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Current Affairs for UPSC IAS Exam – 7 May 2021

Contents

  1. SC declines ECI plea to restrain media
  2. U.S. to support IP waiver for COVID-19 vaccines
  3. What is Facebook’s Oversight Board?
  4. SC and HC on Oxygen Supply and GST

SC declines ECI plea to restrain media

Context:

the Election Commission of India (ECI) complained against the Madras High Court’s observation that the ECI was singularly responsible for the rise in Covid-19 cases.

The media cannot be stopped from reporting any court hearing, the Supreme Court said.

Relevance:

GS-II: Polity and Governance (Statutory Bodies, Fundamental Rights, Judgements & Cases, Government Policies & Interventions, Issues arising out of the design and implementation of policies)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Freedom of Press in India
  2. Status of Freedom of Press
  3. About the ECI tussle with reporting HC comments
  4. About the Supreme Court Judgement

Freedom of Press in India

  • Article 19, said to be the foundation of Democratic rule in India, guarantees freedom of speech and expression to Indian citizens only.
  • These freedoms are not absolute and they can all be curtailed by imposing some reasonable restriction.
  • Reasonable restrictions can be imposed (imposed only on the grounds mentioned in the constitution) only by authority of law and NOT by executive action alone.

Freedom of Speech and Expression actually covers:

  1. Right to Information
  2. Freedom of press
  3. Right to privacy
  4. Right to hoist the national flag
  5. Right to demonstration or picketing, but not right to strike
  6. Rights to Not Speak

Status of Freedom of Press

  • Unlike several countries such as USA, there is no separate provision guaranteeing the freedom of press, but the Supreme Court in Sakaal paper vs. Union of India case, has held that the freedom of press is included in the “freedom of expression” under Article 19(1) (a).
  • In Brij Bhushan case, SC clarified that there is no prior censorship on the media, i.e., no prior permission is needed.
  • 44th amendment, 1976 introduced Article 361A that provides protection to a person publishing proceeding of the Parliament and State Legislatures.

In the Indian Express case, it was clarified that the Freedom of Press includes:

  1. Right to Information
  2. Right to Publish
  3. Right to Circulate
  • In 1997, the Prasar Bharti Act grants autonomy to Doordarshan and All India Radio (which means it can criticize the state policies and actions).
  • In 1966, Press Council of India was created to regulate the print media.
  • The National Commission to Review the Working of Constitution (NCRWC) recommended that Freedom of Press be explicitly granted and not be left implied in the Freedom of Speech.

About the ECI tussle with reporting HC comments

  • Recently, the Madras HC judges had accused the ECI of being solely responsible for the super-spread of COVID infection through uncontrolled election rallies, campaigning, etc.
  • The HC judges had even said the ECI should be charged with “murder”.
  • Soon after, a troubled ECI had approached the HC to take back its words and restrain the media from reporting the comments as FIRs for murder were registered against the poll body officials.
  • The Madras HC said that it cannot expect the media not to report dialogues and that Oral observations are as important as orders.
  • Following this the ECI had complained to the Supreme Court about the oral comments made by the Division Bench of the Madras High Court.

About the Supreme Court Judgement

  • The Supreme agreed with the Madras High Court on the matter of media reporting and said: Media cannot be stopped from reporting oral remarks made by judges during a court hearing.
  • The SC bench also described the “media as a powerful watchdog”.
  • Public interest is not limited to judgments, but also the raising of questions in a court hearing, the dialogue between the Bar and the Bench. All of these show the public whether there was a genuine application of mind by judges.
  • However, the SC consoled and said the comments were not to belittle the ECI because ultimately democracy survives on the faith in the institutions.
  • The bench pacified the ECI saying the apex court would write a “balanced order”.

-Source: The Hindu


U.S. to support IP waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

Context:

  • The United States will support an initiative at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to waive Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) protection for COVID-19 vaccines.
  • The news will support the increased production of vaccines globally as countries, including India, continue to reel under the impact of the pandemic.
  • The initiative was first floated by India and South Africa in 2020 and since then, the proposal has received support of more than 120 countries.

Relevance:

GS-III: Science and Technology (Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), GS-II: International Relations, Social Justice

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What are Intellectual property rights (IPR)?
  2. About the U.S. decision to waive IPR on vaccines
  3. Benefits of waiving off IPR over drugs
  4. Arguments against the Waiver of IPR on vaccines

What are Intellectual property rights (IPR)?

