1. India, Bangladesh must fight terror together: PM
Modi pays tributes to 1971 War martyrs
Contemporary Bangladesh was created with the blood of the freedom fighters, and of the Indian soldiers who were martyred in the War of Liberation of 1971, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in Dhaka on Friday.
Addressing a special gathering on the National Day celebrations that marked the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence, Mr. Modi said the creation of Bangladesh received support from all sections of the Indian political class.
The visiting leader also said the two countries should fight jointly against terrorism.
“Bangladesh is sustained by the blood of the freedom fighters of the country as well as of the Indian soldiers. This blood will create such a relation that will not break under any kind of pressure,” he said.
“I pay my homage to those brave Indian soldiers who stood with the brothers and sisters of Bangladesh during the War of Liberation and gave their blood for the creation of a free Bangladesh,” Mr. Modi said at the National Day Programme in the presence of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and President Abdul Hamid.
Recollecting the atrocities unleashed by the Pakistani military, Mr. Modi blamed “Operation Searchlight” of March 25, 1971 for unleashing a reign of terror in the country. “Their language, their voice and identity were being suppressed. The brutality of Operation Searchlight is not as widely discussed in the world as it should be,” Mr. Modi said.
Mr. Modi said India and Bangladesh shared common goals and challenges, and that the two countries should remain focused on dealing with the challenges such as terrorism. He added, “We have to be aware of the challenges that these forces pose to us and we have to remain united to combat them collectively.”
Earlier in the day, Mr. Modi paid rich tributes to the martyrs at the National Martyrs’ Memorial at Savar and said the sacrifice of the participants in the historic war would remain a lasting legacy in South Asia. He also planted an ‘Arjun’ sapling at the memorial grounds which contain unmarked graves of the martyrs.
Beginning his interactions for the two-day visit, Mr. Modi met the leaders of the ruling alliance in Dhaka and interacted with a delegation of muktijoddhas, or former guerrillas who fought in the war. He also met leaders of Bangladesh’s religious minorities.
India was one of the first countries to recognize Bangladesh and establish diplomatic relations immediately after its independence in December 1971.
- Defence Cooperation:
- Various Joint exercises of Army (Exercise Sampriti) and Navy (Exercise Milan) take place between the two countries.
- Border Management: India and Bangladesh share 4096.7 km. of border, which is the longest land boundary that India shares with any of its neighbours.
- The India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) came into force following the exchange of instruments of ratification in June 2015.
- Cooperation over Rivers:
- India and Bangladesh share 54 common rivers. A bilateral Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) has been working since June 1972 to maintain liaison between the two countries to maximize benefits from common river systems.
- Economic Relations:
- Bangladesh is India’s biggest trade partner in South Asia. India’s exports to Bangladesh for financial year 2018-19 (April-March) stood at US 9.21 billion USD and imports from Bangladesh for the same period stood at US 1.22 Billion USD.
- Bangladesh has appreciated the Duty-Free and Quota Free access given to Bangladeshi exports to India under South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) since 2011.
- Cooperation in Connectivity:
- Both countries jointly inaugurated the newly restored railway link between Haldibari (India) and Chilahati (Bangladesh).
- Welcomed the signing of the second addendum to the Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade (PIWTT).
- Agreed to an early operationalization of the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) initiative Motor Vehicles Agreement through the expeditious signing of the Enabling MoU for Bangladesh, India and Nepal to commence the movement of goods and passengers, with provision for Bhutan to join at a later date
- Cooperation in Power Sector:
- This has become one of the hallmarks of India- Bangladesh relations. Bangladesh is currently importing 1160 MW of power from India.
- Partnership on Multilateral forums:
- India thanked Bangladesh for supporting India in its election to the United Nations Security Council.
- Both countries agreed to continue working together towards achieving early reforms of the UN Security Council, combating climate change, attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and protection of the rights of migrants.
- Highlighted that regional organisations such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) have an important role to play.
- Bangladesh thanked India for convening the SAARC leaders Video Conference in March 2020 and for creation of the SAARC Emergency Response Fund to counter effects of the global pandemic in the South Asian region.
- Bangladesh will assume chairmanship of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) in 2021 and requested the support of India for working towards greater maritime safety and security.
- Recent Development:
- Recently, India and Bangladesh signed seven agreements and also inaugurated three projects to deepen their partnership.
- The use of the Chattogram and Mongla ports in Bangladesh for movement of goods to and from India, particularly from Northeastern India.
