1. ‘GST Council should prioritise COVID relief, States’ cash woes’
Second wave more lethal for businesses, say experts
The Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council, meeting this Friday after a gap of more than seven months, should prioritise giving relief on the taxes levied on COVID-19 vaccines and critical medical supplies, and rationalise GST rates to provide relief to sectors that are worst hit by the second wave, said regulatory experts.
A mechanism for paying States their compensation dues for this year shall also be a knotty issue for the council to figure out, while little headway is expected on more contentious problems such as bringing petroleum products under the GST regime to reduce the burden of high retail fuel prices on the common man.
The council should consider reducing the tax rates or zero rating the GST on essential material to combat COVID — from hand sanitizers to oximeters and oxygen concentrators, said Saloni Roy, senior director at Deloitte India. COVID-related expenditures incurred by employers for the welfare of employees and their families may also be considered as input tax credit, she said.
“Individuals and companies importing oxygen concentrators, oxygen cylinders, regulators and rakes are looking for exemptions or credits on these medical devices as in most of the cases, the imports are in public interest or for donation to State governments and NGOs,” said Abhishek Rastogi, who is arguing writs on these issues in the Bombay and Delhi High Courts.
EY tax partner Abhishek Jain said providing GST concessions and exemptions to COVID vaccines, and other equipment, as well as allowing input tax credit for firms undertaking vaccination drives or providing oxygen concentrators to their employees need to be taken up.
With five new finance ministers in the council from the States with newly formed governments, and three of them not aligned with the BJP-led government at the Centre, the equations in the council would be different from its last meeting in October.
The meeting on October 12, 2020 had ended without a consensus with several Opposition States refusing to accept the Centre’s compensation formula for last year as revenues tanked in sync with the economy due to the national lockdown.
States are still owed ₹63,000 crore from last year’s dues and GST cess collections are unlikely to meet this year’s compensation dues as well, following the spate of lockdowns across several States over the past two months.
“Needless to say, the States are desperate for funds at the moment since the Centre has largely shifted the onus of improving the health infra and vaccination drives on the State governments,” pointed out Rajat Bose, partner at Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co. Apart from the early release of outstanding dues, States may also press for a parley on a possible extension of the five-year period for which they were guaranteed compensation under the GST regime, said Niraj Bagri, partner at Dhruva Advisors LLP
“Unlike last year, the second wave has proved to be much more lethal, even for businesses, and hence, any short-term measure may not yield desired results,” warned Mr. Bose, who hoped the Centre and States would come up with some sustainable measures to rescue the industry.
While industries such as entertainment, hotels and tourism are impacted badly due to COVID and need relief measures, even sectors that continue to operate need support on many fronts, including getting due refunds quicker to free up their working capital needs.
“GST refunds for several exporters including gems and jewellery and IT sectors are stuck, which must be processed quickly which will infuse liquidity and also give an impetus to our exporters,” said Siddharth Surana, adviser, strategy and business transformation, RSM India. “The gems and jewellery industry in our view has over ₹1,000 crore stuck in past accumulated input tax credits and due to backlog in refunds,” Mr. Surana said.
“The council should consider reducing the GST rate for composition dealers, including the special rates for restaurants [presently at 5% with no input tax credit] and travel and tour operators for the period from April to September 2021,” he suggested.
- It is a constitutional body (Article 279A) for making recommendations to the Union and State Government on issues related to Goods and Services Tax.
- The GST Council is chaired by the Union Finance Minister and other members are the Union State Minister of Revenue or Finance and Ministers in-charge of Finance or Taxation of all the States.
- It is considered as a federal body where both the centre and the states get due representation.
2. Wuhan lab staff fell sick in Nov. 2019: report
This comes on the eve of key WHO meeting, and may boost calls for a wider probe into virus origins
Three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) sought hospital care in November 2019, a month before China reported the first cases of COVID-19, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday, citing a U.S. intelligence report.
The newspaper said the previously undisclosed report — which provides fresh details on the number of researchers affected, the timing of their illnesses, and their hospital visits — may add weight to calls for a broader investigation into whether the COVID-19 virus could have escaped from the laboratory.
The Journal said current and former officials familiar with the intelligence expressed a range of views about the strength of the report’s supporting evidence, with one unnamed person saying it needed “further investigation and additional corroboration.”
