Latest Current Affairs 18 September 2021


Supreme Court Collegium on mission mode; fills up vacancies with staggering speed

The Supreme Court Collegium, led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) N.V. Ramana, is proceeding with staggering speed to fill the vacancies and strengthen the judiciary as seen in a latest slew of recommendations, which include eight new Chief Justices to High Courts, the transfer of five High Court Chief Justices and the shuffling of 28 High Court judges across the country. It has been reliably learnt that the eight High Court judges recommended for elevation as Chief Justices of High Courts include Acting Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court Justice Rajesh Bindal as Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court. Among the five Chief Justices learnt to have been recommended for transfer is Justice A.A. Kureshi of the Tripura High Court. He has been recommended for transfer to the Rajasthan High Court as its Chief Justice. He was in the middle of a prolonged stalemate between the Collegium and the government over his initial appointment as Madhya Pradesh High Court Chief Justice about two years ago. The past one month has seen the Collegium recommend over 100 judicial appointments, several transfers and elevations of judges, advocates and Chief Justices. The Collegium began its work on a historic note with the successful recommendation of nine new judges to the Supreme Court that were quickly approved by the government. Among the nine was Justice B.V. Nagarathna, who may become India’s first woman CJI in 2027. This accomplishment was followed by the recommendation of 68 names to various High Courts, significantly, in one go. The back-to-back meetings and recommendations in the past one month indicate the resolve within the Collegium to get the better of the perennial problem of vacancies, especially in the High Courts. Besides the CJI, the Collegium has Justices U.U. Lalit, A.M. Khanwilkar, D.Y. Chandrachud and L. Nageswara Rao. Besides Justice Bindal, the other judges recommended for elevation as Chief Justices of High Courts are Justice Prakash Srivastava for Calcutta, Justice Prashant Kumar Mishra for the Andhra Pradesh High Court, Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi for Karnataka, Justice Satish Chandra Sharma for Telangana, Justice Ranjit V. More for Meghalaya, Justice Aravind Kumar for Gujarat, and Justice R.V. Malimath for Madhya Pradesh. This is probably the largest number of judges recommended by the Collegium for elevation as Chief Justices of High Courts. Other than Justice Kureshi, the other Chief Justices of High Courts recommended for transfer include Andhra Pradesh Chief Justice Arup Kumar Goswami to Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh Chief Justice Mohd. Rafiq to Himachal Pradesh, Chief Justice Indirajit Mohanty of the Rajasthan High Court to Tripura and Meghalaya Chief Justice Biswanath Somadder to Sikkim. Earlier this month, Chief Justice Ramana described judicial appointments as an ongoing process. He said the Collegium intended to live up to the herculean task of filling up 41% of vacancies existing in all the High Courts. Commending the young and dynamic Law Minister, Kiren Rijuju, who was present on the dais at a function organised by the Bar Council of India, the CJI had indicated that in another one month we expect 90% of the vacancies filled in this country.

Stop harassment of activists, journalists, peaceful protesters, Human Rights Watch tells Indian govt 

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Friday accused the Indian authorities of using politically motivated allegations of tax evasion and financial irregularities to silence human rights activists, journalists, and other critics of the government. In a statement released from New York, a day after the Enforcement Directorate’s searches on the premises linked to social activist Harsh Mander, the HRW said that this month, government financial officials had conducted raids in Srinagar, Delhi and Mumbai on journalists’ homes, media offices, an actor’s premises, and the home and office of a human rights activist. The raids are part of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-led national government’s escalating crackdown on freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly since coming to power in 2014. The authorities have brought politically motivated criminal cases, including under broadly worded terrorism and sedition laws, against activists, journalists, academics, students, and others. They have also used foreign funding regulations and allegations of financial misconduct to target outspoken groups, it said. The Indian government’s raids appear intended to harass and intimidate critics, and reflect a broader pattern of trying to silence all criticism, said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director at the HRW, adding, these abuses weaken India’s core democratic institutions and break down fundamental freedoms. Journalism organisations, such as the Editors Guild and Press Club of India, have repeatedly called for an end to harassment of independent media, saying that it is a blatant attack on press freedom, said the HRW. The authorities have repeatedly targeted Mander, who has been a vocal critic of the BJP government’s discriminatory policies against religious minorities and works with victims of communal violence. Delhi police, instead of taking action against BJP leaders who incited communal violence in Delhi in February 2020, filed a fabricated case of hate speech and inciting communal violence against Mander, said the HRW. The HRW said that on September 8 the police in Jammu and Kashmir raided the houses of four Kashmiri journalists — Hilal Mir, Shah Abbas, Showkat Motta, and Azhar Qadri — and confiscated their phones and laptops.

