Daily Current Affairs 20.02.2023 ( Indians go West, take up ‘residence by investment’, Chandrayaan-3 lander successfully completes key test, ‘Selfie With Daughter’ to focus on sex workers in G-20 countries, The curious case of the disqualification of a politician, A picture of Islam that is quite different, The SC on sealed cover jurisprudence,‘Regional disparities will increase in the absence of assistance to poor States’, India plans to export solar power: official)

Daily Current Affairs 20.02.2023 ( Indians go West, take up ‘residence by investment’, Chandrayaan-3 lander successfully completes key test, ‘Selfie With Daughter’ to focus on sex workers in G-20 countries, The curious case of the disqualification of a politician, A picture of Islam that is quite different, The SC on sealed cover jurisprudence,‘Regional disparities will increase in the absence of assistance to poor States’, India plans to export solar power: official)


1. Indians go West, take up ‘residence by investment’

High net-worth individuals are making a beeline for such programmes in U.S., Portugal, Australia, Malta and Greece in search of better opportunities, healthcare, quality of life and education

Pankaj Sharma, 50, moved to Canada in 2019. He followed his wife, Pooja Tandon, an IT professional who was offered a role there. In 2022, they applied for permanent residency that will make them eligible for citizenship after five years, on fulfilling certain conditions.

“The primary reason to move was professional, but after coming here, we realised that our daughter was at a stage in her life that we could not change her education system too often, so we applied for permanent residency and got it,” Mr. Sharma said. He said his daughter, who often fell sick in Delhi due to air pollution, has not complained of chest infection since they moved to Canada.

In 2022, over 2.25 lakh Indians renounced Indian citizenship, the highest since 2011, according to data from the Ministry of External Affairs. The data reflect how Indians, especially high net-worth individuals (HNIs), are moving westward in search of better opportunities, healthcare, quality of life, and education, among other factors.

HNIs are those who have wealth of over $1 million or ₹8.2 crore. According to the Henley Global Citizens Report, there were3.47 lakh HNIs in India in December 2021.Of these, 1.49 lakh HNIs were found in just nine cities: Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Pune, Chennai, Gurugram, and Ahmedabad.

Industry representatives say there has been a surge in requests for residence-through-investment programmes, especially the U.S. EB-5 visa, Portugal Golden Visa, Australian Global Talent Independent Visa, Malta Permanent Residency Programme, and Greece Residence by Investment Programme.

2. Chandrayaan-3 lander successfully completes key test

The Chandrayaan-3 lander has successfully completed the crucial EMI-EMC (electro-magnetic interference/ electro-magnetic compatibility) test at the U.R. Rao Satellite Centre here.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said on Sunday that the lander for the Chandrayaan-3 mission underwent the test during January 31-February 2.

According to the agency, the EMI-EMC test is conducted to ensure the functionality of the satellite subsystems in the space environment and their compatibility with the expected electromagnetic levels.

Major milestone: ISRO

“This test is a major milestone in the realisation of the satellites,” the space agency said.

Chandrayaan-3, India’s third moon mission, is slated to be launched later this year from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota.

3. ‘Selfie With Daughter’ to focus on sex workers in G-20 countries

The “Selfie With Daughter”, a social media campaign, has “sex workers” as its theme for the current year to put the spotlight on issues of this community among the participating countries of the G-20 summit scheduled to be held in India later this year.

The campaign was launched by Haryana’s Bibipur village sarpanch Sunil Jaglan in 2015.

Mr. Jaglan, a two-time Rashtriya Gaurav Gram Sabha Puraskar winner, said there were around 1,100 red light areas in India. “The number of sex workers ran into several lakh and this figure became manifold for the G-20 countries. But several pressing issues of this large community, including health, education for their children, and identity cards, remained unaddressed,” he pointed out.

“It was a phone call from a sex worker from Nagpur, seeking my attention to their plight, that I got to know about their issues and decided to focus on them for the campaign this year,” said Mr. Jaglan.

4. The curious case of the disqualification of a politician

The instance where the Kerala High Court, in January this year, suspended the verdict passed by the Kavaratti District and Sessions Court (in an attempt to murder case) in which the then sitting Member of Parliament (MP) of Lakshadweep and Nationalist Congress Party leader Mohammed Faizal P.P. was sentenced to 10 years in jail, has raised an interesting question on his disqualification. The issue is on whether disqualification for conviction is final or whether it can be revoked. This issue can arise whenever a legislator is disqualified. This is not very rare — Samajwadi Party Member of the Assembly Abdullah Azam Khan was disqualified from the Uttar Pradesh legislature just a week ago.

