1. Supreme Court asks high courts to fast-track trial under POCSO Act
Context: The Supreme Court has issued a slew of directions to all high courts of the country regarding trial in sexual assault cases involving children.
- All high courts must ensure that the cases of sexual assault of children are fast-tracked and decided by special courts.
- High courts should instruct the trial courts not to grant unnecessary adjournments during trial of cases under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
- High courts may constitute a committee of three judges to regulate and monitor the trials of sexual assault cases of children.
- The State police chiefs should constitute special task forces to investigate cases.
Nearly 32% of cases filed under the POCSO Act, which deals with sexual abuse of minors, were pending police investigation at the end of 2016 while 89% were pending trials.
The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO Act) 2012 was formulated in order to effectively address sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children.
Role of police: The Act casts the police in the role of child protectors during the investigative process. Thus, the police personnel receiving a report of sexual abuse of a child are given the responsibility of making urgent arrangements for the care and protection of the child, such as obtaining emergency medical treatment for the child and placing the child in a shelter home, and bringing the matter in front of the CWC, should the need arise.
Safeguards: The Act further makes provisions for avoiding the re-victimisation of the child at the hands of the judicial system. It provides for special courts that conduct the trial in-camera and without revealing the identity of the child, in a manner that is as child-friendly as possible. Hence, the child may have a parent or other trusted person present at the time of testifying and can call for assistance from an interpreter, special educator, or other professional while giving evidence. Above all, the Act stipulates that a case of child sexual abuse must be disposed of within one year from the date the offence is reported.
Mandatory reporting: The Act also provides for mandatory reporting of sexual offences. This casts a legal duty upon a person who has knowledge that a child has been sexually abused to report the offence; if he fails to do so, he may be punished with six months’ imprisonment and/ or a fine.
Definitions: The Act defines a child as any person below eighteen years of age. It defines different forms of sexual abuse, including penetrative and non-penetrative assault, as well as sexual harassment and pornography. It deems a sexual assault to be “aggravated” under certain circumstances, such as when the abused child is mentally ill or when the abuse is committed by a person in a position of trust or authority like a family member, police officer, teacher, or doctor.
2. National Telecom Policy
Context: The draft National Digital Communications Policy 2018 has been released by the Department of Telecom (DoT).
The draft policy has outlined three major missions which it aims to achieve by 2022:
- Connect India under which it aims to create robust digital communications.
- Propel India under which the government aims to harness the power of emerging digital technologies, including 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet Of Things (IoT), etc.
- Secure India which aims to safeguard the digital sovereignty of India with a focus on ensuring individual autonomy and choice, data ownership, privacy and security.
Major goals: The policy has outlined goals such as providing broadband for all, creating 4 million additional jobs in the digital communications sector, apart from enhancing the contribution of the digital communications sector to 8% of India’s gross domestic product (GDP) from less than 6% in 2017.
Data protection: In the wake of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytics data scandal, the government aims to now establish a comprehensive data protection regime for digital communications that safeguards the privacy, autonomy and choice of individuals and facilitates India’s participation in the global digital economy.
National Broadband mission: The policy has announced goals such as deployment of 5 million public Wi-Fi Hotspots by 2020 and 10 million by 2022 through a National Broadband Mission.
Fibre First Initiative: The policy aims to implement a ‘Fibre First Initiative’ to take fibre to the home by according telecom optic fibre cables the status of public utility.
Infrastructure convergence: The government also aims to enable infrastructure convergence of IT, telecom and broadcasting sectors by amending the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 and other relevant acts for the purpose of convergence in coordination with respective ministries.
Boost to investments: In order to attract investments of $100 billion in the digital communications sector and increase India’s contribution to global value chains, the government will review levies and fees including license fee, universal service obligation fund (USOF) levy and concept of pass through revenues in line with principles of input line credit apart from rationalising spectrum usage charges (SUCs) to reflect the costs of regulation and administration of spectrum.
Light touch licensing regime: The DoT will also establish light touch licensing regime for the proliferation of public data offices (PDOs) and Public Data Office Aggregators for providing internet access through Wi-Fi hotspots.
Renewable energy technologies: The Policy talks of incentivising the use of renewable energy technologies in the communications sector, including utilisation of small cell fuel batteries, lithium-ion batteries or other similar technologies.
