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Current Events 9 March 2016



9 MARCH 2016



Constitution Bench to decide if MPs, MLAs can be disqualified upon framing of charges

Opening its third chapter against corruption in politics, the Supreme Court decided to lay down the law on whether the country should even wait until a corrupt legislator is convicted to have him disqualified from Parliament or Assembly.

A three-judge Bench, headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi, referred to a Constitution Bench the question whether a legislator facing criminal trial should be disqualified at the very stage of framing of charges against him by the trial court. Should his disqualification be kept in abeyance till he is convicted?

The fact that the Supreme Court referred the matter to Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur under Article 145 (3) to set up a Constitution Bench of five judges indicates its positive resolve to settle this “substantial question of law” by interpreting the Constitution.

The court has been tightening its grip on corruption in politics from 2013 when it first held that legislators, on conviction, would be immediately disqualified from holding membership of the House without being given three months’ time for appeal, as was the case before. Before this verdict, convicted lawmakers would file an appeal in the higher court and continue in the House.

In March 2014, the Supreme Court passed an interim order that criminal trials, especially those dealing with corruption and heinous offences, involving elected representatives should be completed in a year. This order prevented lawmakers from sitting in the House as their cases dragged on.

Meenakshi Arora, who appeared for the Election Commission in the case, said that the present reference to the Constitution Bench was the third chapter of a “clean-up act” started in 2013.

The hearing was on petitions filed by the Public Interest Foundation and former Chief Election Commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh.

Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act deals with disqualification on conviction for certain offences: A person convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for varying terms under Sections 8 (1) (2) and (3) shall be disqualified from the date of conviction and shall continue to be disqualified for a further period of six years since his release.

In 2013, the Bench found it unconstitutional that convicted persons could be disqualified from contesting elections but could continue to be Members of Parliament and State Legislatures once elected.




TN, Centre challenge SC verdict on government ads

Tamil Nadu joined forces with the Centre to challenge the Supreme Court's logic that featuring photographs of politicians, except the Prime Minister, President and the Chief Justice of India, in government advertisements will lead to formation of “personality cults”.

Advertisements featuring one personality alone, like the Prime Minister, in a federal democracy is "pernicious" and may lead to personality cults, Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi, representing both the Centre and Tamil Nadu government, argued.

The States, including Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, are seeking a review of the Supreme Court judgment imposing a ban on photographs of politicians, including Chief Ministers, from appearing in government ads.

The judgment by a bench led by Justice Ranjan Gogoi, however, had exempted the Prime Minister, President and Chief Justice of India from this ban.

"There is no difference between a Prime Minister and a Chief Minister in a federal structure. There is no basis for you saying that these three (PM, President and CJI) alone are exempted. There is no intrinsic difference between one minister or the other" Mr. Rohatgi submitted.

"So for five years of a government, you are saying use only the Prime Minister's face on the ads. Other ministers become faceless, nameless. Nobody else can be used in the ads. This will become pernicious and will lead to personality cult," Mr. Rohatgi argued.

Mr. Rohatgi said a picture has a far more visual impact than "cold-blooded written words" and is part of the fundamental right to information enshrined in Article 19 (1) of the Constitution.

"The idea of 'information' includes not only the written word but also pictures," Mr. Rohatgi said.

He said the face used in the advertisement is both a catalyst and medium to send across the public message from the government to the public.

"Advertising campaigns for polio, health policies, cultural events which bring the nation together need well-known faces so that people will be attracted to look at them. This Court should not have got into the sanctity of it (using photos in advertisements), but having done so, how can this court say only these three are exempted?" Mr. Rohatgi argued.

The AG said the Supreme Court should be open to correct its own errors.


Upgrading India’s cyber security architecture

Two things set aside India’s digital spaces from that of major powers such as the United States and China: design and density. India is a net information exporter. Its information highways point west, carrying with them the data of millions of Indians. This is not a design flaw, but simply reflects the popularity of social media platforms and the lack of any serious effort by the Indian government to restrict the flow of data. Equally important is the density of India’s cyberspace. Nearly 500 million Indians use the Internet today, but they do not access the Internet from the same devices. Apple’s market share in the U.S., for instance, is 44 per cent, but iPhones account for less than 1 per cent in India. The massive gap between the security offered by the cheapest phone in the Indian market and a high-end smartphone makes it impossible for regulators to set legal and technical standards for data protection.

With little control over the hardware used by Indian Internet users as well as the information that is carried through them, India’s national security architecture faces a difficult task in cyberspace.


