Insights Daily Current Events, 05 January 2015

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Insights Daily Current Events, 05 January 2015

AFSPA extended in Assam

The Centre has extended the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act to declare Assam a ‘disturbed area’ for one more year.

  • The Government of India in exercise of powers under AF(SP) Act, 1958 has also declared, besides other areas, the area falling within 20 km wide belt in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya along their border with the Assam as disturbed area.

AFSPA:

It is an Act empowering armed forces to deal effectively in ‘Disturbed Areas’. Any area which is declared ‘Disturbed’ under the disturbed areas act enables armed forces to resort to the provisions of AFSPA.

Who declares an area as disturbed?

The choice of declaring any area as ‘disturbed’ vests both with state and central government.

Special powers provided to armed forces:

After an area comes under the ambit of AFSPA, any commissioned officer, warrant officer, non-commissioned officer or another person of equivalent rank can use force for a variety of reasons while still being immune to the prosecution.

Ambit:

  • The act was passed on 11 September 1958 by the parliament of India to provide special legal security to the armed forces carrying out operations in the troubled areas of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura (seven sisters).
  • In 1990 the act was extended to the state of Jammu and Kashmir to confront the rising insurgency in the area.
  • In Manipur, despite opposition from the Central government, state government withdrew the Act in some parts in Aug, 2004. 

The government can declare AFSPA in the following conditions:

  • When the local administration fails to deal with local issues and the police proves inefficient to cope with them.
  • When the scale of unrest or instability in the state is too large for the police to handle.

Legal provisions of AFSPA:

In an area declared ”disturbed” an army officer is legally free to carry out following operations:

  • Fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death, against any person who is acting in contravention of any law” against “assembly of five or more persons” or possession of deadly weapons.
  • Destroy any shelter (private or govt.) from which armed attacks are made or likely to be made or attempted to be made.
  • Arrest any person without warrant who has committed a cognizable offence or against whom a reasonable suspicion exists that he has committed or is about to commit a cognizable offence.
  • Enter and search, without warrant, any premises for purpose of arrest or to recover any person, arms, explosives.
  • To search and seize any vehicle suspected to be carrying an offender or any person against whom any reasonable suspicion exists that he has or is about to commit an offence.
  • To provide legal immunity to the army personnel found involved in any violation or ethical breach i.e., they cannot be sued or prosecuted.

Why do armed forces need AFSPA?

  • The forces are aware that they cannot afford to fail when called upon to safeguard the country’s integrity. Hence, they require the minimum legislation that is essential to ensure efficient utilization of combat capability. This includes safeguards from legal harassment and empowerment of its officers to decide on employment of the minimum force that they consider essential.
  • The absence of such a legal statute would adversely affect organizational flexibility and the utilization of the security capacity of the state. This would render the security forces incapable of fulfilling their assigned role.

Common people see it as ‘Right to Kill’ Act. Since its inception many Human Rights organizations and civil societies have been opposing it for the following reasons:

  • It makes no distinction between a peaceful gathering of five or more people and a berserk mob.
  • The law also states that, “no prosecution can be initiated against an officer without the previous sanction of the Central government”.
  • The decision of the government to declare a particular area ‘disturbed’ cannot be challenged in a court of law.

In 2005 the Jeevan Reddy Commission said that AFSPA should be repealed and the clauses that are required should be included in other Acts.

Sources: The Hindu, Wiki, NDTV.

 

Govt. urged to reject Kasturirangan report

People from Udupi, Karnataka have urged the Union and State governments to reject the recommendations of the K. Kasturirangan Panel’s report on conservation of the Western Ghats.

Why?

  • 35 villages in Udupi district in the Western Ghats come under the ambit of the report and the report also proposed a buffer zone of 10 km from the boundary of Western Ghats, which would include another 38 villages. The people are against the report as it would hamper development in the villages.

