1. Twitter’s petition on Section 69A of the IT Act
What is main point of contestation between the microblogging platform and the Central government?
On July 5, Twitter moved the Karnataka High Court seeking to set aside multiple blocking orders of the Central government as well as to alter their directions to identify specific violative content than imposing a blanket ban on individual accounts.
Section 69A of the IT Act empowers the government to restrict access to any content in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of the country. Twitter holds that the government has allegedly not shown why the restrictions were necessary in the interest of public order or for any other reason.
The disparity in assessment of what constitutes ‘free expression’ and harm to public order among the two entities is the premise of the entire contestation.
The story so far: On July 5, microblogging platform Twitter moved the Karnataka High Court seeking to set aside multiple blocking orders of the Central government as well as to alter their directions to identify specific violative content than imposing a blanket ban on individual accounts. According to Twitter, the blocking orders were “procedurally and substantially” non-compliant with Section 69A of the Information Technology Act (IT Act).
What has happened so far?
The U.S.-headquartered tech company had been speaking to the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology since May about a reconsideration of some of the blocking orders. However, in June the Ministry gave it a last opportunity to comply with the orders, setting out serious consequence for non-compliance. The Hindu learnt from a source privy to the development that it was owing to the seriousness of these warnings that Twitter filed the current writ petition challenging several of the blocking orders. Responding to the development, Minister of State for Information and Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar stated that while all foreign intermediaries have the right to judicial review, they also have the unambiguous obligation to comply with Indian laws.
What is the legality behind blocking content?
Section 69A of the IT Act empowers the government to restrict access to any content in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of the country, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states or for public order. All directions to restrict information or content in circulation must be recorded in writing. Social media intermediaries failing to comply with the regulations are liable to be monetarily penalised along with an imprisonment term which may extend up to seven years. The procedures for executing the provisions of the act are enlisted in the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009. It entails that a government-designated officer along with an examination committee assess the content in question within 48 hours of receiving the takedown request. It must enable an opportunity to the author or originator of the content to provide clarifications. The recommendations are then sent to the Secretary of the Dept of Information Technology for approval to forward a request to the social media intermediary for restricting access. Emergency provisions stipulate that the clarification be sought after the content has been blocked for specified reasons, but within 48 hours. They can be revoked after due examination. Internet advocacy groups have been particularly critical of Rule 16 that suggests strict confidentiality be maintained on all requests and actions taken thereof — often attributed to be the cause for lack of transparency. The mentioned legislations are to be read under the purview of Article 19 of the Indian Constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech and expression. However, Clause 2 of the article permits the state to impose ‘reasonable restrictions’ for the same reasons as those for Section 69A.
What is Twitter’s claim?
The microblogging platform states that it respects user expression while also taking into consideration applicable local laws. The disparity in assessment of what constitutes ‘free expression’ and harm to public order among the two entities is the premise of the entire contestation. Twitter restricts access to an allegedly violative content only based on a “valid and properly scoped request” from an authorised entity. However, the curtailment is limited to the jurisdiction that has issued the legal demand. Its policies stipulate that the author of the content must be informed if such a request is received or acted upon.
As per its transparency report for January to June 2021, India accounted for 11% of the overall legal requests received globally by the micro-blogging platform for moderating access to certain content. Moreover, during the period, internationally it received 43,387 legal demands to remove content specifying 1,96,878 accounts — the greatest observed spike since it started writing the transparency reports in 2012. It attributed the spike in accounts withheld to blocking orders issued under the IT Act. Its petition points to two structural problems, firstly, the absence of a case-specific rationale for blocking content and accounts, and secondly, not according the originators of the content the mandatory hearing.
What procedural issues has Twitter described?
Twitter holds that the government has been merely reproducing the words of Section 69A as reasons for blocking URLs and accounts. The government has allegedly not shown why the restrictions were necessary in the interest of public order or for any other reason. The Supreme Court’s ruling in The Superintendent, Central Prison, Fatehgarh vs Ram Manohar Lohia (1960) had held restrictions made in public interest must possess reasonable connection to the objective being achieved. They need to be set aside should the co-relation be “far-fetched, hypothetical or too remote”, in other words, bearing no proximity to public order.
The concerns are further aggravated when the directions are aimed at blocking individual accounts (in other words, temporary or permanent revocation of an individual’s presence on the platform) and not the specific content. Therefore, the contestation now extends to interrogating if the scope of the legislation is restricted to already-existing content or content that could be potentially generated in the future (by the censored individual). One of the prime reasons why the Supreme Court had upheld the constitutionality of Section 69A in Shreya Singhal vs Union of India (2012) was its adherence to accord a hearing to the author of the content as well as the intermediary. It is guaranteed under Rule 8 of the procedural norms but Twitter stated that the government has neither provided any notice nor any hearing.
