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Daily Current affairs 26 DECEMBER 2018

UPSC - Daily Current Affair

Govt.’s draft rules to regulate social media echo SC orders

Why in news?

  • A close look at the draft Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Amendment Rules, 2018, shows that the proposed changes are largely in line with developments on this front in cases before the Supreme Court in recent months.

Context:

  • The government on 24th December, 2018 placed the proposed amendments to the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000 in public and sought comments on that.

Features of the draft ‘The Information Technology [Intermediaries Guidelines (Amendment) Rules] 2018’ -

  • The proposed rules state that intermediaries should within 72 hours, provide information or assistance asked for by any government agency “or assistance concerning security of the State or cyber security; or investigation or detection or prosecution or prevention of offence(s); protective or cyber security and matters connected with or incidental thereto.”
  • It seeks to make it mandatory for platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter to trace “originator” of “unlawful” information.
  • The intermediary after being notified by the appropriate authority should remove or disable access to unlawful content within 24 hours without vitiating the evidence in any manner in the interests of:
    • The sovereignty and integrity of India
    • The security of the State
    • Friendly relations with foreign States
    • Public order
    • Decency or morality
    • In relation to contempt of court
    • Defamation or incitement to an offence
  • The intermediary is also expected to preserve such information and associated records for at least 180 days for investigation purposes as against 90 days now.
  • The Centre’s draft SOP also include:
    • Setting up of proactive monitoring tools for auto deletion of unlawful content.
    • Deployment of trusted flaggers for identifying and deletion of unlawful content.
    • Setting up of a 24/7 mechanism for requisitions of law enforcement agencies.
    • Appointment of India-based contact officers.

What was the need of amendments?

  • With concerns over “rising incidents of violence and lynching in the country due to misuse of social media platforms”, there was need for online platforms to shoulder the “responsibility, accountability and larger commitment to ensure that its platform is not misused on a large scale to spread incorrect facts projected as news and designed to instigate people to commit crime”.
  • The government considers that social media has brought new challenges for the law enforcement agencies, including inducement for recruitment of terrorists, circulation of obscene content, spread of disharmony and incitement to violence
  • The Centre had been asking WhatsApp to help identify originator of fake news. However, the social media company had resisted the demand.
  • In this regard, the government resolved to strengthen the legal framework and make the social media platforms accountable under law.
  • Hence, the IT Ministry prepared the draft amendments to the Information Technology (IT) Act, 2000 to replace the rules notified in 2011.

The proposed changes in the draft : in line with developments in cases before the Supreme Court

  • SC: In a July 17, 2018 judgment in the Tehseen S. Poonawalla case, the court gave the government a virtual carte blanche to stop/curb dissemination of “irresponsible and explosive messages on various social media platforms, which have a tendency to incite mob violence and lynching of any kind.”
    • Draft: Draft rule 3 (5) of the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Amendment Rules, 2018 proposes social media intermediaries to provide information/assistance when required by “lawful order” by any government agency for reasons of State security, cyber security, investigation, detection, prosecution or prevention of offences.
    • These offences may include mob violence, lynching, online sexual abuse, etc. The “originator of the information” needs to be traced to register an FIR.
  • SC: On December 6, a Supreme Court Bench, led by Justice Madan B. Lokur, mentioned online giants Google, YouTube, Facebook, Microsoft and WhatsApp and recorded that “everybody is agreed that child pornography, rape and gang-rape videos and objectionable material need to be stamped out.”
  • The same order also noted submissions by senior advocate Kapil Sibal, for WhatsApp, that “they have an end-to-end encryption technology, due to which it will not be possible to remove the content”.
  • On December 11, the Bench ordered the Centre to frame the necessary guidelines/Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and implement them within two weeks to “eliminate child pornography, rape and gang rape imagery, videos and sites in content hosting platforms and other applications.
  • These two orders came on a suo motu case being heard in the Supreme Court from 2015 to curb online sexual abuse.
    • Draft: It proposes the publication of rules, a privacy policy and user agreement for access to a social intermediary’s resource.
    • Clause (1) of Rule 3 mandates that a user cannot host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, update or share information, for example, which is pornographic, paedophilic, racially or ethnically objectionable, invasive of another’s privacy, harms minors in anyway, etc.
  • SC: A Supreme Court order of October 22 records that the Centre has already prepared a SOP “for taking action by the security/law enforcement agencies under Section 79(3)(b) of the Information Technology Act.
  • A November 28 order records the submission of Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta indicating that “certain actions were required to be taken by the intermediaries”. These included setting up of proactive monitoring tools for auto-deletion of “unlawful content” and setting up a 24X7 mechanism for dealing with requisitions of law enforcement agencies.
  • All these mechanisms can be found in the various clauses of the draft rules.
    • Draft: The draft rules require the intermediary to trace the “originator of information” for authorised government agencies.
    • The intermediary has to produce the information in 72 hours, but only if the request is based on a lawful order, in writing and concerns State security or investigation or prosecution or prevention of an offence, which may include lynching or mob violence.
    • Besides, the draft rules put the onus on social media giants to “take all reasonable measures” to protect individual privacy as required under the Information Technology (Reasonable Security Practices and Procedures and Sensitive Personal Information) Rules of 2011.