China denies report
The first cases of what would eventually be known as COVID-19 were reported at the end of December 2019 in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the advanced laboratory specialising in coronavirus research is located.
Chinese scientists and officials have consistently rejected the lab leak hypothesis, saying SARS-CoV-2 could have been circulating in other regions before it hit Wuhan, and might have even entered China from another country via imported frozen food shipments or wildlife trading.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, said on Monday that it was “completely untrue” that three members of staff at WIV had fallen ill.
“The U.S. continues to hype up the lab leak theory,” he said. “Does it care about traceability or is it just trying to distract attention?”
The Journal report came on the eve of a meeting of the World Health Organization’s decision-making body, which is expected to discuss the next phase of an investigation into the origins of COVID-19.
Asked about the report, WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said that the organisation’s technical teams were now deciding on the next steps. He said further study was needed into the role of animal markets as well as the lab leak hypothesis.
A U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman had no comment on the report but said the Biden administration continued to have “serious questions about the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, including its origins within the Peoples Republic of China.”
“We’re not going to make pronouncements that prejudge an ongoing WHO study into the source of SARS-CoV-2, but we’ve been clear that sound and technically credible theories should be thoroughly evaluated by international experts,” she said.
A joint study into the origins of COVID-19 by the WHO and China published at the end of March said it was “extremely unlikely” that it had escaped from a lab.
But China was accused of failing to disclose raw data on early COVID-19 cases to the WHO team.
3. Myanmar’s Suu Kyi defiant in first comments since coup
She made her first court appearance after her detention
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday voiced defiance as she made her first court appearance since being detained in a coup, vowing her ousted political party would live on.
Myanmar has been in uproar since the February 1 putsch, with near-daily protests and a nationwide civil disobedience movement. More than 800 people have been killed by the military, according to a local monitoring group.
The junta has threatened to dissolve her National League for Democracy — which swept elections in 2020 — over alleged voter fraud.
The Nobel laureate — who has not been seen in public since the coup — sounded “healthy and fully confident” during the 30-minute meeting, her lawyer Min Min Soe said.
“She wishes her people to stay healthy as well as affirmed the NLD will exist as long as people exist because it was founded for people.”
Ms. Suu Kyi has been hit with a string of criminal charges including flouting coronavirus restrictions during last year’s election campaign and possessing unlicensed walkie-talkies.
There have been weeks of delays to Ms. Suu Kyi’s legal case and her lawyers have struggled to gain access to her.
The next hearing was set for June 7, Mr. Min Min Soe said, adding she had also met with former President Win Myint, who was ousted and detained along with Ms. Suu Kyi.
As the lawyers left the compound in Naypyidaw, police arrested a legal representative of senior NLD figure Myo Aung, lawyers said.
There was a heavy security presence in the capital, an AFP correspondent said.
4. Iran inspection agreement extended by one month: IAEA
The UN nuclear watchdog and Iran have agreed to extend an understanding to monitor Tehran’s activities by one month, the agency said on Monday, while talks in Vienna try to save the 2015 nuclear deal.
“The equipment and the verification and the monitoring activities that we agreed will continue as they are now for one month expiring on June 24th, 2021,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi said.
Iran in late February limited the IAEA’s access to nuclear sites it has been monitoring as part of the 2015 landmark deal.
An agreement, reached on February 21 for a duration of three months, allowed some inspections to continue.
Mr. Grossi said that besides extending that understanding, Tehran had also agreed that information collected so far by agency equipment in Iran would not be erased. Current talks between world powers are aiming to bring the U.S. back into the deal.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
The IAEA is the international centre for cooperation in the nuclear/atomic field. It is a UN agency. It works with its member countries and many partners to promote peaceful uses of nuclear technologies.
IAEA History and Origins
IAEA’s origins can be traced back to an address of the former US President Dwight Eisenhower to the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1953.
- The address was known as ‘Atoms for Peace’ and this was the organisation’s first name when it was formally established in 1957.
- Headquartered in Vienna, Austria, the IAEA is a UN agency.
- The primary mandate of the organisation was and continues to be promoting safe, secure and peaceful nuclear technologies.
- Currently, it has 171 members. The latest member is Saint Lucia which joined the IAEA in 2019.
