Let virtual courts stay: law panel

Paper:

Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.

Why in news

Parliamentary Panel on Law and Justice has recommended in its report “Functioning of the Virtual Courts/ Courts Proceedings through Video Conferencing”, continuation of virtual courts even in a post COVID scenario. The panel called for infrastructure to be upgraded especially in district courts to implement this. 

Key details

  • Currently there are 30 million pending cases.
  • This is the first report to be presented by any parliamentary panel on the impact of the pandemic.
  • During the pre­COVID period, the video­conference (VC) set up was primarily used for conducting remand matters to prevent movement of prisoners between courts and jails.

Suggestions by the panel:

  • Transfer of certain categories of cases, like cases pertaining to traffic challans or other petty offences, from regular court establishments to virtual courts will reduce the pendency of cases.
  • A full-fledged virtual court should be piloted in the first instance.

Issues and challenges:

  • The present infrastructure does not support virtual court proceedings.
  • Total 3,477 court rooms are supported with facilities for virtual proceedings while 14,443 are still to be provided with them.
  • As far as e­Courts and Virtual Courts are concerned, almost 50% lawyers, particularly in district courts, do not have any laptop or computer facility.
  • For instance, there are 38 judges in the Calcutta High Court but there is not sufficient infrastructure to enable all Hon’ble Judges to undertake virtual hearings.
  • Virtual courts will compromise privacy of data as well as confidentiality of discussions and court proceedings.
  • For instance, courts in the United States had to deal with Zoom bombing, an unwanted intrusion by hackers and internet trolls into a video conference call, while conducting court proceedings through Zoom, which is a third-party software application.
  • Currently, third-party software applications such as Vidyo, Cisco and Jitsi are being used in India for conducting hearings through video­conferencing.
  • Third-party software is not only an unviable option but also poses a major security risk as such software programs and applications are prone to hacking and manipulation.

Judicial pendency

  • According to the Economic Survey 2018-19, there are about 3.5 crore cases pending in the judicial system, especially in district and subordinate courts.
  • About 87.54 per cent of the total pendency of cases is in the district and subordinate courts.
  • More than 64% of all cases are pending for more than 1 year.
  • A Case Clearance Rate of 100 percent (i.e. zero accumulation) can be achieved with the addition of merely 2,279 judges in the lower courts, 93 in High Courts and only one in the Supreme Court, which is already within sanctioned strength and only needs filling of vacancies.

Way forward

  • Government rules, orders and regulations should be thorough and comprehensive after wide consultations with stakeholders to avoid unnecessary litigations.
  • Speedy Justice is not only a fundamental right but also a prerequisite of maintaining the rule of law and delivering good governance. In its absence, Judicial system ends up serving the interests of the corrupt and the law-breakers.
  • Judicial reforms– effective justice can see the light of day and improve India’s standing in the reports of the World Bank and other institutions and organisations that study judicial process.
  • The Government needs to double the number of judges and create all India Judicial Service.
  • The Government needs to increase the number of court in India- Fast track courts, Lok adalats, Gram Nyayalaya.

New grievance redress system unveiled in J&K

Paper:

Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.

Why in news

Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant-Governor (L-G) launched the Jammu and Kashmir Integrated Grievance Redress and Monitoring System (JK-IGRAMS), in a bid to create an interface with the public and focus on governance issues in the Union Territory.

Key details

  • JK-IGRAMS will be an effective grievance redressal mechanism, which is the life and blood of any good governance system.
  • The system is being launched on a pilot basis in three districts – Jammu, Srinagar, and Reasi – and will gradually be rolled out in the remaining districts by October 2.
  • It will replace the current portal that was launched in 2018.

Working of the mechanism

  • JK-IGRAMS will make the existing mechanism more robust and efficient.
  • There will be a minute by minute status update of the grievances on the portal.
  • If any laxity is found, one can talk to the concerned elders of the district and the concerned officers.
  • Action will follow if any delay or callousness is found while addressing people’s grievances.
  • District Collectors and Deputy Commissioners will be the primary nodes for receiving, disposing and monitoring grievances.
  • The existing portal has now been integrated downwards to the district level by mapping nearly 1,500 public offices in 20 districts of the Union Territory.

