1. Kerala HC restrains Centre on IT rules
Online legal news portal challenges regulations
The Kerala High Court on Wednesday restrained the Centre from taking coercive action against Live Law Media Private Ltd., which owns a legal news portal, for not complying with Part III of the new IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.
The court issued notice to the Centre on a petition filed by the firm challenging the rules regulating digital news media, curated content (OTT platforms), and social media intermediaries.
When the petition came up, counsel for the Centre submitted that there was time till March 24 for complying with the rules.
The petition said Part III of the rules imposed an unconstitutional three-tier complaints and adjudication structure on publishers.
This administrative regulation on digital news media would make it virtually impossible for small or medium-sized publishers, such as the petitioner, to function. It would have a chilling effect on such entities, the petition said.
The creation of a grievance redressal mechanism, through a governmental oversight body (an inter-departmental committee constituted under Rule 14) amounted to excessive regulation, it contended.
The petitioner pointed out that Rule 4(2), which makes it mandatory for every social media intermediary to enable tracing of originators of information on its platform, purportedly in furtherance of Section 69 of the IT Act, violated Article 19(1)(a) (freedom of speech and expression).
It also deprived the intermediaries of their “safe-harbour protections” under Section 79 of the IT Act.
The petition also added that the rules obligating messaging intermediaries to alter their infrastructure to “fingerprint” each message on a mass scale for every user to trace the first originator was violative of the fundamental right to privacy of Internet users.
Social Media Guide lines Background:
- The Supreme Court (SC) had observed that the Government of India may frame necessary guidelines to eliminate child pornography, rape and gangrape imageries, videos and sites in content hosting platforms and other applications.
- An Ad-hoc committee of the Rajya Sabha laid its report after studying the alarming issue of pornography on social media and its effect on children and society as a whole and recommended for enabling identification of the first originator of such contents.
- The government brought video streaming over-the-top (OTT) platforms under the ambit of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
- New Guidelines for Social Media/Intermediaries:
- Categories of Social Media Intermediaries:
- Based on the number of users, on the social media platform intermediaries have been divided in two groups:
- Social media intermediaries.
- Significant social media intermediaries.
- Based on the number of users, on the social media platform intermediaries have been divided in two groups:
- Due Diligence to be Followed by Intermediaries:
- In case, due diligence is not followed by the intermediary, safe harbour provisions will not apply to them.
- The safe harbour provisions have been defined under Section 79 of the IT Act, and protect social media intermediaries by giving them immunity from legal prosecution for any content posted on their platforms.
- Grievance Redressal Mechanism is Mandatory:
- Intermediaries shall appoint a Grievance Officer to deal with complaints and share the name and contact details of such officers.
- Grievance Officer shall acknowledge the complaint within twenty four hours and resolve it within fifteen days from its receipt.
- Ensuring Online Safety and Dignity of Users:
- Intermediaries shall remove or disable access within 24 hours of receipt of complaints of contents that exposes the private areas of individuals, show such individuals in full or partial nudity or in sexual act or is in the nature of impersonation including morphed images etc.
- Such a complaint can be filed either by the individual or by any other person on his/her behalf.
- Additional Due Diligence for the Significant Social Media Intermediaries:
- Appointments: Need to appoint Chief Compliance Officer, a Nodal Contact Person and a Resident Grievance Officer, all of whom should be resident in India.
- Compliance Report: Need to publish a monthly compliance report mentioning the details of complaints received and action taken on the complaints as well as details of contents removed proactively.
- Enabling Identity of the Originator:
- Significant social media intermediaries providing services primarily in the nature of messaging shall enable identification of the first originator of the information.
- Required only for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offence related to sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, or public order,
- Or of incitement to an offence relating to the above or in relation with rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material punishable with imprisonment for a term of not less than five years.
- Removal of Unlawful Information:
- An intermediary upon receiving actual knowledge in the form of an order by a court or being notified by the Appropriate Govt. or its agencies through authorized officer should not host or publish any information which is prohibited under any law in relation to the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, public order, friendly relations with foreign countries etc.
- Categories of Social Media Intermediaries:
- Rules for News Publishers and OTT Platforms and Digital Media:
- For OTT:
- Self-Classification of Content:
- The OTT platforms, called as the publishers of online curated content in the rules, would self-classify the content into five age based categories- U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult).
- Parental Lock:
- Platforms would be required to implement parental locks for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher, and reliable age verification mechanisms for content classified as “A”.
- Display Rating:
- Shall prominently display the classification rating specific to each content or programme together with a content descriptor informing the user about the nature of the content, and advising on viewer description (if applicable) at the beginning of every programme enabling the user to make an informed decision, prior to watching the programme.
- Self-Classification of Content:
- For Publishers of News on Digital Media :
- They would be required to observe Norms of Journalistic Conduct of the Press Council of India and the Programme Code under the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act 1995 thereby providing a level playing field between the offline (Print, TV) and digital media.
