Daily Current Affairs 26.04.2021 (What Happened to Armenians in 1915, Cave Experiment, A Green Partnership, STory of Bangladesh)

Daily Current Affairs 26.04.2021 (What Happened to Armenians in 1915, Cave Experiment, A Green Partnership, STory of Bangladesh)


1. What happened to Armenians in 1915?

Biden’s recognition of the killings by Ottoman Turks as ‘genocide’ could infuriate Turkey

The story so far: U.S. President Joe Biden on Saturday officially recognised the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915-16 as “an act of genocide”. Mr. Biden’s announcement on the Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day could infuriate Turkey, America’s NATO ally. Up to 1.5 million Armenians are estimated to have been killed in the early stage of the First World War within the territories of the Ottoman Empire. In 2019, the U.S. Congress passed resolutions calling the slaughter a genocide, but the Donald Trump administration stopped short of officially calling it so.

Was it a genocide?

According to Article II of the UN Convention on Genocide of December 1948, genocide has been described as carrying out acts intended “to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”. Raphael Lemkin, the Polish lawyer who coined the term “genocide” in 1943, had written that he had been influenced by atrocities against Armenians as well as the Nazi killings of Jews. Before the First World War broke out in 1914, there were 2 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. According to a study by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, in 1922, four years after the War, the Armenian population in the region was about 387,800. This has led historians to believe that up to 1.5 million Armenians were killed during the course of the War. Armenians were largely living in the eastern fringes of the Empire. The Ottoman Turks unleashed Turkish and Kurdish militias upon them, killing and pillaging tens of thousands. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians were deported from eastern Anatolia (today’s Turkey) to concentration camps in the Syrian steppe. Most of the deaths occurred during this flight. “Rape and beating were commonplace. Those who were not killed at once were driven through mountains and deserts without food, drink or shelter. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians eventually succumbed or were killed,” writes historian David Fromkin in A Peace to End All Peace.

Victims of power contest

In a way, the Armenians were victims of the great power contests of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. When the Ottoman Empire was in decline on its fringes by the last quarter of the 19th century, Armenians were seen by the rulers in Constantinople as a fifth column. The resentment started building up after the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78 in which the Turks lost territories. In the Treaty of Berlin, big powers dictated terms to the Ottomans, including putting pressure on Sultan Abdülhamid II to initiate reforms “in the provinces inhabited by Armenians, and to guarantee their security against the Circassians and Kurds.” The Sultan saw this as a sign of strengthening ties between the Armenians and other rival countries, especially Russia. Post the treaty, there were a series of attacks on Armenians by Turkish and Kurdish militias. In 1908, the Young Turks wrested control from the Sultan and promised to restore imperial glory. Under the Turks when the administration was run by the famous “Three Pashas” (Mehmed Talaat Pasha, the Grand Vizier or Prime Minister; Ismail Enver Pasha, the Minister of War; and Ahmed Cemal Pasha, the Minister of the Navy) , the empire became more “Turkik” and persecution against the ethnic minorities picked up. In October 1914, Turkey joined the First World War on the side of Germany. In the Caucasus, they fought the Russians, their primary geopolitical rival. But the Ottomans suffered a catastrophic defeat in the Battle of Sarikamish by the Russians in January 1915.

The Turks blamed the defeat on Armenian “treachery”. First, Armenians in the Ottoman Army were executed. On April 24, the Ottoman government arrested about 250 Armenian intellectuals and community leaders. Most of them were later executed. (April 24 is the Remembrance Day). As the War was still waging, the Ottomans feared that Armenians in eastern Anatolia would join the Russians if they advanced into Ottoman territories. The Ottoman government passed legislation to deport anyone who is a security risk. Then they moved Armenians, including children, en masse to the Syrian Desert. That was a march of death.

After the fall of the empire, many Ottoman officials, including a governor in Anatolia, were tried and executed for the atrocities committed against Armenians. But the Three Pashas fled the country and took refuge in Germany. They were sentenced to death in absentia. But Armenian resistance fighters under the banner of Operation Nemesis continued to hunt down Ottoman officials. On March 15, 1921, Talat Pasha, the Grand Vizier and the key architect of the atrocities, was assassinated on the street of Berlin by Armenian student Soghomon Tehlirian.

Turkey’s response

Turkey has acknowledged that atrocities were committed against Armenians, but denies it was a genocide (which comes with legal implications) and challenges the estimates that 1.5 million were killed. The Turkish Foreign Ministry has issued a strong statement to Mr. Biden’s announcement saying it doesn’t not have “a scholarly and legal basis, nor is it supported by any evidence”. “This statement …will open a deep wound that undermines our mutual trust and friendship. We call on the U.S. President to correct this grave mistake,” it read.

