi police use facial recognition technology originally acquired for identification of missing children in 2018 to also screen for “habitual offenders”. Similarly, the Tamil Nadu police deploy facial recognition systems which are integrated with State- and national-level databases including CCTV footage. Such experimental technologies cause mass surveillance and are prone to bias, impacting the fundamental rights of the most vulnerable in India.
Data capture and ‘choice’
The second area of the expansion of surveillance concerns from whom such “measurements” can be gathered. The existing law permits data capture by police and prison officers either from persons convicted or persons arrested for commission of offences punishable with a minimum of one year’s imprisonment. Parallel powers are granted to judges, who can order any person to give measurements where it is in aid of investigation. While the judicial power is left undisturbed, it is the powers of the police and prison officials that are being widened. The law removes the existing — albeit minimal — limitation on persons whose measurements could be taken. It is poised to be expanded to all persons who are placed under arrest in a case. This is a truly breathtaking spectrum, including petty crime such as violating a prohibitory order for not wearing a mask, jaywalking or a traffic violation.
Here, the proposed Bill also contains muddied language stating that a person, “may not be obliged to allow taking of his biological samples”. This, on its surface, offers a choice to a person to refuse. However the words “may not be obliged” may also be read to offer discretion onto a police officer to confer such a choice. In any instance the exercise of such “choice” is presumed in law, it may not be truly voluntary, given the absence of wider accountability reforms in which existing policing practices are coercive.
Even if these objections are disregarded, the “choice”, if any, is limited only to, “biological samples” from the wider data points captured within what constitutes, “measurements”. For instance, “iris and retina scan” is mentioned separately to, “biological samples”, and hence a person arrested under any crime or preventive detention law if desired by the police will be required to scan their eyes.
Storage of data
The third area of concern is the database of the “measurements” which are gathered. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shall for a period of 75 years from the date of collection maintain a digital record, “in the interest of prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of any offense”. As pointed out by Prof. Aparna Chandra (an associate professor of law) on Twitter, “How will these records be used for preventing crime except through surveillance?” This becomes clear when the provision permits the NCRB to, “share and disseminate such records with any law enforcement agency, in such manner as may be prescribed”.
It is important to consider that the NCRB already operates a centralised database, namely the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network & Systems (CCTNS), without any clear legislative framework. The interaction between the proposed law and CCTNS is not clearly defined though likely, given the powers conferred under for digital records go to the same government department.
The existence of such legislative power with a technical framework may permit multiple mirror copies and parallel databases of the “measurements” being stored with law enforcement, beyond a State Police department which will be prosecuting the crime and the NCRB which will store all records centrally. For instance, in response to a Standing Committee of Parliament on police modernisation, Rajasthan has stated that it maintains a ‘RajCop Application’ that integrates with “analytics capabilities in real-time with multiple data sources (inter-department and intra-department)”. Similarly, Punjab has said that the “PAIS (Punjab Artificial Intelligence System) App uses machine learning, deep learning, visual search, and face recognition for the identification of criminals to assist police personnel. This app helps in storing and carrying information about criminals”. Hence, multiple copies of “measurements” will be used by State government policing departments for various purposes and with experimental technologies. This also takes away the illusionary benefit of deletion which occurs on acquittal and will suffer from weak enforcement due to the absence of a data protection law.
In sum, once a person enters their “measurements” within the system, they stay there for life given the average life expectancy in India which hovers around 70 years is less than the retention period. The end result is a sprawling database in which innocent persons are treated as persons of interest for most of their natural lives.
While the impact on persons with privilege may be minimal, the masses — many of whom lack social and economic power in Indian society — may face harsher law enforcement. This becomes clear from the primary research-based article, “Settled Habits, New Tricks”, by Ameya Bokil, Nikita Sonavane and Srujana Bej from the Criminal Justice and Police Accountability Project (the other writers include Avaneendra Khare and Vaishali Janarthanan). They pointed to the caste bias against the Pardhi Adivasi community which was at one time designated as a criminal tribe. In this context they state, “In reality since these databases are fed by the police’s centuries-long caste-based system of preventive surveillance and predictive policing (which has already determined who is a criminal and what crimes habitual criminals commit repeatedly), there is no possibility of objectivity or lack of caste bias. The CCTNS only adds a technological veneer to a caste-based policing model….” It is foreseeable that if the proposed ambit of “measurements” is expanded and then put in a database, it will likely also target the Pardhis.
