The HINDU Notes – 18th October 2017 - VISION

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The HINDU Notes – 18th October 2017

πŸ“° Sawfish more threatened than tigers, say scientists

Sighted less than 10 times in a decade

•The sawfish, included in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 enacted to save them from exploitation, have been sighted off the Indian coast less than 10 times in over a decade and they appear to be more threatened than tigers and elephants, say marine scientists as the world observed the first Sawfish Day on Tuesday.

•A statement issued by the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute here on Monday said the sawfish may be the most endangered fish species in India. Anecdotal evidence suggested they were once common along the Indian coast. However, an experienced fisherman from Mumbai, Seshnath Koli, was cited as saying that sawfish, considered “sacred”, were rarely seen over the last few decades, the statement said.

Only five species

•There are only five species of the sawfish ever identified — dwarf sawfish, knifetooth sawfish, smalltooth sawfish, largetooth sawfish and green sawfish.

•Sawfish are elasmobranchs, meaning their skeleton is made of cartilage. They are closely related to sharks and have shark-shaped bodies and, hence, are also called flat sharks.

•The CMFRI statement said: “The sawfish family has been assessed either ‘Endangered’ or ‘Critically Endangered’ in the International Union for Conservation of Nature Global Red List, considering their threatened status, high extinction risk and observed population decline.”

πŸ“° Rohingya crisis worse than Syria’s, says UN

As it is man-made, the situation needs a political solution for refugees to return to Myanmar, says migration official

•The Rohingya refugee crisis is worse than the exodus from Syria, William Lacy Swing, Director-General of the UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM), says.

•The Rohingya exodus from southwest Myanmar to southeast Bangladesh is “man-made” and “needs a political solution”, Mr. Swing said here on Monday.

•He said the international community should treat the refugee influx as “a top priority” so that the problem was resolved quickly and refugees were able to go back to their country.

•Mr. Swing, a career diplomat from the U.S., visited the Tamru border in Bandarban district in southeast Bangladesh, where thousands of Rohingya are stranded on no man’s land between Bangladesh and Myanmar.

•Talking to The Hindu after the border visit, he said: “This [Rohingya exodus] clearly is the one that has seen faster pace than any other. In terms of numbers of people — I don’t think that anytime recently we have that many people crossing the border in a small period of time between four to five weeks,” the IOM chief said, in reply to a question if the exodus was growing at a rate faster than it was in Syria in 2013.

Terrible atrocities

•According to the Bangladesh government, between August 25 and October 11, a total of 5,36,000 Rohingya Muslims from Rakhine State in southwest Myanmar crossed over to southeast Bangladesh.

•Many of them told this correspondent that their family members were killed and houses set on fire “by the Myanmar Army, local police and the ethnic community of Rakhine”.

•International humanitarian agencies, such as the IOM, vetted the recent refugee figure of the Bangladesh government’s Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commission.

•“It [building pressure on Myanmar] has to be given top priority so that there [remains] a possibility of [the refugees] resuming their lives and returning to their livelihood and homes, which they have lost,” Mr. Swing said. But, meanwhile, humanitarian relief should continue, he added.

•“We are going back to our [IOM] headquarters in Geneva to take part in the pledging [for humanitarian aid] on October 23,” Mr. Swing said.

•The fund that the humanitarian agencies need to deal with the crisis is to the tune of $450 million till March 2018.

•Mr. Swing said they need to continue dialogue with the donors and the international community to support the people.

πŸ“° U.S. ploy against Iran: envoy

It is working to deprive Tehran of the Indian energy market, says Ansari

•Accusing the U.S. of trying to ensure that India reduced oil imports from his country, Iranian Ambassador Gholamreza Ansari said that even so, U.S. President Donald Trump’s policy shift would not affect the India-Iran relationship, and the development of the Chabahar port project remained on track.

•“The U.S. wants to deprive Iran of the Indian energy market and is working to ensure that India reduce its oil trade with Iran,” Mr. Ansari told The Hindu in an exclusive interview days after the U.S. announcement of a tougher line on Iran, even imposition of possibly new sanctions.

No immediate impact

•“I don’t think the U.S.’s statement [on Iran] will have any immediate impact on the India-Iran relationship. Our relationship and payment details have been ironed out,” Mr. Ansari said.

•He was referring to a meeting between Indian and Iranian Finance Ministers on the sidelines of a meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Washington where they had discussed routing payments for India’s imports.

