The Hindu Today News & Editorials – 15 February 2021

1) Fuzzy law, unclear jurisprudence, trampled rights.

The legal regime that enables the government to block websites needs urgent reform.

GS-2:  Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, models, successes, limitations, and potential; transparency & accountability and institutional and other measures.

GS-3: Challenges to internal security through communication networks, role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges, basics of cyber security;


Context:

  1. On February 1, 2021, the number of Twitter and social media accounts became inaccessible in India region behind its farmers’ protests and reports of violent incidents on January 26, 2021.
  2. It was unclear whether this was Twitter’s decision, based on its belief that the accounts had violated its Terms of Service or whether Twitter had been ordered to do so by the government, or by a court.
  3. The outrage mounted, because the Government of India clarified that it had invoked Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, Section 69A order was clearly an overreach even on its own terms, as media outlets.

 

The Uneasy truce:

  1. The sharp reaction from the government, including a non-compliance notice and veiled threats that Twitter’s and social media employees would be prosecuted for violating Section 69A.
  2. A meeting between Twitter officials and the government has yielded uneasy truce. argued that the government’s own actions in directing it to withhold access to the accounts of journalists, activists, and politicians, violated Indian law, and the constitutional guarantee of the freedom of speech.
  3. These events of the last few days throw into sharp relief the unsatisfactory Indian law and how it is interpreted and applied by censorship-happy governments.
  4. At present, the online rights to free speech of  citizens entirely depend upon which multinational social-media platforms are able to stand up to the government’s censorship laws,
  5.  How willing social-media platforms are to risk legal prosecution, and how much confidence they have that their interpretation of Indian free speech law will stand up in court, even over the claims of the government.

 

The root of the problem lies in the IT Act:

  1. The right under Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution who authorizes the government to impose, by law, reasonable restrictions upon the freedom of speech and expression on the name of ,The sovereignty and integrity of India, national security, or public order.
  2. The Section 69A of the IT Act grants to the government the power to issue directions to intermediaries for blocking access to any information that it considers prejudicial, and inflammable content on internet.
  3. Sections 67A, 67B, 67C and 69 A of “the Information Technology Act, 2000 “provides penalty or imprisonment to published any kind of obscene material posting on internet.
  4. The Section 69A (3) of the IT Act envisages a jail sentence for up to seven years for intermediaries who fail to comply.
  5.  In 2009, the government issued “Blocking Rules”, which set up the procedure for blocking and also stated that all requests and complaints would remain strictly confidential.

 

The Government Violates “free speech rights, and the right to due process”:

  1. The censorship an easy and completely costless option, for government. Instead of go to court and prove a violation even prima facie of law,
  2. The government simply directs intermediaries to block content, and place the burden of going to court upon the users.
  3. The reason is that government have easier it is to censor; the more likely is that the government will resort to that option.
  4. The user will never know why their account has been blocked and, therefore, will be in no position to challenge it.
  5. There are no procedural safeguards and no opportunity for a hearing to affected parties, and no need for reasoned orders.  Violates both free speech rights, as well as the right to due process.

 

The Shreya Singhal case and   Violation of citizen rights:

  1. In the Shreya Singhal case that SC is struck down of Section 66A of the IT Act, the scope of Section 69A and the Blocking Rules were also litigated before the Supreme Court.
  2. The SC verdict Says as Section 66A unconstitutional on grounds of violating the freedom of speech guaranteed under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India.
  3. The Supreme Court missed an opportunity to guide the law in a pro-free speech direction, as it had with Section 66Awithout engaging in any detailed analysis,
  4.  The Court largely endorsed the legal regime, as it stood. The Court only noted that every affected individual would retain the constitutional right to challenge a blocking order, through a writ petition before the High Court.

 

15 February 2021: The Hindu Editorial Analysis

 

Need for transparency:

  1.  The Shreya Singhal judgment made it mandatory for the government to furnish blocking orders along with reasons to affected parties; it is evidently impossible to challenge something that you cannot even see.
  2. As recent events show, in practice, that is not being followed, the lack of clarity in the Shreya Singhal judgment is no doubt a contributory factor.
  3. The combination of bad law and unclear jurisprudence has created a situation where Twitter or the intermediary that might be caught in the government’s crosshairs is the only entity that is in a position to defend the free speech rights of Indian citizens.
  4.  there is little doubt that doing so entails a non-trivial risk: in particular, the record of the Indian judiciary in civil rights cases involving the government has been remarkably poor in recent times,
  5.  It would take considerable courage for any entity to bet on the proposition that its interpretation of Indian free speech law would be necessarily upheld by the courts.
  6.  the government in obvious cases of overreach and abuse, such as the suspension of The Caravan, there will be a host of borderline cases where it will simply be easier to back down;

 

Enable a fair hearing (Solution):

  1. An urgent need for both legal and jurisprudential reform Legally, the best case scenario would be to prohibit the government from being able to directly order intermediaries to block access to online information, except in narrowly-defined emergency cases,
  2.  To require it to go through court to do so, with an adequate opportunity for affected parties to defend themselves.
  3.  It is vitally important that blocking orders be made public, and that even under the current legal regime, affected parties be given the opportunity of a fair hearing before a blocking order is issued.
  4. This process will also ensure that the blocking order is a reasoned one, and can be effectively challenged before a court, if need be.
  5. In Long term, the hard work of contesting governmental impunity in cases of censorship, both in courts and outside, remains to be done.

