1. New e-waste rules threaten jobs, collection network
System involving producer responsibility organisations dismantled; responsibility of recycling now with a handful of authorised recyclers
A proposed framework by the Centre for regulating e-waste in India has upset a key link of India’s electronic waste collection system and threatens the livelihood of thousands of people.
Electronic waste, or electronic goods that are past their productive life and old parts, is largely handled by India’s vast informal sector.
Spent goods are dismantled and viable working parts refurbished, with the rest making their way into chemical dismantling units. Many of these units are run out of unregulated sweatshops that employ child labour and hazardous extraction techniques. This electronic detritus contaminates soil and aggravates plastic pollution.
To address all of this, the Environment Ministry brought the E-waste (Management) Rules, 2016, which introduced a system of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) compelling makers of electronic goods to ensure a proportion of the goods they sold every year was recycled. They are expected to maintain records annually demonstrating this. Most companies however did not maintain an in-house unit in charge of recycling and this gave rise to a network of government-registered companies, called producer responsibility organisations (PRO) which acted as an intermediary between manufacturers of electronic goods and formal recycling units and were technologically equipped to recycle end-of-life electronic goods safely and efficiently.
The PROs typically bid for contracts from companies and arrange for specified quantities of goods to be recycled and provide companies certified proof of recycling that they then maintain as part of their records. Several PROs work on consumer awareness and enable a supply chain for recycled goods.
As of March, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has registered 74 PROs and 468 authorised dismantlers, which have a collective recycling capacity of about 1.3 million tonnes.
The Ministry estimated 7.7 lakh tonnes of e-waste to have been generated in 2018-19 and around one million tonnes in 2019-20 of which only a fifth (about 22% in both years) has been confirmed to be “dismantled and recycled”.
This May, the Ministry issued a draft notification that does away with the PROs and dismantlers and vests all responsibility of recycling with authorised recyclers, only a handful of which exist in India.
Recyclers will source a quantity of waste, recycle them and generate electronic certificates.
Companies can buy these certificates equivalent to their annual committed target and thus do not have to be involved with engaging the PROs and dismantlers. This update to the 2016 e-waste rules is in draft mode and open to public comment until July 31.
Several PROs have mailed their objections to the Ministry arguing that dismantling a fledgling system was detrimental to the future of e-waste management in India.
“On one hand, the number of categories of e-waste has been increased from 21 to 95 and on the other, PROs and dismantlers have been done away with. Nobody knows what is the trigger for such a move,” said Shobha Raghavan, Chief Operating Officer, SAAHAS Zero Waste, a Bengaluru-based PRO.
Under the new rules, recyclers will likely establish their own supply chains, and companies will no longer bear any responsibility for ensuring that their product is recycled.
Five years of investing and putting in place a system to collect and channel waste were under threat as 25,000 to 30,000 people were employed in this sector, Ms. Raghavan said.
“The PROs provide checks and balances and this is necessary because in the current system, there is a lot of unauthorised recycling and we are an important element in the chain to ensure verifiable recycling,” said Pranshu Singhal of Karo Sambhav, a Delhi-based PRO.
The Centre has not explained its rationale for dismantling the existing system in its draft notification. Calls to officials in the Ministry were not returned.
However, one person in the Ministry, familiar with e-waste policy, on condition of anonymity, told TheHindu that a final policy was yet to emerge.
The new rules, he said, would improve accountability because it would rely on an electronic management system that would track the material that went in for recycling with the output claimed by a recycler when they claimed GST (Goods and Services Tax) input credit. “Currently, the entire system is not remunerative for recyclers, which actually do the job of recycling. This current system incentivises them to invest in a dependable supply chain that will collect and recycle waste,” he added. “The current system managed by PRO isn’t always reliable as there have been several instances of double-counting (where the same articles recycled once for one company are credited into the account for multiple companies). He said that the CPCB was still testing such a system though it wouldn’t automatically solve the problem of routing all electronic waste from informal channels to formal channels.
Mr. Singhal added that the proposed rules shifted responsibility for controlling e-waste away from producers of goods to recyclers. There were too few recyclers across India and predominant in the big cities and in the absence of dismantlers, goods would now have to travel greater distances to be recycled.
E waste meaning
- Electronic waste or e-waste is generated when electronic and electrical equipment become unfit for their originally intended use or have crossed the expiry date.