- India became a member in 1957 itself.
- By ensuring the peaceful usage of nuclear technologies, the IAEA contributes to peace and security in the world and also towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
- The current Director-General of the organisation is Rafael Mariano Grossi.
- The IAEA, along with its former Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.
- Although the IAEA is an independent international organisation, it reports annually to the UNGA.
- The IAEA has regional offices in Geneva, New York, Toronto and Tokyo; and research laboratories in Austria, Italy and Monaco.
The functions of the IAEA are discussed below.
- Promoting and assisting the research, development and practical applications of peaceful uses of nuclear technologies.
- Establishing and administering safety guards to ensure that such research/development, etc., by the IAEA is not used for military purposes.
- Applying, under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and other international treaties, mandatory comprehensive safeguards in non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWS) parties to such treaties.
The IAEA’s three chief areas of work are:
- Safety and security
- Science and technology
- Safeguards and verification
**Iran has granted IAEA inspectors access to one of two sites where undeclared nuclear activity may have taken place in the early 2000s. Iran signed the nuclear deal in 2015 known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – JCPOA with the United States, Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia. The deal allows Iran only to keep a stockpile of 202.8 kilograms (447 pounds). However, as per the report of IAEA, Iran continues to increase its stockpile of enriched uranium in violation of limitations set in the deal. Details on the same can be checked on the Iran Sanction page linked here.
The IAEA has two policymaking bodies. They are:
- General Conference
- Board of Governors
- It consists of all the member countries of the IAEA.
- It meets in a regular annual session.
- The annual general conference usually takes place in September.
64th General Conference of IAEA was held in Vienna from September 21st to 25th 2020.
Board of Governors
- Here, there are 35 members.
- The board members for 2019-20 are:
|Panama||Paraguay||Russia||Saudi Arabia||South Africa|
- The Board generally meets five times a year.
- It examines and makes recommendations to the IAEA’s General Conference on the organisation’s programme, financial statements and budget.
- The Board considers membership applications, approves safeguards agreements and the publication of the safety standards of the IAEA.
- It also appoints the Director-General of the IAEA, with the approval of the General Conference.
The IAEA also has a Secretariat which comprises the organisation’s professional and general service staff. It is headed by the Director-General.
5. ‘90%-95% of mucormycosis patients are diabetics on steroids’
Early detection key to tackling condition, says AIIMS chief
“Mucormycosis is not a communicable disease and 90%-95% of patients that we have with us currently are diabetics who were on steroids. We are also seeing the fungus early on in COVID patients which is proving to be a challenge,” Randeep Guleria, Director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, said on Monday.
Dr. Guleria, speaking at the Health Ministry press conference, added that early detection and hygiene were key to tackling the virus.
“Mucormycosis is one of the general fungal infections being seen in recovering or recovered COVID-19 patients. The number of cases being reported is increasing, but it is not a communicable disease, meaning it does not spread from one person to another, like COVID-19 does,” he said.
‘Not correct term’
Dr. Guleria also said it is better not to use the term black fungus while talking of mucormycosis, as it leads to a lot of avoidable confusion.
“Black fungus is another family; this term got associated with mucormycosis due to the presence of black dots among the culture of white fungal colonies. In general, there are various types of fungal infections such as candida, aspergillosis, cryptococcus, histoplasmosis and coccidioidomycosis. Mucormycosis, candida and aspergillosis are the ones observed more in those with low immunity,” he said.
“Many patients taking treatment at home, who were not on oxygen therapy, have also been found to get infected with mucormycosis. So there is no definite link between oxygen therapy and catching the infection,” Dr. Guleria clarified.
Stating that the anti-fungal treatment is long drawn over many weeks, Dr Guleria said that was proving to be challenging for hospitals, since COVID-positive patients and COVID-negative patients who catch mucormycosis need to be housed in separate hospital wards. Surgery also needs to be done judiciously since aggressive surgery for mucormycosis can have adverse outcomes for COVID patients.
“Maintaining proper hygiene is very important for diabetic patients since chances of opportunistic infection is very high in such patients. Those using oxygen concentrators should ensure cleaning of humidifiers regularly,” he said.