What kind of content has fallen under the purview of Section 69A?
Between February 2, 2021 and February 28 this year, Twitter received directions to block 1,474 accounts and 175 tweets in India. Of these, it is challenging 39 URLs with its latest petition. Several of these URLs had journalistic or political content. Previous judgments of the Supreme Court have suggested the content must be viewed from the standards of a “strong-minded, firm and courageous” person. The assessment must not be from the standpoint of a “weak” and “vacillating” individual who may sense danger in every hostile point of view. It is in this light that Twitter has argued the blocked content does not meet the “threshold” for restricting access. Twitter has also argued that the vast majority of people who consume the content under scrutiny are necessarily literate and can reasonably perceive the full context of the content.
2. The ongoing dialogue between Pakistan and the TTP
Why is the TTP adamant on the reversal of the merger between FATA and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province? Is a peace agreement possible?
On June 2, the TTP announced an “indefinite ceasefire” given the “substantial progress” made in talks with the Pakistan government during a round of meetings.
The latest round of talks began in 2021 after Pakistan President Dr. Arif Alvi suggested that the government could consider giving amnesty to those members of the TTP who have not remained involved in “criminal activities” and who lay down their weapons and agree to adhere to the Constitution
The Afghan Taliban has played the role of a mediator in the ongoing negotiations. They have maintained that they will not act against the TTP and that if a deal was to be made with the group, Islamabad would have to make significant concessions.
Abigail Miriam Fernandez
The story so far: On June 29, Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, chief of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) during an interview on YouTube said that the group would not back down from its primary demand for reversal of the merger of the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province in 2018. This statement comes amid ongoing negotiations between the government of Pakistan and the TTP in Kabul with the Afghan Taliban’s interim government facilitating the negotiations. On June 2, the TTP announced an “indefinite ceasefire” given the “substantial progress” made in talks with the government during a round of meetings. This announcement came a day after a 50-member jirga (tribal council) comprising elders of major tribes and clans from KP visited Kabul and held talks with the TTP leaders.
What has been the history of Pakistan and TTP negotiations?
Negotiations between the TTP and the Pakistan government have been held since 2007. However, the talks have failed to bring stability and peace. The first round of negotiations with the TTP took place in May 2007 when a nine-point peace deal was reached wherein the TTP agreed to stop attacks on security forces and government installations. They stated that they would not disturb peace in the region. Similar talks took place in 2008, 2011, 2013, and 2014 during which the TTP agreed to denounce militancy and condemned the elements involved in attacks on state institutions, police and other law-enforcement agencies.
What has been the focus of current talks?
The latest round of talks began in 2021 after Pakistan President Dr. Arif Alvi suggested that the government could consider giving amnesty to those members of the TTP who have not remained involved in “criminal activities” and who lay down their weapons and agree to adhere to the Constitution. Following this, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government under Imran Khan announced that they were holding talks with the TTP so that its members may surrender and reconcile in order “to be able to live like ordinary citizens.”
During the talks, aside from the TTP’s primary demand for reversal of the merger, it is also insisting on the withdrawal of security forces from the tribal districts, amnesty for its fighters and the enforcement of Sharia in the Malakand Division. Conversely, the government has maintained that all negotiations would take place within the framework of the Constitution.
Why is the TTP stubborn on certain clauses?
The TTP’s main demand has been the reversal of the merger of FATA with the KP province. The TTP has been persistent because of many reasons. Despite the fact that the TTP is not a monolithic group, the most powerful factions within it have been the Mehsud Group which consists mostly of Pashtuns, an ethnic group present mostly in FATA and the KP regions of Pakistan. Thus, the FATA regions give the TTP recruitment and operational leverage due to the concentration of indigenous and migrant Pashtuns whose unique political grievances the TTP exploits. Secondly, the FATA region offers the TTP operational leverage due to its trans-national operational potential and its ability to use Afghanistan as a safe haven by exploiting its cross-border, trans-national linkages with ethno-militant groups such as the Haqqani Network.
So, where does it leave Pakistan?
The state’s endgame involves convincing the TTP to agree to a long-term cease-fire as well as dissolving its organisation so that they may join mainstream politics. It is for this purpose, the state has once again reopened channels of communication. The negotiations with the TTP have been carried out largely by the Pakistan military and intelligence services.
