Insights Daily Current Events, 14 April 2015

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Insights Daily Current Events, 14 April 2015

Government notifies NJAC, puts an end to collegium

The Union government has finally notified the National Judicial Appointments Commission law and effectively brought to an end the two-decades-old collegium system of appointing judges.

Details:

  • The notification brings into immediate effect the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, 2014, and the 99th Constitution Amendment Act.
  • Now, the political class and civil society have an equal voice, along with the judiciary, in the appointment and transfer of judges in the highest judiciary.

Background:

The notification was made possible by the Supreme Court on April 7. While referring the petitions to a larger Bench, the court had refused to pass a stay order on the law coming into force.

About the NJAC and 99th constitution amendment Bill:

NJAC is a body responsible for the appointment and transfer of judges to the higher judiciary in India. JAC Bill seeks to replace the collegium system of appointing the judges of Supreme Court and 24 High Courts with judicial appointments commission wherein the executive will have a say in appointing the judges.

  • A new article, Article 124A, (which provides for the composition of the NJAC) will be inserted into the Constitution.
  • The Bill provides for the procedure to be followed by the NJAC for recommending persons for appointment as Chief Justice of India and other Judges of the Supreme Court (SC), and Chief Justice and other Judges of High Courts (HC).

According to the bill the commission will consist of the following members:

  • Chief Justice of India (Chairperson, ex officio)
  • Two other senior judges of the Supreme Court next to the Chief Justice of India – ex officio
  • The Union Minister of Law and Justice, ex-officio
  • Two eminent persons (to be nominated by a committee consisting of the Chief Justice of India, Prime Minister of India and the Leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha or where there is no such Leader of Opposition, then, the Leader of single largest Opposition Party in Lok Sabha), provided that of the two eminent persons, one person would be from the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes or OBC or minority communities or a woman. The eminent persons shall be nominated for a period of three years and shall not be eligible for re-nomination.

Functions of the Commission:

  • Recommending persons for appointment as Chief Justice of India, Judges of the Supreme Court, Chief Justices of High Courts and other Judges of High Courts.
  • Recommending transfer of Chief Justices and other Judges of High Courts from one High Court to any other High Court.
  • Ensuring that the persons recommended are of ability and integrity.

Under the present Collegium system, the Chief Justice of India would consult the four senior most judges of the Supreme Court for Supreme Court appointments and two senior-most judges for high court appointments.

How the NJAC will help:

  • The NJAC, once it came into existence, is expected to usher in transparency in judicial appointments in the highest courts and end the highest judiciary’s two-decade-old grip over appointments of judges through the collegium system.
  • It would restore an equal role for the executive in higher judicial appointments.

What are the allegations against it?

Petitions were filed in the SC contending that by passing the NJAC Bill, Parliament had “altered the basic structure of the Constitution” and encroached into judicial independence.

How judicial independence is being encroached:

  • Independence of the judiciary includes the necessity to eliminate political influence even at the stage of appointment of a judge. This is being violated.
  • This bill, as passed by the two houses of Parliament, “takes away the primacy of the collective opinion of the Chief Justice of India and the two senior most Judges of the Supreme Court of India”.
  • Although the six-member Commission had the CJI as chairperson and two senior most Supreme Court judges as members, there was no “primacy” for them. Even their collective recommendation of a candidate as judge could be frozen if any two non-judicial members on the panel vetoed it.
  • The petition says the NJAC Act did not give any “suitability criteria” for appointment as judge, leaving it to the Commission to frame them.

Sources: The Hindu, Wiki, PIB, prsindia.org, BS.

 

Clamour for Net neutrality grows online

Social media has been flooded with posts on Net neutrality, demanding that service providers treat all data online equally. People on social media have been saying that the Union government should strive to maintain Internet neutrality.

  • The Telecom Ministry has constituted a committee to decide on the issue. A final call would be taken after a ministry committee submits its report in the second week of May.

