The HINDU Notes – 09th January 2019 - VISION

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 09th January 2019

📰 Lok Sabha passes Citizenship Bill amidst Congress walkout

Home Minister Rajnath Singh stresses need to shelter persecuted minorities

•The Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, that seeks to provide citizenship to non-Muslims from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

•Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who introduced the Bill in the Lok Sabha, said the six communities — Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan — faced “discrimination and religious persecution” and they “have no place to go, except India.”

•The Congress said many States opposed the Bill and it should be sent to a select committee. As the government did not heed the demand, its MPs walked out.

Nehru cited

•Quoting former Prime Minister Jawaharal Nehru as being in favour of giving shelter to persecuted minorities in the neighbouring countries, Mr. Singh said, “Although Indian leaders signed pacts with leaders of Pakistan and Bangladesh for protection of minorities, unfortunately it had not happened.” “Even former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while speaking as Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, had asked the then BJP-led government to be more liberal in dealing with the issue of persecuted minorities in Bangladesh,” Mr. Singh said. The Bill seeks to grant citizenship to members of the six communities who have come to India till December 31, 2014.

•It also reduces the mandatory requirement of 12 years stay in India to seven years to be eligible for citizenship if they do not possess any document.

•Seeking to allay concerns of an influx in Assam, Mr. Singh said, “Assam alone should not have to bear the entire burden. The beneficiaries of Citizenship Amendment Bill can reside in any State of the country. The burden of those persecuted migrants will be shared by the whole country,” he said.

Negates NRC

•There has been a strong resistance to the Bill in BJP-ruled Assam and other northeastern States who fear it would pave the way for granting citizenship mostly to illegal Hindu migrants from Bangladesh, who came after March 1971, in violation of the 1985 Assam Accord.

•Nearly 40 lakh people were excluded from the final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam that was published on July 30 last year. The new Bill seeks to negate the NRC (a process that is the fallout of the Assam Accord), as it would grant citizenship to all Hindus who came to Assam from Bangladesh even after the NRC cut off date of March 1971.

•“The proposed amendment will make these persecuted migrants eligible to apply for citizenship. Citizenship will be given to them only after due scrutiny and recommendation of district authorities and the State Government,” Mr. Singh said.

•To become a law, the Bill will have to be cleared by the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, the last day of its current session. The Bill was originally introduced in 2016 and later sent to a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC). The Committee submitted its report on Monday after which the Bill was redrafted and presented in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday.

Opposition warning

•The Congress said many States have opposed the Bill and it should be sent to a select committee. As the government did not heed to the demand, party MPs staged a walkout.

•Trinamool Congress (TMC) lawmaker Saugata Roy said the Bill was “divisive and insidious that goes against the basic tenents of the Constitution.”

•“This is the worst form of vote-bank politics,” Mr. Roy said.

•Opposing the Bill, Asaduddin Owaisi of AIMIM said, “You are giving citizenship on the basis of the religion. You can’t run India like Israel. This government is making a mistake and will have to pay for it.”

•CPI-M MP Mohammad Salim said, “If the country is being divided on the basis of language and religion, it will only tear the country apart. You want to victimise the Bengali Muslim.”

•Rejecting the Bill, Badruddin Ajmal of AIDUF asked, “You may have the majority to pass the Bill. Have you delivered the basic facilities to all Indians that you want to grant citizenship to foreign nationals?”

•Jay Prakash Narayan Yadav of RJD said also opposed the Bill.

📰 Cabinet approves 10% reservation for economically backward, beyond the 50% limit

Cabinet approves 10% reservation for economically backward, beyond the 50% limit
Govt. likely to bring in constitutional amendment bill in Parliament on Tuesday

•The Union Cabinet on Monday approved a Constitution Amendment Bill to provide 10% reservation to economically backward sections in the general category, a senior government official said. The Bill will also cover those from the Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist and other minority communities. The quota will be over and above the existing 50% reservation to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes (OBC).

•The decision that comes ahead of the general elections in April-May, was taken at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday.

•The specific details of the Bill were not available as there was no official word from the government after the Cabinet meeting. A press briefing scheduled for the evening was cancelled. The reservation is for those castes who presently do not avail reservation in any category.