- Grievance Redressal Mechanism:
- A three-level grievance redressal mechanism has been established under the rules with different levels of self-regulation.
- Level-I: Self-regulation by the publishers;
- Level-II: Self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies of the publishers;
- Level-III: Oversight mechanism.
- A three-level grievance redressal mechanism has been established under the rules with different levels of self-regulation.
- Self-regulation by the Publisher:
- Publisher shall appoint a Grievance Redressal Officer based in India who shall be responsible for the redressal of grievances received by it.
- The officer shall take decision on every grievance received by it within 15 days.
- Self-Regulatory Body:
- There may be one or more self-regulatory bodies of publishers.
- Such a body shall be headed by a retired judge of the SC, a High Court or independent eminent person and have not more than six members.
- Such a body will have to register with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
- This body will oversee the adherence by the publisher to the Code of Ethics and address grievances that have not been resolved by the publisher within 15 days.
- Oversight Mechanism:
- Ministry of Information and Broadcasting shall formulate an oversight mechanism.
- It shall publish a charter for self-regulating bodies, including Codes of Practices. It shall establish an Inter-Departmental Committee for hearing grievances.
- For OTT:
2. Work on floating solar power plant in final stages
The unit at Ramagundam is set to be commissioned by May-June next
The country’s biggest floating solar power plant till date, by generation capacity, which is being developed by the NTPC in the reservoir of its thermal plant at Ramagundam in Peddapalli district, Telangana, is set to be commissioned by May-June next.
Work on the 100 megawatt plant is in the final stages of completion.
This will be one of the renewable (solar) energy plants being developed by the NTPC with an installed capacity of 447 MW in the southern region and the entire capacity will be commissioned by March 2023.
Except for the 230 MW ground-mounted solar power plant at Ettayapuram in Tamil Nadu, the remaining 217 MW capacity was to be commissioned by May-June this year, Regional Executive Director (South) of NTPC C.V. Anand said here on Wednesday.
The radiation that is received from the sun and utilized in the form electricity and thermal energy by using various available technologie like photovoltaic panels, solar heater etc.
- India lying in tropical belt has an advantage of receiving peak solar radiation for 300 days, amounting 2300-3,000 hours of sunshine equivalent to above 5,000 trillion kWh.
- India’s current installed solar power capacity, according to Central electricity authority, is 26025.97 MW which is 34% of total renewable energy sources i.e, 75055.92 MW till February 2019.
- India facing problems in fulfilling its energy demand, solar energy can play an important role in providing energy security.
- Debate of global warming and climate change is compelling the world to move from fossil based energy towards clean and green energy.
- With its pollution free nature, virtually inexhaustible supply and global distribution, solar energy is very attractive energy resource.
- India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC’s) commitment include 100 GW of solar power out of 175 GW renewable energy by 2022.
Need of solar energy
- Energy security:
- India energy demands is largely fulfilled by non-renewable source of energy.
- The scarcity of these fossil resources stresses the need for renewable energy sources.
- Abundance of solar energy can fulfill India clean energy demands.
- India is dependent on imports to fulfill its energy demands, thereby incurring huge expenditure and uncertainty with regards to energy security.
- Economic development:
- India being a developing economy needs proper electricity for industrial growth and agriculture.
- India also needs self-sufficiency and minimal cost in power generation, assured regular supply, which will boost industries and economy.
- Social development:
- The problem of power cuts and unavailability of electricity especially in rural area, leads to improper human development.
- Mostly energy demands are fulfilled by subsidised kerosene, leading to loss for exchequer.
- Environment concern:
- India’s large part of energy demand is fulfilled by thermal energy largely dependent on fossil fuels.
- It also causes environment pollution
- Solar energy is clean form of energy resource, which can be a substitute.
- Solar Photovoltaic: Solar photovoltaic (SPV) cells convert solar radiation (sunlight) into electricity. A solar cell is a semi-conducting device made of silicon and/or other materials, which, when exposed to sunlight, generates electricity.
- Solar thermal: Solar Thermal Power systems, also known as Concentrating Solar Power systems, use concentrated solar radiation as a high temperature energy source to produce electricity using thermal route.
- Solar for grid connected electricity:
- Grid interactive solar energy is derived from solar photovoltaic cells and concentrated solar power Plants on a large scale.
- Solar for off-grid solutions:
- While, the areas with easier grid access are utilizing grid connectivity, the places where utility power is scant or too expensive to bring, have no choice but to opt for their own generation.
- They generate power from a diverse range of small local generators using both fossil fuels (diesel, gas) and locally available renewable energy technologies (solar PV, wind, small hydro, biomass, etc.) with or without its own storage (batteries). This is known as off-grid electricity.
- Solar Energy is available throughout the day which is the peak load demand time.