Shashi Tharoor, Revanth Reddy row reflects simmering tensions within Congress 

A patch-up late on September 16 between senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor and his Lok Sabha colleague Revanth Reddy has put the lid on public sparring over Reddy’s comments against Tharoor. However, the episode clearly reflects the simmering tensions between loyalists of the Gandhi family and the G-23 reformists or the group of 23 letter writers who sought internal reforms within the Congress. I spoke to shri @ShashiTharoor ji to convey that I hereby withdraw the remarks and reiterate that I hold my senior colleague in the highest regard. I regret any hurt that may have been caused to him by my words. We share our faith in the values and policies of the Congress Party. And I know he joins me in wanting Congress to win the support of the public to form the next government in Telengana, tweeted Reddy, a person seen as being close to former party chief Rahul Gandhi. Responding to the tweet, Tharoor said on Twitter, I received a gracious call from @revanth_anumula to apologise for what was said. I accept his expression of regret & am happy to put this unfortunate episode behind us. We must work together to strengthen @INCIndia in Telengana & across the country. The public feud started after a newspaper reported that Reddy had used derogatory language against Tharoor for praising the work of the Telangana government. The report, which claimed Reddy hoped for the expulsion of Tharoor, was promptly highlighted by Telangana Information Technology Minister K.T. Rama Rao. Making a political point against the high command’s appointee in Telangana, Lok Sabha member Manish Tewari told Reddy on Twitter, Dr @ShashiTharoor is a valued colleague of yours & mine It would have been better if you would have spoken to him if you had some misgivings about a purported statement of his. Tharoor, Lok Sabha member from Thiruvananthapuram who is among the reformists, was a star campaigner for the party during the recently concluded Assembly election in Kerala, addressing as many as 56 meetings. However, relations with the high command may have soured again after many of them, including Tharoor, attended a dinner meet hosted by Kapil Sibal to rally Opposition leaders.

Manipur seeks to delay compensation plea of detained activist

The Manipur government on Friday sought an adjournment in the hearing of a plea for compensation filed by the father of Erendro Leichombam, who was detained earlier this year under the National Security Act (NSA). An activist, Leichombam was detained for two months for his Facebook posts questioning the efficacy of cow dung and cow urine as a cure for COVID-19 in the context of the death of a BJP leader due to the virus. A Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, while orally remarking about the inconvenience suffered by advocate Shadan Farasat, the petitioner’s lawyer, who was made to wait for the case only for the government side to seek adjournment, scheduled the next hearing on October 5. Leichombam was released from custody in July after the apex court had made it clear that he should not spend another night in prison. The court had agreed to examine the issue of compensation, saying somebody lost their liberty for over two months… It is a serious matter. However, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the State, had urged for quietus in the issue. Mehta had said the activist was released immediately after the apex court order. While the court said whether or not to ask compensation was up to the petitioner, the latter did not relent. Farasat had argued that the government was increasingly using preventive detention provisions in cases in which even ordinary penal sections did not apply. He had submitted that the Facebook posts were criticism against the advocacy of cow dung and urine as a cure. He said stringent NSA provisions were slapped on the activist to chill his right to free speech.