Onus is on government
Injuries to privacy are not mere academic debates and cause real, physical and mental consequences for people. To protect individual autonomy and fulfil our constitutional promises, the Supreme Court of India pronounced the Justice K.S. Puttaswamy judgment, reaffirming its status as a fundamental right. The responsibility to protect it falls to each organ of the government, including the legislature and the union executive. For India to fulfil its claims of being a constitutional democracy, rather than a mere electoral democracy, it will have to be better rather than regressing even from the Identification of Prisoners Act passed by a colonial regime.
Apar Gupta is a lawyer and the Executive Director of the Internet Freedom Foundation. Abhinav Sekhri is an advocate practising in Delhi
7. The rise of the rouble amid the Ukraine invasion
How did the Russian currency bounce back so quickly after sanctions ? Will it continue with its upward trend ?
The rouble has recovered almost all of the losses it incurred following the Ukraine invasion and has surprised many people who had predicted that it would fall further.
The Russian central bank was able to achieve this through capital controls, that aim to increase demand for roubles and reduce the demand for dollars.
Though the rouble is recovering, the Russian economy is still poorer due to the exit of foreign businesses and boycott by the West.
The story so far: The Russian rouble has staged an impressive recovery after it lost about half of its value in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The currency has recovered almost all of the losses it incurred following the invasion and has thus, surprised many who had predicted a further fall in its value.
What kind of sanctions were imposed in Russia?
Sanctions were imposed on the Russian economy by Western governments right after Russia invaded Ukraine in late February. These sanctions included cutting off many Russian banks from the SWIFT payments signalling system and also freezing the Russian central bank’s foreign reserves held abroad.
Many western companies including oil majors such as British Petroleum and Shell also pulled out of Russia amid pressure from Western governments. Sanctions basically made it harder for Russian businesses to sell their goods abroad and also made it harder for ordinary Russians to purchase goods from abroad.
The freezing of the Bank of Russia’s forex reserves held abroad also made it harder for the Russian central bank to use its foreign reserves to prop up the value of the Russian currency. Naturally, the rouble experienced a sharp hit right after these sanctions, thus leading many to believe that the Russian economy had been brought to its knees.
Surprisingly, however, the Russian currency has staged a remarkable recovery in the last three weeks. It took about 81 roubles to purchase a US dollar one day before Russian forces invaded Ukraine on February 24. A couple of weeks later, it took 151 roubles to purchase a US dollar, marking the rouble’s low since the beginning of the war. This week, thanks to a significant rally from the lows of early March, it takes about 83 Russian roubles to buy a US dollar. The rouble has, thus, recovered pretty much all of the losses that it incurred in the aftermath of the war.
What’s driving the rouble’s sharp recovery?
It should first be noted that the price or exchange value of any currency is determined by the supply and demand for the currency. When Western governments imposed sanctions, it made it harder for dollars to flow into Russia, either in the form of investments or by the purchase of Russian goods. Sanctions on the Russian central bank also made sure that the Bank of Russia could not flood the currency market with US dollars to prop up the value of the rouble.
The demand for foreign goods and assets, however, remained stable and when combined with a drop in the inflow of dollars, it caused the value of the rouble to fall precipitously in the initial weeks of the war and the ensuing economic sanctions. The Russian central bank, it seems, was able to counter this negative trend in the forex market that had caused the rouble’s value to plunge against the US dollar. It managed to do this primarily through capital controls that aim to increase demand for roubles and reduce the demand for dollars. For example, the Bank of Russia ordered Russian energy exporters, who still had access to US dollars, thanks to exceptions in Western sanctions to Russian energy exports, to use 80% of their forex holdings to purchase roubles. It has also ordered Russian brokers to not allow foreigners to sell their assets in Russia; this is to prevent the outflow of capital which would further depreciate the rouble as investors sell their roubles to purchase dollars.
The Russian central bank’s decision to raise its benchmark interest rate to 20% could have also helped draw some foreign investment that propped up the exchange value of the rouble.
Lastly, peace talks between Russia and Ukraine have also perhaps helped in the rouble’s recovery to some extent by raising hopes of a return to economic normalcy. Some analysts, however, see the bounce-back of the rouble as a temporary rally in what could be a far deeper correction over the long-run.
What lies ahead?
