Current Affairs - Polity & Governance
Recently, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has extended the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in parts of Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh for six more months, granting extensive powers to armed forces and Central Armed Police Forces in "disturbed areas."
- AFSPA Extension: The MHA has extended the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in parts of Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh for an additional six months, starting from October 1.
- Powers Granted: The AFSPA provides armed forces and Central Armed Police Forces deployed in "disturbed areas" with the authority to take actions such as killing individuals violating the law, making arrests, conducting searches without a warrant, and offering protection from prosecution and legal suits without requiring Central government sanction.
- Districts Covered in Nagaland: The AFSPA extension applies to eight districts in Nagaland, including Dimapur, Niuland, Chumoukedima, Mon, Kiphire, Noklak, Phek, and Peren. It also covers specific areas within 21 police stations in five other districts.
- Arunachal Pradesh Inclusion: In Arunachal Pradesh, the districts of Tirap, Changlang, and Longding, as well as specific areas under Namsai, Mahadevpur, and Chowkham police stations in Namsai district near the Assam border, have been declared as "disturbed areas" under the AFSPA for six months from October 1.
- Earlier Order: This notification extends a previous order issued in March, continuing the pplication of AFSPA in these regions.
- AFSPA in Nagaland: The AFSPA had been in effect throughout Nagaland since 1995. The MHA, as well as state governments, have the authority to issue notifications related to the AFSPA.
Introduction to AFSPA
- AFSPA grants armed forces special powers to maintain public order in "disturbed areas."
- It bestows specific authorities and privileges upon the armed forces to carry out their duties effectively.
Powers Granted to Armed Forces
Prohibition of Gatherings
- Armed forces can prohibit gatherings of five or more persons in an area.
- They may use force or open fire after issuing a warning if individuals are believed to contravene the law.
Arrest and Search Powers
- In cases of reasonable suspicion, the army can arrest individuals without a warrant.
- They have the authority to enter or search premises without a warrant.
- Banning the possession of firearms is also within their jurisdiction.
Handling Arrested Persons
- Individuals arrested or taken into custody may be handed over to the nearest police station along with a report detailing the circumstances leading to the arrest.
Declaration of "Disturbed Area" and Authoritative Entities
- A "disturbed area" is designated through a notification under Section 3 of AFSPA.
- Disturbances can result from differences or disputes between religious, racial, linguistic, regional, or caste-based groups or communities.
- The power to declare an area as disturbed lies with the Central Government, the State Governor, or the Union Territory administrator.
Controversies Surrounding AFSPA
- Human Rights Violations: AFSPA empowers security personnel, including non-commissioned officers, to use force, including deadly force, for the maintenance of public order.
- It allows soldiers to enter premises, search, and make arrests without warrants.
- This has led to allegations of fake encounters and human rights violations in disturbed areas, raising concerns.
- Jeevan Reddy Committee Recommendations: A committee headed by Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy recommended the repeal of AFSPA and suggested incorporating relevant provisions into the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.
- It also proposed specifying the powers of armed and paramilitary forces and establishing grievance cells in deployed areas.
- Second ARC Recommendation:The Second Administrative Reforms Commission's 5th report on public order also recommended the repeal of AFSPA, but these recommendations remain unimplemented.
Supreme Court's Views on AFSPA
- The Supreme Court, in a 1998 judgment (Naga People's Movement of Human Rights v. Union of India), upheld the constitutionality of AFSPA.
- The judgment outlined that the central government can make a suo-motu declaration but should ideally consult the state government.
- Declarations should be for a limited duration and subject to periodic review every six months.
- Authorized officers must use minimal force necessary for effective action when exercising AFSPA powers.
On 19th September, 2023, the Union cabinet gave its nod to a Constitution amendment bill that paves the way for women's reservations in both Parliament and state assemblies.
- A Long-Awaited Legislation: The journey towards enacting a law for legislative reservations for women began in 1996, but all previous attempts met with failure.
- In 2010, the previous government succeeded in passing the bill in the Upper House, only to face challenges bringing it to the Lok Sabha due to pressure from coalition allies.
- Path to Legislation: To become law, the bill necessitates an amendment to the Indian Constitution and requires approval by a two-thirds majority in both Houses of Parliament, along with consent from at least 50% of states.
Pros and Cons of Women’s Reservation Bill
- Advancing Gender Equality: The primary objective of this bill is to advance gender equality within the realm of politics. It seeks to rectify the historical underrepresentation of women in legislative bodies.
