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Admin 2020-02-07

07 Feb 2020: The Hindu Editorial Analysis

1) CAA negates everything that the Assam accord had sought to protect


  • CONTEXT: The SC by deciding to hear the cases of Assam and Tripura against the CAA separately, appears to has acknowledged what mainland India - with its habitual disconnect with the Northeast’s core problems - fails to see: 
  • That it is not only the communal nature of the new law that troubles these states. 
  • The movement against the CAA, which germinated in Assam, snowballed into a pan-India phenomenon. 
  • The narrative about existential threat to the ethnic communities of Assam in particular and the Northeast in general, went unnoticed. 
  • And this remains largely unregistered in the pan-Indian as well as the international consciousness.

  • ASSAM MOVEMENT: In Assam, the outrage against the state and central government is not merely because the CAA is communal but primarily because it negates all that was promised earlier.
  • The six-year-long Assam Movement from 1979 was for the protection of the ethnic communities of the state, whose identity is entwined with the language, culture and land of Assam. 
  • An identity is now endangered by illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. 
  • The Assam Movement was triggered ahead of the 1980 general elections.
  • The then chief election commissioner, S L Shakdhar, issued a circular legitimising illegal voters as bona fide citizens making a mockery of the People’s Representation Act and aborting the revision process of the electoral rolls. 
  • This same Shakdhar, in 1978, had spoken of attempts by political parties to include the names of foreigners in electoral rolls without “questioning and determining their citizenship status”.

 

  • GANDHIJI'S PROPHECY: Indira Gandhi was merely continuing the policies of Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel regarding immigrants in Assam. 
  • Unlike Gandhiji, both Nehru and Patel were impervious to the legitimate fears of the people of Assam — of being reduced to a minority in their own state, their political rights clipped like the Tripuris next door because of the changing demographic profile. 
  • Gandhiji foresaw the calamitous fallout and even urged the Assamese leadership to sit in satyagraha against the Congress itself if necessary. 
  • The truth was that, although Assam had become a part of the Indian Union, the central leadership, since the beginning felt no obligation to engage with the problems of Assam as Indian problems. 
  • This is unsurprising: 
  • Indigenous people across the world are victims of colonial policies which disregard their basic rights and thrust upon them policies that take away their land, resources as well as their political power, forcing them to be subsumed in colonial society and culture.

 

  • ASSSAM ACCORD: The Assam Movement ended in 1985 with the signing of the Assam Accord, which promised to safeguard the interests of the people of Assam. 
  • Yet, the promises as per the Accord regarding the detection, deportation and deletion of names of illegal immigrants who entered after 1971, sealing of the Indo-Bangladesh border, and ensuring full political rights of the Assamese have not been addressed.

 

  • DILUTION OF THE ACCORD: Instead, the central government is offering citizenship to all Hindu illegal immigrants till 2014 when over 50 lakh illegal immigrants are already squeezing the local inhabitants’ space. 
  • The unkindest cut of all is that the state government, whose subservience to the Centre is total, comprises leaders who led the Assam Movement, then promising total implementation of the Assam Accord in their manifesto. 
  • It is pertinent to also recall how in 1836, Bengali was made the official language of Assam. With the support of American baptist missionaries, Assamese intellectuals had to fight to restore Assamese as the official language in 1872.

 

  • CONCLUSION: The new law shows no respect for the sense of “identity” of the Assamese. 
  • For “identity is shaped by participation in ‘cultural communities’ which need appropriate institutional protection” and that “groups. need to have rights in order to foster individuals’ well-being” (MacCormick, Kymlicka). 
  • The protest against the CAA in Assam continues because the people of Assam see it as part of a design to systematically dispossess them of their land, culture, language and, therefore, identity, by allowing the demographic balance to be disturbed recklessly. 
  • Their cry echoes the cry of indigenes the world over for survival.