- Use of Bangladesh’s Feni river for drinking water supply in Tripura.
- Further areas of Cooperation:
- The two countries need to focus on priority areas, such as investments, security connectivity development, cross border energy cooperation, blue economy, cultural economy, environment and disaster management etc.
- Resolve the refugees (Rohingyas) crisis.
- During Covid 19:
- Reiterating the highest priority India attaches to Bangladesh under India’s Neighbourhood First policy, India assured that vaccines for Covid-19 would be made available to Bangladesh as and when produced in India.
- India also offered collaboration in therapeutics and partnership in vaccine production.
- Emerging Disputes:
- There should be efforts to resolve pending issues concerning sharing of waters, resolving continental shelf issues in the Bay of Bengal, bringing down border incidents to zero, and managing the media.
- Bangladesh has already raised concerns over roll out of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, an exercise carried out to identify genuine Indian citizens living in Assam and weed out illegal Bangladeshis.
- Currently, Bangladesh is an active partner of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that Delhi has not signed up to.
- In the security sector, Bangladesh is also a major recipient of Chinese military inventory, including submarines.
India-Bangladesh Bilateral Relations
There are 54 common rivers between India and Bangladesh.
- India and Bangladesh signed the Ganga Waters Treaty on 12th December 1996 (For 30 years.)
- Both the nations established the Joint River Commission (JRC) that came into force in 1972. It works for the common interests and sharing of water resources, irrigation, floods and cyclones control.
- As per the data published by the Ministry of External Affairs, India’s exports to Bangladesh in FY 2018-19 stood at US$ 9.21 bn and imports from Bangladesh during the same period were US$1.04 bn.
- Some important institutional mechanisms:
- Joint Rivers Commission (JRC)
- Joint Economic Commission (JEC) at Ministerial level
- Foreign Office Consultations
- Home, Commerce and Water Resources Secretary-level talks
- BSF-BDR DG-level border coordination conference
- Joint Working Group on Security (JWG)
- Joint Boundary Working Group (JBWG)
- Joint Working Group on Trade (JWG)
- Joint Group of Customs Officials (JGC)
- Protocol Renewal Committee and Standing Committee to review the implementation of Protocol on Inland Water Transit and Trade
- Inter-Governmental Railway Meeting
- India-Bangladesh Conflict Zones:
- The flow of migrants across the Bangladesh boundary due to unstable conditions in Bangladesh
- Water Dispute – Read about Teesta Water Dispute in the linked article.
- Border Disputes
- Sharing River Water
- India’s Population in Bangladesh
What does India export to Bangladesh?
The major export items to Bangladesh from India are:
- Engineering goods
- Chemical and pharmaceuticals
2. Suez Canal blocked, India eyes Cape of Good Hope
‘Rerouting may take additional 15 days’
With $200 billion of India’s trade flows with Europe, North America and South America at risk due to the blockage of the Suez Canal, the Department of Commerce has worked out an action plan to cope with the crisis, including possibly re-routing shipments through the Cape of Good Hope.
More than 200 vessels are waiting on the North and South sides of the Suez Canal and about 60 vessels are joining this queue daily, officials said.
“If two more days are taken before the efforts result in clearance of the canal (digging on both sides, extra barges being added on every high tide, tugboats, etc. to straighten the stuck vessel), the total backlog created would be about 350 vessels,” the Commerce and Industry Ministry said in a statement, estimating this backlog alone would take about a week to clear.
Export promotion agencies have been asked to identify cargo with perishable items that need priority movement. Container Shipping Lines Association was advised to explore the option of re-routing ships via the Cape of Good Hope.
“Such re-routing usually takes 15 additional days’ time,” officials were informed at a meeting. Shipping firms have promised to honour existing freight contracts, while ports have been advised to be ready for a bunching up of vessels once the canal is unblocked.
India-Europe Union Economic Relations
- The EU as a bloc of 28 countries is India’s largest regional trading partner while India was the EU’s 9th largest trading partner in 2015.
- India and the EU are in the process of negotiating a bilateral Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA) since 2007.
|European Union European Union (EU), is an international organization comprising 28 European countries and governing common economic, social, and security policies.The EU was created by the Maastricht Treaty, which entered into force on November 1, 1993.The treaty was designed to enhance European political and economic integration by creating a single currency (the euro), a unified foreign and security policy, and common citizenship rights and by advancing cooperation in the areas of immigration, asylum, and judicial affairs.|
Issues in India-EU Trade Relations
- Even after 13 rounds of negotiations, BTIA has not led to the signing of the agreement.