- Empowerment: By augmenting women's involvement in politics, this legislation can be a catalyst for empowerment, offering women a platform to articulate their concerns and advocate for issues directly affecting them.
- Diverse Perspectives: Women often bring distinct viewpoints and priorities to the table compared to men. Augmented representation can inject these perspectives into the policymaking process, potentially resulting in more balanced and comprehensive decisions.
- Role Models: Female politicians can function as role models, motivating other women to enter the political arena and pursue leadership roles across various sectors.
- Social Transformation: Amplified representation has the potential to challenge and transform traditional gender roles and stereotypes prevalent in society, fostering broader societal change.
- Reservation vs. Merit: Detractors argue that reservations should be grounded in merit rather than gender. They contend that political representatives should be elected based on qualifications and capabilities, rather than gender-based quotas.
- Political Dynasties: Concerns persist that women from established political families might gain the most from these reservations, perpetuating political dynasties rather than genuinely promoting empowerment.
- Tokenism: There exists a worry that seat reservations for women could lead to token representation, lacking substantive participation and influence.
- Impact on Marginalized Women: Critics suggest that the bill might primarily benefit women from privileged backgrounds, potentially leaving marginalized women contending with persistent barriers to political participation.
- Potential Opposition: In certain instances, resistance to increased female political participation could arise, potentially leading to backlash or antagonism.
- Administrative Hurdles: Enacting this bill would necessitate significant administrative adjustments, including the delimitation of constituencies, which could pose logistical challenges.
On 5th September, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) has initiated a consultation process, introducing the CCI (Combinations) Regulations, 2023, aimed at consolidating regulations concerning mergers, particularly within the digital domain.
These proposed regulations are set to replace the existing ones, which were originally formulated in 2011.
- Competition (Amendment) Act, 2023: Enforced in April, this act was passed by both Houses of Parliament in response to significant market growth and shifts in business operations over the past decade.
- Enhancing Regulatory Certainty: The act aimed to introduce regulatory certainty and create a trust-based environment in response to the changing business landscape.
- Deal Value Threshold: The amendment introduced a deal value threshold of Rs. 2,000 crore, making it mandatory for mergers or acquisitions exceeding this threshold to obtain CCI approval.
- Substantial Business Operations: It also required that the enterprise being acquired, merged, or amalgamated should have substantial business operations in India.
- Definition of 'Enterprise with Substantial Business Operations': The regulations propose that an entity would be considered an 'enterprise' with 'substantial business operations' in India if a certain percentage of its users, subscribers, customers, or visitors during the preceding twelve months constitute 10% or more of its global count, including all products and sources.
- Gross Merchandise Value: The criteria also entail that gross merchandise value during the same period is 10% or more of the global share, as is the case for their turnover in India concerning their global share.
Transaction Arrangements Disclosure
- Additional Disclosure: Entities involved in transactions must disclose arrangements made as part of the transaction or incidental arrangements entered into within the preceding two years.
- Examples: These arrangements could include technology assistance, licensing of intellectual property rights, usage rights to products or services, supply of raw materials or finished goods, branding, and marketing, among others.
Benefits and Impact
- Addressing M&A in the Digital Space: The proposed regulations specifically address mergers and acquisitions in the digital realm, providing clear criteria for compliance.
- Progressive Changes: Experts view the changes as progressive, capturing high-value transactions that previously escaped scrutiny.
- Easier Compliance for Listed Targets: For transactions involving listed targets, the proposed regulations offer potential ease of compliance, reducing risks related to competition law.
- Increase in Merger Filings: The regulations are expected to lead to more merger filings, particularly in the technology sector, due to the additional threshold.
Competition Commission of India (CCI)
- Statutory Body: The Competition Commission of India (CCI), established in March 2009 as a statutory body under the Competition Act, 2002, is a governmental organization dedicated to fostering fair competition in the Indian economy.
- Composition: The CCI functions as a quasi-judicial body and comprises one chairperson and six additional members. All members are appointed by the Central Government.
- Headquarters: The headquarters of the CCI is located in New Delhi.
- Objective: Its primary objective is to create a level playing field for producers while ensuring the well-being of consumers.
- The Commission is committed to eliminating practices that negatively impact competition, promoting and sustaining competition, safeguarding consumer interests, and upholding the principles of free trade in India's markets.