India’s infrastructure is susceptible to four kinds of digital intrusions:

·        espionage, which involves intruding into systems to steal information of strategic or commercial value;

·        cybercrime, referring to electronic fraud or other acts of serious criminal consequence;

·        attacks, intended at disrupting services or systems for a temporary period; and

·        war, caused by a large-scale and systematic digital assault on India’s critical installations.


India’s present Cyber Security authorities:

·        Indian authorities have spent the lion’s share of their resources tackling localised cybercrime while responding to major attacks on a case-by-case basis.

·        Recognising the strategic dimensions of cyberspace, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) created the position of the National Cyber Security Coordinator in 2014, a welcome first step.

·        There is, however, no national security architecture today that can assess the nature of cyber threats and respond to them effectively.

·        India’s civilian institutions have their own firefighting agencies, and the armed forces have their own insulated platforms to counter cyber attacks.

·        The current cybersecurity policy, articulated in 2013 by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, is basically a statement of first principles. The NCSA should be guided by a document outlining India’s cyber strategy, much like its nuclear doctrine.

·        India currently has a top layer of agencies performing cyber operations — the National Technical Research Organisation, the National Intelligence Grid, and the National Information Board, to name a few — but there is also an additional layer of ministries performing governance functions. The Ministries of Defence, Home, External Affairs and IT should be part of a policy wing that provides their assessments of local and regional developments. India’s intelligence agencies should separately provide their consolidated inputs to aid the operations of the NCSA.


India needs to build a national security architecture

·        Unlike nuclear energy, a neat division between civilian and military use of cyberspace is difficult. Just as the Indian Army may face serious cyber attacks from non-state actors in Pakistan, the digital assets of a major Indian conglomerate — say, the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation — may be taken down by a military. The asymmetric character of digital warfare requires a multi-agency organisation that is technically equipped, but also bases its decision on sound strategy and regular policy inputs.

·        What could such an agency look like? The first requirement is to house it with permanent and semi-permanent staff that is technically proficient in cyber operations, both defensive and offensive. India faces a shortage of officers trained in creating and breaking encrypted platforms as well as using digital networks for intelligence gathering. Were such a National Cyber Security Agency (NCSA) to be created, it should have a functional “nucleus” or secretariat. The second requirement is to coordinate the agency’s policy functions and operations.

·        Last, India should not hesitate to build its offensive cyber capabilities. This would involve the development of software designed to intrude, intercept and exploit digital networks. The deployment of cyber weapons is not a low-cost affair, as the digital trail allows adversaries to track and possibly predict the development of future technologies. Nevertheless, a cyber arsenal serves the key function of strategic deterrence. India’s cyber command should be the primary agency responsible for the creation and deployment of such weapons

·        Given the power entrusted in such an agency — as with India’s nuclear command, it would report to the PMO — it should have political or parliamentary oversight. In particular, the use of its capabilities against Indian citizens or domestic networks must be guided and supervised by a legal framework.


Immediate steps to be taken to ensure cyber security:

·        Whatever final form India’s cyber command takes, the government would do well to pursue a two-pronged strategy in the interim.


·        First, advocate restraint in cyberspace as a global norm. India is an active participant in discussions around the Tallinn Manual, which is a set of non-governmental guidelines for engagement during war. A group of government experts will convene later this year under the aegis of the UN — India is expected to be at the table — to discuss norms that trigger cyber war. At these forums, India should underline the basic premise that it is impossible to thwart all cyber attacks, and therefore encourage nation-states to restrain from deploying cyber weapons.

·        Second, the government should draft recruitment guidelines to hire and train a cadre of cyber specialists. Attracting such officers may require high pay scales and other benefits — a model the U.S. has aggressively pursued — but they would bring in India’s best minds. If India’s cyberspace has built-in vulnerabilities, it also has a highly skilled IT workforce, which should be harnessed by the government for strategic use.




NGT hits out at Centre over Art of Living event


The Ministry of Water Resources informed National Green Tribunal (NGT) that it has not granted permission for ‘World Cultural Festival’ scheduled from March 11 to 13. The event is organised by Art of Living foundation.



* NGT pulled up the Ministry of Environment & Forests for not filing affidavit as asked by it regarding environment clearances.

* The NGT also asked Delhi Pollution Control Committee if it can allow putting enzymes in river Yamuna without examination.

* The NGT asked Centre, Delhi govt and DDA if any environment impact assessment was carried out regarding preparation & consequential effects of AOL event.