- Intellectual property rights: There is disagreement over IP protection standards. The EU is keen that India should adopt stringent IP protection standards.
- For India, such a step could impact public health and seriously affect the Indian pharmaceutical sector.
- Reduction in tariffs: One of the major demands of the EU is that India should lower its tariff rates on European dairy and poultry products, wines and spirits.
- Reduction of tariffs in the dairy sector and poultry industry could have a serious impact on the Indian dairy industry, mainly on employment.
- Services sector: India has demanded flexible regulations, greater access for Indian services and an easy visa requirement for Indian professionals. Europe is cautious about allowing this fearing an increased unemployment problem.
3. ‘Move health to Concurrent list’
Boost healthcare spending to 2.5% of GDP, set up DFI: Singh
Health should be shifted to the Concurrent list under the Constitution, and a developmental finance institution (DFI) dedicated to healthcare investments set up, Fifteenth Finance Commission Chairman N.K. Singh said on Friday.
Making a case for enhancing government spending on health to 2.5% of GDP by 2025, Mr. Singh said primary healthcare should be a fundamental commitment of all States in particular and should be allocated at least two-thirds of such spending.
Bringing health into the Concurrent list would give the Centre greater flexibility to enact regulatory changes and reinforce the obligation of all stakeholders towards providing better healthcare.
Addressing the NATHEALTH summit, he said the health sector was in dire need of a DFI similar to the one being set up to stimulate infrastructure investments.
“Such a DFI would increase healthcare access in tier-2 and tier-3 cities and also come in with technical assistance that ensures proper usage of funds,” he said.
He also emphasised the importance of universalising healthcare insurance as a large section of the society still remained uncovered.
“While the PMJAY covers the bottom two income quintiles, commercial insurance largely covers top-income quintile, thereby creating a ‘missing middle’ class in between.
“This refers to people in the middle two income quintiles, where the population is not rich enough to afford commercial insurance and not poor enough to be covered under government-sponsored health insurance schemes,” the Commission’s Chairman pointed out.
Finance Commission of India
Finance Commission is a constitutional body for the purpose of allocation of certain revenue resources between the Union and the State Governments. It was established under Article 280 of the Indian Constitution by the Indian President. It was created to define the financial relations between the Centre and the states. It was formed in 1951.
Which articles deal with Finance Commission of India?
Article 280 of the Indian Constitution
- President after two years of the commencement of Indian Constitution and thereafter every 5 years, has to constitute a Finance Commission of India.
- It shall be the duty of the Commission to make recommendations to the President in relation to the:
- the distribution between the Union and the States of the net proceeds of taxes which are to be, or maybe, divided between them and the allocation between the States of the respective shares of such proceeds;
- the principles which should govern the grants in aid of the revenues of the States out of the Consolidated Fund of India;
- any other matter referred to the Commission by the President in the interests of sound finance
- The Commission shall determine their procedure and shall have such powers in the performance of their functions as Parliament may by law confer on them
Note: President can also constitute Finance Commission before the expiry of five years as he considers necessary
Article 281 of the Indian Constitution
- It is related to the recommendations of the Finance Commission:
- The President has to lay the recommendation made by Finance Commission and its explanatory memorandum before each house of Parliament
Who Constitutes Finance Commission of India?
President of India constitutes the Finance Commission every five years or on time considered necessary by him.
Finance Commission Chairman and Members
- Chairman: Heads the Commission and presides over the activities. He should have had public affairs experience.
- Four Members.
- The Parliament determines legally the qualifications of the members of the Commission and their selection methods.
Qualifications of Finance Commission Chairman and Members
- The 4 members should be or have been qualified as High Court judges, or be knowledgeable in finance or experienced in financial matters and are in administration, or possess knowledge in economics.
- All the appointments are made by the President of the country.
- Grounds of disqualification of members:
- found to be of unsound mind, involved in a vile act, if there is a conflict of interest
- The tenure of the office of the Member of the Finance Commission is specified by the President of India and in some cases, the members are also re-appointed.
- The members shall give part-time or service to the Commission as scheduled by the President.
- The salary of the members is as per the provisions laid down by the Constitution.
