The News Editorial Analysis 11th Jan 2022

The News Editorial Analysis 11th Jan 2022

The News Editorial Analysis 11th Jan 2022

SC to constitute panel to probe PM security breach

Halt inquiries by Punjab, Centre, says court

The Supreme Court on Monday said it would form a committee headed by a retired judge of the court to conduct a time-bound and independent inquiry into the circumstances that saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s convoy stuck for several minutes on a flyover in Punjab on January 5.

Ongoing inquiries

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) N.V. Ramana indicated that ongoing inquiries by both Punjab and the Centre would have to stop for the time being.

The court said that its committee would submit a report within a specified time after examining the records of the security arrangements, already been seized by the Registrar General of the Punjab and Haryana High Court as per its orders on January 7.

The court also indicated that the Registrar General, along with the officers who helped him seize and protect the documents, who include the DGP, Chandigarh, and the IG, National Investigation Agency, would be part of the committee.

There would be another member in the committee. Punjab has suggested its Additional DGP (Security) as an alternative.

Punjab Advocate General D.S. Patwalia, at the start of the hearing, said the State feared it would not get a fair hearing.

It said show-cause notices had been issued by the Centre to its officers, mentioning disciplinary action against them for the security lapse concerning the Prime Minister’s convoy. The show-cause notices indicated that the Centre already considered Punjab’s police officers prima facie guilty. This had been arrived at without any evidence or records, all of which had been seized on the orders of the apex court, he said.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said there had been a security lapse and “complete intelligence failure” on the part of the State.

“When there is a complete breach, there is no question of hearing. Officers responsible are served with notice. There is an admitted fact of breakage. This is a rarest of rare case,” he said.

The court asked the Centre why the judiciary had been asked to intervene if the government had “presumed everything” already.

“The impression you give is that you have presumed everything… Then why should the court go into all this,” it asked.

The sail that Indian diplomacy, statecraft need

Striking the right balance between continental and maritime security will enable India’s long-term security interests

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosts the five Central Asia leaders at the Republic Day Parade on January 26, it will send a strong signal — of the new prominence of the Central Asian region in India’s security calculations. In 2015, Mr. Modi visited all the five Central Asian states. Recently, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar also hosted their Central Asian counterparts in Delhi. The collapse of American military power in Afghanistan, the subsequent takeover of Kabul by the Taliban and the consequent rise in the influence of Pakistan and China are developments of high concern for India’s continental security interests.

While the Republic Day invitation is significant symbolically, in substance, however, hard work lies ahead. India’s continental strategy, in which the Central Asian region is an indispensable link, has progressed intermittently over the past two decades — promoting connectivity, incipient defence and security cooperation, enhancing India’s soft power and boosting trade and investment. It is laudable, but as is now apparent, it is insufficient to address the broader geopolitical challenges engulfing the region.

Focus on Eurasia

China’s assertive rise, the precipitous withdrawal of forces of the United States/North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) from Afghanistan, the rise of Islamic fundamentalist forces, the changing dynamics of the historic stabilising role of Russia (most recently in Kazakhstan) and related multilateral mechanisms — the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, and the Eurasian Economic Union — have all set the stage for a sharpening of the geopolitical competition on the Eurasian landmass. This competition is marked by a weaponisation of resource and geographical access as a form of domination, practised by China and other big powers. To meet this challenge, evolving an effective continental strategy for India will be a complex and long-term exercise.

Some course correction

India’s maritime vision and ambitions have grown dramatically during the past decade, symbolised by its National Maritime Strategy, the Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) initiative for the Indian Ocean Region and major initiatives relating to the Indo-Pacific and the Quad, in which maritime security figures prominently. This was perhaps an overdue correction to the historic neglect of India’s maritime power. It was also a response to the dramatic rise of China as a military power. It may also be a by-product of the oversized influence over our think-tank community of Anglo-Saxon strategic thinking, which has tended to emphasise the maritime dimensions of China’s military rise more than others.

The U.S. is a pre-eminent naval power, even more so in the Indo-Pacific region, and defines its strategic preferences in the light of its own strengths. That said, maritime security is important to keeping sea lanes open for trade, commerce and freedom of navigation, resisting Chinese territorial aggrandisement in the South China Sea and elsewhere, and helping littoral states resist Chinese bullying tactics in interstate relations. However, maritime security and associated dimensions of naval power are not sufficient instruments of statecraft as India seeks diplomatic and security constructs to strengthen deterrence against Chinese unilateral actions and the emergence of a unipolar Asia.

The Chinese willingness and capacity for military intervention and power projection are growing far beyond its immediate region. Its rise is not merely in the maritime domain. It is expanding on the Eurasian continent — its Belt and Road Initiative projects in Central Asia up to Central and Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, undercutting traditional Russian influence, its gaining access to energy and other natural resources, and its dependency-creating investments, cyber and digital penetration and expanding influence among political and economic elites across the continent. The American military footprint has shrunk dramatically on the core Eurasian landmass, though it has a substantial military presence on the continental peripheries. Bulwarks against Chinese maritime expansionist gains are relatively easier to build and its gains easier to reverse than the long-term strategic gains that China hopes to secure on continental Eurasia. Like Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) centrality is key to the Indo-Pacific, centrality of the Central Asian states should be key for Eurasia.