- Examples: Computers, servers, mainframes, monitors, compact discs (CDs), printers, scanners, calculators, fax machines, battery cells, cellular phones, TVs, iPods, medical apparatus, washing machines, refrigerators, and air conditioners are examples of e-waste (when unfit for use).
- E-waste typically consists of metals, plastics, cathode ray tubes (CRTs), printed circuit boards, cables, and so on.
- The presence of toxic substances such as liquid crystal, lithium, mercury, nickel, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), cadmium, chrome, cobalt, copper, and lead, makes it very hazardous.
Why e waste is increasing?
- The electronic equipments get fast replaced with newer models due to the rapid technology advancements and production of newer electronic equipment.
- This has led to an exponential increase in e-waste generation.
- People tend to switch over to the newer models and the life of products has also decreased.
- 40 million tonnes of e-waste are either burned for resource recovery or illegally traded and treated in a sub-standard way.
Impact of e waste
- E-waste poses a huge risk to humans, animals, and the environment.
- The presence of heavy metals and highly toxic substances such as mercury, lead, beryllium, and cadmium pose a significant threat to the environment even in minute quantities.
E waste recycling: E-waste problem in the world
- Basel Convention aim at reducing and regulating the movement of hazardous waste between nations.
- Even with the Convention, it is estimated that 50 million tonnes of e-waste were generated globally in 2018.
- Despite 66 per cent of the world’s population being covered by e-waste legislation, only 20 per cent of global e-waste is recycled each year.
- In the past, China has been regarded as the largest e-waste dumping site in the world.
- The data given above only include e-waste generated nationally and do not include waste imports (both legal and illegal) which are substantial in emerging economies such as India and China.
E waste problem in India
- According to a report released at the World Economic Forum 2018, India ranks 177 amongst 180 countries and is amongst the bottom five countries on the Environmental Performance Index 2018.
- Also, India is ranked fifth in the world amongst top e-waste producing countries after the USA, China, Japan, and Germany.
- India recycles less than 2 per cent of the total e-waste it produces annually formally.
- India generates more than two million tonnes of e-waste annually, and also imports huge amounts of e-waste from other countries around the world.
- Dumping in open dumpsites is a common sight which gives rise to issues such as groundwater contamination, poor health, and more.
- E-waste collection, transportation, processing, and recycling is dominated by the informal sector.
E waste management in India
- Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change rolled out the E-Waste (Management) Rules in 2016 to reduce e-waste production and increase recycling.
- Under these rules, the government introduced EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility), which makes producers liable to collect 30 per cent to 70 per cent (over seven years) of the e-waste they produce.
- Organizations such as GIZ have developed alternative business models in guiding the informal sector association towards authorization.
- The integration of the informal sector into a transparent recycling system is crucial for a better control on environmental and human health impacts.
- There is significant economic potential in the efficient recovery of valuable materials in e-waste as e-waste is a rich source of metals such as gold, silver, and copper, which can be recovered and brought back into the production cycle.
- The E-Waste Management Rules, 2016 were amended by the government in March 2018 to facilitate and effectively implement the environmentally sound management of e-waste in India.
2. States fail to give Ministry details of elephant reserves
Data on jumbo population, threats and challenges sought
The elephant range States across India have ignored an 18-month-old instruction from the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change to furnish information on their elephant reserves.
The Ministry, on January 12, 2021, wrote to the chief wildlife wardens of the Elephant Reserve States, to provide the details for the compilation of information on elephant reserves (ERs) by its Project Elephant Division.
The information sought included history and background of establishing the ERs; the date of notification of their notification; the area notified; and the number of circles, forest divisions, ranges, private or revenue land within the reserves.
Apart from the map of each ER, the States were asked to provide within January 30, 2022, the total population of elephants, threats, challenges and issues in these ERs, five-year data on human-elephant conflicts, and management interventions done by the forest departments, to conserve elephants.
Replying to an application filed by an Assam-based activist under the Right to Information Act, the Ministry said on July 27 that it was yet to receive any information on the ERs from these States.
Ramesh Pandey, the Inspector-General of Project Elephant in the Ministry, declined to say what the Ministry would do about the indifference of the Elephant Range States.
Wildlife Institute data
Data uploaded on the Wildlife Institute of India’s website say the elephant population across 16 States in the country ranged between 27,785 and 31,368 in 2012.
While Karnataka had up to 7,458 elephants followed by Assam with 5,281, Maharashtra had only four.