  • Intellectual property rights (IPR) are the rights given to persons over the creations of their minds: inventions, literary and artistic works, and symbols, names and images used in commerce. They usually give the creator an exclusive right over the use of his/her creation for a certain period of time.
  • These rights are outlined in Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which provides for the right to benefit from the protection of moral and material interests resulting from authorship of scientific, literary or artistic productions.
  • The importance of intellectual property was first recognized in the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property (1883) and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (1886). Both treaties are administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

Intellectual property rights are customarily divided into two main areas:

  1. Copyright and rights related to copyright:
    • The rights of authors of literary and artistic works (such as books and other writings, musical compositions, paintings, sculpture, computer programs and films) are protected by copyright, for a minimum period of 50 years after the death of the author.
  2. Industrial property:
    • Industrial property can be divided into two main areas:
    1. Protection of distinctive signs: In particular trademarks and geographical indications.
      • Trademarks distinguish the goods or services of one undertaking from those of other undertakings.
      • Geographical Indications (GIs) identify a good as originating in a place where a given characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographical origin.
      • The protection of such distinctive signs aims to stimulate and ensure fair competition and to protect consumers, by enabling them to make informed choices between various goods and services.
      • The protection may last indefinitely, provided the sign in question continues to be distinctive.
    2. Industrial designs and trade secrets: Other types of industrial property are protected primarily to stimulate innovation, design and the creation of technology. In this category fall inventions (protected by patents), industrial designs and trade secrets.

About the U.S. decision to waive IPR on vaccines

  • The 1995 agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) requires ratifying countries to adopt a minimum standard of intellectual property rights to protect creators and promote innovation.
  • India and South Africa have proposed a waiver from the implementation and application of certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement (waiving IP rights like patents, copyright, and trademarks) for prevention, containment or treatment of Covid-19.
  • If the waiver is granted, WTO member countries will not be under an obligation, for a temporary period, to either grant or enforce patents and other IP-related rights to Covid-19 drugs, vaccines, and other treatments.
  • This will immunise the measures adopted by countries to vaccinate their populations from claims of illegality under WTO law.

Benefits of waiving off IPR over drugs

  1. At present, only drug companies which own patents are authorised to manufacture Covid vaccines. A lifting of patents will allow the formula to be shared with other companies.
  2. Once the formula is shared, any company which possesses the required technology and infrastructure can produce vaccines. This will lead to cheaper and more generic versions of Covid vaccines and will be a big step in overcoming vaccine shortage.
  3. There is a glaring gap between developing and wealthier countries now. The countries having surplus doses of vaccines have already vaccinated a considerable percentage of their population and are returning to normalcy. Whereas, the poorer nations continue to face shortages, have overburdened healthcare systems and hundreds dying daily. Thus, there is a need to bring about a change in this regard which will be possible by the waiving off of IPR. The longer Covid circulates in developing nations, there is a greater chance of more vaccine-resistant, deadly mutations of the virus emerging.

Arguments against the Waiver of IPR on vaccines

  1. Lifting of patents would be a compromise on control of safety and quality standards for vaccine manufacturing.
  2. Lifting of patents would be a huge deterrent to investing heavily on vaccine development during pandemics in the future.
  3. Eliminating those protections would undermine the global response to the pandemic, including ongoing effort to tackle new variants. It will create confusion that could potentially undermine public confidence in vaccine safety, and create a barrier to information sharing.

-Source: The Hindu


What is Facebook’s Oversight Board?

Context:

Trump had been banned indefinitely by Facebook from posting or accessing his page on January 2021 following the chaotic situation of US Capitol Hill Siege.

Facebook’s Oversight Board upheld the social media network’s decision to indefinitely block Mr. Trump for using the platform to “incite violent insurrection against a democratically elected government.”

Recently the Oversight Board overturned Facebook’s decision to remove a post that had alleged that the RSS and Prime Minister Narendra Modi were threatening to kill Sikhs in India.

Relevance:

GS-III: Internal Security Challenges (Challenges to Internal Security Through Communication Networks, Role of Media & Social Networking Sites in Internal Security Challenges), GS-II: Polity and Governance (Government Policies & Interventions)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is Facebook’s Oversight Board?
  2. What are recommendations of the Oversight Board?
  3. Law Related to Blocking of Internet Services/Content in India
  4. Obligations of Intermediaries under the IT Act

What is Facebook’s Oversight Board?

  • The Oversight Board has been set up as an independent body that will help Facebook figure out what content can be allowed on the platform and what ought to be removed.
  • It was said to have emerged out of the tensions around the often-conflicting goals of maintaining Facebook as a platform for free speech and effectively filtering out problematic speech.
  • The members who make the Oversight Board came on board very recently, in 2020 and the board consists of 20 members.

What are recommendations of the Oversight Board?

  • The Board wants Facebook to act quickly when it comes to content of a political nature coming from influential users.
  • Its idea is to escalate such content to specialised staff as also assess potential harms from such accounts.
  • It also wants Facebook to be more transparent about its policies regarding assistance to investigations as well as its penalty rules.
  • It also wants Facebook to comprehensively review its “potential contribution to the narrative of electoral fraud and the exacerbated tensions that culminated in the violence in the United States on January 6. This should be an open reflection on the design and policy choices that Facebook has made that may allow its platform to be abused.”