Functions of Finance Commission
The Finance Commission makes recommendations to the president of India on the following issues:
- The net tax proceeds distribution to be divided between the Centre and the states, and the allocation of the same between states.
- The principles governing the grants-in-aid to the states by the Centre out of the consolidated fund of India.
- The steps required to extend the consolidated fund of a state to boost the resources of the panchayats and the municipalities of the state on the basis of the recommendations made by the state Finance Commission.
- Any other matter referred to it by the president in the interests of sound finance.
- The Commission decides the basis for sharing the divisible taxes by the centre and the states and the principles that govern the grants-in-aid to the states every five years.
- Any matter in the interest of sound finance may be referred to the Commission by the President.
- The Commission’s recommendations along with an explanatory memorandum with regard to the actions done by the government on them are laid before the Houses of the Parliament.
- The FC evaluates the rise in the Consolidated Fund of a state in order to affix the resources of the state Panchayats and Municipalities.
- The FC has sufficient powers to exercise its functions within its activity domain.
- As per the Code of Civil Procedure 1908, the FC has all the powers of a Civil Court. It can call witnesses, ask for the production of a public document or record from any office or court.
Advisory Role of Finance Commission
The recommendations made by the Finance Commission are of an advisory nature only and therefore, not binding upon the government. It is up to the Government to implement its recommendations on granting money to the states. To put it in other words, ‘It is nowhere laid down in the Constitution that the recommendations of the commission shall be binding upon the Government of India or that it would amount to a legal right favouring the recipient states to receive the money recommended to be provided to them by the Commission.
List of Finance Commissions of India
Finance Commissions list year-wise are given in the table below:
|Finance Commission||Chairman||Year of Appointment|
|Fourth||Dr. P.V. Rajamannar||1964|
|Twelfth||Dr. C. Rangarajan||2002|
|Thirteenth||Dr. Vijay Kelkar||2007|
4. Japan to fund A&N, metro expansion
₹265-cr grant to boost islands’ power supply; ‘A&N location key in Indo-Pacific’
In the first-ever official development assistance (ODA) project in Andaman & Nicobar (A&N), Japan has approved grant aid worth ¥4.02 billion, or ₹265 crore, to improve the power supply in the islands, stressing the strategic geopolitical location of the islands for an open Indo-Pacific.
Japan has also extended yen loans worth ¥229.5 billion, or ₹16,186 crore, for executing four projects, including Delhi Metro’s Phase 4 and Bengaluru Metro’s Phase 2 expansion plans for which loan agreements were signed between the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the government on Friday.
“This is the first-ever ODA project in the strategic islands of Andaman & Nicobar (apart from humanitarian emergency assistance),” said a Japanese embassy official.
“Due to its geopolitical location, the islands play a crucial role in our shared vision for a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific.”
“Cooperation between Japan and India on these crucial islands demonstrate the commitment of both countries to realising a stable, peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific,” he added.
The grant would be used to procure 15MWh batteries as well as power system stabilisers to allow better utilisation of solar power generated in South Andaman.
The ₹8,390-crore loan for Delhi Metro’s fourth phase would help build three priority corridors — the extension of Line 7 (Mukundpur – Maujpur/12.56 km), Line 8 (Janakpuri West – R.K. Ashram/28.92 km) and a new corridor spanning Aerocity – Tughlakabad (23.62 Km), an official statement said. Following the completion of this phase, Delhi’s metro rail network span over 400 km, more than twice the Tokyo Metro, the official said.
Similarly, a ₹3,717 crore loan has been approved for developing 80 km of metro lines under the Namma Metro’s second phase in Bengaluru. This would cover Line R6 (Nagawara – Gottigere, 22 km), Phase 2A (Silk Board – K R.Puram, about 20 km) and Phase 2B (K R.Puram – Kempegowda International Airport Terminal, 38 km).
A loan of ₹807 crore was extended for crop diversification in Himachal Pradesh and ₹3,272 crore in loans to rural water supply with a focus on mitigating fluorosis in Rajasthan’s Jhunjhunu and Barmer districts.
The Islands of India
India has 615 islands/islets. The majority of them, around 572 islands/islets are located in the Bay of Bengal and remaining 43 islands/islets are located in the Arabian Sea. Apart from these, there are some coral islands in the Gulf of Mannar and Khambat regions and there are some offshore islands along the mouth of the Ganga river.
