The HINDU Notes – 11th January 2020 - VISION

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Saturday, January 11, 2020

The HINDU Notes – 11th January 2020

📰 Poll bonds worth ₹6,000 cr. sold in 2 years: RTI query

Activists had filed RTI query seeking data from SBI

•A day after the Finance Ministry released a fresh notification to issue electoral bonds (EBs), a Right to Information (RTI) query has revealed that more than 11,770 EBs worth almost ₹6,000 crore had been sold in the past two years.

•RTI activists Anjali Bhardwaj and Amrita Johri, who sought to know from the State Bank of India (SBI) the number of EBs their 29 authorised branches had sold since January 2, 2018, claimed that 23 branches had furnished the information

•These 23 branches had revealed that 11,770 EBs worth ₹5,936.7 crore had been sold since January 2, 2018.

₹1 crore denomination

•“Of the 11,770 bonds, 5,463 were of the denomination of ₹1 crore which means that 92% of the amount given through bonds was in the denomination of ₹1 crore. For 6 branches: Lucknow, Patna, Ranchi, Vishakhapatnam, Chennai and Thiruvananthapuram, no information has been received till date,” the activists said in a statement.

•“All the branches denied information on the names of persons who purchased bonds in the denomination of ₹1 crore stating that ‘The information sought by the applicant cannot be disclosed as it is in fiduciary capacity, disclosure of which is exempted under 8(1)(e) and 8(1)(j) of RTI Act, 2005’… This is a violation of peoples’ right to know,” the activists said.

•“The public authority has failed to weigh the issue of larger public interest, which is mandatorily required in each case in which information is denied under section 8 of the RTI Act,” they added.

•In a related development, the Congress party attacked the government for bringing out a fresh notification for issuing EBs just ahead of the Delhi elections.

•“This government is bonded to electoral bonds,” senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal said at a press conference. “They have a great bonding with electoral bonds.”

•Former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram retweeted a message put out by the official handle of the Congress party that said, “The next phase of Electoral Bonds have begun — right before the Delhi elections. Coincidence? Or is the BJP simply just funding their legalized loot and organized plunder”.

📰 Section 144 not a tool to suppress opinion: SC

Referring to the submissions by petitioners that the police were still restricting the movement of people during the day in Jammu and Kashmir, the court said it was neither proper nor correct on the part of the State to resort to such acts.

•The orders of restriction issued under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.PC) could not be used as a tool to suppress legitimate expressions, opinions and grievances in a democracy, the Supreme Court ruled on Friday.

•Referring to the submissions by petitioners that the police were still restricting the movement of people during the day in Jammu and Kashmir, the court said it was neither proper nor correct on the part of the State to resort to such acts. “If a government thinks there is a threat to law and order..., it must follow due procedure, taking into consideration the rights of citizens, and pass only appropriate and need-based restrictive orders,” it said.

•The court noted that the orders issued under Section 144 in Jammu and Kashmir did not explain that restrictions were imposed in anticipation of a threat to law and order or to prevent loss of life and property. This was despite the fact that government had argued that the restrictions were imposed because of the erstwhile State’s history of cross-border terrorism and infiltration and other security issues. Divergent views and disapproval of government action could not lead to imposition of Section 144, the court said.

•The power was meant to be used only in case of public emergency or in the interest of public safety. Magistrates could not apply a strait-jacket formula without assessing the objective and material facts. Restrictions could not be excessive in nature or duration, it said.

•On the contention whether Section 144 could be invoked against the public in general or against specific groups or persons, the court referred to the Madhu Limaye judgment that a general order could be passed if the number of persons was so large that a distinction could not be made without risk.

📰 Human rights are not solely an ‘internal matter’

With the evolution of international law in the last 100 years, the concept of unrestricted sovereignty has weakened

•The human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) following the dilution of Article 370 and the passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) have brought renewed international focus on India’s human rights practice. Responding to criticism made by the United Nations agencies and others, the Indian state asserted that both J&K and CAA are entirely internal matters and there cannot be any interference in such sovereign decisions.