India has 30 notified elephant reserves, spread across 15 Elephant Range States.
There are also 10 sites for the MIKE (Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants) programme, mandated by the Conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
The MIKE sites are Chirang-Ripu and Dihing-Patkai in Assam, Deomali in Arunachal Pradesh, Garo Hills in Meghalaya, Eastern Dooars in West Bengal, Mayurbhanj in Odisha, Shivalik in Uttarakhand, Mysore in Karnataka, Wayanad in Kerala and Nilgiri in Tamil Nadu.
Project Elephant is a Central Government sponsored scheme launched in February 1992.
Through the Project Elephant scheme, the government helps in the protection and management of elephants to the states having wild elephants in a free-ranging population.
It ensures the protection of elephant corridors and elephant habitat for the survival of the elephant population in the wild.
This elephant conservation strategy is mainly implemented in 16 of 28 states or union territories in the country which includes Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh Jharkhand, Kerala, Karnataka, Meghalaya, Maharashtra, Nagaland, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Uttaranchal, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal.
The union government provides technical and financial help to these states to carry out and achieve the goals of project elephant. Not just that, assistance for the purpose of the census, training of field officials is also provided to ensure the mitigation and prevention of man-elephant conflict.
Project Elephant – A Successful Scheme For Elephant Conservation
The Indian Elephant is widely seen in 16 of the 28 states of India, especially in the Southern part of the Western Ghats, North-Eastern India, Eastern India, Central India, and Northern India.
The species is included in the list of protected species according to the Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES).
According to recent reports, the elephant population in India is demonstrating a stable trend across elephant reserves in India. The population of elephants in the year 2012, was estimated at 31,368 while it had fallen to 27312 in 2017. The elephant population of India was 27,682 in 2007. The average population throughout the period was about 26700.
Differing counts have been attributed to a difference in counting methods. Some states such as Manipur, Mizoram, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Andaman & Nicobar had reported sightings for the first time in 2017.
Environmentalists have studied why are Indian Elephants endangered for a long time. They came to the conclusion that conversion of habitats into farmland, Human-Elephant conflict and an absence of elephant corridors in India were the main reasons for the decline in the population of elephants.
Due to the conclusions drawn from these studies, ‘Project Elephant’ was launched by the Government of India in 1992. The population of these animals was about 15000 when the project was started and has increased since then.
Elephant – The National Heritage Animal
The government of India in the year 2010 declared Elephant as the national heritage animal of the country on the recommendations of the standing committee of the national board for wildlife. This was done to make sure that sufficient protection to elephants was provided before their numbers fall to panic levels like in the case of tigers.
A proposed National elephant conservation authority (NECA) on the lines with NTCA has been proposed to be constituted by amending the Wildlife Protection Act 1972.
Project Elephant Objectives
- To ensure the Welfare of domesticated elephants
- Protection of elephants, their habitats and elephant corridors.
- Mitigation and prevention of human-elephant conflict.
Aims of Project Elephant
- Develop and promote scientific and planned management strategies for Elephant conservation.
- Prevent illegal trade of ivory and ensure elephant protection from hunters and poachers.
- Develop strategies to prevent unnatural causes of elephants’ death in India.
- Ensure ecological restoration of the natural elephant habitats and their migratory routes.
- To mitigate and prevent the increasing conflict in elephant habitats between humans and elephants.
- Reduce and remove domestic livestock grazing, the pressure of humans and their activities in important elephant habitats.
- Promote scientific research on issues related to elephant conservation and educating the public on these issues.
- To facilitate veterinary care for proper breeding and health care of domesticated elephants and to facilitate Eco-development for the elephants.
Project Elephant – MIKE Programme
MIKE the abbreviation of the Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants program was started in South Asia in 2003 after the conference of parties a resolution of CITES.
The aim of MIKE was to provide the information required by the elephant range countries for proper management and long-term protection of their elephant populations.
The objectives of the MIKE program is as follows:
To measure the levels and trends in the illegal poaching and ensure changes in the trends for elephant protection.
To determine the factors responsible for such changes, and to assess the impact of decisions by the conference of parties to CITES.
Campaign Haathi Mere Saathi
The Ministry of Environment and forests in partnership with Wildlife Trust of India has launched a campaign Hathi Mere Sathi. The aim of the campaign was to increase public awareness and develop friendships between elephants and the local population. The campaign Haathi Mere Saathi was for the welfare of the elephants, to conserve and protect the elephants in India.
