The India Cable: CJI Corners Govt On Sedition Law; 66A Finally Laid To Rest

WhatsApp messages not admissible as evidence, RBI curbs Mastercard, Biden appoints Atul Gawande, Rahul not allowed to discuss China, Taliban, Sher-Gil canvas sells for Rs 37.8 crore

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

July 15, 2021

Pratik Kanjilal

SG Vombatkere vs Union of India is off to a promising start. The Supreme Court is examining the petition of retired major-general, who argues that a judgment of the court of nearly 60 years’ vintage that helped the law of sedition survive needs re-examination. Noting that the colonial law was used against Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Chief Justice of India NV Ramana asked Attorney-General KK Venugopal: “Is this law still needed after 75 years of Independence?” He continued: “Our concern is misuse of the law and the lack of accountability… Your government is taking out a lot of stale laws from the law books. Why have they not looked into sedition law? We will definitely look into this Section 124A…  The situation on the ground is grave… If one party does not like what the other is saying, Section 124A is used… It is a serious threat to the functioning of individuals and parties… Use of sedition is like giving a saw to the carpenter to cut a piece of wood and he uses it to cut the entire forest… We are not blaming any state or government, but look at how Section 66A of the IT Act is continuing to be used, how many unfortunate people have suffered, and there is no accountability for this.”

In January, the Punjab and Haryana High Court had clarified that WhatsApp messages have no evidentiary value without a certificate under Section 65B of the Indian Evidence Act, which governs the admissibility of electronic records. Now, noting that social media messages can be created and deleted at will, the Supreme Court has said that it will not rely upon WhatsApp messages. The bench included CJI NV Ramana. 

An exasperated Delhi Court has fined the police Rs 25,000 for their “miserable failure” in an investigation into the northeast Delhi ‘riots’ of February 2020. They took two months to even locate the victims, and failed to discover a single Hindu. 

The Taliban have fired a “large number of mortars” at the Salma Dam in Afghanistan’s western province of Herat. It is officially called the ‘Afghan-India Friendship Dam’ ―  it’s actually etched in concrete, across its face. This India-funded dam generates 42 megawatts of power and helps irrigate 75,000 hectares. The Taliban had attacked it earlier, in 2017

WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said that we are in “early stages” of a third wave, amid a surge of the Delta variant, first discovered in India. Last week was the fourth consecutive with cases rising globally, in all but one of WHO’s six regions. Deaths are also rising again, after 10 weeks of steady decline.

The Union Cabinet has approved the effective increase of dearness allowance to central government employees and dearness relief to pensioners from 17% of basic pay/pension to 28% with effect from July 1. It was frozen from January 2020 due to the recession during the pandemic. 

Wholesale inflation in fuel and power was the highest on an annual basis, at 32.83%, in June. Inflation in wholesale prices stayed high in June, with provisional data pegging it at 12.07% following the record high of 12.94% in May. Among primary articles, prices of onions saw the sharpest rise. Prices of onions, a political hot potato, rose 64.32% after an increase of 23.24% in the previous month. Prices of crude petroleum also rose 62.6% after a jump of 102.51% in May.

Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar rubbished rumours that he is in the race for Rashtrapati Bhavan. He also scotched rumours that he is strategising for 2024, or assuming leadership of the Opposition before that. 

Science teachers in 22 countries rated their national science curricula. Less than half (46%) believe that it prepared children for the future. In India, however, 80% of respondents agreed that the curriculum made students scientifically literate and active citizens. The figure was much lower elsewhere ― 59% in the UK and 67% in Hong Kong. 

No data storage in India? No Mastercard. The RBI has barred the card company from adding new customers from July 22 for violating data storage norms. In 2018, the RBI had asked payment system providers operating here to store all data in India within six months. In April, the RBI had imposed similar restrictions on American Express and Diners Club, not allowing them to add customers from May 1.

The Centre’s excessive taxation of petrol and diesel amounts to an indirect infringement of the taxation rights of states and is curtailing their ability to spend on health, administration and justice delivery, Kerala Finance Minister KN Balagopal said in an interview.

The Indian Cultural Forum called for poems on the late Father Stan Swamy who died in custody, without even a chargesheet or a trial. They got two fine ones. CS Chellappa’s Tamil novel Vaadivasal (1958), which concerns the taming of a bull and became widely known during the controversy over banning the traditional sport of jallikattu, will be filmed by national award winning director Vetrimaran. 


Article 66A finally flatlined

Following strong language from the Supreme court, which found it “distressing”, “shocking” and “terrible” that a judgment delivered six years ago has not been implemented even now, the Modi government has asked the states to direct their police not to register cases under a repealed law. “If any case has been booked in your State under Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000, it should immediately be withdrawn,” the Home Ministry advisory states.

