17 MARCH 2016
GS II: POLITY
Govt. admits sedition definition is wide
The government admitted in the Rajya Sabha that the definition of sedition under the law was “very wide” and agreed to an all-party meeting to discuss the issue after the Law Commission, which is examining the matter, submits its report.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh said this after members raised the issue in the wake of JNU students having been charged with sedition. Kiren Rijiju, said that Anybody who speaks against the government can be booked under sedition law. Amendments have been suggested because the definition is very wide. That is why concerns have been raised. I would like to ask the Law Commission to consider a very comprehensive review. Mr. Rijiju said that the Commission, in its 42nd report, had noted that the sedition law was “defective” but did not favour its deletion.
He said that in another report too, the Commission sought a change in the definition but did not favour the scrapping of the law.
Rejecting the Opposition’s charge that the NDA government was misusing the law, Mr. Rijiju said: “It is registered in Telangana, not Delhi,” alluding to the sedition case filed against Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
Quoting figures from a report of the National Crime Records Bureau, he said 47 cases under the sedition law were reported across the country in 2014, of which 16 were registered in Bihar and 28 arrests were made. “The second highest is in Jharkhand, followed by Kerala and Odisha,” he said.
Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad raised apprehensions that given the wide definition of the sedition law “half of the parties will be anti-national if there is a ban on speaking against the government.” He also wondered whether those engaged in “communal divide” will also be brought within the ambit of sedition law after the review.
“The sedition law needs to be revisited. You take action against those who raise slogans against the country. But even more dangerous are those who are engaged in carrying out communal divide. Will this also come under the new sedition law,” Mr. Azad asked. Mr. Rijiju said that since the JNU case was in court, its pros and cons should not be debated. He, however, added: “I am not defending the action of the Delhi Police. I am just stating the facts.”
GS II: BRICS
India to discuss trade curbs, projects at BRICS meeting
The government is preparing a list of priority projects for which investments could be sought from other BRICS nations, official sources said.
Official sources told that the list of big projects, in addition to a proposal to set up a mechanism to expeditiously resolve non-tariff barriers (NTBs) that are hurting goods trade between BRICS member countries, will be taken up for discussion during the next month’s meeting of the grouping’s Contact Group on Economic and Trade Issues (CGETI).
Investments would be sought for projects, mostly in infrastructure sector, from other member nations viz. Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa.The CGETI meeting, which will be attended by high-level government officials, sets the agenda for the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) trade and economy ministers’ meeting.
India is chairing the influential bloc BRICS for an 11-month term till December 2016. India’s list of projects will be similar to what Russia brought out during its term as the chair of the BRICS Group last year.The Russian list had included about 60 projects in oil and gas, coal, water resources, high-tech manufacturing, mining, engineering, aviation, agriculture, transport and logistics, information technology and satellite communication, many of which were to involve participation from companies, including those from India.
India is also likely to put up a proposal at the CGETI meeting to boost services trade through relaxed visa norms. Besides, India will seek cooperation between BRICS countries on standards and technical regulations in goods and services trade. Russia and China are pitching for measures easing of norms to boost e-commerce trade. In another initiative, Russia and Brazil are demanding a mechanism to link the single window clearance mechanisms in the BRICS countries for better trade facilitation.
Russia had also sought a mechanism to regularly discuss issues related to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) in BRICS countries as well as the creation of a BRICS MSME Internet portal. China is keen on improved cooperation in intellectual property rights.The sources said before the end of its term as the BRICS Chair, India will also hold a trade fair and an investor forum to promote the government’s flagship schemes such as ‘Make In India’, ‘Digital India’, ‘Smart City Mission’, ‘Start-up India’ and the ‘National Mission for Clean Ganga’.These events meant to attract more investments from the BRICS countries into India could coincide with the next BRICS Summit (the eighth), slated for October this year most likely in New Delhi, the sources said.
India’s work on a list of projects in the country comes even as the BRICS New Development Bank has begun its process to select priority projects. These include in sectors such as renewable energy and infrastructure.