Border, connectivity issues

India’s partition and the emergence over the past six decades of a persistent two-front threat from Pakistan and China set the stage for a tough continental dimension of our security. There is increased militarisation of the borders with Pakistan and China, with the Ladakh sector now increasingly looking like it will see permanent deployment on the Siachen Glacier. India has been subject for over five decades to a land embargo by Pakistan that has few parallels in relations between two states that are technically not at war. Connectivity means nothing when access is denied through persistent neighbouring state hostility contrary to the canons of international law.

Difficulties have arisen in operationalising an alternative route — the International North-South Transport Corridor on account of the U.S.’s hostile attitude towards Iran. It may appear strange that while we join the U.S. and others in supporting the right of freedom of navigation in the maritime domain, we do not demand with the same force the right of India to conduct interstate trade, commerce, and transit along continental routes — be it through the lifting of Pakistan’s blockade on transit or the lifting of U.S. sanctions against transit through Iran into Eurasia. With the recent Afghan developments, India’s physical connectivity challenges with Eurasia have only become starker. The marginalisation of India on the Eurasian continent in terms of connectivity must be reversed.

Where the U.S. stands

The ongoing U.S.-Russia confrontation relating to Ukraine, Russian opposition to future NATO expansion and the broader questions of European security including on the issue of new deployment of intermediate-range missiles, following the demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty will have profound consequences for Eurasian security. This comes against the background of an ongoing U.S. review of its global military commitments. While the U.S. had over 2,65,000 troops under its European command in 1992, it now has about 65,000. Even with the rise of China’s military power, over the past decade, the U.S. which had about 1,00,000 troops in the early 1990s under what is now called the Indo-Pacific Command, currently has about 90,000 troops mostly committed to the territorial defence of Japan and South Korea. The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has undergone a major transformation during the last decade; it had about 1,70,000 troops a decade ago (related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan), but has less than 10,000 personnel now.

The bottom line is clear – the U.S. would be severely stretched if it wanted to simultaneously increase its force levels in Europe and the Indo-Pacific. Successive waves of post-Cold War NATO expansion only increased overall insecurity, with the potential to create for the U.S. the mother of all quagmires. A major conflict — if it erupts in Central Europe, pitting Russia, Ukraine and some European states — will stall any hopes of a substantial U.S. military pivot to the Indo-Pacific. Geopolitics may be fractured but always add up globally. Russia and China do not need to be alliance partners to allow for coordinated actions relating to Taiwan or Donbas, as such coordination would flow from the very logic of the strategic conundrum that the U.S. now finds itself in. In the same vein, European NATO powers dependent on the U.S. can do only so much for strengthening security in the Indo-Pacific. Their engagement with the Indo-Pacific is welcome but we should not only be cognisant of the limitations of geography, obvious gaps between strategic ambition and capacity but also the inherently different standpoints of how major maritime powers view critical questions of continental security. India is unique as no other peer country has the same severity of challenges on both the continental and maritime dimensions.

Be assertive about rights

Going forward, it is clear India will not have the luxury of choosing one over the other; we would need to acquire strategic vision and deploy the necessary resources to pursue our continental interests without ignoring our interests in the maritime domain. This will require a more assertive push for our continental rights — namely that of transit and access, working with our partners in Central Asia, with Iran and Russia (not that we have many other options), and a more proactive engagement with economic and security agendas ranging from the SCO, Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Stabilising Afghanistan is a necessary but not a sufficient condition.

Striking the right balance between continental and maritime security would be the best guarantor of our long-term security interests. But this will not be easy as we would need to work with different partners on different agendas even while their geopolitical contradictions play out in the open. India will need to define its own parameters of continental and maritime security consistent with its own interests. In doing so, at a time of major geopolitical change, maintaining our capacity for independent thought and action (namely strategic autonomy) will help our diplomacy and statecraft navigate the difficult landscape and the choppy waters that lie ahead.

The rise of collaboratives for social impact

The emphasis on inclusion, equity and justice, and formal collaborations could make a mark in India’s social sector

In early 2020, The Bridgespan Group released a report, “Philanthropic Collaboratives in India: The Power of Many” (, that examined alliances between development sector actors — funders, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and governments. Those stakeholders bet that their combined funding, skills and assets would make the impact of collaboratives greater than the sum of their parts.

And, yet, at the time, India had few philanthropic collaboratives. This is no longer the case.

Co-created by three or more independent actors, including at least one funder, a philanthropic collaborative pursues a shared vision and strategy for social impact. In 2019, we studied 15 such collaboratives in India. Since then, at least 18 more collaboratives have come together. These include COVID ActionCollab, India Protectors Alliance, The Future of Impact Collaborative, and The Coalition for Women Empowerment.

Sixteen of these operate across multiple States. Most focus on implementing social programmes and mobilising funding. Swasth, for instance, has created a one-stop tele-medicine portal, while ACT Grants pools financial resources for innovations in tackling COVID.

Collaboratives are also mobilising greater funding. The annual budgets of the 13 collaboratives in 2019 ranged from ₹50 lakh to ₹50 crore. In comparison, multi-year financial commitments for eight of the new collaboratives range from ₹2 crore to ₹600 crore (budget data is not available for the other 10). At least three of them aim to raise about ₹100 crore.

