Odisha plans scheme for witness protection
The Odisha government has come up with a special ‘Witness Protection Scheme’ to provide security to witnesses facing threat during the course of a legal battle.
State counsel Bibhu Prasad Tripathy informed a single Bench of the Orissa High Court on Monday that the scheme has already been formulated and a gazette notification published on July 5.
According to the notification, a district-level standing committee, chaired by a district and sessions judge, with the district police head as its member and the head of the prosecution in the district as its member secretary, will take a call on the need for protection.
The district police chief will submit a report with regard to the seriousness and credibility of the threat to the witness or his/her family members if the person applies in a prescribed form.
The report will detail the nature of the threat to the witness or his/her family members, their reputation or property. Besides, the intent and motive of the person issuing the threat and the resources available with him/her to execute it will figure in the analysis.
The threat analysis report, prepared with “full conﬁdentiality”, will reach the competent authority “within five working days of its order for inquiry”.
Based on the report, the authority will pass an order for protection of identity of the witness.
The Witness Protection Cell will then ensure that the identities of the witness and his/her family members, including names, parentage, occupation, address and digital footprints, are fully protected. Provision of relocation of the witness to a safer place has also been made in the scheme.
In appropriate cases, where there is a request from the witness for change of identity, based on the threat analysis report, a decision can be taken to confer “a new identity upon the witness through a competent authority”.
A dedicated cell of the State police or Central police agencies will be assigned with the duty of implementing the witness protection order. The ‘Witness Protection Fund’ proposed to be created will bear the expenses incurred during the implementation of the protection order.
In case the witness has lodged a false complaint, the State home department could initiate proceedings for recovery of the expenditure from the applicant.
Expert panel to review power projects
Barely a week after forming a committee to review the wind and solar Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) and bring down the tariffs, the Andhra Pradesh government constituted another independent expert panel to review the procedure of execution and grounding of capital expenditure works undertaken by the AP-Transco and all AP-Power Coordination Committee PPAs and payments.
The committee will have P. Gopala Reddy, former CMD of AP-Southern Power Distribution Company Limited, as chairman, and Rama Rao, former Director of grid operations at AP-Transco, Prof. Usha Rama Chandra, member of Administrative Staff College of India, and Raja Gopal Reddy, former member of A.P-Electricity Regulatory Commission, as members. Ch.V.S. Subbarao, Chief General Manager (Planning), will be its member-convener.
As per a GO, the committee will conduct a comprehensive review of the power sector and make recommendations for strengthening it, and specifically study all major projects completed or in progress and all contracts and agreements in the pipeline or bidding stage, and submit its report in 45 days.
It was stated that the existing projects, works and agreements were required to be reviewed thoroughly by competent professionals to prevent alleged corruption and rectify the discrepancies.
The committee has been formed to furnish a detailed report by eligibility criteria, estimates, deviations, escalations and compromised stands takenthat caused loss to the government.
UN report ‘legitimises’ terror, says India
The UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) on Monday said India and Pakistan had failed to improve the situation in Kashmir and not taken any concrete steps to address the numerous concerns raised in its earlier report.
Last year, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released its first-ever report on Kashmir, urging action by both countries to reduce tensions.
The update made wide ranging recommendations to the governments of India and Pakistan, and urged the Human Rights Council (HRC) to explore possibilities of setting up an international commission of inquiry into the allegations of human rights abuse in Kashmir.
India said the report had extended legitimacy to cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan. “It is a matter of deep concern that this update seems to accord a legitimacy to terrorism that is in complete variance with UN Security Council positions,” said External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar. He described the report as part of the continued “motivated narrative” against Indian sovereignty and integrity.
Mr. Kumar said the update referred to terror outfits such as Jaish-e-Mohammed as “armed groups”, and reminded that the UN Security Council had blamed the group for the February 14, 2019 Pulwama terror attack that led to a deterioration in India-Pakistan ties.
India also said the update had distorted its policy on the Kashmir issue and failed to recognise that the Indian state ensured justice through a strong judiciary and a national human rights mechanism.
Mr. Kumar pointed out that the new report reflected a “prejudiced mindset” which chose to ignore the “comprehensive socio-economic development efforts undertaken by the government in the face of terrorist challenges”.
He said the report was crafted without taking into account the campaign by the Pakistan-backed terror outfits “… the update seems to be a contrived effort to create an artificial parity between the world’s largest and the most vibrant democracy and a country that openly practices state- sponsored terrorism,” it said.
The comprehensive report from the OHCHR said India continues to use pellet-firing shotguns as a crowd control tool and criticised various laws that used for detention and arrest of political activists and civil society figures in Kashmir.
The new report said the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) had chronicled 160 civilians killed in 2018, the highest in around a decade.