•India has cut its oil imports from Iran by approximately 20% in 2017, though its global imports have risen by 5.4%. Some companies such as Essar oil have dropped imports from Iran in August by as much as 75%, according to oil industry estimates.

•The Petroleum Ministry says India has been trying to “diversify” its imports so as to get more competitive rates.

•One major development is India’s decision to import its first shipment of crude oil from the U.S., with an order of 8.45 million barrels, giving rise to speculation that New Delhi’s new policy will come at the cost of imports from Iran.

•“We want to have good relations with India, and we understand its need to have eggs in many baskets. We do, however, want that India’s policy to Iran must not be affected by others,” Mr. Ansari said, when asked about whether Iran would lose as a result of the new push for diversification.

•In an interview to The Tehran Times last week, Indian Ambassador Saurabh Kumar echoed that view on the issue of reduced oil imports, saying India’s ties “stand on their own feet” and are not a “zero-sum game” with the “western world”.

Continued commitment

•Speaking to The Hindu , the Iranian Ambassador pointed to the development of the Chabahar port as a sign of India’s continued commitment in Iran.

•“The India-Afghanistan-Iran trilateral agreement for Chabahar should be ratified by the Iranian parliament in the next few months,” Mr. Ansari said, indicating that the Iranian government would want to discuss a possible bid for the management of the port with India as well.

•After Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Tehran in June 2016, India committed to invest $500 million, including $85 million in developing two container berths and three multi-cargo berths at the Chabahar port, as well as about $1.6 billion to build the Chabahar-Zahedan railway line, which will facilitate trade to Afghanistan.

Port completion

•After a year of relatively slow progress, Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari travelled to Iran in August 2017, promising to complete the project in 2018.

•His Iranian counterpart, Abbas Akhoundi, is expected to visit New Delhi soon in order to take the discussions on the Chabahar port forward, while the next meeting of the Economic Joint Commission is also due, to work on long-standing differences over Indian banks being used for bilateral trade, officials said.

•Mr. Ansari said he hoped that India would join in the reconstruction effort in Syria and Iraq after the fall of the Islamic State, which is imminent.

•“After Daesh [IS] is defeated, rebuilding these countries will not be possible without the cooperation of all countries, and it is an opportunity for both India and Iran to work together,” he said.

πŸ“° Making the Internet disappear

Courts must take into account the exceptional character of Net shutdowns and their impact on civil liberties

•Imagine this situation. A region of the country is deeply annoyed with the actions of the government. There are plans for widespread and aggressive protests. The government fears that the protests might turn violent. It decides to cut-off the water supply to the entire region for an indefinite period of time, reasoning that people will be too busy looking for water to protest, and too exhausted by the time they have found it. In this way, law and order has been preserved.

•Our intuitions rebel against this kind of reasoning. We think — rightly — that access to water is a basic, non-negotiable right, a part of the right to life, and that it cannot simply be left at the mercy of the government. If the government wishes to keep law and order, then it must find other, less drastic ways of doing so, such as increasing security, perhaps a curfew, or even winning the trust of the people and addressing their grievances.

Cutting off e-access

•In the 21st century, the Internet has assumed an increasingly important place in our lives. From banking to political speech, and from complex medical procedures to the purchase of basic necessities, important aspects of our economic, social, and cultural life now depend upon the Internet. Many of the fundamental rights guaranteed by our Constitution — the freedom of speech and expression, the freedom of association, the freedom of trade — are exercised in significant part on the Internet. But the growing importance of the Internet in personal life, as well as its growing use to challenge governmental authority, has led to a backlash, where governments attempt to reorient the relationship between the individual and the state in their favour by controlling the Internet. In India, one ubiquitous form of such control is the “Internet shutdown”. Just like the government may cut-off water supply to prevent protests, the government may — and actually does — cut-off Internet access for purposes as comically diverse as preventing violent protests (Kashmir) and cheating in exams (Gujarat).

•In an article published in May 2016, Apar Gupta and Raman Chima pointed out that with 37 Internet shutdowns, triggered by 11 States over a two-year period, India had attained the dubious distinction of joining Iraq in “reporting the highest number of incidents involving government mandated shutdown of Internet access” — with serious consequences both for civil rights, and for business. In another article, published just two weeks ago, Nakul Nayak pointed to 55 Internet shutdowns in 2017 alone. The sheer ubiquity of Internet shutdowns makes it clear that it is being used as a routine card in the ever-expanding “law and order” toolkit of the state. To return to the analogy with which this essay began, think of a situation where the standard — and primary — response of the government to a potential law and order problem was to immediately cut-off water access for an entire area, indiscriminately.