The remarkable recovery of the rouble should not be taken as a sign that the Russian economy is hale and hearty. Capital controls imposed by the Russian central bank, including the use of dollars earned by selling Russia’s huge energy reserves to prop up the rouble, may help in shoring up the rouble but this respite for the rouble may be temporary. It should be noted that capital controls affect the free flow of capital and could have serious implications for Russia’s future economic growth since investors are generally wary of investing in economies that do not allow the free exit of capital. It should also be remembered that the Russian economy is poorer due to the exit of foreign businesses and the boycott of the Russian economy by the West.
Further, there are limits to how long the Russian state can prop up the value of the rouble against the US dollar, even with the help of various capital controls. A significant drop in crude oil prices or a European boycott of Russian energy, for instance, could significantly reduce the flow of dollars into Russia and thus, the ability of the Russian central bank to prop up the rouble.
8. The demand for restoring the old pension scheme
How will the National Pension Scheme benefit the employees ? What are the changes introduced in the scheme ?
The old pension scheme insures a life long income, post-retirement. The assured amount is equivalent to 50% of the last drawn salary.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee discontinued the old pension scheme in 2003 and introduced the NPS. The scheme is applicable to all recruits joining the Central Government service (except armed forces) from April 1, 2004.
The Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) is the regulator for NPS. PFRDA was set up through the PFRDA Act in 2013.
The story so far: On February 23, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot announced restoration of the old pension scheme for the government employees, who joined the service on or after January 1, 2004. The announcement meant that the National Pension System (NPS) would be discontinued in the State. Following this, another Congress-ruled State, Chhattisgarh announced restoration of the Defined Pension Benefit Scheme (DPBS/OPS). In the recently concluded Uttar Pradesh assembly election, Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav had announced the restoration of OPS, drawing the support of several government teachers and employees in the process. The BJP had maintained that restoration of the old system would cause an unnecessary financial burden on the government. The demand has resonated in other parts of the country. In the last week, protests were organised in J&K, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Trade unions across the country organised a two-day strike on March 28 and 29 and demanded scrapping of the old pension scheme. The Finance Ministry had earlier ruled out proposals by a federation of Central and State governments employees saying that the “changes will be financially untenable.”
What is the old pension scheme or the Defined Pension Benefit Schemes?
The scheme assures life-long income, post-retirement. Usually the assured amount is equivalent to 50% of the last drawn salary. The Government bears the expenditure incurred on the pension. The scheme was discontinued in 2004.
What is the National Pension System (NPS)?
The BJP-led Union government under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took a decision in 2003 to discontinue the old pension scheme and introduced the NPS. The scheme is applicable to all new recruits joining the Central Government service (except armed forces) from April 1, 2004. On introduction of NPS, the Central Civil Services (Pension) Rules, 1972 was amended.
It is a scheme, where employees contribute to their pension corpus from their salaries, with matching contribution from the government. The funds are invested in earmarked investment schemes through Pension Fund Managers. At retirement, they can withdraw 60% of the corpus, which is tax-free and the remaining 40% is invested in annuities, which is taxed. It can have two components — Tier I and II. Tier-II is a voluntary savings account that offers flexibility in terms of withdrawal, and one can withdraw at any point of time, unlike Tier I account. Private individuals can opt for the scheme.
What were the changes introduced in 2019?
In 2019, the Finance Ministry said that Central government employees have the option of selecting the Pension Funds (PFs) and Investment Pattern in their Tier-I account. The default pension fund managers are the LIC Pension Fund Limited, SBI Pension Funds Pvt. Limited and UTI Retirement Solutions Limited in a predefined proportion.
Who is the regulatory authority to manage the funds of government employees that are linked to the market?
The Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) is the regulator for NPS. PFRDA was set up through the PFRDA Act in 2013 to promote old age income security by developing pension funds to protect the interest of subscribers to schemes of pension funds.
What is the subscriber base?
As on February 28, there were 22.74 lakh Central government employees and 55.44 lakh State government employees enrolled under the NPS.
What is the latest directive from the government on the pension system?
The Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) informed Parliament on March 24 that there is no proposal to reintroduce the old pension scheme for Central government civil employees under consideration of the Government of India. Union Minister Jitendra Singh said that the returns being market-linked is a basic design feature of the NPS. However, pension being a long-term product also enables the investments to grow with decent returns, despite short term volatility. “Further, the prudential guidelines stipulated by the PFRDA, the skills of the professional Fund Managers chosen through a rigorous process, and choice of asset allocation across various asset classes (Equity, Corporate Bond, Government Securities) enable the subscriber’s accumulations to grow over the long term, riding over the short term volatility,” he said.