There is growing emphasis on inclusion, equity, and justice. The new generation of collaboratives increasingly focuses on marginalised communities such as informal waste pickers, front-line workers, and migrant labour.

Path to scaling

The devastation caused to lives and livelihoods by the novel coronavirus pandemic is clearly driving organisations to work collectively. Several partnerships now involve businesses, harnessing the power of private capital for social good.

Consider the Migrants Resilience Collaborative (MRC).

Soon after the nation-wide COVID-19 lockdown on March 24, 2020, the NGO Jan Sahas released the results of a survey that revealed the lockdown’s disproportionate impact on migrant workers. Of the 3,196 migrant construction workers interviewed, a staggering 90% had lost their source of income and 62% were unaware of the Government’s emergency assistance efforts.

India has approximately 140 million migrant workers. Jan Sahas’ founder, Ashif Shaikh, concluded that the scale of the problem far outstripped the capabilities of any single NGO and necessitated collaboration. Jan Sahas, in partnership with EdelGive Foundation, Global Development Network and other organisations, launched MRC, whose goal is to facilitate relief for more than 10 million migrant workers across 13 States. More than 40 community-based organisations, 25 companies and industry associations, and three State governments have partnered with MRC.

Although collaboratives can increase the odds of achieving outsize impact, collaboration is complicated. Building trust across multiple partners and balancing their priorities and the collaborative’s goals can be challenging. In 2020, we found that it took several years for collaboratives to move from “coming together” — where they define their shared mission and strategy — to actually “working together” and delivering results.

This new crop of collaboratives is forming relatively faster. Of the 18 we examined, 15 are already “working together”. No doubt, the pandemic has spurred collaboratives to raise funds and evolve swiftly. Equally important for MRC has been its credibility and clarity.

Since 2000, Jan Sahas has worked to end commercial sexual exploitation and forced labour, focusing on migrant workers from socially excluded communities; 90% of Jan Sahas’ staff comes from the communities it serves. Jan Sahas could hence draw on a deep well of trust and relationships for MRC.

To ensure alignment of MRC’s stakeholders, Mr. Shaikh drew up a list of “non-negotiable” goals: such as securing a minimum wage for migrant workers and ending exploitation of female workers. While there were some disagreements among the partners, clarity on the “non-negotiables” ensured that they remained on the same page.

Here to stay

Mr. Shaikh identified another factor, besides the pandemic, that is driving collaboration.

“Funding for NGOs, especially for community-based and grassroots organisations, has dropped significantly,” he observed. “That is pushing small- and medium-sized organisations, particularly at the State and district level, to collaborate. They can then get strategic and financial support, and a platform to implement their programmes.”

To be sure, as more NGOs and funders pool their resources and expertise, some start-up collaboratives will struggle to partner effectively and achieve collective impact. Still, given the significant increase in philanthropic collaboratives over the past two years, it is likely that formal collaboration between multiple stakeholders — including private business — is set to become a distinctive and lasting feature of India’s social sector.

Pritha Venkatachalam, a partner in The Bridgespan Group’s Mumbai office, heads the firm’s market impact initiatives in South Asia. Akshay Gambhir is a case team leader in The Bridgespan Group’s Mumbai office

Amendments that are unnecessary

Why a national database of registered births and deaths is not required

The Central government had invited comments on the proposed amendments to the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969 (RBD Act). One major proposal is to prepare a national database of registered births and deaths. This is intended to be used to update, for every birth and death, the databases created in accordance with many other laws, such as the National Population Register, voter list and Aadhaar database.

Under the RBD Act, it is the responsibility of the States to register births and deaths. State governments have set up facilities for registering births and deaths and keeping records. A Chief Registrar appointed in every State is the executive authority for implementation of the Act. A hierarchy of officials at the district and lower levels do the work. The Registrar General of India (RGI), appointed under this Act, is responsible for coordinating and unifying the implementation of the RBD Act.

Unnecessary provisions

Information on registered births and deaths is now stored in State-level databases using a unified software in many States. This system enables citizens to easily obtain the required services. It also helps prevent fake registrations and errors. Birth and death registers also include some personal information about the child born, the child’s parents, and the deceased. In addition, some information required for demographic studies is also collected during registration. This information is not included in the register and is used only to collate vital statistics.

On registration of a birth or death, the information can automatically go to the concerned authorities. However, one has to examine the need for each birth and death to be communicated to other databases. It may be important for a population register to get that information instantaneously. For other databases, it may be enough to get that information on a monthly or even annual basis. For example, the election authorities may require the list of deaths only once in six months or so for removing dead persons from the database. Cancellation of passports or driving licences on the death of the holder is not very important as they cannot be misused that easily.

In all cases where instantaneous updating is not necessary, the concerned databases should collect the information from the best source. Whether it should be collected from the birth and death database is an important question. The address in the birth and death database may be different from the current or permanent address of the mother or deceased. The mother may have gone to her parent’s place for delivery and that address may have been recorded while admitting her in a hospital. Similarly, many people are admitted to hospitals in the city where they may have a temporary contact address. It is this that gets recorded in the hospital and in the death register. So, some data item, like the Aadhaar number, is necessary to link the information with other databases.

