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Current Affairs 25 March 2023

CONTENTS

  1. Defamation Law
  2. AFSPA and the Northeast
  3. National Pension Scheme
  4. National Green Tribunal
  5. Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana

Defamation Law


Context:

A day after the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court in Surat convicted former Congress president Rahul Gandhi in a criminal defamation case over his Modi surname remark, the Lok Sabha Secretariat issued a notification to disqualify Mr. Gandhi as the Lok Sabha member from Wayanad.

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Details
  2. Defamation: Meaning, History and Law in India
  3. Free Speech versus Defamation Laws: The Indian Perspective
  4. Previous Defamation Judgements in India
  5. Legal Consequences of Conviction for a Lawmaker/MP in India

Details:

The case was filed under Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections 499 and 500, dealing with defamation.

Section 499 of IPC:
  • It defines defamation as an act of harming a person’s reputation through spoken or written words, signs, or visible representations.
  • Such words or representations can be made with the intention to cause harm to the reputation of that person or with the knowledge that the imputation will harm their reputation.
Section 500 of IPC:
  • It stipulates that a person found guilty of criminal defamation can face imprisonment for up to two years.
  • The convicted person can also be ordered to pay a fine, in addition to or in lieu of imprisonment.

Defamation: Meaning, History and Law in India

Meaning of Defamation:
  • Defamation refers to the act of making false statements about a person with the intention of damaging their reputation when viewed through the eyes of an ordinary person.
  • Such false statements can be communicated through spoken or written words, and must be intentional and unprivileged.
History of Defamation:
  • Defamation can be traced back to Roman and German law, where abusive chants were punishable by death in Roman law.
  • In modern times, defamation laws vary from country to country, but they all seek to protect a person’s reputation from false statements made by others.
Defamation Law in India:
  • Article 19 of the Indian Constitution grants freedom of speech to its citizens, subject to certain reasonable restrictions.
  • Defamation is one of the exemptions to this freedom, along with contempt of court and incitement to an offense.
  • In India, defamation can be both a civil wrong and a criminal offense, depending on the objective of the legal action.
  • A civil suit seeks monetary compensation for the wrong done, while a criminal case seeks to punish the wrongdoer with a jail term and send a message to others not to commit such acts.
  • In a criminal case, defamation must be established beyond a reasonable doubt, but in a civil case, damages can be awarded based on probabilities.

Free Speech versus Defamation Laws: The Indian Perspective

  • There is an ongoing debate about whether defamation laws violate the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, which grants freedom of speech and expression to all citizens.
  • However, the Supreme Court of India has ruled that the criminal provisions of defamation are constitutionally valid and do not conflict with the right to free speech.
  • The Court has also held that defamation can be treated as a public wrong, and criminal defamation is not a disproportionate restriction on free speech since protecting one’s reputation is a fundamental and human right.
  • The Supreme Court relied on judgments from other countries and affirmed the right to reputation as part of the right to life under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
  • Using the principle of ‘balancing of fundamental rights’, the Court held that the right to freedom of speech and expression cannot be given so much leeway that even an individual’s reputation, which is a component of Article 21, is ignored.

Previous Defamation Judgements in India

Mahendra Ram Vs. Harnandan Prasad (1958):
  • In this case, the defendant had written a letter in Urdu, which the plaintiff could not understand.
  • The defendant was aware that the plaintiff required assistance to read the letter, yet he sent it to him anyway.
  • The court held that this act of the defendant amounted to defamation.
Ram Jethmalani Vs. Subramanian Swamy (2006):
  • Dr. Swamy was held liable for defamation by the High Court of Delhi for making a statement that Ram Jethmalani had received money from a banned organization to protect the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu from the case of assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.
Shreya Singhal Vs. Union of India (2015):
  • This landmark judgement dealt with internet defamation.
  • It held unconstitutional Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 which punishes for sending offensive messages through communication services for punishing individuals for sending offensive messages through communication services.

