1.The power of scrutiny
SC has struck a blow for inquisitorial powers of legislatures against social media companies
The Supreme Court of India’s verdict last week, upholding the authority of a committee of the Delhi Assembly to summon a senior official of Facebook, is an extremely nuanced recognition of the extent of powers of State Assemblies in matters regulated by an Act of Parliament. The question mark about the powers arose in the first place because Facebook, whose India vice-president Ajit Mohan was repeatedly summoned by Delhi Assembly’s Committee on Peace and Harmony on the subject of the Delhi riots of 2020, argued before the Supreme Court that this was a case of overreach; and that Delhi’s law and order came under the central government. This was also the position taken by the central government, which argued that the Delhi Assembly had no jurisdiction in this matter. The social media platform also pointed out that it was governed by the IT Act of Parliament, and this is not therefore something that any State government can be concerned with. The Court, in upholding the summons, did not go merely by the legislative powers of a House. It rightly said, “The Assembly does not only perform the function of legislating; there are many other aspects of governance which can form part of the essential functions of the Legislative Assembly and consequently the committee.” Its point was that the “inquisitorial” and “recommendatory” powers of a House can be used for better governance. But it also cautioned the committee from “transgressing into any fields reserved for the Union Government”.
Significantly, the verdict comes amid a long phase of discordance over legislative turf between the central government and the Delhi government, something that the Bench led by Justice S.K. Kaul did note amid discussions about the spirit of federalism. Not just that. It also comes at a time when social media intermediaries are legally fighting some aspects of the new IT rules that govern them. Their responsibility toward the many legislatures will only become more heightened because of this verdict. The Court refused to buy the argument that social media intermediaries are “merely a platform for exchange of ideas without performing any significant role themselves”. It then linked what happens in these platforms to the real world. Misinformation on social media, the Court said, has had “a direct impact on vast areas of subject matter which ultimately affect the governance of States”. Given the constraints of the powers of the Delhi Assembly vis-à-vis law and order, the very fact that the Court found that its committee still could summon the Facebook India official without encroaching upon the turf of the Centre now opens the gates for scrutiny of social media platforms by other States, which however have significantly more powers with respect to law and order. The stage is set for more scrutiny.
2.VHP flays U.P.’s population Bill
‘Imbalance between communities due to different response to family planning’
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has objected to incentivising public servants and others to follow the “one-child norm” mentioned in certain sections of the proposed Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilisation and Welfare) Bill, 2021.
The objection pertains to not just the fact that China has had to reverse its one-child policy because of its negative impact of the availability of a working population, but because of what the VHP termed an “imbalance between different communities because they are known to respond differently to family planning and contraception”, flagging different Total Fertility Rates (TFR) between Hindu and Muslim communities in States such as Kerala and Assam.
The Bill has been published by the Uttar Pradesh Law Commission inviting suggestions and modifications, with Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath actively promoting it as a desired policy aim of his government.
China as example
VHP’s acting president Alok Kumar has written to the Law Commission formalising its objection, citing the example of China and its government’s recent relaxation of the one-child norm followed earlier to illustrate his point.
He asked that Section 5, 6(2) and 7 of the Bill “go well beyond” the said Bill’s objectives, which aimed to stabilise the population and promote the two-child norm.
“The Sections 5, 6(2) and 7 of the Bill, which incentivise public servants and others to have only one child in the family, go well beyond the said objects of the Bill in the Preamble,” Mr. Kumar said.
“In a contracting population, the ratio between the working age and dependent population gets disrupted,” the letter said.
“In an extreme case, the one-child policy would lead to a situation where there is only one working age adult to look after two parents and four grandparents. In China, which adopted the one-child policy in 1980, it was called the 1-2-4 phenomenon. To get over it, China had to relax its one-child policy,” it added.
“In the case of Uttar Pradesh, the one-child policy is likely to lead to further imbalance between different communities because they are known to respond differently to the incentives and disincentives related to family planning and contraception,” Mr. Kumar noted, citing examples of Assam and Kerala where, he stated, the TFR of Hindus was far below the replacement rate of 2.1, but that of Muslims was 3.16 in Assam and 2.33 in Kerala. “In these States, one of the communities has thus entered the contraction phase, while the other is still expanding,” he observed.
Many States have some type of incentive programme for population control, including Assam, with Uttar Pradesh, less than a year away from Assembly election, bringing in a draft law that promises to raise the political heat.
The Uttar Pradesh government on July 11, 2021, announced a new population bill known as the Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilization, and Welfare) Bill, 2021 on World Population Day.
Prepared by the Uttar Pradesh Law Commission (UPLC), the Draft of the Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilization, and Welfare) Bill, 2021 aims at curbing the population menace in the state. Uttar Pradesh, with a population of around 220 million, is India’s most populous state.
The Draft currently available on the state government’s website is open to suggestions and comments from the public till July 19, 2021. The Bill comprises incentives for those who limit their families to two children or less and disincentives for those who defy the two-children norm laid out in the bill.
Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilization, and Welfare) Bill, 2021: Key Provisions
• Focus on increasing access to contraceptive measures as stated under the Family Planning Programme. The bill also aims at providing a safe system for abortion.
• Reduce the maternal and newborns mortality rate.
• Introduce population control as a mandatory subject in all secondary schools.
• Better management of health, nutrition, and education of adolescents aged 11 to 19 years, and care of elderly as well.
• Increments, promotions, concessions in housing schemes, and perks to those who adhere to the laws outlined in the bill.
• Government employees who adhere to the two-children norm under the bill will be given 2 additional increments during their entire service, maternity or paternity leave of 12 months, along with complete salary and allowances and a 3 per cent raise in the Employer’s Contribution Fund (EPF) under the National Pension Scheme.
• Non-government employees who assist in curbing population menace will receive rebates in taxes on housing, water, home loans, etc.
• If the parent of a child undergoes vasectomy, he or she will be offered free medical facilities until the age of 20.
• Set up a state population fund to implement the measures under the bill.
Who will be covered under the UP Population Bill, 2021?
• The bill will apply to married couples wherein the boy is 21 years or older and the girl is 18 years or older.
• The bill will be voluntary in nature. It will not be enforced on everyone.
Significance for the UP Population Bill, 2021
• The Uttar Pradesh Population (Control, Stabilization, and Welfare) Bill, 2021 has been devised keeping in mind the urgent need, amid the growing population in the state, to ensure that all citizens have access to necessities such as safe drinking water, affordable food, access to quality education, decent housing, power or electricity for domestic consumption, economic or livelihood opportunities, and a secure living.