In an ideal situation, a birth and death database need not interact with any database other than a population database. This is because a population database will have all the information, like date and place of occurrence of the birth or death and names of the parents/deceased, that may be required by other databases.

A proposal is to include the Aadhaar number, if available, as one piece of information to be reported while reporting a birth or death, by amending Section 8 of the Act. This is an unnecessary amendment as the Aadhaar number can be included in the forms used for reporting births or deaths. Having already directed the States to include the Aadhaar number of the deceased in the death reporting form, it is not clear why it is necessary to amend the Act for its inclusion.

State governments maintain databases of births and deaths, some of which are manually done now. Information required for updating other databases for each birth and death can be directly given from the State-level database. Extracting part of the information therein to create a national database to be maintained by the RGI appears an unnecessary duplication and will only create an intermediate administrative layer without any value addition.

The databases maintained by the States now may not follow the same structure for various data items. I am not sure whether they all follow the same standard even for writing the names of individuals. For example, the names of many people in Kerala and Tamil Nadu have the name of the family and father’s name preceding the first name of the person while many databases use the first name/middle name/surname format.

The Central government should prescribe standards for data items in the birth and death database maintained by the State governments. This is necessary even if a national database of births and deaths is to be created. These standards should be common for other databases. This would make it easier to communicate information automatically to other databases. The cultural diversity across the country should be kept in mind while prescribing standards so that the citizens are not hassled later on.

There is a proposal that the RBD Act mention that information from the national database would be used to update the Population Register, Aadhaar database, passport database, etc. and that the birth and death certificates issued under this Act should be taken as evidence of date and place of birth for issuing Aadhaar cards, passports and driving licence, for enrolling in voter’s list or for school admission. These are unnecessary provisions. The law for each of these databases can specify whether the information contained in the birth and death register should be used for a particular purpose. It may be noted that till recently, the instructions regarding application for a passport contained a provision that only birth certificates issued by the Registrar of Births and Deaths would be accepted as proof of date and place of birth.

Need to look forward

Activities relating to the registration of births and deaths have undergone a sea change in the last decade with computerisation. However, the law has not been amended to take care of this reality. There is a need for updating the law to take care of these and future developments. The proposed amendments fall short of this.

A bill was introduced in Parliament in 2012 to amend the RBD Act to include marriage registration in its purview and to make registration of marriages compulsory. It lapsed as it was not taken up by the Lok Sabha. The Law Commission examined the issue again and recommended in its Report No. 270 that the RBD Act may be amended for including marriage registration. Instead of going for another amendment for this purpose, it should have been taken care of within the current proposals.

A BIT to review

The Committee on External Affairs’ report on India and BITs has novel suggestions but is lacking in some aspects

The report of the Standing Committee on External Affairs on ‘India and bilateral investment treaties (BITs)’ was presented to Parliament last month. This report is momentous as it comes a decade after India lost the first investment treaty claim in 2011 (White Industries v. India). The loss in this case was perceived as an ominous sign. It became a watershed moment for India and transformed the trajectory of India’s BIT landscape triggering sweeping changes such as unilateral termination of these treaties.

Overall context

The broader context in which the Committee took up the task of reviewing India’s approach towards BITs has three core elements. First, since the White Industries case, foreign investors have sued India around 20 times for alleged BIT breaches. This made India the 10th most frequent respondent-state globally in terms of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) claims from 1987 to 2019 (UNCTAD). Second, India adopted a new Model BIT in 2016, which marked a significant departure from its previous treaty practice. Third, India is in the process of negotiating new investment deals (separately or as part of free trade agreements) with important countries such as Australia and the U.K.

The Committee examined this overall context and made vital recommendations for the government to consider. First, it articulated its discontentment at the fact that India has signed very few investment treaties after the adoption of the Model BIT. It recommends that India expedite the existing negotiations and conclude the agreements at the earliest because a delay might adversely impact foreign investment.

Second, contrary to the position of policymakers, the committee recognises the potential of BITs in luring foreign direct investment (FDI). This aligns with the findings of several empirical studies that show that while individual BITs do not impact investment inflows, the cumulative effect of all BITs signed by India positively influenced FDI inflows. In this regard, curiously, the committee recommends that India should sign more BITs in core or priority sectors to attract FDI. Generally, BITs are not signed for specific sectors. Asking India to do so will be a novel pathway to investment treaty-making. It will require an overhauling of India’s extant treaty practice that focuses on safeguarding certain kinds of regulatory measures from ISDS claims rather than limiting BITs to specific sectors.

Third, the committee recommends that India’s Model BIT be fine-tuned. This is welcome because the Model BIT gives precedence to the state’s regulatory interests over the rights of foreign investors. However, the key question is, what trajectory will this fine-tuning take? The Model BIT should be recalibrated keeping two factors in mind: tightening the language of the existing provisions to circumscribe the discretion of ISDS arbitral tribunals that offer broad interpretations, and striking a balance between the goals of investment protection and the state’s right to adopt bonafide regulatory measures for public welfare. The committee’s report mostly concentrates on the first factor. If the Model BIT is tweaked with the sole motive to reduce arbitral discretion, it might result in further skewing the balance towards the host state’s right to regulate. This would make it arduous for India to convince its potential treaty partners like the EU which already have misgivings about the Model BIT.