2. 5 people spend 40 days in cave, lose sense of time

‘Deep Time’ project aimed at studying how people adapt to changes in living conditions, environments

Ever wonder what it would feel like to unplug from a hyperconnected world and hide away in a dark cave for 40 days?

Fifteen people in France did just that, emerging on Saturday from a scientific experiment to say that time seemed to pass more slowly in their cavernous underground abode in southwestern France, where they were deprived of clocks and light.

With big smiles on their pale faces, the 15 left their voluntary isolation in the Lombrives cave to a round of applause and basked in the light while wearing special glasses to protect their eyes after so long in the dark.

“It was like pressing pause,” said Marina Lançon,33, one of the seven female members in the experiment, adding she didn’t feel there was a rush to do anything.

Although she wished she could have stayed in the cave a few days longer, she said she was happy to feel the wind blowing on her face again and hear the birds sing in the trees of the French Pyrénées. And she doesn’t plan to open her smartphone for a few more days, hoping to avoid a “too brutal” return to real life.

For 40 days and 40 nights, the group lived in and explored the cave as part of the Deep Time project. There was no sunlight inside, the temperature was 10 degrees Celsius and the relative humidity stood at 100%. The cave dwellers had no contact with the outside world, no updates on the pandemic nor any communications with friends or family.

Scientists at the Human Adaption Institute leading the $1.5 million “Deep Time” project say the experiment will help them better understand how people adapt to drastic changes in living conditions and environments.

As expected, those in the cave lost their sense of time.

30 days, 23 days?

“        And here we are! We just left after 40 days… For us it was a real surprise,” said project director Christian Clot, adding for most participants, “in our heads, we had walked into the cave 30 days ago.”

At least one team member estimated the time underground at 23 days.

Johan Francois, 37, a math teacher, ran 10-km circles in the cave to stay fit. He sometimes had “visceral urges” to leave.

With no daily obligations and no children around, the challenge was “to profit from the present moment without ever thinking about what will happen in one hour, in two hours,” he said.

In partnership with labs in France and Switzerland, scientists monitored the 15 member’s sleep patterns, social interactions and behavioural reactions via sensors. One sensor was a tiny thermometer inside a capsule that participants swallowed like a pill. It measured body temperatures and transmitted data to a computer until it was expelled naturally.

The team followed their biological clocks to know when to wake up, go to sleep and eat.

3. ‘No volunteer list under cyber scheme’

Centre says information can be sought directly from States, Union Territories

The Union Home Ministry has said it does not maintain a centralised list of volunteers enrolled under the cybercrime volunteer programme since the police is a “State subject” under the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution.

The Ministry, through its cybercrime grievance portal,, aims to raise a group of “cybercrime volunteers” to flag “unlawful content” on the Internet. A digital rights group, the Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), has said the programme enables a culture of surveillance and could create potential social distrust by encouraging civilians to report the online activities of other citizens.

In response to a Right to Information Act (RTI) application by The Hindu on the total number of volunteers who have applied under the Cybercrime Volunteers Programme of the National Cybercrime Reporting Portal, the Ministry said the information could be sought directly from the respective States and Union Territories.

State subjects

The Ministry said in the RTI reply that “police” and “public order” were State subjects in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, and the States were primarily responsible for the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of crimes through their law enforcement agencies (LEAs). “The Cybercrime Volunteer Framework has been rolled out as a part of cyber hygiene promotion to bring together citizens to contribute in the fight against cybercrime in the country and assist State/UT LEAs in their endeavour to curb cybercrimes. The volunteers are registered, and their services utilised, by the respective State/UT LEAs as per their requirement. It is requested to kindly seek the information directly from the respective State/UT LEAs. The detailed programme document is available at,” the Ministry said in the RTI reply.

Though the Ministry did not provide information in the RTI reply, according to its Output Outcome Monitoring Framework Budget of 2021-22, the programme was expected to include 500 volunteers, 200 “cyber awareness promoters” and 50 “cyber experts”.

MP’s poser

In March, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MP Pinaki Misra asked whether “concerns of infringement of privacy due to surreptitious and mala fide intrusion into an individual’s online activities are addressed in this programme”.