Delhi HC notice to I-T Department on plea by Newslaundry 

The Delhi High Court on Friday issued notice to the Income Tax (I-T) Department on a petition by online news portal Newslaundry and its CEO Abhinandan Sekhri to not leak any material seized during a recent survey at its office in South Delhi. Newslaundry, in its plea, stated I-T officials impounded a hard disk and cloned the office desktop, laptop and phone of Sekhri, his personal email accounts, and a bunch of papers. The petition contended that the seized material contained private data, including chats and communications of Sekhri. Senior advocate Siddharth Dave, along with advocate Nipun Katyal, representing Newslaundry, raised the apprehension that the private data, which do not have any incriminating or relevant material for the purposes of income tax or any other legal proceedings, would not be secure in the hands of the I-T Department. They said the private data could be misused/ leaked/ illegally released in the public domain, which would be a breach of Sekhri’s privacy. This apprehension is well founded since the Respondent [IT Department] did not give the hash value of the data after seizing it, their petition said. A Bench of Justices Manmohan and Navin Chawla asked the I-T Department to respond to the petition by September 21. Newslaundry, in its petition, said that the department issued its first notice on June 29 this year. In pursuance to the notice, Sekhri duly cooperated with the officials of the department and complied with the instructions given by its officials. Newlaundry said the I-T officials did not give sufficient time to Sekhri to delete personal information such as private photographs, private WhatsApp chats and text messages. Newslaundry said it was into investigative journalism, and the electronic devices contained sensitive journalistic data and personal data of Sekhri. If the data was leaked, it would be an extreme breach of privacy and cause irreparable loss to him, it said.


Australia shrugs off China anger on Nuclear subs 

Australia on Friday shrugged off Chinese anger over its decision to acquire U.S.nuclear-powered submarines, while vowing to defend the rule of law in airspace and waters where Beijing has staked hotly contested claims. U.S. President Joe Biden announced the new Australia-U.S .- Britain defence alliance on Wednesday, extending U.S. nuclear submarine technology to Australia as well as cyber defence, applied artificial intelligence and undersea Capabilities. Beijing described the new alliance as an extremely irresponsible threat to regional stability, questioning Australia’s commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and warning the Western allies that they risked shooting themselves in the foot. China has its own very substantive programme of nuclear submarine building, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison argued on Friday in an interview with radio station 2GB. They have every right to take decisions in their national interests for their defence arrangements and of course sodoes Australia and all other countries, he said. In a series of media interviews, the Australian leader said his government was reacting to changing dynamics in the Asia-Pacific region where territory is increasingly contested and competition is rising. Australia is very aware of China’s nuclear submarine capabilities and growing military investment, he told Channel Seven television. We are interested in ensuring that international waters are always international waters and international skies are international skies, and that the rule of law applies equally in all of these places, he said. Australia wanted to ensure that there were no nogo zones in areas governed by international law, the Prime Minister said.

Junta to put Suu Kyi on graft trial

Myanmar’s junta will put ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi on trial for corruption, her lawyer said on Friday, adding to a raft of ongoing cases that could see her jailed for decades. Ms. Suu Kyi has been under house arrest since her National League for Democracy (NLD) government was deposed by the military in a February coup that sparked a mass uprising and a brutal crackdown on dissent. The 76-year-old Nobel laureate is currently on trial for flouting coronavirus restrictions during polls the NLD won in a landslide last year, illegally importing walkie talkies and sedition. Each corruption charge carries a maximum sentence of 15 years. Trial to begin on Oct. 1 She will face a new trial on four charges of corruption beginning on October 1 in the capital Naypyidaw, her lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said. The newest trial forms part of a junta plan to get her (Suu Kyi) out of the picture said Manny Maung, a researcher at Human Rights Watch. Dragging out legal proceedings while Suu Kyi is confined to an unknown location will impact the ability of the NLD to bounce back and deny her supporters a point around which to rally, Ms. Maung added. The ongoing trials were delayed for two months as Myanmar grappled with a coronavirus surge and only resumed this week, with Ms. Suu Kyi skipping the first day on health grounds. Journalists have been barred from all proceedings so far. The junta has also charged her for accepting illegal payments of gold and violating a colonial-era secrecy law, although these are yet to come to court.

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