New Telecom Bill Brings in Big Brother’s ‘Saffron Tick’; Kharge to Take on Tharoor for Congress President
Karnataka headmaster suspended for essay contest on Prophet, Navlakha hospitalised as a fundamental right, six airbags deferred, SC looks at adultery in forces, injured Bumrah out of it for six months
A newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas | Contributors: MK Venu, Seema Chishti, Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia, Sushant Singh and Tanweer Alam | Editor: Pratik Kanjilal
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Snapshot of the day
September 30, 2022
Executives at Meta Platforms privately told rights groups that “security concerns” prevented them from releasing details of its investigation into hate speech on its services in India, says the Wall Street Journal. In July, the Facebook parent released a four-page summary of a human rights impact assessment on India, its biggest market by users, where it faces accusations of failing to police hate speech against religious minorities. The India summary was part of the company’s first global human rights report but included only general descriptions. “This is not the report that the human-rights team at Meta wanted to publish, we wanted to be able to publish more,” Iain Levine, a Meta senior human-rights adviser, is quoted as telling rights groups after the summary was released. “A decision was made at the highest levels of the company … that it was not possible to do so for security reasons,” he said, a decision described by one rights activist as “a slap in my face and my people’s face who have endured so much hate speech on this platform.”
After the Ashok Gehlot move collapsed, Mallikarjun Kharge is the Queen’s Gambit to ensure ‘open’ elections do not take the Congress out of the Gandhi family’s thrall. The leader of the party in the Rajya Sabha filed his nomination papers today and will take on Shashi Tharoor. A third candidate, KN Tripathi from Jharkhand, is also in the fray. Kharge has the open backing of several senior Congress leaders, though Sonia Gandhi denies there is any ‘official’ candidate. Asked why he was not standing, former finance minister P Chidambaram said the Congress should be headed by someone from a Hindi speaking state. Kharge is from Karnataka and Tharoor from Kerala, though both manage fine in Hindi.
“The extent to which communal violence in [Leicester] was linked to online religious abuse emanating from South Asia was not immediately clear. But MPs and commentators have been warning of the polarising effect of Hindu nationalism reaching Britain’s streets and this was the first large-scale unrest in which it had featured,” reports the Financial Times. “The clashes on September 17 are also a reminder of how stripped-back youth services in inner cities have left local authorities without the intelligence or trust among younger people to pre-empt this kind of trouble.”
“This is all of a piece with the BJP’s majoritarian approach at home… Islamophobia is rampant among BJP stalwarts (though Mr Modi usually carries a dog whistle). When Hindus and Muslims have clashed in Delhi or in BJP-ruled states, authorities have bulldozed Muslim homes in retribution,” writes The Economist about the Indian government’s response to the Leicester riots. “Western countries, especially when run by wannabe strongmen who love joining Mr Modi on stage, are remarkably tolerant of India. But intervening in others’ domestic affairs, as India has in Leicester this past month, seems bound to generate friction in future.”
Unlisted company Tibalaji Petrochem of Mumbai is part of a network of companies sanctioned by the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for breaking US sanctions against Iran. The US accuses it of buying oil products worth millions of dollars from Iranian broker Triliance Petrochemical, for onward shipment to China. Under Indian and international law, however, these transactions are perfectly legal.
A Delhi court hearing the 2020 northeast Delhi riots case has asked the police to ensure that evidence in the form of video or audio clips are “without any compromise to their integrity.” The court also ordered that they have to be submitted “after due examination from the forensic science laboratory (FSL).” It also said that the “integrity of evidence in each case has to be checked and ensured by the prosecution.” The court had found that an unsealed copy of a CD containing video clips of riots, which was used to identify accused persons, was placed on record. In other cases, video CDs were not even sent to FSL.
Desperate Afghan students are protesting near the Indian mission in Kabul, directly appealing to PM Modi to give visas so they can resume their studies in India.
“Throwing money at the problem might not work for India anymore. In its battle against a strengthening dollar, the Indian central bank might have to accept there is little it can do to control the slide of the rupee, which is now trading near a record low of around 82 to the dollar,” reports the Wall Street Journal. “Attracting more dollars would help, but if the Fed stays on its current path and pushes the US into recession, it might be tough for India to avoid much higher rates and a steep slowdown in growth.”
Gautam Adani was the world’s second richest for a few days, but is back in fourth place, and Elon Musk remains the richest. Adani, the richest Asian, saw his wealth drop by $5.7 billion to $134.2 billion (Rs 10.97 lakh crore). Adani’s holding company plans to increase its share free float to improve trading liquidity. Its shares have surged 3,338% since 2019.