- Mandate: Under its mandate, the CCI enforces the provisions of the Competition Act, 2002, which include:
- Prohibiting anti-competitive agreements and the abuse of dominant positions by enterprises.
- Regulating mergers and acquisitions (M&A) that could potentially harm competition within India. Transactions exceeding specified thresholds require clearance from the CCI.
- Monitoring the activities of large enterprises to prevent the misuse of their dominant position, such as controlling supply, imposing high purchase prices, or engaging in unethical practices that may harm emerging businesses.
Recently, in an effort to address the ongoing conflict in Manipur and address the concerns of the Kuki community, the state government has suggested to the Central government that the existing autonomous hill councils be granted increased autonomy.
- Government Response: This proposal comes in response to the Kuki community's demand for "separate administration" following violence that erupted on May 3.
- Denial assumption: However, sources indicate that the Kuki community is unlikely to accept this compromise, asserting that the hill councils have proven to be ineffective.
- During British colonial rule in Assam, the tribal populations residing in the hills vehemently opposed the imposition of formal British laws, as they had their own customary laws.
- The British, primarily interested in exploiting the region economically, sought to avoid confrontations.
- Consequently, they divided the hill areas of Assam into two categories: "excluded" and "partially excluded" areas, as per the Government of India Act, 1935.
- In these areas, federal or provincial laws would not be enforced unless deemed necessary by the governor for the sake of peace and development.
Role of Autonomous Hill Councils
- The primary intention behind this provision was to grant tribal populations the authority to govern themselves autonomously.
- It aimed to preserve their distinct identities and protect their resources.
Integration into Independent India
- Post-independence, India preserved and improved upon the provision introduced during the British colonial era.
- This provision was subsequently incorporated into the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution.
- The refinement of this provision was guided by recommendations from a committee led by Gopinath Bordoloi, who served as the Premier of Assam.
- The Bordoloi committee strongly advocated for the establishment of Autonomous District Councils (ADCs) in six hill districts of Assam:
- United Khasi-Jaintia Hills District
- Garo Hills District
- Lushai Hills District
- Naga Hills District
- North Cachar Hills District
- Mikir Hills District
- The core objective behind this initiative was to empower tribal communities, enabling them to protect their cultural identities and vital resources.
- Presently, there are ten ADCs operating under the Sixth Schedule in the North East. Among these, Assam, Meghalaya, and Mizoram each have three ADCs, while Tripura has one.
- In the case of Manipur, six ADCs were established in 1971 under a parliamentary act.
Regional Councils for Minor Tribes
- In addition to ADCs, the Bordoloi committee recommended the formation of regional councils within ADCs.
- These regional councils are designed to address the unique needs and concerns of minor tribal communities residing within the jurisdiction of the respective ADCs.
Constitution of ADCs
- The Sixth Schedule was introduced into the Indian Constitution through Article 244, incorporating provisions for the establishment of autonomous administrative divisions within a state.
- These autonomous divisions, represented by Autonomous District Councils (ADCs), were granted specific legislative, judicial, and administrative autonomy within their respective states.
- ADCs within a state typically consist of 30 members serving a five-year term.
- These councils are vested with the authority to create laws, rules, and regulations across various domains, including land, forest, water, agriculture, village councils, health, sanitation, village and town-level policing, inheritance of property, marriage and divorce, social customs, mining, and more.
- An exception to the 30-member rule is the Bodoland Territorial Council in Assam, which has more than 40 members and the ability to enact laws on 39 different issues.
- ADCs also have the legal jurisdiction to establish courts capable of adjudicating cases involving parties from Scheduled Tribes, provided the maximum sentence is fewer than five years in prison.
Evolution of Manipur ADCs
- In December 1971, the Parliament passed The Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act.
- This legislation laid the foundation for the establishment of ADCs in Manipur's hill areas, which constituted 90% of the state's geographical area and were inhabited by various tribal communities such as Nagas, Kukis, Zomis, and Hmars. During that time, Manipur was a Union Territory.
- While inspired by the Sixth Schedule, the Manipur ADCs do not wield as much authority.
- Unlike ADCs under the Sixth Schedule, which derive their power from the Constitution, Manipur ADCs are subject to the state Assembly due to the provisions of the Act.
- Tribal communities in Manipur have consistently pushed for inclusion in the Sixth Schedule, which would lead to the establishment of Autonomous District Councils (ADCs).