Section : Polity & Governance

 

No question of re-negotiating the Teesta agreement

Context:

  • Gowher Rizvi, foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, discussed a plethora of issues, including those connecting Bangladesh and India, days before the country’s general election on December 30.
  • According to him, Bangladesh-India relationship has taken a giant leap forward. But many issues remain unresolved and often argued in Bangladesh that India has not done enough.

India- Bangladesh Relations

  • India was the first country to recognize Bangladesh as a separate and independent state and established diplomatic relations with the country immediately after its independence in December 1971.
  • The relationship between India and Bangladesh is anchored in history, culture, language and shared values of secularism, democracy, and countless other commonalities between the two countries.
  • It is based on sovereignty, equality, trust, understanding and win-win partnership that goes far beyond a strategic partnership.
  • In the last decade the relationship between the two neighbours has reached new heights– virtually almost all outstanding issues have been amicably settled including
    • demarcation of boundaries,
    • resolution of adverse territorial possessions including ‘teen bigha’ and the enclaves;
    • cross-border purchase of electricity;
    • joint power ventures,
    • significant Indian private investments in Bangladesh industries; and
    • untied line of credit amounting to nearly 8 billion dollars.
    • Buses are running from Shillong and Guwahati to Kolkata via Dhaka;
    • direct passenger and goods trains have started to operate again;
    • the waterways are being renovated to enable commerce through riverine routes; and
    • the agreement on coastal shipping has cut the cost of cargo massively.
  • The benefits of connectivity – road, air, rail, river and ICT– is fostering sub-regional cooperation and bringing benefits to India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.
  • Both the countries are rebuilding the linkages, especially through river and road, the links which were destroyed in 1965 Pakistan-India war, and visa regime is enormously eased.
  • Even though the adverse trade balance prevails, Bangladesh exports to India has almost quadrupled in the last couple of years.

Teesta- an unresolved issue

  • Teesta river originates in the Himalayas and flows through Sikkim and West Bengal to merge with the Brahmaputra in Assam and (Jamuna in Bangladesh).
  • Sharing the waters of the Teesta river is perhaps the most contentious issue between two friendly neighbours, India and Bangladesh.
  • The river covers nearly the entire floodplains of Sikkim, while draining 2,800 sq km of Bangladesh, governing the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
  • For West Bengal, Teesta is equally important, considered the lifeline of half-a-dozen districts in North Bengal.
  • Bangladesh has sought an “equitable” distribution of Teesta waters from India, on the lines of the Ganga Water Treaty of 1996, but to no avail.