- Solar energy conversion equipment’s have longer life and need lesser maintenance and hence provide higher energy infrastructure security.
- Low running costs & grid tie-up capital returns (Net Metering).
- Unlike conventional thermal power generation from coal, they do not cause pollution and generate clean power.
- Abundance of free solar energy in almost all parts of country.
- No overhead wires- no transmission loss
Challenges in adoption
- India’s solar story is largely built over imported products.
- India’s domestic content requirement clause ia facing legal challenge at WTO.
- India is facing challenge to balance Prioritising domestic goals and WTO commitments.
- The dumping of products is leading to profit erosion of local manufacturers.
- Indian domestic manufacturers aren’t technically and economically strong to compete with Chinese companies.
- China’s strong manufacturing base is giving stiff challenge to domestic manufacturer.
- Land availability in India for solar plant is less due to high population density.
- India’s solar waste is estimated to be around 1.8 million by 2050 also needs to be tackled.
- Ministry of new and renewable energy is the nodal agency to tackle India’s renewable energy issues.
- National Solar Mission is a major initiative of the Government of India and State Governments to promote ecologically sustainable growth while addressing India’s energy security challenge.
- The Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA) is a Non-Banking Financial Institution under the administrative control of this Ministry for providing term loans for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.
- National institute of solar energy is created as autonomous institution under MoNRE is apex body for R&D.
- Establishment of solar parks and ultra major solar power project and enhancing grid connectivity infrastructure.
- Promotion of canal bank and canal tank solar infrastructure.
- Sustainable rooftop implementation of Solar transfiguration of India (SRISTI) scheme to promote rooftop solar power projects in india.
- Suryamitra programme to prepare qualified workforce.
- Renewable purchase obligation for large energy consumer customers.
- National green energy programme and green energy corridor.
For a developing country like India, where electricity for every home was once considered a dream is now close to reality. The government initiative of ‘power for all’ is changing the socio-economic structure of the country.
- The sector also has immense potential to create new jobs; 1 GW of Solar manufacturing facility generates approximately 4000 direct and indirect jobs.
- In addition solar deployment, operation and maintenance creates additional recurring jobs in the sector.
- Advancements are underway for storage, which has the potential to revolutionise this sector globally, till then dependence on fossils can be reduced by gradually increasing the share of renewables.
- India is expected to be 8% of global solar capacity by 2035. With the future potential capacity of 363 Gigawatts (GW), India can be a global leader in term of encashing energy sector advantages.
- India’s commitment as part of INDC at Paris climate deal to reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33 to 35% by 2030 from 2005 level.
- To achieve about 40 per cent cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel based energy resources by 2030, with the help of transfer of technology and low cost international finance, including from Green Climate Fund.
- The establishment of International Solar Alliance (ISA) of more than 122 countries initiated by India, most of them being sunshine countries, which lie either completely or partly between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn to promote solar energy.
- To mobilize more than US $ 1000 billion of investments needed by 2030 for massive deployment of solar energy, and pave the way for future technologies adapted to the needs.
3. ‘Dialogue with China will go on till friction points eased’
Minister elaborates on diplomatic initiatives by India
India will continue dialogue with China till disengagement is achieved from ‘all’ sectors, Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan said in Parliament on Wednesday. To a question, he said China had made several attempts since the spring of 2020 to “unilaterally alter” the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh.
“The government will continue discussions with the Chinese side to achieve the objective of disengagement from all friction points and restoration of peace and tranquillity in the border areas at an early date,” Mr. Muraleedharan said.
He elaborated on the diplomatic initiatives by India to solve the confrontation over the past one year.
Following the face-off, External Affairs Minister Jaishankar first had a telephone conversation with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on June 17. This was followed by a physical meeting on September 10 in Moscow. “The two Foreign Ministers agreed that the situation in the border areas is not in the interest of either side. They agreed therefore that the border troops of both sides should continue their dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions,” Mr. Muraleedharan said.
He said the two sides had held six meetings of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China border affairs (WMCC) and nine meetings of the senior commanders.
The statement said India had conveyed to the Chinese side that unilateral moves to change the LAC were “unacceptable” to New Delhi.
India-China Border Dispute
1914: A border China never agreed to
- The conflict stretches back to at least 1914.
- In 2014 representatives from Britain, the Republic of China and Tibet gathered in Simla to negotiate a treaty that would determine the status of Tibet and effectively settle the borders between China and British India.
- The Chinese, unhappy at proposed terms that would have allowed Tibet to be autonomous and remain under Chinese control, refused to sign the deal.
- But Britain and Tibet signed a treaty establishing what would be called the McMahon Line, named after a British colonial official, Henry McMahon, who proposed the border.
- India maintains that the McMahon Line, a 550-mile frontier that extends through the Himalayas, is the official legal border between China and India.
- But China has never accepted it.
1962: India-China War and origin of LAC
- Tensions rose throughout the 1950s.