 

Conclusion:

  1. After the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Kashmir Internet Ban case, it is, at least now, an arguable position of law that any order restricting access to the Internet, or information on the Internet, must be made public.
  2. The responsibility of intermediaries (Big IT Farm) are also required to deploy such technologies based on automated tools and appropriate mechanism for the purpose of identifying or removing or disabling access to unlawful information.

 

2) A disengagement deal better than expected.

But cautious diplomatic and military planning and hawk-like vigil by India will be needed in its implementation.

GS-2: International relations: India and its neighborhood- relations.


Context:

  1. India and China announced on February 11, the simultaneous disengagement of their massive forward deployments in the Pangong Lake area, in Eastern Ladakh.
  2.  India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh delivered a carefully worded statement in Parliament about the breakthrough which envisages a pullback by both sides in “a phased, coordinated and verified manner”.
  3. The peaceful resolution of territorial differences between India and China in view of keeping with the longer-term interests of both Asian giants.

 

How the disengagement process work:

  1. According to the new disengagement process agreed to by India and China, the countries have started withdrawing their tanks and armoured personnel carriers completely from the southern bank of Pangong Tso.
  2. The process agreed upon includes a series of steps, the first of which is to pull back the armored elements and the tanks had been deployed on the southern bank following the operation carried out by Indian forces on the night of 29-30 August last year.
  3. The Chinese are to move back from the Finger 4 area on the northern bank of Pangong Tso to beyond Finger 8, but this area will become a no-go zone for both sides.

 

February 15, 2021: The Hindu Editorial Analysis

 

Peaceful resolution:

  1. disengagement deal better situation of April-May 2020, when the Chinese side had suddenly positioned a large body of troops and armaments along LAC, the Indian Defence Minister also paid rich tribute to the armed forces and lauded their valiant sacrifices.
  2. Relations between India and China suffered a dramatic setback following the violation by China of the bilateral agreements and protocols,
  3.  India has consistently highlighted the view that peace is a fundamental prerequisite for the normal conduct of relations. The stand-off at the Pangong Lake was but one of several in Eastern Ladakh, but undoubtedly disengagement deal most significant to resolve issues.

 

The Message of endurance:

  1. The government left no stone unturned to ensure that they were provided with the necessary wherewithal to deal with any real or perceived asymmetry.
  2. The message was unambiguous. India was not going to cave in and stood ready to impose a harsh penalty if China engaged in any act of adventurism.
  3.  The endurance of the Indian Army through the harsh winter months has been extraordinary.
  4.  The China appears to have realised that a prolonged stand-off, hardly a part of its original calculus and of little avail militarily or politically, was permanently impairing bilateral relations.

 

The disengagement at Pangong Lake is welcome steps:  

  1. This is an area in which the patrols of the two sides have been encountering one another for decades, whether on land or on the lake.
  2. The construction of a road by China from Finger 8 towards Fingers 5 and 4 many years ago had led to a spike in face-offs and gradually reduced access for Indian troops to their traditional patrolling point at Finger 8.
  3. India too built better infrastructure all the way to its permanent presence at the Dhan Singh Thapa Post near Finger 3.The disengagement deal is perhaps better than one might have expected under the circumstances.
  4. The Chinese have agreed to pull back forward deployments to their permanent base at Sirijap, east of Finger 8, and to dismantle all infrastructures created after April 2020. India’s tough negotiators, in both front  diplomatic and military,
  5. The permanent Indian post at Finger 3 even though China had earlier demanded that India fall back further and all the Chinese posts atop the high spurs on the northern bank will also be dismantled, including those that overlooked the Dhan Singh Thapa Post.
  6.  India will also fall back from its recently held positions along the Kailash range to earlier positions
  7. The deal at Pangong. Carrying out simultaneous disengagement in a phased and coordinated manner, with proper verification, is key to its success.
  8.  There is little doubt that cautious diplomatic and military planning and hawk-like vigil will be called for throughout the implementation.

