Winter Session of Parliament begins; Justice SA Bobde to take charge as new CJI; Arunachal Pradesh special cabinet meet to discuss Citizenship Bill; Bhutan’s foreign minister on India visit; Davis Cup tennis begins
The session: The Winter Session of Parliament begins today and will continue till December 13. In the previous session, the first of the current Lok Sabha, the government had ensured passage of a record 30 Bills, including contentious ones on triple talaq, Kashmir reorganisation and Article 370.
The agenda: In the 20-day session, 35 Bills, including 27 new ones, have been listed. Among them are Citizenship Amendment Bill that seeks to grant citizenship to non-Muslim illegal migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan; Personal Data Protection Bill that introduces restrictions and penalties on handling and processing of consumer data; and Companies (Second Amendment) Bill to decriminalise some offences. Two crucial ordinances are to be converted into law: One reducing the corporate tax rate and another banning e-cigarettes.
The topics: The session comes during one of the worst economic slowdowns and just after the revocation of Jammu & Kashmir’s special status, Supreme Court judgments in the Ayodhya and Rafale cases and snooping of a few Indians by an unknown agency (or nation) using Israeli spyware. These are likely to be on the list of the government and Opposition. A bill to give legislative backing to a trust that will oversee the construction of the temple in Ayodhya is also likely to be hotly debated if it is introduced.
The new numbers: Shiv Sena walking out of the NDA may not hurt the government much. While the NDA has a brute majority in the Lok Sabha, the steady exodus of opposition MPs has helped it grow in Rajya Sabha too where it is now barely short of a majority. The Upper House now has five vacancies and the combined strength of the ruling NDA is 110 (not including three Shiv Sena MPs). Friendly regional parties with a record of supporting the Modi government on key issues add another 15 seats – BJD has seven members along with six of the TRS and two of the YSR Congress.
It’s special: This will also be a landmark 250th session of Rajya Sabha. Since its first sitting on May 13, 1952, the Upper House passed 3,817 bills till the end of the 249th session. This session will also mark the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution by the Constituent Assembly, for which a joint sitting of members from both Houses will be held in Central Hall on November 26.
What: The Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) said on Sunday that it will seek a review of the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi title case handing over the entire 2.77 acres of disputed land to the deity Ram Lalla, who was one of the three litigants. Though AIMPLB was not a party in the case, it worked with the other litigants like Jamiat Ulema-i Hind, which is also in favour of a review petition.
Why: The installation of a statue of Lord Ram inside the Babri Masjid in the night of December 23, 1949, “was unconstitutional” AIMPLB secretary Zafaryab Jilani said on Sunday adding, “So, how did the Supreme Court consider them as ‘araadhya‘ (eligible for worshipping). They (idols) cannot be considered as ‘araadhya‘ (eligible for worshipping) even as per Hindu religion.”
And: The board also said that it is against taking the five-acre land in Ayodhya in lieu of the mosque, as ordered by the SC in its November 9 judgment. “We feel that the restitution by granting five acres land, where fundamental values have been damaged to the extent of causing national shame, will in not any manner heal the wounds caused. Even otherwise the effect of this direction would amount to shifting the mosque from one place to another by judicial order without any provocation by the community,” the board said. The land, however, has been granted to the Sunni Wakf Board, which had earlier said that it won’t challenge the court’s decision.
A question: Opposition leaders who met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union ministers Amit Shah on Sunday questioned them about Farooq Abdullah’s detention, saying the government is under a constitutional obligation to ensure his participation in the Parliament session. “How can a parliamentarian be detained illegally? He should be allowed to attend Parliament,” said Ghulam Nabi Azad, the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, where Abdullah is a member.
A new jail: 33 political detenues, including People’s Conference president and former minister Sajjad Lone, were shifted to Srinagar MLA hostel on Sunday from Centaur Lake View hotel, the sub-jail where they had been lodged since August 5, after the abrogation of Article 370.
And violence: One Army jawan was killed and two others injured in an improvised explosive device blast at a border outpost in Akhnoor while Pakistani troops shelled forward posts and villages along the LoC in Poonch district. There have been 294 incidents of terrorist violence in J&K since the abrogation of Article 370, compared to 287 in the preceding period of this year.
The Parliament is finally set to consider the Personal Data Protection Bill this winter session, almost a year after the draft was made public and just weeks after the Pegasus spyware scandal rocked India, revealing attempts by an unknown agency to snoop on Indian activists and lawyers through WhatsApp. Though India is in want of a comprehensive law on privacy as existing laws are outdated, the particular bill has attracted criticism from privacy advocates.
Among the most contentious suggestions of the bill are
A super authority: Progressive privacy laws such as EU’s GDPR explicitly gives the ownership of data to the user, and thus the power to decide its erasure, migration and longevity to her. India’s Data Protection Bill acknowledges a user’s right and aims to give her the right to port or erase data, but also supersede her power in many aspects. As per the bill the Data Authority that is to be set up will have the power “to acquire, hold and dispose of property, both movable and immovable, and to contract and shall, by the said name, sue or be sued”. In other words, a “super owner” with authority to acquire as well as “contract” all and any data in India. This authority is also bound by directions of the Central government in the interest of “the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order”.
Surveillance fears: The bill also mandates that personal data of Indian users be stored in India and critical data to be stored exclusively in India. This, cybersecurity experts say, is flawed considering the high number of data breaches and cyberattacks in India. Also, combining data localisation with the power of the government (as discussed above) will normalise surveillance, say critics. Experts also say that data localisation will not stop data analysis by large internet companies. “The only discernible reason for such a requirement is to give law enforcement easy access to this data,” writes Chinmayi Arun, an assistant professor of law at National Law University in New Delhi.
Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao near Kanpur witnessed clashes and torching of vehicles through the weekend as farmers protested against land acquisition by the state government for the construction of the proposed Trans-Ganga City. On Saturday, farmers clashed with cops and set ablaze construction machinery, while on Sunday several plastic pipes and vehicles parked outside the state agency overseeing the project were torched.
Trans Ganga City is a proposed high-tech city being built by the Uttar Pradesh State Industrial Development Authority (UPSIDC) near Kanpur. Some projects Kanpur are also under the Smart City Mission (it’s marked under Round 2) that is being coordinated and partly-funded by the Central government. According to this report, farmers allege that the Yogi Adityanath government has “forcibly” taken over their land.
Following the clashes, the police registered an FIR against “eight known and 200 unidentified people”, Unnao Superintendent of Police told news agency ANI. The complaint was registered by the UPSIDC. Another FIR was also filed against 30 named and 200 unidentified people for allegedly firing bullets on the police party and pelting stones yesterday during the clashes, the report added.
An order: The facts of another case have found mention in the Delhi High Court order denying bail to former union finance minister P Chidambaram in the INX Media money-laundering case. In his 41-page verdict on November 15, Justice Suresh Kumar Kait of the high court reproduced some paragraphs from a 2017 Supreme Court order rejecting bail to Delhi-based lawyer Rohit Tandon in a money-laundering case.
A plea: Last week, the Enforcement Directorate described Karnataka Congress lawmaker DK Shivakumar as former “finance minister and home minister of the country” as it sought cancellation of the bail granted by the Delhi High Court in a money-laundering case. The reason: the agency had cut and pasted parts of an earlier petition arguing against bail for P Chidambaram.
Another order: In August, a Delhi HC order denying bail to Chidambaram had parts of its order taken verbatim from an ED note. “The high court judge has copy pasted paragraphs from the ED’s written note in his judgment denying pre-arrest bail…. Paragraphs 12 to 20 of the judgment are copy pasted from the ED note,” Chidambaram’s lawyer had alleged.
A Hong Kong police officer was hit in the leg by an arrow and protesters set an overhead footbridge on fire as the students continued to occupy a Polytechnic University and nearby areas despite authorities asking them to leave the campuses. The University is the last campus stronghold of protesters following a week of escalating violence as demonstrators occupied universities, reports the South China Morning Post.
The police said the arrow struck a media liaison officer in the calf and he was taken to a hospital. Photos on the department’s Facebook page show the arrow sticking out of the back of the officer’s leg through his pants. The use of bows and arrows, along with gasoline bombs launched with a catapult has significantly escalated the months-long protests in Hong Kong, even as the city officially entered into recession this quarter as tourists keep away.
In a development likely to further anger the protesters, Chinese troops Beijing maintains in a garrison were seen on the street over the weekend. Dozens of Chinese troops, dressed in black shorts and olive drab T-shirts, ran out in loose formation and picked up paving stones, rocks and other obstacles that had cluttered the street, reports the Associated Press. The military is allowed to help maintain public order, but only at the request of the Hong Kong government. The government said that it had not requested the assistance, describing it as a voluntary community activity.
For the third year in a row, the youth left it late to fulfil its promise. In London Sunday night, 21-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas beat Dominic Thiem 6-7(6), 6-2, 7-6(4) over two hours and 35 minutes to win the ATP Finals championship. The year 2019 did not give us a Grand Slam men’s champion under the age of 30, so it gave us the next-best option: a young champion in the season finale. The season-ender is quietly building a reputation for providing a non-Big Four champion — last year Alexander Zverev beat Novak Djokovic for the title, and the year before that Dominic Thiem landed it.
Tsitsipas is, in fact, the youngest ATP Finals champion since former World No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt in 2001 in Sydney. He is also the first player since David Nalbandian in 2005 to recover from losing the opening set and claim the title. That Nalbandian then beat Roger Federer, Tsitsipas’ opponent in the semifinals this year, is another reminder of the longevity of the Big Four. Not that it needs any reminder, for tennis has not had a Grand Slam champion not named Roger, Rafa or Novak since 2016 US Open, when Stan Wawrinka won it. Andy Murray is the fourth member of the Big Four.
So then, will 2020 give us a new Grand Slam champion now that another of the next-generation player has stepped up in London?
Former defence chief Gotabaya Rajapaksa is set to be new Sri Lanka President after registering a comfortable victory over his chief rival Sajith Premadasa on Sunday. Rajapaksa won more than 6.9 million votes in Saturday’s election, 1.3 million votes more than Premadasa. Gotabaya is the brother of former President and hardline Sinhalese leader Mahinda Rajapaksa.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Rajapaksa on Twitter and said he looks forward to “working closely with you for deepening the close and fraternal ties between our two countries and citizens”. Nevertheless, there would be concerns among the Indian diplomats as under Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka had taken a distinctly pro-China stand, welcoming large investments from Beijing, including a port in Hambantota that is now under the Chinese control.
A day after India’s thumping win over Bangladesh in the first Test, the Indian pacer was ranked a career-best seventh in the latest ICC Test Rankings for bowlers; Australia’s Pat Cummins remained the top-ranked bowler. Steve Smith continued his narrow edge over Virat Kohli to be the no.1 Test batsman. Mayank Agarwal made a notable jump to be placed 11th.
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