Teesta water Treaty: A Backgrounder

  • India and Bangladesh share 54 rivers between them.
  • Following a half-hearted deal in 1983, when nearly equal division of water was proposed, the countries hit a roadblock. The transient agreement could not be implemented.
  • In 2011, an interim deal was proposed to be signed which allocated 42.5% of Teesta’s waters to India and 37.5% to Bangladesh. But due to West Bengal's opposition, the deal was shelved.
  • West Bengal has been opposing the treaty fearing that the loss of higher volume of water to the lower riparian would cause problems in the northern region of state, especially during drier months.
  • It is estimated that the Teesta River has a mean annual flow of 60 billion cubic meters but a significant amount of this water flows only during wet season(June-Sept) leaving scant flow during the dry season(October-May) wherein the average flow gets reduced to about 500 million cubic metres (MCM) per month.
  • This creates issues of equitable sharing during lean season.
  • Bangladesh has claimed that West Bengal’s Gazaldoba barrage is ‘unilaterally’ channelizing a large volume of water on the Teesta, due to which the country’s historic flow has been reduced to only 10% and its Teesta Irrigation Project has suffered.
  • This is further compounded by the downstream nature of Bangladesh wherein any construction by India affects the water flow available to Bangladesh.
  • Hydropower generation in Teesta river is another point of contention. In Sikkim alone, there are at least 26 projects that produces 50,000 MW of power.

Why Teesta is so important?

  • For Bangladesh: Its flood plain covers about 14% of the total cropped area of Bangladesh and provides direct livelihood opportunities to approximately 73% of its population.
  • For West Bengal: Teesta is the lifeline of North Bengal and almost half a dozen of districts of West Bengal are dependent on the waters of Teesta.

Bangladesh's stand on Teesta

  • India already enjoys a share of 55% of the river water.
  • Bangladesh claims 50% of the water between December and May every year because that’s when the water flow to the country drops drastically.
  • Over 1 lakh hectares of land in Rangpur – its rice bowl cannot be cultivated for winter crops due to excessive withdrawal of water by India.
  • Bangladesh demands a fair share of river waters during the dry season.
  • According to Gowher Rizvi, foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, though, the Teesta water agreement has not yet been signed. But it is important to understand that an agreement on water-sharing has been arrived at; and as far as Bangladesh is concerned there is no question of re-negotiating the agreement.

Conclusion

  • Bangladesh is a significant neighbourhood for India with a shared history, culture, religion and many more common elements.
  • The cooperation of Bangladesh is important to India and without such liberal regimes in neighbouring countries, India cannot become terror free.
  • Bangladesh is an essential element for India to get connected with North East.
  • Considering the strategic importance of Bangladesh and as a responsible upper riparian state, India needs to take proactive steps for early conclusion of Teesta agreement.

 

Section : International Relation

 

In election year, farmers on centrestage

The Topic

  • The article explains the relation between elections and farmer distress. It explains how farmer’s issue is now in centrestage for the upcoming 2019 LokSabha elections.

 

Background

  • 2017 saw the beginnings of agrarian unrest in large swathes of the country.
  • 2018 brought agrarian unrest centrestage as the top political issue.
  • In April-May 2019, when the next LokSabha elections are due, farmers and rural India would be the key campaign theme.

 

Farmer’s concerns

Lower market price than MSPs

  • The main concern for them today is prices for their produce.
  • As the below given chart shows, average wholesale rates in mandis during the peak marketing period the kharif season crop, ruled lower than the government’s minimum support prices (MSP) for practically every agri-commodity.
  • The only exceptions were-
    • Jowar (sorghum) and cotton — in which the major growing states of Maharashtra and Gujarat, respectively, have had droughts.
    • Sesamum, a premium oilseed that rarely trades below MSP.

Price flattening

  • One indicator of the price pressures being faced by farmers is the official wholesale price index (WPI).
  • The average annual inflation based on it during January-November 2018 over January-November 2017 was minus 0.33% in “food articles” and 1.66% for “non-food” agricultural articles, as compared to previous year’s corresponding rates of 2.22% and minus 0.99%.
  • It reflects a price-flattening trend for almost every crop including even relatively high-value items such as vegetables and milk that Indian agriculture has never experienced on this scale before.