GS II: POLITY-CAG
Special audit of telcos order surprises CAG
Observers within the government, the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India and outside have expressed surprise at the NDA government’s move to order a special audit of telecom companies, at a time when a Supreme Court-sanctioned CAG audit has reported a significant loss of revenue share to the exchequer because of underreporting by these companies.
The reaction comes after the government ordered a special audit of telecom companies for the period 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11 just hours after a CAG report tabled in Parliament indicated a loss of Rs. 12,489 crore to the exchequer because six telecom operators, including Airtel, Idea and Vodafone, understated their revenues by a whopping Rs. 46,045.75 crore in the 2006-10 period.
Former CAG Mr. Vinod Rai told that the federal auditor has unmatched capabilities as far as auditing of telecom companies is concerned.The CAG’s audits of 2G and several other major scandals were carried out under Mr. Rai’s supervision. He said the strategy of the “government must be to recover revenue if it was forgone, and plug the loopholes.”
He also said that the government should be ordering a concurrent audit of telecom companies so that it receives its fair share of revenues in time. “It should also be expanding CAG audit from 1999 [when revenue sharing started] to 2006, and also from 2010 to the present day,” he said.
The CAG report covers only the four-year period from 2006-07 to 2009-10.
Total revenue understated by telecom companies could be over a lakh crore rupees, and together these companies would have to pay the government over Rs. 30,000 crore without fines, if the audit covers the entire period between 1999 and 2016.
The government putting its energy into combining all the cases filed all over the country by various companies to stall payment of revenue share, and bring them to the Supreme Court to get a judgment that could pave the way for getting its revenue.
With the Supreme Court enabling the audit of telecom companies .The CAG picked the four-year period so that an audit could be completed without delay. It has not covered the period from 1999 to 2006, and from 2010 to now, when the telecom business has boomed.
“The CAG report is a clear indication that the rest of the period should also be audited. Which authority, other than CAG, has over 1,200 auditors who are familiar with the telecom sector,” a CAG source said.Commenting on the CAG findings, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the special audit of the operators’ books would be done for three years from 2009, to check for underreporting of revenues.“I have taken a grim view of this because this is again a legacy issue of the previous government. Even though in terms of well-established parliamentary procedure, the report will go to the Public Accounts Committee, I have directed Secretary, Telecom, and Member, Finance, to put in place a robust system in order that such gaps do not recur,” Mr. Prasad said.
The two telecom industry bodies representing the operators said in response to the CAG audit: “The issues pointed out by the CAG pertain to those disputes [regarding interpretation of revenue share], which have either been settled or stayed by various courts. We would like to reiterate that our member-companies follow the highest standards of corporate governance and have always been in compliance with all regulations.”
The telecom operators have in the past opposed auditing of their books by the CAG, and fought legal cases up to the Supreme Court.
GS II: POLITY –AADHAAR
Parliament passes Aadhaar Bill amid acrimonious debates
Even as the Opposition aired its concerns over the possibility of mass surveillance, Parliament passed the controversial Aadhaar Bill, 2016, after acrimonious debates in both Houses. In a day marked by high drama, hours after the Opposition succeeded in pushing through five amendments to the Bill in the Rajya Sabha, they were rejected in the Lok Sabha.
The amendments were moved by Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, and were passed with a majority vote in favour.
Arguing that privacy was not a fundamental right, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told the Lok Sabha that the legislation’s primary objective was delivery of benefits, subsidies and services to the people. He sought to reassure the House that any gaps in the law could be improved with the passage of time, but the Opposition remained unconvinced. It argued that the privacy of a billion people could be compromised. The Opposition also objected to the presentation of the legislation as a Money Bill as this ensured that it was passed without the approval of the Rajya Sabha. Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi told that they reserve the right to take recourse to all available alternatives, including a court challenge. By no stretch of imagination, is the Aadhaar Bill a Money Bill