* Delhi govt informed NGT that CPWD has asked AOL to build a separate stage for PM due to issues over structural safety.

* NGT asked AOL to submit details of expenses on construction of stage, levelling of flood plains, removal of debris and pontoon bridge.

* Delhi govt informed NGT that cops, after inspection, have asked AOL to show structural safety clearance of pontoon bridge & vehicle parking clearance.


A united opposition in Rajya Sabha slammed the Government for allowing Indian Army to be used for a private event of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living foundation, saying the event itself on the ecologically fragile flood plains of Yamuna was an environmental disaster.

Government sprung to the defence of the ‘Art of Living’ guru saying his intentions cannot be doubted as he was committed to protecting environment. The event is being organised with all permissions, it claimed adding that the issue cannot be raised in the House as it was being heard by the National Green Tribunal (NGT).



Cooling the earth down

The Paris Conference last year primarily discussed plans to reduce carbon emissions, which is understandable as this is the most immediate item for action. But other measures for dealing with global warming, in particular climate engineering, may soon acquire more importance.

Today, climate engineering efforts are viewed either as secondary measures to be undertaken alongside reducing emissions or as technologies which have not matured enough to warrant discussion by world leaders. But the situation can change dramatically in the future. Even if all the national commitments made in Paris are fulfilled, the effects of global warming will inevitably worsen in the near term. As nations struggle to reduce emissions even further, alternative solutions using engineering innovations will increasingly gain currency.

A variety of such proposals for battling global warming are already on the table — a few are being tried out and others are being seriously researched. Unfortunately, some of them also carry the risk, if things go wrong, of causing unintended environmental disasters. Climate engineering experts have been addressing these problems for years but such awareness has not trickled down to the larger intelligentsia to form a body of educated opinion that can help governments decide on which techniques to adopt and how best to govern and regulate them.


Two categories of climate change efforts:

Most climate engineering efforts can be divided into two categories :

1.      Management of carbon :

·        It is directed towards removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

·        A prominent example is carbon capture and storage (CCS), where some of the carbon dioxide (CO) being emitted by coal-fired power stations is recaptured by physically sucking it in and transporting it elsewhere to be sequestered underground.

·        The first 115 MW CCS retrofitted coal power plant commenced operation at Boundary Dam in Canada in 2014. The CO captured there is transported and pumped into nearby oilfields for enhanced oil recovery. This has reduced its CO emission by one million tonne each year. Studies are on in the U.K. and other nations on the feasibility of similar installations there.

·        Another method for removing CO from the atmosphere is to increase forest cover as plants will absorb some of the unwanted CO. Increased forestation is part of India’s strategy for reducing CO .

2.      Solar Radiation Management (SRM)

·        It is more ambitious, but also more worrisome form of climate engineering

·        Here the plan is to reduce global warming by cutting down the heat absorbed by our planet from the sun.

·        Among the techniques being considered are marine cloud brightening, cirrus cloud manipulation and stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI).


Stratospheric Aerosol Injection (SAI).

·        SAI, the boldest and also the most risky of climate engineering interventions, involves spraying into the stratosphere fine, light-coloured particles designed to reflect back part of the solar radiation before it reaches and warms the earth. SAI proponents claim that this could bring down the global temperature by as much as 1°C — a substantial amount in the climate change context.

·        The optimal gases for injection, such as sulphur dioxide (SO), can be produced in abundance. Furthermore, just a few airplanes specially redesigned for the purpose may suffice for injecting the required aerosol into the stratosphere. There are also precedents from nature. The 1991 volcanic eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines injected 20 megatonnes of SO into the stratosphere, cooling the globe significantly for a couple of years.

·        But SAI also has the potential for disastrous side effects, crossing national boundaries. The Pinatubo volcanic eruption is also said to have reduced precipitation, soil moisture, and river flow in many regions. Injection of sulphur compounds into the stratosphere is likely to increase acid deposition on the ground and also contribute to ozone layer depletion. Apart from such “known unknowns”, there could also be, to use the catchphrase, the “unknown unknowns”.

·        The global climate system is too complex for current computational techniques to predict all possible consequences of tampering with it. Once the aerosol has been injected into the atmosphere, it cannot be removed. Yet, if for any reason the injection, once begun, is discontinued prematurely, there can be rapid re-warming. That, ironically, could do more damage than the gradual global warming that we are seeking to combat.

