July 8, 2021
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Good morning. Modi government at the Centre unveiled its new Council of Ministers yesterday. Some big names resigned (or were dropped) from key ministerial posts during the Cabinet reshuffle. A total of 43 Ministers were sworn in, while 12 Ministers had to quit. This is considered as an attempt at inclusion of marginalised communities and political signaling by the Modi government, which is trying to shake off widespread criticism of its handling of the COVID-19 crisis. Will the newly inducted Ministers steady Modi’s ship?
📰 FEATURE STORY
UAPA: Congress vis-a-vis BJP
President Ram Nath Kovind received a letter from Sonia Gandhi and other Opposition leaders urging him to direct the Union Government to take action against individuals responsible for Father Stan Swamy’s “false cases.” Individuals imprisoned under politically driven cases, utilizing severe legislation like The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA), must be “released forthwith,” according to the letter.
However, the UPA government, led by the Congress, and its then-Home Minister, P Chidambaram, had backed the same “draconian” act and its harsh bail requirements in 2008.
The UAPA was initially passed in 1967 and permitted the Congress government to declare any organization illegal in its original form. It also defined and made illegal what is referred to as “unlawful activities.” The Act was revised in 2004 to make terrorism a crime and to give the government the authority to declare and ban terrorist organizations. The 2004 amendments also provided police with increased interrogation powers and made it extremely difficult for an arrested person to receive bail by requiring the court to be convinced that the arrested person is ‘prima facie’ innocent of the offense for which he/she is charged.
The Unlawful Activities Prevention Amendment (UAPA) Bill is an anti-terror bill that aims to designate an ‘individual’ as a “terrorist.” The modifications to the existing law were approved by the Lok Sabha on July 24, 2019, although the Bill was criticized by opposition parties and civil liberties advocates, who argued that it could be used to target dissent against the government and infringe on citizens’ civil rights. The Rajya Sabha cleared the bill on August 2, 2019, opening the road for it to become a law.
Views of Congress while in power
The new bill amended the law in two important ways. First, it gave the National Investigation Agency better authority to assume control of cases that would usually come within the jurisdiction of various state police departments. The central government was granted more power, and arrests could be made more promptly as a result. Secondly, it allowed the Centre to declare individuals as terrorists and not just organizations, unlike before.
Amit Shah in the Lok Sabha claimed that the only people who should be afraid of being labeled as terrorists were those who were terrorists themselves. BJP had already chastised the UPA government in 2008, claiming that the legislation they had enacted was insufficient and that it was introduced by the Congress half-heartedly and reluctantly.
Since BJP charged Congress for failing to take tough actions on terrorism because of political advantages and saying that to combat terrorism, Congress will need to pass stronger legislation, it simply shows that BJP was not acting as a two-headed Janus and was constantly in favor of making this law more powerful.
The Congress-led UPA government and the then-Home Minister, P Chidambaram in 2008 defended the same “draconian” law as mentioned by Sonia Gandhi in her letter to the President and its harsh bail provisions by saying, “Broadly, what we are doing is setting constraints on the path of the grant of bail.” And he explained why these limitations were necessary when he said “I believe some individuals mistakenly believed that rejecting bail was an unusual provision, but it is not. Even today, bail is denied for severe offenses until the matter is fully investigated and the court has reached a decision. So, it’s nothing out of the ordinary.”
What Congress says now
In the Rajya Sabha, the Congress broke ranks with numerous other opposition parties and voted in favor of the UAPA Bill, 2019, just minutes after rejecting it and warned the government that it was doing something “hopelessly unconstitutional” that would be overturned by the courts.
P Chidambaram defended their support by saying, “We are not opposing the Bill. UAPA Act was brought by the Congress government. Every amending Bill was done by Congress to strengthen the Act, so we are not opposing provisions to strengthen the Act. We are only opposing clauses 5 and 6, which allows the government to name an individual.” He further added, “They can name an individual at any time just because some Joint Secretary (in government) believes that an individual is involved in terrorism… he (the bureaucrat) will name him. We are opposing that.”
Petitions challenging the constitutional validity of certain sections in the 2019 UAPA amendment were filed in the Supreme Court. The petitions argued that categorizing individuals as ‘terrorists’ would enable the government to target those who dissented against the government and its policies.
On June 17, 2021, the Delhi High Court accused the police of blurring the line between a “terrorist act” under the UAPA and the students’ right to protest against a law.
The opposition by Congress to the provisions of the new amendments to UAPA was because of the apprehension that the government would target innocent individuals who did not toe their line, and such individuals would have no legal recourse to fight the case in a just manner.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
- 68% in Uttarakhand think it was ‘irresponsible’ to organise Kumbh this year
For the Left:
- Cow protection was a sensitive subject in India even when the Constitution was being framed.
🏴 STATE OF THE STATES
Tenglish in trend (Andhra Pradesh) – The state government decided that courses in all degree colleges would be offered in English medium from the forthcoming academic year. To ease the transition from Telugu to English, bilingual textbooks were prepared, with each page’s content written in English on one side and in Telugu on the other. Audio lessons were also prepared in Tenglish, which is a combination of Telugu and English. All these efforts were initiated to improve the career prospects of the students.
Dwindling water (Punjab, Haryana) – An IIT- Kanpur study, with support from the Central Groundwater Board, revealed that the states of Punjab and Haryana had seen the worst dip in groundwater level. From 2 metres below ground level in 1974, the shallow groundwater dropped to 30 metres in 2010. Over the years, both the states had slowly increased their agricultural land area by several lakh hectares due to the green revolution. The study had proposed artificial recharge and reduced demand for irrigation water as viable solutions to improve the groundwater level.
Fight for tomorrow (Gujarat) – A violent protest broke out at a public hearing held to discuss the construction of a zinc smelter plant in Tapi. Officials of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board and the district collector were present at the event to record the villagers’ grievances, which will then be submitted to the government and Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. Investments for the 415 acres zinc smelter plant were proposed by the Vedanta group’s Hindustan Zinc limited. People objected claiming the project would lead to increased pollution. Huge crowds and strong disagreements led to the protests, which subsided only after the police fired tear gas shells.
Walk out (West Bengal) – After being opposed by the Speaker for raising the Nandigram poll row, BJP walked out of the West Bengal Assembly. The Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari brought up Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s election defeat while the Assembly was discussing the governor’s inaugural address. Despite a warning from the Speaker, Adhikari continued commenting on the issue. Upon a second warning, Adhikari and all other BJP MLAs dispersed from the House.
Hmar Medium (Mizoram) – The Mizoram government was directed by the HC to introduce Hmar language as the medium of instruction in primary schools. On Monday, the translation of Mizo books into Hmar was initiated. Five language experts were involved in the translation process. The change in medium would be implemented from the next academic year, as stated by the State Council of Education Research and Training.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
₹92,849 crore – India’s Goods and Services Tax (GST) collection for June 2021. This was the lowest in the past eight months, affected due to the state-wise restrictions to contain the second wave. Notably, this is the first time GST collection fell below ₹1lakh crore this year.