The HINDU Notes – 05th September 2019 - VISION

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Thursday, September 05, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 05th September 2019

📰 India, Russia against outside influence in internal issues: Narendra Modi

Mr. Modi is the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the Russian Far East Region.

•India and Russia are against “outside influence” in the internal matters of any nation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Wednesday after comprehensive talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin aimed at finding new horizons of bilateral cooperation in areas like trade, defence, space, oil and gas, nuclear energy and maritime connectivity.

•Mr. Modi, who arrived in Russia on a two-day visit, is the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the Russian Far East Region.

•Mr. Modi’s remarks were made at a press meet with Mr. Putin after their delegation-level talks at the 20th Annual Summit following a two-hour tete-a-tete on board a ship. His remarks came against the backdrop of tension between India and Pakistan after New Delhi revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.

•India has categorically told the international community that the scrapping of Article 370 was an internal matter and also advised Pakistan to accept the reality. Pakistan is trying to internationalise the Kashmir issue after India’s decision on August 5.

•Russia has backed India’s move on Jammu and Kashmir, saying that the changes in the status are within the framework of the Indian Constitution.

•Briefing the media later, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said Mr. Modi explained to Mr. Putin the rationale behind the decision and Russia stands firmly behind India on the issue.

•A joint statement issued later said the two sides “underlined the primacy of international law and emphasised their commitment to the purposes and the principles stated in the UN Charter including the inadmissibility of interference in the internal affairs of member states.” 

•The two leaders discussed ways to bolster cooperation in trade and investment, oil and gas, mining, nuclear energy, defence and security, air and maritime connectivity, transport infrastructure, hi-tech, outer space, counter terrorism and people-to-people ties.

•“Today’s talks with President Putin were aimed at finding new horizons of India-Russia cooperation. This includes opportunities in trade, security, maritime cooperation and working together to protect the environment,” Mr. Modi said.

•He said a proposal has been made to have a full fledged maritime route between Chennai and Vladivostok.

•The statement said the two leaders “agreed to facilitate, in all possible ways, exploring the impressive potential of our strategic partnership to the full, demonstrating its special and privileged nature which has emerged as an anchor of stability in a complex international situation.” 

•The two sides “prioritise strong, multifaceted trade and economic cooperation as the foundation for further expanding the range of India-Russia relations,” it added.

•The two leaders decided to take the bilateral trade from the current $11 billion to $30 billion by 2025.

•The two sides noted the pace of progress achieved in the construction of the remaining four of the six nuclear power plants at Kudankulam.

•Mr. Modi said Russia will help train Indian astronauts for the manned space mission — Gaganyaan.

•Noting that close cooperation in military-technical fields is a pillar of Indo-Russia Special and Privileged Strategic Partnership, the statement said the two sides vowed to upgrade their defence cooperation, including by fostering joint development and production of military equipment, components and spare parts.

•They shared the view that “implementation in good faith of universally recognised principles and rules of international law excludes the practice of double standards or imposition of some States of their will on other States.”

•They called for reform of the UN Security Council to reflect contemporary global realities. Russia expressed its support for India’s candidacy for a permanent membership of the UNSC.

•“The sides intend to focus particularly on increasing the effectiveness of countering terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking, cross-border organized crime, and information security threats, in particular by improving the functionality of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure,” the statement said.

•The two leaders strongly condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and called on the international community to set up a united front to fight against this evil.

•“They insisted on the inadmissibility of double standards in countering terrorism and extremism, as well as of the use of terrorist groups for political ends,” the statement said.

•Both sides expressed concern over the possibility of an arms race in outer space and advocated peaceful uses of outer space.

•They reiterated their commitment to further strengthen global non-proliferation. Russia expressed its strong support for India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

•The two sides expressed their support for an inclusive peace and Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation in Afghanistan.

•They reaffirmed their commitment to building an equal and indivisible security architecture in Asia and the Pacific region.

•The two sides signed 15 agreements/MoUs in areas such as defence, air, and maritime connectivity, energy, natural gas, petroleum and trade.

•On his part, Mr. Putin said India is one of the key partners of Russia.

•Underlining the Indo-Russia cooperation in technical and military areas, he said, “We are successfully implementing our bilateral programme on military and technical cooperation up to 2020. We are working to update it to extend to another 10 years.”

📰 Russia opens porthole to Chennai

India, Russia against ‘outside influence’ in internal matters of any nation: Narendra Modi

•India and Russia are against “outside influence” in the internal matters of any nation, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said after talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday during which they discussed ways to bolster cooperation in trade and investment, oil and gas, nuclear energy, defence, space and maritime connectivity.