Kasturirangan Report:

The Kasturirangan panel was set up to study the Gadgil committee report on the Western Ghats. The Gadgil panel report had faced unanimous opposition from state governments for recommending that almost three-fourth of the hills, including plantations, cultivated lands and large habitations, be turned into a restricted development zone with an over-arching authority to regulate the region superseding the elected authorities’ role.

Recommendations made:

  • Around 60,000 sq km of Western Ghats, spread across six states, should be turned into a no-go area for commercial activities like mining, thermal power plants, polluting industries and large housing plans.
  • It has suggested that 90% of the natural forests left in the Western Ghats complex – adding upto 60,000 sq km and constituting 37% of the entire hilly belt — be conserved under the Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) provisions of the green law. The forest area falling within the ESA would also cover 4,156 villages across the six states. The panel has said, “The villages falling under ESA will be involved in decision making on the future projects. All projects will require prior-informed consent and no-objection from the gram sabha (village council) of the village.”
  • The panel has recommended that there should be a complete ban on mining activity in this zone and current mining activities should be phased out within five years, or at the time of expiry of the mining lease. It has banned development of any township or construction over the size of 20,000 sq m in the ESA zone. It has not recommended a ban on hydroelectric projects in the zone, but put a regime of stricter clearances for dams and other projects.
  • The report suggests doing away with the complete moratorium on industrial and mining activity in the two Maharashtra districts of Sindhudurg and Ratnagiri. It has suggested persisting with the ban only on the area of the two districts falling within the ESA and a strict regulation in the rest.
  • The report has steered clear from demanding a strict ecological control over the Western Ghat complex requiring changes and regulations on agricultural practices the way Gadgil committee report had suggested.

 

Sources: The Hindu, Wiki, TOI, PIB.

 

36000 RTI queries pending as CIC remains headless

There are over 36000 pending Right to Information (RTI) queries pending at the Central Information Commission (CIC), which has been functioning without a Chief Information Commissioner for almost four months now.

CIC appointment:

The Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners are appointed by the President on the recommendation of a committee consisting of—

  • The Prime Minister, who shall be the Chairperson of the committee;
  • The Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha; and
  • A Union Cabinet Minister to be nominated by the Prime Minister.

The Chief Information Commissioner heads the Central Information Commission, the body that hears appeals from information-seekers who have not been satisfied by the public authority, and also addresses major issues concerning the RTI Act.

The Central Information Commission (CIC) is set up under the Right to Information Act and is the authorised body, established in 2005, under the Government of India.

Sources: The Hindu, CIC.

 

Operation Smile

It is an initiative to trace missing children reported in Madurai district police limits in Tamil Nadu in the last 10 years.

Sources: The Hindu.

 

Upload records of parties’ bungalows, CIC tells Centre

The Central Information Commission has directed the Centre to upload records of land/bungalow allotment to all political parties in the country.

  • The order comes after the Lalu Prasad-led Rashtriya Janata Dal government in Bihar rejected an RTI query on its headquarters in New Delhi.

The CIC, in its order in June 2013, had declared political parties to be under the purview of the Right to Information Act, 2005.

Sources: The Hindu.

 

GDR route for bringing back black money under scanner

Regulatory and other agencies suspect that Global Depository Receipt (GDR) route is being used for bringing back suspected illicit funds stashed abroad.

  • SEBI has come across quite a few cases where GDR (Global Depository Receipt) route could have been used for round-tripping of funds in the name of capital-raising activities of listed companies from abroad. The issue has also been flagged by other agencies. GDR is a popular financial instrument used by listed companies in India, and in many other countries, to raise funds denominated mostly in U.S. dollars or Euros.

GDR:

A global depository receipt (GDR), also known as international depository receipt (IDR), is a certificate issued by a depository bank, which purchases shares of foreign companies and deposits it on the account.

  • They are the global equivalent of the original American depository receipts (ADR) on which they are based.
  • GDRs represent ownership of an underlying number of shares of a foreign company and are commonly used to invest in companies from developing or emerging markets by investors in developed markets.