The Indian Island groups are generally grouped into two:
- The Andaman and Nicobar Islands located in the Bay of Bengal
- The Lakshadweep and Minicoy Islands located in the Arabian Sea (adjacent to Kerala coast)
The Andaman & Nicobar Islands
Andaman and Nicobar Islands situated in the Bay of Bengal, run like a narrow chain in the north-south direction extending between 6 39 N and 14 34 N.
The main islands under the Andaman and Nicobar Islands group are:
- North Andaman
- Middle Andaman
- South Andaman
- Little Andaman
- Car Nicobar
- Little Nicobar
- Great Nicobar
- These islands are separated from one another by very narrow straits.
- Andamans are separated from Nicobar by 10-degree channel (10-degree latitude).
- South Andaman and Little Andaman are separated by Duncan Passage.
- The Grand Channel is between the Great Nicobar islands and the Sumatra islands of Indonesia.
- The Coco Strait is between the North Andaman islands and the Coco Islands of Myanmar.
- Andaman and Nicobar Islands group is a Union Territory administered by the President through a Lt. Governor.
- Port Blair, located in South Andaman is the administrative capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
- The southernmost point of India is The Indira Point, (formerly known as Pygmalion Point and Parsons Point) which is the southern point of the Great Nicobar Islands.
- The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are part of the submarine tertiary fold mountains which are protruding out of the sea. These mountains form a link with Arakan Yoma and Sumatra.
- The highest peak of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is Saddle Peak, located in the North Andaman.
- The Andaman and Nicobar Island has a tropical marine climate influenced by the seasonal flow of monsoon winds.
- The region is under dense tropical rain forests. The coastal regions have mangrove forests.
- Coconut fruit is the staple food of the people. Fisheries, piggery is also followed.
- The Islands are also famous for the largest and rarest species of crab, the Giant Robber Crab. It can climb the coconut trees and break the hard shell of the fruit.
- Many islands are uninhabited. The inhabited islands are also sparsely populated.
- The entire region is vulnerable to earthquakes as it is in the major earthquake zone.
- The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are also known as the Emerald Islands.
- Barren Island, located in the east of Middle Andaman is India s only active volcano.
- The Narcondam Island, located in the north-east of North Andaman is also a volcanic island.
Lakshadweep Islands situated in the Arabian Sea is a group of 36 islands having an area of 32 square kilometers and extending between 8 N and 12 N latitude.
The main islands under the Lakshadweep Islands group are:
- These islands were earlier known as Laccadive, Minicoy and Amindivi Islands.
- The name Lakshadweep was adopted on 1 November 1973
- These islands are separated from one another by very narrow straits.
- The Lakshadweep Islands group is a Union Territory administered by the President through a Lt. Governor.
- It is the smallest Union Territory of India.
- Kavaratti is the administrative capital of the Lakshadweep Islands. It is also the principal town of the Union Territory.
- It is a uni-district Union Territory and is comprised of 12 atolls, three reefs, five submerged banks, and ten inhabited islands.
- The name Lakshadweep in Malayalam and Sanskrit means ‘a hundred thousand islands‘.
- The Lakshadweep Islands are located at a distance of 280 km to 480 km off the Kerala coast.
- These islands are a part of Reunion Hotspot volcanism.
- The entire Lakshadweep islands group is made up of coral deposits.
- Fishing is the main occupation on which livelihoods of many people depend.
- The Lakshadweep islands have storm beaches consisting of unconsolidated pebbles, shingles, cobbles, and boulders.
- Minicoy Island, located to the south of the nine-degree channel is the largest island among the Lakshadweep group.
- 8 Degree Channel (8 degrees north latitude) separates islands of Minicoy and Maldives.
- 9 Degree Channel (9 degrees north latitude) separates the island of Minicoy from the main Lakshadweep archipelago.
- In the Lakshadweep region, there is an absence of forests.
- Pitti Island is an important breeding place for sea turtles and for a number of pelagic birds such as the brown noddy, lesser crested tern and greater crested tern. The Pitti Island has been declared a bird sanctuary.
Other Important Islands of India
- Sriharikota Island- It is located between Pulicat Lake and the Bay of Bengal in the Nellore district of the state of Andhra Pradesh. Sriharikota is one of the satellite launching stations of the Indian Space Research Organisation.
- Abdul Kalam Island/ Wheeler Island- The Abdul Kalam Island is located off the Odisha coast. It is India’s most advanced missile testing site. The island was earlier named after an English commandant Lieutenant Wheeler.