The campaign was launched in Delhi on 24th May 2011 at Elephant- 8 ministerial meetings. The countries that are a part of the Elephant-8 ministerial meeting are Kenya, Srilanka, Botswana, Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Indonesia, Thailand, and India.
Elephant Task Force
The increased tension due to rampant retaliatory killing of elephants and human-elephant conflict prompted the government to set up the Elephant Task Force along the lines of the Tiger Task Force. The focus of the Elephant Task Force was to bring pragmatic solutions for the conservation of elephants in the long-term.
The ETF was headed by a wildlife historian and political analyst, Dr Mahesh Rangarajan. And the other members included were conservation and animal welfare activists, elephant biologists, and a veterinarian.
India has around 25000 – 29000 elephants in the wild. However, the tuskers (male) in India are as threatened as the Tigers as there are only around 1200 tusker elephants left in India.
The Asian elephants are threatened by habitat degradation, man-elephant conflict, and poaching for the Ivory. This problem is more intense in India which has around 50% of the total population of the world’s Asian elephants.
Project Elephant is considered a success in the view of many conservationists as it has been able to keep the population of elephants in India at a stable and sustainable level.
3. Two monkeypox cases in India not linked to Europe
The genetic sequences of monkeypox virus strongly suggested that there were two distinct monkeypox outbreaks
Genome sequences of the first two imported cases of monkeypox detected in Kerala clearly show that they belong to a small cluster — A2 — that was very different from the one that was first detected in the U.K. on May 6 this year and has since spread to more than 75 countries. The genomes from the major outbreak of monkeypox cases in Europe and the rest of the world belong to the B1 lineage.
The genomes of the virus collected from the first two cases in Kerala were sequenced by ICMR’s nodal lab, National Institute of Virology, Pune and deposited without delay in the global database GISAID.
Two distinct outbreaks
In the first week of June, the CDC found that three of the 10 genomes sequenced from viruses collected in the U.S. were different from the viruses sequenced in Europe. The genetic sequences of monkeypox cases strongly suggested that there were two distinct monkeypox outbreaks outside the endemic countries in Africa. The two distinct clusters indicated that human-to-human transmission outside Africa was taking place for a longer time than what was assumed initially. The small cluster predominantly seen in the U.S., Thailand and now in India is the A2 cluster.
All the three imported cases detected in Kerala were in men who had arrived from the Middle East. Writing in STAT, Helen Branswell noted that the three genomes from the viruses collected in the U.S. that belonged to the A2 cluster were in people who had got infected from different parts of the globe — one in Nigeria, one elsewhere in West Africa, and the third in either the Middle East or East Africa.
Based on the wide geographical spread of the virus belonging to the A2 cluster, Inger Damon, director of CDC’s division of high-consequence pathogens and pathology told STAT that the virus has been silently spreading outside the endemic countries for a longer time.
While all the three imported cases detected in Kerala were in people who had arrived from the Middle East, some of the cases detected elsewhere and falling in this cluster too are from people who have a travel history to Middle East or East Africa.
The large outbreak that began in Europe in early May this year and since grown to over 21,000 cases globally has been spreading primarily through human-to-human transmission. The sustained transmission among humans has predominantly been among men who have sex with men (MSM) and had spread across Europe in a matter of few days due to two superspreader events. The small A2 cluster is starkly different from the large B1 cluster that represents the virus that began spreading in Europe.
According to Dr. Vinod Scaria, a senior scientist at the Delhi-based Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (CSIR-IGIB), the small A2 cluster containing very few genomes and dating back to July 2021 does not show signs of being spread by any superspreader event.
“The earliest sample in the cluster from the U.S. is indeed from 2021 suggesting the virus has been in circulation for quite some time, and earlier than the European events,” Dr. Scaria tweeted.
“The A2 seems to have a quite distinct origin and is unrelated to the large outbreak in Europe,” Dr. Scaria told The Hindu. “The A2 cluster has a long tail suggesting that it originated quite some time ago. The virus belonging to the A2 cluster was possibly spreading silently. But there are no intermediate genomes [sequenced at regular and short intervals between July 2021 and early June 2022] available, though.”
