1 – 10 April 2021
India, Mauritius FTA to come into effect
Several Indian products will enjoy the benefit of greater market access at concessional duties in Mauritius as the free trade agreement signed between the two countries come into effect from 1 April 2021, the commerce ministry said. India and Mauritius signed the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation and Partnership Agreement (CECPA), a kind of free trade pact, on 22 February 2021.
- The pact covers 310 export items for India, including food and beverages, agricultural products, textile and textile articles, base metals, electricals and electronic item, plastics and chemicals, and wood.
- Mauritius will benefit from preferential market access into India for its 615 products, including frozen fish, speciality sugar, biscuits, fresh fruits, juices, mineral water, beer, alcoholic drinks, soaps, bags, medical and surgical equipment, and apparel.
- As regards trade in services, Indian service providers will have access to around 115 subsectors such as professional services, computer related services, research and development, telecommunication, construction, education, environmental, financial, tourism, yoga, and audio-visual.
- On the other hand, India has offered around 95 sub-sectors from the 11 broad services sectors, including R&D, telecommunication, financial, distribution, higher education, environmental, health, and transport services.
- Indian exporters have to obtain a Certificate of Origin (CoO) from the authorised Indian agencies to avail the preferential benefits under the agreement.
- An exporter has to submit this certificate at the landing port of the importing country.
- The document is important to claim duty concessions under a free-trade agreement. It is essential to prove where their goods come from.
- The online application for CoO for the India-Mauritius CECPA can be made from 01 April 2021 through the common digital platform for issuance of certificate of origin of the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT).
- In such an agreement, two trading partners cut or eliminate duties on a host of products besides liberalising norms to promote services trade.
Deadline to adopt new emission norms
India has pushed back deadlines for coal-fired power plants to adopt new emission norms by up to three years, and allowed utilities that miss the new target to continue operating after paying a penalty, according to a government notice. India had initially set a 2017 deadline for thermal power plants to install Flue Gas Desulphurization (FGD) units that cut emissions of sulphur dioxides. But that was postponed to varying deadlines for different regions, ending in 2022.
- The new order dated 1 April 2021 from the environment ministry says plants near populous regions and the capital New Delhi will have to comply by 2022, while utilities in less polluting areas have up to 2025 to comply or retire units.
- Operators of coal-fired utilities including state-run NTPC Ltd and industry groups representing private companies such as Reliance Power and Adani Power have long been lobbying for dilution of the pollution standards, citing high compliance costs.
- The latest notice follows suggestions from the power ministry that plants be given deadlines to adopt norms in line with the severity of pollution in the region where they are located.
- A task force will be constituted by the Central Pollution Control Board to categorise plants in three categories "on the basis of their location to comply with the emission norms", the environment ministry said in its order.
- In case of non-compliance, a penalty of up to 0.20 rupees ($0.0027) will be levied for every unit of electricity produced.
- The power ministry said in January that a "graded action plan" could help avoid immediate increase in power prices in various relatively clean areas of India and avoid unnecessary burden on power utilities and consumers. Indian cities have some of the world's most polluted air.
- Thermal power companies, which produce three-fourths of the country's electricity, account for some 80% of its industrial emissions of particulate matter, sulphur- and nitrous-oxides, which cause lung diseases, acid rain and smog.
Dadasaheb Phalke award
Actor Rajinikanth has been honoured with the 51st Dadasaheb Phalke award, Information and Broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar said. Actor Rajinikanth contribution as actor, producer and screenwriter has been iconic. Rajinikanth had made his debut in the film industry with the 1975 K Balachander movie Apoorva Raagangal.
- Instituted in 1969, the Dadasaheb Phalke Award is India’s highest award in cinema.
- It is presented annually at the National Film Awards Ceremony by the Directorate of Film Festivals, an organisation of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
- The award was decided by a jury consisting of singer Asha Bhonsle, director Subhash Ghai, actor Mohanlal, singer Shankar Mahadevan and actor Biswajeet Chatterjee.
- The last person to receive the award was Amitabh Bachchan in 2018. For the last three years, there had been no nominee.
- Rajinikanth has won four Tamil Nadu State Film awards.
- He was awarded the prestigious Padma Bhushan in 2000, and was conferred with the Padma Vibhushan award in 2016.