The National Cybercrime Ecosystem Management Unit, of which the Cybercrime Volunteers Programme is a constituent, is part of the Indian Cybercrime Coordination Centre (I4C) scheme launched by Union Home Minister Amit Shah in January 2020. The project was approved in October 2018 at an estimated cost of ₹415.86 crore. The I4C scheme that includes other components also has been allocated ₹69.80 crore in the 2021-22 Budget.

Right to Information

The government is going to introduce a Bill to amend the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005 which will change pay and allowances of information commissioners, who currently enjoy benefits equivalent to election commissioners. The move has been criticised by activists who said it will affect independence and neutrality of the transparency panel.

Historical Background

  • The right to information gained power when Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948 providing everyone the right to seek, receive, information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political rights 1966 states that everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression, the freedom to seek and impart information and ideas of all kinds.
  • According to Thomas Jefferson “Information is the currency of democracy,” and critical to the emergence and development of a vibrant civil society. However, with a view to set out a practical regime for the citizens to secure information as a matter of right, the Indian Parliament enacted the Right to Information Act, 2005.
  • Genesis of RTI law started in 1986, through judgement of Supreme Court in Mr. Kulwal v/s Jaipur Municipal Corporation case, in which it directed that freedom of speech and expression provided under Article 19 of the Constitution clearly implies Right to Information, as without information the freedom of speech and expression cannot be fully used by the citizens.

Objectives of the Act

  • To empower the citizens
  • To promote transparency and accountability
  • To contain corruption and
  • To enhance people’s participation in democratic process.

Reasons for Adoption of Information Act

The factors responsible for adoption of information act are as follows-

  • Corruption and scandals
  • International pressure and activism
  • Modernization and the information society

Features of the Act

  • Section 1(2): It extends to the whole of India except the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Section- 2 (f): “Information” means any material in any form, including Records, Documents, Memos, e-mails, Opinions, Advices, Press releases, Circulars, Orders, Logbooks, Contracts, Reports, Papers, Samples, Models, Data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a Public Authority under any other law for the time being in force.
  • Section- 2(j) : “Right to Information” means the right to information accessible under this Act which is held by or under the control of any public authority and includes the right to:
    • Inspection of work, documents, records;
    • Taking notes, extracts or certified copies of documents or records;
    • Taking certified samples of material;
    • Obtaining information in the form of diskettes, floppies, tapes, video cassettes or in any other electronic mode or through printouts where such information is stored in a computer or in any other device.
What is Public Authority? “Public authority” means any authority or body or institution of self-government established or constituted— by or under the Constitution;By any other law made by Parliament/State notification issued or order made by the appropriate Government, and includes any—Body owned, controlled or substantially financed;Non-Government organisation substantially financed, directly or indirectly by funds provided by the appropriate Government.
  • Section 4 of the RTI Act requires suo motu disclosure of information by each public authority. However, such disclosures have remained less than satisfactory.
  • Section 8 (1) mentions exemptions against furnishing information under RTI Act.
  • Section 8 (2) provides for disclosure of information exempted under Official Secrets Act, 1923 if larger public interest is served.
  • The Act also provides for appointment of Information Commissioners at Central and State level. Public authorities have designated some of its officers as Public Information Officer. They are responsible to give information to a person who seeks information under the RTI Act.
  • Time period: In normal course, information to an applicant is to be supplied within 30 days from the receipt of application by the public authority.

    • If information sought concerns the life or liberty of a person, it shall be supplied within 48 hours.
    • In case the application is sent through the Assistant Public Information Officer or it is sent to a wrong public authority, five days shall be added to the period of thirty days or 48 hours, as the case may be.


  • The RTI Act, 2005 did not create a new bureaucracy for implementing the law. Instead, it tasked and mandated officials in every office to change their attitude and duty from one of secrecy to one of sharing and openness.
    • It carefully and deliberately empowered the Information Commission to be the highest authority in the country with the mandate to order any office in the country to provide information as per the provisions of the Act. And it empowered the Commission to fine any official who did not follow the mandate.
  • Right to information has been seen as the key to strengthening participatory democracy and ushering in people centred governance.
  • Access to information can empower the poor and the weaker sections of society to demand and get information about public policies and actions, thereby leading to their welfare. It showed an early promise by exposing wrongdoings at high places, such as in the organisation of the Commonwealth Games, and the allocation of 2G spectrum and coal blocks.
  • Right to information opens up government’s records to public scrutiny, thereby arming citizens with a vital tool to inform them about what the government does and how effectively, thus making the government more accountable.
  • Improves decision making by public authority by removing unnecessary secrecy.