Bill on Tuesday

•Vijay Sampla, Minister of State, Social Justice and Empowerment, told The Hindu that those who have an annual salary of less than ₹8 lakh per year and possess less than 5 acres of land will be able to avail reservation in educational institutions and jobs.

•The government is likely to introduce the Bill in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, the last working day of the ongoing winter session. Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution will have to be amended for implementation of the decision, the official added.

•A nine-judge Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court had in the Indira Sawhney case capped the reservation at 50%.

•The court had ruled on November 16, 1992, that “clause (4) of Article 16 of Constitution speaks of adequate representation and not proportionate representation” and “relaxation can be done in extra-ordinary situations and while doing so, extreme caution has to be exercised and a special case made out.”

•According to the 2011 census, the population of the country was 1.21 billion. The population of the Scheduled Castes was 201.4 million and that of the Scheduled Tribes stood at 104.3 million.

•Reacting to the Cabinet decision, the Congress said it agreed with the principle of helping the poor in getting access to education and jobs but questioned the Modi government’s intent.

‘Where are the jobs?’

•Addressing a press conference, Congress communication chief Randeep Surjewala asked why the decision had been taken when there are only 100 days to the next Lok Sabha election.

•“We are committed to giving opportunity, reservation and employment to the poor. But the youth of the country are asking basic questions to Modi ji. Where are the job opportunities,” asked Mr. Surjewala.

📰 A renewed attack on privacy: on Aadhaar Bill

The Aadhaar Bill, allowing private bodies to use Aadhaar as a means to authenticate identity, poses huge dangers 

•On Friday, the Lok Sabha, without any attendant discussion, passed the Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2018. On any reasonable reading it ought to be plainly apparent that the Bill flagrantly flouts both the Constitution and the Supreme Court’s judgment which gave the Aadhaar programme a conditional imprimatur. It is therefore entirely likely that the government is banking on a sense of political fatigue having set in over the project, and perhaps it believes it has made the programme so ubiquitous that a few additional legislative tweaks are unlikely to shock and jolt the dissenters. But the present move is so brazen that we will be failing in our collective duties were we to allow the amendments to be carried out without any debate. For, if enacted, the law will once again allow private corporations, including banks and telecom operators, to use Aadhaar as a means to authenticate identity.

•Astonishingly, this change has been proposed despite the government’s abject failure to enact comprehensive legislation protecting our data and our privacy. Therefore, unless the Rajya Sabha places a constraint on the government’s impudence, the consequences will prove devastating.

Between September and now

•There is no doubt the Supreme Court’s judgment, delivered last September, enjoined Parliament to make certain specific legislative changes. To that end, some of the court’s concerns are addressed by the Bill, such as the inclusion of a clause intended at ensuring that children are not denied benefits on account of a failure to possess Aadhaar. But the essential object of the law is to countermine those portions of the judgment that the regime deems inconvenient. So inconvenient that the Bill was introduced, as the lawyer Vrinda Bhandari has argued in The Wire, by altogether overlooking the state’s own “pre-legislative consultative policy”.

•This policy places an onus on the ministry introducing a law to publish the draft of any proposed legislation, together with, among other things, the objectives behind the law and an estimated assessment of the impact that such legislation may have on fundamental rights, and to thereafter invite comments from the public. Yet, here, the Bill, which makes amendments not only to the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016, but also to the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (PMLA), was introduced without any prior consultation, leading to a credible belief that the proposed changes are an act of subterfuge.

•Originally, Section 57 of the Aadhaar Act allowed both the state and private entities to use the programme to establish an individual’s identity pursuant to a law or a contract. It was on this basis that various notifications were issued allowing corporations of different kinds, including telecom operators, e-commerce firms and banks, to use Aadhaar. But when the Supreme Court ruled on the validity of the legislation, although it upheld vast portions of the law through a 4:1 majority, it unanimously struck down Section 57 insofar as it applied to private entities.

Commercial exploitation

•Justice A.K. Sikri, in his judgment for the majority, wrote: “Even if we presume that legislature did not intend so, the impact of the aforesaid features would be to enable commercial exploitation of an individual biometric and demographic information by the private entities. Thus, this part of the provision which enables body corporate and individuals also to seek authentication, that too on the basis of a contract between the individual and such body corporate or person, would impinge upon the right to privacy of such individuals. This part of the section, thus, is declared unconstitutional.”