 

Challenges ahead for political parties before LokSabha Elections

Prices

  • Among the major crops to be marketed in the coming months are arhar/tur (pigeon-pea), chana (chickpea), potato, onion, rapeseed-mustard, wheat and, of course, sugarcane and milk.
  • Significantly, even before their marketing is to start, the market prices of these crops are being quoted below their respective MSPs. 
  • Guaranteeing MSPs may be easier in wheat and paddy, only because these two fine cereal crops are procured by government agencies.
  • Things are worse for the other crops like tomato, onion and potato, as their market prices are nearly collapsing, due to dumping of stored produce from last year’s rabi crop. 

 

Due arrears

  • The real challenge is going to be in sugarcane. 
  • In Maharashtra, mills are yet to pay arrears of Rs 3,557 crore for the year 2017-18.
  • In UP, mills are still to pay Rs 2,129 crore from the last 2017-18 season’s total cane dues of Rs 35,463 crore.
  • Also, for the current season, they have already crushed cane worth Rs 4,957 crore. 
  • Including transportation, etc. the total arrears of Rs 5,525 crore for the current year, might only increase and peak as elections approach.
  • Without sugar realisations going up, or some kind of special budgetary/liquidity support from the Centre and state governments, cane arrears could seriously dent prospects of political party in power in the upcoming polls, where UP and Maharashtra together account for 128 out of the total 543 LokSabha seats.

 

Natural calamities

  • Prices apart, farmers, especially in Maharashtra and Gujarat, are facing a double whammy in the form of drought.
  • Large parts of both states and also Bihar and Jharkhand have had poor rains in the main southwest (June-September) as well as northeast (October-December) monsoon seasons.
  • This has affected soil moisture availability and water levels in irrigation reservoirs, in turn, reducing Rabi season plantings.
  • In this situation, arranging water and fodder for animals till the next monsoon, incomes for farmers and agricultural labourers, etc. are key challenges for the upcoming elections.

 

 

Way forward

  • The one big reform that the next government at the Centre, irrespective of who leads it, could seriously consider is direct benefit transfer (DBT) payments to farmers. For example-Telangana has already implemented this via a flat Rs 4,000-per-acre investment support for every farmer before each crop season.
  • Ultimately, it would be in benefit of all to end all agricultural subsidies on fertilizers, irrigation, power, credit and even MSP-based support and replace these with a flat per-acre DBT payment.
  • A Telangana/Jharkhand-like scheme extended to the country’s gross cropped area of 500 million acres would cost Rs 400,000-500,000 crore annually.
  • However, less wasteful and market-distorting benefits may still be worth debating and could be the precursor for a wider “universal basic income” support.

Section : Social Issues

 

Under-reporting manual scavengers :Asked to verify, states turn 55,000 to 25,000

The News

  • Manual Scavenging continues to be grossly under-reported as most of the states have denied verifying at least 50% of the manual scavengers in the first round of the survey process being conducted by Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.

 

Background

Under-reporting of Manual Scavengers

  • India being a caste-based society has witnessed the problem of manual scavenging as a caste-based profession from time immemorial.
  • For the first time in 1993, an act was enacted to ban manual scavenging in India that prohibited employing workers as a criminal offence.
  • While manual scavenging was rampant in India, it was grossly under-reported.
  • To solve the problem of under-reporting, the definition of manual scavenging was widened by The Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers and Their Rehabilitation Act 2013.
    • The act further widened the protection given to manual scavengers.
    • The act intends to eliminate insanitary latrines completely and prohibit employment as manual scavengers and hazardous manual cleaning of sewers and septic tanks.
    • Every offence under this Act shall be cognizable and non-bailable.
  • However, even after this there is under-reporting of manual scavengers in India.
  • According to Socio-Economic Caste Census 2011 there are 182,505 families in rural India engaged in manual scavenging. However the government recognized only 12,742 manual scavengers in 13 states in 2013.
  • Thus in January 2018, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment recognized the problem and has begun a new survey process to count India’s manual scavengers.

 

The National Survey

  • As mentioned above in January 2018, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment began a new survey process to count manual scavengers in India.
  • The first phase involved counting those who clean night soil and pit latrines in 164 districts.
  • The second phase will look at people who clean septic tanks, sewers and railway tracks.