Legal Consequences of Conviction for a Lawmaker/MP in India

  • A conviction may lead to disqualification of an MP if the offence for which he/she is convicted is listed in Section 8(1) of the Representation of the People (RPA) Act of 1951.
  • These offences include promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony, bribery, undue influence or personation at an election, and a few others.
  • Section 8(3) of the RPA mandates that an MP can be disqualified if convicted and sentenced to at least 2 years of imprisonment.
  • However, the disqualification takes effect only after three months have elapsed from the date of conviction.
  • Within that period, the convicted MP can file an appeal against the sentence before the High Court.
  • If the appeal is successful, the disqualification will not apply.
  • However, if the conviction is upheld, the MP will be disqualified and will have to vacate his/her seat in Parliament.
  • It is worth noting that even if the conviction does not fall under the category of disqualification, it may still have serious political consequences for the MP and his/her party, as it may affect their credibility and public image.

AFSPA and the Northeast


Context:

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has further removed the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) from the jurisdiction of three police stations in Wokha and Zunheboto districts of Nagaland, while one more police station in Arunachal Pradesh has been declared as a “disturbed area” under the Act, according to a notification.

Relevance:

GS III- Government Policies and Interventions

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)
  2. AFSPA Acts in force
  3. Powers Given to an officer of the Armed Forces in a “disturbed” area under AFSPA
  4. After being in force for many years, why has AFSPA been withdrawn now?
  5. Why was AFSPA imposed on the Northeast in the first place?
  6. Arguments Against AFSPA
  7. Arguments in Favour of AFSPA
  8. Important Criticisms of AFSPA and commissions regarding AFSPA
  9. Supreme Court judgment on AFSPA

Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA)

  • Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958 is an act of the Parliament of India that grant special powers to the Indian Armed Forces the power to maintain public order in “disturbed areas”.
  • AFSPA is invoked when a case of militancy or insurgency takes place and the territorial integrity of India is at risk.
  • Security forces can “arrest a person without warrant”, who has committed or even “about to commit a cognizable offence” even based on “reasonable suspicion”.
  • It also provides security forces with legal immunity for their actions in disturbed areas.
  • While the armed forces and the government justify its need in order to combat militancy and insurgency, critics have pointed out cases of possible human rights violations linked to the act.
  • According to The Disturbed Areas (Special Courts) Act, 1976 once declared ‘disturbed’, the area has to maintain status quo for a minimum of 3 months.
  • The Acts have received criticism from several sections for alleged concerns about human rights violations in the regions of its enforcement alleged to have happened.

AFSPA Acts in force

It is effective in the whole of Jammu and Kashmir, Nagaland, Assam, Manipur (excluding seven assembly constituencies of Imphal) and parts of Arunachal Pradesh.

History of AFSPA Acts
  • An AFSPA Act passed in 1958 was applicable to the Naga Hills, then part of Assam.
  • In the following decades it spread, one by one, to the other Seven Sister States in India’s northeast (at present, it is in force in the States of Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Changlang, Longding and Tirap districts of Arunachal Pradesh, and areas falling within the jurisdiction of the eight police stations of districts in Arunachal Pradesh bordering the State of Assam).
  • Another one passed in 1983 and applicable to Punjab and Chandigarh was withdrawn in 1997, roughly 14 years after it came to force.
  • An Act passed in 1990 was applied to Jammu and Kashmir and has been in force since.

Powers Given to an officer of the Armed Forces in a “disturbed” area under AFSPA

  • After giving such due warning, Fire upon or use other kinds of force even if it causes death, against the person who is acting against law or order in the disturbed area for the maintenance of public order,
  • Destroy any arms dump, hide-outs, prepared or fortified position or shelter or training camp from which armed attacks are made by the armed volunteers or armed gangs or absconders wanted for any offence.
  • To arrest without a warrant anyone who has committed cognizable offences or is reasonably suspected of having done so and may use force if needed for the arrest.
  • To enter and search any premise in order to make such arrests, or to recover any person wrongfully restrained or any arms, ammunition or explosive substances and seize it.
  • Stop and search any vehicle or vessel reasonably suspected to be carrying such person or weapons.
  • Any person arrested and taken into custody under this Act shall be made present over to the officer in charge of the nearest police station with least possible delay, together with a report of the circumstances occasioning the arrest.
  • Army officers have legal immunity for their actions. There can be no prosecution, suit or any other legal proceeding against anyone acting under that law. Nor is the government’s judgment on why an area is found to be disturbed subject to judicial review.
  • Protection of persons acting in good faith under this Act from prosecution, suit or other legal proceedings, except with the sanction of the Central Government, in exercise of the powers conferred by this Act.