•Mr. Modi, who arrived in Russia on a two-day visit, during which he will also attend the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF), is the first Indian Prime Minister to visit to the Russian Far East region.

•“We both are against outside influence in the internal matters of any nation,” Mr. Modi said in a joint press meet with President Putin after their talks.

•His remarks came against the backdrop of tension between India and Pakistan after New Delhi revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.

•India has categorically told the international community that the scrapping of Article 370 of the Constitution was an internal matter and also advised Pakistan to accept the reality.

•Russia has backed India’s move on Jammu and Kashmir, saying that the changes in the status are within the framework of the Indian Constitution.

•The two leaders held the delegation-level talks at the India-Russia 20th Annual Summit after a two-hour tete-a-tete on board a ship, aimed at strengthening the special and privileged relationship between the two sides.

Maritime route between Chennai and Vladivostok

•Prime Minister Modi said a proposal had been made to have a full-fledged maritime route between Chennai and Vladivostok. A Memorandum of Intent was signed in this regard.

•“Due to the increasing localisation of nuclear plants being formed with the cooperation of Russia in India, we are also developing a true partnership in this field,” he said.

•“The India-Russia friendship is not restricted to their respective capital cities. We have put people at the core of this relationship,” he added.

Russia to train Indian astronauts

•Russia, he said, would help train Indian astronauts for the manned space mission — the Gaganyaan project.

•The two sides signed 15 agreements/MoUs in areas such as defence, air, and maritime connectivity, energy, natural gas, petroleum and trade.

•Mr. Modi said: “The friendship and support between both the countries is growing with full speed... Our special and privileged strategic partnership has not only benefitted our countries but also it has been used for the development of the people.

•“Both of us have taken our relationship to a new level based on cooperation and support which has resulted in not only quantitative changes but qualitative changes as well.”

India, Russia relationship of ‘special privileged nature’: Putin

•On his part, Mr. Putin said India was one of the key partners of Russia and the relationship between the two states was of “strategic and special privileged nature”.

•“We placed our priorities on trade and investment cooperation last year. Our bilateral trade grew by almost 17 per cent and mounted to $11 billion. There is every condition that it will grow further up,” he said.

•It was the common goal of the two sides to reach an agreement to establish a free trade area between India and the Eurasian economic union.

•Noting that Russia is a reliable source of energy supplier to India, Mr. Putin said, “Last year we have shipped 3.3 million tonnes of oil to India, [...] oil products, and 4.5 million tonnes of coal.”

•The flagship joint project was the cooperation in the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant. “The first two units are already operational. The work for the third and fourth unit are going as per schedule,” he said.

•Underlining the cooperation in technical and military areas, Mr. Putin said, “We are successfully implementing our bilateral programme on military and technical cooperation up to 2020. We are working to update it to extend to another 10 years.”

📰 Jurisprudence of the judicial rubber stamp

A close reading of UAPA Tribunal orders shows how fundamental principles of fair procedure are being given a miss

•Last month, amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (“UAPA”), India’s signature anti-terrorism legislation, allowing the Central government to designate individuals as “terrorists”, caused a furore. Critics warned that vesting such sweeping powers in the hands of the political executive would prove to be a recipe for abuse, and for political and social persecution. In response, it was argued that the UAPA provided for a system of checks and balances which would ensure that governmental abuse could be swiftly reviewed and rectified.

What the UAPA requires

•To what extent is this argument well-founded? A look at how the UAPA functions presently suggests that the defenders of the law are too optimistic in their faith in “institutional correctives”. Before the 2019 amendments, the UAPA could be used to ban associations and not individuals. To this end, the UAPA required, and still requires that the ban must clearly set out the grounds on which the government has arrived at its opinion; and it may then be contested by the banned association before a Tribunal, consisting of a sitting High Court judge. As a number of judgments have held, the task of a UAPA Tribunal is to carefully scrutinise the decision of the government, keeping in mind the fact that banning an organisation or a group infringes the crucial fundamental freedoms of speech and association.

•A close reading of UAPA Tribunal orders makes it clear, however, that the requirement of judicial scrutiny is little more than a parchment barrier. In allowing the government vast amounts of leeway in proving its case, tribunals depart from some of the most fundamental principles of fair procedure, and act as little more than judicial rubber stamps. And this is made starkly evident by a recent UAPA Tribunal Order (issued on August 23, 2019) confirming the government’s ban on the Jamaat-e-Islami, Jammu and Kashmir (“JeI, J&K”).

