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28th November Current Affairs

Pardoning Powers of Governor

In News:

Article 161 deals with the Pardoning Power of the Governor.

Details:

The Governor can grant pardons, reprieves, respites and remissions of punishments or suspend, remit and commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence against any law relating to a matter to which the executive power of the state extends.

The Governor cannot Pardon a Death Sentence. (The President has the power of Pardon a death Sentence).

The Governor cannot grant pardon, reprieve, respite, suspension, remission or commutation in respect to punishment or sentence by a court-martial. However, the President can do so.

Facts:

Pardon: means completely absolving the person of the crime and letting him go free. The pardoned criminal will be like a normal citizen.

Commutation: means changing the type of punishment given to the guilty into a less harsh one, for example, a death penalty commuted to a life sentence.

Reprieve: means a delay allowed in the execution of a sentence, usually a death sentence, for a guilty person to allow him some time to apply for Presidential Pardon or some other legal remedy to prove his innocence or successful rehabilitation.

Respite: means reducing the quantum or degree of the punishment to a criminal in view of some special circumstances, like pregnancy, mental condition etc.

Remission: means changing the quantum of the punishment without changing its nature, for example reducing twenty-year rigorous imprisonment to ten years.

Gilgit-Baltistan

In News:

Pakistan government has recently announced that it would give the Gilgit-Baltistan region “provisional provincial status”. When that happens, G-B will become the sixth official province of Pakistan.

Gilgit-Baltistan:

Gilgit-Baltistan is the northernmost territory administered by Pakistan, providing the country’s only territorial frontier, and thus a land route, with China, where it meets the Xinjiang Autonomous Region.

The region is an illegally occupied Indian territory as it was the part of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu & Kashmir as it existed in 1947 at its accession to India.

To G-B’s west is Afghanistan, to its south is Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and to the east J&K.

Its current status:

Though Pakistan, like India, links G-B’s fate to that of Kashmir, its administrative arrangements are different from those in PoK.

While PoK has its own Constitution that sets out its powers and their limits vis–vis Pakistan, G-B has been ruled mostly by executive fiat.

Until 2009, the region was simply called Northern Areas.

It had a Northern Areas Legislative Council with the Legislative Assembly. The NALC was an elected body, but had no more than an advisory role to the Islamabad.

Why the separate status?

Pakistan’s separate arrangement with G-B goes back to the circumstances under which it came to administer it. On November 1 1947, after J&K ruler Hari Singh had signed the Instrument of Accession with India.

Gilgit had been leased to the British by Hari Singh in 1935. The British returned it in August 1947.

Pakistan did not accept G-B’s accession although it took administrative control of the territory.

India went to the UN and a series of resolutions were passed in the Security Council on the situation in Kashmir.

Pakistan believed that neither G-B nor PoK should be annexed to Pakistan, as this could undermine the international case for a plebiscite in Kashmir.

It also reckons that in the event a plebiscite ever takes place in Kashmir, votes in G-B will be important too. This is why it is only being called “provisional” provincial status.

Move for a status-quo?

The plan to grant G-B provincial status is linked to CPEC and Chinese interest as well as a response to India’s abrogation of Art. 370.

While India has objected to the plan to make G-B a province of Pakistan and in the recent past asserted that it will take control of G-B, there is a realization that it is impossible to change the map now.

In this sense, it can be argued that the merger of G-B with Pakistan is a move that could help both countries put the past behind and move forward on the Kashmir issue, sometime in the future.

What do the people in G-B want?

The people of G-B have been demanding for years that it be made a part of Pakistan since there is virtual no connect with India.

Some have in the past demanded a merger with PoK, but the people of G-B have no real connect with Kashmir either.

They belong to several non-Kashmiri ethnicities and speak various languages, none of these Kashmiri.

A majority of the estimated 1.5 million G-B residents are Shias. There is anger against Pakistan for unleashing extremist sectarian militant groups that target Shias.

There is a movement for independence, but it has very little traction.

Special Courts for Trial against Legislators

In News:

Recently, a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court has said that the setting up special courts to expeditiously try sitting and former MPs and MLAs accused of various crimes is in public interest and will enhance faith in judiciary.

Details:

The Bench was considering a report filed by a committee of the Madras High Court that raised reservations over the setting up of special courts to exclusively try legislators for various offences.

Background:

In 2017, the Supreme Court had ordered that special courts be set up across the country to fast-track the long-pending trials of lawmakers.

Following this, 12 special courts were set up across 11 States exclusively to try sitting MPs and MLAs.

The special court in each State has jurisdiction over the entire State while the two in Delhi cover cases within the precincts of Delhi or “partly Delhi”.

In September 2020, SC-appointed amicus curiae (friend of the court), in his two reports, highlighted that despite the best efforts by the court to constitute special courts for trying cases against legislators, close to 4,442 criminal cases involving 2,556 sitting members of Parliament (MP) and members of legislative assemblies (MLAs) are pending. Reasons for delayed trial:

  • Stays granted by various high courts,
  • Insufficient special courts to exclusively try cases against MPs/MLAs,
  • Shortage of prosecutors and latches in prosecution,
  • Delayed investigation.

Considering the reports, the SC passed an order that criminal trials involving elected representatives will be monitored by a special bench of each high court and in cases where a trial has been stayed, the special bench will hear and decide on continuing or cancelling the stay, preferably within two months.

Expediting cases against legislators is required not only because of the rising wave of criminalization that is occurring in the politics in the country, but also due to the power that elected representatives wield to influence or hamper effective prosecution.

Reservation of the Committee of the Madras High Court: It has questioned the constitutional validity of setting up Special Courts to exclusively try MPs and MLAs for various crimes.

Special Courts can only be constituted by a statute and not by executive or judiciary.

The Special Courts should be “offence-centric” and not “offender-centric.”

For example, an MP/MLA, who commits an offence under the POCSO Act can only be tried by a Special Court created under the POCSO Act and there cannot be another Special Court exclusively for trial of an MP/MLA, who commits POCSO offence.

Further, it questioned how one Special Court could cover the cases across all districts of a State. Witnesses may face travelling and other issues.

It also referred to how cases are filed and withdrawn in a State when a government gets changed in that State.