Background:

  • Recently, telecom provider Airtel launched Airtel Zero, a scheme through which companies can pay Airtel and have users browse their service free of data charges. The practice of allowing apps to be free of data charges to the consumer is called zero rating in telecom parlance.
  • Airtel Zero is widely perceived as a violation of net neutrality which could potentially stifle innovation and startup growth. There is also an allegation that it effectively tilts the balance in favor of the bigger players.
  • By paying to be on Airtel Zero, companies can make sure that their users get free access to their service, while smaller players are at a disadvantage. However, Airtel has said that zero rating does not violate net neutrality as it lowers the cost of access and it is “non-discriminatory”.
  • In December 2014, Airtel had also tried to introduce a plan to charge Internet telephony companies like Skype and Whatsapp a higher tariff. However, the telecom operator withdrew the plan after public outrage.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Sources: The Hindu, ET, Wiki.

 

Gujarat launches industrial tourism

In an initiative that is the first-of-its-kind in the country, the Gujarat government is promoting a tour package covering major industrial installations which have earned global acclaim for the State.

Details:

  • Some of the major attractions of this recently launched tour package include a visit to Tata Nano plant in Sanand, Pipavav port near Amreli, Alang ship breaking yard in Bhavnagar and Amul Dairy in Anand.
  • The package, called Industrial Tour of Gujarat, has been offered by city-based Akshar Travels Pvt Ltd, official partner of state-run tourism agency Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Ltd (TCGL), which is promoting the tour on its website.

Sources: The Hindu.

 

Diesel vehicles get a two-week breather

The National Green Tribunal has extended deadline by two weeks for its proposed ban on plying of diesel vehicles which were more than 10 years old in Delhi.

Details:

  • The move comes as a reprieve for the Delhi government, which is grappling with difficulties in implementing the ban. The NGT ordered stay on impounding of decade-old vehicles for the next two weeks during which the agencies concerned will have to come up with scientific views on checking vehicular pollution.
  • The NGT has also sought the Delhi government’s views on a number of issues including imposing higher registration charges and congestion charges for owning more than one vehicle.

What else has the NGT said?

  • The NGT has directed that in these two weeks time, the Ministry of Surface Transport, MoEF, Urban Development, Ministry of Petroleum, Delhi government and other authorities concerned should submit their complete reasoned and scientifically supported views of all vehicles to be permitted to run in Delhi with reference to all sources of energy/fuel.
  • It has also sought information on a cap on the number of vehicles to be registered in the NCR, Delhi with reference to sources of energy/fuel and incentives to those who adopt pool commutation/travel.

Why stay was necessary?

  • The government, Ministry of Environment and Forests and other stake holders submitted that the prohibitory orders of the NGT are causing serious concern and practical difficulties to the government and the authorities.
  • The Delhi government had also contended that the order was affecting supply of essential commodities like vegetables and basic amenities like waste collecting trucks were also being hit.

Background:

The National Green Tribunal had recently banned all diesel vehicles over ten years old from plying in Delhi and the National Capital Region and also cracked the whip on rampant construction activity adding dust to the air. The SC had said that diesel vehicles are major source of pollution in the ambient air quality.

Sources: The Hindu.

 

Taiwan rejected from China-led Asia bank

China has rejected Taiwan’s bid to become a founding member of the new Chinese-led infrastructure bank for Asia in a difference over the title the island uses, which could portend how Beijing will run the new institution.

  • The Chinese government has said Taiwan will not be a member of a new regional bank, but would be welcome in the future under a different name.

Details:

  • Taiwan, which split from China in 1949, wanted to join the bank as an independent nation.
  • Taiwan’s government officially calls itself as the Republic of China. It goes by the name “Taipei, China” as a member of the Asian Development Bank, and is known as the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu at the World Trade Organization.
  • The two governments routinely spar over such issues as part of their larger tussle over Beijing’s claim that Taiwan is part of China.