Sealed covers and evidence

•The government’s ban on the JeI, J&K was based on its opinion that the association was “supporting extremism and militancy”, “indulging in anti national and subversive activities”, and activities to “disrupt the territorial integrity of the nation”. In support of this opinion, the government said that there existed a large number of First Information Reports (“FIRs”) against various members of the association. Among other things, the JeI, J&K responded that for almost all of the FIRs in question, the people accused had nothing to do with the association. This, it was argued, could be proven by looking at the association’s membership register, which had been seized by the government.

•One would think that such a case can be resolved straightforwardly: had the government managed to prove that there existed sufficient evidence of wrongdoing against members of the JeI, J&K, that would justify banning the organisation altogether. It is here, however, that things began to get murky because the government then fell back on the increasingly convenient “sealed cover jurisprudence”, submitting material that it claimed was too sensitive to be disclosed. Notably, the evidence was not disclosed even to the association and its lawyers, who were contesting the ban.

•Now, it would appear to be a very basic principle of justice that if an association is to be banned for unlawful activities, then the material on the basis of which that ban is justified is put to the association so that it has a chance to defend itself. To take a decision on the legality of a ban by looking at secret material that is withheld even from the association itself is exactly akin to condemning a man unheard. It is kangaroo-court style justice, which has no place in a modern democracy. However, this is exactly what the Tribunal did.

•Justice Chander Shekhar observed that he had “opened the sealed covers and carefully examined each and every document”, and that it was convinced that these were “credible documents.” To this day, neither the association nor anyone reading the Tribunal’s opinion has any way of knowing what the evidence was. In essence, therefore: the fundamental freedoms of speech and association have been violated on the basis of secret evidence passed from the government to the Tribunal; an association numbering in at least the thousands has been shut down for five years, and all its members made putatively unlawful, potentially criminal without even being told why.

•Matters, however, did not end there. The testimony of a senior and former office bearer of the JeI, J&K about the association’s efforts to distance itself from “unlawful activities”, “extremism”, and “terrorism” went unrebutted. More importantly, as the JeI, J&K argued, a look at its membership register would make it clear that its members had nothing to do with criminal activities. The problem, however, was that its membership register had been seized by the government. Consequently, the JeI, J&K made a rather common-sense argument: let the government produce the membership register, since it was in its possession.

Lions under the throne

•The government, however, refused to do so, and instead submitted even this piece of evidence in a sealed cover. And the Justice Chander Shekhar’s response to this was truly Orwellian: he observed that “the respondent Association has not led any evidence to substantiate their defence that their office-bearers or members are not involved in the kind of activities alleged against them”. In short, therefore, the Tribunal wanted the association to prove that their members were not committing illegal activities, while the main source of evidence that the association would rely upon to prove exactly that, was in the hands of the government — and the association was not allowed to rely on it.

•If, therefore, we take a step back and look at the Tribunal’s opinion, two aspects stand out starkly. First, a five-year ban upon an association — going to the very heart of the freedom of speech and association, potentially making all persons associated with it criminal — was upheld by a judicial forum on the basis of secret evidence that the association had neither the chance to see, nor to rebut. And second, the most valuable piece of evidence that the association had to defend itself was seized from it by the very government that had banned it; and not only did the Tribunal wink at this, but then used the absence of that piece of evidence against the association that it had been seized from, and in favour of the government that had seized it.

•Throughout its opinion, the Tribunal made multiple references to how the UAPA allows for departures from the “strict rules of evidence”, in order to serve larger goals. And this, indeed, is the problem: these “departures” have been made boundless, and boundlessly manipulable to the extent that they have swallowed up the most basic rules of procedural justice and fairness. What we effectively have now, thanks to the interpretation of Tribunals, is this situation: on the one hand, every leeway is provided to the government, loopholes have been created where non existed, and every procedural and evidentiary standard diluted, while on the other, associations (comprising Indian citizens) are held to impossible standards in order to disprove the case against them.

•This is not a jurisprudence that respects constitutional democracy or fundamental freedoms such as speech and association. Rather, it is a jurisprudence of the judicial rubber stamp: courts acting to legitimise and enable governmental overreach, rather then protecting citizens and the rights of citizens against the government. It is a situation where in the words of a famous English judge the judiciary has gone from “lions under the throne” to “mice squeaking under a chair in the Home Office” – with “consequences that the nation will one day bitterly regret”.