The legal angle

•For a long time, the legal basis of Internet shutdowns was unclear. A few years ago, the High Court of Gujarat invoked Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to uphold an Internet shutdown. Section 144, which has its roots in the colonial-era British police-state, authorises prohibitory orders to “prevent.... obstruction, annoyance or injury to any person lawfully employed, or danger to human life, health or safety, or a disturbance of the public tranquility, or a riot, of an affray.”

•Section 144 is primarily used to secure an area from damage or harm in the case of a potential or actual law and order disturbance, and more notoriously, to ban protests or other forms of political action in places such as central Delhi.

•A key flaw in the Gujarat High Court’s decision, however, was its failure to understand that the provisions of the CrPC cannot directly be transposed into the online world. In the way that it is commonly used in the physical world, Section 144, at its worst, only ends up placing certain specific areas beyond the bounds of large assemblies and associations, and always for a temporary period of time. An Internet shutdown, however, takes away an entire — and critical — platform of communication and work altogether.

•In an attempt to adjudicate a fair constitutional balance between the fundamental rights of individuals on the one hand and the interests of the state in maintaining law and order on the other, the Supreme Court has often insisted that the state’s rights-infringing action must be “proportionate”: that is, there ought to be no greater invasion of the individual’s right than what is strictly necessary to achieve the state’s goal. Internet shutdowns, clearly, fail the test of proportionality. This is because they are indiscriminate, in both whom they target (that is, everyone within a defined area, whether potential disruptors of law and order, or the entirely innocent), and the manner in which they do so (cutting-off access to the entire Internet, which includes a vast majority of entirely bona fide and legal uses of the Internet).

More stringent rules

•Perhaps realising that Section 144 of the CrPC was a poor peg on which to hang Internet shutdowns, in August 2017, the government notified certain “Suspension Rules”, taking the cover of yet another colonial law — the Telegraph Act of 1885. While these rules were meant to bring transparency and clarity to the procedure through which Internet services were suspended, they remain deeply problematic in themselves. As Nayak points out, there was no transparency or democratic debate when these rules were framed; their scope is frighteningly vast, and includes phone calls as well as Internet calls; and there is no provision that envisages a lifting of the shutdown after any specific time. But perhaps what is most important about these rules is the virtual non-existence of mechanisms of accountability. After designating certain officers who can authorise Internet shutdowns, the rules only require a “review committee”, whose scope is limited to decide whether the declaration was valid or not.

•Even if we grant that in certain exceptional situations, such as a public emergency, the government may be justified in temporarily blocking access to certain parts of the Internet, this is a power that is liable to all kinds of misuse, and must be tempered with stringent safeguards. Just like the police must present an individual before a court within 24 hours if they want to keep her in custody, the government must, by law, subject Internet shutdowns to judicial scrutiny as soon as reasonably possible. And courts must take into account the exceptional character of Internet shutdowns and their impact on core civil liberties before validating them.

•The notion that the government must have the ability to control the Internet in order to preserve law and order is an intuitively attractive one. However, like many other intuitively attractive ideas, the concentration of more power in the hands of the government will only further disempower the individual against the state, and achieve a temporary illusion of security at the cost of a permanent loss of freedom.

πŸ“° Political and partisan

We need to find ways to protect the Speaker from undue political pressure and incentives

•G.S. Dhillon, Speaker of the Lok Sabha (for two terms), was asked to step down by the Prime Minister in 1975, and made Union Minister for Shipping — a precedent that has allowed future holders of the position to harbour political ambitions.