UAPA Bill ‘draconian, not based on logic’
The Union government on Monday introduced the National Investigation Agency (Amendment), Bill 2019 and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 2019, in the Lok Sabha amid protests by the Opposition.
Congress member Shashi Tharoor and Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) member P.K. Kunhalikutty opposed the NIA Bill that seeks to strengthen the agency by giving it powers to probe terror attacks targeting Indians and Indian interests abroad.
Mr. Tharoor said courts were already clogged with huge backlogs and now the government was adding more cases through the amendment to the NIA Act. The Bill, “not based on logic”, was “piecemeal” legislation that did not insulate the NIA from political interference.
Mr. Kunhalikutty said that when the government was widening the powers of investigating agencies, there should be another set of measures or provisions to ensure that the powers were not misused.
The NIA was set up in 2009 in the wake of the Mumbai terror attacks that claimed 166 lives.
The UAPA Bill that seeks to allow an individual suspected to have terror links to be designated as a terrorist was termed draconian by the Opposition.
N.K. Premchandran (RSP) said that in the name of tackling terror, the fundamental rights of an individual could not be forgone. There was no clarity on the government’s claim that the NIA found it difficult to deal with such individuals. The House should not be kept in the dark on the difficulties being faced by the agency.
Mr. Tharoor described the amendment Bill as “hastily brought”. There were several provisions in the law to go after individuals. The government was failing to take pre-legislative consultation. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was opposed to such a provision and the BJP-led government should keep in mind the veteran leader’s views.
Minister of State for Home G. Kishan Reddy, who introduced the Bill, asked why India could not designate terrorists as such if the United Nations could do so with people like Jamaat-ud-Dawah chief Hafiz Saeed. He asserted that the government believed in “zero tolerance” towards terrorism. A provision was needed to designate “individual terrorist” in law.
Rajya Sabha too clears Aadhaar Bill
Parliament on Monday cleared the Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2019 which allows voluntary use of Aadhaar as proof of identity for users to open bank accounts and get mobile phone connections.
The Rajya Sabha cleared the Bill through a voice vote on Monday. It was cleared by Lok Sabha on July 4.
However, the Opposition questioned the government’s “intentions” on clearing the Bill without first bringing in a law for data protection.
Answering the Opposition questions, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told the Rajya Sabha that the legislation on data protection was a “work in progress” and the government would bring in a comprehensive law after further consultations with the stakeholders.
“Data sovereignty is important to us and it will not be compromised,” Mr Prasad said.
He said that India in future would become a centre of data refinery and the government is taking due precaution in constructing the data protection law because the world was looking at India to take the lead on the issue. Mr. Prasad sought to remind the opposition that it was the Congress that had first brought in Aadhaar, but it had no legislative basis. To the allegation that the new law distorted the Supreme Court judgment, he said, “I would like to gently remind this House that both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha have the right to undo a Supreme Court judgement.”
He said was Aadhaar was completely safe and sound with all necessary encryption.
“No core biometric information collected or created for this act shall be shared with anyone for any reason whatsoever,” Mr. Prasad said, quoting from the legislation. The only exception will be made for reasons of national security, he said.
The Bill provides for a Rs. 1 crore penalty and a jail term for private entities violating provisions on Aadhaar data.
Govt. in a spot over forced eviction of refugee
As directed by the Centre, we repatriated the Myanmar nationals who illegally entered India.
On July 2, as many as 219 refugees from Chin in Myanmar, living in a camp at Hmawngbuchhua in Mizoram’s Lawngtlai district since 2017, were handed over to the Myanmar army without documentation.
A senior government official told The Hindu that a high level meeting of officials from Ministries of Defence, External Affairs and Home, convened a fortnight ago, decided to send back the refugees after reaching an understanding with the Myanmar army.
“A consensus was reached to send them back; the Myanmar army was taken on board and they agreed to take them back. They had come without papers, most of them went back willingly.
“There was only one aberration where a woman was forcibly taken away. It is being looked into,” said the official.
Reacting to the criticism after the southeast Asia based NGO, Fortify Rights, put out the video, the State government said on Monday that the eviction was done on the instructions of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
Some 1,500 Buddhist Rakhine refugees had in 2017 fled conflict between the Myanmar military and the extremist Arakan Army (AA).
Most of the refugees left in a little over a year but 219 of them chose to stay back. “We made the necessary arrangement, provided them with vehicles and helped them cross over the border,” said the official.
Other State officials said the MHA had instructed the Mizoram government to deport the refugees and use force if necessary.
In a Facebook post, Lawngtlai’s Deputy Commissioner Shashanka Ala said the pushback was organised in the most humanitarian way possible.
SC dismisses plea to allow women to enter mosques
The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a plea by the State president of the Kerala unit of the Akhil Bharatha Hindu Mahasabha to allow Muslim women to enter mosques for offering prayers and to shed the “purdah” system.
A Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi refused to entertain the plea by Swamy Dethathreya Sai Swaroop Nath, who had challenged the Kerala High Court’s dismissal of his petition.
“Let a Muslim woman challenge it,” Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi observed orally. The petitioner said he “looks upon Muslim women as none other than his sisters.” “The segregation and discrimination shown against Muslim women by not allowing them to enter and pray in masjids in the main prayer hall along with their male counterparts is against Articles 21 and 14 of the Constitution,” the petition said.
Any strict adherence to the preachings and teachings of past centuries was “equivalent to the strict adherence to the size and type of clothes worn during childhood even during adulthood. This amounts to obstinacy,” it said.
On “purdah”, it said the “culture and concept of looking at a woman as a personal belonging has led to the purdah system”.
“In a hot country like ours, it is a cause of discomfort… Moreover, it gives anti-social elements a chance to misuse the apparel to conceal oneself and do anti-social acts,” it argued.
First indigenous carrier Vikrant to be delivered by 2021
India’s first Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC-I) Vikrant is at an advanced stage of construction and will be delivered in 2021, a senior Navy officer said on Monday. “Starting of gas turbines will take place in the third quarter of this year. Basic trials will be conducted in February-March next year and Contractor sea trials after that,” said Vice Admiral AK Saxena, Controller of Warship Production and Acquisition in the Navy.
SEBI gets teeth to probe new-age cases
The Finance Bill, 2019 has given the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) new powers to act against entities that tamper or destroy electronic databases or fail to furnish information when sought by the capital markets regulator, SEBI, who can now also impose penalties of up to Rs. 1 crore on brokers for certain violations.
These new powers assume significance as the regulator is in the midst of probing the leak of sensitive data through WhatsApp and also recently passed fresh orders on the National Stock Exchange (NSE) co-location matter, which had been challenged at the Securities Appellate Tribunal (SAT).
As per the Finance Bill, a new section — 15HAA — has been inserted in the SEBI Act that says if a person tampers with information to obstruct or influence an investigation, destroys regulatory data or tries to access data in an unauthorised manner then the entity could be penalised up to Rs. 10 crore or three times the unlawful gains, whichever is higher.
“For the purposes of this clause, a person shall be deemed to have altered, concealed or destroyed such information, record or document, in case he knowingly fails to immediately report the matter to the Board or fails to preserve the same till such information continues to be relevant to any investigation, inquiry, audit, inspection or proceeding, which may be initiated by the Board and conclusion thereof,” stated the Finance Bill.
Incidentally, the WhatsApp leak case or even the NSE co-location matter deal with the data being leaked through electronic means and unauthorised access to exchange data, which forms the base in most regulatory probes.
“The new section that has been inserted imposes penalty on unauthorised access to regulatory data and system databases though it is not yet clear whether ‘regulatory data’ and ‘database’ as mentioned in the section refers only to SEBI data or even those maintained by exchanges, depositories and clearing corporations,” said Sumit Agrawal, founder, RegStreet Law Advisors, while adding that this is important considering the fact that SEBI is dealing with matters such as the WhatsApp leak and the NSE matter.
The Centre has also explicitly allowed the regulator to impose a fine of up to Rs. 1 crore on brokers if they fail to issue a contract note to clients in the format as laid down by the exchanges. Earlier, only the lower limit of Rs. 1 lakh was prescribed.
RBI board finalises ‘Utkarsh 2022’
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) board, which met in New Delhi, finalised a three- year roadmap to improve regulation and supervision, among other functions of the central bank.
This medium term strategy — named Utkarsh 2022 — is in line with the global central banks’ plan to strengthen the regulatory and supervisory mechanism, sources aware of the board meeting told The Hindu.
“It is a three-year road map for medium term objective to be achieved for improving regulation, supervision of the central bank,” said a source.
“Worldwide, all central banks strengthen the regulatory and supervisory mechanism, everybody is formulating a long-term plan and a medium-term plan. So, the RBI has also decided it will formulate a pragramme to outline what is to be achieved in the next three years,” the source added.
An internal committee was formed, which was anchored by outgoing Deputy Governor Viral Acharya, to identify issues that needed to be addressed over the next three years. While around a dozen areas were identified by the committee, some board members felt that areas could be filtered and lesser number of areas can be identified for implementation in the next three years.
“The idea is that the central bank plays a proactive role and takes preemptive action to avoid any crisis,” said another source, highlighting the IL&FS debt default issue and the crisis of confidence the non-banking financial sector faced in the aftermath.
In a statement after the board meeting, the RBI said the board finalised the three -year medium-term strategy document of the Reserve Bank, ‘which covered, inter-alia, its mission and vision statement.’
The board also approved the RBI’s budget for the July 2019—June 2020 period. Other matters discussed by the board included issues relating to currency management and payment systems, the statement added.