 

Key Findings

  • In the first phase of the national counting 54,929 manual scavengers were identified as employed in manual scavenging.
  • However the state governments have confirmed only 25,015 people in the verification stage.
  • Only Maharashtra has verified and acknowledged the presence of all 5,638 identified as manual scavengers. Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Karnataka have also confirmed most of the people identified as manual scavengers.
  • However other states have denied the existence of more than half the number of people identified as manual scavengers.
  • Bihar, Haryana and Telangana denied having even a single person involved in manual scavenging.
  • Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Punjab confirmed only a fraction of the numbers that were enrolled during the first phase of counting.
    • MP has confirmed only 30% the number identified.
    • In UP while 18,913 people were registered the government had verified only 7,052.

 

Issue with under-reporting

  • To solve a problem the first step is recognition of the problem.
  • The issue of identification of those engaged in manual scavenging and sewage cleaning has been a long and convoluted one.
  • This is due to the denial of the very existence of manual scavengers by implementing authorities. 
  • The government recognises latrine cleaners, railway cleaners, sewer cleaners and faecal sludge handlers as manual scavengers.
  • Waste treatment plant workers, drain cleaners, community and public toilet cleaning, domestic workers and school toilet cleaners are not recognised though they work with human faecal matter and other dangerous waste.

 

Way Forward

  • The first step to tackle under counting is to broaden the classification of sanitation work.
  • Categorisation can aid policy makers to customise their programs to benefit sanitation workers more effectively.

Show full text

Section : Social Issues

 

Reviewing the competition Act: The Act needs to deal with new technologies

Review of the Competition Act:

  • The Union government, on September 30, 2018, constituted a nine-member Competition Law Review Committee to review the Competition Act, 2002.
  • The committee comprises of antitrust experts, scholars and civil servants, on the current Indian competition law regime.
  • The Competition Act has been in operation for more than a decade and a half. 
  • The committee has been entrusted with three tasks:
    1. To review the Competition Act, Rules, Regulations, in view of changing business environment and bring necessary changes wherever required;
    2. To look into international best practices in the competition fields, especially antitrust laws, merger guidelines and handling cross-border competition issues;
    3. To study other regulatory regimes, institutional mechanisms and government policies that overlap with the Act.

 

Areas of the Act needing reform

There are five areas under the current Competition Act which need reform:

  1. Dealing with with new disruptive technologies:
  • The first challenge is to address the need for a modern and robust regulatory framework to deal with disruptive technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, algorithmic pricing, virtual competition, cryptocurrencies and blockchain. 
    • For example, blockchain—it is decentralised and anonymous—could give rise to multiple questions regarding detection of unilateral practices and identification of perpetrators. 
  • There is a need to understand where the current Competition Act fits into technology and make necessary amendments to add more certainty and facilitate ease of doing business in India.

 

  1. Definition of 'dominance':
  • ‘Dominance’, under Explanation to Section 4 of the Act, means the ‘ability to operate independently of competitive forces prevailing in the relevant market’ or ‘affect its competitors or consumers or the relevant market in its favour’. 
  • The Act lays down 13 factors under Section 19(4) to determine dominance. 
  • The committee needs to assess if the concept of dominance can be applied in the virtual space and the technologies. This is important as in digital markets, it is common to find dominant players. 

 

  1. Reforming CCI:

There is also the need to reform the institutional framework of the Competition Commission of India (CCI). 

Need more members: 

  • The Union Cabinet, in April 2018, downsized the CCI to a body of four members including the chairperson. 
  • More number of members adds to diversity of opinion, and better reasoning and judgement. 

Need benches:

  • Interestingly, the CCI, under Section 7(4) of the Act, is empowered to establish multiple benches across India. 
  • The increase in the number of benches with a minimum quorum of 3-5 shall help in reducing the workload, expeditious disposal of cases with high qualitative standards, and facilitate ease of doing business in the country.

Need more experts:

  • The current workforce in the CCI comprises of either civil servants or officers from other government offices who are on deputation only for a few years. 
  • An example in this case could be drawn from the Competition and Markets Authority of the UK, which comprises of antitrust scholars and experts at higher level. 
  • Staffing the CCI with such experts who have substantial knowledge, expertise, practice and scholarly experience in antitrust law shall raise the qualitative analysis and standards of the judgements being passed.