  • Different types of information is sought which has no public interest and sometimes can be used to misuse the law and harass the public authorities. For example-
    • Asking for desperate and voluminous information.
    • To attain publicity by filing RTI
    • RTI filed as vindictive tool to harass or pressurize the public authority
  • Because of the illiteracy and unawareness among the majority of population in the country, the RTI cannot be exercised.
  • Though RTI’s aim is not to create a grievance redressal mechanism, the notices from Information Commissions often spur the public authorities to redress grievances.

RTI vs Legislations for Non-Disclosure of Information

  • Some provisions of Indian Evidence Act (Sections 123, 124, and 162) provide to hold the disclosure of documents.
    • Under these provisions, head of department may refuse to provide information on affairs of state and only swearing that it is a state secret will entitle not to disclose the information.
    • In a similar manner no public officer shall be compelled to disclose communications made to him in official confidence.
  • The Atomic Energy Act, 1912 provides that it shall be an offence to disclose information restricted by the Central Government.
  • The Central Civil Services Act provides a government servant not to communicate or part with any official documents except in accordance with a general or special order of government.
  • The Official Secrets Act, 1923 provides that any government official can mark a document as confidential so as to prevent its publication.
RTI vs Right to Privacy Conceptually, RTI and the right to privacy are both complementary as well as in conflict to each other.While RTI increases access to information, the right to privacy protects it instead.At the same time they both function, as citizen rights safeguarding liberty, against state’s overreach. When the question of harmonising the contradicting rights arises, it should give justice to the larger public interestadvance the public morality RTI vs OSA The OSA was enacted in 1923 by the British to keep certain kinds of information confidential, including, but not always limited to, information involving the affairs of state, diplomacy, national security, espionage, and other state secrets. Whenever there is a conflict between the two laws, the provisions of the RTI Act override those of the OSA.Section 22 of the RTI Act states that its provisions will have effect notwithstanding anything that is inconsistent with them in the OSA.Similarly, under Section 8(2) of the RTI Act, a public authority may allow access to information covered under the OSA, “if the public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to the protected interest”.

RTI and Political Parties

Why activists want political parties to be brought under RTI?

  • To contain corruption
  • Huge donations from corporates which lead to favouritism or crony capitalism
  • Illegal foreign contribution
  • The leader of the opposition is statutorily mandated to be part of the select committees to choose Chairperson for CIC, Lokpal, CBI Director and CVC
  • Various members of the opposition are also part of various parliamentary committees
  • They enjoy multiple benefits like concessional office spaces, free airtime on DD & AIR from govt

Stand of Political Parties

  • PP’s are not public authorities, hence cannot be brought under RTI Act.
  • Disclosed information can be misused.
  • Can disclose financial information under the IT Act.

Recent Amendments

  • The RTI amendment Bill 2013 removes political parties from the ambit of the definition of public authorities and hence from the purview of the RTI Act.
  • The draft provision 2017 which provides for closure of case in case of death of applicant can lead to more attacks on the lives of whistleblowers.
  • The proposed RTI Amendment Act 2018 is aimed at giving the Centre the power to fix the tenures and salaries of state and central information commissioners, which are statutorily protected under the RTI Act. The move will dilute the autonomy and independence of CIC.
  • The Act proposes to replace the fixed 5 year tenure to as much prescribed by government.

Other Issues

  • Information commissioners do not have adequate authorities to enforce the RTI Act.
  • In case of award of compensation to activist by public authority as ordered by commision, compliance cannot be secured.
  • Poor record-keeping practices
  • Lack of adequate infrastructure and staff for running information commissions
  • Dilution of supplementary laws like the whistleblowers protection Act.

4. Eitorial-1: Endeavour, leadership and the story of a nation

The ultimate accolade for India’s role in creating Bangladesh is that today, it is a relatively prosperous country

Bangladesh and India both celebrated the golden jubilee of Bangladesh’s Independence recently, alongside the birth centenary of ‘Banghabandu’ Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. There was a predictable outburst of warm sentiments witnessed in Bangladesh on this occasion, but celebrations in India were on an extremely low key. The creation of Bangladesh — from the ashes of East Pakistan — is presumably India’s finest foreign policy triumph till date, and it defies imagination why India has been so reticent in acknowledging this fact.