- Besides this, Rajinikanth was given the Centenary Award for Indian Film Personality of the Year at the 45th edition of International Film Festival held in Goa.
- Superstar Rajinikanth was last seen in 2020’s Darbar. He is currently filming his next, Annaatthe.
World Autism Awareness Day 2021
2 April is recognised internationally and celebrated as World Autism Awareness Day every year. It is a day when member states of the United Nations are encouraged to raise awareness about people living with autistic spectrum disorders including autism and Asperger syndrome. According to the United Nations, the “COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and heightened glaring inequalities around the world, especially when it comes to income and wealth distribution, access to health care, protection under the law, and political inclusion. Persons with autism have long faced many of these inequalities, which have only been further exacerbated by the pandemic”.
What is autism?
- The UN states autism to be a “lifelong neurological condition that manifests during early childhood, irrespective of gender, race or socio-economic status.
- The term Autism Spectrum refers to a range of characteristics. Appropriate support, accommodation and acceptance of this neurological variation allow those on the Spectrum to enjoy equal opportunity, and full and effective participation in society.
- Autism is mainly characterized by its unique social interactions, non-standard ways of learning, keen interests in specific subjects, inclination to routines, challenges in typical communications and particular ways of processing sensory information.
- The UN has had a theme for the celebration of the World Autism Awareness Day every year since 2012.
- This year, the theme is ‘Inclusion in the Workplace: Challenges and Opportunities in a Post-Pandemic World’.
- The UN General Assembly had declared 2 April as World Autism Awareness Day so as to “highlight the need to help improve the quality of life of those with autism so they can lead full and meaningful lives as an integral part of society”.
- The resolution was passed 1 November 2007, and was adopted 18 December 2007.
ARWU ranking 2020
The Indian Institute of Science (IISc Bangalore) has secured the top position among the best higher education institutes in India, while Calcutta University became the best varsity in the country, as per the recently published Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU 2020).
- As many as 15 Indian universities have made it to the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) 2020, also known as Shanghai Ranking, released recently.
- As per the ARWU Ranking 2020 of top institutions in India, the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) was on the number one rank while the University of Calcutta was on the third spot among all premier higher educational institutions in the country.
- Meanwhile worldwide, the Indian institutes are not even in the top 100 list, the best higher education institute, (IISc Bangalore) is in the category of 501- 600.
Pre-packaged debt resolution for MSMEs
The Centre has used the Ordinance route to introduce pre-packaged insolvency resolution process (pre-pack) for companies classified as micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). India currently has about 6-7 lakh companies that are classified as MSMEs and potentially these many could benefit from the newly introduced pre-packaged insolvency framework.
- A pre-packaged insolvency — in the Indian framework context— is an arrangement where the resolution of a company’s business is negotiated with a buyer before the appointment of insolvency professional.
- It is a blend of informal and formal mechanisms, with the informal process stretching upto NCLT admission, followed by the existing NCLT supervised process for resolution as specified under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC).
- Pre-packs are seen to be a viable alternative to the current corporate insolvency process and would be significantly less time-consuming and inexpensive as against the formal insolvency proceedings.
- The government has deemed it fit to first introduce pre-packs for MSMEs as they are critical for India’s economy and they contribute significantly for the country’s gross domestic product besides providing employment to a sizeable population.
- MSMEs in India have relatively suffered most during the current pandemic times.
- Also with threshold of debt default at ₹ 1 crore now under IBC, most of the MSMEs are out of this range.
- The Centre is expected to in coming days notify the debt default threshold for MSMEs for which pre-packaged insolvency resolution process could be used.
- The ordinance specifies maximum time period of 120 days from the pre-packaged insolvency commencement date by when the pre-pack process should be completed.
Indian Railways creates history
Taking a major leap towards the completion of the 111 kilometre long winding stretch from Katra to Banihal, on 5 April 2021 the Northern Railway zone has completed the Arch closure of the world’s highest railway bridge, Chenab Bridge in Jammu and Kashmir. The iconic Chenab Bridge is a part of the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla rail link (USBRL) project and the completion of the steel arch was one of the most difficult parts of the bridge over Chenab.
