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Current Events 14 May 2016



14 MAY 2016


SC upholds law on criminal defamation

In a judgment that holds far-reaching implications for political dissent and a free press, the Supreme Court upheld a colonial and pre-Constitutional law criminalising defamation.

The 268-page verdict dismissed apprehensions, raised by personalities across the political spectrum and media organisations championing the fundamental right under Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution, that criminal defamation may have a chilling effect on the freedom to circulate one’s independent view and “not to join in a chorus or sing the same song.”

A Bench of Justices Dipak Misra and P.C. Pant said the reputation of an individual was an equally important right and stood on the same pedestal as free speech. 

Place for dissent

The court held that criminalisation of defamation to protect individual dignity of life and reputation is a “reasonable restriction” on the fundamental right of free speech and expression. “The right to reputation is a constituent of Article 21 of the Constitution. It is an individual’s fundamental right,” Justice Misra observed.

'Defamation, a crime against society'

The Supreme Court which upheld the criminal defamation law  held that deliberate injury to the reputation of an individual is not a mere private wrong, worth only a civil case for damages.

Thus, Sections 499 and 500 of Lord Macaulay’s Indian Penal Code of 1860, which prescribes two years’ imprisonment for a person found guilty of defamation won the court’s approbation. 

The petitioners facing criminal defamation trial have been given eight weeks to approach the High Courts concerned under Article 226 and Section 482 of the Cr.PC to quash the proceedings against them. 


Free press not an absolute right: SC

The Supreme Court  said a free press is the heart and soul of political intercourse and is a public educator, but this freedom is not absolute and cannot be used by the media to cause injury to an individual’s precious reputation.

The court held that the press has to also observe “reasonable restrictions” and its purpose is to “advance the public interest by publishing facts and opinions without which a democratic electorate cannot make responsible judgments.”Threat of prosecution

The threat of prosecution alone is enough to suppress the truth being published, and also the investigating journalism which is necessary in a democracy,” Mr. Hegde argued.

The court records submissions that “reckless defamatory comments are unacceptable” as the press has “great power in impressing minds.”




Protection to public servants upheld

Calling public servants a “different class”, the Supreme Court  upheld the validity of a provision in the Cr.PC allowing them to file a complaint in a sessions court through a public prosecutor for alleged defamatory comments on their official acts.

In a judgment upholding the constitutional validity of criminal defamation, a Bench of Justices rejected demands to strike down Section 199(2) to (4) of the Cr.PC. The court rejected the argument that this section creates a separate class. It also dismissed the contention that the classification enumerated in this provision has no rationale and does not bear constitutional scrutiny.

‘Differential treatment’

Endorsing a public servant’s right to use the State machinery to fight a defamation case against another citizen, the apex court reasoned, “one is bound to tolerate criticism, dissent and discordance but not expected to tolerate defamatory attack.”

The court said this right of a public servant to file a defamation complaint is over and above his or her right under Section 199 (6) to personally file a complaint before a Magistrate. “Sub-section (6) gives to a public servant what every citizen has as he cannot be deprived of a right of a citizen. 


New IPR policy retains access to cheap drugs

The NDA government  announced the long-pending, “all-encompassing” National Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Policy.

The Policy, to be reviewed every five years, aims to push IPRs as a marketable financial asset, promote innovation and entrepreneurship, while protecting public interest including ensuring the availability of essential and life-saving drugs at affordable prices. 

Though the U.S. concerns include the “rejections” of patent applications for innovative pharmaceutical products due to “unpredictable” application of Section 3(d) of the (Indian) Patents Act, Mr. Jaitley clarified that the policy will ensure that no changes are made in that Section (which prevents ever-greening of drug patents) and the patent-disabling Compulsory Licensing regime.

IPR ensures safeguards for Indian pharma industry

The policy comes in the backdrop of the US Trade Representative (USTR), in its annual (2016 edition) Special 301 Report (on the global state of IPR protection and enforcement) retaining India on the ‘Priority Watch List’ this year for “lack of sufficient measurable improvements to its IPR framework.” 

In fact, the Policy states “India shall remain committed to the (World Trade Organisation’s) Doha Declaration on (WTO’s) Trade Related IPR Agreement (TRIPS) and Public Health.” It also says “India will continue to utilise the legislative space and flexibilities available in international treaties and the TRIPS Agreement.” These flexibilities include the sovereign right of countries to use provisions such as Section 3(d) and CLs for ensuring the availability of essential and life-saving drugs at affordable prices.