Significance:

  • The move comes at a time when a sense of disconnection and alienation has been growing among the people, especially in the Kashmir Valley, which has remained on edge ever since J&K special status was revoked last year.
  • Earlier, LG had also announced the ‘Back to Village’ campaign, wherein officers will visit villages and address public grievances.

Questions over FCRA nod for PM CARES

Paper:

Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.

Why in news

The PM CARES Fund has received exemption from all provisions of the law meant to regulate foreign donations, although it does not seem to meet the precondition of being a body established and owned by the government whose accounts are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG).

Key details

  • Responding to a recent query under the Right to Information (RTI) Act asking for details and documents on the exemption, the Home Ministry had to “seek the consent” of PM CARES before giving out the information, as it would be considered a “third party” under the RTI Act.
  • It also invoked the clause that allows information to be denied if it is held as part of a fiduciary relationship.
  • According to the frequently asked questions (FAQ) section on the PM CARES website, the fund “has received exemption from operation of all provisions of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010” or FCRA.

Background

On January 30, 2020, the Home Ministry issued a fresh order “to exempt organisations (not being a political party), constituted or established by or under a Central Act or a State Act or by any administrative or executive order of the Central Government or any State Government and wholly owned by the respective Government and required to have their accounts compulsorily audited by the CAG or any of the agencies of the CAG”.

FCRA:

  • FCRA 2010 is a consolidating act passed by the Government of India in the year 2010.
  • The FCRA is meant to regulate the acceptance and use of foreign contributions and to prevent their use for activities detrimental to national interest.
  • This includes gifts and monetary contributions from foreign sources, whether in Indian or foreign currency.
  • Organisations which wish to receive foreign donations must have a definite cultural, economic, educational, religious or social programme, and must register under the Act, and receive a clearance from the government.
  • There are 49,843 associations registered under FCRA, of which 20,674 have been cancelled, according to government data, with the Centre cracking down on NGOs receiving foreign funds in recent years.
  • Section 50 of the Act allows the Central government to issue orders exempting any organisation (apart from political parties) from the provisions of FCRA if it feels it necessary or expedient in public interest, subject to conditions specified in the order.

PMCARES

  • Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM-CARES Fund) was set by the Government to deal with any kind of emergency or distress situation like posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The Fund is a public charitable trust with the Prime Minister as its Chairman. Other Members include Defence Minister, Home Minister and Finance Minister.
  • The Fund enables micro-donations as a result of which a large number of people will be able to contribute with the smallest of denominations.
  • The Fund will strengthen disaster management capacities and encourage research on protecting citizens.

Not a public authority under RTI

  • The PM CARES Fund is a public charitable trust registered under the Registration Act, 1908.
  • It was not set up through a Central or State Act. It has argued that it is not a public authority under RTI; all bodies established by the government are public authorities under that Act.
  • The Fund is audited by an independent auditor, not by the CAG.
  • Although it does not seem to fulfil the conditions in the January order, PM CARES has been granted exemption from FCRA.
  • The exemption is typically given to Central universities. Such universities are usually set up by a Central Act, and are subject to CAG audit.


Fees must for forest use, Mines Ministry told

Paper:

Mains: General Studies-III: Technology, Economic Development, Bio diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management

Why in news

The Ministry of Mines has requested an expert advisory committee of the Environment Ministry to exempt it from the Supreme Court-mandated fees that prospectors pay when they dig exploratory boreholes in forests, records of a meeting show.

Key details

  • On August 18, the Ministry of Mines requested that ‘prospecting and exploring’ in forests be exempted from ‘the purview of the Forest Conservation Act.’
  • The Net Present Value (NPV), as it is called, is a monetary approximation of the value that is lost when a piece of forest land has been razed.
  • This is on the basis of the services and ecological value and there are prescribed formulae for calculating this amount which depends on the location and nature of the forest and the type of industrial enterprise that will replace a particular parcel of forest.
  • The SC mandates this must be paid by those who use forest land for non-forestry purposes.