 

2) On Reducing custodial deaths


  • CONTEXT: On October 13, 2019, Pradeep Tomar, a security guard, rushed with his 10-year-old son to Pilkhua police station in Hapur district in Uttar Pradesh. He had been summoned for interrogation in connection with a murder case.  
  • The son later said that his father was brutally tortured by the policemen in front of him for hours. When Tomar’s condition deteriorated he was rushed to hospital, where he died. 
  • An FIR was registered against four policemen after the National Human Rights Commission took note of the case.
  • Earlier last year, a Delhi court sentenced five U.P. policemen to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment for torturing a man to death in custody in 2006. The five policeman had abducted the victim on suspicion of his involvement in a car robbery and tortured him in custody. Later, after he died, they manipulated records to obliterate all evidence of custodial death and closed it as a case of suicide. The case was transferred from a court in Gautam Buddh Nagar to Delhi by the Supreme Court on the grounds that a fair trial would not be possible within the State.

  • OBSERVATION: Pronouncing the verdict, the additional sessions judge Sanjeev Kumar Malhotra said, 
  • “The police play a major role in the administration of criminal justice. 
  • One of the reasons for custodial death is that the police feel that they have a power to manipulate evidence as the investigation is their prerogative and with such manipulated evidence, they can bury the truth.” 
  • He added, “They are confident that they will not be held accountable even if the victim dies in custody and even if the truth is revealed.”

 

  • ACTING WITH IMPUNITY: These incidents have brought into sharp focus the way Indian policemen torture and interrogate suspects in their custody leading to death in several cases. 
  • As a result, policemen all over the country have been severely criticised and condemned.
  • Strictures passed against policemen from time to time by learned judges of various courts notwithstanding, the police continue to brazenly torture suspects in their custody.
  • The Central Bureau of Investigation too uses torture as a method of investigation. In September 2016, B.K. Bansal, Director General of Corporate Affairs, and his son Yogesh committed suicide. 
  • In their suicide note, the two men listed the names of officers who had tortured their family in connection with a case of disproportionate assets. Bansal’s wife and daughter too had committed suicide two months earlier. 
  • On the directions of the National Human Rights Commission, an inquiry was held by the CBI.
  • Expectedly, the agency exonerated all the accused. Taking cognisance of the matter, the Central Vigilance Commission published a standard operating procedure laying down guidelines for interrogation of accused officials.

  • INCREASE IN CUSTODIAL DEATHS: Custodial deaths have been on the increase in recent years. They increased by 9% from 92 in 2016 to 100 in 2017, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. 
  • Since policemen responsible for custodial deaths rarely get punished, they feel emboldened to continue using torture as the tool to get to the truth.
  • In 2015, for instance, the police registered cases against fellow police officers in only 33 of the 97 custodial deaths.

 

  • A HISTORIC ORDER: The Supreme Court delivered a historic order in 2006 on police reforms-
  • It stated, among other things, that every State should have a Police Complaints Authority where any citizen can lodge a complaint against policemen for any act of misdemeanour. 
  • However, only a few States such as Kerala, Jharkhand, Haryana, Punjab and Maharashtra have implemented the order. Others have not taken the matter seriously.

 

  • CONCLUSION: Until exemplary punishment is meted out to policemen who are responsible for custodial deaths after proper judicial inquiry, not much can be expected to ameliorate the situation. 
  • Proper interrogation techniques coupled with use of scientific methods to extract the truth from suspects can go a long way in reducing custodial deaths.

 

3) On need for a data protection law: For a data firewall


  • The report by a German cybersecurity firm that medical details of millions of Indian patients were leaked and are freely available on the Internet is worrying. The firm listed 1.02 million studies of Indian patients and 121 million medical images, including CT Scans, MRIs and even photos of the patients, as being available. 
  • Such information has the potential to be mined for deeper data analysis and for creating profiles that could be used for social engineering, phishing and online identity theft, among other practices that thrive on the availability of such data on the Darknet - restricted computer networks which exchange information using means such as peer-to-peer file sharing. 
  • The reason for the availability of this data is the absence of any security in the Picture Archiving and Communications Systems (PACS) servers used by medical professionals and which seem to have been connected to the public Internet without protection. 
  • Public data leaks have been quite common in India - from government websites enabling the download of Aadhaar numbers to electoral data rolls being downloaded in bulk, among others. Unlike the data protection regulations in place in the European Union and in the U.S., India still lacks a comprehensive legal framework to protect data privacy. 

