India, Pak Foreign Ministers Will Be Face to Face in Goa in May; Govt Stalls Justice Muralidhar’s Appointment as Madras HC Chief Justice
No relief for Rahul, Murmu comments ‘misconstrued’, CBI goes after Oxfam, Google says AI self-learns Bengali, Atiq killing’s shadow on civic polls, Indian sailor in lead in Golden Globe Race
A newsletter from The Wire | Founded by MK Venu, Seema Chishti, Siddharth Varadarajan, Sushant Singh, Sidharth Bhatia, Tanweer Alam and Pratik Kanjilal | With inputs from Kalrav Joshi | Editor: Vinay Pandey
Snapshot of the day
April 20, 2023
With Pakistani foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto all set to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation foreign ministers meeting in Goa on May 4 and 5, India and Pakistan will get a rare chance to pick up the long abandoned threads of bilateral engagement. The last Pakistani minister to visit India was Nawaz Sharif in 2014, as prime minister, when he attended Narendra Modi’s inauguration. But Bhutto and his Indian counterpart, S. Jaishankar, have used sharp words against the other side in the past so analysts are not optimistic about any forward movement.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi got no relief from the sessions court in Surat – his first port of appeal – from his conviction in a criminal defamation case. Congress leaders had suggested that the judge – who, as a lawyer, had represented Amit Shah in the Tulsiram Prajapati fake encounter case – ought to have recused himself but did not press the point. They will now approach the Gujarat high court.
The Modi government has been able to stall yet another judicial appointment – this time of Justice S Muralidhar as chief justice of the Madras high court. It is the same Justice Muralidhar at whose residence a midnight hearing of the Delhi high court was held in 2020, where he and his fellow judge directed the Delhi police to ensure safe passage and emergency treatment for those injured in the Delhi riots. He is currently the chief justice of the Orissa high court. In September 2022, the Supreme Court collegium had recommended his appointment as chief justice of the Madras high court but the government sat on the file. On Wednesday, a frustrated collegium recalled the recommendation, noting that now Justice Muralidhar has less than four months to demit office when he turns 62. This also means one of India’s most highly regarded judges is not going to be elevated to the Supreme Court, where the retirement age is 65.
The Congress has criticised the CBI and the ED for failing to take action against Jatin Mehta – the fugitive diamantaire with family ties to the Adanis. Mehta had disappeared from the country in 2013 leaving a trail of unpaid debts amounting to ₹6,800 crore. On Wednesday, Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate accused the Modi government of preventing its investigative agencies from taking any action against Mehta, the founder of Winsome Diamonds, who stands accused of transacting business with the Adani group through several shell companies including one called Monterosa.
Meanwhile, money managers in India continued to trim holdings of Adani Group’s stocks, suggesting concerns about governance remain even as the worst of the rout seems to have passed, Bloomberg reports. The rout, triggered by the Hindenburg report, has eased since Rajiv Jain’s GQG made a huge investment of $2 billion in the group.
We reported on Wednesday that India’s population has surpassed China’s by 2.9 million. While many news outlets have similar headlines, many others say India will overtake China in June. Oddly enough, both types of news reports are based on the same United Nations Population Fund report released on Wednesday. Each side is right in its own way. But then, what’s the truth? One thing is certain – the population estimates in the UNFPA report are higher than India’s own. An accurate picture can emerge only after the census, the delay in conducting which can have other adverse consequences, too.
The New York Times, meanwhile, has this question: India is passing China in population. Can its economy ever do the same?
Last week, President Droupadi Murmu met a delegation of Christian leaders and received a memorandum from them about mounting attacks on the community across India. The delegation issued a press release in which they recorded the sympathetic hearing they got as well as the President reminiscing about, and expressing personal regret over, the brutal killing of Graham Staines in Odisha in January 1999. Today, Rashtrapati Bhavan “sources” have told the Indian Express that Murmu’s comments were “misconstrued”. How they should be construed was not explained.
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After giving Mandarin names to 19 seabed features in the Indian Ocean, China continues to keep its research and survey vessels operating around the 90-degree ridge area in order to map the ocean for future submarine forays into the Indo-Pacific. After nearly four months of ocean bed mapping, the Chinese research/survey vessel Hai Yang Shi You 760 entered the Malacca Straits on April 13, the Hindustan Times reported. According to the Marine Traffic website, the ship has restocked in the Indonesian port of Balikpapan and is now off the coast of Singapore on its way to the Chinese port of Zhangjiang.
Based on a complaint by the Union home ministry, the Central Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday registered a case against Oxfam India and its officebearers for allegedly violating the provisions of India’s foreign funding rules and carried out searches at the offices of the NGO. Last year, the ministry had refused to renew the NGO’s licence under the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act. The NGO has now also been accused of attempts to pressure the Union government to renew its licence by using foreign governments and institutions. The CBI has taken cognizance of at least five alleged violations by Oxfam India on a complaint filed by the home ministry. Oxfam India denies the allegations and says it is fully compliant with Indian laws.
Arnab Goswami, the owner-editor of Republic TV, has told the Delhi high court he will tender an unconditional apology in a 2016 contempt complaint filed by RK Pachauri, the former executive vice chairman of TERI. Pachauri sued him and others for “flagrant and wilful disobedience” of the court’s earlier orders prohibiting them from publishing specific claims against him. When the lawsuit was filed, Goswami was working for Times Now. The court said in March 2022 that no stigma can be attached to Pachauri in the alleged sexual harassment case lodged against him by a former colleague as the prosecution could not prove its case before his death in 2020.
On a high profile visit, Apple CEO Tim Cook met Prime Minister Modi, as the iPhone manufacturer aims to invest more in India. Among other things, the duo discussed the tech-powered transformations taking place in India. Does this mean the company would be more mindful of the vulnerability of its users vis a vis the government than it has been in the past? Remember, Pegasus. Amidst such calls for transformation, a lot remains unanswered.
After Sri Lanka declared bankruptcy in 2022, a fresh wave of refugees from there began to enter India, but because of the absence of a refugee law in India, the statelessness continues as they flee prejudice and violence. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which is in power, adopted a bill in 2019 to expedite citizenship for Hindu refugees, however, it only applies to Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.
The Centre has asked states to enforce new rules to check stray dog numbers, the Hindu reports. The new rules put the onus of maintaining and controlling the population of stray dogs on local self-governments and residents welfare associations.
Scientists and ethicists have long expressed concerns about AI developing skills independently of its programmers’ wishes. A Google AI model recently developed a skill it wasn’t expected to have. In an interview on CBS’s 60 Minutes on April 16, James Manyika, Google’s SVP for technology and society, discussed how one of the company’s AI systems taught itself Bengali, even though it wasn’t trained to know the language. “We discovered that with very few amounts of prompting in Bengali, it can now translate all of Bengali,” he said. Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the company’s experts call this aspect of AI a “black box”
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