The architect, India’s stand

A plausible reason put forward in certain quarters is that it possibly meant acknowledging the role of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in this seminal event, as she is widely acknowledged to be the real architect of this triumph, notwithstanding claims put forward by many a swashbuckling General and others in uniform. Hopefully this canard is not true, though she is currently being demonised for her so-called sins of commission and omission. It would amount to ignoring historical facts, for without Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, it is difficult to conceive of India pulling off such a triumph.

This may sound like exaggerated praise, but anyone who had an opportunity to witness Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s steely resolve during that period — as for instance when it was communicated to her during a meeting of the War Cabinet, that the U.S. Seventh Fleet (which included the nuclear powered aircraft carrier, Enterprise) was steaming up the Bay of Bengal, will hardly dispute this fact. Displaying no signs of diffidence, she made it clear that it made little difference to the cause that they had embarked upon.

Few nations across the world can possibly boast of an achievement of this nature. What is even more noteworthy is that while accomplishing this task, India did not claim any ‘spoils of victory’. After Pakistan’s defeat in East Pakistan, India voluntarily and unconditionally, handed over power to the elected representatives of the newly established nation. Such magnanimity is seldom seen in the annals of world politics.

A year of significance

Not too many among the current generation would remember that 1971 was a signal year for India. It was in 1971 that India had extended all out support to the Government in Sri Lanka to defeat the group, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna in that country. And, 1971 was again the year in which India contributed to the establishment of a new nation, Bangladesh, which was carved out of East Pakistan following a pogrom launched by the military rulers in Islamabad, that was unmatched in modern times. Half-a-century later, India would have done well to highlight and remind the world of these two events, to further embellish its democratic credentials.

While India was busy scripting a new destiny for the people of East Pakistan, millions of refugees from East Pakistan were streaming into India. What was especially striking was that despite such a calamitous situation, and the strain on its resources, the Government of the day acted with extreme circumspection and did not give in to the rising clamour for any kind of premature military intervention in East Pakistan. It was to adhere to this position till Pakistan declared war on India in December 1971.

Meantime, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had been arrested and flown to West Pakistan. Tajuddin Ahmad had been secretly sworn in as the Prime Minister of an independent Bangladesh and installed in Mujibnagar, from where the new government-in-exile operated till the liberation of East Pakistan. India well recognised that before India could legitimately intervene in East Pakistan, the new government-in-exile had to acquire legitimacy, both within East Pakistan and also internationally. All this demonstrated political finesse of the highest order. It was not easy with over five million refugees coming into the country, conveying gruesome tales of untold atrocities.

Coordination and the goal

At the diplomatic level, India did not act entirely alone. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s carefully crafted diplomatic dispatches to world leaders had helped create a groundswell of support for the persecuted Bengalis of East Pakistan. The signing of the Indo-Soviet Treaty in August 1971 came as a shot-in-the-arm for India, encouraging it to stay the course. Russia’s action was in marked contrast to the stand of western nations such as the United States which displayed hostility to India’s efforts, viewing it as an encouragement to the forces seeking to dismember the state of Pakistan. Within the country, regular meetings and the constant dialogue with Opposition leaders ensured that India acted in a united manner, notwithstanding the public clamour for immediate action.

India sought to intervene in East Pakistan, only after Pakistan attacked India on December 3, 1971. Three days later on December 6, India made the formal announcement of recognising the new state of Bangladesh, almost nine months after the Peoples’ Republic of Bangladesh had been proclaimed by Sheik Mujibur Rahman. Still later in March 1972, India and Bangladesh signed a Treaty of Peace and Friendship.

The events spread over several months that culminated in the emergence of a new nation, became possible only because of close coordination among the various limbs of the Government, which acted in concert to achieve the cardinal objective, viz., that the struggle of the people of East Pakistan should not go in vain. The West, however, erroneously believed the humanitarian disaster notwithstanding, that it could not let down its ally Pakistan, which was a member of several western-led military alliances. Quite a few other nations, while sympathetic to the plight of the beleaguered population of East Pakistan, were unwilling to extend support fearing the wrath of the U.S.

Operating from the shadows

A great deal has been written about the military exploits in connection with the formation of Bangladesh — of the IndianArmy, the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force. Very little has, however, been mentioned about the role of the intelligence agencies. Understandably so, since the intelligence agencies do not publicise their exploits and operate behind an iron curtain. Fifty years after Bangladesh gained Independence, it may, however, be time to give a pat on the back of the two principal intelligence agencies at the time — the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW/RAW). A vast network of agents had been created by the IB well before the organisation was bifurcated in 1968 into the IB and the R&AW, and the latter built on these assets. These agents played a critical role behind the scenes, preparing the ground for the eventual collapse of Pakistani Army resistance in East Bengal. At the risk of violating a cardinal rule of intelligence, it might also be the opportune moment to pay a silent tribute to one of the most outstanding secret agents of recent times, whose name and pseudonym will, however, have to remain a secret, but whose exploits were no less than that of the most celebrated spy of World War II, Richard Sorge. The time has also come to acknowledge the role of the Mukti Bahini — the Army of Bangladeshi irregulars — fashioned by the intelligence agencies which played a key role during the conflict. This seldom happens, but is worth a mention, at least in a newspaper article.