•What is remarkable about modern international human rights law is its recognition of individuals as subjects. Classic international law governed the conduct between states and did not recognise the rights of individuals. Countries made agreements on the premise that a sovereign state had the exclusive right to take any action it thought fit to deal with its nationals. Such a notion of absolute sovereignty was challenged in 19th century with the emergence of humanitarian intervention to protect minorities living in other states. Later, in 1919, the evolution of labour standards led to the establishment of the International Labour Office (ILO). In 1926, the Slavery Convention adopted by the League of Nations prohibiting slave trade heralded the first human rights treaty based on the principle of dignity of a human being. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 by the United Nations, was the first comprehensive international human rights document. The Universal Declaration has acquired the force of law as part of the customary law of nations. It has provided the basis for binding human rights treaties and non-binding guidelines/principles that constitute a distinct body of law known as international human rights law.

Unsustainable claim

•This progress of international law in the last 100 years makes the Indian state’s assertion of its sovereign right unsustainable. The evolution of international human rights law is also about the gradual weakening of the concept of unrestricted sovereignty. The Indian government has ratified several international human rights treaties and submits periodic reports to the respective treaty bodies. By doing so, it has acknowledged the principle that the treatment of its citizens is not entirely an internal matter, and such measures do not enjoy an absolute sovereignty.

•The Indian government’s response to concerns about its human rights practice has always been that international scrutiny is unwarranted since the country is the largest democracy in the world with an independent judiciary, free media, and an active civil society. These claims sound less credible after the recent developments in J&K and the passage of the CAA.

•Non–discrimination is a fundamental principle of human rights. Discrimination in various forms occurs in all societies, but what is of concern is institutionalised discrimination. Apartheid was pronounced as a crime against humanity since it institutionalised discrimination based on race. Similarly, for the first time in post–Independence India, a religious group has been excluded from the purview of a law dealing with citizenship.

•The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which is the lead agency within the UN system on all aspects related to human rights, has expressed its concern stating that the CAA “is fundamentally discriminatory in nature”. It has also said that “although India’s broader naturalization laws remain in place, these amendments will have a discriminatory effect on people’s access to nationality.”

•International human rights law includes safeguards against unwarranted foreign intervention and stresses the exhaustion of domestic remedies before an issue is considered by an international body. The Indian state always assured the international community that the judiciary, mainly its Supreme Court, would provide adequate remedies to victims of human rights violations. However, of late, the faith of the common people in the higher judiciary has been weakened. In the face of serious allegations about human rights violations in J&K, the Supreme Court has “ducked, evaded and adjourned”, as put across by advocate Gautam Bhatia.

Weakening of civil society

•While responding to criticism against its human rights practices, the Indian government also refers to the role of free media and civil society in protecting the human rights of vulnerable groups. However, in the context of J&K and the ongoing struggle against the CAA, the media has not come out any better. As for civil society organisations, the government since 2014 has systematically targeted them, including by making it difficult for them to receive funds from foreign donors. Since 2014, the government has cancelled the registration of about 14,000 NGOs under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). It has also mainly targeted its own critics.

•Indian and international human rights groups are getting increasingly concerned about the actions of people associated with the ruling party who are engaged in the intimidation of critics, attacks against minorities, and restrictions on the freedoms of artistes. The brazen attack on JNU students on January 5 by armed goons and the total lack of response by the police is emblematic of free reign given to non-state actors in various parts of the country.

•The international community is sympathetic to governments that are committed to upholding human rights but lack human and other resources to pursue it. In the case of India, it is not a question of resources but an unwillingness to uphold human rights. The government’s action in J&K, the passage of the CAA, and its response to protests on the CAA demonstrate that the present regime is not fully committed to upholding human rights and does not respect international human rights standards. Of course, it is possible for the Indian government, due to its diplomatic clout, to avoid robust intervention by the UN Human Rights Council and other UN human rights mechanisms. However, it would not be able to avoid scrutiny by the international community, which would complement the struggle of the Indian civil society to reclaim the Indian Constitution and advance human rights.

📰 SC: review ‘forthwith’ orders curbing basic rights, free movement in J&K

It also orders the revocation of suspension of Internet services.

•The Supreme Court on Friday ordered the government to “forthwith” review any existing orders that restrict basic rights and free movement in Jammu and Kashmir.

•The court upheld the freedoms of free speech, expression and trade or business on the Internet as fundamental rights to be constitutionally protected. It, however, refused to express any views on whether the very access to Internet is a fundamental right or not.

•The top court directed the government to review orders suspending Internet services in the erstwhile State instantly. Any order suspending Internet found to violate the law should be revoked at once, it ordered.