·        SAI research is still at a theoretical and laboratory level. Development of these techniques to large-scale deployment is years away. In that case, why should the larger community worry about it now? The reason is SRM interventions could happen sooner than one thinks. The technology does not seem to be astronomically expensive by standards of national budgets. Using a few airplanes to inject the necessary amount of aerosol to bring the temperature down by one degree could cost only a few billion dollars — well within the reach of even developing countries.


Need for regulation:

·        As climate change worsens, some coastlands could go underwater and other regions could suffer extreme heat and severe droughts causing massive human suffering. Under such pressure, and in the absence of international regulatory regimes, the affected nation, even a small developing one, may well resort to using whatever SAI technology is available by then in the international market. In their desperation, possible harmful effects on other countries may not weigh heavily on their decision-making. Meanwhile, just the fear of possible adverse side effects could lead other nations to take preventive action against the “perpetrator”. Nations have gone to war for less.

·        One simple way to deal with this problem is to just ban further research in these fields. In fact, some climate scientists have already suggested this. They also fear that even the possibility of SRM interventions may undermine efforts to reduce carbon emissions. But a blanket ban on SRM would be unwise and difficult to implement. Technology, benign or malevolent, has a way of continuing to advance. Besides, banning all SRM research will amount to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

·        The goal of SRM is to mitigate damage done by carbon emissions. If there is some chance of it succeeding safely, it would be unwise to abandon it at this stage. Abandonment would also leave SRM technologies dangling midway, insufficiently tested or refined. That may nevertheless not deter some desperate climate change-afflicted nation from deploying it, leading to disaster.

·        It is only through continuation of responsible research in climate engineering, done under proper regulatory oversight, that the limitations and risks of such interventions can be fully understood and provide the basis for informed decision-making.

·        That will call for international governance mechanisms for overseeing the research and development and possible deployment of climate engineering techniques. This will take years to negotiate and set up. Criteria for permissible work will have to be developed, along with expertise for verification of compliance.



Locals eating radioactive food 30 years after Chernobyl: Greenpeace tests

Economic crises convulsing Russia, Ukraine and Belarus mean testing in areas contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster has been cut or restricted, Greenpeace said, and people continue to eat and drink foods with dangerously high radiation levels.

According to scientific tests conducted on behalf of the environmental campaigning group, overall contamination from key isotopes such as caesium-137 and strontium-90 has fallen somewhat, but lingers, especially in places such as forests.

People in affected areas are still coming into daily contact with dangerously high levels of radiation from the April 1986 explosion at the nuclear plant that sent a plume of radioactive fallout across large swathes of Europe.

Ukraine is suffering economic hardship, worsened by a pro-Russian insurgency in its eastern territories, while Russia and Belarus are also experiencing financial pressures.

 “And just as this contamination will be with them for decades to come, so will be the related impacts on their health. Thousands of children, even those born 30 years after Chernobyl, still have to drink radioactively contaminated milk.”

Greenpeace said it had also conducted tests in areas contaminated by the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan where an earthquake and tsunami damaged a nuclear plant and caused a substantial radiation leak.

As with Chernobyl, forests around the accident site were found to have become repositories of radioactive contamination that could not be cleaned up.

Greenpeace said the Japanese government's decontamination efforts had so far been inadequate and left the door open to recontamination of areas deemed to have been cleaned.



No legal obligation to NPT, says India


Weeks before the Nuclear Security Summit, the government reminded the world that India does not have any “legal obligation” to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

“Government believes that given our consistent and principled position on the NPT, to which India is not a party, its provisions cannot be extended to India as a legal obligation,” a diplomatic source said. This was in response to a question on the case that Marshall Islands from the Pacific Ocean region has lodged at the International Court of Justice against all the major nuclear states, including India, for possessing nuclear weapons and for not supporting a global test ban pact.

India has sent a legal team to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, where Marshall Islands has at present instituted proceedings against India, “contending breach of customary law obligations following from the Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

Article VI of the NPT demands that each member state of the NPT undertake “negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

India has already made a written presentation to the ICJ reiterating that Marshall Islands’ argument regarding the obligations flowing from Article VI of the NPT is not valid before India which is not a signatory to the NPT. “India has reiterated its position on global nuclear disarmament,” an official said. India, the official said, continued to support non-discriminatory global nuclear disarmament.

The case from the Marshall Islands has been on the agenda of the ICJ since the tiny archipelago in the Pacific Ocean lodged the case in 2014 seeking greater international attention to the issue of comprehensive test ban treaty. Ever since, Marshall Islands’ campaign has acquired stronger support, especially since it suffered due to the nuclear tests conducted in its territory by the U.S.

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