“Besides this, even among those recovering we are seeing symptoms including chronic fatigue, joint pains, headaches, brain fog, cough etc. for anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks. As our knowledge of the virus is growing, doctors are able to help the recovering patients who need to keep an eye-out for any post-COVID symptoms.”
He added that difficulty in concentrating, insomnia and depression are other signs to watch out for.
6. Record foodgrain exports amid hunger, says group
‘It exposes the government’s apathy’
The record export of foodgrains at a time of widespread hunger and distress due to COVID-19 exposes “the government’s apathy towards the people”, according to the Right to Food Campaign. The advocacy group has called for the universalisation of the public distribution system (PDS) for at least six months, noting that the quantity of exported grain could have been used to provide 25 crore people with rations for a year.
The surge of COVID-19, spread to rural areas and lockdowns in most parts of the country have led to severe economic distress, especially among informal sector workers, said the Right to Food Campaign’s statement, issued on Monday. It said the situation was worse than in 2020, due to the large number of households now dealing with illness and high healthcare expenses on top of a year of job losses and declining wages.
The Centre’s relief scheme, PMGKAY, only provides additional free grain for two months for those who already have ration cards. The food security crisis facing informal sector workers, many of whom do not have ration cards, has been “completely invisibilised”, said the statement.
“The government’s apathy towards people has been thoroughly exposed by the fact that this year has seen record exports of foodgrains.” Noting that over 13 million tonnes of non-basmati rice and more than two million tonnes of wheat were exported in 2020-21, the Campaign said this could have been used to give 5 kg grain per month to 25 crore people for a year. In fact, rice was exported at ₹27 per kg, lower than the FCI’s economic cost of ₹37 per kg, it said.
Foodgrain stocks in FCI’s warehouses stand at a record high of 100 million tonnes.
“It is becoming quite apparent that the government does not care about filling the stomachs of the hungry and is happy to rather export the grains or use them for other purposes [like it was done for ethanol production last year],” said the campaign.
Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana
- PMGKAY is a part of Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package (PMGKP) to help the poor fight the battle against Covid-19.
- Its nodal Ministry is the Ministry of Finance.
- It was initially announced for a three month period (April, May and June 2020), covering 80 crore ration cardholders. Later it was extended till November 2020.
- However in April 2021, the government had announced its decision to restart the PMGKAY.
- The scheme aimed at providing each person who is covered under the National Food Security Act 2013 with an additional 5 kg grains (wheat or rice) for free, in addition to the 5 kg of subsidised foodgrain already provided through the Public Distribution System (PDS).
- The new version of the PMGKAY lacks one of its important components which was there in 2020 PMGKAY i:e free-of-cost 1 kg pulses per month to each household covered under the NFSA.
- PMGKAY is a part of Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package (PMGKP) to help the poor fight the battle against Covid-19.
- Government of India will bear all expenditure of over Rs. 26,000 crore on account of food subsidy and Central assistance to states/UTs on account of intra-state transportation etc.
- Allocation Till Now:
- Out of a total monthly allocation of 39.69 lakh Metric Tonnes (MT) under the PMGKAY, 15.55 lakh MT have been lifted by states.
- 1.01 lakh MT have been distributed to 2.03 crore beneficiaries till May 2021.
- A key issue is that the beneficiaries of the National Food Security Act are based on the last census (2011). The number of food-insecure people has increased since then and they remain uncovered.
7. Will not limit functions till new data law: WhatsApp
Will continue current approach, it says
Facebook-owned WhatsApp has told the government that it will not limit functionality for users in the coming weeks, but will continue the current approach of reminding users about the update until “at least the forthcoming Personal Data Protection law comes into effect”.
“We have responded to the Government of India’s letter and assured them that the privacy of users remains our highest priority. As a reminder, the recent update does not change the privacy of people’s personal messages. Its purpose is to provide additional information about how people can interact with businesses if they choose to do so,” a WhatsApp spokesperson said.
The spokesperson added that WhatsApp will not limit the functionality of how the platform works in the coming weeks. Instead, it will continue to remind users from time to time about the update as well as when people choose to use relevant optional features, like communicating with a business that is receiving support from Facebook.
“We hope this approach reinforces the choice that all users have whether or not they want to interact with a business. We will maintain this approach until at least the forthcoming PDP law comes into effect,” the spokesperson added.