•It further instructed the government to consider restoring government websites, localised/limited e-banking facilities, hospitals services and other essential services in areas in the Union Territory, where it was otherwise not thinking to do so immediately.

•Ripping into the veil of secrecy shrouding the months’ long restrictions imposed across J&K, a three-judge Bench led by Justice N.V. Ramana on Friday made it mandatory for the government to publish each and every one of its orders that crippled the fundamental freedoms of over seven million Kashmiri people, including the suspension of the telecom and Internet services in the Valley since August 5 following the abrogation of special status to the erstwhile State under Article 370.

‘Publish orders’

•Publication of these orders would now enable affected persons to challenge their legality in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court or before any other appropriate forum.

•Justice Ramana, who wrote the verdict, said the court had no intention to delve into the political propriety of what the government did in J&K. “Democratic forces” would be the judge of that. The court said it merely sought to balance citizens' liberty and their security.

•Though liberty and security were often portrayed to be at loggerheads, the court said, the government cannot recourse to blanket use of the “power under Section 144 CrPC [for issuing restrictions] as a tool to prevent the legitimate expression of opinion or grievance or exercise of any democratic rights”.

•Repetitive orders under Section 144 CrPC was an abuse of power, Justice Ramana observed.

•Raising the freedom of free speech and expression on the Internet as a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, the court said the State cannot cite the extensive reach and impact of the Internet as a medium in order to restrict this right.

•“Freedom of speech and expression includes the right to disseminate information to as wide a section of the population as is possible,” Justice Ramana said. 

•Petitioners like Kashmir Times editor Anuradha Bhasin and senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad had said the government's shutdown of Internet and telecom services had cut off Kashmir from the rest of the world.

•Holding trade, occupation or commerce dependent on the Internet as a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(g), the court said that in a globalised Indian economy, right of trade through Internet fostered consumerism and availability of choice. The past months, according to the petitioners, had seen small businesses which banked on the Internet fail in the Valley, leaving many in dire straits. Even medical care seems to have suffered during the lockdown.

•“Suspending Internet services indefinitely is impermissible under the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services [Public Emergency or Public Service] Rules, 2017. Suspension could be utilised for temporary duration only,” the court held. A "complete and broad" suspension of telecom and Internet services should be resorted to only as a drastic measure in an "unavoidable" situation.

•The court pointed out that the government was able to continue with the suspension of Internet services because the 2017 Rules did not define word “temporary”. No time-limit was prescribed in the Rules. The court asked the legislature to repair this lacuna. Till then, any order of Internet suspension under the Rules would be reviewed within a week of its issuance.

•The court rejected the government's reluctance to produce all its orders restricting free movement and communication. The government had initially claimed privilege only to later hand over a few sample orders to the court.

•“The State should take a proactive approach in ensuring that all the relevant orders are placed before the court, unless there is some specific ground of privilege or countervailing public interest to be balanced, which must be specifically claimed by the State on affidavit,” the judgment held.

•Restrictions are to be imposed in an emergency. "The restriction must be proportionate to the concern," the court said. The objective of a restriction must be legitimate rather than cavalier.

•Authorities must necessarily consider an alternative and least restrictive mechanism before opting to restrict rights. Every decision to impose restriction should be backed by sufficient material and amenable to judicial review.

📰 RBI chalks out financial inclusion strategy for 2024

Aims to ensure mobile access to financial services by all

•The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has chalked out an ambitious strategy for financial inclusion till 2024, in which it aims to strengthen the ecosystem for various modes of digital financial services in all Tier-II to Tier VI centres to create the necessary infrastructure to move towards a less-cash society by March 2022.

•While charting out a National Strategy for Financial Inclusion (NSFI) for the period 2019-2024, RBI said, “Financial inclusion is increasingly being recognised as a key driver of economic growth and poverty alleviation the world over.”

•One of the objectives of the strategy includes increasing outreach of banking outlets of to provide banking access to every village within a 5-km radius or a hamlet of 500 households in hilly areas by March 2020. RBI said that the aim was also to see that every adult had access to a financial service provider through a mobile device by March 2024. With the aim of providing basic of financial services, a target has been set that every willing and eligible adult, who has been enrolled under the Prime Minister Jan Dhan Yogana, be enrolled under an insurance scheme and a pension scheme by March 2020.

•The plan is also to make the Public Credit Registry (PCR) fully operational by March 2022 so that authorised financial entities could leverage the same for assessing credit proposals from all citizens.

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