- Pamban Island- It is located between India and Sri Lanka in the Gulf of Mannar and in the Ramanathapuram district of the state of Tamil Nadu. It is also known as Rameswaram Island. Most of Pamban Island is covered with white sand and hence is not suitable for
- Majuli Island- It is located in the state of Assam. It is a large river island in the Brahmaputra river. It is the world s largest river island. The livelihoods of people on the island are dependent on agriculture. The island is under severe ecological threat due to the extensive soil erosion on its banks.
- Diu Island-It is located off the south coast of Kathiawar. Diu Island is famous for the historical Diu fort and beautiful beaches.
- Sagar Island-It is located in the Ganga delta in the Bay of Bengal. It is a large island. It is also an important place of Hindu pilgrimage.
- Halliday Island-It is located in the state of West Bengal and is part of the Sunderbans region. It is located in the river Malta. It is also designated as a wildlife sanctuary.
- Phumdis/Floating Islands-They is located in the state of Manipur. It is part of the Keibul Lamjao National Park. It is famous for the Eld’s deer/ Sangai.
5. 40% of RTI rejections did not cite valid reason, says analysis
Central Information Commission’s report scrutinised
The Centre has only rejected 4.3% of all Right to Information (RTI) requests in 2019-20, the lowest ever rate, according to the Central Information Commission’s annual report. However, almost 40% of these rejections did not include any valid reason, as they did not invoke one of the permissible exemption clauses in the RTI Act, according to an analysis of report data by RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak. This includes 90% of rejections by the Prime Minister’s Office.
Public authorities under the Central government received 13.7 lakh RTI requests in 2019-20, out of which 58,634 were rejected for various reasons. Rejection rates have fallen since the 13.9% rate in 2005-06, and have been steadily trending downwards since the 8.4% spike in 2014-15. In 2019-20, they hit their lowest level so far.
The CIC’s annual report covers more than 2,000 public authorities across the Central government as well as the union territories. An analysis of CIC macro-data from Central ministries by Mr. Nayak shows that the Home Ministry had the highest rate of rejections, as it rejected 20% of all RTIs received. The Agriculture Ministry’s rejection rate doubled from 2% in 2018-19 to 4% in 2019-20. The Delhi Police and the Army also saw increases in rejection rates.
The RTI Act allows public authorities to reject RTI requests on a number of grounds, ranging from information which would endanger life and safety to that which involves irrelevant personal information, Cabinet papers, foreign governments, copyrights, or sovereignty, security and intelligence matters. Public authorities are expected to cite the relevant clause of the Act to invoke the exemption.
In 38.7% of rejections in 2019-20, however, public authorities failed to cite these permissible exemption clauses, and were classified under the ‘Others’ category in the CIC data. This is an increase from the 33% seen the previous year.
The Finance Ministry alone rejected more than 10,000 cases (40% of its total RTI rejections) without providing a valid reason under the Act.
Right to Information
- 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 Legislature.By 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.
- 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.
- 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.
6. Editorial-1: Dormant Parliament, fading business
The gradual deterioration in Parliament’s functioning has to be stopped if it is to fulfil its constitutional mandate
The Budget session of Parliament ended on Thursday, two weeks ahead of the original plan, as many political leaders are busy with campaigning for the forthcoming State Assembly elections. This follows the trend of the last few sessions: the Budget session of 2020 was curtailed ahead of the lockdown imposed following the novel coronavirus pandemic, a short 18-day monsoon session ended after 10 days as several Members of Parliament and Parliament staff got affected by COVID-19, and the winter session was cancelled. As a result, the fiscal year 2020-21 saw the Lok Sabha sitting for 34 days (and the Rajya Sabha for 33), the lowest ever. The casualty was proper legislative scrutiny of proposed legislation as well as government functioning and finances. While COVID-19 was undoubtedly a grave matter, there is no reason why Parliament could not adopt remote working and technological solutions, as several other countries did.
No Bill scrutiny
An important development this session has been the absence of careful scrutiny of Bills. During the session, 13 Bills were introduced, and not even one of them was referred to a parliamentary committee for examination.