- The creation of ADCs through a dedicated Act faced protests due to dissatisfaction with the provisions and perceived lack of cooperation from the state government.
- Hill communities boycotted ADC elections for a span of two decades from 1990 to 2010, rendering the ADCs ineffective during this period.
- Attempts to introduce amendments to provide greater autonomy to ADCs have encountered challenges, with some efforts faltering, getting stuck in the Assembly, or being seen as superficial.
- Amendments made in 2000 were essentially reversed by another bill in 2006, and those introduced in 2008 were found to be insufficient.
- The Manipur ADCs have experienced significant functionality issues. Irregular budgetary allocations from the state government have made it difficult, at times, to pay salaries.
- In practical terms, Manipur's ADCs are considered non-functional, as reported by sources within the Ministry of Home Affairs.
On 2nd Sept, Union Minister for Parliamentary Affairs announced the formation of a committee to investigate the feasibility of implementing "One Nation, One Election" in India, wherein simultaneous elections would be held for the Lok Sabha (national parliament) and state assemblies.
- Committee Formation: The committee is headed by former President Ram Nath Kovind and comprises prominent figures from various political backgrounds.
- Multiple Committees Studying the Idea: This committee is the fourth of its kind to explore the potential of holding simultaneous elections in India.
- Previous committees that examined the concept included the Law Commission, NITI Aayog, and a Parliamentary Standing Committee.
- Background on "One Nation, One Election": The idea of simultaneous elections is not new in India and has been a recurring topic of discussion.
- While the practice of holding concurrent elections existed initially, disruptions occurred after the premature dissolution of some state assemblies in 1968 and 1969.
- Challenges and Constitutional Amendments: Implementing simultaneous elections would require significant changes to the Indian constitution and electoral laws.
- Challenges include amending constitutional articles related to the duration of legislative bodies, securing consensus among political parties and state governments, and procuring additional voting equipment and personnel.
On 10th August, the Union Government presented a Bill in the Rajya Sabha that seeks to alter the composition of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) selection panel, removing the Chief Justice of India (CJI) and introducing a cabinet minister instead.
- Alteration of CEC Selection Panel: The Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill, 2023 proposes changing the CEC selection panel composition.
- Previous Supreme Court Ruling: A Supreme Court ruling from March mandated that the selection panel should include the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition (LoP) in Lok Sabha, and the CJI. This order would remain valid until a new law was enacted by Parliament.
- Transition from Presidential Appointment: Historically, the President appointed Election Commissioners and CECs based on government recommendations.
- Upcoming Vacancy and Selection Process: An upcoming vacancy in the Election Commission is expected in February, right before the announcement of the 2024 general election dates.
- Alternative LoP Designation: If a Leader of Opposition is absent in the Lower House, the leader of the single-largest Opposition party would be considered the LoP for the selection panel.
- Initial Selection Process: Initially, a list of five candidates would be prepared for consideration by the selection committee for the appointment of CEC and Election Commissioners.
On 7th August, 2023, the Lok Sabha passed the Coastal Aquaculture Authority (Amendment) Bill, 2023 which aims to decriminalize offences related to coastal aquaculture activities, emphasizing a commitment to promoting ease of doing business.
- Scope Expansion and Environmental Protection: The bill addresses regulatory gaps while maintaining environmental safeguards in coastal regions.
- Penalty Instead of Jail Term: Offences related to coastal aquaculture could incur penalties rather than imprisonment under the proposed amendment.
- Enhancing Operational Procedures: The Coastal Aquaculture Authority is set to become more responsive to stakeholder needs, promoting eco-friendly practices and implementing global standards.
- Improved Aquaculture Practices: The legislation encourages the establishment of facilities for genetically improved, disease-free aquatic life, prioritizing human health in coastal aquaculture.
- Government's Commitment to the Fishing Sector: The government's substantial investment in the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana underscores its dedication to the fishing sector's growth.
- Impressive Growth in Shrimp Production: Shrimp production has witnessed remarkable growth over the past nine years, showcasing the sector's increasing significance.
- Elevating Concern for the Fishing Community: The removal of provisions imposing imprisonment for minor offences signals a genuine concern for the welfare of the fishing community.
On 4th August, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice has suggested lowering the minimum age for participating in Assembly elections from 25 years to 18 years.