3. DNA profiling Bill
Context: The Supreme Court has considered the submission of the Centre that it would move a Bill in the upcoming Parliament session for DNA profiling to enable authorities to maintain records of unidentified and unclaimed dead bodies or missing persons.
The government was responding to a PIL petition on the use of DNA profiling for identifying unclaimed bodies, especially to match them with old cases of missing persons.
Human DNA Profiling Bill:
The Centre’s Human DNA Profiling Bill, 2015, was prepared by the Department of Biotechnology and the Hyderabad-based Centre for DNA-Fingerprinting and Diagnostics. Several organisations and individuals, however, raised concerns that the bill gave sweeping powers to government to mine the database and use it for purposes beyond just solving crime.
Highlights of the Human DNA Profiling Bill:
- The bill proposes to allow collection of samples from private parts of human body for DNA profiling and data preservation with the approval of a regulatory body.
- It suggests that a National DNA Profiling Board and a National DNA Bank be set up in Hyderabad, with every state having a regional DNA data bank. The DNA Data Bank would maintain records of samples found at crime scenes, or from suspects, offenders, missing persons, volunteers, etc.
- The bill also makes it clear that no DNA Laboratory shall undertake DNA profiling without the prior approval of the DNA Board.
- If a foreign country requests DNA profiling, the DNA Bank will coordinate through CBI or a concerned department.
- The bill mandates that the DNA profiles or samples be kept confidential, and they should be used only for establishing identity of a person and nothing else.
- Government investigation agencies and judiciary, among others, can seek information from Data Banks. For unauthorized use of data, a stringent punishment is provided.
Law commission report:
- Last year, the Law Commission of India, in its 271st report, prepared the draft Bill named The DNA Based Technology (Use and Regulation) Bill, 2017 after examining various judicial pronouncements and constitutional provisions.
- It however had also flagged that privacy concerns and the ethics involved in this scientific collection of data were very high. The Commission said the procedure for DNA profiling, if given statutory recognition, should be done legitimately as per constitutional provisions.
Highlights of the DNA Based Technology (Use and Regulation) Bill, 2017:
DNA profiling Board: Constitution of a DNA Profiling Board, a statutory body to undertake functions such as laying down procedures and standards to establish DNA laboratories and grant accreditation to such laboratories; and advising the concerned ministries/departments of the Central and state governments on issues relating to DNA laboratories.
Functions of the Board: The Board shall also be responsible for supervising, monitoring, inspecting and assessing the laboratories. The Board will frame guidelines for training of the police and other investigating agencies dealing with DNA-related matters. Advising on all ethical and human rights issues relating to DNA testing in consonance with international guidelines will be another function of the Board. It will recommend research and development activities in DNA testing and related issues, etc.
Security: DNA profiling would be undertaken exclusively for identification of a person and would not be used to extract any other information.
National DNA Data Bank: There shall be a National DNA Data Bank, and Regional DNA Data Banks for the states, to be established by the Central government. The data banks will be responsible for storing DNA profiles received from the accredited laboratories and maintaining certain indices for various categories of data, like crime scene index, suspects’ index, offenders’ index, missing persons’ index and unknown deceased persons’ index.
With a view to assist the kith and kin of missing persons, provisions have been made for proper identification of missing persons on the basis of their bodily samples/substances.
DNA technology- significance and concerns:
DNA analysis is an extremely useful and accurate technology in ascertaining the identity of a person from his/her DNA sample, or establishing biological relationships between individuals. A hair sample, or even bloodstains from clothes, from a scene of crime, for example, can be matched with that of a suspect, and it can, in most cases, be conclusively established whether the DNA in the sample belongs to the suspected individual. As a result, DNA technology is being increasingly relied upon in investigations of crime, identification of unidentified bodies, or in determining parentage.
But information from DNA samples can reveal not just how a person looks, or what their eye colour or skin colour is, but also more intrusive information like their allergies, or susceptibility to diseases. As a result, there is a greater risk of information from DNA analysis getting misused.
4. Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana
Context: The government has clarified that all the remaining households in the country including located in the habitations/hamlets/Dhanis/Majras/Tolas associated with the Census villages and households attached to urban settlements would be covered under ‘Saubhagya’.
About the Saubhagya scheme:
What is it?