8. Islanders seek withdrawal of land norms in Lakshadweep
‘Laws are out of sync with the social, environmental realities’
A slew of regulations introduced by the new administrator Praful Khoda Patel of the Lakshadweep group of islands has sparked discontent among its inhabitants.
Islanders have pointed out that the legislation are out of sync with the social and environmental realities of the archipelago. Mr Patel, a BJP leader and former Home Minister of Gujarat, is the first political appointee as Administrator, a post mostly held by retired civil servants. The creation of the Lakshadweep Development Authority (LDA), with extensive powers, including eviction of land owners, is widely read as having been pushed by the real estate lobby and against the interest of the islanders.
Hundreds of islanders have written to the administrator demanding the withdrawal of the proposed regulation, which makes “provision for the orderly and progressive development of land in both urban and rural areas and to preserve and improve the amenities thereof; for the grant of permission to develop land and for other powers of control over the use of land; to confer additional powers in respect of the acquisition and development of land for planning; and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid.”
The regulation empowers the government, identified as the administrator, to constitute Planning and Development Authorities (PDAs) to plan the development of any area identified as having “bad layout or obsolete development”. An authority thus created would be a corporate body with a government-appointed chairman, a town planning officer and three “expert” government nominees besides two local authority representatives.
The islanders opposing the plan have pointed out that the ecologically fragile islandsare tiny and thickly populated. “What sort of highway or tram-way you are planning to construct in that area?” asks Koya Arafa Mirage, lawyer and leader of Nationalist Youth Congress.
One of the petitions seeking the withdrawal of the regulation says the legislation vests extensive powers with the authority, allowing it to prepare comprehensive development plans for any area and relocate people.
9. Editorial-1: A September exit, Afghanistan at the crossroads
While the U.S.’s withdrawal will end its ‘forever war’, peace depends on what future steps the country’s stakeholders take
In conflict resolution diplomacy involving multiple stakeholders, sometimes the venue becomes as important as the agenda of peace talks. The fragile Afghanistan peace process has been in disarray as the Washington-desired conference to be hosted by the United Nations in Istanbul, Turkey — earlier scheduled for late April-early May — remains suspended due to the reluctance of Afghan’s Taliban. Turkey had to announce the postponement of talks until the end of Ramzan. Now there is some hope of breaking the impasse as the Taliban have expressed an openness to attend the Istanbul summit with the rider that the final outcome will be achieved in Doha. Although it gives an impression of the Taliban snubbing Turkey, the real issue regarding Afghan peace, however, should be: ‘what’ is to be done, and not ‘who’ does it or ‘how’ it is done.
An American calibration
The Istanbul conference is being calibrated by the Biden administration with its plans to completely withdraw from war-torn Afghanistan. Rejecting the Pentagon’s preference for a conditions-based exit, United States President Joe Biden is insistent on withdrawing the troops on September 11, even without any power-sharing deal between the warring parties.
With the rising level of violence, prospects of negotiating peace in Afghanistan seem bleak. Since the announcement of an exit date, Afghanistan continues to witness deadly attacks across its provinces. For instance, multiple blasts outside a girls school in Kabul recently was the worst terror attack in Afghanistan in a year. However, while adopting a tough posture, the Taliban have nonetheless kept the space open for engagement with the Afghan government. After a long pause in peace talks, they met in Qatar on May 14, the second day of a three-day ceasefire.
Consensus still eludes the Taliban’s real motives. According to conventional wisdom, by indulging in arbitrary acts of violence the Taliban are demonstrating that they are capable of seizing by military force what is not offered to them on the negotiating table. It would, however, be more prudent to believe that there exists a gulf in the views of the field commanders, who would like to wait it out for the U.S. to depart as there is little value in making concessions during the talks, and the Taliban leadership, who may feel the urgency to resuming negotiations than completely abandoning them for fear of losing the international legitimacy they enjoy at the moment.