The background

The facts are as follows. Mr. Faizal was convicted by the Kavaratti sessions court on January 11 for attempt to murder, and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. On January 13, the Lok Sabha announced that he was disqualified as an MP with effect from the date of conviction. On January 18, the Election Commission of India (ECI) fixed February 27 as the date for by-election to that constituency, with the formal notification to be issued on January 31. Mr. Faizal appealed to the Kerala High Court for a stay on his conviction and sentence, which the High Court suspended on January 25.

The High Court said that the consequence of not suspending the conviction is drastic not just for Mr. Faizal but also for the nation. The cost of a parliamentary election would have to be borne by the nation and developmental activities in Lakshadweep will also stop for a few weeks. The elected candidate will have just 15 months to function till the end of the term of the current Lok Sabha. Given these exceptional and irreversible consequences, it suspended his conviction until disposal of the appeal.

Mr. Faizal challenged the ECI’s announcement in the Supreme Court of India. On January 30, the ECI said it was deferring the election.

The question now is whether Mr. Faizal will automatically resume his membership of the Lok Sabha. The answer lies in deciding whether the cancellation of disqualification takes effect from January 25 (when the High Court suspended the conviction) or whether the clock can be rolled back to the date of conviction and disqualification.

The specific provisions

The provision for disqualification is given in Article 102 of the Constitution. It specifies that a person shall be disqualified for contesting elections and being a Member of Parliament under certain conditions. These include holding an office of profit, being of unsound mind or insolvent, or not being a citizen of India. It also authorises Parliament to make law determining conditions of disqualifications. There are analogous provisions for members of state legislatures.

The Representation of the People Act, 1951 provides that a person will be disqualified if convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for two years or more. The person is disqualified for the period of imprisonment and a further six years. There is an exception for sitting members; they have been provided a period of three months from the date of conviction to appeal; the disqualification will not be applicable until the appeal is decided. The differential treatment of candidates for elections and sitting members was challenged under Article 14 (right to equality). A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, in 2005 (K. Prabhakaran vs P. Jayarajan), decided that the consequences of disqualifying a contestant and a sitting member were different. In the latter case, the strength of the party in the legislature would change, and could have an adverse impact if a government had a thin majority. It would also trigger a by-election. Therefore, it was reasonable to treat the two categories differently. The Court also considered whether in case of a disqualified candidate who is later acquitted, the disqualification would be removed with retrospective effect. It stated that this could not be done as this would require the results of the election to be cancelled. Therefore, the removal of disqualification would be prospective and for future elections.

In 2013, a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court again considered whether this exception was constitutionally invalid (Lily Thomas vs Union of India). It stated that Article 102 empowers Parliament to make law regarding disqualification of a person “for being chosen as, and for being, a member of either House of Parliament”.

It interpreted this phrase to mean that whereas Parliament could specify conditions for disqualification, those conditions would apply equally to candidates and sitting members. Therefore, the exception carved out for sitting members was unconstitutional. The judgment further cited Article 101 that if a Member of Parliament was disqualified under Article 102, “his seat shall thereupon become vacant”. Therefore, the disqualification was automatic and had immediate effect if the conditions of Article 102 were met.

The implications

So what happens if the conviction is suspended? Navjot Singh Sidhu was convicted and sentenced to three years imprisonment when he was an MP. He resigned his seat but wanted to contest the election, and appealed for a stay on his conviction. The Supreme Court stayed his conviction in 2007, which removed the disqualification until the appeal was decided. This decision allowed him to contest the election.

This issue was also discussed in the Lily Thomas judgment (2013). The judgment stated that a disqualified person may obtain a stay on his conviction, and cited an earlier 2007 judgment that the disqualification would be removed from the date of the stay order.

So what happens now? The Lakshadweep seat was declared vacant but the ECI, after the stay order, announced deferring the by-election. The Lok Sabha has kept the seat vacant and has not yet re-instated the MP. The reason the High Court granted the stay was to avoid an expensive election. The question is whether the removal of disqualification can be back dated as if it never happened and the election avoided. Or whether the disqualification is removed only from the date of the stay order, and, therefore, the vacated seat be filled only through a by-election. This conundrum arises because the Lily Thomas judgment requires the seat to be vacated immediately upon disqualification whereas the Kerala High Court stay tries to ensure that the MP retains the seat until the appeal is decided. The answer will also have implications for similar cases in the future.