•Although this leaves little room for doubt, the government, for its part, may well defend the Bill by arguing that the majority’s judgment nonetheless permits the enactment of a new law allowing the use of Aadhaar by private entities so long as a person voluntarily consents to such authentication. In its aid, the government will likely point to paragraph 367 of Justice Sikri’s opinion. “The respondents may be right in their explanation that it is only an enabling provision which entitles Aadhaar number holder to take the help of Aadhaar for the purpose of establishing his/her identity,” he wrote. “If such a person [voluntarily] wants to offer Aadhaar card as a proof of his/her identity, there may not be a problem.”

•But this passage scarcely expresses an opinion on private entities. To the contrary, it merely reaffirms the position that even for the state to utilise Aadhaar, in cases not involving the drawing of subsidies, benefits or services from the Consolidated Fund of India, the authentication must be voluntary and backed by separate legislation. While there are indeed portions of the majority’s ruling that are vague and indeterminate, on Section 57 the opinion is unequivocal. Inasmuch as the provision allows private companies the authority to authenticate identity through Aadhaar, even by securing an individual’s informed consent, the clause, Justice Sikri held, disproportionately contravened the right to privacy.

•Since the Supreme Court has found that the operation of Aadhaar by private entities violates fundamental rights, there is today no avenue available for fresh legislative intervention, unless the government chooses to amend the Constitution. In any event, the proposed legislative amendments virtually seek to impose Aadhaar as a prerequisite for the availing of certain basic services. For example, the amendments proposed to the Telegraph Act and the PMLA state that service providers — telecom companies and banks, respectively, — ought to identify their customers by one of four means: authentication under the Aadhaar Act; offline verification under the Aadhaar Act; use of passport; or the use of any other officially valid document that the government may notify.

Issue of fraud

•Therefore, if the government fails to notify any new form of identification, a person’s identity will necessarily have to be authenticated through Aadhaar or through her passport. Given that only a peripheral portion of India’s population possess passports, Aadhaar is effectively made compulsory. Allowing private corporations to access and commercially exploit the Aadhaar architecture, as we have already seen, comes with disastrous consequences — the evidence of reports of fraud emanating out of seeding Aadhaar with different services is ever-growing. Hence, the amendments not only fly in the face of the Supreme Court’s verdict but are also wholly remiss in attending to the dangers both of slapdash data protection and of corruption and scamming.

•This move, to restore the use of Aadhaar by telecom companies and banks, however, is not the Bill’s only problem. There is a hatful of other concerns, including the re-introduction of a marginally refurbished Section 33(2). In its original form, the clause had allowed an officer of the rank of Joint Secretary to the Government of India to direct disclosure of Aadhaar information in the “interest of national security”. The Supreme Court declared the clause unconstitutional and ruled that while disclosure in the interest of national security may be important, such disclosure should spring out of a request of a “higher ranking officer”. What is more, in order to avoid any misuse of the provision, requests of this kind, the court held, ought to require separate scrutiny, and, therefore, “a Judicial Officer (preferably a sitting High Court judge) should also be associated with” the process. However, the Bill, merely seeks to substitute the words “Joint Secretary” with “Secretary” in Section 33(2), completely disregarding the Supreme Court’s order demanding inquiry by a judge.

•Ultimately, the Bill seeks to pave the path for Aadhaar to permeate through every conceivable sphere of human activity, transferring all authority over our bodies, in the process, from the citizen to the state, and, in many cases, from the citizen to private corporations. The Rajya Sabha, therefore, should resist any developing sense of ennui around the programme, and reject this Bill, for the utter contempt of democracy that it represents.

📰 Reinstated, conditionally: on CBI Director's return

Supreme Court rejects the Centre’s contention in the CBI Director’s case, but softens the blow

•In setting aside the orders divesting Alok Verma of his functions and duties as Director of the CBI, the Supreme Court has strengthened the principle that the head of the agency should be insulated against any form of interference. The court took up the matter in the midst of an unseemly tussle for supremacy between Mr. Verma and Special Director Rakesh Asthana, with corruption charges being traded. However, the court’s interim order asking for a time-bound inquiry into the charges against Mr. Verma is now of no avail, as the Bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, has chosen to deal only with the major question of law involved. The decision has gone against the government, with the court holding that the action taken against Mr. Verma amounted to a ‘transfer’, something that cannot be done by any authority except the high-powered selection committee headed by the Prime Minister in terms of the 2003 amendments to the law. It has rejected the government’s contention that stripping the CBI Director of his duties did not amount to a transfer, but only a measure to deal with an extraordinary situation. It has gone into the legislative intent behind the amendments to the Central Vigilance Commission Act in 2003, which included changes to the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act before coming up with its finding.