Fourth, the committee recommends bolstering the capacity of government officials in the area of investment treaty arbitration. While the government has taken some steps in this direction through a few training workshops, more needs to be done. What is needed is an institutionalised mechanism for capacity-building through the involvement of public and private universities that have competence in this field. The government should also consider establishing chairs in universities to foster research and teaching activities in international investment law.

Missed opportunity

A very large proportion of ISDS claims against India is due to poor governance. This includes changing laws retroactively (which led to Vodafone and Cairn suing India), annulling agreement in the wake of imagined scam (taking away S-band satellite spectrum from Devas), and the judiciary’s fragility in getting its act together (sitting on the White Industries case for enforcement of its commercial award for years). The Committee could have emphasised on greater regulatory coherence, policy stability, and robust governance structures to avoid ISDS claims.

The government should promptly assemble an expert team to review the Model BIT. This team should involve critical voices because plural viewpoints can coalesce into an efficacious policy.

Two SC judges pull out of Krishna water case

Justice Chandrachud hails from Maharashtra while Justice Bopanna is from Karnataka

Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and A.S. Bopanna of the Supreme Court on Monday recused themselves from hearing a dispute among the neighbouring States of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka on the allocation of the Krishna river water.

Justice Chandrachud said both he and Justice Bopanna had had a word with each other earlier in the day and decided to withdraw from hearing the case. Justice Chandrachud is from Maharashtra and Justice Bopanna hails from Karnataka.

Justice Chandrachud explained to the lawyers present that they had noticed that judges similarly placed like them — hailing from the States in dispute — had recused themselves from the case. “We do not want to be targets of invective,” he conveyed their decision.

Some of the lawyers pointed out that the court had been hearing the dispute for the past two to three years. The Bench, however, ordered the court registry to place it before a Bench in which neither Justices Chandrachud nor Bopanna were members after getting the consent of the Chief Justice of India.

The hearing had seen verbal battles among the States, with Telangana submitting that there was no information from Karnataka for the past 14 years about how much water it had diverted. In turn, Karnataka had argued that a lot of water was going to waste and there was a need to harness it for irrigation and to replenish dry regions.

Karnataka had sought the vacation of a November 16, 2011, order of the Supreme Court that stopped the Centre from publishing in the Official Gazette the final order of the Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal II (KWDT) pronounced in December 2010, allocating the river water to Karnataka, erstwhile Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.

The KWDT had further modified its final order and report on November 29, 2013, to allot surplus water to Karnataka, Maharashtra and the erstwhile State of Andhra Pradesh while preserving the allocation of 2,130 TMC already made among them. The publication of the tribunal order is a necessary precondition for its implementation. Following the bifurcation of unified Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh had moved the Supreme Court challenging the KWDT’s allocation of share.

Suu Kyi sentenced to 4 years in prison

Charges include illegal possession of walkie-talkies; ousted leader faces a total six-year prison termA court in military-ruled Myanmar sentenced on Monday ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi to four years in jail on charges including possession of unlicensed walkie-talkies, a source familiar with the proceedings said.The latest sentencing in legal proceedings that rights groups have criticised as a “farce and a courtroom circus” means she faces a six-year jail term after two convictions last month.She is on trial in nearly a dozen cases that carry combined maximum sentences of more than 100 years in prison. She denies all charges.Nobel laureate Suu Kyi, 76, appeared calm when the verdict was read out on Monday in a court in the capital, Naypyitaw, said another source with knowledge of the court proceedings.Ms. Suu Kyi was detained on the day of the February 1 coup and days later, police said six illegally imported walkie-talkies were recovered during a search of her home.The court handed her a two-year sentence for breaching an export-import law by possessing the handheld radios and one year for having a set of signal jammers. The two sentences will run concurrently, said the source.She was also sentenced to two years on another charge of breaching a natural disaster management law related to coronavirus rules, the source said.Myanmar has been in turmoil since the coup against Ms. Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government led to widespread protests and signalled the end of 10 years of tentative political reforms that followed decades of strict military rule.

On December 6, she received a four-year jail sentence for incitement and breaching coronavirus rules.That sentence, which was later reduced to two years, was met by a chorus of international condemnation.Rights group Amnesty International said on Twitter on Monday the new convictions were “the latest act in the farcical trial against the civilian leader”.It called for her release along with thousands of others “unjustly detained” since the coup.

‘Secretive trial’

Ms. Suu Kyi’s supporters say the cases against her are baseless and designed to end her political career and leave the military free to wield power untrammeled by any challenge.The junta says Ms. Suu Kyi is being given due process by an independent court, led by a judge appointed by her own administration. A spokesman for the military council could not be immediately reached for comment. Her trial has been closed to the media and Ms. Suu Kyi’s lawyers have been barred from communicating with the media and public.

The military has not disclosed where Ms. Suu Kyi, who spent years under house arrest under a previous military government, is being detained.“The Myanmar junta’s courtroom circus of secret proceedings on bogus charges is all about steadily piling up more convictions … so that she will remain in prison indefinitely,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said.

