SC strikes down ‘draconian’ Section 66A
- The Supreme Court on March 24 declared Section 66A of Information Technology Act, 2000 as unconstitutional and struck it down.
- The Supreme Court striking down a “draconian” provision that had led to the arrests of many people for posting content deemed to be “allegedly objectionable” on the Internet.
- The Bench turned down a plea to strike down sections 69A and 79 of the Act, which deal with the procedure and safeguards for blocking certain websites and exemption from liability of intermediaries in certain cases, respectively.
- “As Section 66A severely curtails information that may be sent on the Internet based on whether it is grossly offensive, annoying, inconvenient, etc, and being unrelated to any of the subject matters under Article 19(2) must, therefore, fall foul of Article 19(1)(a), and is declared as unconstitutional and void,” the bench ruled while allowing a clutch of petitions, including one by law student Shreya Singhal who first approached the top court in November 2012.
- Article 19(1)(a) gives people the right to speech and expression whereas 19(2) accords the state the power to impose “reasonable restrictions” on exercise of this right for reasons like interest of the sovereignty and integrity of the country, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, defamation or incitement to an offence.
- The right to freedom of expression is recognized as a human right under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a declaration adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948 at the Palais de Chaillot, Paris. The Declaration arose directly from the experience of the Second World War and represents the first global expression of rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled. The full text is published by the United Nations on its website.
62nd National Film Awards
Best Hindi Film: Queen
Best Assamese Film: Othello
Best Bengali Film: Nirbashito
Best Kannada Film: Harivu
Best Konkani Film: Nachom - IA Kumpasar
Best Malayalam Film: Ain
Best Marathi Film: Killa
Best Odiya Film: Aadim Vichar
Best Punjabi Film: Punjab 1984
Best Tamil Film: Kuttram Kadithal
Best Telugu Film: Chandamama Kathalu
Best Rabha Film: Orong
Best Haryanvi Film: Pagdi The Honour
Best Music Direction:
a) Songs - Haider (Hindi)
b) Background Score - Nineteen Eighty Three (Malayalam)
Best Choreography: Bismil for Haider
Special Mention: Ain (Malayalam); Nachom - IA Kumpasar (Konkani); Killa (Marathi); Bhootnath Returns (Hindi)
Best Educational Film: Komal & Behind the Glass Wall
Best Exploration/Adventure: Film Life Force - India's Western Ghats
Best Investigative Film: Phum Shang
Best Animation Film: Sound of Joy
Best Short Fiction Film: Mitraa
Best Film Critic: Tanul Thakur
Best Writing on Cinema : Silent Cinema: (1895-1930)- Pasupuleti
Best Writing on Cinema : G. Dhananjayan for Pride of Tamil Cinema
Best Costume Designer: Dolly Ahluwalia for Haider
Best Female Playback Singer Uttara Unnikrishanan for song Azhagu in Saivam (Tamil)
Best Male Playback Singer: Sukhwinder Singh for song Bismil from Haider
Best Actress: Kangana Ranaut for Queen
Best Supporting Actress: Baljinder Kaur for Pagdi The Honour (Haryanavi)
Best Supporting Actor: Bobby Simhaa for Jigarthanda (Tamil)
Best Actor: Vijay for Nanu Avanalla Avalu (Kannada)
Best Direction: Srijit Mukherji for Chotushkone (Bengali)
Best Film On Environment Conservation/ Preservation: Ottaal (Malayalam)
Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment: Mary Kom
Indira Gandhi Award For Best Debut Film Of A Director: Asha Jaoar Majhe
Best Feature Film: Court (Marathi, Hindi, Gujarati & English)
- Court , a little known quadrilingual film, emerged as the best feature film while Kangana Ranaut was adjudged the best actress for her critically acclaimed and commercially successful title role in Vijay Bahl’s Queen at the 62nd National Film Awards announced here on March 24.
- Court , directed by Chaitanya Tamhane, depicts the “mundaneness of judicial procedure” and the “heart-wrenching insensitivity of institutional structures.”It was released last year in Hindi, English, Marathi and Gujarati and tells the story of the trial of an ageing folk singer charged with abetting the suicide of a sewage worker through his music.
- Srijit Mukherji won the best director and best screenplay awards for the Bengali thriller Chotushkone , a film about four directors coming together for a film with four different stories, all thematically connected by a common thread — death. The film also won the best cinematography award for Sudeep Chatterjee.
- Kannada actor Vijay won the best actor award for “his subtle and non-stereotypical” portrayal of a woman trapped in a man’s body for Nanu Avanalla Avalu , a film on transgenders.
- Haider , director Vishal Bhardwaj’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, won the most awards for one feature film, bagging best music direction and best dialogue (Vishal Bharadwaj), best male playback singer (Sukhwinder Singh for ‘ Bismil ’), best choreography (Sudesh Adhana for ‘ Bismil ’) and best costumes (Dolly Ahluwalia).
- The Priyanka Chopra-starrer Mary Kom , a biopic of the celebrated boxer M.C. Mary Kom, was declared the best popular film providing wholesome entertainment.
Kangana Ranawat in the Movie Queen
Deadliest crash on French mainland in 40 years
- A plane operated by the budget carrier of Germany’s Lufthansa crashed in a remote area of the French Alps on March 24, killing all 150 on board in France's worst aviation disaster in decades.