Characteristics:

  • It is an unsecured security
  • It may be converted into number of shares
  • Interest and redemption price is public in foreign agency
  • It is listed and traded in the stock exchange

Their regulation in India:

  • Indian companies are allowed to raise capital in the international market through the issue of ADRs/GDR. They can issue ADRs/GDRs without obtaining prior approval from RBI, if it is eligible to issue ADRs/GDRs in terms of the scheme for issue of foreign currency Convertible Bonds and Ordinary Shares (Through Depository Receipt Mechanism) Scheme, 1993 and subsequent guidelines issued by Ministry of Finance, Government of India.
  • After the issue of ADRs/GDRs, the company has to file a return to the RBI. The company is also required to file a quarterly return.
  • There are no end-use restrictions on GDR/ADR issue proceeds, except for an express ban on investment in real estate stock markets.

Sources: The Hindu, Wiki, moia.gov.in.

 

Smart cards soon for unorganised sector workers

Every worker in the unorganised sector may soon be issued a smart card with a unique identification number.
The portable benefits card will be issued under the Unorganised Workers Social Security Act, 2008.

Why?

  • For accessing social schemes and benefits.

Such project was launched in Gujarat on pilot basis.
“U-WIN” card was launched in Gujarat and it was announced that benefits under various social security schemes would be routed to registered workers through this card.

Other Details:

  • The proposal is all workers must get three things — health insurance, pension and disability assistance. This card will allow workers to self-certify that they are unorganised sector workers, and get these benefits through a portable card.
  • National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector Report, 2005,had said that over 394 million workers, 87 per cent of the country’s working population, are in the unorganised sector.
  • The report said 79 per cent of these workers lived on less than Rs. 20 a day In Gujarat, the government announced that benefits under 20 schemes, including education aid, maternity benefits, funeral benefits, accident group insurance scheme and housing, would be routed through the cards.
  • The Unorganised Workers Social Security Act, 2008, passed after the setting up of the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector in 2004 provides for constitution of the National Social Security Advisory Board at the Central level, which is to recommend social security schemes, health and maternity benefits and pension schemes for unorganised workers. It said that every adult worker could self-certify that he or she worked in the unorganised sector and shall be issued a smart card and a unique identification number.

Sources: The Hindu.

 

Raising voice over net neutrality

On December 24, India’s biggest telecom operator Bharti Airtel Ltd announced that it would charge customers for calls made using VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) and then did a volte face five days later by withdrawing the proposal.

  • The stated reason for the U-turn was that the telecom regulator was working on a consultation paper on the subject.
  • The unstated part was that Airtel’s proposal had customers and advocates of net neutrality up in arms.
  • Proponents of the principle of net neutrality hold that all traffic on the Internet should be treated equally or in other words, service providers such as Airtel should allow access to all content without favouring any particular product or website.

What the TRAI says?

  • The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India chief has said even though Airtel’s move is against net neutrality it is not illegal as there is no legal framework.

The net neutrality debate becomes even more relevant in case of India where the penetration of smart phones is increasing and efforts are on to bring more people to the Internet, through the digital India campaign.

Telecom/service provider’s argument:

The telecom/ISPs argue that they have made huge investments in broadband capacity, and, therefore, they should be allowed to charge for the services, which generate lot of traffic. Preventing the service providers from charging for over-the-top services (OTT) services would mean that they would reduce their investments in building networks.

Net neutrality:

Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.

  • Neutrality proponents claim that telecom companies seek to impose a tiered service model in order to control the pipeline and thereby remove competition, create artificial scarcity, and oblige subscribers to buy their otherwise uncompetitive services. Many believe net neutrality to be primarily important as a preservation of current freedoms.
  • There are no laws enforcing net neutrality in India. Although TRAI guidelines for the Unified Access Service license promote net neutrality, it does not enforce it. The Information Technology Act 2000 also does not prohibit companies from throttling their service in accordance with their business interests.

Sources: The Hindu, Wiki, TRAI.