Under the ‘Saubhagya’ scheme, launched in September, 2017, all willing households in rural areas and poor families in urban areas are given free electricity connections. There are around 4 Crore un-electrified households in the country and they are targeted for providing electricity connections by December 2018.
Rural Electrification Corporation Limited (REC) is the Nodal Agency for the operationalization of the scheme throughout the country.
Salient Features of Saubhagya are:
- All DISCOMs including Private Sector DISCOMs, State Power Departments and RE Cooperative Societies shall be eligible for financial assistance under the scheme in line with DDUGJY.
- The prospective beneficiary households for free electricity connections under the scheme would be identified using SECC 2011 data. However, un-electrified households not covered under SECC data would also be provided electricity connections under the scheme on payment of Rs. 500 which shall be recovered by DISCOMs in 10 installments through electricity bill.
- The electricity connections to un-electrified households include provision of service line cable, energy meter including pre-paid/smart meter, single point wiring. LED lamps and associated accessories in line with technical specifications and construction standard.
The expected outcome of the Scheme is as follows:
- Environmental upgradation by substitution of Kerosene for lighting purposes.
- Improvement education services.
- Better health services.
- Enhanced connectivity through radio, television, mobiles, etc.
- Increased economic activities and jobs.
- Improved quality of life especially for women.
The scheme will help India, the world’s third-largest energy consumer after the US and China, to help meet its global climate change commitments as electricity will substitute kerosene for lighting purposes. Lighting in turn will also help in improving education, health, connectivity with the multiplier effect of increased economic activities and job creation.
5. WHO global air pollution database
Context: WHO recently released global air pollution database in Geneva. WHO monitored 4,300 world cities for their air pollution levels in terms of PM 2.5 levels in the year 2016. The PM2.5 includes pollutants like sulfate, nitrate and black carbon, which pose the greatest risk to human health.
Why should India be worried?
- As per the database, 14 out of 15 most polluted cities in the world are from India and the top 14 cities are from India only.
- Kanpur is the most polluted city which came on top with PM 2.5 concentration of 173 micrograms per cubic metre.
- Other Indian cities that registered very high levels of PM2.5 pollutants were Kanpur, Faridabad, Gaya, Patna, Agra, Muzaffarpur, Srinagar, Gurgaon, Jaipur, Patiala and Jodhpur followed by Ali Subah Al-Salem in Kuwait and a few cities in China and Mongolia.
- The national Capital climbed down from the fourth spot, where it appeared in WHO 2015 data, to the sixth spot only.
Level of threat from air pollution worldwide:
- According to a study which drew off the most-recent data 2016 data, 9 out of 10 people are exposed to dangerously high levels of pollutants around the world which leads to the risk of cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
- Air pollution levels were the highest in the eastern Mediterranean and southeast Asia. Here, in some of the areas, the airborne toxins were five times the limits set by the WHO. These toxins affected the poor and most vulnerable.
- Air pollution is the reason behind a dozen of diseases which often prove to be lethal. Almost 7 million deaths were caused by household and outdoor pollution in the previous year.
The WHO report has made a special mention of Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Ujjwala’ scheme to provide LPG connections to women from Below Poverty Line (BPL) households. The report said, “While the latest data shows ambient air pollution levels are still dangerously high in most parts of the world, countries also show some positive progress.”
Various efforts by the government:
- In November last year, the toxic smog in Delhi forced the Indian Medical Association to declare a public health emergency, advising citizens to stay indoors, and for schools to be shut. The fog, according to experts, was a “deadly mixture of vehicular pollution, construction and road dust and stubble burning.”
- In January this year, the Supreme Court asked the central government to look into the problem of air pollution on a nationwide basis and not confine it to Delhi-NCR only, saying reports suggested that many cities like Raipur, Patna, Allahabad were more polluted.
- To combat air pollution, the government in March this year finalised a Comprehensive Action Plan (CAP), “specifically” for Delhi-NCR. The plan has a number of measures including actions to reduce vehicular emissions and control dust from constructions.
The World Health Organisation has called upon member-countries in its Southeast Asia region to aggressively address the double burden of household and ambient (outdoor) air pollution, saying the region, which comprises India, accounts for 34% or 2.4 million of the seven million premature deaths caused by household and ambient air pollution together globally every year. Therefore, Air pollution needs to be brought under control with urgent and effective action.