Daily Editorial Analysis for 28th May 2021

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At the United Nations, Delhi showcases its women power

Why in News

  • Several women from India have served at the UN Secretariat but none at the highest appointed position of Under-Secretary General.
  • This is without doubt a singular achievement for Indian women in the UN system.

Indian Women at United Nation

  • Akanksha Arora is an Indo-Canadian auditor with the United Nations (UN) who has challenged the incumbent UN Secretary General for re-election later this year.
  • Not even having the backing of her own country, the spunky Arora is unlikely to go far in her quest for the top job at the UN.
  • 2021 has been an extraordinarily good year for Indian women at the UN, with the appointment of Usha Rao Monari as the Associate Administrator of the UN Development Program in the rank of Under Secretary General.
  • Several women from India have served at the UN Secretariat but none at the highest appointed position of Under-Secretary General.
  • This is without doubt a singular achievement for Indian women in the UN system. Monari was earlier with the International Finance Corporation (IFC).
  • Two other Indian women have moved to leadership positions at the UN in New York. Ligia Noronha heads the UN Environment Program’s New York office in the rank of Assistant Secretary General, and Preeti Sinha has taken over as the Head of the UN’s Capital Development Fund that deals with micro-finance.

Role of Indian Women at UN

  • The role of Indian women was emblazoned on the UN stage when Hansa Mehta participated in the UN Conference on Human Rights in Paris in 1948 and ensured that these rights were gender neutral by amending the expression “all men are created equal” to “all human beings are created equal” in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.
  • Later, Hansa Mehta served as the vice chairman of the Human Rights Commission of the UN in 1950.
  • Thereafter, Vijay Lakshmi Pandit became the first woman President of the UN General Assembly (1953-54).
  • This was, at that time, a truly remarkable achievement in a male dominated diplomatic world – for which India is justifiably proud.
  • But not many know that she also led an “unofficial delegation” from India in San Francisco in 1945, when the UN conference took place, which laid the foundations of the organisation.
  • Move on several decades. In 2009, after Hilary Clinton took over as Secretary of State, the United States dropped its opposition to creating a UN entity focussing on women.
  • Resolution 64/289 creating UN-Women was adopted in the General Assembly on the afternoon of July 2, 2010.
  • The session was presided over by India’s minister of state for external affairs, Preneet Kaur.
  • India was one of the 27 Vice Presidents of the UNGA that year and had played a key role in negotiating the resolution.
  • It is a matter of pride that Indian Foreign Service officer, Lakshmi Puri, became one of the first Deputy Executive Directors of UN Women to be followed by Anita Bhatia, from India, who had earlier been with IFC.
  • Earlier, Geeta Rao Gupta had served as Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF.

Indian Women at multilateral organisations

  • As one scans the horizon today, several other Indian women occupy prominent positions in other major multilateral organisations.
  • Soumya Swaminathan is the Chief Scientist of the World Health Organization (WHO), leading the fight against Covid-19.
  • Anshula Kant, formerly from State Bank of India, is one of the Managing Directors of the World Bank.
  • IMF has two women from India in leadership positions – Gita Gopinath, who, as its Chief Economist, is one of the Fund’s most prominent faces and Kalpana Kochar, who heads Human Resources.
  • Incidentally, most Indian women at the top in the multilateral system today have strong Delhi connections.
  • Soumya Swaminathan headed Indian Council of Medical Research, Ligia Noronha was for long with TERI, and Preeti Sinha ran the Yes Global Institute.
  • But the real star is Delhi’s prestigious Lady Shriram College, the alma-mater of Usha Rao Monari, Anshula Kant and Gita Gopinath.


Nine-pin bowling aimed at free speech, privacy

Why in News

  • Recently, Information Technology Rules, 2021 being implemented by the Government of India which go against landmark judicial precedents upholding key rights.

There are ambiguities

  • Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 threatens to deprive social media platforms of their immunity with non-compliance of the rules.
  • There are both positive aspects, and glaring ambiguities and stifling susceptibilities that should render these contrary to past Supreme Court of India precedents such as K.S. Puttaswamy.
  • The Rules are useful as mandate duties such as:
  • Removal of non-consensual intimate pictures within 24 hours,
  • Publication of compliance reports to increase transparency,
  • Dispute resolution mechanism for content removal and
  • Adding a label to information for users to know whether content is advertised, owned, sponsored or exclusively controlled.

Gagging a right

  • Supreme Court, in the case of Life Insurance Corpn. Of India vs Prof. Manubhai D. Shah (1992) said that ‘any attempt to stifle, suffocate or gag this right would sound a death knell to democracy’ and would ‘help usher in autocracy or dictatorship’.
  • So, it becomes increasingly important to critically scrutinize the recent barriers being imposed via these Rules against our right to free speech and expression.
  • The rules were framed by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeiTY). The Second Schedule of the Business Rules, 1961 does not empower MeiTY to frame regulations for ‘digital media.’
  • This power belongs to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
  • However, this action violates the legal principle of ‘colorable legislation’ where the legislature cannot do something indirectly if it is not possible to do so directly.
  • Information Technology Act, 2000, does not regulate digital media. This makes the Rules ultra vires to the Act.

Fair recourse, privacy issues

  • An intermediary is now supposed to take down content within 36 hours upon receiving orders from the Government. This deprives the intermediary of a fair recourse in the event that it disagrees with the Government’s order due to a strict timeline.
  • Thus, it fetters upon free speech by fixing the Government as the ultimate adjudicator of objectionable speech online.
  • The Rules also undermine the right to privacy by imposing a traceability requirement. The immunity that users received from end-to-end encryption was that intermediaries did not have access to the contents of their messages. Imposing this mandatory requirement of traceability will break this immunity.
  • All the data from these conversations vulnerable to attack from ill-intentioned third parties. The threat here is not only one of privacy but to the extent of invasion and deprivation from a safe space.

On fake news

  • The problem here is that to eliminate fake news — rather than defining its ambit as a first step, the Rules proceed to hurriedly take down whatever an arbitrary, ill-decisioned, biased authority may deem as “fake news”.
  • Rules create additional operational costs for intermediaries by requiring them to have Indian resident nodal officers, compliance officers and grievance officers. Intermediaries are also required to have offices located in India.
  • Rules place a barrier on the “marketplace of ideas” and also on the economic market of intermediaries in general by adding financial burdens.

Way Forward

  • By rapidly diluting right to free speech are only those of caution, of a warning that democracy stands undermined in direct proportion to every attack made on the citizen’s right to have a private conversation, to engage in a transaction, to dissent, to have an opinion and to articulate the same without any fear of being imprisoned.

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