Supreme Court gives government two weeks to make appointments to all tribunals, accuses Centre of ‘cherry-picking’ names
The Supreme Court on Wednesday accused the Centre of cherry-picking names for appointments to tribunals groaning under a backlog and left almost defunct by long-pending vacancies. A Special Bench of Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana, Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and L. Nageswara Rao held its hand on initiating contempt proceedings against the government and allowed the latter two weeks to make appointments to all the tribunals. If the government does not act, we will pass orders, the CJI said. Chief Justice Ramana termed the state of tribunals and the thousands of litigants waiting for justice pitiable. Cases were adjourned for months. There was no manpower to form Benches. Litigants were made to travel to other faraway States where there were at least some tribunal members available to hear their cases. The Bench addressed Attorney General K.K. Venugopal about how the government pulled the rug from underneath the hard work of the search-cum-selection committees headed by sitting Supreme Court judges tasked with interviewing and shortlisting suitable candidates for the tribunals. The government picked a few names from the final ‘select’ list prepared by the committee and then moved on to appoint a few other names from the ‘wait’ list, the Chief Justice said. I have seen the selection list of National Company Law Tribunal. The selection committee recommended nine judicial members and 10 technical members. The appointment letters indicate cherry-picking of three names from select list and others from the wait list, ignoring others in select list. In service law, you cannot go to wait list ignoring the select list. What kind of appointment is this, Chief Justice Ramana asked the Attorney General. But doesn’t the government have the power to choose someone, Venugopal asked. Justice Chandrachud highlighted the case of debt recovery tribunals which had become almost non-functional under the weight of their vacancies. When a bank decides to recover debt on a house or a factory, the debtor has no remedy. The High Court refuses to hear his case… There is no recourse to justice, Justice Chandrachud said. In one of the tribunals, the Bench said, the selection committee interviewed 534 candidates for judicial members and another 400 for technical members. A list was given. But the government picked a few from the select list and some others from the wait list. Chief Justice Ramana referred to how a Supreme Court judge, who headed a selection committee for a tribunal, travelled across the country to conduct interviews for appointments during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, no appointments were made by the government. We wasted so much time, the CJI chided the government side. The CJI pointed out that as per the latest appointment orders, the judicial members would only have a tenure of one year. Which High Court judge will go for a one-year tenure, the CJI asked.
NCLAT acting chief exit case concerns ‘premature’ replacement: CJI
Chief Justice of India (CJI) N.V. Ramana on Wednesday requested Attorney General K.K. Venugopal to get instructions from the government and be present when the court takes up a petition on September 16 regarding the exit of Justice A.I.S. Cheema as Acting Chairperson of the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT). Senior advocate Arvind Datar had orally mentioned the issue before the CJI Bench on September 14. Addressing the Attorney General, Chief Justice Ramana said the case concerned the premature replacement of Justice Cheema as Acting Chairperson of the NCLAT days before the end of his tenure on September 20. The CJI said it appeared as if the government department concerned had acted hurriedly. I do not how this is happening… he observed. Justice M. Venugopal, a former Madras High Court judge, replaced Justice Cheema as Acting Chairperson of the NCLAT with effect from September 11. Justice Venugopal, a judicial member at Chennai Bench of the NCLAT, is the third Acting Chairperson of the Tribunal since the retirement of the regular NCLAT Chairperson, Justice S.J. Mukhopadhaya, in March last year.
Cabinet approves relief package for telecom sector
The Union Cabinet has approved nine structural reforms and five process reforms for the telecom sector, aimed at giving relief to companies such as Vodafone Idea that have to pay thousands of crores in unprovisioned past statutory dues. The wide set of measures proposed entail reforms for the ailing sector by way of granting moratorium on unpaid dues, redefining adjusted gross revenue (AGR) prospectively, and cut in Spectrum Usage Charges. Telecom Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said non-telecom revenue will be taken out of AGR. PM took a bold decision over AGR (adjusted gross revenue) today. A decision has been taken to rationalise the definition of AGR, he told the media after the Cabinet meet. The regime of penalty and interest on various license fees and charges has been rationalised with penalty being removed completely and interest has been reduced. Future spectrum auctions will be for 30 years, as against the present 20 years. The Ministry will also allow companies to surrender spectrum after paying a fixed charge in case of change in business environment. Spectrum sharing has been allowed completely. The Union Cabinet has also approved 100% foreign direct investment through automatic route in the telecom sector. The government has approved four-year moratorium for dues of telecom service providers. They will, however, have to pay interest. Vaishnaw said the reforms are applicable from October 1 and none of them are with retrospective effect. There will be further reforms when 5G spectrum is auctioned, he added. The relief package for the telecom sector will come as a breather to the three private players at a time when Vodafone Idea is confronting an existential crisis.