‘No one should interfere in China-Lanka ties’

Chinese Foreign Minister proposes a ‘forum on the development of Indian Ocean island countries’

No “third party” should interfere in China-Sri Lanka ties, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has said, during his recent visit to Colombo, while also proposing a forum for Indian Ocean island nations.

During his nearly 24-hour visit to Colombo, where he met the Sri Lankan leadership, Mr. Wang spoke of the “friendly relationship” between China and Sri Lanka that “benefits the development of both countries and serves the fundamental interest” of both peoples, a statement issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Monday. “It does not target any third party and should not be interfered with by any third party. The all-round cooperation and strategic mutual trust between the two countries have injected positive energy into regional peace and stability,” according to the readout from Beijing.

In December 2021, the Colombo-based Chinese Embassy tweeted about a Chinese company shifting its solar energy project from northern Sri Lanka to the Maldives, in the wake of “security concerns from a third party”. While the Embassy did not name the party, it was clearly alluding to India that objected to the Chinese project in three islands off Jaffna peninsula.

Rubber-rice pact

Mr. Wang was on a brief official visit to Sri Lanka — as part of a five-nation tour in the New Year — to launch celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the historic Rubber-Rice Pact, and the 65th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between Sri Lanka and China.

His visit came at a time when Sri Lanka is battling a severe economic crisis of a persisting dollar crunch, soaring living costs and a shortage of essentials in the import-reliant island nation. Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa urged China to restructure Sri Lanka’s debt, and help the country cope with the economic strain.

FTA talks

According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Mr. Wang said the two sides should make good use of “the two engines”, referring to the $1.4 billion China-backed Colombo Port City in Colombo, and the Hambantota Port in the island’s Southern Province. He urged Sri Lanka to “tap the opportunities” of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and China’s “vast market”, and restart talks on a free trade agreement between China and Sri Lanka “to send more positive signals to the world and contribute to Sri Lanka’s economic recovery and development”, the Ministry’s statement on his meeting with Mr. Gotabaya said.

The resident Chinese envoy also conveyed the same to a select group of Sri Lankan journalists following the visit, although official statements from the Sri Lankan side made no mention of either “third party” interference, or resuming FTA talks. During Mr. Wang’s visit, China and agreed to extend Yuan 800 million for partnerships in the health sector, for technical cooperation, besides supporting construction of low-cost housing in capital Colombo.

Another aspect of Mr. Wang’s bilateral discussions in Colombo, which was not captured in local statements or media, was his proposal for a “forum on the development of Indian Ocean island countries” to build consensus and synergy, and promote common development.

Mr. Wang, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told the Sri Lankan leadership: “During my visit to several Indian Ocean island countries this time, I feel that all island countries share similar experiences and common needs, with similar natural endowment and development goals, and have favorable conditions and full potential for strengthening mutually beneficial cooperation,” while proposing the forum that sounded similar to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) initiative.New Delhi would watch any regional forum with interest, amid its own efforts. Last year, a Secretariat for Trilateral National Security Advisers (NSA) on Maritime Security Cooperation among India, Maldives and Sri Lanka was set up in Colombo.

AFSPA debate: What could be a possible solution?