- With the cause of the accident a complete mystery, authorities recovered a black box from the Airbus A320 at the crash site, where rescue efforts were being hampered by the mountainous terrain.
Defying RTI, undermining democracy
- Six national parties in India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Indian National Congress (INC), the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Communist Party of India (Marxist) CPM and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), have refused to comply with the Central Information Commission (CIC) order of 2013 declaring them as Public Authorities.
- On March 16, 2015, the CIC passed another order which in effect said that it was helpless in the matter and would not impose penalty or enforce compliance of its 2013 order. Earlier, it had issued summons on three occasions to the parties concerned to present their arguments, all of which were ignored. The new order says that penalty can only be imposed on the Public Information Officer (PIO) and since the political parties have not appointed them, no action can be taken.
Debating religious conversions
- The operative word in ‘freedom of religion’ is ‘freedom’, and not ‘religion’. Religious conversion is thus a matter of individual choice guaranteed as a fundamental right under the Constitution, and not a collective right of any religious community to proselytise. What matters is not whether such conversions are necessary but whether the individual is allowed the freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of a religion of his or her choice provided under Article 25.
- Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in calling for a debate on religious conversion, framed his argument poorly: “Is conversion necessary? Can social service not be performed in India without resorting to conversion?” Conversion may not be necessary for anyone but the person converting, but that is no reasoning at all against religious conversion. And, of course, social service can be performed without resorting to conversion.
- Christian missionaries have combined propagation of religion with social service but unless cases of force or fraud are proven, there can be no objection to such a combination of religious and social work. True, as Mr. Singh said, it should be possible for members of all religions to prosper in India without promoting conversions. But this is not to say that promotion of religious conversions is in itself wrong. That there is no socio-economic need for religious conversion cannot be used to push through any restrictive anti-conversion laws. Existing laws are more than adequate to prevent forcible or fraudulent conversions.
- Curiously, Mr. Singh used the possible changes in demographic profile and character of India that religious conversions would entail as an argument against religious conversion.
- Any restriction on religious conversion, whether on ground of social tension or changing demographics or national character, will amount to a serious violation of the fundamental right to freedom of religion. What is important is that India survives as a secular nation, and not that it remains a country with an unchanged religious mix.
- As a senior Minister in the government, Mr. Singh should not have called upon the religious minorities to debate anti-conversion laws in the context he set out. Anti-conversion laws cannot be a means to protect religious communities, whether they are a minority or they constitute the majority. It is people who need legal protection and not religions. The threat to the idea of India is less from changes in demographic profile than from attempts to impose a rigid, unifying ‘national’ culture.
India flounders(struggle) as H1N1 spreads
- The influenza A(H1N1) virus continues to kill people in India, although its spread is not at a galloping pace. As on March 21, the number of people affected was over 32,200, and the death toll in excess of 1,900.
- The worst-affected States are Gujarat and Rajasthan. In Gujarat, the number of cases has crossed 6,300 and the death toll is 410. In Rajasthan, the cases number over 6,400 and the death toll is 400. The possibility of the actual numbers being much more than government data indicate cannot be ruled out.
- The influenza virus circulating in the country since last year has revealed how ill-prepared India is in managing and preventing the spread of an infectious disease that could cripple it.
- The Pune-based National Institute of Virology had sequenced the haemagglutinin (HA) protein. But it is not known if it has completed the sequencing of the whole genome of the circulating virus strain; it had not done so till the end of February 2015.
- The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare rubbished the results of a study published on March 12 in Cell Host & Microbe by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology team that claimed three mutations in the HA protein in the 2009 pandemic virus strain. The team found mutations in two samples deposited last year by India in a public database. While the government continues to vehemently deny new mutations in the circulating virus, it has thus far failed to support the claim convincingly.
- A March 14, 2015 report in The Lancet makes it abundantly clear that India has not shared some critical information with the World Health Organization that would help determine if the circulating strains are the same as the two strains that have shown resistance to the anti-viral drug. “We have not yet received detailed information in regard to the characteristics of the circulating viruses [in India]”, Masato Tashiro, Director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza, Tokyo, told the journal.
- The failure to share the full genome sequence data with the WHO reference laboratories and/or deposit them in public databases, severely hampers global efforts to study the evolution of the virus. India has no national influenza policy either, to vaccinate doctors and health-care workers who run the highest risk of contracting the infection; it only “recommends” vaccination of health-care workers. The time has come to take influenza more seriously, especially since H1N1 and H3N1 have become seasonal influenza.
- Though Indian drug companies are capable of manufacturing influenza vaccines to make the country self-reliant on this count, they have no real incentive to do so in advance in the absence of assured procurement by the government. With its arsenals ill-equipped to prevent the spread, India can only hope the summer heat would rein in the infection.
Boost for IT Workers
- In a major move that could benefit Indian tech firms and their employees, U.S. President Barack Obama has eased the process to obtain L-1B work visas for corporate executives to attract foreign investment and bring workers with specialised knowledge to the country.
- “I’m pleased to announce a new action. I’m also taking to make it easier for global companies, who are present here today, to launch and invest in the U.S.,” Mr. Obama said in his address to the SelectUSA Summit in Washington.
- “My administration is going to reform the L-1B visa category, which allows corporations to temporarily move workers from a foreign office to a U.S. office in a faster, simpler way.”
- And this could benefit hundreds of thousands of non-immigrant workers and their employers, that in turn, will benefit our entire economy and spur additional investment,” he said.