NCRB report finds 28% jump in registration of cases in 2020
There was a 28% increase in the registration of cases in 2020 compared to 2019, primarily owing to the violations of COVID-19 norms across the country. An almost 21-fold jump was recorded in cases of disobedience to the order duly promulgated by public servant, and over four times in cases involving violations of other State local laws, according to a National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report. Crimes against Scheduled Castes, with a total of 50,291 cases, showed an increase of 9.4%. Simple hurt with 32.9% (16,543) formed the largest chunk, followed by cases under SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act with 8.5% (4,273), and cases under criminal intimidation with 7.5% (3,788), the report said. In all, 8,272 cases were instituted for offences against Scheduled Tribes: an increase of 9.3% over 2019. Simple hurt (2,247) accounted for 27.2%, followed by rape with 13.7% (1,137), and assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty with 10.7% (885). The cases of sedition declined from 93 in 2019 to 73 last year, with Manipur reporting 15 cases, Assam 12, Karnataka eight, Uttar Pradesh seven, Haryana six, Delhi five and Kashmir two cases. A total of 66,01,285 cognisable crimes, comprising more than 42,54 lakh Indian Penal Code (IPC) offences and over 23.46 lakh Special & Local Laws (SLL) crimes, were registered in 2020, said the report. Effectively, there was a decrease in registration of traditional crime by about two lakh cases. It shows an increase of 14,45,127 (28.0%) in registration of cases over 2019 (51,56,158 cases). Crime rate registered per lakh population has increased from 385.5 in 2019 to 487.8 in 2020. During 2020, registration of cases under IPC has increased by 31.9% whereas SLL crimes have increased by 21.6% over 2019, said the report. As the country remained under complete lockdown from March 25 to May 31 last year during the first wave of COVID-19, cases of crime against women, children and senior citizens, theft, burglary, robbery and dacoity declined. Cases of murder showed a marginal increase of 1% to 29,193. Various kinds of disputes were found to be the motive in the majority of murder cases, followed by personal vendetta or enmity and gain.
NTA announces 87.89 as cut-off score for JEE Advanced 2021
Students who achieved a score of above 87.89 in the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE-Main) will be eligible to apply to write the entrance test for admission to the elite Indian Institutes of Technology, the National Testing Agency announced on September 15. The Common Rank List cut-off score for general category students is lower than the 90.37 cut-off last year. Among the 44 students who achieved a 100 percentile score, seven each were from Telangana and Delhi. Using the tie-breaker rules, 18 students were determined to share the top rank this year, including four from Andhra Pradesh, the highest among States. Overall, 9.39 lakh students wrote the examination, almost a lakh fewer than the 10.23 lakh who appeared last year. This year’s examination was marred by an alleged cheating scandal at a centre in Sonepat, Haryana, where computers were hacked to provide illegal assistance to students who paid up to ₹15 lakh. So far, 11 people have been arrested and a CBI probe is on. On account of using unfair means, a total of 20 candidates have been debarred from appearing in future examinations for a period of three years. Their results have also been withheld, said the NTA statement. JEE Main is used as an entrance test for admission to undergraduate engineering programmes at the National Institutes of Technology, and several other Central, State and private institutions. The top 2.5 lakh ranked candidates are also eligible to appear for JEE Advanced, which is the admission test for the elite Indian Institutes of Technology, and will be held on October 3. Registrations for JEE Advanced will open on September 15. This year’s Common Rank List cut-off score of 87.89 is more than two points below last year’s cut-off of 90.37. For students from economically weaker sections, the cut-off is a score of 66.22; for those from Other Backward Classes, it is 68.02; for those in the Scheduled Caste category, it is 46.88; and for those from Scheduled Tribe communities, it is 34.67. Cut-offs for all these categories are significantly lower than last year. Students can check their scores as well as the final answer keys at https://jeemain.nta.nic.in/. This year, the computer-based examination was offered four times, with the last two sessions postponed due to the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Students were allowed to attempt the examination as often as they wished, with their best score being used for ranking purposes. More than 2.5 lakh chose to attempt all four sessions. Of the total 9.39 lakh students who wrote the examination, 70% were male.