- The Chinese insisted that Tibet was never independent and could not have signed a treaty creating an international border.
- There were several failed attempts at peaceful negotiation.
- China sought to control critical roadways near its western frontier in Xinjiang.
- India and its Western allies saw any attempts at Chinese incursion as part of a wider plot to export Maoist-style Communism across the region.
- By 1962, war had broken out.
- Chinese troops crossed the McMahon Line and took up positions deep in Indian territory, capturing mountain passes and towns.
- By November China declared a cease-fire, unofficially redrawing the border near where Chinese troops had conquered territory.
- It was the so-called Line of Actual Control.
1967: In Sikkim, India pushes China back
- Tensions came to a head again in 1967 along two mountain passes, Nathu La and Cho La, that connected Sikkim — then a kingdom and a protectorate of India — and China’s Tibet Autonomous Region.
- A scuffle broke out when Indian troops began laying barbed wire along what they recognized as the border.
- The scuffles soon escalated when a Chinese military unit began firing artillery shells at the Indians.
- In the ensuing conflict, more than 150 Indians and 340 Chinese were killed.
- The clashes in September and October 1967 in those passes would later be considered the second all-out war between China and India.
- But India prevailed, destroying Chinese fortifications in Nathu La and pushing them farther back into their territory near Cho La.
- The change in positions, however, meant that China and India each had different and conflicting ideas about the location of the Line of Actual Control.
- The fighting was the last time that troops on either side would be killed. — until the skirmishes in the Galwan Valley on Tuesday.
1987: A crisis averted
- In 1987, the Indian military was conducting a training operation to see how fast it could move troops to the border.
- The large number of troops and material arriving next to Chinese outposts surprised Chinese commanders — who responded by advancing toward what they considered the Line of Actual Control.
- Realizing the potential to inadvertently start a war, both India and China de-escalated, and a crisis was averted.
2013: Stand-off at Daulat Beg Oldi
- After decades of patrolling the border, a Chinese platoon pitched a camp near Daulat Beg Oldi in April 2013.
- The Indians soon followed, setting up their own base fewer than 1,000 feet away.
- The camps were later fortified by troops and heavy equipment.
- By May, the sides had agreed to dismantle both encampments, but disputes about the location of the Line of Actual Control persisted.
2017: Doklam Stand-off
- In June 2017, the Chinese set to work building a road in the Doklam Plateau, an area of the Himalayas controlled not by India, but by its ally Bhutan.
- Indian troops carrying weapons and operating bulldozers confronted the Chinese with the intention of destroying the road.
- A standoff ensued, soldiers threw rocks at each other, and troops from both sides suffered injuries.
- In August, the countries agreed to withdraw from the area, and China stopped construction on the road.
2020: Ladakh stand-off
- In May, melees broke out several times.
- In one clash at the glacial lake Pangong Tso, Indian troops were badly injured and had to be evacuated by helicopter.
- China bolstered its forces with dump trucks, excavators, troop carriers, artillery and armored vehicles, Indian experts said.
- What was clear was that it was the most serious series of clashes between the two sides since 2017 — and a harbinger of the deadly confrontation to come.
4. Indo-Pacific is key priority: White House
‘Early scheduling of the Quad summit signifies the group’s importance for the Biden administration’
The scheduling of the first-ever Quad leaders’ summit-level meeting within 50 days of the Biden administration signified the importance the administration places on the Indo-Pacific, the White House said on Tuesday.
“That President Biden has made this one of his earliest multilateral engagements speaks to the importance we place on close cooperation with our allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters about Friday’s virtual meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan.
The White House is expecting a range of issues to be discussed, including COVID-19, economic cooperation and the climate crisis.
In his interim strategic guidance to administration agencies and departments issued earlier this month, President Biden had said China was “the only competitor potentially capable of combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to mount a sustained challenge to a stable and open international system.”
Yet, the Biden administration has been careful to portray the Quad as something bigger than a grouping centred around the China challenge. It reiterated this position on Tuesday.
“It (Friday’s meeting) will showcase the Quad’s ability to pool our capabilities and build habits of cooperation to address some of those urgent challenges we face. At the same time, I would just note that the Quad is not about any single challenge. It’s not about any single competitor,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said. He was responding to a question on the extent to which the China-U.S. adversarial relationship would be discussed on Friday.
“This is an entity forged and formed because we share common interests. There, maritime security is, of course, an important one, but our shared interests go well beyond that. And I think you will see reflected in the agenda, the breadth of those shared interest in the aftermath of the Quad meetings,” he said. Mr. Price also said the fact that President Biden was due to meet with his counterparts on Friday and that Mr. Blinken had already held discussions with his Quad counterparts in February, signalled the U.S.’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific.