  • The Draft Personal Data Protection Bill 2019 is still to be tabled but could enable protection of privacy. The draft Bill follows up on the provisions submitted by a committee of experts chaired by Justice B.N. Srikrishna to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology in 2018. 
  • The committee sought to codify the relationship between individuals and firms/state institutions as one between “data principals” (whose information is collected) and “data fiduciaries” (those processing the data) so that privacy is safeguarded by design. 
  • While the 2019 version of the Bill seeks to retain the intent and many of the recommendations of the Justice Srikrishna committee, it has also diluted a few provisions. 
  • For example, while the Bill tasks the fiduciary to seek the consent in a free, informed, specific, clear form (and which is capable of being withdrawn later) from the principal, it has removed the proviso from the 2018 version of the Bill that said selling or transferring sensitive personal data by the fiduciary to a third party is an offence. 
  • There are other substantive issues with the Bill pertaining to the situations when state institutions are granted exemption from seeking consent from principals to process or obtain their information. 
  • The leak of medical information speaks to the urgent need for a data protection law. Yet, considering the manner in which public data are being stored and used by both the state and private entities, a comprehensive Data Protection Act is the need of the hour.

 

4) On RBI holding rates: On the front foot


  • The humble onion almost halted the onward march of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in its endeavour to bring down financial costs in the economy. Almost, because the RBI, despite finding its hands tied by rising inflation thanks to onion prices, found other means to drive down interest rates in the market, and in the system, in its monetary policy announcement on Thursday. 
  • At the press conference after the announcement, Governor Shaktikanta Das declared, only half in jest, that the proceedings of the Monetary Policy Committee, which decided to hold rates, had already been discounted by the market. 
  • “But don’t discount the RBI,” he warned, pointing out that the central bank had at its disposal various instruments. True to the statement, the RBI unleashed several measures that had an electric effect on the markets, driving down bond yields by 10-20 basis points in a matter of a minutes. 
  • The exemption to banks from providing for cash reserve ratio on fresh retail loans disbursed after January 31 to purchase automobiles and residential houses, and to MSMEs, will help banks shave off a part of their costs. 
  • The hope is that they will pass on at least a part of that saving to borrowers as lower rates. Second, the introduction of one- and three-year term repos at policy rate of 5.15% for a total of ₹1 lakh crore is also aimed at prodding rates downward as banks now pay 6%-6.5% on deposits. 
  • Third, the RBI has fine-tuned its liquidity management process in a manner designed to help banks manage their interest costs better. Whether banks really do what the RBI has signalled to them - transmit lower rates to borrowers - depends on various factors, not the least of which is demand for credit. 
  • The RBI’s statement that it would maintain an accommodative stance “as long as necessary to revive growth” clearly signals its commitment to growth. By explicitly saying that there is “policy space available for future action”, the RBI has signalled that there could be at least one more cut in the months ahead in this rate-easing cycle. 
  • The decision to extend the one-time restructuring of MSME loans, linking pricing of loans to medium enterprises to an external benchmark, and the nod for permitting extension of date of commencement of commercial operations for loans to commercial real estate are all welcome measures that raise questions of excessive forbearance but will certainly help the industry. 
  • The inflation projection - 6.5% in the current quarter and 5.4%-5.0% in the first half of 2020-21 - reflects the current realities. The projected GDP growth of 6% for 2020-21 appears achievable, assuming that the nascent signs of recovery sustain. 
  • The RBI has gone on the front foot to boost growth in this policy after the conservative Budget presented last week. It is to be hoped that these steps will change the sentiment in the economy.