Considering that the A2 cluster found in the U.S. and now in India is very small with only a handful of genomes, it is possible that the spread of the virus belonging to the A2 cluster was not present in the MSM network; the B1 lineage is predominantly found in the MSM networks. It is based on the premise that had A2 cluster also been found in the MSM networks, then the number of people infected with the virus of A2 cluster and the geographical spread would have been comparable with the B1 lineage.
Dr. Scaria, however, cautions about drawing such conclusions based on a few samples sequenced. “The A2 cluster could have been found in the MSM networks but wouldn’t have spread as widely as the B1 lineage due to the absence of any superspreader events,” he says. “It is too early to draw any conclusions as we don’t have sufficient information from genome sequences.”
The U.S. leading in cases
As of July 28, 4,907 monkeypox cases have been detected in the U.S., by far the highest number for any country. And 37 countries in Europe have altogether reported 13,043 cases of monkeypox as of July 26.
Based on the results of a case series in the U.K. published in The BMJ on July 28, nearly 99% of cases are restricted to the MSM networks with sexual contact with an infected person being the prime driver of virus spread. And a significant proportion of cases are people with HIV.
“Although the outbreak is concentrated in MSM at this time, as case numbers increase, we will see cases in other demographic groups. There have been cases in children and women albeit few comparatively so far. This is why it is so important to act quickly to contain this,” Dr. Boghuma Titanji from the Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, tweeted. That said, there has so far not been any case of onward transmission among people outside the MSM networks.
Arguing that monkeypox virus is not highly transmissible compared with SARS-CoV-2 virus and the fact that it requires close, intimate contact to spread from one person to person, Dr. Francois Balloux from the UCL Genetics Institute tweeted that the virus can only maintain itself in demographics where people have many sexual partners, such as MSM networks.
“Monkeypox virus is not a pathogen that has the potential to become an STD in the heterosexual population. The reason is that those infected can pass it on effectively to others for no longer than about four weeks, and afterwards clear it, and become essentially immune for life,” he tweeted.
However, Dr. Titanji disagrees. “I do not agree that transmission facilitated through sex cannot happen in the heterosexual population. It certainly can and is probably happening though in may not be as sustained as in more dense sexual networks which have higher numbers of contacts,” she tweeted.
While scientists debate whether the virus can spread in the heterosexual population and to what extent, it is abundantly clear that longer the virus continues to circulate and infect a greater number of people, the virus will gain the ability to become more transmissible and evolve to spread more easily through multiple routes.
4. Invasive frog and snake dent world economy
They caused crop damage, says study
Two invasive species, the American bullfrog and the brown tree snake, cost the world an estimated $16 billion between 1986 and 2020, by causing problems ranging from crop damage to power outages, according to a study published in Scientific Reports.
The brown-and-green frog, known as lithobates catesbeianus and weighs over two pounds (0.9 kg), had the greatest impact in Europe, according to research published in Scientific Reports.
The brown tree snake, known as boiga irregularis, has multiplied uncontrollably on Pacific islands including Guam and the Mariana Islands, where the species was introduced by the U.S. troops in World War II, said Ismael Soto, the study’s lead researcher.
The snakes have, at times, been so abundant that they caused power outages by crawling on electrical equipment, he said. This signals the need for investment controlling global transport of invasive species to avoid paying for mitigation after the invasions occur, he added.
“We propose continuously updating the black list of forbidden species for trade,” Mr. Soto told Reuters.
5. One step closer to precision cancer therapies
Research found a combination of molecules that can be used for developing novel anti-cancer therapeutics
Our work over the last decade has helped identify a new target for killing cancer cells, opening the door for potential new therapy. The target pathway is utilised by cancer cells to repair DNA double-stranded break repair and was published recently in the journal Cell Reports.
Topoisomerase 1-targeted chemotherapy is one of the mainstays of treating cancer cells. Currently-used anti-cancer drugs (Camptothecin, Topotecan and Irinotecan) target a molecule (the enzyme Topoisomerase 1 or Top1) involved in DNA replication. While DNA replication is essential to cell division, runaway replication characterises cancer.
However, we found that cancer cells sometimes develop resistance to Topoisomerase 1-targeted chemotherapy through their intrinsic DNA repair toolbox. Based on these insights, a combination of molecules (the protein PRMT5, and the enzyme TDP1) can be used as potential targets for developing novel anti-cancer therapeutics, thus taking us a step closer to developing precision medicine approaches for cancer patients.