The ultimate accolade for India’s role in creating a new nation is that Bangladesh is today a relatively prosperous country, having made steady progress from the category of a Least Developed Country to a Developing country. Bangladesh “will get time up to 2026 to prepare for the transition to the status of a developing country”. Few countries across the world expected the new nation to survive, let alone thrive, given that the nascent Bangladesh Government was functioning under an untested leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman; the country had been born amidst widespread and unprecedented violence and upheaval, possessed scarce resources, and was riven with internecine differences.

Bangladesh today

Today, Bangladesh is a shining example of what is possible through human endeavour and a wise leadership. It has not allowed itself to be drawn into the vortex of foreign influences, and maintains an independent foreign policy. Relations with India are excellent today, though there have been periods when relations were not all that cordial. Currently, Bangladesh’s annual GDP growth exceeds that of its erstwhile parent, Pakistan. Women empowerment has been a major catalyst in Bangladesh’s progress, and this is largely responsible for transforming the country.

India’s achievement in enabling the people of East Pakistan to carve out a separate destiny for themselves and achieve full freedom from Islamabad, well mirrors what can be achieved when the political, diplomatic, military, intelligence and civil segments act in a coordinated manner under a firm and far-sighted political leadership. This is the acid test for any future eventuality of this nature.

5. Eitorial: A green partnership

The U.S.-India climate pact has the potential to aid sustainable post-pandemic development

The U.S.-India Climate and Clean Energy Agenda 2030 Partnership raises expectations that the coming decade will see sustained financial and technological cooperation between the two countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions. At the Leaders Summit on Climate organised by U.S. President Joe Biden, the world’s attention was focused on countries responsible for the highest carbon emissions. India ranks third, behind the U.S. and China, although its per capita CO2 emissions are less than 60% of the global average, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi pointed out. There is little confidence in a pandemic-stricken world, however, that future growth pathways will be aligned away from fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency, in fact, expects a dramatic rise in emissions as countries race to shake off the impact of the coronavirus, as they did after the 2008 financial crisis. Yet, the years to 2030, as President Biden put it, are part of a “decisive decade”, and action to scale up funding and innovation can help all countries move closer to keeping global warming well below 2°C or even 1.5°C, as the Paris Agreement envisages. There are many aspects to the bilateral pact that could be transformative for energy-intensive sectors in India, starting with renewable power expansion to 450 GW. With open source technologies, India could incorporate innovative materials and processes to decarbonise industry, transport and buildings, the biggest emitters, apart from power.

Many developed countries tend to view India’s reluctance to commit to a net zero emissions target as recalcitrance, but the climate change crisis originated not here but in the industrialised world, which has used up much of the world’s carbon space. A forward-looking policy should, therefore, envision green development anew, providing funding and green technologies as compensation for the emissions space lost by poorer countries. This is a win-win game, since it would aid sustainable development, boost employment, clean up the environment and, crucially, help all countries emerge healthier from the pandemic. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who announced enhanced ambition at the summit for Britain to cut carbon emissions by 78% by 2035 over 1990 levels, advanced the agenda by calling for climate funding by rich nations to exceed the decade-old goal of $100 billion. For the India-U.S. agreement to yield results, Mr. Biden would have to persuade industry and research institutions at home to share knowledge and subsidise transfer of technologies. He has won commendations for steering America around from the science-deprived Trump years and announcing enhanced ambition: cuts in emissions by 50% to 52% by 2030 over 2005 levels. But much of his climate effort will rely on executive authority, rather than bipartisan support. With political will on both sides, the engagement with India can become a model.

6. Eitorial: A case for judicial federalism

The need for a uniform judicial order across India is unwarranted in COVID-19-related cases

In comparison to the legislature and the executive, what the judiciary can deliver in the realm of socio-economic rights is limited. Courts cannot build better health infrastructure or directly supply oxygen; neither are they functionally bound to. Courts often lack the expertise and resources to decide social rights issues. What they can do is to ask tough questions to the executive, implement existing laws and regulations, and hold the executive accountable in various aspects of healthcare allocation. In Parmanand Katara v. Union of India (1989), the Supreme Court underlined the value of human lives and said that the right to emergency medical treatment is part of the citizen’s fundamental rights. As such, constitutional courts owe a duty to protect this right.