“It was important for us to underline in the early days of this administration, our commitment to the Indo-Pacific as we’ve said from this podium, it’s a region that holds tremendous promise for the U.S. Also tremendous challenge. We see ourselves as a Pacific nation, we see ourselves as engaged in this region. We want to deepen that engagement and this is an important forum with important partners with whom we share a good deal of interest,” he said.
The External Affairs Minister, who is on a two day visit to Russia, has said that Indo Pacific is one of the new concepts and approaches thrown up by the changing world. With various countries and international forums using the term Indo Pacific in their official statements, it is gaining currency in recent times.
India, France and Australia have held track 1.5 dialogue to identify security challenges and sustainability issues in the Indo Pacific region. Safeguarding freedom of navigation and keeping Indo Pacific stable was a crucial item on the agenda during Prime minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron’ s recently concluded annual summit in Paris.
|Note: The track 1.5 dialogue refers to top-level political decision-makers, yet in informal, non-official settings.These track 1.5 mediation/dialogue processes often serve to sort out and prepare for track 1 talks.The first level (track 1) includes negotiation between the leadership of two countries (e.g. political and/or military).|
The Term ‘Indo-Pacific’
- It is a recent concept. It was about a decade ago that the world started talking about the Indo-Pacific but its rise has been quite significant.
- One of the reasons behind the popularity of this term is an understanding that the Indian Ocean and the Pacific are a linked strategic theater.
- Also, the centre of gravity has shifted to Asia. The reason being maritime routes, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific provide the sea lanes. Majority of the world’s trade passes through these oceans.
- There was a time before the cold war when the centre of gravity of the universe was across the Atlantic i.e. trade was actually transiting from the Atlantic but now it has shifted.
- The earlier term used to be Asia-Pacific, from which India was excluded.
- This term was prevalent during the cold war time.
- The shift to the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ shows the salience of India in the new construct.
- Terrorism and the fear of assertion by a particular country in the region are major threats to the Indo-Pacific region.
- The Indo-Pacific region includes world’s four big economies: USA, China, Japan and India.
- The term ‘Indo-Pacific’ is interpreted differently by different stakeholders.
- India considers the region as an inclusive, open, integrated and balanced space. India continuously emphasises on strategic inter-connections, common challenges and opportunities between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.
- The U.S. considers it to be a free and open Indo-Pacific, highlighting the importance of rules or norms of conduct in the region, thus trying to contain the role of China in the region.
- The ASEAN countries look at Indo-Pacific as a consociational model, thus bringing in China not only for the sake of giving it some stakeholdership but looking for ways to cooperate with it in the region.
India’s Perspective of Indo-Pacific
- A lot of India’s special partners, the US, Australia, Japan and Indonesia actually look at Indo-Pacific as Asia Pacific plus India. They try to embed India into the strategic dynamic of Asia Pacific.
- They want India’s presence in the South China Sea, East China Sea, basically to counter China.
- India however, seeks to cooperate for an architecture for peace and security in the region. The common prosperity and security require the countries to evolve, through dialogue, a common rules-based order for the region.
- For India, Indo-Pacific stands for a free, open, inclusive region. It includes all nations in the geography and also others who have a stake in it. In its geographical dimension, India considers the area from the shores of Africa to the shores of America.
- India supports rule-based, open, balanced and stable trade environment in the Indo-Pacific Region, which lifts up all nations on the tide of trade and investment. This is the same as what the country expects from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
- Unlike China, India seeks a unified ASEAN, not a divided one. China tries to play off some ASEAN members against others, thereby in a way executing ‘divide and rule’ conquest strategy.
- India does not comply with the US version of Indo-Pacific, that seeks to contain Chinese dominance. India is rather looking for the ways through which it can work together with China.
- India is looking for democratising the region.
- Earlier, the region used to be almost like an American lake. However, there exists a fear that the region will become Chinese lake now. Scarborough Shoal dispute is an example here.
- India doesn’t want hegemony of any player in the region. India is working in trilaterals such as India-Australia-France, India-Australia-Indonesia to ensure that China does not dominate in the region.
China: A Threat or a Challenge
- China has been a threat to the Asia Pacific countries and is posing threat to Indian interests in the Indian Ocean as well.
- China has a hold over Hambantota port (Sri Lanka), which is just a few hundred miles off the shores of India.
- China is supplying military equipment to India’s neighbours such as submarines to Myanmar, frigate to Sri Lanka, equipment to Bangladesh and Thailand, thus, in a way, colonising the region.
- ASEAN: Some of the member countries of ASEAN have been under the Chinese influence and thus pose a threat to erode ASEAN’s solidarity with respect to the concept of Indo-Pacific.
- However, China is ASEAN’s largest trading partner and can hardly be sidelined by the entire grouping which further threatens India’s relations with the grouping.
- Southeast Asia is at the centre of Indo-Pacific and ASEAN is important for India, especially for the country’s Act East Policy. Also, ASEAN countries know that to balance China in the region, India’s presence is necessary.