After being in force for many years, why has AFSPA been withdrawn now?

  • The decision has come as the result of a combination of circumstances.
  • Over the last two decades, various parts of the Northeast have seen a reduction in insurgencies, some of them up to 60 years old. A number of major groups were already in talks with the Indian government, and these talks received traction during the current regime.
  • In Nagaland, all major groups — the NSCN(I-M) and Naga National Political Groups (NNPGs) — are at advanced stages of concluding agreements with the government.
  • In Manipur, insurgency as well as heavy militarisation have been on the decline since 2012, when the Supreme Court started hearing a PIL on extra-judicial killings.
  • In Nagaland, the killing of 14 villagers in Oting, Mon, is seen as having had a telling impact on reviving the demand to repeal AFSPA.

Why was AFSPA imposed on the Northeast in the first place?

  • When the Naga nationalist movement kicked off in the  1950s with the setting up of the Naga National Council — the predecessor of the NSCN — Assam police forces allegedly used force to quell the movement.
  • As an armed movement took root in Nagaland, AFSPA was passed in Parliament, and subsequently imposed on the entire state.
  • In Manipur, too, it was imposed in 1958 in the three Naga-dominated districts of Senapati, Tamenglong and Ukhrul, where the NNC was active.
  • It was imposed in the 1960s in the Kuki-Zomi dominated Manipur district of Churachandpur, which was under the sway of the Mizo insurgent movement, and extended to the rest of the state in 1979, when groups in the Meitei-dominated Imphal Valley groups began an armed insurgency.
  • As secessionist and nationalist movements started sprouting in other Northeastern states, AFSPA started being extended and imposed.

Arguments Against AFSPA

  • Symbol of Hatred: The Jeevan Reddy Committee, which was founded in 2004, criticised AFSPA as a symbol of hatred, persecution, and a tool of oppression.
  • Immunity to Security Forces: AFSPA has been dubbed a “draconian Act” for the unrestricted authority it grants the military forces and the impunity that security officers have for their acts performed under the law. Under AFSPA, the “armed forces” have the authority to shoot to kill or demolish a structure based solely on suspicion.
  • Human Rights Issue: The AFSPA’s activities have been criticised because people have died as a result of them. It’s been a contentious issue, with human rights organisations condemning it as being too forceful.
  • Prolonged continuation: Despite a nearly 25-year ceasefire accord, the Union Government has been chastised for renewing the “disturbed region” tag on Nagaland every year to keep the AFSPA alive.
  • Concerns of AFSPA in Manipur: Many protests over suspected extrajudicial executions by the security forces have taken place in Manipur throughout the years. The bullet-riddled body of Thangjam Manorama, who was reportedly raped and killed by a group of Assam Rifles troops in 2004 sparked outrage across the state. Irom Sharmila, often known as the Iron Lady of Manipur, is a towering figure who is well-known for her 16-year hunger strike in protest of AFSPA atrocities.
Arguments in Favour of AFSPA
  • The AFSPA is described as a law that takes a straightforward approach to control criminal activity in disturbed areas.
  • Fascist techniques and all groups, private and public, that engage in violence and attempt to pressure the government by organised violence must be controlled. As a result, the AFSPA is vital.

Important Criticisms of AFSPA and commissions regarding AFSPA

  • When India presented its second periodic report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 1991, members of the UNHRC asked numerous questions about the validity of the AFSPA.
  • They questioned the constitutionality of the AFSPA under Indian law and asked how it could be justified in light of Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ICCPR.
  • In 2012, the UN asked India to revoke AFSPA saying it had no place in Indian democracy.
  • The Act has been criticized by Human Rights Watch as a “tool of state abuse, oppression and discrimination”.

Supreme Court judgment on AFSPA

1997 judgment on AFSPA
  • In Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights vs Union of India 1997, a Constitution Bench ruled that the ability to use deadly force under Section 4(a) of the AFSPA should only be used in “certain circumstances.”
  • A 1997 Supreme Court judgment advocated “caution and use of minimum force against our own people” in AFSPA regions.
Extra-Judicial Execution Victim Families Association (EEVFAM) case 2017
  • The Supreme Court addressed the extrajudicial executions in 2016, clarifying that the bar under Section 6 of the AFSPA does not offer officers “complete immunity” from any investigation into their alleged misconduct.
  • The government received severe criticism from the Supreme Court in 2016 for the continuance of AFSPA.