The military has been authorised to hold talks with the TTP and report back on the progress of the talk, following which the issue will be debated in Parliament. The previous PTI government had a softer approach while negotiating with the TTP, however, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s ruling coalition has taken a harder stance. The next phase of the negotiation would be shaped by the domestic politics at play in Pakistan. However, with the TTP setting impossible conditions, the state is once again posed with a challenge on how to reach an understanding.
Does the civil society approve talks with the TTP?
Civil society and experts have argued that militant groups should not be allowed to dictate how the state and its security forces operate. Moreover, they raised questions as to whether the state is willing to forgive a group that has the blood of thousands of citizens on its hands. The initial round of negotiations initiated by Imran Khan was heavily criticised due to the lack of accountability and the secrecy around the talks. Additionally, the people remain apprehensive about the TTP’s willingness to give up completely given that the group has been responsible for some of the most atrocious acts of terrorism in Pakistan. Moreover, civil society has demanded more transparency in the talks with the TTP.
What has been the role of the Afghan Taliban?
The Afghan Taliban has played the role of a mediator in the ongoing negotiations. They have maintained that they will not act against the TTP on Pakistan’s wishes and that if a deal was to be made with the group, Islamabad would have to make significant concessions. The Taliban’s role in the negotiations stem from Pakistan’s pressure to bring the TTP to the negotiating table and its long-standing support for the TTP, which is appreciated for its contribution in fighting alongside the Taliban against the U.S. and the former Afghan government. However, the Taliban’s position remains unclear as siding with the TTP’s demands while beneficial could also pose a threat if the TTP controls the entire territory it is demanding.
3. Sown area of paddy rises marginally
Centre asks States to encourage farmers to increase cultivation citing the global demand for grain
The area sown with paddy rose marginally from that of the previous week, but was 23.95% less than in the corresponding period of last year, according to data collected by the Crop Division of the Union Agriculture Ministry till July 8.
The difference in the area coverage from the 2021 figure is 22.75 lakh hectares. Sowing of pulses such as black gram and yellow split pigeon pea has decreased, while the cultivation of green gram (moong dal) has increased by 37.47% and other pulses by 135.12%.
The Ministry has been maintaining that it is too early to suggest a decrease in paddy cultivation in the States during this kharif season.
Farmers’ organisations, on the other hand, have been claiming that scarcity of water and fertilizers is forcing farmers to reduce the sowing of paddy.
Till July 1, the decrease in area was about 27%.
Chhattisgarh showed a decrease of about 6.1 lakh hectares, while the area in Punjab is down by 4.8 lakh hectares. In Madhya Pradesh, there has been a decrease by 4.6 lakh hectares.
Madhya Pradesh showed the most decrease — by 22.4 lakh hectares — in the sowing of all kharif crops, while Rajasthan increased cultivation by about 25 lakh hectares till July 8.
On total oilseeds too, the decrease in cultivation is more than 20%.
Groundnut and soyabean cultivation is down by 18.95% and 21.74%, respectively.
Farmers seem to have preferred to sow sunflower during this kharif season as its cultivation has increased by about 43%, though the acreage is just about 1.16 lakh hectares.
Among coarse cereals, Bajra has shown an increase of about 79.26%, while the cultivation of jowar, ragi, maize and small millets have significantly reduced as compared to last year’s cultivation.
The Centre has been asking the States to encourage farmers to cultivate paddy, citing the global demand for the foodgrain. It has been pushing for nutrition security by asking farmers to raise coarse cereals.
The increasing prices of edible oils due to import dependence had given tough moments for the Centre recently.
4. IIT-K setting up air-quality sensors
It will install 1,400 units in U.P., Bihar
To bolster measurement of air pollution in rural India, the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, is embarking on a $2.5-million project to install nearly 1,400 sensors in the rural blocks of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The three-year project is expected to be a pilot that, going ahead, could pave the way for a national network of air quality sensors in rural India.
“The outcomes from this network will help local communities, policy makers and researchers understand the ground situation. Data from this network will also be made available in real-time to enable actionable and evidence-based decision-making,” said Sachidanand Tripathi, project leader and Professor at IIT-Kanpur.
Air pollution in India is largely framed as an urban blight though causes of pollution, such as biomass burning and reliance on diesel generators for electricity, are worsening air quality in villages too.