February 15, 2021: The Hindu Editorial Analysis Today

The Faith in forces, negotiators:

  1. The government has amply demonstrated its willingness to take tough calls on matters pertaining to sovereignty and territorial integrity. It has demonstrated boldness in the face of a major military challenge.
  2. It has shown equal courage in grasping the nettle of peace. More importantly, the government has reposed full faith in its armed forces and negotiators.
  3. External Affairs Minister had engaged their Chinese counterparts last September and drawn the red lines. This no doubt strengthened the hand of the senior commanders and foreign ministry officials who hammered out the deal.
  4. The progress at Pangong notwithstanding, the doubting Thomases will continue to raise questions. They run the risk of doing so without sufficient familiarity with either the facts or the military complexities on the ground.
  5. The truth is that India’s tough military and diplomatic posture has paid off, resulting in an honorable disengagement. If tensions could be defused at Galwan, where much blood was shed, and at Pangong,
  6. It should be equally possible to fashion mutually acceptable terms for disengagement at Gogra/Hot Springs as well as the resolution of patrolling issues in Depsang.

 

Conclusion:

  1. The temporary moratorium on military activities by both sides along the north bank, including on patrolling up to the traditional points, will improve the situation.
  2. The forward momentum in India-U.S. relations and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, India, the U.S. Japan and Australia, better known as the Quad, may also have proved to be factors for China.
  3. That patrolling will be resumed only consequent to an agreement being reached in future diplomatic and military talks is also a step forward.

 

3) Opening up the vaccine market.

The elements of a free market — competition, choice, and prices — will help advance social welfare.

GS-2: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.


Context:

  1. India completes nearly four weeks since it began administering the two COVID-19 vaccines Covishield and Covaxin.
  2. During this four weeks period, the country has managed to give the first dose of the vaccine to only about eight million people, which is about 0.6% of the population.

 

The Seroprevalence surveys suggestion:

  1. Seroprevalence surveys suggest that some 400 million people already have antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in India.
  2.  The immunity is reached when 60% of the population develops antibodies against the virus, for a population of 1.3 billion that would require over 780 million people to develop antibodies either naturally or through vaccines.
  3.  If we assume that 400 million have already developed antibodies, how will the additional 380 million develop antibodies quickly, without contracting the virus, especially given the high level of vaccine hesitancy and lack of trust in both vaccines and the government
  4.  The current rate of vaccination, which is about eight million over four weeks, the country would require about four years reaching herd immunity. It simply cannot afford to wait that long.

 

Who will be surveyed?

  1. The first sero survey, which was conducted by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) alog with National Centre for Disease Control, state health departments and the World Health Organisation (WHO) had shown pan-India prevalence of Sars-Cov-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, at 0.73%.
  2. this survey is designed as a cross-sectional survey of adults aged 18 years or more from 21 states, wherein the districts were categorised into four strata according to the reported Covid-19 cases per million population (zero, low: 0.1-4.7, medium: 4.8-10 and high: >10).
The Hindu Editorial Analysis Today- 15 February 2021
The Hindu Editorial Analysis Today- 15 February 2021

 

The Constricted market:

  1. It is surprising that the Indian government has stayed away from a free market system for COVID-19 vaccines, especially given that several vaccine options are now knocking at its door.
  2.  Instead, there are only governmental channels, which can work only to a certain extent. The rules and elements of a free market, such as competition, choice, and prices, will go a long way in advancing social welfare.
  3. The drug regulator of India has not inspired confidence. Pfizer recently withdrew its application for emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine in India. There is no transparency on the Moderna-Tata discussions.
  4. Gamaleya Sputnik V has positive results and has advanced in its work with Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories. This vaccine should soon be ready to hit the market, but here too it seems like the regulator is slowing it down by distorting incentives.

 

The considerations for “A constricted vaccine market”:

  1. Not opening up the market for these options suggests that there may be other considerations at play here, which are beyond the health and welfare of citizens.
  2. Many households in India are waiting to pay privately for the vaccines, in addition to socially bearing the cost of the vaccine for extended families.
  3. A constricted vaccine market does nothing to help the government’s aspiration of a $5 trillion economy. In fact, the sooner the country reaches herd immunity, the more likely the chance that the economy will recover faster.
  4.  Stimulating the economy would also be an incentive for the government given that its international image has taken a beating recently following the farmers’ protests.

 

The Private Player motivations:

  1. Economists point out that since vaccines boost health and immunity, creating additional private motivations with a free market makes rational sense in India’s context.
  2. India is not really a place where one can expect private subsidies to take vaccines to socially optimal levels, such as in the U.S., because that may be socially unaffordable for the government.
  3. If this is not done, the country’s rich will find a way to engage in vaccine tourism. This would mean that events that can show celebrities taking the vaccines and reducing the stigma surrounding vaccines would be few and far between in India unlike in the U.S.
  4.  The U.K. or other Western economies. Also, several Indian pharmaceutical firms must be waiting to respond with their manufacturing capacities should the tap of private channels be opened.

 

Conclusions:

  1. The seroprevalence, survey was evidence for waning of antibody positivity with the progression of the COVID-19 epidemic, implying a potential reduction in population immunity, especially if also associated with the lack of trained T cell immunity.
  2. The People will have to wait and hope that good sense prevails before mutating virus strains minimize our chances of efficient social and policy responses.