Reactions to the killing of 14 civilians by security forces in Nagaland

  • Lok Sabha members condemned the killing of 14 civilians by security forces in Nagaland with some Opposition MPs calling for the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) as well.
  • Nagaland Chief Minister has also called for scrapping the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.
  • Human rights bodies in India and beyond are debating the contentious AFSPA that gives unbridled powers to the security forces.
  • Nagaland Chief Minister also criticised the Centre for extending the “disturbed area” tag on Nagaland every year to prolong the AFSPA despite a ceasefire agreement for almost 25 years.
  • In the northeast, the AFSPA is in force in Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, the Tirap, Changlang and Longding districts of Arunachal Pradesh and areas falling within the jurisdiction of eight police stations of the State bordering Assam.
  • For Jammu and Kashmir, the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, 1990, is in force.

-Source: The Hindu, Indian Express


National Pension Scheme


Context:

Finance Minister announced the constitution of a committee to propose changes to “improve” the National Pension System (NPS) for government employees in a way that balances their aspirations with fiscal prudence, while steering the Finance Bill’s passage in the Lok Sabha.

Relevance:

GS II- Government Policies and Interventions

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is the National Pension System (NPS)?
  2. What were the changes introduced in 2019?
  3. Regulatory authority

What is the National Pension System (NPS)?

  • The BJP-led Union government under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took a decision in 2003 to discontinue the old pension scheme and introduced the NPS.
  • The scheme is applicable to all new recruits joining the Central Government service (except armed forces) from April 1, 2004.
  • On introduction of NPS, the Central Civil Services (Pension) Rules, 1972 was amended.
  • It is a scheme, where employees contribute to their pension corpus from their salaries, with matching contribution from the government.
  • The funds are invested in earmarked investment schemes through Pension Fund Managers.
  • At retirement, they can withdraw 60% of the corpus, which is tax-free and the remaining 40% is invested in annuities, which is taxed.
  • It can have two components — Tier I and II.
  • Tier-II is a voluntary savings account that offers flexibility in terms of withdrawal, and one can withdraw at any point of time, unlike Tier I account. Private individuals can opt for the scheme.
  • Any employee from public, private and even the unorganised sectors can opt for this. Personnel from the armed forces are exempted. The scheme is open to all across industries and locations.

The other eligibility criteria for opening an NPS account:

  • Must be an Indian citizen.
  • Must be between the ages of 18 and 65.
  • Must be KYC compliant.
  • Must not have a pre-existing NPS account.

What were the changes introduced in 2019?

  • In 2019, the Finance Ministry said that Central government employees have the option of selecting the Pension Funds (PFs) and Investment Pattern in their Tier-I account.
  • The default pension fund managers are the LIC Pension Fund Limited, SBI Pension Funds Pvt. Limited and UTI Retirement Solutions Limited in a predefined proportion.

Regulatory authority

  • The Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) is the regulator for NPS.
  • PFRDA was set up through the PFRDA Act in 2013 to promote old age income security by developing pension funds to protect the interest of subscribers to schemes of pension funds.
What is the subscriber base?
  • As on February 28, there were 22.74 lakh Central government employees and 55.44 lakh State government employees enrolled under the NPS.

-Source: The Hindu


National Green Tribunal


Context:

The Principal Bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in New Delhi has slapped a penalty of ₹10 crore on the Kerala government for its failure to check the indiscriminate pollution of the Vembanad and Ashtamudi lakes, listed as Ramsar sites.

Relevance:

GS-III: Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. National Green Tribunal (NGT)
  2. Structure of National Green Tribunal
  3. Powers of NGT
  4. Challenges related to the NGT
  5. About Corbett National Park:

National Green Tribunal (NGT)

  • The NGT was established on October 18, 2010 under the National Green Tribunal Act 2010, passed by the Central Government.
  • National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 is an Act of the Parliament of India which enables creation of a special tribunal to handle the expeditious disposal of the cases pertaining to environmental issues.
  • NGT Act draws inspiration from the India’s constitutional provision of (Constitution of India/Part III) Article 21 Protection of life and personal liberty, which assures the citizens of India the right to a healthy environment.
  • The stated objective of the Central Government was to provide a specialized forum for effective and speedy disposal of cases pertaining to environment protection, conservation of forests and for seeking compensation for damages caused to people or property due to violation of environmental laws or conditions specified while granting permissions.

