Friday, 27 March 2015

Daily News Mail - News of 26/03/2015

Mani to head GST committee
  • Beleaguered Finance Minister K.M. Mani has received a shot in the arm(shot in the arm - Something that boosts one's spirits) with the Union government deciding to pick him to head the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers on Goods and Services Tax (GST).
  • The committee, which is preparing the framework for implementation of GST, has by convention a chairman from a State not ruled by the party in power at the Centre. The post fell vacant when Abdul Rahim Rather quit following the defeat of the National Conference in the J&K Assembly elections.
  • “The Central government has announced rollout of GST in April 2016. This is, therefore, a big responsibility for me,” Mr. Mani said.
K M Mani
CAG report points a finger at Hooda govt.
  • A Comptroller and Auditor-General’s report charging the previous Congress government in Haryana with showing undue favours to Robert Vadra, son-in-law of party president Sonia Gandhi, in a land deal was tabled in the Haryana Assembly on the last day of the Budget Session on March 25.
  • Mr. Vadra made a huge profit from selling the land to DLF after getting permission for changing the land use, the report says. The case shot into limelight after IAS officer Ashok Khemka scrapped the deal, declaring it illegal. However, the Bhupinder Singh Hooda government issued a clean chit to Mr. Vadra.
  • The report was sent to the Haryana government earlier this month after Comptroller and Auditor-General Shashi Kant Sharma signed it. The draft report last year directed the State government to seek a refund of Rs. 41.51 crore from Mr. Vadra for the money he made from the DLF deal.
China 'welcomes' India's proposed visa on arrival move
  • China said on Wednesday it would welcome any move by India to grant visa on arrival for Chinese citizens, amid reports that the Indian government may announce the move when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits China in May.
  • The Chinese Foreign Ministry said it would welcome the move and would consider reciprocating the gesture to allow greater travel between both countries.
The judgment that silenced Section 66A
  • The Supreme Court, in Shreya Singhal versus Union of India , has stepped to the fore with a delightful affirmation of the value of free speech and expression, quashing, as unconstitutional, Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act). Section 66A had attained particular infamy after the arrests by the Mumbai police in November 2012 of two women who had expressed their displeasure at a bandh called in the wake of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray’s death. Since then, several arrests have been made by different State police, of various individuals, for the most benign dissemination of online content.
  • The latest in the slew of pernicious cases reportedly booked under Section 66A was the arrest of a class 11 student in Uttar Pradesh for posting, on Facebook, “objectionable” comments apparently attributable to a State Minister.
  • In a judgment authored by Justice R.F. Nariman, on behalf of a bench comprising himself and Justice J. Chelameswar, the Court has now declared that Section 66A is not only vague and arbitrary, but that it also “disproportionately invades the right of free speech.”
  • This verdict in Shreya Singhal is a hugely important landmark in the Supreme Court’s history for many reasons. It represents a rare instance of the court adopting the extreme step of declaring a censorship law passed by Parliament as altogether illegitimate. 
  • As Justice Nariman’s opinion has highlighted, the liberty of thought and expression is not merely an aspirational ideal. It is also “a cardinal value that is of paramount significance under our constitutional scheme.”
  • Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution guarantees to citizens a right to freedom of speech and expression. The immediately succeeding clause, Article 19(2), however limits this right in allowing the state the power to impose by law reasonable restrictions in the interests, among other things, of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, public order, decency or morality, defamation, or incitement to an offence. 
  • According to the petitioners in Shreya Singhal , none of these grounds contained in Article 19(2) were capable of being invoked as legitimate defences to the validity of Section 66A of the IT Act. They also argued that the provisions of Section 66A were contrary to basic tenets of a valid criminal law in that they were too vague and incapable of precise definition, amounting therefore to a most insidious form of censorship. Further, in the petitioners’ argument, Section 66A produced a chilling effect that forced people to expurgate their speech and expressions of any form of dissent, howsoever innocuous.
  • The Supreme Court agreed with the petitioners on each of these arguments. According to the court, none of the grounds, which the state sought to invoke in defending the law, in this case, public order, defamation, incitement to an offence and decency or morality, each of which is contained in Article 19(2), was capable of being justifiably applied. “Any law seeking to impose a restriction on the freedom of speech can only pass muster,” wrote Justice Nariman, “if it is proximately related to any of the eight subject matters set out in Article 19(2).”
  • The judgment in Shreya Singhal however did not concern itself only with Section 66A. There were other provisions of the IT Act, Section 69A — and its concomitant rules — and Section 79, which were also challenged by the petitioners. The first accords the government the authority to block the transmission of information, including the blocking of websites, when it is necessary or expedient to do so, for among other reasons, the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence. And the second grants protection, under certain limited circumstances, to intermediaries (websites such as Facebook and YouTube, for example) for content published by individuals who use their platforms. The court struck neither of these provisions down. It found the law in both instances to contain sufficient safeguards against governmental abuse. Even if one were to consider these aspects of the decision as detrimental, in some way, to our civil liberties, any such concerns, at this juncture, ought to only represent minor quibbles.
Shreya Singhal(in front), the first PIL 
petitioner against draconian Section 66A

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