The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has condemned the nationwide arrests of leaders and workers of the Popular Front of India (PFI) over the past week, which eventually led to a ban under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for five years. PUCL voiced concerns about the implications for democracy and freedom of speech. It said that the “media spectacle” of the raids is not healthy for a constitutional democracy based on the rule of law, and it pushes Muslims further into “fear, intimidation, alienation and silence”.
The Karnataka Education Department has suspended a headmaster in Gadag district for allegedly holding an essay writing competition on Prophet Muhammad. He is Abdul Munaaf Bijapur of Naagavi village Government Secondary School in Gadag taluk. Additional Commissioner, Department of Public Instruction Sidramappa S Biradara has issued the suspension order for holding the essay competition without any direction from the department or any government agency. Sri Rama Sene had protested in front of the school, alleging that religious fundamentalism was being forced upon schoolchildren – an allegation that perhaps applies better to its protest, and the government’s accommodation of it, than the impugned essay contest.
The Supreme Court yesterday directed the Taloja Jail superintendent to immediately shift activist Gautam Navlakha, jailed in connection with the Elgar Parishad-Maoist links case, to Mumbai’s Jaslok Hospital for treatment. The top court said receiving medical treatment is a fundamental right of a prisoner. Justices KM Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy also allowed Navlakha’s partner Sehba Husain and sister to meet him in hospital.
Most Indians falter on retirement planning, shows the India Retirement Index Study (IRIS) conducted by Max Life Insurance and KANTAR. India’s retirement index is 44 on a scale of 100. Health and financial preparedness stood at 41 and 49, while emotional preparedness has dipped from 62 to 59, indicating increasing dependence on family, friends and social support.
The government has deferred the proposal to make six airbags mandatory in passenger cars by one year to October 1, 2023, Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari tweeted yesterday. The earlier deadline for eight-seaters was October 1, 2022.
BBC, whose Indian language services have had a long relationship with South Asian audiences, will shed 400 jobs and switch to digital. Hindi, Urdu, Gujarati and Bengali services will be affected.
India’s pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah has been ruled out of the T20 World Cup due to a back stress fracture, dealing a massive blow to the team’s chances at the ICC flagship event starting next month in Australia. BCCI said that Bumrah will be out of action for six months.
Supreme Court seeks malnutrition and starvation data
The Supreme Court yesterday asked the Centre for data on deaths due to starvation and malnutrition and a model plan to implement the community kitchen scheme. On January 18, it had said that the Centre would have a role in drafting the scheme and exploring the possibility of providing additional food grains for it. The lawyer for the PIL argued that the number of Indians who go to bed hungry has increased from 19 crore in 2018 to 35 crore in 2022. She said existing programmes like the Midday Meal Scheme, ICDS and others provide food only to limited classes, like children under 15, senior citizens and pregnant and lactating women. On the issue of data on deaths, the bench said it is not even discovered that a death was caused by starvation or malnutrition.
It had granted two weeks to states and Union Territories to file affidavits on the incidence of starvation deaths and malnutrition. Additional Solicitor General Madhvi Divan sought some more time to collate the material.
5G spells boom for Chinese handset makers
Despite the Indian government’s heightened scrutiny of Chinese tech firms, Chinese smartphone brands will consolidate their foothold due to booming sales in the 5G era, Global Times reports. PM Modi is to announce the 5G launch on October 1, sparking off a spurt in sales dominated by Chinese manufacturers. Shipments of smartphones in India reached 36.4 million in the second quarter, with Chinese brands accounting for about 70%, according to Canalys.
“India’s 5G network upgrade will mean a range of opportunities for Chinese mobile phone firms, which have two-thirds of the market, leading to an expected sale of 20 million 5G phones before the year-end,” the report said. That is equivalent to an additional month of sales for Chinese phone makers, said Yang Shucheng, secretary general of the India China Mobile Phone Enterprise Association. Chinese smartphones have held their own despite heightened scrutiny of Chinese technology companies by Indian regulators, “which have caused disruptions and concern among the Chinese businesses”.
Russian oil imports up by 50 times
India’s oil imports from Russia have jumped over 50 times since April and now it makes up 10% of all crude bought from overseas. Till last year, Iraq (25%), Saudi Arabia (18%) and the UAE (10%) were the top 3 crude suppliers for India. This year till July, Russia with 14% share has become the third biggest supplier to India. But despite cheaper imports from Russia, India’s crude oil has averaged above $100 a barrel. As per the Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell under the Petroleum ministry, the crude basket more than doubled in the past three years, taking crude prices from an average $45 per barrel in 2020-21 to $104 per barrel in 2022-23 (till September).