📰 Steaming back into the Indo-Pacific

Russia could be imagining a greater role for itself in reshaping the region’s geopolitics

•An exchange in 1964 between U.S. diplomat Chester Bowles and Triloki Nath Kaul, India’s then Ambassador to Moscow, offers a fascinating insight into contemporary geopolitics. While discussing South East Asia, Bowles said, “it would be a good thing if India could try to bring the Soviet and American points of view closer… India’s friendship with both could act as a sort of bridge between them.” He “hoped that it would be possible for [the] USA and USSR, with the help of India, to come to some kind of understanding about preventing Chinese expansionism and infiltration in South East Asia.” Kaul replied, “India would be glad to bring the U.S. and Soviet points of view closer as far as lay within our ability. In fact this was our present policy.” This response reflected India’s then geostrategy to position itself as an area of agreement between the superpowers.

•As Kaul’s cable in September 1965 to Indira Gandhi subsequently explained: “the interests of America, USSR and India, have a common feature of being aimed at the prevention of Chinese expansion in this area. This provides an opportunity for India to reap the maximum possible advantage from both sides and strengthen herself for the future.”

•History, however, followed a different course. As the 1960s unfolded, the Sino-Soviet ideological struggle culminated in an ugly spat in the Communist world. Ironically, both New Delhi and Washington perceived that trend differently and with contrasting ends in mind.

A multipolar world

•For Anglo-American policymakers, a long cherished dream of isolating Russia and pulling China back into their orbit became a reality. For India, the spectre of an unfriendly China being checked through a shared understanding with Washington and Moscow fell by the way side, and New Delhi was compelled to imagine new approaches to safeguard its interests and security. By 1969, the bipolar system had cracked open into a multipolar world. The U.S. and China were on the cusp of a rapprochement while New Delhi and Moscow had established strategic understanding at the highest level to respond to this disconcerting global re-alignment. December 1971 reaffirmed the new multipolar world with the Soviet Navy entering the Indian Ocean to stymie the Anglo-American attempt to disrupt India’s military operations during the liberation of Bangladesh. That seminal period laid the foundation, as External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar alluded to in Moscow last week, for a four-decade relationship that withstood further disruptions in international politics, including the end of the first Cold War in 1989 and the disappearance of the Soviet Union in 1991.

•If we fast forward to recent years, historical patterns continue to have a robust afterlife. The U.S.-Russia-China triangle still contains complex and counter-intuitive dynamics that often get obscured or distorted in India’s strategic debates.

Complex dynamics

•Despite the Donald Trump administration’s posturing on China and its attempt to redefine the terms of that relationship, we do not yet see a credible and sustainable strategy to respond to China’s rise. And growing Sino-Russian relations have not led to any fundamental reassessment in the U.S.’s thinking. In recent years, whether on the U.S.’s attempts to pressure North Korea or security in Northeast Asia or conflicts in the Middle East we have abundant evidence of Moscow and Beijing providing psychological and diplomatic support to each other. Even potentially contentious issues such as their Eurasian integration visions, that is, Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union and China’s Belt and Road initiative, have been projected in a spirit of co-existence and mutual respect, often disguising deeper questions of power and ambition. It is not that Moscow is oblivious to Beijing potentially squeezing Russian influence from parts of Eurasia but that Moscow’s calculus is also shaped by the strategic necessity of a mutually beneficial partnership with Beijing in order to counter-balance a rigid and unfriendly West.

•The Russia-China relationship is presently guided by, as Dmitri Trenin suggests, the principle of “never being against each other, but not necessarily always with each other”. This formula “puts a premium on a solid partnership between Moscow and Beijing where their interests meet, eschews conflicts where they don’t, and allows a lot of flexibility where interests overlap only partially”. For instance, we saw this nimbleness at the UN Security Council when Russia and China were on opposite sides in reacting to India’s new Kashmir policy.

The Asia pivot

•When mainstream American policymakers look at the big power triangle of the U.S.-China-Russia, their unconcealed prejudice and geostrategic preferences are apparent to all. The door is still very much open to China whom the West would like to wean away from Russia to arrest America’s deteriorating global position. New Delhi, of course, like in the 1960s, would prefer the opposite outcome: to wean Russia away from China or more realistically provide Russia with more options in its Asia pivot. Mr. Jaishankar’s remarks at the prestigious Valdai Club in Moscow made such a case for the next chapter in India-Russia ties. In essence, he asserted that Asia’s multipolar age has arrived; that the Indo-Pacific is not restricted to one conception: he distinguished India’s independent approach that includes stable ties with Beijing from the U.S. concept that some interpret as “Chinese containment on the cheap”; and most importantly, Russia being a Pacific power with interests in the Indian Ocean should join the debate.