•The Bench has noted that the amendments flow from the principles laid down by the Supreme Court in 1997 in Vineet Narain to protect the agency, especially its Director, from external interference. As the law is clear that any transfer of the Director can only be made by the selection committee, and there being no provision for any other interim measure, the only way the government can divest the head of the agency of his powers is to let the same committee make the decision. The court has been mindful of the fact that an officer could be stripped of his power without being formally transferred to another position, thereby achieving the objective of interfering with the agency’s functioning by oblique means. Its decision will further strengthen the CBI’s independence. However, it is intriguing that the court passed a consequential order to the selection committee to meet within a week and consider Mr. Verma’s powers and authority. Until then, he has been restrained from making any policy decisions. Having set aside the orders of the government divesting Mr. Verma of his powers, as well as the CVC’s order recommending the action, the court could have reinstated him unconditionally. What it has done, instead, is to soften the blow it had dealt the government by giving it an opportunity to achieve through the committee route what it could not do successfully through its midnight ‘coup’.

📰 Six Assam groups to be accorded ST status

Bill to be introduced in current session

•In a bid to calm tempers in Assam in the wake of vociferous protests against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2019, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said on Tuesday that a Bill to declare six communities in Assam as Scheduled Tribes (ST) would be introduced in the current session of Parliament.

•Speaking on the Citizenship Amendment Bill, passed by the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, Mr. Singh said the communities that the Centre proposes to give the status to are Koch Rajbongshi, Tai Ahom, Chutia, Matak, Moran and Tea Tribes.

•The legislation will change the demographic status of Assam, making it a tribal-majority State.

•“Full safeguards will be provided to protect the interests, rights and privileges of the existing Scheduled Tribes of Assam,” the Minister said. A separate Bill would be introduced to grant the ST status to Bodo Kacharis in the hill districts of Assam and Karbis in the rest of Assam, he said. “The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution is also proposed to be amended to strengthen the Autonomous District Councils,” he added.

•The Centre’s decision to grant ST status for the six communities currently listed as Other Backward Classes in Assam evoked mixed reactions in the State with the leaders of six communities sceptical of the Centre’s intent, while Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal welcomed the move.

•Biswajit Roy, leader of the All Koch-Rajbongshi Students’ Union, said it would believe the Centre only when the Bill was passed by both Houses of Parliament and received the President’s approval.

•Adivasi leader Rupesh Gowala also sniffed a poll-oriented design in the Centre’s move.

📰 The Hindu Explains: The new 10% quota, its implications, and more

Who will the new 10% quota apply to?

•To all those who are not covered in existing quotas and have a family income below ₹8 lakh a year or agricultural land below 5 acres. Those who have a house above 1,000 square feet or a 100-yard plot or above in a notified municipal area or a 200-yard plot or above in a non-notified municipal area are not eligible.

What steps are necessary for its implementation?

•The 124th Constitution Amendment Bill, 2019, which the Lok Sabha debated on Tuesday, will have to be passed by both Houses of Parliament by a special majority of two-thirds of the members present and voting, which should not be less than one-half of the total strength of the House. If it is not passed by both the Houses within the term of this Lok Sabha, it will lapse. The Bill will also have to be ratified by at least half the State Assemblies.

•Once the Constitution is amended to add economic backwardness as a ground for reservations, it will most likely have to stand the test of judicial scrutiny, as the Supreme Court had in the Indra Sawhney case capped quotas at 50% of the available seats.

What are the future implications, should the Bill stand judicial scrutiny?

•If the Supreme Court indeed agrees to lift the 50% cap, all States of India can extend the quantum of reservation and “upper castes” will stand to lose in State services.

•If the Supreme Court rejects the idea of breaching the 50% cap, Economically Weaker Section (EWS) quotas can be provided only by eating into the SC, ST and OBC quota pie, which will have social and political implications.

How will it help the economically less prosperous “upper caste” Hindus and such groups in other communities?