Top1, an enzyme in all higher eukaryotes, is essentially responsible for relaxing DNA as it coils during replication (and transcription). The drugs directed at this pathway disrupt the activity of Top1 by changing its shape and rendering it ineffective. While these result in a significant amount of cell death, including cancer cells, natural cellular repair mechanisms (using TDP1) often kick in and counteract the action of the drug.
We developed CRISPR-mediated knock-out cells where the PRMT5 (Protein arginine methyltransferase 5) enzyme in the cells is no longer present. When challenged with a low dosage of camptothecin which is below the toleration levels used in chemotherapy, we found that the cancer cytotoxicity increased markedly. This helped confirm that PRMT5 deficiency in the cell is the target of the camptothecin.
The enzyme PRMT5 is broadly overexpressed in many cancer cells. Therefore, targeting the PRMT5 enzyme with drugs in combination with low dosage camptothecin will help in killing cancer cells more effectively.
The PRMT5 enzyme, which is found in abundance in cancer cells, directly regulates the natural cellular repair mechanisms through chemical finetuning. This results in repairing of DNA breaks generated by camptothecin and thus, resistance to chemotherapy.
In the last decade, our lab has been investigating DNA repair pathways that offer resistance to camptothecin and its clinical derivatives. The objective was to uncover new avenues to kill cancer cells in target-based chemotherapy or personalised chemotherapy using breast and ovarian cancer. We have been using mouse models to further test the combination drug therapy using in vivo tumours.
In 2018, we achieved a breakthrough with the identification of the DNA repair proteins TDP1 (Tyrosyl DNA phosphodiesterase 1) and PRMT5 binding which was published in Nucleic Acids Research. But at that time, we did not understand the mechanism of action. Continuous research in the last five years helped unravel the mechanism in detail and the implications of a combinatorial chemotherapy.
PRMT5 inhibitor, GSK3326595, has been approved as a monotherapy in phase II clinical trials of cancer. Therefore, our latest work provides a new rationale for using the combination of Top1-PRMT5 inhibitors in tumorigenesis.
A personalised approach
Since the rate of proliferation is higher in the case of cancer cells, the chances of combination drug uptake are higher. The personalised approach of combinatorial chemotherapy will effectively kill cancer cells bypassing induced chemoresistance.
More studies are needed to confirm the lab results, and the end goal is to extend the basic research to human clinical trials to assess the therapeutic potential.
6. What has the SC said on PMLA’s validity?
How did the court deal with the Enforcement Directorate’s powers? Were all challenges rejected?
The story so far: The Supreme Court has upheld several provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) that deal with a wide range of issues, from what constitutes the main offence to the powers of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the procedure for conducting searches and seizures and effecting arrests. The manner in which the Act is being implemented has come in for much criticism in recent years, as several investigations have been opened against political functionaries opposed to the BJP. The court has given its thumbs up to what are considered ‘draconian’ provisions, rejecting strong challenges to their validity.
What is the verdict broadly based on?
Since the mid-1980s, there has been global concern over the proceeds of criminal activities such as drug-trafficking being ‘laundered’ or and used in financing terrorism. The UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances adopted in Vienna in 1988 (Vienna Convention) was the first treaty that called upon nations to adopt domestic laws to combat drug trafficking. As part of these laws, countries were asked to prohibit the conversion or transfer of property gained through dealing in narcotics to conceal its illicit origin. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) was established in the G-7 Summit in Paris in 1989 in response to mounting concern over money-laundering. The Task Force made recommendations from time to time to strengthen laws on the subject. The UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime of 2000 (Palermo Convention) also advocated legislative and other measures to combat organised crime, and specifically called for ‘criminalising the laundering of proceeds of crime’.
The PMLA was enacted in 2002 but came into force in 2005. Its provisions gave effect to India’s obligations to abide by international conventions. The Union government used this background to argue that PMLA provisions as well as subsequent amendments were valid and necessary to fulfil the country’s obligations to combat the menace of money-laundering. In its verdict, the Supreme Court agreed with the government’s contention. “Every provision in the 2002 Act will have to be given its due significance while keeping in mind the legislative intent for providing a special mechanism to deal with the scourge of money-laundering recognised world over and with the need to deal with it sternly,” it said.
What was a key issue over defining money-laundering?
