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It’s time to define limits of sedition, says SC

In News:

The Supreme Court has said “it is time to define the limits of sedition”.

Details:

The observation was made while dealing with the writ petitions filed by two news channels seeking the quashing of FIR and contempt petitions.

What’s the case?

The Andhra Government had slapped charges against two Telugu news channels — TV5 and ABN Andhra Jyothi for alleged sedition in showing ‘offensive’ speeches of two leaders.

Petitioners’ arguments:

They said the government’s action is a violation of the earlier SC order (April 30), which restrains the arrest and prosecution against citizens for ventilating grievances with respect to Covid-19 issues.

What next?

The court has sought the response of the state government within four weeks on the pleas of the channels which are charged for various offences including the harsh penal offence of sedition.

General observations made by the Court on Sedition:

It is time we define the limits of sedition.

Provisions of 124A (sedition) and 153 (promoting enmity between classes) of the IPC require interpretation, particularly on the issue of the rights of press and free speech.

Background:

The sedition law has been indiscriminately used against critics, journalists, social media users, activists and citizens for airing their grievances about the governments COVID-19 management, or even for seeking help to gain medical access, equipment, drugs and oxygen cylinders, especially during the second wave of the pandemic.

What is sedition?

Section 124A of the IPC states, “Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the government established by law in shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.”

Need for a proper definition?

The sedition law has been in controversy for far too long. Often the governments are criticized for using the law — Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) — against vocal critics of their policies.

Therefore, this Section is seen as a restriction of individuals’ freedom of expression and falls short of the provisions of reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech under Article 19 of the Constitution.

The law has been in debate ever since it was brought into force by the colonial British rulers in 1860s. Several top freedom movement leaders including Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were booked under the sedition law.

Mahatma Gandhi described it as the “prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen.”

Nehru had described it as “highly objectionable and obnoxious” which “should have no place in any body of laws that we might pass”. Nehru said, “The sooner we get rid of it the better.”

Relevant Supreme Court judgements:

The Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar case (1962):

While dealing with offences under Section 124A of the IPC, a five-judge Supreme Court constitutional bench had, in the Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar case (1962), laid down some guiding principles.

The court ruled that comments-however strongly worded-expressing disapprobation of the actions of the government without causing public disorder by acts of violence would not be penal.

The Balwant Singh vs State of Punjab (1995) case:

In this case, the Supreme Court had clarified that merely shouting slogans, in this case Khalistan Zindabad, does not amount to sedition. Evidently, the sedition law is being both misunderstood and misused to muzzle dissent.

January 30 now ‘World Neglected Tropical Diseases Day’

In News:

Delegates at the 74th World Health Assembly unanimously adopted a proposal by the United Arab Emirates. to declare January 30 as ‘World Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) Day’’.

What are Neglected Tropical Diseases?

They are infections that are most common among marginalised communities in the developing regions of Africa, Asia and the Americas.

Caused by a variety of pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, protozoa and parasitic worms.

They generally receive less funding for research and treatment than malaises like tuberculosis, HIV-AIDS and malaria.

Some examples include snakebite envenomation, scabies, yaws, trachoma, Leishmaniasis and Chagas disease.

The WHO’s new road map for 2021–2030 calls for three strategic shifts to end NTDs:

  • From measuring process to measuring impact.
  • From disease-specific planning and programming to collaborative work across sectors.
  • From externally driven agendas reliant to programmes that are country-owned and country-financed.

Why was January 30 chosen?

It was on this day that the London Declaration on NTDs was adopted, January 30, 2012.

The first World NTD Day was celebrated informally in 2020.

Why do NTDs need special attention?

NTDs affect more than a billion people globally. They are preventable and treatable. However, these diseases — and their intricate interrelationships with poverty and ecological systems — continue to cause devastating health, social and economic consequences.

Spread:

Infections are caused by unsafe water, poor housing conditions and poor sanitation.

Children are the most vulnerable to these diseases, which kill, impair or permanently disable millions of people every year, often resulting in life-long physical pain and social stigmatization.

Policies on neglected diseases research in India:

The National Health Policy (2017) sets an ambition to stimulate innovation to meet health needs and ensure that new drugs are affordable for those who need them most, but it does not specifically tackle neglected diseases.

The National Policy on Treatment of Rare Diseases (2018) includes infectious tropical diseases and identifies a need to support research on treatments for rare diseases. It has not yet prioritised diseases and areas for research funding or how innovation would be supported.

What is the negative imports list for defence?

In News:

The Defence Ministry has notified the second negative import list — now renamed as the ‘positive indigenisation list’ — of 108 items that can now be only purchased from indigenous sources. The new list takes the total number on the list to 209.

Details:

The list comprises complex systems, sensors, simulator, weapons and ammunitions like helicopters, next generation corvettes, Air Borne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) systems, tank engines.

Significance and implications of this move:

Recognises the potential of local defence industry.

Invigorate impetus to domestic Research and Development by attracting fresh investment into technology and manufacturing capabilities.

Provides an excellent opportunity for ‘start-ups’ as also Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).

What is the negative imports list policy?

Introduced in August 2020, the negative list essentially means that the Armed Forces—Army, Navy and Air Force—will only procure such items from domestic manufacturers.

The manufacturers could be private sector players or Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs).

Why was this policy needed? What will be the impacts?

As per Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, India has been the second largest importer between 2014 and 2019 with US$ 16.75 billion worth of imports during this period.

The government wants to reduce the dependence on imported items in defence and give a shot in the arm to the domestic defence manufacturing industry.

By denying the possibility of importing the items on the negative list, the domestic industry is given the opportunity to step up and manufacture them for the needs of the forces.