•It’s complicated question. If the EWS is treated as a category just like the SC, ST and OBC, a large chunk of general category candidates will apply for just 10% seats and the cut-offs can rise. While ideally the non-reserved 40% open seats should be open seats based on merit, there are complexities here too. For example, the UPSC accepts a reserved candidate in the civil services examination making it in the general merit list as general only if she has not benefited from reservation in the preliminary, mains, service choice (if one gets a better service, say IAS or IPS, due to reservation, one is counted as reserved irrespective of one’s overall rank) and State cadre choice (if a reserved candidate is in the general merit list but is getting a cadre of her choice as a reserved candidate, she is counted as reserved), say bureaucrats. So, many who are above the general cut-off may still occupy this 10% quota, as they get a better service or cadre in it.

•A senior IAS officer told The Hindu that it is possible that a provision will be made for accommodating those who fall below the 10% EWS quota — in case its cut-off is above the general cut-off due to fewer seats — in the open, or general, seats, but this can give rise to litigation.

What are the political implications of this move?

•Upper castes may react positively to the move, but they are believed to be largely with the BJP anyway.

•The move may have some appeal to upper castes in States where the BJP is weak, but one does not know the extent of the political benefit.

•The moot question is the impact on the existing reserved categories in States where the BJP is strong and takes a chunk of OBCs.

•While the government says the quota will be above the existent 50% reservation, the Supreme Court-mandated cap may make some OBCs wary, as they may feel it may eat into their pie in case the apex court refuses to relax the cap.

📰 SC sets aside Delhi HC ruling against Monsanto

Allows U.S. firm to pursue patent suit on Bt cotton variants

•The Supreme Court on Tuesday set aside a Delhi High Court Division Bench decision that held that U.S. agro major Monsanto did not have patent for its genetically modified BT cotton seed variants and had allowed it to claim registration under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act of 2001.

•The Supreme Court Bench of Justices Rohinton F. Nariman and Navin Sinha held that the High Court’s Division Bench had no business to go into the merits of the patent rights and should have just confined itself to the validity of an injunction granted earlier by a Single Judge of the High Court in March 2017.

•The jEudgment, authored by Justice Sinha, restored the decision of the Single Judge. It remanded the case back to the Single Judge for disposal of the patent suit between Monsanto and Indian end-users like Nuziveedu.

•Monsanto had sought a restraint on these Indian companies from selling, using seeds/hybrid seeds bearing its patented technology.

Sub-licence agreement

•The issue dates back to 2004 when Monsanto entered into a sub-licence agreement with companies like Nuziveedu for an initial period of 10 years. The agreement had entitled the Indian firms to genetically modified hybrid cotton planting seeds with help of Monsanto’s technology and to commercially exploit it within the limits of the agreement on the payment of a licence fee.

•However, the agreement was terminated in November 2015, giving rise to the patent suit. The Single Judge, in March 2017, in an interim relief, restored the agreement and ordered the parties (Monsanto and companies like Nuziveedu) to adhere to their obligations under it.

•Now, the Supreme Court has restored this Single Judge decision.

📰 Irrigation projects delay led to jump in costs: CAG

‘210 approved, only 62 completed’

•Tardy implementation of projects under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP) between 2008-2017 led to an almost threefold jump in the cost of these projects to ₹1.20 lakh crore, according to a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), tabled in Parliament on Tuesday.

•The AIBP was initiated in 1996 as a Central scheme to speed up the implementation of large irrigation projects, including dams and canals, especially those which were beyond the resource capability of the States.

•The Union Ministry of Water Resources is responsible for framing policy guidelines for implementation while State Governments are associated with planning and implementing irrigation projects and schemes.

•From 2008-2017, of the 201 major and medium (M&M) projects approved, only 62 were completed. Of the 11,291 minor irrigation (MI) schemes sanctioned, only 8,014 were completed. As a result, only about 35% of India’s irrigation potential was utilised. Of the 118 major projects surveyed by the CAG, 105 suffered from a “time overrun” with some projects being delayed by more than 18 years.

•The audit of the AIBP revealed lacunae in the planning, implementation and monitoring of the programme. Projects and schemes were included under AIBP in violation of the programme’s guidelines, resulting in irregular release of ₹3,718.71 crore. There were also deficiencies in the preparation and processing of Detailed Project Reports such as inadequate surveys, inaccurate assessment of water availability, Irrigation Potential and Command Area and the lack of activity-wise construction plans.