The News Editorial Analysis 11th Jan 2022

Every few years, the debate on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), its provisions and applicability to certain regions and areas becomes more clamorous. People’s opposition to it is because they feel that in a functional democracy, there cannot be an open-ended legal provision that gives wide-ranging powers to the military for use in insurgency-like situations, with immunity from prosecution and no limits on the longevity of its application. That is one end of the debate. On the other end lies the perception of those who are empowered by the AFSPA and do not oppose the above belief but wish that it is seen in the right context. Their perception is about the presence of fissiparous trends in a multi-ethnic, multi-faith, multi-cultural and multi-caste nation, a realistic expectation. The existence of neighbouring adversaries and their involvement in proxy wars in India through support to anarchists causes major concern for the nation’s integrity and unity. Such threats, which are proliferating through emerging technologies and new generations of warfare, cannot be countered by the police forces alone. The AFSPA is simply the empowerment of the military to assume the lead role in countering these trends through legislated authority to conduct operations without reference to civil administration. There are two modes by which the military comes in to support the civil authority. The first is for assistance to the local police to conduct flag marches, quell mobs and protect public property in law-and-order situations—during a reservation-based agitation, for example. A local magistrate has to authorise the use of military force at every stage. The second is when the situation is a ‘public order’ one, threat lethality is of a higher order and akin to the launch of a new generation of warfare. In that case, the military under the AFSPA is empowered, like the police, to conduct operations without reference to a civil authority. Soldiers receive protection from prosecution in the event of mistakes committed in the pursuit of duties; they can only be prosecuted with the permission of the Central government and not by local initiation.The entire debate hinges on the allegation that the AFSPA is draconian because it sanctifies the use of violence to quell or control violence. There is another way to view the provisions of the AFSPA—that the wordings of the Fifties, which were used to describe the powers contained in the Acts of 1958, 1983 and 1990, were unduly harsh. In today’s world, harsh language of this kind is not taken kindly and it gives a perception of lack of sensitivity towards fellow citizens. There appears some kind of awkward belief in civil society that the military uses its empowerment under the AFSPA to maximise violence, never realising that ‘minimum force’ is its mantra. The very unfortunate recent incident in Mon district of Nagaland, leading to the mistaken identity killing of six innocent citizens by an Army ambush and eight more after the local people responded in anger, has added to the clamour to rescind the Act. The government has taken a call to extend the AFSPA for six months in Nagaland even as a high-power committee is examining its further validity in the light of the existing situation.Perception is so divided today that it is best to place facts for better understanding than express opinion. The first of the facts needing clarification is about the AFSPA being applied only in border states. Many are questioning why it has not been imposed in the Red Corridor. My brief explanation for this is that heartland insurgencies, even if externally sponsored, may not pose threats as serious as rimland ones in the border states.The objection of the people and rights activists is that the partial immunity emboldens the military to take risks in the course of which inadvertent mistakes are made, promoting a sort of impunity. While that mistake can be written off as an unfortunate incident by the military, it causes anguish amongst our own society, something unacceptable and against the principles of human rights. The military on the other hand claims that it does the job of fighting terror and insurgency, not out of own volition but due to a call of duty for the sake of national security, especially when others have been unable to do the same, and the Forces are the nation’s last resort. There is no doubt that proxy wars will see new and more audacious ways as technology proliferates and India’s adversaries find more ways of targeting it. With the military’s proactive operational philosophy, mistakes are only human. So how do we restore confidence on both sides and ensure an atmosphere of reasonable operational freedom without harming the people, whom the military also treats as its centre of gravity?Forgotten is 1997 when the Supreme Court gave one of its finest directions: the Dos and Don’ts of the AFSPA, based upon a representation. These were guidelines to the military and I remember the degree of seriousness with which we follow it in J&K. A few years prior to this, the ten commandments of the Army Chief for functioning in counter-insurgency areas were announced and each soldier was required to carry a copy and imbibe these. The SOP of the Northern Command for the conduct of search operations is a meticulous treatise on sensitivity that forbids infringement of any rights during the exercise. Along with it are the concept notes and 24 years of experience in handling Operation Sadbhavna; this is the Indian Army’s annual military civic action programme, a lesson in humanisation of conflict. I consider it appropriate to remove all seven sections of the AFSPA and re-enact it with just two sections—‘empowerment’ and ‘protection’ in two sentences each, devoid of negative detail. Add 20 pages of appendices with the above four concepts. It will prove to detractors that there exists no legislation for coercive practices and the human aspects are given maximum priority. The ‘protection’ clause could be considered with another proviso—a period of one year or so for the decision to either deny prosecution of soldiers or accept it, in grave circumstances that are proven beyond mistake. The latter is to cater for deliberate action established by a suitable inquiry. Threats to the nation will persist and the military will always be needed for counter-insurgency operations. The public will need to be convinced of the fairness of the military, which is something the latter always strives for, mistakes notwithstanding.

No progress seen after Russia-US talks over Ukraine tensions

Low expectations from both Washington and Moscow about the high-stakes session in Geneva appeared to have been met as senior diplomats from the two countries emerged without offering any hint of success.

Neither side characterized the meeting as a complete failure, but neither did they offer any prospect of easing the increasingly worrisome standoff over Russia’s military buildup on its border with Ukraine that the West sees as a fundamental threat to European security. Nor was there any indication of movement on other, perhaps less-explosive matters that have vexed the U.S.-Russia relationship.

Moscow insists on guarantees to halt NATO’s eastward expansion and even roll back the military alliance’s deployments in Eastern Europe, while Washington firmly rejects the demands as a nonstarter.

With both sides dug in on their positions and Ukraine’s future hanging in the balance, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said “no progress” was made on the central demand on NATO expansion, although he insisted: “We have no intention to invade Ukraine.” U.S. officials openly questioned that comment.

Ryabkov spoke following talks with his U.S. counterpart, Wendy Sherman _ part of a flurry of diplomatic activity in Europe this week aimed at defusing the tensions.

Sherman called the talks a “frank and forthright discussion“ but would not, or could not, point to any progress.

“It was not what you would call a negotiation,“ she told reporters. “We’re not to a point where we’re ready to set down texts and begin to go back and forth.”

“We were firm, however, on pushing back on security proposals that are simply nonstarters for the United States,” Sherman said, adding “we will not allow anyone” to shut NATO’s “open-door policy” that extends to countries seeking to join the alliance.

She said Washington “will not forgo bilateral cooperation with sovereign states that wish to work with the United States. And, we will not make decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine, about Europe without Europe or about NATO without NATO.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has described NATO expansion to Ukraine and other former Soviet states as a “red line” for Moscow, demanding binding guarantees from the West that they wouldn’t become members of the alliance.

Moscow has sought to wrest a string of concessions from the U.S. and its Western allies, and has massed an estimated 100,000 troops near Ukraine in steps that have raised concerns about a possible military intervention there.

“The situation now is so dangerous, and so — I would say — precarious that we cannot afford any further delays in resolution of this very fundamental question,“ Ryabkov said at a separate news conference at the Russian mission. “As President Putin said, on many occasions, `we cannot backpedal. We cannot go backwards. There is no further space for us to do so.”’