Being the Taliban’s chief patron, Pakistan is the most important player in the Afghan conflict. After months of negotiations, the U.S.-Taliban deal was signed in February 2020, and Pakistan took full credit for it. Unlike his predecessor, Mr. Biden has not set timelines, upping the ante for many stakeholders. As the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan for almost two decades had kept Washington reliant on Rawalpindi for operational and other support, Pakistan not only treated the U.S. as its geopolitical pawn but also smartly mobilised this factor against India. With the disappearance of this lethal dependence, Pakistan faces an uphill task in conducting a viable Afghan policy. Therefore, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s latest phone call to the U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken should be seen in this context. Expressing Pakistan’s desire for “close economic cooperation, enhanced regional connectivity and common vision for a peaceful South Asia”, the crux of Mr. Qureshi’s discussion was in laying stress on the need for “responsible withdrawal” of foreign forces, clearly indicating fear of a pyrrhic victory.
No one knows better than Pakistan’s Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa that Pakistan cannot keep America invested in his country on military, economic, and societal fronts without partnering with the U.S. to ensure a smooth transition of power in Kabul. But western-backed and Taliban-opposed Kabul government’s relations with Pakistan continue to be characterised by deep hostility and mistrust. Despite a recent goodwill trip to Kabul by Gen. Bajwa, accompanied by the chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt.-Gen. Faiz Hameed, to assure the Afghan leadership of Pakistan’s support for an “inclusive power-sharing arrangement”, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani has accused Pakistan of running “an organized system of support” for the Afghan Taliban.
Dealing with the President
An essential element of Mr. Biden’s plan is to make Mr. Ghani agree to dissolve his government and set up a new governing system that would include the Taliban, which could finally decide the future distribution of power and changes to the Afghan Constitution. But Mr. Ghani refuses to step down for an interim regime to take over, insisting that a new government should emerge through elections in which he promises not to run. Mr. Ghani is seen as a figure who has deepened divisions among an already fractured Afghan political elite, besides failing miserably to wean the Pashtuns away from the Taliban. Ever since his controversial re-election, rival contenders for power are increasingly attacking his legitimacy, challenging his motivations and grounds of support. On the contrary, the Taliban continues to display a large measure of cohesion, despite reports of its fragmentation. Without an immediate ceasefire, a tough summer awaits the Afghan security forces.
Mr. Ghani could have had his way had Pakistan been the Taliban’s only patron. The Taliban now draw support from a wide variety of regional powers, including Russia, China and Iran. However, these countries too want the insurgent group to moderate its position. China, which has earned notoriety of being the free rider in Afghanistan, seems confused as the American exit looms large. Despite public rhetoric of asking the U.S. to leave, the Chinese policy makers have become more comfortable over the years with America’s military presence in Afghanistan which has suppressed many terrorist groups which threaten China directly or Beijing-friendly regimes in Central Asia.
China and India
Since the need to focus on great-power competition appears to have been factored considerably into Mr. Biden’s decision of strategic retrenchment from Afghanistan, it has serious implications for China; it would leave Beijing vulnerable to its spillover effects particularly in the restive Xinjiang province. That is why China has remained invested in all major regional Afghan-centric negotiations. Though it has a stake in the success of the Istanbul talks, its latest offer of hosting intra-Afghan talks in Beijing will only confound the current contradictions. Nevertheless if all regional frameworks fail to achieve Afghan peace, Beijing will not hesitate in asking for a potential UN intervention, as revealed by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
India has been the key regional backer of the Ghani government, supporting an “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled” peace process. New Delhi rightly fears a Taliban-dominated regime in Kabul might allow Pakistan to dictate Afghanistan’s India policy. That is why India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, has underlined the need for “a genuine double peace” (within and around Afghanistan). But despite being offered a seat at Istanbul at the U.S.’s behest, New Delhi remains a peripheral player. As opportunism and strategic boldness seem to have become the main structuring poles of Afghan conflict resolution diplomacy, India’s policy preference for courting Kabul’s traditional political elite has faced a distinctive drawback; it has no leverage with the Taliban. Hence, there is nothing unethical in exploring the possibility of developing links with the amenable section of the Afghan Taliban.
Finally, India and Pakistan
The strategic competition between Washington and Beijing, China’s growing rivalry with India, and New Delhi’s tense relationship with Islamabad are some of the factors which will certainly affect the situation in Afghanistan as the U.S. leaves the country. Thus, any reduction in tensions between India and Pakistan, irrespective of who plays the mediator, will have an indirect stabilising effect on Afghanistan. Moreover, Pakistan has a direct stake in the success of peace talks because it is aware of the negative fallout of another cycle of violence in Afghanistan — unconstrained refugee flows and terror attacks inside its territory. It remains to be seen how border fencing along the controversial Durand Line can minimise this negative fallout.