After a long campaign by defenders of free speech, the Supreme Court in 2015 had struck down the controversial Section 66A of the IT Act that made posting “offensive” comments online a crime punishable by jail. But as on March 10, 745 cases under Section 66A were still pending in 11 states, according to the People’s Union for Civil Liberties. The bench had issued a notice to the Centre, forcing it to direct all the states. Appallingly, “more cases have been filed since the judgment than before it!” See the excellent zombietracker.in for more.


China border status quo eternally awaited

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi discussed unresolved issues along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh on the sidelines of the Dushanbe SCO Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. Jaishankar tweeted that he “highlighted that unilateral change of status quo is not acceptable. Full restoration [of status quo ante] and maintenance of peace and tranquility in border areas is essential for development of our ties. [The two sides] Agreed on convening an early meeting of the Senior Military Commanders.” The PLA reportedly reoccupied some of the posts it had vacated in the winter. 

While Jaishankar said that the continuing impasse was ‘visibly impacting the relationship in a negative manner’, The Hindureports that China’s Foreign Minister called on both sides to ‘place the boundary issue in an appropriate position’. The Indian Foreign Ministry’s statement agreed on neither side taking unilateral actions, but also noted the agreement at the last meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on June 25 to “convene at the earliest” the next meeting of military commanders. This was not mentioned in the Chinese readout, and the view in New Delhi is that Beijing has since February dragged its feet on talks. The two sides disagree on how to tackle the remaining issues along the LAC, in Depsang, Demchok, Gogra and Hot Springs, after the February disengagement at Pangong Lake. 

Rahul Gandhi and other Congress MPs, walked out of a meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence, after he was “not allowed to speak” on the situation on the Ladakh border. BJP MP and committee chairman Jual Oram said that only cantonment board issues were on the agenda. Gandhi said that they were discussed over three meetings and larger issues should now be discussed ― the situation on the LAC, or the Taliban campaign after the US exited Afghanistan. He said, “Sub-committees can be made for the cantonment board matter, but these are bigger issues that need to be addressed in the panel meeting.” But the chairman was disinclined, and Gandhi’s walkout followed ― for the second time

What would be hard for the Modi government to defend is that the committee’s scheduled trip to Pangong Lake has also been cancelled.


Random Health Minister blames states for slow vaccination

New Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya yesterday blamed the states for “mismanagement” of the Covid-19 inoculation drive and long queues at vaccination centres, without explaining why the states are not being given more doses despite repeated requests. Since the states were informed three times about supplies for July, they should have planned better, he argued. There is no official word on the slump in vaccination. Mandaviya said states were making “useless” statements to create panic and denied reports of shortages. He had no data to support his statements.


Amrita Sher-Gil canvas almost tops the charts  

An Amrita Sher-Gil canvas has been sold for Rs 37.8 crore by Saffronart, which makes it the second-most expensive work of art by an Indian. The chartbuster remains VS Gaitonde’s Untitled (1961) which sold for Rs 39.98 crore. Amrita Sher-Gil’s In the Ladies’ Enclosure was painted in 1938, when she went to live in Gorakhpur. For Sher-Gil fans, here is an older article on the artist’s Gorakhpur connection.


Biden appoints Atul Gawande, Rahul Gupta

US President Joe Biden has nominated a prominent Indian-American physician and a surgeon to serve in key roles in his administration. West Virginia’s former health commissioner Dr Rahul Gupta will be director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Atul Gawande, a surgeon and popular author, was nominated for Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for Global Health at the US Agency for International Development.


India tops globally in Twitter information requests

In its biannual report on enforcement of policy rules and requests from governments for information on users or removal of content, Twitter said that India was the single largest source of information requests from governments during the second half of 2020, overtaking the United States. India accounted for 25% of the global volume of requests and 15% of accounts involved in July-December 2020. India made 3,615 requests ― 3,463 routine requests and 152 emergency requests.

Twitter said verified accounts of 199 journalists and news outlets were subject to 361 legal content removal demands from governments, an increase of 26% from the first half of the year.


Reportedly

Even as Uttarakhand minister Subodh Uniyal claimed that UP Chief Minister Adityanath has a “big heart” and would not mind his government cancelling the Kanwar Yatra amid fears of a third Covid wave, electoral compulsions are forcing the BJP government’s hand in Lucknow. Adityanath is compelled to allow the annual Kawad Yatra in the state, where Assembly polls are due early next year, despite public health concerns. 

After assuming office in 2017, Adityanath had directed district administrations to extend all facilities to millions of kawadias, who carry pitchers of water to Haridwar in Uttarakhand. On Adityanath’s instructions, top officials in several districts showered flower petals on them from choppers. With the BJP state government in Uttarakhand cancelling the yatra and the Supreme Court taking suo motu notice, this is another headache for Adityanath, who can’t be seen to oppose the yatra. 