- Despite several differences, the interests of India-China on some issues such as globalisation, climate change etc. match.
- Also, India and China are members of several international groupings such as BRICS, SCO etc.
- China therefore is viewed as more of a challenge to India’s stand in the Indo-Pacific than a threat to its significance in the region.
5. Sri Lanka invites Myanmar junta’s Minister
Wunna Maung Lwin has been invited to attend a virtual BIMSTEC meeting
Sri Lanka has invited Myanmar’s junta-appointed Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin for a virtual meeting of members of regional body BIMSTEC, which Sri Lanka currently chairs.
Pro-democracy activists in Myanmar slammed the move on social media, as Colombo’s outreach comes just over a month after Myanmar’s military seized power in Yangon. Sri Lanka has not commented on the development so far.
In a March 2 letter addressed to Mr. Wunna Maung Lwin, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunwardena said a ministerial meeting of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation would be held on April 1.
“The 17th ministerial meeting will greatly benefit from your Excellency’s valued participation, and I look forward to our close engagement over the course of the meeting,” the letter said.
Hundreds of Facebook users identifying as citizens of Myanmar left a trail of critical comments on the official page of Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry. They urged the Sri Lankan government to stand with the people of Myanmar, and not recognise or accept the military junta as legitimate government.
Commenting on Colombo’s invitation, Admiral (Retd.) Jayanath Colombage, Secretary to the Foreign Ministry, said Sri Lanka has invited the incumbent Foreign Ministers of all the fellow BIMSTEC members — Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Myanmar, and Thailand.
“Our invitation to the incumbent Foreign Minister of Myanmar is only within the ambit of BIMSTEC. Unless BIMSTEC expels Myanmar, Sri Lanka has no mandate to exclude them,” he told The Hindu on Wednesday.
Seeking to make a distinction between Colombo’s BIMSTEC summit invite to Myanmar, and its stance on the junta takeover, Mr. Colombage said the government was yet to decide on its position on the latter. “We are busy battling the Geneva [UN Human Rights Council] session, so we have kept that decision in abeyance,” he said.
Sri Lanka and Myanmar share close religious and cultural ties, as the majority community in both countries follow the Theravada strand of Buddhism.
Meanwhile, nearly 40 Sri Lankan activists staged a demonstration outside the Myanmar Embassy in Colombo on Wednesday, in solidarity with Myanmar’s protesting civilians.
- Described as the world’s most persecuted people, 1.1 million Rohingya people live in Myanmar. They live predominantly in Rakhine state, where they have co-existed uneasily alongside Buddhists for decades.
- The Rohingya are reviled by many in Myanmar as illegal immigrants and they suffer from systematic discrimination. The Myanmar government treats them as stateless people, denying them citizenship. Stringent restrictions have been placed on Rohingya people’s freedom of movement, access to medical assistance, education and other basic services.
- Violence broke out in northern Rakhine state when militants attacked government forces. In response, security forces supported by Buddhist militia launched a “clearance operation” that has killed at least 1,000 people and forced more than 300,000 to flee their homes.
- According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, there are approximately 40,000 Rohingyas living in India. They have reportedly reached India from Bangladesh through the land route over the years.
- Refugee law is a part of international human rights law. In order to address the problem of mass inter-state influx of refugees, a Conference of Plenipotentiaries of the UN adopted the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees in 1951.
- This was followed by the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees in 1967. One of the most significant features of the Convention is the principle of non-refoulement.
- The norm requires that “no contracting State shall expel or return a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” This idea of prohibition of expulsion lies at the heart of refugee protection in international law.
- It is often argued that the principle does not bind India since it is a party to neither the 1951 Convention nor the Protocol. However, the prohibition of non-refoulement of refugees constitutes a norm of customary international law, which binds even non-parties to the Convention.
- According to the Advisory Opinion on the Extraterritorial Application of Non-Refoulement Obligations, UNHCR, 2007, the principle “is binding on all States, including those which have not yet become the party to the 1951 Convention and/or its 1967 Protocol.”
- Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
- Moreover, Article 51 of the Constitution imposes an obligation on the state to endeavor to promote international peace and security. Article 51(c) talks about the promotion of respect for international law and treaty obligations.
- Therefore, the Constitution conceives of incorporation of international law into the domestic realm. Thus the argument that the nation has not violated international obligations during the deportation is a mistaken one.
- The chapter on fundamental rights in the Constitution differentiates citizens from persons. While all rights are available to citizens, persons including foreign citizens are entitled to the right to equality and the right to life, among others.
- The Rohingya refugees, while under the jurisdiction of the national government, cannot be deprived of the right to life and personal liberty.
- In National Human Rights Commission v. State of Arunachal Pradesh (1996), the Supreme Court held: “Our Constitution confers… rights on every human being and certain other rights on citizens.
