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5 THINGS FIRST

India, GCC group to launch free trade pact negotiations; SC Constitution Bench to hear pleas against 2016 demonetisation by govt; Delhi Court hearing in money laundering case against Jacqueline Fernandez; UN Human Rights Council hosts a special session on the situation in Iran; FIFA World Cup 2022: Switzerland Vs Cameroon, Uruguay Vs South Korea, Portugal Vs Ghana

1. EC under SC lens
1. EC under SC lens
What’s in the files?

  • The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked for specific files related to the appointment of Arun Goel as election commissioner on November 19. The SC will examine these files today.
  • The SC is hearing a batch of pleas seeking a collegium-like system for the appointment of election commissioners (ECs) and the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC). Goel’s appointment was mentioned to the court by lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan.

Centre is furious

  • Attorney General R Venkataramani questioned the SC’s jurisdiction in taking up individual instances. “I take serious objection to this and have my reservation to the court seeing the file amidst the hearing of a Constitution bench.”
  • He argued that a 1991 law has ensured the Election Commission remains independent in terms of salary and tenure to its members and that there is no “trigger point” which warrants interference from the court.

But…

  • The SC dismissed the government’s objection while making terse remarks. It proposed a hypothesis: “Do you think the Election Commissioner… if he’s asked to take on none less than the Prime Minister — it’s just an example — and he doesn’t come around to doing it: Will it not be a case of complete breakdown of the system?”
  • Going further, the SC remarked, ”Each ruling political party in the Centre likes to perpetuate itself in power…Suppose the government appoints a ‘Yes Man’, who has the same philosophy and is like-minded. The law provides him all the immunity in tenure and salary, then there is no so-called independence in the institution.”

What SC wants

  • “…what we want to do is concentrate on the consultative process for the appointment of CEC and the inclusion of the Chief Justice of India in the process would ensure the independence of the commission,” the SC said. More here
2. What Shraddha feared in 2020 happened in 2022
2. What Shraddha feared in 2020 happened in 2022
Letter to police

  • On November 23, 2020, Shraddha Walkar — who was strangled to death and her body chopped into 35 pieces on May 18 this year allegedly by her live-in partner Aaftab Poonawala — had written to the Maharashtra police, fearing exactly the same fate.
  • Shraddha had told the police that Aaftab was threatening to kill her and cut her body into pieces.
  • The letter claimed that Aaftab’s parents were aware that he beat her up and that he tried to kill her.

Excerpts

  • “Today, he tried to kill me by suffocating me and he scares me and blackmails me that he will kill me, cut me up in pieces and throw me away. It’s been six months he has been hitting me but I did not have the guts to go to the police because he would threaten to kill me.”
  • “His parents are aware that he beats me, and that he tried to kill me. They also know about us living together and they visit on weekends.”
  • “I lived with him till date as we were supposed to get married anytime soon and had the blessings of his family. Henceforth, I am not willing to live with him. So, any kind of physical damage should be considered coming from him as he has been blackmailing me to kill me or hurt me whenever he sees me anywhere.”

Why no action

  • The local police said Shraddha later withdrew her complaint, saying “we no longer have any quarrel” after his parents spoke to them.

Also

  • Shraddha was admitted to a hospital with internal injuries a week later, the police said.