Financial bids received for Air India disinvestment; Tatas among suitors
The government today said it has received multiple financial bids for buying national carrier Air India. Meanwhile, a Tata Sons spokesperson told PTI that it has put in a bid for the airline. Financial bids for Air India disinvestment received by Transaction Adviser. Process now moves to concluding stage, DIPAM Secretary Tuhin Kanta Pandey tweeted. The government is seeking to sell 100% of its stake in the state-owned national airline, including Air India’s 100% shareholding in AI Express Ltd and 50% in Air India SATS Airport Services Private Ltd. The stake sale process, which began on January 2020, faced delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In April 2021, the government asked potential bidders to put in financial bids. September 15 was the last day for putting in financial bids. Tata Group was among the multiple entities that had put in initial expression of interest (EoI) in December 2020 for buying the Maharaja. With previous attempts since 2017 failing to get any significant interest and after receiving feedback from potential investors, the government had in October last year sweetened the EoI clause relating to transfer of Air India’s debt to the new investor, giving bidders flexibility to decide on the quantum of humongous debt they want to absorb. As per the Air India EoI floated by the Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM) in January 2020, of the airline’s total debt of ₹60,074 crore as of March 31, 2019, the buyer would be required to absorb ₹23,286.5 crore. The rest would be transferred to Air India Assets Holding Ltd (AIAHL), a special purpose vehicle. Air India has been in losses ever since its merger with domestic operator Indian Airlines in 2007. The airline, which was formed by the Tatas as a mail carrier in 1932, will give the successful bidder control of 4,400 domestic and 1,800 international landing and parking slots at domestic airports, as well as 900 slots at airports overseas. Besides, the bidder would get 100% of the low-cost arm Air India Express and 50% of AISATS, which provides cargo and ground-handling services at major Indian airports.
Johnson demotes Foreign Minister in Cabinet rejig
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday appointed a newlook Cabinet to revamp his Brexiteer go vernment after controversies over COVID19, Afghan istan and taxes, demoting his underfire Foreign Secretary. Dominic Raab was moved to the lesser role of Justice Secretary but will retain the title of Deputy Prime Minister, Downing Street confirmed. The former lawyer, who deputised for Mr. Johnson when he was in intensive care with COVID19 in April last year, has faced sustained criticism for his handling of the Afghan crisis. He was replaced by Inter national Trade Secretary Liz Truss, who has brokered a series of deals since Britain’s full exit from the European Union in January. She became only the second women foreign secre tary in British history. Among the other leading offices of state, Finance Minister Rishi Sunak — who has overseen bigspending economic support during the pandemic — and hard line Interior Minister Priti Patel both retained their roles. Gaffeprone Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, meanwhile, was sacked, tweeting that it had been a privilege to serve in his role since 2019 when Mr. Johnson on took office on a vow to get Brexit done.
India, U.K. to begin FTA talks from November 1
Formal negotiations for a proposed India-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement (FTA) would begin on November 1, with an interim ‘early harvest’ agreement to be completed by March 2022, the government said today. The interim trade pact would involve early tariff or market access concessions on certain key ‘high priority products and services’, the Commerce and Industry Ministry said in a statement following Minister Piyush Goyal’s meeting with his British counterpart, International Trade Secretary Elizabeth Truss on monday. The U.K. government, in a separate statement, noted that the two Ministers agreed on the steps to get ready to launch negotiations ‘later this year’, including a series of trade working groups from September to help both sides better understand each other’s position on potential chapter areas in any trade deal including tariffs, standards, IP and data regulation. The International Trade Secretary reaffirmed her ambition to negotiate a trade agreement that delivers results for the British people and businesses including those in digital and data, tech and food and drink, the U.K. statement highlighted, indicating its priority areas. The proposed FTA would unlock the ‘extraordinary’ business opportunities and generate jobs, Goyal stressed. He emphasised the need to strike a balance between commitments and concessions in goods and services. Discussions to finalise the terms of reference for the FTA negotiations would begin on October 1, he observed.