•In substance and without ruffling Beijing’s feathers, Russia is already shaping the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific. It has managed the rare feat of deep cooperation with rival parties in the South China Sea disputes. As Alexander Korolev, a scholar at the University of New South Wales, notes, the “Russia-Vietnam partnership should not be underestimated, because it has been growing despite and independently of Russia-China relations”. Indeed, once Russia’s advanced military and naval modernisation assistance towards Indo-Pacific states such as India, Vietnam and Indonesia, along with Russia’s own underrated Pacific Fleet whose area of responsibility extends to the Persian Gulf is accounted for, Moscow is already a player in Eurasia’s Rimland areas.

•Having been reassured that India is not bandwagoning with the U.S. and genuinely believes in open and inclusive security and order building ideas, Russia could now begin the process of imagining a role in the Indo-Pacific that brings its vast diplomatic experience and strategic heft into the open.

📰 It is important to contextualise the NRC

Errors aside, the process was rigorous, methodical and did not target any particular community

•The National Register of Citizens (NRC), which was expected to land with a bang in Assam, seems to some as having landed with a mere whoosh. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders are particularly upset as it has belied their hopes of netting a huge number of immigrant Muslims in a dragnet — reportedly, a majority of those left out are Hindus. The All Assam Students Union (AASU) has expressed disappointment, arguing that the numbers did not tally with earlier figures mentioned by the government. Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has even given dark hints of ‘other measures’ in store to offset the ‘errors’ in the NRC.

•On the other hand, former Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta has welcomed it as satisfactory. Pradip Bhuyan, whose PIL galvanised the process of preparing the NRC; The Forum Against Amendment of the Citizenship Bill, which I chaired; and organisations representing immigrant Muslims have also welcomed it, while pointing out that such a massive and complex exercise in a country where official documentation is still at a rudimentary stage is not likely to be foolproof.

•Those expressing their disappointment ignore that the rigorous procedures and methodical cross-verifications were not put in place to fulfil some people’s fantasies. The previous figures cited by the government in earlier times were not based on any systematic procedure.

Rhetoric and reality

•The concerns over the migration of Muslims also mask a social phenomenon. As Dr. Ilias Ali, a surgeon and crusader for family planning, and Abdul Mannan, a retired professor of statistics, have shown, the Muslims’ swelling numbers are the result of widespread poverty, illiteracy, early marriage and lack of birth-control measures rather than migration. However, this is not to deny that some migration did take place.

•The results should also set at rest the tireless campaign by certain well-meaning but ill-informed people in the academic and media circles to paint the NRC as a vicious plot by some ‘xenophobic Assamese’ to oppress and torture Muslims. The process was impersonal and its strict machine-like operation pre-empted the targeting of any particular community. While there may have been errors and lapses, there is no truth to the allegation of bias.

•People outside Assam have very little idea of the terrible times Assam lived through from the 1980s to the late 1990s. Social unrest, ethnic conflict, militancy and insurgency under different flags created a monstrous and stifling atmosphere. There was a complete lack of security, loss of trust between different communities and uncontrolled violence. The government’s attempt to quell these with the Army and the police made matters worse.

•On the other hand, there was also an attempt by a group of civil society activists, saner political elements and mature tribal leaders to mobilise support for peace. At that juncture in the late 1990s, popular Muslim clerical leaders came aboard and publicly declared their support for the Assam Accord, which they had opposed tooth and nail for a decade after 1985. This was a watershed moment, when the demand for an NRC gained greater traction.

•Earlier, since 1979, a turbulent stir in the State against a perceived threat to native identities had practically held the government to ransom, disrupted businesses and put a stop to education. Looking back, I cannot help feeling that underground saffron brigades had a lot to do with some of the grim incidents. In any case, there was a stream of BJP leaders visiting the State to rally massive crowds. The curtains were drawn on these scenes in 1985 after the signing of the Assam Accord, which set 1971 as the cut-off year for determining citizenship. Immigrant Muslims initially considered it a betrayal and even formed their own political party but, as mentioned above, they began expressing support for the pact in the late 1990s.