Many high impact Bills were introduced and passed within a few days. The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which is the Bill to change the governance mechanism of Delhi — shifting governance from the legislature and the Chief Minister to the Lieutenant Governor — was introduced on March 15 in the Lok Sabha, passed by that House on March 22 and by Rajya Sabha on the March 24. Another Bill, the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2021, amends the Mines and Minerals Act, 1957 to remove end-use restrictions on mines and ease conditions for captive mines; this Bill was introduced on March 15 and passed by both Houses within a week. A Bill — The National Bank for Financing Infrastructure and Development (NaBFID) Bill, 2021 — to create a new government infrastructure finance institution and permit private ones in this sector was passed within three days of introduction. The Insurance (Amendment) Bill, 2021, the Bill to increase the limit of foreign direct investment in insurance companies from 49% to 74% also took just a week between introduction and passing by both Houses. In all, 13 Bills were introduced in this session, and eight of them were passed within the session. This quick work should be read as a sign of abdication by Parliament of its duty to scrutinise Bills, rather than as a sign of efficiency.
Consulting House panels
This development also highlights the decline in the efficacy of committees. The percentage of Bills referred to committees declined from 60% and 71% in the 14th Lok Sabha (2004-09) and the 15th Lok Sabha, respectively, to 27% in the 16th Lok Sabha and just 11% in the current one. Parliamentary committees have often done a stellar job. For example, the committee that examined the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code suggested many changes to make the Code work better, and which were all incorporated in the final law. Similarly, amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act were based on the recommendations of the Committee.
Money Bill classification
The last few years have seen the dubious practice of marking Bills as ‘Money Bills’ and getting them past the Rajya Sabha. Some sections of the Aadhaar Act were read down by the Supreme Court of India due to this procedure (with a dissenting opinion that said that the entire Act should be invalidated). The Finance Bills, over the last few years, have contained several unconnected items such as restructuring of tribunals, introduction of electoral bonds, and amendments to the foreign contribution act.
Similarly, this year too, the Finance Bill has made major amendments to the Life Insurance Corporation Act, 1956. As this is a Money Bill, the Rajya Sabha cannot make any amendments, and has only recommendatory powers. Some of the earlier Acts, including the Aadhaar Act and Finance Act, have been referred to a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court. It would be useful if the Court can give a clear interpretation of the definition of Money Bills and provide guide rails within which Bills have to stay to be termed as such.
During this session, the Union Budget was presented, discussed and passed. The Constitution requires the Lok Sabha to approve the expenditure Budget (in the form of demand for grants) of each department and Ministry. The Lok Sabha had listed the budget of just five Ministries for detailed discussion and discussed only three of these; 76% of the total Budget was approved without any discussion. This behaviour was in line with the trend of the last 15 years, during which period 70% to 100% of the Budget have been passed without discussion in most years.
The missing Deputy Speaker
A striking feature of the current Lok Sabha is the absence of a Deputy Speaker. Article 93 of the Constitution states that “… The House of the People shall, as soon as may be, choose two members of the House to be respectively Speaker and Deputy Speaker….” Usually, the Deputy Speaker is elected within a couple of months of the formation of a new Lok Sabha, with the exception in the 1998-99 period, when it took 269 days to do so. By the time of the next session of Parliament, two years would have elapsed without the election of a Deputy Speaker. The issue showed up starkly this session when the Speaker was hospitalised. Some functions of the Speaker such as delivering the valedictory speech were carried out by a senior member.
The deterioration in Parliament’s functioning is not a recent phenomenon. For example, the Monsoon Session of 2008 had set some interesting records. That session went on till Christmas, as the government wanted to use a parliamentary rule that a no-confidence motion could not be moved twice within a session; instead of a winter session, the monsoon session was extended with breaks. That session also saw eight Bills being passed in the Lok Sabha within 17 minutes. The following Lok Sabha (2009-14) saw a lot of disruptions to work, with about a third of its scheduled time lost. Some things have improved: over the last few years, we have seen most Bills being discussed in the House and have had less disruptions. However, the scrutiny of Bills has suffered as they are not being referred to committees.
Parliamentary scrutiny is key
Parliament has the central role in our democracy as the representative body that checks the work of the government. It is also expected to examine all legislative proposals in detail, understand their nuances and implications of the provisions, and decide on the appropriate way forward. In order to fulfil its constitutional mandate, it is imperative that Parliament functions effectively. This will require making and following processes such as creating a system of research support to Members of Parliament, providing sufficient time for MPs to examine issues, and requiring that all Bills and budgets are examined by committees and public feedback is taken. In sum, Parliament needs to ensure sufficient scrutiny over the proposals and actions of the government.