And now

  • Aaftab’s parents are in Delhi to record statements. Her co-worker Karan, with whom she had shared a photograph of her bruised face around the same time, is also in Delhi. Read her letter here
3. Bloodbath at Virginia Walmart store
3. Bloodbath at Virginia Walmart store
  • A Walmart manager opened fire on fellow employees gathered in the break room of a Virginia store, a witness said on Wednesday. Six people were killed in the country’s second high-profile mass killing in a handful of days.
  • Motive unclear: The gunman also killed himself, Chesapeake Police Chief Mark G. Solesky said. There was no clear motive for the shooting, which also left four people wounded.
  • When: The store in Chesapeake was busy just before the shooting Tuesday night with people stocking up ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, a shopper told a local TV station.
  • The attack at the Walmart came three days after a person opened fire at a gay nightclub in Colorado, killing five people and wounding 17. Earlier in the year, the country was shaken by the deaths of 21 when a gunman stormed an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
  • Tuesday’s shooting also brought back memories of another at a Walmart in 2019, when a gunman opened fire at a store in El Paso, Texas, and killed 22 people.
  • 40 mass killings: The US has now had 40 mass killings so far this year, second to the 45 that occurred for all of 2019, according to a database run by the Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University that tracks every mass killing in America going back to 2006.
4. ‘Assam Police could have exercised restraint’
4. ‘Assam Police could have exercised restraint’
  • CBI probe: Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Friday criticised his own police force for Tuesday’s violence that left six people dead in a disputed area along the border with Meghalaya. The state cabinet also decided to hand over the probe into the incident to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
  • Unprovoked firing: “I feel there was no need to fire to the extent the police did. The firing was a little unprovoked, and the police could have acted in a little more controlled manner,” Sarma told reporters on the sidelines of a function in Delhi.
  • Arson & vandalism: A group of villagers from Meghalaya allegedly vandalised and burnt down a forest office in Assam’s West Karbi Anglong district, a day after the border incident. At least two vehicles – one in Mukroh village in Assam where the violence took place on Tuesday and another in Meghalaya’s capital Shillong- were set ablaze by a mob, officials told PTI.
  • KSU owns up: The influential Khasi Students’ Union (KSU) took responsibility for the torching of the forest beat office and the Assam government vehicle at Mukroh and alleged that the Conrad Sangma government failed to protect its citizens.
  • Protests: KSU members held demonstrations at the Ialong Civil Hospital where the bodies of all the six people were brought for post-mortem examinations and demanded that those responsible for the killing be handed over to the Meghalaya Police.
  • Sangma’s allegation: In a tweet on Tuesday, Meghalaya CM Conrad Sangma complained that the Assam police and forest guards “entered Meghalaya and resorted to unprovoked firing”.
  • Assam takes action: The Assam government said it has transferred the district SP, and suspended the officer-in-charge of Jirikinding Police Station and the Forest Protection Officer of Kheroni range.
  • The border dispute: Assam and Meghalaya have a longstanding dispute in 12 areas along the 884.9-km-long inter-state border, and the location where the violence took place is one of them. The two northeastern states had signed a memorandum of understanding in March this year in New Delhi in an attempt to resolve the dispute.
6. Is religious freedom really under threat?
6. Is religious freedom really under threat?
Religious freedom and related human rights in India are under ongoing threat, the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) alleged on Tuesday in an unusual year-end update of the status of its assessment of religious freedom in the country. India has previously rejected the USCIRF’s observations, terming them as “biased and inaccurate”.

What’s USCIRF?

  • It is a body appointed by the US Congress. Its recommendations are, however, not mandatory to be implemented by the US State Department.

‘Country of particular concern’

  • In its 2022 Annual Report published earlier this year, USCIRF recommended that the Department of State designate India as a “country of particular concern” for engaging in or tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations, as set forth by the International Religious Freedom Act.
  • The US State Department has refused to incorporate the commission’s recommendations so far.

The update says…

  • The report said in 2022, religious freedom conditions in India remained poor. During the year, the Indian government at the national, state, and local levels continued to promote and enforce policies, including laws targeting religious conversion, interfaith relationships, and cow slaughter, that negatively affect Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits and Adivasis.

Distorted maps

  • In its six-page country update report on India, USCIRF has published its map three times. Two of the maps are distorted and do not reflect a true geographical map of India.

Human rights

  • The report also claimed the Indian government continued to suppress critical voices — particularly religious minorities and those advocating on their behalf — including through surveillance, harassment, demolition of property, arbitrary travel bans, and detention under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and by targeting NGOs under the Financial Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA).

India’s reaction

  • Responding to the USCIRF’s report, the Ministry of External Affairs said in July, “We have seen the biassed and inaccurate comments on India by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).” More details here
7. Pilot stands between Team and Rahul
7. Pilot stands between Team and Rahul
First, an ultimatum

  • Days before his Bharat Jodo Yatra enters Rajasthan, prominent Gurjar — the community to which Sachin Pilot belongs — leader Vijay Bainsla has threatened to disrupt Rahul Gandhi’s campaign.
  • Bainsla — the son of late Kirori Bainsla — said, “The current Congress government has completed four years and one year is left. Now, Sachin Pilot should be made chief minister. If this happens, then you [Rahul Gandhi] are welcome. We will oppose [your yatra] otherwise.”