5. A picture of Islam that is quite different

Towards the end of 2022, a hugely significant moment in the post-Independence history of Indian Muslims slipped by under the radar. The Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, the oldest Muslim organisation in India, with its roots in the national freedom struggle, filed a petition in the Supreme Court of India seeking reservation for Dalit Muslims for admission to schools, colleges and government jobs. In a country where demands are periodically made for reservations on the lines of caste or region, not many comprehended the significance of this demand. It was the first time ever that a Muslim body in India was explicitly admitting to the presence of caste system among Indian Muslims — Islam, in essence, is a casteless faith with an emphasis on egalitarianism.

The same is not necessarily true of Indian Islam; yet, this was the first time that a Muslim body made bold to embrace social reality and seek reservations on the lines of caste; Islam and caste did not seem to be an anomaly any more. It was another step towards Indianisation of the religion, and quite contrary to the teachings of Prophet Muhammad who, in his last sermon, emphasised the equality of the human race reminding the faithful, “An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, a White over Black and vice-versa”. Yet, here was the Jamiat tacitly admitting to the ‘superior’ status of ashrafs (Sheikhs, Syeds and Pathan, etc.) and explicitly seeking the benefit of affirmative action for lower caste Muslims (Ansaris, Saifis, Abbasis, etc.) so that they could climb the social ladder.

The action may have stemmed from the increased activity in socio-political circles around Pasmanda Muslims, but whichever way one looks at it, the Jamiat’s petition was an undeniable acceptance of caste among Indian Muslims. Yes, caste among Muslims is not exploitative as in pockets of Hindu society — in early January there was a case of a Dalit man being tortured with burning logs for visiting a temple in Uttarakhand — but it is almost always present as a mark of identity, and even worn as a badge of honour in many circles. In the years gone by, in many towns of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, it was not unusual to see a poor cyclist, probably hailing from the so-called lower caste, alighting from his vehicle on seeing a Syed or Pathan coming by his bike or car from the opposite direction.

Whatever the top court’s verdict, in the years to come, the Jamiat’s petition is likely to play as important a role in the annals of post-Independence India as the acceptance of secular democracy by the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind.

A gradual change

The Jamaat was founded in 1941 by Abul Ala Mawdudi with the express purpose of ushering in a hukumat-e-ilahiya or the Islamic state. Mawdudi believed that the very promulgation of the Kalima, the first tenet of Islam, made it incumbent upon the believer to strive to establish an Islamic state or god’s kingdom. He believed in striving for a transformation of India into a Darul Islam (land of faith), and was fundamentally opposed to secular democracy where all faiths were regarded as equal, and the law was made on non-religious lines. In fact, the early rules of the Jamaat made it essential for its members to oppose any legislative assemblies which made laws not derived from the Shariah. The pre-Independence Jamaat opposed a secular judiciary and an economic system based on riba or interest which is haraam (forbidden) in Islam. A person who gives and takes interest is said to be at war with god and his messenger. However, as Mawdudi shifted to Pakistan following India’s independence, the Jamaat too turned a new leaf and gradually came to not only accept but also embrace secular polity. The change was gradual, well considered and a quiet acceptance of the new reality of the country post-Partition.

In 1961, the Jamaat sought the opinion of the ulemma on whether the faithful could participate in democratic elections, and then allowed its members to not only vote in general or State elections but also contest them, if they so wished. The Jamaat, in some pockets, went on to forge alliances with mainstream secular political parties, and often advised Muslims to vote for a particular candidate or party. After initial reservations within the organisation on the subject of voting or contesting elections which derived their rules from the Constitution of India, it was no longer considered against Islam to participate in a pluralist democracy.

Likewise, Muslims were first permitted, then encouraged to enter government services. In other words, the Jamaat accepted the laws of independent India and was happy to operate within the confines of secular polity principles framed by B.R. Ambedkar, and conducted financial transactions according to the law of the land. It meant Indianisation of Islam was accepted by the body and the goal of establishing Hukumat-e-Ilahiya set aside. The organisation which once limited its in-house discourses to commentaries on the Koran and Hadith now hosts public discussions on the Union Budget and contemporary events in secular society.

Intertwining of responsibilities

Likewise, before the 2019 general election which coincided with the month of Ramzan, the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind advised fasting Muslims to first cast their vote in the morning before retiring to their homes for rest and prayer. Responsibilities as an Indian and a Muslim were intertwined. It brought back the words of Hussain Ahmed Madani, a prominent Jamiat leader, who once told the faithful, “Our religion tells us Adam descended in India. It was from here that his race spread. It is necessary for the Muslims to understand that this country was their old native place.” He could have well said this country and its social practices. Interestingly, at the just concluded three-day conclave of the Jamiat, Mahmood Madani made headlines for merely repeating Hussain Ahmed’s words. He said, “India and not Arabia is the birthplace of Islam. The first prophet descended here. India belongs to all of us equally. It belongs as much to Narendra Modi and Mohan Bhagwat as Mahmood.” A day later, his uncle Arshad Madani chipped in with his take on oneness of god, stating, “What Hindus worship as Om, Muslims worship as Allah.”