Prime number: 8.48
It breaks the stereotype, but among the five south Indian states, Kerala has the lowest per capita liquor consumption ― 8.48 litres per person annually. Telangana tops the drinking charts with 18.97 litres and 16.93 litres per person in the financial years 2018-19 and 2017-18, respectively. It is followed by Karnataka (11.45 litres in 2018-19 and 10.92 litres in 2017-18), Andhra Pradesh (10.90 litres in 2018-19 and 9.69 litres in 2017-18) and Tamil Nadu (11.05 litres in 2018-19 and 8.90 litres in 2017-18). Kerala’s average consumption during these two fiscals was 8.48 litres and 8.1 litres, respectively.

OBC Commission gets another extension

The term of the commission examining the possibility of sub-categorisation within the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in the Central List has been extended by six months to January 31 next year, a government statement said. There are 2,633 OBCs in the Central List and earlier this year, the commission proposed to divide them into four subcategories numbered 1, 2, 3 and 4 and split the 27% reservations into 2, 6, 9 and 10%, respectively. If accepted, the recommendations would have a major impact on politics, especially in north India. 

The commission, which took charge on October 11, 2017, is headed by retired Delhi High Court Chief Justice G Rohini and includes Centre for Policy Studies Director Dr JK Bajaj. Its objective is “equitable distribution” of reservation.


Deep Dive

Since 2014-15, fuel taxes have increased by a whopping 217% and 607%, respectively. The central tax on diesel has gone up from Rs 4.50 per litre in 2014-15 to Rs 31.80 per litre. Vivek Kaul’s detailed article decodes the components of the price of fuel, which is not connected with crude  prices in the international market. 


Neurological cases double

The rate of non-communicable neurological disorders and neurological injuries (in the total disease burden) has more than doubled ― from 4% to 8.2% ― between 1990 and 2019, finds the India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative in a new paper published in The Lancet Global Health. Stroke (37.9%), headaches (17.5%) and epilepsy (11.3%) are the leading contributors. Strokes caused 699,000 deaths in India in 2019, 7.4% of total deaths. It also caused 68% of deaths due to neurological disorders, followed by Alzheimer’s and other dementias (12%), and encephalitis (5%).


Ashok Lavasa’s book out next week

Former election commissioner Ashok Lavasa is with the Asian Development Bank, after demitting office most unusually. He had objected to violation of the model code of conduct by the PM, in the run-up to the 2019 elections. His book, An Ordinary Life: Portrait of an Indian Generation, is out next week. It’s an ode to his father, but readers hope for revelations about the central agencies, which were unleashed on his entire family shortly before he abruptly left the Election Commission.


Opeds you don’t want to miss

  • Suhrith Parthasarathy writes that UP’s draft population control law, if enacted, would grossly impinge on the right to reproductive freedom. The right to access basic goods can’t be made provisional on a person sacrificing her bodily autonomy.

  • The custodial death of Father Stan Swamy has worrying implications. Anup Sinha writes that there is “more to come”.

  • For a man who said in February that the “government understands the emotions of New India’s youth”, Modi seems clueless about the new workplace. From Boomer to Generation X to Millennial, we’ve watched the ideas of “job security” and “career paths” collapse into rubble, writes Priya Ramani.

  • Tunku Varadarajan reviews a book on India’s oldest industrial behemoth, Tata: The Global Corporation That Built Indian Capitalism by Mircea Raianu, for The Wall Street Journal.


Listen up

Christophe Jaffrelot delivers a masterclass on the phenomenon of Hindu nationalism and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Jaffrelot’s latest book is Modi’s India: Hindu Nationalism and the Rise of Ethnic Democracy.


Watch Out

“Our Humanity Is Snatched Away From Us”: Muslim Women Speak Out Against ‘Sulli Deals’ ― Hana Mohsin Khan, Noor Mahvish and Afreen Fatima, who were featured on the now defunct app, explain why what they went through is important for all of us.


Over and out

An excerpt from Voices from the Lost Horizon: Stories and Songs of the Great Andamanese, put together by linguist Anvita Abbi, brings us 10 rare stories and 46 songs of the Great Andamanese ― a year ago, they numbered only 52 individuals.

GQ India interviews Farhan Akhtar for their cover. They term him “the original multi-hyphenate”, and a man who knows the movie business like no other.


That’s it for today. We’ll be back with you tomorrow, on a device near you. If The India Cable was forwarded to you by a friend (perhaps a common friend!) book your own copy by SUBSCRIBING HERE.