In the face of a de facto COVID-19 health emergency, the High Courts of Delhi, Gujarat, Madras and Bombay, among others, have done exactly that. They considered the pleas of various hospitals for oxygen supply. The Gujarat High Court issued a series of directions, including for laboratory testing and procurement of oxygen. The Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court was constrained to hold night sittings to consider the issue of oxygen supply. It directed immediate restoration of oxygen supply that had been reduced from the Bhilai steel plant in Chhattisgarh. The Delhi High Court directed the Central government to ensure adequate measures for the supply of oxygen. It cautioned that we might lose thousands of lives due to lack of oxygen.

Transfer of cases

On April 22, the Supreme Court took suo motu cognisance of the issue in ‘Re: Distribution of Essential Supplies and Services During Pandemic’. It said, “Prima facie, we are inclined to take the view that the distribution of these essential services and supplies must be done in an even-handed manner according to the advice of the health authorities” and asked the Central government to present a national plan. In addition, it issued an order asking the State governments and the Union Territories to “show cause why uniform orders” should not be passed by the Supreme Court. The court thus indicated the possibility of transfer of cases to the Supreme Court, which it has done on various occasions before.

Under Article 139A of the Constitution, the Supreme Court does have the power to transfer cases from the High Courts to itself if cases involve the same questions of law. However, what make the court’s usurpation disturbing are two well-founded observations regarding its contemporary conduct. One, the court has been indifferent to the actions and inactions of the executive even in cases where interference was warranted, such as the Internet ban in Kashmir. Two, where effective remedies were sought, when activists and journalists were arrested and detained, the court categorically stayed aloof. It acted as if its hands were tied. Lawyers will find it difficult to recall a significant recent case of civil liberty from the court where tangible relief was granted against the executive, except for rhetorical statements on personal liberty.

These features, coupled with the unhealthy characteristics of an executive judiciary, makes the court’s indication for a takeover disturbing. On April 23, presumably due to widespread criticism of the court’s move, especially from a section of the legal fraternity, the court backtracked and simply adjourned the case.

The matter might be heard by the Supreme Court in the coming days. Significantly, the developments so far offer some crucial lessons for judicial federalism in India. The very fact that many from different High Court Bar Associations spoke up against the move to transfer the cases from the High Courts to the Supreme Court is a positive signal that underlines re-emergence of internal democracy within the Bar. Navroz Seervai, a noted lawyer from the Bombay High Court, critiqued the views of the top court saying that they reflected “arrogance of power” and “rank contempt for and disregard of the High Courts in the country, and the extremely important and vital role they play in the constitutional scheme”.

In the Supreme Court, the judges sit in Benches of two or more. The purpose of this practice is to encourage deliberation on the Bench to have a higher level of deliberative justice. This necessarily presupposes dissent. A characteristic feature of the apex court in the recent years is general lack of dissent in issues that have serious political ramifications. This deficit occurs not only in the formally pronounced judgments and orders; dissenting judges on the Bench are rare, and the hearing on the COVID-19 case was no exception.

According to the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, public health and hospitals come under the State List as Item No. 6. There could be related subjects coming under the Union List or Concurrent List. Also, there may be areas of inter-State conflicts. But as of now, the respective High Courts have been dealing with specific challenges at the regional level, the resolution of which does not warrant the top court’s interference.

In addition to the geographical reasons, the constitutional scheme of the Indian judiciary is pertinent. In L. Chandra Kumar v. Union of India (1997), the Supreme Court itself said that the High Courts are “institutions endowed with glorious judicial traditions” since they “had been in existence since the 19th century and were possessed of a hoary past enabling them to win the confidence of the people”. Even otherwise, in a way, the power of the High Court under Article 226 is wider than the Supreme Court’s under Article 32, for in the former, a writ can be issued not only in cases of violation of fundamental rights but also “for any other purpose”. This position was reiterated by the court soon after its inception in State of Orissa v. Madan Gopal Rungta (1951).