Between them, the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind and Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, in their different ways, have managed to present a picture of Islam which is quite different from the Islam of Arabia, but a thriving entity with a uniquely Indian identity. It has room for caste identities, dialogue with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and claims on oneness of god, irrespective of differences in religion.

6. The SC on sealed cover jurisprudence

The “routine” handing over of sealed covers in court by the state, the contents of which are unknown to the other parties, often fighting for life, freedom and personal liberty, is eroding public confidence in the ‘open court’ principle of justice administration

The Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud firmly refused the ‘suggestions’ offered by the government in a sealed cover on the formation of a proposed committee to enquire into the Hindenburg report on the Adani Group. This signals the Supreme Court’s acute awareness of how ‘sealed cover jurisprudence’ has begun to threaten the very credibility of the judicial institution. The decision of the three-judge Bench led by the CJI to keep the government’s sealed cover at a distance and do “its own thinking”, made it evident that the dialogue on sealed covers was no longer an academic discourse on how to balance the right to know and the need to protect national security.

The “routine” handing over of sealed covers in court by the state, the contents of which are unknown to the other parties, often fighting for life and personal liberty, is eroding public confidence in the ‘open court’ principle of justice administration. The petitioners are unable to defend themselves, not knowing what they are supposed to defend against. Passing on materials in a sealed cover to the court compels judges to accept the state’s version, that too, in cases in which the government’s narrative is under challenge.

A history of sealed covers

The origins of sealed cover jurisprudence can be traced to service or administrative cases. Official service records and promotion assessments of individual personnel were received in sealed cover in order to avoid harm to the reputation of officers. The court continues to receive confidential documents in sexual assault cases to protect the identity of survivors. However, recent times have seen the government produce myriad documents, ranging from status reports to ‘notes’, alleged evidence collected during investigation into terror and money-laundering cases. Even court-appointed committee reports, as in the BCCI case, have been accepted in sealed covers.

Sealed cover documents have been received by the apex court in cases such as the Rafale jets’ purchase deal, Assam National Register of Citizens case, Ayodhya title dispute, Gujarat Police ‘fake’ encounter case, Narendra Modi biopic release case, in the sexual harassment case concerning then Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, the electoral bonds case, Bhima Koregaon case and the anticipatory bail plea for former union finance minister P. Chidambaram. In these cases, sealed cover had risen to the status of ‘due procedure’.

Rule 7 of Order XIII of the Supreme Court Rules, 2013 provides that the Chief Justice or the court can, through a judicial order, direct any document to be kept confidential in a sealed cover if publication of the records is “considered to be not in the interest of the public”. Section 123 of the Evidence Act of 1872 provides that the government should give prior permission to a person who wants to give evidence “derived from unpublished official records relating to any affairs of state”.

Only in ‘extenuating circumstances’

However, the Supreme Court is now witnessing a turnaround. The court, during the Media One telecast ban hearing, orally observed that the government should claim “specific privilege” in an affidavit and explain the “extenuating circumstances” to keep documents secret from the other party. The court said the burden would lie on the government to prove that even sharing redacted copies of the records would prove detrimental to national security and public order. The court has made it clear that sealed covers could be used only in a “small exception” of cases.

So far, a tiny clutch of judgments hold that the principles of natural justice and the fundamental right to know cannot be taken away by the state in an “implied fashion or in a casual and cavalier manner”.

The most recent one was in the S.P. Velumani case verdict of May 2022 in which the Supreme Court criticised the Madras High Court’s decision to permit a report to remain “shrouded in sealed cover” when the State had not even claimed any specific privilege. Similarly, the court admonished the Bihar government for attempting to give information in sealed cover in the Muzaffarpur shelter case.

The Pegasus case judgment saw the court underscore that the “Union of India must necessarily plead and prove the facts which indicate that the information sought must be kept secret as their divulgence would affect national security concerns… The state cannot get a free pass every time the spectre of ‘national security’ is raised. National security cannot be the bugbear that the judiciary shies away from”.

 7. ‘Regional disparities will increase in the absence of assistance to poor States’

Bihar Finance Minister Vijay Kumar Choudhary said that if the poor States are not given special assistance by the Centre, then regional disparities are bound to increase in the country.