What will be the number of government employees impacted when Rajasthan and Chattisgarh revert to the old system?
According to Rajasthan Karmachari Samyukta Mahasangh president Gajendra Singh, the move would benefit over 4 lakh employees. In Chattisgarh, the move will benefit over three lakh employees, who joined service after January 1, 2004.
9. India prepared for climate refugees, Centre tells LS
Opposition seeks strategy on tackling emissions from coal
Union Ministers Bhupender Yadav and R.K. Singh on Thursday parried questions from Opposition members in the Lok Sabha on how India planned to address emissions from its coal plants and whether it had a strategy in place to deal with climate refugees, saying the government had provisioned for these and was taking steps to source more of its energy from non-fossil fuel sources.
Rising sea levels
As part of a discussion in the Lok Sabha on climate change, Kanimozhi of the Dravida Munetra Kazhagam (DMK) and Saugata Roy of the Trinamool Congress wanted to know if the government was prepared to deal with the influx of “climate refugees” or those who would be forced to move away from the coasts and their traditional habitations because of rising sea levels and soil erosion.
Mr. Roy sought to know how the government proposed to deal with coal plants and the environmental pollution resulting from mining and burning of coal given India’s commitment at the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP 26) to increase its share of renewable energy.
Mr. Yadav, who is the Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, gave a detailed reply on several aspects of environmental pollution, the rationale governing India’s position on climate change and how the country is balancing economic growth and its consequences to the environment.
“Western nations have a historical responsibility to address the greenhouse gas emissions they have emitted. We have a national adaptation fund and national disaster resilience infrastructure fund to take care of potential climate refugees,” he said.
Union Power Minister R.K. Singh said India had pledged at COP 15 in Paris that by 2030, 30% of its energy needs will be from non-fossil fuels.
“We are already sourcing, as of November , 40% of our energy needs from non-fossil fuel sources and will push it to 62% by 2030. International climate trackers have attested that we are the only major economy whose emissions pathway is consistent with keeping global temperatures below a two degrees rise. This context is important when discussing coal plants and we are among the few countries that have raised our ambitions, unlike many others, towards clean emissions,” the Minister said.
- There is no international definition of ‘climate refugees’, however, the concept was first introduced by Lester Brown of the World Watch Institute in the 1970s, wherein he used the term ‘environmental refugees’ to denote the forced migration of people due to environmental degradation and natural disasters.
- In other words, these are the people who are forced to migrate to other places or cross borders due to catastrophic weather and natural events that may be climate-change driven.
India and climate refugees
- India was the seventh most affected by the devastating impact of climate change globally in 2019 according to the Global Climate Risk Index 2021.
- The uneven monsoon across the country and extreme climate change-driven weather events are a matter of serious concern. This may force people to migrate internally within the Indian territory.
- Along with this, it is predicted that climate refugees from Bangladesh alone might outnumber all current numbers of refugees worldwide and these displaced people will seek shelter internally, as well as in neighbouring countries like India.
- From several studies and research reports, it is undisputedly clear that climate refugees as a phenomenon exists and is growing considerably, affecting countries worldwide including India.
- If the sea levels in Bangladesh rise, as has been predicted, undoubtedly there will be large-scale migration from the country towards India seeking refuge.
- Given this situation, India needs to contemplate. Without a proper legal or policy framework in place, dealing with such a crisis would be challenging, and the politicisation of the issue cannot be ruled out.
- From a humanitarian point of view, India would have no alternative but to accept and rehabilitate the refugees.
- Such sudden settlement and rehabilitation drive of refugees has the possibility of a fresh conflict between the refugees and indigenous people.
- At this point of time, when mass migration of climate refugees is imminent, safeguards to the fragile indigenous population become necessary to avoid future conflicts in the region.
- This requires legislative and policy measures so that the refugees get their due rights of settlement and rehabilitation; also ensuring the rights of indigenous people over the land and resources to avoid future conflicts between the groups.
- To ensure this, Indian lawmakers need to come up with a climate refugee framework and constitutional guarantee.
- Such measures will pave the way for the looming crisis that the world faces.
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