In 2019, the government launched the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) to reduce particulate matter air pollution by 20-30% by 2024. This, however, is primarily aimed at 122 cities that have been categorised as India’s most polluted cities. At its launch, government officials had committed to increasing the network of rural air pollution monitoring sensors but little progress has been made on that front. Despite having several cities in the world’s list of the most polluted cities in the world, India still has very few sensors relative to the size of its population due to which the magnitude of the air pollution crisis is obscured.
Cities, because of their population density and industrial establishments, continue to be the overwhelming source of emissions. The country’s current annual safe limits for PM 2.5 and PM 10 are 40 micrograms/per cubic metre (ug/m3) and 60 micrograms/per cubic metre.
Under NCAP, ₹375.44 crore was provided to 114 cities from 2018-19 to 2020-21 and ₹290 crore was allocated to 82 cities for the financial year 2021-22. The programme has an allocation of ₹700 crore envisaged for 2021-26.
Air pollution refers to any physical, chemical, or biological change in the air. It is the contamination of air by harmful gases, dust, and smoke which affects plants, animals, and humans drastically.
There is a certain percentage of gases present in the atmosphere. An increase or decrease in the composition of these gases is harmful to survival. This imbalance in the gaseous composition has increased Earth’s temperature, which is known as global warming.
Air pollution is defined as the introduction of pollutants, organic molecules, or other unsafe materials into Earth’s atmosphere. This can be in the form of excessive gases like carbon dioxide and other vapours that cannot be effectively removed through natural cycles, such as the carbon cycle or the nitrogen cycle.
Pollutants are the substances which cause pollution; air pollution is caused by air pollutants.
Types of Air Pollutants
Classification of Pollutants
The particles that pollute the air by being suspended can be defined as particulate pollutants.
These particles are results of some anthropogenic processes like vehicles, industries, construction sites/activities, etc. or natural sources like pollen, volcanic eruptions, natural gaseous precursors, etc.
- Their size ranges from 0.001 to 500 micrometers (µm) in diameter.
- Particulate pollutants can do vast damage to the human respiratory system.
- PM 2.5 particles (2.5 µm or less) are declared as one of the most harmful particulate pollutants by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). They are so tiny that they can be detected only with the help of an electron microscope.
- These fine particulates can be inhaled deep into the lungs and can cause breathing and respiratory problems, irritation, inflammations, and pneumoconiosis (a disease of the lungs caused due to the inhalation of dust.
- It is characterized by inflammation, coughing, and fibrosis – excess deposition of fibrous tissue).
- Lead is one of the most hazardous heavy metals.
- Lead can cause serious damage to the human body like:
- Nervous system damage
- Digestive issues
- Kidney damage
- Impacts on intelligence
- Hence, Lead was banned as an additive to fuels and other products.
- Lead mixed with water and food can create cumulative poisoning.
- It has long term effects on children as it lowers intelligence.
- Fly Ash is particles of oxides and other heavy metals. The majority of them are aluminum silicate (in large amounts), silicon dioxide (SiO2), and calcium oxide (CaO).
- Thermal power plants are a major source of Fly Ash pollutants.
- Its deposition in agricultural fields can cause heavy metal contamination of crops and vegetables.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests has made it mandatory to use Fly Ash-based products in all construction projects, road embankment works, and low lying landfilling works that are within a 100 km radius of Thermal Power Stations and mine-filling activities within a 50 km radius of Thermal Power Stations.
- Nanoparticles have diameters less than 100 Nanometers (10-9).
- NP is responsible for the formation of dust clouds, Ozone depletion, environmental hydroxyl radical concentration, and stratospheric temperature changes.
5. Editorial-1: What ails the current approach to Ayurveda
Valuable observations on health need to be delinked from outdated theories, implausible conjectures and superstitions
Ayurveda, India’s traditional medicine, has been in practice for close to three millennia. Even today, this ancient system serves the health-care needs of millions of Indians. The adaptation of a traditional knowledge-system for current use comes with its challenges, which, if dealt with lackadaisically, can endanger the welfare of its users. A few challenges that the Ayurveda establishment has for long failed to skilfully address are discussed here.
Speculations versus facts
Ayurveda’s ancient treatises, for obvious reasons, cannot be expected to retain relevance in their entirety. They contain useful portions alongside obsolete ones. Therefore, a dispassionate sifting through their contents is a prerequisite for their prudent practical use. Valuable observations relating to health promotion and illness management need to be carefully sifted from outdated theories, implausible conjectures, and socio-religious superstitions.