Pilot steadies ship

  • Pilot was quick to deflect Bainsla’s aim at Rahul’s yatra by putting the blame on the BJP for the Gurjar leader’s threat. “The BJP is trying to block the yatra, but the public knows better,” Pilot said, “No matter how hard the BJP tries, the yatra will be successful…it is Bharat Jodo Yatra and it will be successful. We will all welcome the yatra with unity.”
  • But curiously, when asked to comment on Bainsla’s remarks that the Gurjar community had voted for the Congress believing that a Gurjar leader would be made CM, Pilot said his party had been reduced to 21 seats in the 2013 assembly election, but the people gave it a mandate in the 2018 polls.
  • Pilot was then the Rajasthan Congress president but Ashok Gehlot was chosen for the chief minister’s post by the Gandhis, triggering a bickering that is yet to be resolved.

And a backdown

  • After Pilot’s distancing remarks, Bainsla changed tack, saying that the march would be allowed to pass uninterrupted through Rajasthan if Sachin Pilot was made the chief minister.
  • Bainsla, who heads the Gujjar Arakshan Sangharsh Samiti, however, insisted that it was not a climbdown: “Neither have I dropped any demand, nor am I softening my stand. I am just reminding the Congress of the promise it made before the 2018 polls.” More here
8. Poll campaigns banned, but voting mandatory!
8. Poll campaigns banned, but voting mandatory!
  • A Gujarat village, located around 20 km from Rajkot city, continues to follow a tradition of banning the entry of political parties for campaign, even as election fever grips the rest of the state. The village, named Raj Samadhiyala, also imposes a penalty of Rs 51 on residents who do not cast votes despite being eligible for it, news agency ANI reported.
  • The tradition has been in place since 1983 and the village has ensured 100% voter turnout in most elections, the village sarpanch said.
  • The 1,700-odd residents of the village, of which around 1,000 are eligible voters, are bound by regulations framed by the village development council, said the ANI report, which also quoted a resident as saying, “Here in our village candidates are not allowed to campaign, so the people of our village give a vote to the leader whoever they think is good for them.”
  • A few days before the polling, the members of the committee convene a meeting of the villagers and if someone is unable to vote, then a reason has to be given to the committee. The committee has also installed boards in the village spelling out such rules and regulations concerning participation in elections.
  • The committee is also vocal against casteism, pollution, entry of hawkers in the village without permission and villagers “sitting idle”.
9. A step towards cost-efficient power tariffs
9. A step towards cost-efficient power tariffs
  • What: The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered all state electricity regulatory commissions to frame within three months norms for tariff determination in sync with National Electricity Policy and National Tariff Policy. The judgment, which is aimed at ensuring cost-efficient tariff systems across the country, comes as an important one in the domain of intra-state power transmission.

Ad-hoc system

  • This direction was given by a bench of Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justices A S Bopanna and J B Pardiwala while dismissing an appeal of Tata Power Company Ltd, which had challenged the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission’s March 21, 2021, decision to grant transmission license to Adani Electricity Mumbai Infra Ltd for setting up a 1000MW High-Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) link.
  • The top court said that the Adani-Tata litigation has highlighted the ad-hoc nature of the functioning of the State Transmission Utility. It said Maharashtra State Electricity Transmission Company has been changing its stance on the HVDC technology without following any due procedure.

Boost to private sector

  • The bench said if regulations have already been framed, the commissions would effectuate appropriate amendments “to include provisions on the criteria for choosing the modalities to determine the tariff, in case they have not been already included.”
  • Asking the state commissions to focus on specific needs of concerned states, the bench said the norms and amendments to be framed must aim to encourage increased private investment in the power sector to create a sustainable and effective system of tariff determination that is cost efficient so that such benefits percolate to the end consumers.
Answer To NEWS IN CLUES
Answer To NEWS IN CLUES

Meta: The company received 55,497 user data requests from the Indian government in the first half of this year – second only to the US which accounted for nearly 70,000 requests. In the first-half of 2022, the social network restricted access to 597 items in India for concerns that ranged from security of the state and public order to spreading misinformation during elections, court order, IP infringement, criminal defamation and violating broadcast rules. In the second-half of 2021, Meta had received 50,382 user data requests from the Indian government.

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Written by: Rakesh Rai, Jayanta Kalita, Prabhash K Dutta, Abhishek Dey
Research: Rajesh Sharma



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