Law Related to Blocking of Internet Services/Content in India

  • In India, the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000, as amended from time to time, governs all activities related to the use of computer resources and covers all ‘intermediaries’ who play a role in the use of computer resources and electronic records. The role of the intermediaries has been spelt out in separate rules framed for the purpose in 2011- The Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011.
  • Section 69 of the IT Act confers on the Central and State governments the power to issue directions “to intercept, monitor or decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer resource”.

The grounds on which these powers may be exercised are:

  1. In the interest of the sovereignty or integrity of India, defence of India, the security of the state.
  2. Friendly relations with foreign states.
  3. Public order, or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence relating to these.
  4. For investigating any offence.

Section 69A of the IT Act enables the Centre to ask any agency of the government, or any intermediary, to block access to the public of any information generated, transmitted, received or stored or hosted on any computer resource.

Obligations of Intermediaries under the IT Act

  • The term ‘intermediaries’ includes providers of telecom service, network service, Internet service and web hosting, besides search engines, online payment and auction sites, online marketplaces and cyber cafes.
  • It includes any person who, on behalf of another, “receives, stores or transmits” any electronic record. Social media platforms would fall under this definition.
  • Intermediaries are required to preserve and retain specified information in a manner and format prescribed by the Centre for a specified duration.
  • When a direction is given for monitoring, the intermediary and any person in charge of a computer resource should extend technical assistance in the form of giving access or securing access to the resource involved.
  • Section 79 of the IT Act 2000 makes it clear that “an intermediary shall not be liable for any third-party information, data, or communication link made available or hosted by him”. This protects intermediaries such as Internet and data service providers and those hosting websites from being made liable for content that users may post or generate.

-Source: The Hindu


SC and HC on Oxygen Supply and GST

Context:

  • Oxygen concentrators received as gifts or ordered online from overseas would attract Goods and Services Tax (GST), but the GST rate payable was reduced from 28% to 12% by the Finance Ministry recently.
  • The Delhi High Court asked the Centre to drop the GST charged on imports of oxygen concentrators for personal use, just as it has done for donated COVID-19 relief material imports. However, the government’s decision was that the maximum possible relief had already been given by reducing the GST rate.
  • The Supreme Court highlighted the need for the Union government to start preparations for oxygen allocation to the States, its supply and distribution ahead of a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The court drew the attention of the government to reports that children may be affected in the next wave.

Relevance:

GS-III: Indian Economy (Taxation, GST), GS-II: Polity and Governance (Government Policies and Interventions, Issues arising out of the design and implementation of policies, Judiciary)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the Supreme Court’s warning regarding a third wave
  2. GST Council
  3. Recommendations given by the GST Council

About the Supreme Court’s warning regarding a third wave

  • A Bench of the Supreme Court said the government needed to finalise a formula for allocation, supply and distribution of oxygen in a “scientific manner” ahead of the coming third wave of Covid-19.
  • The court said the formula for allocation and distribution of oxygen among the States should be based, among other things, on an “oxygen audit”, that is, to determine the actual need of oxygen in a State.
  • The court underlined the importance of vaccination, saying that Children are going to be affected in the third wave.
  • At one point, the court suggested incentivising young doctors who have completed their courses and young trained nurses to augment the fatigued healthcare professionals who are at the end of their tether.

GST Council

  • Goods & Services Tax Council is a Constitutional Body for making recommendations to the Union and State Government on issues related to Goods and Service Tax.
  • As per Article 279A (1) of the amended Constitution, the GST Council has to be constituted by the President within 60 days of the commencement of Article 279A.
  • The Constitution (One Hundred and Twenty-Second Amendment) Bill, 2016, for introduction of Goods and Services tax in the country was introduced in the Parliament and passed by Rajya Sabha on 3rd August, 2016 and by Lok Sabha on 8th August, 2016.
  • GST Council is an apex member committee to modify, reconcile or to procure any law or regulation based on the context of goods and services tax in India.
  • The GST council is responsible for any revision or enactment of rule or any rate changes of the goods and services in India.

The council contains the following members:

  1. Union Finance Minister (as chairperson)
  2. Union Minister of States in charge of revenue or finance (as member)
  3. The ministers of states in charge of finance or taxation or other ministers as nominated by each state’s government (as member).

GST Council makes recommendations on:

  • Taxes, cesses, and surcharges levied by the Centre, States and local bodies which may be subsumed in the GST;
  • Goods and services which may be subjected to or exempted from GST;
  • Model GST laws, principles of levy, apportionment of IGST and principles that govern the place of supply;
  • Threshold limit of turnover below which goods and services may be exempted from GST;
  • Rates including floor rates with bands of GST;
  • Special rates to raise additional resources during any natural calamity;
  • Special provision with respect to Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand; and
  • Any other matter relating to the goods and services tax, as the Council may decide.

-Source: The Hindu

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