- Every person is entitled to equality before the law and equal protection of the laws. Also, no person can be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law. Thus the State is bound to protect the life and liberty of every human being, be he a citizen or otherwise…”
- India lacks specific legislation to address the problem of refugees, in spite of their increasing inflow.
- The Foreigners Act, 1946, fails to address the peculiar problems faced by refugees as a class. It also gives unbridled power to the Central government to deport any foreign citizen.
- Further, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill of 2019 strikingly excludes Muslims from its purview and seeks to provide citizenship only to Hindu, Christian, Jain, Parsi, Sikh and Buddhist immigrants persecuted in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. The majority of the Rohingya are Muslims.
- This limitation on the basis of religion fails to stand the test of equality under Article 14 of the Constitution and offends secularism, a basic feature of the Constitution.
6. Editorial-1: A case for a revamped, need-based PDS
There should be political will to take this step, which would reduce the subsidy bill and the scope for leakages
The Economic Survey, tabled in Parliament in January, rightly flagged the issue of a growing food subsidy bill, which, in the words of the government, “is becoming unmanageably large.”
The reason is not far to seek. Food subsidy, coupled with the drawal of food grains by States from the central pool under various schemes, has been on a perpetual growth trajectory. During 2016-17 to 2019-20, the subsidy amount, clubbed with loans taken by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) under the National Small Savings Fund (NSSF) towards food subsidy, was in the range of ₹1.65-lakh crore to ₹2.2-lakh crore. In future, the annual subsidy bill of the Centre is expected to be about ₹2.5-lakh crore.
High drawal rate
During the three years, the quantity of food grains drawn by States (annually) hovered around 60 million tonnes to 66 million tonnes. Compared to the allocation, the rate of drawal was 91% to 95%. As the National Food Security Act (NFSA), which came into force in July 2013, enhanced entitlements (covering two-thirds of the country’s population), this naturally pushed up the States’ drawal. Based on an improved version of the targeted Public Distribution System (PDS), the law requires the authorities to provide to each beneficiary 5 kg of rice or wheat per month.
For this financial year (2020-21) which is an extraordinary year on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, the revised estimate of the subsidy has been put at about ₹4.23-lakh crore, excluding the extra budgetary resource allocation of ₹84,636 crore. Till December 2020, the Centre set apart 94.35 million tonnes to the States under different schemes including the NFSA and additional allocation, meant for distribution among the poor free of cost.
Importantly, the government has decided to abandon the practice of extra budgetary resource allocation and include in the food subsidy amount itself, arrears in loans outstanding of the FCI drawn through the NSSF. Even in the figure of revised estimates for 2020-21, the arrears constitute a portion.
Issue prices and politics
It is against this backdrop that the Survey has hinted at an increase in the Central Issue Price (CIP), which has remained at ₹2 per kg for wheat and ₹3 per kg for rice for years, though the NFSA, even in 2013, envisaged a price revision after three years.
What makes the subject more complex is the variation in the retail issue prices of rice and wheat, from nil in States such as Karnataka and West Bengal for Priority Households (PHH) and Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) ration card holders, ₹1 in Odisha for both categories of beneficiaries to ₹3 and ₹2 in Bihar for the two categories, according to an official document. Needless to say, in Tamil Nadu, rice is given free of cost for all categories; this includes non-PHH.
The Centre, by stating through the Survey that it is difficult to reduce “the economic cost of food management in view of rising commitment” towards food security, does not want the NFSA norms to be disturbed. But, a mere increase in the CIPs of rice and wheat without a corresponding rise in the issue prices by the State governments would only increase the burden of States, which are even otherwise reeling under the problem of a resource crunch. Political compulsions are perceived to be coming in the way of the Centre and the States increasing the prices. The politics of rice has been an integral feature of the political discourse. Promises by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in the 1967 Assembly election in Tamil Nadu — three measures (approximately 4.5 kg) at ₹1 — and the Telugu Desam Party during the 1983 poll in Andhra Pradesh — ₹ 2 per kg — captured the imagination of the voter. One should ponder over the advisability of keeping so low the retail prices of food grains at fair price shops, even after the passage of nearly 50 years and achieving substantial poverty reduction in the country. As per the Rangarajan group’s estimate in 2014, the share of people living below the poverty line (BPL) in the 2011 population was 29.5% (about 36 crore).
Recast the system
In this context, it is time the Centre had a relook at the overall food subsidy system including the pricing mechanism.
It should revisit NFSA norms and coverage. An official committee in January 2015 called for decreasing the quantum of coverage under the law, from the present 67% to around 40%. For all ration cardholders drawing food grains, a “give-up” option, as done in the case of cooking gas cylinders, can be made available. Even though States have been allowed to frame criteria for the identification of PHH cardholders, the Centre can nudge them into pruning the number of such beneficiaries.