The colonial roots

•‘But why is there so much hue and cry about migration, which is a natural human phenomenon?’ wonder many outsiders who do not know the history of Assam. Such an attempt to naturalise sociopolitical events is an intellectual folly. The roots of the State’s discontent can be traced to the early decades of the 20th century. The British colonial rulers, after fleecing poor East Bengal peasants for more than a century, apprehended a massive peasant revolt and promoted the latter’s migration to Assam. The relocation, which began as a trickle in the early decades of the 20th century, turned into a deluge in the 1930s and ‘40s.

•Running with the hare and hunting with the hounds, the British also set off an alarm among native Assamese people about their lands being ‘seized’ and their culture ‘being’ buried. Provocative remarks like those by Census superintendent C.S. Mullan in 1931 made the situation worse, turning anxiety into panic. Muslim leaders like Maulana Bhasani breathed fire into this by demanding both land for new immigrants and inclusion of Assam in Pakistan. However, following Independence, when Bhasani went to East Pakistan and left millions of his followers in the lurch, it was a grim acceptance by the immigrant Muslims of their fate, patient negotiations with Congress leaders and sheer grit that saw them through.

•Fortunately, there was also a strand of Assamese national culture that tolerated diversity of faith and promoted peaceful coexistence and fraternal relations. Cultural icons like writers Jyoti Prasad Agarwala, Bishnu Prasad Rabha and singer-musician Bhupen Hazarika upheld that tradition and until the Assam Movement, which began in 1979, the relations remained cordial.

The fate of the excluded

•Now that the NRC has ended, what are we to do with the 19 lakh people left out? The problem is that their fate will be decided by Foreigners’ Tribunals which are short of mature and judicially trained members and which have so far leaned on reports of the Border Police. An option of appeal to the higher echelons of the judiciary does exist for those excluded but that is likely to be expensive and sometimes unaffordable. The government has promised legal aid but we have to wait and watch if it is dispensed impartially.

•And what will be the fate of those left out, most of them poor and hapless, after these appeals are exhausted? Deporting them is not an option. However, many of the Assamese people, living in a State that is still under-developed, are not willing to bear their burden at a time when their own lot is facing difficult times due to the annual floods, a drying up of natural resources and the cut-throat competition. They are scared of losing whatever political power they have enjoyed. It is the Centre’s responsibility to rehabilitate and look after those who are left out after the exercise. In the meantime, patience and a refusal to take the bait of rumours and inflammatory rhetoric may see the Assamese through.

📰 Masood Azhar, Hafiz Saeed, Lakhvi, Dawood Ibrahim declared terrorists under new anti-terror law

Masood Azhar, Hafiz Saeed, Lakhvi, Dawood Ibrahim declared terrorists under new anti-terror law
The recently-amended Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act allows government to designate individuals as terrorists.

•Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief Masood Azhar, Hafiz Saeed of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), his deputy Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi and underworld don Dawood Ibrahim who planned and executed the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts are the first four persons designated as “terrorists” under the anti-terror law passed by Parliament on August 2.

•The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) issued a gazette notification declaring the four as 'terrorists' under clause (a) of sub-section (1) of section 35 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967.

•Home Minister Amit Shah said in the Rajya Sabha on August 2 “it was important to identify terrorists and not just organisations.”

•The UAPA was first amended in 2004, then in 2008 and in 2013. The 2004 amendment was to ban organisations for terror activities, under which 34 outfits, including the LeT and the JeM were banned.

•To designate Azhar, the MHA mentioned five terror cases, including the February 14 Pulwama attack, where 40 CRPF personnel were killed.

•“And whereas, Maulana Masood Azhar is accused in various cases registered and being investigated by the National Investigation Agency and charge sheet had been filed against him in Pathankot air base attack case; And whereas, Red Corner Notices No. A-1086/7-2004 and A-4367/5-2016 have been issued against Azhar.....the Central Government believes that Maulana Masood Azhar is involved in terrorism and Maulana Masood Azhar is to be notified as a terrorist under the said Act,” a notification issued by the MHA said.

•Hafiz Saeed has been designated as a terrorist for his involvement in four cases — Red Fort attack (2000), Rampur attack (2008), 26/11 Mumbai attack (2008) and attack on a BSF convoy at Udhampur in Jammu & Kashmir (2015).

•“And whereas, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed is accused in various cases registered and being investigated by the NIA which inter-alia include Jammu and Kashmir terror conspiracy and terror funding case and Dukhtaran-E-Millat case and charge sheet had been filed against him in Headley case (26/11 Mumbai terror attack),” the notification said.