•The CAG also pointed out “financial irregularities” such as diversion of funds amounting to ₹1,578.55 crore, parking of funds totalling ₹1,112.56 crore and “fictitious and fraudulent expenditure” of ₹7.58 crore. There were also instances of short/non-realisation of revenue amounting to ₹1,251.39 crore.

•“The monitoring by Central and State agencies was lax. There were shortfalls in number of monitoring visits by Central Water Commission (CWC) and reports were not prepared in all projects evaluated. Further, compliance to issues highlighted in the CWC reports were also pending.”

📰 Lok Sabha passes DNA technology Bill

The DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, 2018 allows regulated use of genetic information to establish identity of persons

•The Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed a Bill that allows regulated use of DNA technology to establish the identity of certain defined categories of persons, including offenders, suspects, and undertrials.

•The DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill allows the use of the technology to establish the identity of persons in matters of crime, parentage dispute, emigration or immigration and transplantation of human organs.

•The Bill provides for establishment of national and regional DNA data banks and each data will maintain the indices, including crime scene index, suspects’ or undertrials’ index and offenders’ index.

Fears of misuse

•Replying to the concerns raised by various members about the law being misused to carry unregulated DNA profiling, Dr. Harsh Vardhan said, “The potential misuse of DNA samples is not restricted to the biological material, which is collected under the provisions of this DNA Bill alone. Any and every blood sample collected by clinical laboratory has the same potential for misuse”.

•Kalyan Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress said the the Bill was a good step in the criminal justice system but cautioned about a possible scenario where it could be misused by investigative agencies while collecting DNA samples.

📰 Supreme Court clears the way to reopen Sterlite plant

Will continue legal battle, says CM

•The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to stay the decision of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to process the reopening of the Sterlite copper plant at Thoothukudi, which was ordered to be closed down due to environmental pollution.

•The Supreme Court Bench also stayed an order passed by the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court that the status quo “as on today” should be maintained till January 21 in respect of reopening of the plant.

•Vedanta, which runs the plant, had moved the top court against the Madurai Bench’s decision.

•The Supreme Court said the process of reopening the plant as per the National Green Tribunal’s order can continue.

•This would mean that Sterlite’s ‘renewal of consent to operate’ application, pending with the Tamil Nadu State Pollution Control Board, should be decided by the latter authority within three weeks as per the tribunal’s verdict. However, Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami told the Assembly that the government would continue its legal battle to permanently shut down the copper smelter.

•The apex court issued notice on the Tamil Nadu government’s appeal contending that the tribunal failed to consider the entire gamut of data, documents and evidence before directing the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to pass fresh orders of renewal of consent and issue authorisation to Vedanta Limited to handle hazardous substances.

•The State argued that the tribunal went outside the four walls of the statute governing its functions to appoint a Committee led by former High Court chief justice Tarun Aggarwala to prepare a report in the case. It said the NGT was not a constitutional court like the Supreme Court. The Committee, having been formed, failed to consider any of the contentions as well as documents while preparing its report. The NGT had relied on the committee report.

•The State contended that Vedanta had not been complying with pollution norms, and the situation had severely deteriorated since 1996. “Far from taking precautionary steps, the unit has wilfully flouted the norms and caused the present appalling situation where the groundwater contains TDS more than 20 to 40 times the permissible limit,” it said.

•Besides, the appeal contended that the tribunal did not have the jurisdiction to adjudicate upon the validity of a government order. Only constitutional courts have the power and the jurisdiction to do so. “It is submitted that the jurisdiction conferred upon the tribunal under Section 14 (1) of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 does not include the power to examine the validity of government orders,” the appeal said.

📰 Customers cannot be charged for availing tokenisation service: RBI

Allows card payment networks to offer the facility to third-party app providers

•The Reserve of India (RBI) has allowed all card payment networks to offer tokenisation service. However, the central bank has made it clear that no charges should be recovered from the customer for availing this service.

•Tokenisation involves a process in which a unique token masks sensitive card details. The token is then used to perform card transactions in contact-less mode at Point Of Sale (POS) terminals, Quick Response (QR) code payments, etc.