Salient features of the Chenab Bridge
- The iconic Arch Bridge on River Chenab is being constructed by Indian Railways as a part of the USBRL project to link the Kashmir valley to the rest of India.
- The iconic bridge is 1315 metres long and is the world’s highest railway bridge being 359 metres above the river bed level.
- The Arch of the Chenab Bridge will be 35 meters higher than the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
- Bridge construction involved the fabrication of 28,660 million tonnes steel, 10 lakh cum earthwork, 66,000 cum concrete as well as 26 kilometres motorable roads.
- The Arch comprises of steel boxes. In order to improve stability, concrete will be filled in boxes of the Arch.
- The overall weight of Arch is 10,619 million tonnes.
- For the first time, erection of the members of the arch by overhead cable cranes done on the Indian Railways network.
- For structural detailing, the most sophisticated ‘Tekla’ software was used.
- Structural steel is suitable for temperature from -10°C to 40°C.
Three indigenous variants of ‘chaff rockets’
The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has developed three variants of a ‘chaff rocket’ for the protection of naval ships from guided-missile attacks. Chaff rocket is primarily a mechanism that when fired acts as a decoy to deflect the guiding mechanism of enemy missiles. Ministry of Defence on 5 April 2021 said the DRDO’s facility Defence Laboratory Jodhpur (DLJ) has indigenously developed three variants of this critical technology.
- The names of this critical technology are Short Range Chaff Rocket (SRCR), Medium Range Chaff Rocket (MRCR) and Long Range Chaff Rocket (LRCR), meeting the Navy’s qualitative requirements.
- The Navy recently conducted trials of all three variants from a warship deployed in Arabian Sea and found the performance satisfactory.
- Chaff is an electronic countermeasure technology used by militaries worldwide to protect naval ships or other sensitive targets from radar and radio frequency (RF) guiding mechanisms of the enemy missile.
- The chaff rockets deployed in the air reflect as multiple targets for the missile guidance systems and deflecting adversary missiles, thus protecting own assets.
- The DRDO has gained expertise to meet futuristic threats from adversaries. The technology is being given to the industry for production in large quantities.
Unorganised biostimulant industry
The government has brought biostimulants under rules that govern fertiliser and other crop nutrients used to enhance the productivity of soil. This will help regulate the Rs 1,500 crore market of biostimulants that promise farmers higher yields, quality and other benefits from the use of various compounds and microorganisms.
- Unlike fertilisers and pesticides, these products were not regulated earlier and were sold without a certification of their efficacy, said officials. The government will set up a regulatory body for such products.
- The government was planning to frame guidelines to govern the use of biostimulants.
- Now biostimulants will have to be first registered with the government and will have to prove efficacy before hitting the market. Proper labelling will have to be done including name of manufacturers, ingredients and expiry date.
- The biostimulant industry is highly unorganised with small players crowding the space.
- With growing demand for organic food products, the demand for organic farming will increase, which in turn will boost demand for biostimulants.
- Once the industry gets regulated, all non-descript players will vanish and only those with authentic formulations will remain in the market.
- No biostimulant shall contain any pesticides beyond a permissible limit of 0.01ppm, said the official.
- This committee will control the quality and specifications of all biostimulants and ensure that safe molecules and organic compounds are used in manufacturing.
SII start supplying PCV vaccine
The Serum Institute of India (SII) start supplying the first indigenously developed pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) to the Centre from 7 April 2021. The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine acts against potentially fatal pneumococcal infections such as pneumonia, septicaemia and meningitis. The SII has to supply 2.4 crore doses of the vaccine to the Health Ministry by December 2021.
- The doses sent to government medical stores depots (GMSD) in Kolkata, Mumbai and Karnal on 7 April 2021.
- According to the health ministry, this vaccine is used for active immunization against invasive disease and pneumonia caused by streptococcus pneumonia in infants.
- The supply order was issued on 3 February 2021 in the name of Prakash Kumar Singh, the director of Government and Regulatory Affairs at the Pune-based SII.
- India's drug regulator had in July last year granted market approval for the Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Conjugate Vaccine, after reviewing data of all the three phases of the clinical trial submitted by the SII.
- This is the first indigenously developed vaccine in the field of pneumonia, this would be much more affordable than the ones produced by Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline.