- Election Age Revision: The committee recommends reducing the minimum age for contesting Assembly elections to 18 years, enabling greater youth engagement in the democratic process.
- The committee's report argues that this change would enhance diverse perspectives in policy discussions, thereby enhancing the credibility of the political system.
- Federalism Principles: The panel warns against a common electoral roll for various elections, stressing the importance of adhering to federalism principles. It advises careful consideration before making such changes.
- Stricter Punishment: The committee proposes stricter punishment, including up to two years of imprisonment and fines, for candidates submitting false affidavits.
- Youth Representation: The report contends that the notion that political competence comes solely with age is outdated, highlighting the capabilities of young individuals in the modern era.
- Age Discrepancy: The committee raises concern over the high percentage of MPs above 55 years of age in contrast to India's younger median age.
- Election Commission's Response: The Election Commission disagrees with lowering the minimum age, citing insufficient experience and maturity among 18-year-olds.
- Aadhaar and Voter IDs: The committee questions the inclusion of non-citizens with Aadhaar in the electoral rolls and suggests safeguards to ensure their exclusion.
- Remote Voting Proposal: The report omits recommendations on the Election Commission's remote voting proposal for internal migrants.
On 3rd August, 2023, the government introduced the Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2023 in the Lok Sabha. The Bill represents a significant stride towards safeguarding digital privacy and rights.
- Foundations of the Bill: The Digital Personal Data Protection Bill aims to establish the rights and responsibilities of digital citizens (Digital Nagriks) and data fiduciaries.
- The legislation emphasizes the lawful collection and usage of personal data, data minimization, protection, accountability, accuracy, and data breach reporting.
- Focus on Data Economy: The bill is grounded in six key principles, the first of which pertains to the lawful collection and usage of personal data.
- Global and Local Scope: The bill addresses cross-border data flow, data localization, and consent criteria, empowering individuals with informed, free, and unambiguous consent.
- It outlines data retention rules, penalties for data breaches, and significant financial consequences for non-compliance.
- Digital Transformation: The bill aligns with Prime Minister’s vision of a robust digital economy and a technologically advanced India.
On 3rd August, the Lok Sabha approved the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2023, granting the Lieutenant-Governor (L-G) of Delhi authority over Group A services.
- The Background: The Bill replaces the Delhi Ordinance brought on May 19, which had overridden the Supreme Court's order that granted authority over civil servants to Delhi's elected government, except for issues related to land, police, and public order.
- Unique Status of Delhi: The bill's statement of reasons highlights Delhi's unique status as the capital of India and aims to promote national interests while considering the aspirations of Delhi's residents.
- Article 239AA in the Constitution confers special status on Delhi based on the recommendations of the S. Balakrishnan Committee and was added through the 69th Amendment in 1991.
- Empowering the Lieutenant Governor (LG) through the NCCSA: The new bill removes Section 3A of the ordinance, granting control over services to the Delhi legislative assembly, but empowers the LG in several significant matters.
- Role of NCCSA: The bill establishes the National Capital Civil Services Authority (NCCSA), comprising the chief minister as the chairperson, the principal home secretary, and the chief secretary of Delhi.
- The NCCSA will make recommendations to the LG, who is appointed by the Union government, on transfers, postings, vigilance, disciplinary proceedings, and prosecution sanctions of civil servants of Group A of All India Services and DANICS (Delhi, Andaman and Nicobar, Lakshadweep, Daman and Diu, and Dadra and Nagar Haveli (Civil) Services).
- Decisions of the NCCSA will be based on a majority vote, potentially allowing the Union government-appointed members to overrule the chief minister's decisions.
- The LG will have the power to approve the NCCSA's recommendations or seek reconsideration, and his decision will prevail over the NCCSA in case of differences of opinion.
- LG's Discretionary Powers and Control over Important Matters: The bill grants the LG the power to exercise "sole discretion" on several matters, including those outside the legislative competence of the Delhi Legislative Assembly, matters requiring his discretion or judicial functions, among others.
- The elected government's powers to issue orders on crucial matters are curtailed, as the final word is given to the LG on issues impacting peace and tranquility in Delhi, Delhi government's relations with the Central government, state governments, Supreme Court, High Court of Delhi, and other authorities, summoning, prorogation, and dissolution of the Legislative Assembly, etc.
- The bill also allows department secretaries to directly consult the LG, chief minister, and chief secretary without involving the concerned minister.