Policy at public cost

The IPR policy is driven by the agenda of IP maximalism, where IP owners’ rights will be maximised at the cost of public interest

To ensure strong and effective IPR laws, the Policy states India will engage constructively in the negotiation of international treaties and agreements in consultation with stakeholders. The government will examine accession to some multilateral treaties which are in India's interest; and, become signatory to those treaties which India has de facto implemented to enable it to participate in their decision making process, it added.

Encouraging IPR filings

The Policy also seeks to facilitate domestic IPR filings, for the entire value chain from IPR generation to commercialisation. Besides, it also aims to promote research and development through tax benefits. Another significant measure include the proposal to create an effective loan guarantee scheme to encourage start-ups.

GS III: Intellectual Property Rights 

Intellectual Property Rights policy may hinder drug access

India’s National Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) policy, unveiled, could pose a “serious” hurdle to allowing access to affordable drugs and the South Asian nation missed a chance to put in place a progressive policy, according to experts.

The policy left the country’s patent laws intact and specifically did not open up Section 3(d) of the Patents Act, which sets the standard for what is considered an invention in India, for reinterpretation.

Doha Declaration

The government has also underlined its commitment to the Doha Declaration, which reaffirmed flexibilities (like Compulsory Licensing) given under TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) agreement to member states. Under compulsory licensing the government allows someone else to produce a patented product or process without the consent of the patent owner.

Big weakness

With so much focus on turning all knowledge into patentable property, the big weakness in the document is that it is pitting innovation against access. There is no clarity in the section pertaining to commitment to Doha Declaration

The 301 report attacks section 3(d) of the Indian Patent Act, which has enabled the Indian government to establish stricter patentability standards for medicines -- allowing access to affordable generic drugs.

The report came in the backdrop of increased pressure on the Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion (DIPP), the agency that administers IP laws and policy -- to ensure stringent IP enforcement, fast track examination of patent claims of its companies and a moratorium on compulsory licensing.

International drug companies have often complained about price controls and marketing curbs by India.


CBI quizzing of ex-ISRO chief continues for second day

The Central Bureau of Investigation quizzed G. Madhavan Nair, former Secretary to the Department of Space and chairperson of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and governing body of Antrix Corporation Limited, on the second consecutive day in connection with the Antrix-Devas Multimedia deal case.

On March 16 last year, the CBI had registered a case against Bengaluru-based Devas Multimedia, then Antrix executive director R. Sridhara Murthi, R. Vishwanathan and M.G. Chandrasekhar (former ISRO scientist) of Forge Advisors LLC (US) and unknown officials of Department of Space, ISRO and Antrix.

The agency accused them of cheating, conspiracy and corruption, between 2004 and 2011, for allegedly favouring an ineligible company, which led to a wrongful gain of Rs.578 crore to Devas Multimedia.

The CBI has alleged that Mr. Murthi favoured Devas Multimedia by extending to it the rights for delivery of video, multimedia and information services to mobile receivers in vehicles and mobile phones via S-band, through Sat 6 and Sat 6A satellites and terrestrial systems in India.


NIA drops charges against Pragya, five others in Malegaon blast case

National Investigation Agency dropped all charges against Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and five others in the 2008 Malegaon blast case, while charges under the stringent MCOCA law have been given up against all the other 10 accused, including Lt. Col. Prasad Shrikant Purohit.

Sufficient proof not found: NIA

Lieutenant Colonel Shrikant Prasad Purohit and Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur had moved several applications before the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court challenging the charge sheet and applicability of the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) in the case.

The charge sheet points to the time lag between the incident and the probe being handed over to NIA.


Govt. pulled up for delay in MGNREGA payments

Directing the Centre and the States to “make all efforts to encourage needy persons to come forward and take advantage of the MGNREGA scheme”, the Supreme Court  slammed the government for not giving compensation to workers for delayed payment of wages under MGNREGA even during the current drought.

‘Shape up’

The court said it was also regrettable that the government cleared the pending wage bill for 2015-16 only during the pendency of this case and underlined that “The Government of India must shape up in this regard”.


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