 

  1. Need for Appellate Tribunal:
  • The Union Government, via Finance Bill, 2017, has scrapped the Competition Appeal Tribunal. 
  • This was a blunder done by the government, given that a specialised law like competition requires a robust appellate authority for smooth development of a specialised regulation. 
  • A dedicated tribunal that is independent from other forums could be established to deal with competition appeal cases. 

 

  1. Penalties:
  • Another issue is that the Competition Act provides only for civil consequences for breach of its provisions. 
  • Section 27(b) provides for penalties in event of contravention under Section 3 and 4 of the Act. 
  • The CCI can also impose monetary penalty of up to 10% of an enterprise’s turnover for preceding three financial years. 
  • Three reforms are required in this provision of law:
    • Specifying guidelines for penalties: The CCI hasn’t promulgated penalty guidelines, with no specific factors to be taken into account while computing fines;
    • 'Relevant turnover': The CCI has not recognised the concept of ‘relevant turnover’ and has fined multi-product companies on the total turnover despite single product being the subject for breach;
    • Terminology: The Act uses both the words ‘fine’ and ‘monetary penalty’, with the former being used generally for criminal monetary punishments and the latter for civil monetary punishments. The Act, as such, has mixed up both the proceedings, which are gross legal errors that need to be rectified at the earliest.

 

Importance:

GS Paper II: Polity & Governance

Section : Editorial Analysis

 

102 city clean air mission gets ₹300 crores 

The News

  • The Centre has earmarked Rs. 300 crore for implementation of the upcoming National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) for financial year 2018-19 and 2019-20.

 

About NCAP

  • In December 2017, the Union government announced the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) that proposes multiple strategies to combat air pollution across the country.
  • NCAP is India’s 1st coordinated pan-India national level strategy to curb air pollution in a time-bound manner.
  • It requires the states to frame their own Clean Air Programmes.

 

Goal

  • The primary goal of NCAP is to meet the prescribed annual average ambient air quality standards across the country within a stipulated timeframe.
  • The government has set a mid-term target to reduce air pollution by 20-30% by 2024, taking 2017 as base year.

 

Objectives

  • To augment and evolve ambient air quality monitoring network across the country to build a reliable database.
  • Ensuring public participation in planning and implementation of air pollution policies.
  • To have a feasible management plan for prevention, control and abatement of air pollution.

 

 

 

Components of NCAP

  • Tackle pollution from various sources including power plants, transport, industry, residential and agriculture sectors etc.
  • Increase number of manual air quality monitoring stations from 703 to 1,000.
  • Expand the network of the Continuous Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Stations (CAAQMS)
  • Set up Air Information Centre for data analysis, interpretation and dissemination through GIS platforms. 
  • Institutional framework for NCAP for implementation and monitoring will include:
    • An apex committee under Minister MOEF
    • A steering committee under MOEF secretary
    • National\state-level project implementation units including members from CPCB and SPCB.


City-Specific Action Plans for non-attainment cities 

  • NCAP has a city-specific action plans consisting pollution abatement measures for 102 non-attainment cities.
  • A non-attainment city is the one which has air quality worse than the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
  • Totally 102 cities have been identified 94 cities as non-attainment cities on the basis of 5-years data generated under the National Air Quality Monitoring Programme.
  • All big metros are on the list including Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Kanpur, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Lucknow, Varanasi, Bhopal Jaipur etc.
  • The plan for 102 non-attainment cities will have three timelines to gradually reduce air pollution.
  • Under the timelines, air pollution in these cities will be reduced by
  1. 35% in the next three years
  2. 50% in the next five years
  3. 70-80% in the next 10 years.
  • States are entrusted with the responsibility to frame their own city-specific plan.
  • Centre would assist states in building capacities to reduce pollution level in tune with the prescribed timelines.
  • In August 2018, 73 out of 102 cities submitted a plan of remedial action under NACP.

Section : Environment & Ecology