•The RBI has allowed card payment networks to offer card tokenisation services to any token requestor, that is, a third party app provider. A card holder can avail of these services by registering the card on the token requestor’s app and after giving ‘explicit consent’.

•“All extant instructions of Reserve Bank on safety and security of card transactions, including the mandate for additional factor of authentication (AFA) / PIN entry shall be applicable for tokenised card transactions also,” the RBI said in a release.

•“This permission extends to all use cases/channels [e.g., Near-Field Communication (NFC) / Magnetic Secure Transmission (MST)-based contact-less transactions, in-app payments, QR code-based payments etc.] or token storage mechanisms (cloud, secure element, trusted execution environment etc.). For the present, this facility shall be offered through mobile phones/tablets only. Its extension to other devices will be examined later based on the experience gained,” the RBI said.

•For additional factor of authentication, PIN entry shall be applicable for tokenised card transactions also.

Safety measures

•“Adequate safeguards shall be put in place to ensure that PAN cannot be found out from the token and vice versa by anyone except the card network,” the RBI said.

•“Moreover, actual card data, token and other relevant details shall be stored in a secure mode and the token requestors are not allowed to store PAN or any other card detail,” the release added. The ultimate responsibility for the card tokenisation services rendered rests with the authorised card networks, the RBI said.

📰 Nilekani to head RBI panel on digital payments

To suggest ways to enhance system

•The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has set up a five-member committee headed by Infosys chairman Nandan Nilekani to suggest a strategy for deepening of digital payments in the country. The committee will submit its report within 90 days from its first meeting.

•The panel will review the existing status of digitisation of payments in the country, identify the current gaps in the ecosystem, and suggest ways to bridge them, the terms of reference said.

•Besides, the panel will assess the current levels of digital payments in financial inclusion, undertake cross country analyses to identify the best practices that can be adopted in to accelerate digitisation and financial inclusion through greater use of digital payments. Other members of the committee are H.R. Khan, former deputy governor, RBI, Kishor Sansi, former MD & CEO Vijaya Bank, Aruna Sharma, former secretary, Ministry of Information Technology and Steel, and Sanjay Jain, Chief Innovation Officer, Center for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE), IIM Ahmedabad.

•The panel will also suggest measures to strengthen the safety and security of digital payments and provide a roadmap for increasing customer confidence while accessing financial services through digital modes.

📰 Gita Gopinath joins IMF as its first female chief economist

Gita Gopinath joins IMF as its first female chief economist

•: Mysore-born Gita Gopinath has joined International Monetary Fund as its chief economist, becoming the first woman to occupy the top IMF post.

•Gopinath, 47, succeeds Maurice (Maury) Obstfeld as Economic Counsellor and Director of the IMF’s Research Department. Obstfeld retired December 31.

•Announcing her appointment on October 1, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde described her as one of the world’s outstanding economists with impeccable academic credentials, a proven track record of intellectual leadership and extensive international experience.

📰 NASA probe discovers new planet

The planet, named HD 21749b, orbits a bright, nearby dwarf star in the constellation Reticulum

•NASA’s latest planet hunting probe has discovered a new world outside our solar system, orbiting a dwarf star 53 light years away.

•This is the third new planet confirmed by the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) since its launch in April last year.

•The planet, named HD 21749b, orbits a bright, nearby dwarf star about 53 light years away, in the constellation Reticulum, and appears to have the longest orbital period of the three planets so far identified by TESS.

•HD 21749b journeys around its star in a relatively leisurely 36 days, compared to the two other planets – Pi Mensae b, a “super-Earth” with a 6.3-day orbit, and LHS 3844b, a rocky world that speeds around its star in just 11 hours.

•All three planets were discovered in the first three months of TESS observations.

•The surface of the new planet is likely around 300 degrees Fahrenheit -- relatively cool, given its proximity to its star, which is almost as bright as the sun.

•“It’s the coolest small planet that we know of around a star this bright,” said Diana Dragomir, a postdoc in Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US, who led the discovery.

•“We know a lot about atmospheres of hot planets, but because it’s very hard to find small planets that orbit farther from their stars, and are therefore cooler, we haven’t been able to learn much about these smaller, cooler planets. But here we were lucky, and caught this one, and can now study it in more detail,” Dragomir said.

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