The offence under this law is mainly the laundering of money made through a crime. It has a three-part schedule of offences (or ‘predicate offences’) listing the various crimes such as terrorism, drug-trafficking, corruption and cheating that give rise to tainted money. A major issue raised by the petitioners arose from an explanation added in 2019 to clarify the scope of the definition of money-laundering under Section 3. They said the original wording meant that only the projection of tainted money as untainted, and its integration into the economy would constitute the offence. The ED, they argued, was registering money-laundering case solely on the basis of the original crimes without any proof that their proceeds were laundered. As a result, even transactions that date back years before the PMLA came into force were being probed for laundering.
The court rejected the challenge, holding that the explanation does not expand the scope of the original definition, and it is only clarificatory. It aims to capture every process and activity dealing with the proceeds of crime. The generation of money through crime and its integration with the formal economy are independent offences. It will be wrong to say that only upon the latter activity that the offence of money-laundering is complete. In this context, the court interpreted the conjunction ‘and’ — used between a part that spoke of ‘possession, acquisition or use’ of proceeds of crime with the part ‘projecting or claiming as untainted’ — to mean ‘or’. This reading will render holding or using the proceeds of crime as much as an offence as the projecting or converting of the proceeds into legal money or property.
At the same time, the court clarified that the offence of money-laundering is dependent on illegal gain through the original crime (the scheduled offence). If a person is discharged or acquitted in respect of the original offence, or gets the case quashed through a competent court, there can be no case of money-laundering.
What were the issues concerning investigation by the ED?
The ED works on the basis of an internal manual. It registers an ‘Enforcement Case Information Report’ (ECIR), the equivalent of an FIR in ordinary cases. The manual is not a public document, and the ED does not share the ECIR with the accused. Therefore, why and how a money-laundering probe is initiated is unknown. When a summons is issued to a person, he is unaware of the reason, but must, nevertheless, attend and answer all questions and submit the documents asked for. The petitioners argued that this left any investigation, issue of summons and decision to order a search, seizure or arrest completely at the whim of ED officials. Unlike in other criminal cases, there is no judicial oversight of the process, and the accused are forced to seek bail after arrest without knowing the exact nature of the charges against them.
The court rejected all these contentions. Its conclusions were that: the ECIR cannot be equated with an FIR; that there are sufficient safeguards in the entire process of survey, search, seizure and arrest, in as much as the law requires the officer responsible to record reasons in writing at every stage. A copy of the ECIR need not be given to the accused, but at the time of arrest, the grounds of arrest should be conveyed. In any case, the Special Court can examine the documents to decide whether the detention of the accused needs to be continued.
The court suggested that the ED may consider the desirability of informing the public through its website the scope of the authority under the Act, the measures adopted by its functionaries and the options or remedies available to the accused.
What did the court say on ED summons?
When a person is summoned by a police officer, it is known whether it is for giving a statement as a witness or an accused. However, the ED has the power of a civil court to enforce the attendance of a person summoned under Section 50. Giving a statement and producing documents are mandatory obligations and it is an independent offence not to do so, and giving a false statement amounts to perjury. Also, such a statement should be signed by the person summoned and it can be used against him in a trial. This was challenged on the ground that the section is unconstitutional as it forces people to be witnesses against themselves, something prohibited by Article 20 of the Constitution.
However, the court rejected the idea that this amounts to testimonial compulsion. Rather, ED officers were not police officers, and the proceedings related to summons, being only an inquiry related to proceeds of crime, do not amount to an investigation. Therefore, it was open to the ED to gather material without treating the person as an accused, but nevertheless prosecute him later, if the information gleaned disclosed a money-laundering offence.
How did the Court uphold the stringent bail provision?
The petitioners had challenged the validity of the ‘twin conditions’ laid down in Section 45 of PMLA for grant of bail: that the court must be satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the accused is not guilty of an offence; and that he is not likely to commit any offence while on bail. In 2018, the Supreme Court had struck down this section, as it was originally worded, on the ground that the conditions only applied to those offences listed in Part A of the Schedule attracting a prison term of three years and more, but not for the offence of money-laundering itself. However, Parliament re-enacted the section with a change: that the conditions would apply to all cases under PMLA, without any reference to the scheduled offence. The court upheld Parliament’s power to enact a provision to cure a defect highlighted by the Supreme Court. It also ruled that given the gravity of the offence of money-laundering such stringent provisions related to bail are valid.
The court did not examine arguments based on the fact that some of the amendments were introduced in the form of Money Bills, as the issue concerning the scope of Money Bills is being separately considered by a seven-judge Bench.