•Lakhvi has been designated as a terrorist for his involvement in four cases, including 26/11 Mumbai terror attack.

•The government had said that the first ones to be designated on a priority basis would be the Pakistan-based terrorists. The designations were in alignment with laws in the European Union (EU) countries, the U.S.A., China and Israel and even in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, an official said.

Opposition concern

•Opposition parties have raised concern over the law, saying it could also be used against political opponents and civil society activists who spoke against the government may be branded as “terrorists.”

📰 Putting accident victims at the centre of vehicles law

The new Act focusses more on penalties than compensation

•It is well known that India is one of the most accident-prone countries in the world, accounting for nearly 1,50,000 deaths — 10% of all motor vehicles-related fatalities worldwide. However, the debate often revolves around how to minimise road accidents by incorporating deterrents into laws and ignores the interests of the victims. The discourse concerning the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Act 2019 has only followed this trend, as is evidenced by the disproportionate press coverage given to the enhanced penalties to be levied on offenders.

•This lack of victim-centricity in the discourse, though deplorable, is unsurprising. The fact that the National Crime Records Bureau does not collate data pertaining to the socio-economic and demographic profile of victims of traffic accidents is a testament to the relative apathy shown by the state machinery.

•The amended Act gives the victims some respite as it provides for an enhanced insurance compensation of ₹5 lakh in case of death of a person in a traffic accident and ₹2.5 lakh where there is “grievous hurt”. The compensation to be awarded following hit-and-run accidents has also been raised to ₹2 lakh when a victim dies and ₹50,000 when he/she suffers a grievous injury.

Cashless treatment

•Additionally, the Act now requires insurance companies and the government to notify schemes relating to cashless treatment during the ‘Golden Hour’ — the period of first 60 minutes from the occurrence of an accident when the risk of fatality can be minimised to the greatest extent. Further, it mandates compulsory insurance of all road users, including pedestrians, who will be covered through a ‘Motor Vehicle Accident Fund’. Lastly, it also provides for interim relief to be provided to the claimants.

•These provisions, well-intentioned, are no doubt steps in the right direction. However, much more needs to be done if the accident victims are to be provided complete justice.

•First, closer attention needs to be paid to the formula used to calculate the quantum of compensation. In the case of Arun Kumar Agarwal & Anr v. National Insurance Co. Ltd & Ors (2010), the deceased was a homemaker. The Accident Claim Tribunal reduced the amount of compensation from the calculated sum of ₹6 lakh to a sum of ₹2,60,000, stating that she was unemployed. In light of the same, on appeal, the Supreme Court commented that: “The time has come for the Parliament to have a rethink on properly assessing homemakers’ and householders’ work and suitably amending he provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act… for giving compensation when the victims are women and homemakers.” The amended Act, however, does not account for such nuances.

•Second, many of the problems with the Motor Vehicles Act highlighted by the apex court in the case of Jai Prakash v. M/S. National Insurance Co. & Ors (2009) either remain unaddressed or are inadequately addressed by the amended version. For instance, though vehicle users who don’t give passage to emergency ambulance vehicle are liable to be punished with fines, such punitive measures are likely to remain ineffective in the absence of an effective implementation mechanism. Further, other factors that lead to a poor response time, including lack of road infrastructure, also need to be taken into account.

Delays in settlement

•Another problem highlighted by the apex court for which the new Act does not provided any remedy is that of procedural delays on the part of tribunals in claims settlement. The provision for interim compensation is bound to bring some respite to the victims but another unaddressed concern makes this stipulation susceptible to criticism.

•An absence of in-built safeguards in the compensation mechanism allows for the money to be frittered away by unscrupulous relatives, touts and agents, especially in cases where the victim or his nearest kin are poor and illiterate. It is to address this concern that the Supreme Court in Jai Prakash suggested payment in the form of monthly disbursements of smaller amounts over a longer period of time to victims or their kin, as against a lump-sum award. This has been overlooked by the new Act.

•Understandably, many of the points raised above cannot be specified statutorily. Hence, the government needs to notify an institutional framework which encourages advocacy for victims and facilitates access to the various services.

📰 Government to pull out all the stops to cut use of plastics

Multi-Ministry effort will begin on October 2, includes voluntary work and awareness.

•After Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s message on Independence Day, the Union government is working on a multi-ministerial plan to discourage the use of single use plastics across the country, likely to kick off on October 2, Gandhi Jayanti.

•A presentation for the same has been prepared and circulated across the Ministries.