While the September 11 exit would bring the U.S.’s “forever war” to an end, it is unlikely to result in peace if Afghan stakeholders show their utter inability to take the process forward. But If the path of negotiations is either abandoned or accepted half-heartedly, it will be impossible to stop Afghanistan’s descent into chaos and civil war.
10. Expanding the scope of POCSO
Reforming the law is necessary to account for the reporting of historical child sexual abuse
Over the last nine years, India has sought to “protect children from offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography” through the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO). But POCSO has not been without controversy or deficiency. Recently, the Supreme Court had to injunct an interpretation of ‘skin-to-skin contact’ given by the Bombay High Court. Another fundamental defect of POCSO is its inability to deal with historical cases. With growing international jurisprudence around these issues, and in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, India must revise its legal and procedural methods to deal with historical child sexual abuse.
Historical child sexual abuse
Historical child sexual abuse refers to incidents that are reported late. Historical abuse is not just confined to institutions but also includes intra-familial abuse where it is difficult for the child to report the offence or offender at the earliest point in time. It often takes time for the child to recognise and comprehend the gravity of what transpired and become confident to report the offence. At first glance, this may seem to run counter to the established principle of criminal law: that every act of crime must be reported at the earliest and any delay in filing the complaint dilutes the efficacy of the prosecution’s case.
Provisions in the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) prohibit judicial magistrates from taking cognisance of cases beyond a specific time period. Cases involving child sexual abuse not amounting to rape as defined under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and prior to the enactment of POCSO in 2012, would presumably be classified under the lesser, and somewhat frivolous, offence of outraging the modesty of a woman (Section 354 of the IPC). As such, any reporting of an offence, under Section 354 of the IPC, more than three years after the date of incident would be barred by the CrPC. Such a scenario renders historical reporting of child sexual offences which took place before 2012 legally implausible. This presents an insurmountable legal barrier against the registration of historical child sexual offences which took place before 2012.
While the limitation provisions were incorporated into the CrPC to avert delayed prosecution, the circumstances around child sexual abuse cannot and must not be viewed in the same manner as other criminal offences. Therein lies a compelling case to allow delayed reporting and prosecution with regard to incidents of child sexual offences. It is also now understood that delays in reporting sexual abuse after a considerable passage of time from the date of offence may be due to factors such as threats from the perpetrator, fear of public humiliation, and absence of trustworthy confidant. Another theory, proposed by Roland C. Summit, Professor of Psychiatry, is the accommodation syndrome — where the child keeps the abuse as a secret because of the fear that no one will believe the abuse, which leads to accommodative behaviour. As such, with growing research and empirical evidence pointing to behaviour justifying delayed reporting, there is a need to amend the law to balance the rights of the victims and the accused.
One of the major drawbacks of delayed reporting is the lack of evidence to advance prosecution. It is believed that there would be less than 5% chance for gathering direct physical and medical evidence in such cases. India, in particular, suffers from a lack of procedural guidance as to how to prosecute historical cases of child sexual abuse. In contrast, the U.K. has issued detailed Guidelines on Prosecuting Cases of Child Sexual Abuse under the Sexual Offences Act of 2003 to assist the police in such cases.
Need to review the law
Also, in 2018, an online petition based on the plea of a child sexual abuse survivor gathered tremendous support. The survivor-petitioner, Purnima Govindarajulu, had unsuccessfully tried to register a complaint against her abuser after a delay of more than 40 years. After having failed to get traction with the police, she had launched an online campaign to raise awareness. Consequently, the Union Ministry of Law and Justice, at the request of the then Minister for Women and Child Development, clarified that no time limit shall apply for POCSO cases. Though this was a welcome clarification and would help strengthen the POCSO jurisprudence, it still fails to address the plight of children who were victims of sexual abuse before 2012. There is an urgent need to reform and revise our laws to account for various developments such as historical reporting of child sexual abuse. At the very least, the Union government must frame guidelines to direct effective and purposeful prosecution in cases which are not covered by the POCSO.