Ministry of Mines argued that

  • All areas of exploration are not converted into mining.
  • Only about 1% cases are converted to mining. Considering these, payment of NPV is regarded as an avoidable expenditure.
  • Even payment of NPV at a rate of 2% or 5% is one of the major challenges which leads to delay in the exploration activities.

India, China agree on 5-point action plan

Paper:

Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.

Why in news

External Affairs Minister and his Chinese counterpart agreed on a five-point course of action to disengage and reduce tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), where Indian and Chinese troops have been engaged in a four-and-a-half-month-long stand-off.

Key details

  • The two Foreign Ministers agreed that the current situation in the border areas is not in the interests of either side.
  • They agreed, therefore, that the border troops of both sides should continue their dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions.

The five-point plan is:

  1. Following the consensus between Prime Minister and Chinese President to “not allow differences to become disputes”,
  2. Disengaging quickly to ease tensions,
  3. Abiding by the existing India-China border protocols and avoiding escalatory action,
  4. Continuing the dialogue between the Special Representatives, National Security Adviser and Chinese counterpart, as well as the other mechanisms and
  5. Working towards new confidence-building measures (CBMs).

  • However, neither the joint statement, nor the respective notes issued specifically spoke of a return to the “status quo ante” or positions prior to the stand-off in April.
  • Nor do they specifically call on China to retreat from positions it has aggressed on at Pangong Tso, Depsang and other parts of the LAC.

Russia’s initiative

  • The meeting between the Foreign Ministers was facilitated by Russian Foreign Minister.
  • Later, a Russia-India-China lunch set the stage for the bilateral talks.
  • It is expected to be followed by Special Representatives’ talks and another meeting of the Working Mechanism on Consultation and Coordination on India-China border affairs.

IIP shrinks 10.4% in July as recovery slows 

Paper:

Mains: General Studies-III: Technology, Economic Development, Bio diversity, Environment, Security and Disaster Management

Why in news?

The process of industrial recovery will take a while and require sustained policy support

Key details

  • The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation stated that, “It may not be appropriate to compare the IIP in the post pandemic months with the IIP for months preceding the COVID­19 pandemic.”
  • The manufacture of pharmaceuticals, which saw 22% growth, and tobacco products which posted 6.1% growth, were the only two sectors in positive territory in July.
  • The auto sector and paper and beverages manufacturing continued to see contractions over 30%. The declining trend in textile (­14.8%) and garment manufacturing (­28.7%) could be important from an employment perspective.

Index of Industrial production

  • “It is a composite indicator that measures the short-term changes in the volume of production of a basket of industrial products during a given period with respect to that in a chosen base period.”
  • It is calculated and published by the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) every month.
  • The base year of the index is given a value of 100. The current base year for the IIP series in India is 2011-12.

Where is IIP data sourced from?

  • The CSO uses secondary data to reach the monthly IIP number.
  • The data is sourced from various agencies in different ministries or departments of the government.
  • The Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) is the source for the major chunk of data for the calculation.

The United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) recommends:

  • including quarrying
  • gas steam and air-conditioning supply
  • sewerage
  • water supply
  • waste management,
  • remediation in the broad sectors.

But this is not done due to the problems in data availability on a monthly basis for all these sectors. So, the data has been restricted to mining, electricity, and manufacturing.

IIP vs ASI

  • While the IIP is a monthly indicator, the Annual Survey of Industries (ASI) is the prime source of long-term industrial statistics.
  • The ASI is used to track the health of the industrial activity in the economy over a longer period.
  • The index is compiled out of a much larger sample of industries compared to IIP.

The industry groups that measures are classified under the following:

  • Broad sectors like manufacturing, mining, and electricity.
  • Use-based sectors like capital goods, basic goods, intermediate goods, infrastructure goods, consumer durables, and consumer non-durables.
  • The eight core industries of India represent about 40% of the weight of items that are included in the IIP, they are:
  1. Electricity
  2. Steel
  • Refinery products
  1. Crude oil
  2. Coal
  3. Cement
  • Natural gas
  • Fertilizers