•The nodal Ministry for the scheme would be the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, which has been asked not just to ensure and enforce the ban on single use plastics but also finalise the pending policy for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), especially on milk packets.

•The Department of Industrial Promotion is to ensure that all cement factories use plastic as fuel, while the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) has been asked to ensure that not only is plastic waste collected and transported responsibly along National Highways but also all collected plastic waste is used for road construction.

•According to studies quoted by officials, roads constructed using water plastic are durable against extreme weather conditions and are also cost-effective.

•The Railways Ministry will organise massive shramdaans (voluntary work) on October 2 for collection of plastic waste at railway stations and along rail tracks and will run advertising radio spots on all trains.

•Since 70% of the total plastic waste in India is from urban areas, all 4,378 urban local bodies have been tasked with massive shramdaan for plastic collection and to collect and segregate waste into recyclable and non-recyclable categories.

•Gram panchayats have been asked to mobilise shramdaan on October 2 to ensure that all roads under the Prime Minister Gram Sadak Yojana are built using plastic waste and segregate waste in rural areas.

End to plastic bags

•Ministries of Tourism and Textiles have also been roped in for the campaign, including pushing for greater production of jute bags etc. to replace plastic bags. The Tourism Ministry has been asked to ensure awareness on SUPs at iconic tourist spots.

•Prime Minister Modi had flagged the discouraging of SUP, population control and encouraging domestic tourism in his address. The ban on SUP is likely to be the first to be taken up among these causes with Mr. Modi aiming at 2022 as the year when SUP will be weeded out completely. A ban on import of certain plastic products is also on the anvil.

📰 India’s climate score: high on vulnerability, low on resilience

Disaster management plans must be prioritised

•HSBC’s 2018 assessment of India being the country the most vulnerable to climate change is of great significance. However, against scientific warnings, carbon emissions continue to rise in China, the U.S. and India, three of the biggest emitters.

•Brazil, under its President Jair Bolsonaro, is encouraging — under the false pretext of promoting economic growth — unprecedented deforestation of the Amazon rainforest. As forest fires worsen global warming, the hardest hit by the resulting floods, storms, heatwaves and droughts will be in India.

•Amidst this dangerous setting, global leadership must act with far greater urgency, and countries, including India, ought to switch rapidly from polluting fossil fuels to cleaner renewable energy, while building much stronger coastal and inland defences against climatic damage. Brazil must reverse course on the mindless destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

A self-defeating tactic

•Brazil is not alone in mistakenly thinking that slashing environmental regulations would raise economic growth. The U.S., India and others are following this prescription to varying degrees. To be sure, cutting hurdles to investment can boost short-term growth and benefit interest groups. But damaging the environment in this way would be self defeating in today’s fragile ecology, as it would impact long-term growth and well-being.

•HSBC’s index and other such measures relating to the climate risk consider the exposure or sensitivity of countries to climate impacts on the one side, and their ability to cope on the other. Add to these two factors the intensity of the climate hazard itself and we can see how India’s ranking on the index is, in all likelihood, worsening each year.

•A number of Indian States have experienced extreme heatwaves in the past three years, and the nation’s capital recently recorded a temperature of 48°C, its hottest day in 21 years. India’s exposure to climate hazards is heightened by the location of its vast coastline in the eye of the storm, across the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. It also has a high population density located in harm’s way. For instance, Kerala, which experienced intense floods and landslides in 2018 and 2019, is among the States with the highest density.

•How badly this exposure will affect lives and livelihoods depends both on the degrees of vulnerability and resilience to climate impacts. Increasing temperatures and changing seasonal rainfall patterns are aggravating droughts and hurting agriculture across the country. Extreme storms like the one that hit Odisha this year and the floods that swept Chennai in 2015 are the new normal. These events become more damaging when infrastructure is not resilient.

Building resilience

•In the face of such danger, India is not doing enough to boost its coastal and inland defences. It also needs to do more to build resilience in the sectors of agriculture, fisheries, manufacturing, energy, transport, health, and education. The priority for spending at the national and State levels for disaster management needs to rise. Adequate resources must also be allocated for implementing climate action plans that most States have now prepared.

•Indeed, India should be alarmed at ecological destruction even in faraway places like Amazon. As the country that is most at risk for climate damage, it should lead in pressing the global community to take sweeping climate action. Meanwhile, the nation must reinforce its infrastructure and adapt its agriculture and industry. Equally, it also needs to replace urgently its fossil fuels with renewable energy.

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