Structure of National Green Tribunal

  • Following the enactment of the said law, the Principal Bench of the NGT has been established in the National Capital – New Delhi, with regional benches in Pune (Western Zone Bench), Bhopal (Central Zone Bench), Chennai (Southern Bench) and Kolkata (Eastern Bench). Each Bench has a specified geographical jurisdiction covering several States in a region.
  • The Chairperson of the NGT is a retired Judge of the Supreme Court, Head Quartered in Delhi.
  • Other Judicial members are retired Judges of High Courts. Each bench of the NGT will comprise of at least one Judicial Member and one Expert Member.
  • Expert members should have a professional qualification and a minimum of 15 years’ experience in the field of environment/forest conservation and related subjects.

Powers of NGT

The NGT has the power to hear all civil cases relating to environmental issues and questions that are linked to the implementation of laws listed in Schedule I of the NGT Act. These include the following:

  • The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974;
  • The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977;
  • The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980;
  • The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981;
  • The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986;
  • The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991;
  • The Biological Diversity Act, 2002.
  • This means that any violations pertaining ONLY to these laws, or any order / decision taken by the Government under these laws can be challenged before the NGT.
  • Importantly, the NGT has NOT been vested with powers to hear any matter relating to the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, the Indian Forest Act, 1927 and various laws enacted by States relating to forests, tree preservation etc.

Challenges related to the NGT

  • Two important acts – Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 have been kept out of NGT’s jurisdiction. This restricts the jurisdiction area of NGT and at times hampers its functioning as crucial forest rights issue is linked directly to environment.
  • Decisions of NGT have also been criticised and challenged due to their repercussions on economic growth and development.
  • The absence of a formula-based mechanism in determining the compensation has also brought criticism to the tribunal.
  • The lack of human and financial resources has led to high pendency of cases – which undermines NGT’s very objective of disposal of appeals within 6 months.

-Source: The Hindu


Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana


Context

The government extended the subsidy of ₹200 per 14.2 kg LPG cylinder under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) for a year, in view of the high prices of petroleum products in the international market. The decision will benefit 9.6 crore women. 

Relevance:

GS-II: Social Justice and Governance (Welfare Schemes, Government Policies & Interventions)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) – 1
  2. Advantages of PMUY:
  3. Why was PMUY Necessary?
  4. About PMUY-II

About Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) – 1

  • The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) is a government scheme launched in 2016 which envisages the distribution of 50 million LPG connections to women below the poverty line.
  • PMUY is a scheme of the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas.
  • There are 27.87 Crore active LPG consumers in the country, with the PMUY beneficiaries accounting for over 8 crores.
Advantages of PMUY:
  • Providing LPG connections to BPL households will ensure universal coverage of cooking gas in the country.
  • This measure will empower women and protect their health.
  • It will reduce drudgery and the time spent on cooking.
  • It will also provide employment for rural youth in the supply chain of cooking gas.
Why was PMUY Necessary?
  • As per the estimates of the World Health Organisation (WHO), about 5 lakh deaths in India occurred due to unclean cooking fuel.
  • These deaths were caused mostly due to non-communicable diseases including heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer.
  • Providing LPG connections to families below the poverty line will ensure universal coverage of cooking gas in the country.
  • The scheme can be a tool for women empowerment in that LPG connections and clean cooking fuel can reduce cooking time and effort, and in most of India, cooking is a responsibility shouldered solely by women.
  • The scheme also provides employment to the rural youth in the supply chain of cooking gas.

About PMUY-II

  • The PMUY-II is aimed to provide maximum benefit to the migrants who live in other states and find it difficult to submit address proof.
  • Now they will only have to give “Self Declaration” to avail the benefit.
  • The scheme provides a financial support of Rs 1600 for each LPG connection to the BPL households.
  • Along with a deposit-free LPG connection, Ujjwala 2.0 will provide the first refill and a hotplate free of cost to the beneficiaries.
  • Under Ujjwala 2.0, an additional 10 million LPG connections will be provided to the beneficiaries. Government has also fixed a target of providing piped gas to 21 lakh homes in 50 districts.

-Source: The Hindu


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