As for the prices, the existing arrangement of flat rates should be replaced with a slab system. Barring the needy, other beneficiaries can be made to pay a little more for a higher quantum of food grains. The rates at which these beneficiaries have to be charged can be arrived at by the Centre and the States through consultations. These measures, if properly implemented, can have a salutary effect on retail prices in the open market. There are no two opinions about reforms implemented in the PDS through various steps, including end-to-end computerisation of operations, digitisation of data of ration cardholders, seeding of Aadhaar, and automation of fair price shops.
Yet, diversion of food grains and other chronic problems do exist. It is nobody’s case that the PDS should be dismantled or in-kind provision of food subsidy be discontinued. After all, the Centre itself did not see any great virtue in the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) mode at the time of giving additional food grains free of cost to the States during April-November last year (as part of relief measures during the pandemic). A revamped, need-based PDS is required not just for cutting down the subsidy bill but also for reducing the scope for leakages. Political will should not be found wanting.
7. Editorial-2: Towards peace on the border
India’s new policy of proactive diplomacy together with strong ground posturing is working
Things seem to be looking up for India in the neighbourhood. China has withdrawn its troops in eastern Ladakh across the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Pakistan has voluntarily come forward for a ceasefire across the Line of Control (LoC). The new U.S. administration has been issuing positive statements.
Shift in strategy
This is the second time in the last few years that China has been forced to make a reassessment of its ground strategy. Earlier in 2017, at Doklam where there was a 72-day stand-off, mobilisation of Indian forces led to the withdrawal of Chinese equipment and troops from the disputed area. It took almost 10 months for this to happen in Ladakh. It began at Pangong Tso; Depsang Plains and Hot Springs are yet to see the withdrawal.
This can be attributed to a conspicuous shift in India’s strategy. Prior to 2014, India used to engage in diplomacy and close matters through a quiet give and take in such conflicts along the LAC. In 2013, India was allegedly forced to dismantle some military structures as a part of the resolution process when China encroached into Depsang Valley. Indian troops used to generally avoid a face-off. That was the kind of peace we managed to maintain along the LAC.
But under the new policy, the Indian forces practice active engagement on the ground while their leadership engages in negotiations with their counterparts. This revised strategy of ‘proactive diplomacy together with strong ground posturing’ seems to be working well with our northern neighbour. Long ago, Chairman Mao Zedong had conveyed an important message to India through his Premier, Zhou Enlai. In August 1962, Mao had asked his army commanders to prepare for war with India. Zhou, a good friend of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, reminded Mao about the Panchsheel Treaty signed by the two countries, which mandated ‘peaceful coexistence’ as the core principle. Mao told Zhou to convey to Nehru that India and China should practice ‘armed coexistence’. This must always be remembered in dealings across the LAC.
The LoC too has seen some pleasant manoeuvres. In a sudden development, the Director Generals of Military Operations (DGsMO) of India and Pakistan decided on February 22 to strictly implement the 2003 ceasefire agreement. Coming after one of the worst years of ceasefire violations across the LoC (more than 5,000) and just before summer, this decision must be a greatly reassuring one for peace. On its part, India has always demonstrated its commitment to peace. A similar agreement was reached between the two DGsMO in 2018 too. However, there were violations by Pakistan, including the Pulwama attack. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan insisted that there would be no engagement with India until the status quo was restored in Jammu and Kashmir. All that seems passe now. There seems to be equal enthusiasm in Pakistan over the ceasefire.
Just as China’s withdrawal cannot be second-guessed, Pakistan’s climbdown too cannot be explained conclusively. The FATF sword is still hanging over Pakistan’s head, the economy is in precarious condition, COVID-19 has impacted exports, and there is a repayment crisis. China is helping its friend, but it looks unhappy about the uncertainty over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
Political pundits predict that when besieged from all sides, Pakistan has a propensity to spread terror and violence in India. India has enough experiences to appreciate Pakistan’s potential for mischief. That is why India has reiterated that there will be no let-up in counter-terror operations. But there is discernible change in General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s tone and tenor. Moeed Yusuf, Special Adviser on National Security in Pakistan, cryptically told journalists: “Do you think this could happen without pressure?”
Biden administration’s approach
Pakistan must be under pressure from India, the new U.S. administration as well as China. There are indications that the Biden administration will adopt a nuanced approach with China. In its own economic and strategic interest, China would prefer to give that a chance. It probably wants Pakistan also to fall in line. Contrary to fears, the Biden administration seems to be largely siding with India in its South Asia policy. “We are concerned by Beijing’s pattern of ongoing attempts to intimidate its neighbours. As always, we will stand with friends, we will stand with partners, we will stand with allies,” a State Department official stated recently on the border stand-off. In another statement, the U.S. State Department said it “welcomes” the steps taken to return Jammu and Kashmir to “full economic and political normalcy consistent with India’s democratic values”. India should seize this opportune moment. Taking a leaf out of Vajpayee’s statesmanship in 2003 may not be a bad idea.