•There are numerous such instances in our polity where the Speaker of the Assembly has precipitated a political crisis by seemingly political decisions. For example, the Anti-Defection Law. The determination of whether a representative has become subject to disqualification, post their defection, is made by the presiding officer of the House, offering ample scope for Speakers to exercise discretion. In 1988, Tamil Nadu Assembly Speaker P.H. Pandian disqualified six senior AIADMK ministers for giving up their party membership, along with 27 other MLAs (disqualified for not attending a confidence motion), identified with the pro-Jayalalithaa faction. Sixteen MLAs in the Arunachal Pradesh Assembly (out of a total of 41 of the ruling party) were disqualified by the Speaker, Nabam Rebia, in 2016 despite not officially leaving the party or defying its directives. Similarly, the Uttarakhand Assembly Speaker, Govind Singh Kunjwal, disqualified nine MLAs from the ruling party in 2016, despite the MLAs not leaving the Congress or voting against it in the Assembly. Furthermore, while the MLAs had voiced dissenting notes against the Budget, the Budget itself was declared passed without voting by the Speaker. The Meghalaya Speaker, P.R. Kyndiah, suspended the voting rights and later even disqualified five MLAs in the 1990s, just prior to a no-confidence motion. Shivraj V. Patil lamented the “weak points” of the anti-defection law and then ruled that a split could happen in drips, one MLA at a time, effectively neutering the Anti-Defection Act.

•Consider the example of Ireland, a parliamentary system close to ours, where the position of Speaker is given to someone who has built up credibility by relinquishing his or her political ambitions. The Westminster system considers it a taboo to induct a Speaker into the cabinet. Only the U.S.,with its rigorous separation of powers between the judiciary, executive and legislature, allows the Speaker to openly engage in active politics. Offering future rewards for performance as a Speaker has made the position a stepping stone for political ambition.

Speaker rulings

•The position of the Indian Speaker is paradoxical. The holder of the position, whether in Parliament or in State Assemblies, contests the election for the post on a party ticket, and yet is expected to conduct himself or herself in a non-partisan manner, all the while being beholden to the party for a ticket for the next election. Tejaswi Yadav, when Bihar’s Deputy Chief Minister, vocalised this perception, when asked about his commitment to coalition dharma with the Janata Dal (United), by saying: “Had we had any intention to arm-twist the government into surviving we would have kept the Speaker’s post.”

•Such instances highlight the need for greater clarity in the interpretations associated with the Anti-Defection Law. Perhaps, it might be better for such critical decisions, associated with representative disqualification, to be determined by the President instead, with inputs from the Election Commission.

•The absoluteness of the Speaker’s decisions can also be an incentive for potential abuse. Instances of suspension of almost all the MLAs of the Tamil Nadu Assembly in 2016, where members of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam were evicted en masse from the House while protesting, raise crucial questions about the health of our democracy. Such suspensions are increasingly becoming common across State Assemblies, with a partisan Speaker in the vanguard of eroding India’s democratic character.

•The need for reelection also skews incentives for the Speaker. No sitting Speaker of the House of Commons in Britain has lost his or her seat, given the convention not to field candidates in the Speaker’s constituency. In comparison, in India, there are many Speakers who have lost their seats in general elections (Dhillon; B.R. Bhagat; Balram Jakhar). Also, Indian Speakers are not made members of the Rajya Sabha after they demit office; the British Parliament automatically elevates the Speaker to the House of Lords. The Page Committee, headed by V.S. Page, suggested that if the Speaker had conducted himself or herself in an impartial and efficient manner during the tenure of his or her office, he or she should be allowed to continue in the next Parliament. One could even argue that anyone seeking the office of the Speaker should run for election to the Lok Sabha or the Assembly on an independent ticket. Any Speaker should be barred from future political office, save that of the President, while being given a pension for life.

Establishing conventions

•Taking partisanship out of the post will require establishing other conventions. Until 1996, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha always belonged to the ruling party. The election of P.A. Sangma of the Congress, on a unanimous basis, set another convention – with the Speaker belonging to a party other than the ruling party. More recently, we have reversed track and moved back towards having the Speaker being from the ruling coalition.

•And finally, as a democracy, we must condition ourselves to expecting and promoting neutrality in the Speaker. Instances where the Speaker is named on a list of MPs who withdraw support from the government (as was the case with Somnath Chatterjee in mid-2008; he subsequently defied his party) must be avoided, to prevent encroachment on the Speaker’s neutrality. Such neutrality should not be accompanied by political banishment. The CPI(M)’s expulsion of Somnath Chatterjee in July 2008, after the United Progressive Alliance government survived a no-confidence motion, for violation of party discipline, is a sad example of this. The CPI(M) West Bengal Secretary Biman Bose’s comment that “Chatterjee may have acted according to the Indian Constitution but the party constitution is supreme in case of party members” is a reflection of the state of our democratic temper. To engender neutrality, such expectations ought to be changed.