India’s crude basket price averaged $102.97 a barrel in April 2022, $109.51 in May, $116.01 in June, $105.49 in July, $97.40 in August and $91.23 in September. The country spent $122 billion on crude oil imports in 2021-22, nearly double the $62.71 billion in 2020-21. In the first five months of the current financial year, India has already imported crude worth $64 billion.
Adultery in uniform: SC seeks disciplinary process
The Supreme Court says that the armed forces must have a disciplinary mechanism for adultery, “conduct that can shake up the life of officers”. It said adultery creates “pain” in a family and cannot be taken lightly. It said the apex court 2018 judgment, which declared penal provisions for adultery as unconstitutional, cannot be referenced to halt disciplinary proceedings against the guilty.
“In uniformed services, discipline is of paramount importance… The integrity of society is based on the faithfulness of one spouse to another. This (adultery) is going to shake the discipline in the armed forces. Armed forces must have some kind of assurance that they will take action. How can you cite (the) Joseph Shine (judgement) and say it cannot be?” asked a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Justice KM Joseph.
The Long Cable
Draft Telecom Bill institutionalises Big Brother’s ‘saffron tick’
Maansi Verma and Prasanna S
WhatsApp users are familiar with the joke that the app will soon implement “the third tick” (or the “red tick” or “saffron tick”) to indicate that a message has been read by the government. The Draft Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022 has taken that joke rather seriously.
Over the last five years, India’s tech policy world has been preoccupied with debates, critiques and expectations around the Personal Data Protection Bill. In the last session, the government withdrew the PDP Bill pending before Parliament and promised to bring in fresh legislation on the subject. The PDP Bill was first mooted in 2017 by the government to appease the Supreme Court, which had constituted a nine-judge bench to determine the nature and the scope of the right to privacy. It arose in the context of the Aadhaar case, where the government was the infringer-in-chief.
The main concern at the time was protection of citizens’ rights. Later, when the Justice Srikrishna Committee, set up to deliberate on a data protection law, came out with the draft in 2018, the concern had already changed to ‘balancing’ citizen rights and protection of digital businesses. In the latest version of the draft bill (2021) that was withdrawn, the predominant concern had become protecting the government from citizens’ assertion of privacy!
The Indian Telecommunication Bill, 2022, floated perhaps in an effort to fill the void left by the PDP Bill, continues this trend of the government being increasingly insecure about its citizens’ freedoms. With no data protection law in sight, laws which would have been difficult to push through, or would have required compliance with a data protection regime, can now be conceived and implemented. Earlier this year, when the government managed to push the Criminal Procedures (Identification) Bill through Parliament, several voices from the Opposition questioned the intent of the government, since the Bill bestows vast data collection powers to the police in the absence of a data protection law.
In the same vein, the Indian Telecommunication Bill makes no reform in the existing law on its powers of interception and instead extends those powers to over-the-top (OTT) messaging applications, defining these as “telecommunication services” in order to license and control them. In doing so, the government has assumed powers that it never had under any law, and is trying to use legislation to force OTT messaging services, many of which are end-to-end encrypted, to make a backdoor. Though the minister in charge has stated that decryption will not be forced, it is unclear how else the government can realise the purpose of interception and disclosure powers that are provided in Clause 24 of the Bill.
A key test that courts have articulated for assessing the reasonableness of state action (including legislation) that seeks to engage or restrict fundamental rights is that the measure must be “necessary in a democratic society”. The powers under Clause 24 of the Bill of blocking, interception, decryption and disclosure of private communications and correspondence do away with this requirement of ‘necessity’ as they can also be exercised on the ground of ‘expediency’. The Supreme Court in Rangarajan v Jagjivan Ram (1989) explicitly drew the contrast between the two and went on to describe how fundamental rights cannot be restricted on ‘the quicksand of expediency’.
The right to privacy has several facets, of which privacy of correspondence is among the oldest and most well-recognised. It is an expressly recognised right under Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which constitutes India’s inviolable international law obligation. This has also been dealt with in some detail in the landmark nine-judge bench decision in Puttaswamy vs Union of India, which incidentally overruled the eight-judge bench judgement in MP Sharma vs Satish Chandra, which had upheld broad search and seizure powers under the criminal procedure of the time.
Even the colonial Criminal Procedure Code of 1898 made a contrast between regular documents in the hands of third parties, which can be obtained by the police exercising search and seizure powers, and documents with the post and telegraph authorities during transmission, constituting private correspondence. The latter could only be detained. Disclosure would require a judicial order. This is also important to ensure the free exchange of ideas as the fear of Big Brother watching, listening and now reading our private correspondence can have a chilling effect on speech.