Taiwan is not a member of the UN, World Bank or IMF but it has joined some international organisations under different names.

What China says?

China has expressed concerns that it goes against its one China policy under which it consider Taipei to be a part of it, even as it maintained that the island can join the bank with an “appropriate” identity.

About AIIB:

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is an international financial institution proposed by China. The purpose of the multilateral development bank is to provide finance to infrastructure projects in the Asia-Pacific region.

  • AIIB is regarded by some as a rival for the IMF, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which the AIIB says are dominated by developed countries like the United States and Japan.
  • The authorised capital of AIIB will be $100 billion. AIIB’s headquarters is to be located in Beijing.
  • India is the second largest shareholder in the Bank after China.
  • In October, 21 countries signed the memorandum of understanding establishing the bank.
  • It now has more than 40 members, with South Korea, Austria and Spain’s membership confirmed on Saturday.
  • The UK has applied to join the bank, earning a rare rebuke from the US in March which said it had “concerns” about whether the AIIB would meet governance standards and maintain environmental and social safeguards.
  • It is being called as a very positive development in the sense that it opens up more borrowing opportunities.

Sources: The Hindu, BS, wiki.

 

Mars might have transient liquid water

Scientists have found indirect evidence to support the presence of transient liquid water brine (very salty water) on Mars.

Details:

  • The brine is likely to be present in the uppermost 5 cm of the Mars soil from sunset to sunrise during winter and for shorter windows of time during other seasons.
  • At night, some of the water vapour in the atmosphere condenses as frost. Calcium perchlorate salt, which is globally present on Mars, absorbs the frost and forms brine by reducing the freezing temperature of water.
  • The inference of transient liquid water on the red planet was based on the analysis of relative humidity, air temperature, and ground temperature data collected by Curiosity from the Gale Crater over one full Martian year. Scientists have also said that the transient nature of water is not conducive for the replication and metabolism of terrestrial micro-organisms.
  • Since the data collected by Curiosity is from the equator, the driest and warmest region of the red planet, the possibility of abundant brines in other regions of the planet is high due to greater atmospheric water content in the form of humidity and lower temperature. The presence of brine also affects the solubility of other salts in the uppermost 15 cm of soil.

Sources: The Hindu.

 

Is re-promulgation of land ordinance valid, SC asks Centre

The Supreme Court has agreed to examine the constitutionality of the President’s re-promulgation of the Land Acquisition Ordinance on the grounds that it subverted legislative process and ushered in ‘ordinance raj.’

Why was it necessary?

  • Supreme Court, based on some petitions, has decided to do so. The farmers’ petition has termed the re-promulgation and the manner the government effected it by proroguing the Rajya Sabha on March 28, a “textbook example of blatant abuse” of the President’s power under Article 123 of the Constitution.
  • The petition also said that the decision was a “clever device and ruse” to subvert the legislative process.

The new Land Acquisition ordinance has incorporated all the nine amendments introduced when it was passed in the Lok Sabha. It now only requires the nod from the Upper House to become law.

An ordinance has a life of six months if promulgated when Parliament is not in session. Once the Houses are in session, the Land ordinance expires in six weeks.

Sources: The Hindu.

 

Panel to look into post-66A security concerns

In the wake of the recent Supreme Court directive striking down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, the Union Home Ministry has set up a committee to recommend measures for addressing national security concerns.

  • The committee is headed by Special Secretary (Internal Security) Ashok Prasad.

Why was it necessary?

After the court declared Section 66A of the Information Technology Act unconstitutional, security agencies raised concerns about activities on digital media that threaten national security and inciting violence.

Background:

The Supreme Court had on March 24 declared the Section 66A of the Information Technology Act unconstitutional, observing: “It is clear that Section 66A arbitrarily, excessively and disproportionately invades the right of free speech and upsets the balance between such right and the reasonable restrictions that may be imposed on such right.”

Sources: The Hindu.

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