Autonomy is the rule

Judicial federalism has intrinsic and instrumental benefits which are essentially political. The United States is an illustrative case. Scholar G. Alan Tarr of Rutgers University hinted, “Despite the existence of some endemic and periodical problems, the American system of judicial federalism has largely succeeded in promoting national uniformity and subnational diversity in the administration of justice”. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor rightly said in a 1984 paper that the U.S. Supreme Court reviews “only a relative handful of cases from state courts” which ensures “a large measure of autonomy in the application of federal law” for the State courts.

This basic tenet of judicial democracy is well accepted across the courts in the modern federal systems. The need for a uniform judicial order across India is warranted only when it is unavoidable — for example, in cases of an apparent conflict of laws or judgments on legal interpretation. Otherwise, autonomy, not uniformity, is the rule. Decentralisation, not centrism, is the principle. In the COVID-19-related cases, High Courts across the country have acted with an immense sense of judicial responsibility. This is a legal landscape that deserves to be encouraged. To do this, the Supreme Court must simply stay away.

7. Eitorial-6: What Israel wants in Syria

It is determined to contain Iran’s growing influence in the region

Ten years since the outbreak of the crisis in Syria, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad seems to have won the civil war. If in 2015, before the Russian intervention, Mr. Assad’s area of influence had shrunken to the largely Alawite-populated region stretching from Damascus to the Mediterranean coast, his troops now control most of Syria — except Idlib and the Kurdish territories. The Kurds enjoy autonomy in the border region with Turkey, but have bought a delicate peace with Damascus. In effect, Idlib, controlled by jihadists and rebels, and some towns on the border that are held by pro-Turkey militias are the only parts of the country that lie outside the sovereignty of the Syrian government. Mr. Assad’s victory, however, seems to have locked Syria in a prolonged geopolitical contest. The Syrian army turned around the war with help from Russia, Iran and several Iran-backed Shia militias, including the Lebanese Hezbollah. They are all still in Syria, which shares a border with Israel. This means the civil war has intensified the Iran-Israel conflict.

Changing tactics

When the Syrian crisis unfolded in 2011-12, Israel took a ‘wait and watch’ approach, primarily because it preferred a stable regime in Damascus to the post-revolutionary chaos — despite the absence of a formal peace treaty, the Israeli-Syrian border has been largely uneventful since the 1970s. But when Iran deployed militias and military assets in Syria in defence of Mr. Assad, it changed Israel’s calculus. Across Israel’s northern border, the Hezbollah has already established a formidable presence. Both Israel’s 1982-2000 occupation of southern Lebanon and the 2006 war on Lebanon were resisted by Hezbollah. Israel would not like to have more Iran-backed Shia militias across the Golan Heights, which it captured from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and which has been the de facto border between the two countries ever since.

So, Israel changed its tactics. It first started helping anti-Assad rebels in the Golan region by reportedly providing cash and medical aid. The plan was to create a buffer between the Golan Heights and the rest of Syria so that the pro-Iran militias could be stopped from coming face-to-face with Israeli troops. Later, after the tides turned in the civil war and Iran deepened its presence in Syria, Israel started bombing Iranian positions inside Syria. Since September 2015, the Syrian air space has practically been controlled by the Russians. But Russia looked away when Israel stepped up its bombings and Israel has been careful not to hit Russian positions in the overcrowded Syrian battlefield.

Three goals

Israel had three key goals: disrupt Iranian supplies for Hezbollah and other Shia militias; stop the militias advancing towards the de facto border; and by continuously targeting them, weaken Iran’s presence in Syria. In the last three years, Israel has carried out dozens of aerial attacks in Syria. In retaliation, Syria has often fired anti-aircraft missiles. In February 2018, Syria shot down an Israeli war plane. Last week, an anti-aircraft surface-to-air missile, purportedly fired by the Syrian army, landed near Israel’s secretive nuclear facility in Dimona. In response, Israel carried out a round of bombing in Syria.

For the Syrian government, support from Iran was a lifeline. While Russia provided air power in the civil war, Iran supplied ground troops. So, Mr. Assad did nothing to prevent the sprawling Iranian influence in his country despite Israeli attacks. And Iran’s response to Israeli attacks has been only to deepen its footprints. As a result, Syria has emerged as a new theatre in the Israel-Iran geopolitical contest in West Asia, which could outlive the Syrian civil war. Already, the conflict has spilled from Syria into the Mediterranean and Red Sea waters where both sides target each other’s ships. With Israel determined to contain Iran’s growing influence in the region, at a time when the U.S. and other Western powers are reaching out to Iran to revive the 2015 nuclear deal which could leave it more powerful economically, the Israel-Iran contest is set to intensify further.

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