An example would make this point clear. While documenting its observations on the benefits of physical exercise, an Ayurveda classic notes: “A sense of ease, improved fitness, easy digestion, ideal body-weight, and handsomeness of bodily features are the benefits that would accrue from regular exercise.” These observations are as valid today as they were 1,500 years ago when they were first documented. But, such continued validity cannot be claimed for the physiological and pathological conjectures the same text contains.
On urine formation, for instance, the text posits that tiny ducts from the intestines carry urine to fill the bladder. This simplistic scheme of urine formation has no role for the kidneys at all. Needless to say, this very outdated idea can have no place in current medical education except as an anecdote from history. Placing such conjectural ideas side by side with modern physiology and implicitly equalising the truth value of both is a serious malaise that has been plaguing the current approach to Ayurveda. Teachers of Ayurveda physiology have the unenviable job of constantly grappling with the difficulty of reconciling ancient speculations with established scientific facts.
Two main factors — one theoretical and the other epistemological — have led to this sad situation. The tridosha theory of Ayurveda is a rough-and-ready model that the ancients devised to systematise their medical experience. Clinical features of illnesses and therapeutic measures to manage them were all classified on the basis of this heuristic model. In the absence of a cogent understanding of the biological processes underlying health and illness, speculations on these topics were also woven around the same model. The theory thus has aspects that are heuristically tenable alongside those that are merely conjectural. Recasting the theory in a way that retains the relevant aspects while jettisoning the obsolete parts is a priority area in Ayurvedic research. The research centres under the Ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga and naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy) have remained oblivious to this important work and their omissions have resulted in retaining the theory, lock, stock, and barrel. Consequently, outdated pathophysiological conjectures have become fossilised in the current approach to the subject.
The other factor that has been instrumental in choking the renewal of Ayurveda is the widespread belief among its academics that ancient texts, by virtue of their being divined by sages in deep yogic states, retain timeless relevance. This notion of epistemic superiority has its roots in the hugely influential memorandum on the Science and Art of Indian Medicine authored by G. Srinivasa Murti. The memorandum formed part of two reports: of the Usman Committee (1923) and later, of the Chopra Committee (1948). The flawed idea, antithetical to the yukti-vyapashraya (reason-based) character of classical ayurveda, has kept the field from demystifying its theories and achieving the reforms long overdue. In short, the belief in epistemic superiority has dethroned ancient medical writings from being revisable scientific treatises into being dogmatic scriptures.
A century ago, P.S. Varier of the Arya Vaidya Sala Kottakkal noted that the “Sareerasthana (section on body structure and function in the Ayurvedic classics) must firstly be revised and made clearer and the remaining parts must be suited to it (sic). Secondly, after this, the other important works should also be corrected. Necessary additions must be made either by translations or by collaboration with experts in portions still deficient.” Ironically, Varier’s submission also forms part of the Usman Committee report alluded to earlier. His suggestions though appear to have fallen on deaf ears. More recently, scholars such as Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya and Priyavrat Sharma have also drawn attention to the myth of epistemic superiority that has rendered Ayurveda texts non-revisable. But the Ayurveda establishment and its research centres have stayed intellectually inept to address the issue. What can enhanced funding do in a field that lacks a vibrant intellectual resource?
A renewed plea to reform
A recent article in the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics has renewed the plea to reform and update Ayurveda. Titled “Confessions of an Ayurveda Professor”, the article is authored by Kishor Patwardhan, a faculty member of Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi. Prof. Patwardhan has candidly admitted that the anatomy and physiology contained in the Ayurvedic classics is mostly outdated and that the official approach to this subject is misguided. He has also disclosed the ecosystem-influences that made him adopt a wrong approach to the subject and the ill-effects this approach has had. While implicitly retracting his bookHuman Physiology in Ayurveda, he has called for a thorough change in the curriculum.
This article also points out the flawed approach of making ancient concepts sound relevant by super-imposing current scientific findings upon them. In addition to resulting in a travesty of truth, such misinterpretations in a practical field such as Ayurveda carry the risk of leading to dangerously wrong clinical choices. While petitioning for a scientific scrutiny of Ayurveda’s foundational theories, the professor hopes that Ayurveda students get to unreservedly study current anatomy and physiology.
The basic truth
The Ministry of AYUSH must wake up and take cognisance of the points made here. Academics drawing handsome salaries from government-run AYUSH institutes need to see how sinful it is to hand over an unprocessed proto-science to gullible youngsters and then mislead them into believing that it is a super-sophisticated advanced science. As a medical system, Ayurveda is valuable immensely for its observations, only marginally for its theories, and not at all for its speculations. The sooner the establishment comes to terms with this basic truth, the better.