He made the comment on Saturday, referring to Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s statement that the Finance Commission has made a recommendation to the Centre, in which it said that no State will be accorded the special status.

“I don’t know how the Union Finance Minister made such a statement. When the NITI Aayog talks about special assistance to the poorest States, the comment of the Union Finance Minister will certainly increase regional disparities,” Choudhary told the Press Trust of India.

Mr. Choudhary said Bihar is the most deserving State that needs special financial assistance from the Centre. While Bihar’s growth is better than the national average, it is among the poorest States in the country, he added.

“NITI Aayog has admitted that Bihar made tremendous progress across multiple sectors in the last decade, but owing to its weak base, it may take some more time to catch up with the others. This is the reason that we have been demanding special assistance from the Centre,” he said.

The special status was introduced in 1969 to benefit certain backward States having hilly terrains, strategic international borders and economic and infrastructural backwardness. Assam, Nagaland, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Sikkim, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Uttarakhand and Telangana have been accorded the status. Telangana got the status as it was carved out of Andhra Pradesh.

8. India plans to export solar power: official

Country can produce annually solar modules that can generate 100 GW and become a net exporter of power, says Secretary, Ministry for New and Renewable Energy, Bhupinder Bhalla; high customs duty on Chinese components, land acquisition challenges hamper switch to non-fossil sources

By 2026, Indian industry will be able to manufacture every year solar modules that can generate 100 gigawatts of power, and help the country be a net exporter of solar power. This will significantly aid India’s target of installing 500 GW of electricity capacity from non-fossil sources by 2030, Bhupinder Bhalla, Secretary, Ministry for New and Renewable Energy, told The Hindu in an exclusive interaction.

India was to have installed 175 GW of renewable energy — from solar, wind, biomass and small hydropower sources — by December 2022, but has only installed 122 GW. Of this, solar power was to have been 100 GW, though only 62 GW has been installed.

A key bottleneck has been the cost of solar modules (or panels). While India has traditionally relied on Chinese-made components such as polysilicone wafers, necessary to make modules, higher customs duty on them (to make equivalent Indian-manufactured components more competitive) has shrunk supply.

Going local

“We will need about 30-40 GW for our domestic purposes annually and the rest can be used for export. The incentive schemes that are in place are designed to encourage the manufacturers of wafers. We have never had polysilicone manufacturing in India and this is the first time we will be making ingots and wafers in India. This is necessary for the future health of the solar ecosystem in India,” Mr. Bhalla said.

Apart from module prices, land acquisition has been a major challenge for solar power manufacturers. Despite the Centre commissioning 57 large solar parks with a capacity of 40 GW in recent years, only 10 GW has been operationalised.

“Installing a megawatt of solar power requires on average four acres of land. So various developers face challenges in acquiring land and that is one reason for the delay. Some projects have been cancelled, for lack of progress, but we expect 40 GW to be fully commissioned in the next two years,” Mr. Bhalla said.

The future phase of India’s renewable energy development will be led by hybrid projects and renewable energy parks that will host solar and wind projects along with battery storage systems. “States have been demanding consistent, dependable power and that can be done only if solar and wind power is stored [via batteries] and made available on demand. This is, of course, a challenge globally,” he said.

Impact of Adani fallout

The travails of the Adani Group of Companies, several of which had announced investments in solar and green hydrogen infrastructure, wouldn’t significantly impact India’s long-term renewable energy goals. “While the Adani Group and its commitments to renewable energy are certainly significant, we have multiple other companies that can step in. There is tremendous interest in India by sovereign wealth funds and other investors and so I don’t see any impact on our renewable energy plans,” Mr. Bhalla said.

He said the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Uttham Mahabhiyan (PM KUSUM) scheme, which aims to help farmers access reliable daytime solar power for irrigation, reduce power subsidies, and thereby decarbonise agriculture, was behind schedule because of the “high cost of finance” for farmers.

Under the scheme, ₹34,422 crore is to be spent by the Centre to have farmers or farmer groups install 10,000-MW solar power plants, installation of 20-lakh solar-powered agriculture pumps that are not connected to the grid (off-grid), and converting 15 lakh agriculture pumps that are already connected to the grid into solar-powered pumps.

As of December 31, 2022 only 88.46 MW of solar capacity had been added, 181,058 solar pumps had been installed, and 1,174 grid-connected pumps had been converted. The deadline for the scheme has been shifted to 2026. “We are looking at ways to help farmers access loans from bank at cheaper rates,” Mr. Bhalla said.

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