Scary New Bill to Legalise, Deepen Surveillance; How Digital Microfinance Empowers Lenders Against Small Borrowers
No ‘Martyrs’ in Armed Forces says government, UAE FTA a slippery slope, Biden wants to help India 'fight authoritarianism', guide to exclusion of Muslims, and Lata, Dilip passed over in Oscar tributes
A newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas | Contributors: MK Venu, Seema Chishti, Siddharth Varadarajan, Sidharth Bhatia, Sushant Singh and Tanweer Alam | Editor: Pratik Kanjilal
Snapshot of the day
March 29, 2022
In the name of fighting crime, the Criminal Procedure (Identification) Bill 2022 will render legal what is currently seen as shocking overreach concerning citizens’ data and biometrics. Anyone who is arrested or detained may have their metrics and biological samples taken and stored in a central repository for 75 years. The data may be shared with any law enforcement agency. If enacted into law, the bill will help give legal cover to the surveillance infrastructure the Ministry of Home Affairs has been building since the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
The BIMSTEC summit is underway in ‘hybrid’ mode – the leaders will confer virtually while their foreign ministers are meeting in Sri Lanka – and the United States has demarched India for not excluding Myanmar’s militay regime.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov may visit New Delhi this week amid India’s continuing economic engagement with his country. India is likely to import nearly 10 million tonnes of crude oil from Russia, at a discount of $20 per barrel. Of this, the state-run oil companies have committed to buying 6 mt and private companies are negotiating for 4 mt. The Ministry of External Affairs had said that many European nations were buying oil from Russia, too, so India isn’t doing anything out of the ordinary. Interestingly, Air India has not stopped flying over Russian airspace, despite the conflict. It has operated Delhi-Moscow flights without a break.
Even as India has dealt itself out of the search for any kind of solution to the Ukraine crisis, the Modi government’s official spin is that India “has created a distinctive diplomatic space for itself, carefully calibrating its stand between Russia on the one hand and the West, led by the US, on the other.”
US President Joe Biden proposes to increase developmental assistance to India for clean energy, the digital economy ― and to combat authoritarianism. The proposed increase from $25 million in 2021 to $66 million for fiscal 2023 is part of the State Department’s developmental assistance for fiscal 2023, which was sent by the White House to the US Congress yesterday. "Assistance will combat increasing authoritarianism, bolster human rights and strengthen civil society participation and democratic governance," the State Department said, but it is not clear how this money will be spent towards these ends.
In a major shift in trade policy, India has opened up its Union government procurement market to the UAE under the free trade agreement signed last month. UAE companies will be on a par with Indian companies while bidding for Union government tenders. “This is a slippery slope,” says Prof Biswajit Dhar. Partners in all upcoming FTAs ― Australia, the UK, and the EU ― would demand similar treatment. An India-Japan pact explicitly anticipates this. “There will also be pressure from the WTO to join the plurilateral Agreement on Government Procurement, which we have been opposing all along,” Dhar fears.
Tuesday is second and last day of the Bharat bandh called by central trade unions against the government’s economic policies. Demands include the scrapping of the labour codes, no privatisation, scrapping the National Monetisation Pipeline, increased allocation of wages under MNREGA and regularisation of contract workers.
Meanwhile, the relatives of farmers killed when a motor car belonging to a Modi minister’s son mowed them down in Lakhimpur in October last year have questioned the UP government’s failure to challenge the grant of bail to the son. Today, the government told the apex court it is still considering filing an appeal.
Petrol pumps in Manipur are drying up as an indefinite bandh on NH2, called by the Southern Angami Public Organisation in neighbouring Nagaland, enters its ninth day. NH2 and NH53 are the lifelines of Manipur. NH2 enters the state via Nagaland and is preferred by transporters. NH53 enters from Assam, but is much longer and not preferred for security reasons. No commercial or private vehicle has reached Manipur via Nagaland since March 21.
On the eve of Bhagat Singh’s death anniversary, citing “government orders”, the Jal auditorium in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, cancelled an event where the author and retired professor Shamsul Islam was to speak on constitutional expectations and challenges, and the legacy of freedom fighters like Bhagat Singh and Ashfaqulla Khan. The auditorium is run by the Textile Development Trust, which cancelled a day before the event.
The University Grants Commission wants more universities, including those run by the states and deemed-to-be institutions, to grant admissions on the basis of the Common University Entrance Test (CUET). This is to streamline the admission process and spare students multiple entrance exams, the regulator said. A week ago, the UGC had announced that all central universities would have to admit undergraduate students based on the CUET and not Class 12 marks, a rule that will come into force from the next academic year (2022-23).
Navy chief Admiral R Hari Kumar will commission India’s second P-8l aircraft squadron at INS Hansa in Goa today. The Navy’s first squadron of eight P-8I maritime patrol aircraft is based at INS Rajali in Arakkonam. The Goa-based Indian Naval Air Squadron 316, christened ‘The Condors’, will operate four P-8I planes. India signed a $1 billion deal with the US in 2016 for the four Boeing P-8Is that will form the second squadron. The contract was a follow-on order to eight P-81 planes worth $2.1 billion bought earlier.
Minister of State for Defence Ajay Bhatt has reiterated that the “term ‘martyr’ is not used in Indian Armed Forces.” He was asked in a parliamentary question about the definition of martyr, and whether the government has stopped the use of the word for those who made supreme sacrifices in the line of duty. Despite this, the term is widely used on Indian television, as well as official media.
Singapore-based global consumer internet giant Sea will today shut operations of its e-commerce portal Shopee in India, which faced criticism from local industry bodies. The government recently banned its marquee game ‘Garena Free Fire’, along with 53 Chinese apps. The company said its exit from e-commerce in India is not about the banned game, but owes to “global market uncertainties”.
Indian-American academic Vipin Narang, Professor of Nuclear Security at MIT, has been sworn in as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for Space Policy by the Biden administration. The Indian politician and former minister Mani Shankar Aiyar is his father-in-law.
The Special Investigating Team of the Narcotics Control Bureau yesterday sought an additional 90 days from a Mumbai Sessions Court to file the chargesheet in the Aryan Khan cruise case, which was to be in by April 2. It’s an unbelievable game of smoke and mirrors, in which Khan was held in custody for days despite the lack of evidence against him.
Sumaira Rehman, who had been languishing in a detention centre at Bangalore for four years, has returned to Pakistan with her four-year-old daughter Sana Fatima. Dawn reports that Sumaira lived in Qatar. In 2017, she married an Indian Muslim without the consent of her parents. They settled down in India but after her visa expired, she was sent to jail along with her husband. Later, the Indian authorities released her husband but kept her in jail, where she gave birth to Sana.
In the Parvati Valley, India’s Bermuda Triangle for backpackers, the disappearance of Dhruv Agarwal may shed new light on an enduring mystery. The businessman is among dozens of travellers, including American Justin Alexander, to have vanished while trekking in an area known for spirituality, drugs and dark characters, reports South China Morning Post.
A new book by Giles Tremlett on the international brigades in the Spanish Civil War, reviewed in the New York Review of Books, includes an anecdote of how University of Madrid students used library books for makeshift sandbags while defending the campus against the Fascists. Thick tomes on “Indian metaphysics” were instrumental in keeping students safe.
Cricket is gaining in popularity in Brazil, and women are at the vanguard of this revolution, writes The Economist. There is a street version of the game called taco.