Constitutional court judgments, international obligations and evolving human rights standards can either be used as critical inputs and guidance in policy making, or be treated as minor inconveniences to be worked around. The reckless assumption of powers under the Telecom Bill leaves no manner of doubt about the government’s attitude.
(The authors are lawyers based in Delhi and part of Article 21 Trust India.)
UP IAS officers are increasingly restive. In less than a month, at least five senior IAS officers in the state have sought voluntary retirement, pointing to their current relationship with the state government. Now, trouble is brewing over the proposed appointment of a new director general of police (DGP). The Adityanath government had removed Mukul Goel from the post in May and named DS Chauhan as acting DGP. The UPSC has returned UP’s proposal and asked why Goel was removed before his two-year term ended. The Supreme Court had directed in its 2006 order in the police reforms case that DGPs must be appointed for a fixed tenure of two years. The BJP state government is unwilling to retract and plans to send a fresh proposal to the UPSC since Chauhan is retiring in March next year.
Prime Number: -32%
Just 14 IPOs raised Rs 35,456 crore through main-board primary share sales in the first half of the fiscal, down 32% from the year-ago period when 25 issues had mopped up Rs 51,979 crore. Collections would have been much lower, but for the Rs 20,557 crore LIC issue, which constitutes 58% of the amount, as per Prime Database.
After 26 years in jail, a 95-year-old terror convict, whose last wish is to die at home and be buried beside his wife of 70 years, has moved the Supreme Court for permanent parole. There is little empathy for even very aged prisoners in a justice system that is more retributive than reformative, especially for those accused under draconian anti-terror laws. Article-14 has the details. Habib Ahmed Khan was convicted of the 1993 train bombings which killed two people, supposedly in retaliation for the demolition of the Babri Masjid. The main evidence against him was a confession he made to the police – admissible under the terrorism act in force at the time – that he subsequently said was coerced.
Op-Eds you don’t want to miss
Kalpana Kannabiran writes that Bilkis Bano’s lonely battle for justice is a cry for India to resurrect its secular values.
Ranjit Powar writes that remission of life sentence of the rapists in the Bilkis Bano case has brought the brutal gangrape into focus again, while bringing back memories of similarly horrifying incidents in Delhi, Unnao and Kathua.
With the ‘enemy at the gates’, is there a need to be preoccupied with exorcising the Indian Army of the largely imagined demons of its colonial past, asks Lt Gen HS Panag (retd).
Sandipan Baksi writes that the hope brought about by recent political developments in the state will be realised only when social justice is reflected in the policies and practices of the Mahagathbandhan government, leading to a real change in the social and economic reality of rural Bihar.
AAP poses as an “ideologically neutral” party, but under complete polarisation, not taking a stand is also a stand, if not outright opportunism, writes Urvish Kothari.
Umang Poddar explores whether Chief Justice of India UU Lalit has changed the Supreme Court’s policy of not hearing politically controversial cases.
Alok Asthana asks whether decisions that should be internal to the Indian Army are being taken elsewhere.
One can’t sufficiently condemn the Manipur government’s order requiring prior sanction of a committee to publish any book on the state, but its academics have been poor gatekeepers, too, writes Pradeep Phanjoubam.
Iran is vital for India’s energy security and connectivity plans — but New Delhi is in a bind on how to balance its cooperation with Tehran with its other bilateral ties, writes Suhasini Haidar.
Read Mahmood Mamdani in the London Review of Books, on the Asian question in Uganda. Fifty years ago, Idi Amin ordered Asians out.
Amita Baviskar, a leading scholar and activist involved with struggles around land, forests, water and food, unpacks the concept of ‘political ecology’ and how it differs from ecology and political economy. She discusses red versus green politics, the commons, ‘degrowth’ and the Anthropocene – and what Covid-19 tells us about society.
Arunava Sinha, in conversation with Shabnam Nadiya and Minakshi Thakur, discusses translating literature from and in the subcontinent.
Over and Out
Sohagpur village in Bihar is celebrating a resident who got a government job ― its first in 75 years. Rakesh Kumar, 30, has been appointed a primary teacher. Residents distributed sweets and smeared gulal in joy.
The longlist for the Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF Book Prize presents 10 important works about today’s India.
The IT ministry has ordered social media platforms to delete “any and all” content related to the now banned Popular Front of India. Prompting questions about whether news about the ban, and the deletion order, are also now verboten.
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