Ryabkov rattled off Russian concerns and demands issued last month on subjects like NATO expansion and wanting Western commitments not to deploy offensive weapons near Russian borders.

“The American side has treated the Russian proposals seriously and deeply studied them,” he said, adding that he characterized Moscow’s demand for legally binding guarantees that NATO would not move eastward as “an absolute imperative for us.”

Ryabkov emphasized that it would be hard to work on other issues if the U.S. stonewalled on Russia’s key demands.

“If now NATO proceeds towards deployment of capabilities that are being developed very rapidly in the U.S., and will possibly be introduced somewhere in Europe, it would require a military response on the Russian part, that is a decision to counter this threat through means at our discretion,“ said Ryabkov, speaking in English. “That will inevitably, unavoidably damage security of the U.S. and its European allies.”

He did not elaborate.After Ryabkov stated that Russia had no intention to invade Ukraine, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, was publicly skeptical.

“I wish to believe him, I wish that it is true that they have no plans, but everything we’ve seen so far indicate that they are making motions in that direction,” she told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York.Echoing comments from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Sherman said progress could only happen if Russia “stays at the table and takes concrete steps to de-escalate tensions.“

De-escalation, she said, would include returning the Russian troops now deployed on Ukraine’s borders to their barracks.

“We’ve made it clear that if Russia further invades Ukraine there will be significant costs and consequences well beyond what they faced in 2014,” she said. “Russia has a stark choice to make.”

However, neither Sherman nor State Department spokesman Ned Price would say if the U.S. would move ahead with sanctions if Russia opts not to invade but also refuses to withdraw its troops from the border.Monday’s meeting was part of “Strategic Security Dialogue” talks on arms control and other broad issues launched by Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden at a June summit in the Swiss city. Talks between Russia and NATO are planned Wednesday in Brussels followed by a meeting in Vienna of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Thursday.

The U.S. has played down hopes of significant progress and said some Russian demands _ like a possible halt to NATO expansion _ go against countries’ sovereign rights to set up their own security arrangements and are nonnegotiable.But U.S. officials have expressed openness to other ideas, like curtailing possible future deployments of offensive missiles in Ukraine and putting limits on American and NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe _ if Russia is willing to back off on Ukraine.Blinken said Sunday he didn’t expect any breakthroughs, with a more likely positive outcome being an agreement to de-escalate tensions in the short term and return to talks at an appropriate time.NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg similarly played down expectations ahead of the talks.“I don’t think that we can expect that these meetings will solve all the issues,“ he told reporters in Brussels after talks with Olga Stefanishyna, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration. “What we are hoping for is that we can agree on a way forward, that we can agreeon a series of meetings, that we can agree on a process.”During a visit to Rome, German Foreign Minister AnnalenaBaerbock said dialogue offered the only way out of the crisis.“At the same time, it’s equally clear that a renewed breach of Ukrainian sovereignty by Russia would have grave consequences,” she said.Russia has said it wants the issue resolved this month, but NATO is wary that Putin might be looking for a pretext, such as a failure in the negotiations, to launch an invasion.Ukraine was not present at the table Monday and won’t be involved in discussions with Russia until Thursday’s OSCE meeting.Eager to keep Kyiv in the loop, the Pentagon said Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Gen. Mark Milley spoke with Ukraine’s military chief Monday.They exchanged “perspectives and assessments of the evolving security environment in Eastern Europe,” spokesman Col. Dave Butler said. “Ukraine is a key partner to NATO and plays a critical role in maintaining peace and stability in Europe.”

NEET-UG 2021: SC dismisses plea of students alleging manipulation of OMR and results

neet ug

The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a writ petition filed by a group of six students alleging that their NEET-UG answer sheets were tampered with and manipulated by the National Testing Agency that conducts the examination.A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and A S Bopanna took on record the submission of the National Testing Agency (NTA) that after the students raised their grievances, they were called to its office and shown their original answer sheets and they have accepted that it was their answer sheet.The bench noted that the original answer sheet bore the signature of the students and the invigilators and hence it cannot be said the NTA had engaged in tampering or manipulation of marks of any kind.“It cannot be prima facie be suggested that there were any acts of tampering or manipulation in the back office of the National Testing Agency. The examination has been attempted by 15.44 lakh candidates, out of which six have come to this court. Five have verified their OMR sheet shown to them,” the bench said while dismissing the petitions.

The bench noted the submission of advocate Rupesh Kumar, appearing for the NTA, that there is only one answer sheet per candidate which is an OMR sheet and is available on their server.

According to the procedure, Kumar said, a copy of the answer sheet was sent to all the candidates on their registered email IDs, including the six candidates who have approached the court saying they have not received it.During the hearing, the bench questioned the students on why the NTA would want to manipulate their results when it is ready to provide the originals.Senior advocate Manoj Swarup, appearing for the students, said there was a glass partition and they were made to see the original sheets from the other side without even touching it.“These OMR sheets can only be verified by touching it, which we were not allowed to do so”, he said. The bench, however, refused to agree with his contention and said it was a little far-fetched and was dismissing the petition.Swarup said the NTA has admitted the entire database of the examination was transferred to a third agency and hence there was a possibility of tinkering with the marks of these students.


The News Editorial Analysis 10th Jan 2022

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