India has third highest no. of billionaires
India has the third highest number of billionaires in the world after the US and China, according to a new list by the prestigious Forbes magazine, which said Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani reclaimed his spot as Asia’s richest person, dethroning Chinese business tycoon Jack Ma who was the richest person in the region a year ago.
- Forbes’ 35th annual list of the world’s billionaires is topped by Amazon CEO and Founder Jeff Bezos for the fourth year in a row.
- His net worth is USD 177 billion, up USD 64 billion from a year ago as a result of surging Amazon shares.
- On the second spot is SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who was the biggest gainer in dollar terms. Musk’s fortune ballooned to USD 151 billion.
- Ambani, the richest person in India and also the wealthiest in Asia, is ranked 10 on the global billionaires’ list.
- Ambani “has become the richest person in Asia, ranked Number 10 and worth an estimated USD 84.5 billion.
- Chairman of the Poonawalla Group and founder of the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, Cyrus Poonawalla is ranked 169th on the Forbes list of the world’s billionaires with a net worth of USD 12.7 billion.
- Poonawalla ranks seven on the list of Indian billionaires. Founder of HCL Technologies Shiv Nadar, the third richest person in India, is ranked 71st globally and has a net worth of USD 23.5 billion.
- The number of billionaires on Forbes’ 35th annual list of the world’s wealthiest exploded to an unprecedented 2,755 — 660 more than a year ago, altogether worth USD 13.1 trillion.
- There are record high 493 newcomers to the list, “roughly one new billionaire every 17 hours, including 210 from China and Hong Kong and 98 from the US”
White label ATMs to take membership in CPS
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) said on 7 April 2021 it will allow non-bank payment system operators like Prepaid Payment Instrument (PPI) issuers, card networks, White label ATM operators and Trade Receivables Discounting System (TReDS) platforms regulated by itself, to take direct membership in central payment systems (CPS).
- The central payment system constitutes real-time gross settlement (RTGS) and national electronic fund transfer (NEFT). Only banks and few other players were allowed to take direct membership of CPS.
- This facility is expected to minimise settlement risk in the financial system and enhance the reach of digital financial services to all user segments.
- The RBI will allow payment banks to hold Rs 2 lakh as end day balance as opposed to Rs 1 lakh earlier. This has been done to further financial inclusion and to expand the ability of payments banks to cater to the growing needs of their customers.
- Furthermore, the governor in his statement said, since migration towards interoperability has not been significant, hence the RBI has proposed to make interoperability mandatory for full-KYC PPIs and for all payment acceptance infrastructures.
- In order to incentivize them to migrate to full KYC, the RBI has increased the current limit on the outstanding balance in such PPIs from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 2 lakh.
Algorithm for Aditya L1 developed
A group of researchers, led by the Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences (ARIES), has developed a novel algorithm to track the very fast accelerating Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) emerging from the interiors of the Sun. Due to limited technology — both in terms of satellite and ground-based observatories along with computational capabilities, acquiring observations of CMEs originating from within the Sun’s interiors have been a hurdle for the scientific community.
- Space environment around Earth is governed by the Sun. Weather and climate on Earth are influenced by even a minor variation in this environment.
- CMEs, along with solar flares, solar energetic particles, high-speed solar winds, together pose serious threat to most of Earth’s space-based services including Global Positioning System (GPS), radio and satellite-based telecommunication and can lead to power grid failure.
- This makes prediction of CMEs vital in order to keep these important services Globally, solar physicists have been working on tracking and improving CME predictions headed towards Earth for several years now.
- This algorithm, named CME Identification in Inner Solar Corona (CIISCO), could even set a foundation in planning research of the lesser-known lower corona region of the Sun using Aditya L1, India’s maiden mission to the Sun. This Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)-led mission is scheduled for a launch in 2022.
- This novel-developed algorithm has been described in the recent research, published in jounral Solar Physics, was jointly developed along with scientists from the Royal Observatory of Belgium. It is able to track bubbles of gaseous matter associated with magnetic field lines ejected from the Sun’s inside.
- All CMEs emerge from the Sun’s surface. But those originating from the Sun’s interior have to travel towards the Sun’s surface, which they do at varying speeds and acceleration rates, before finally ejecting out from the Sun’s surface.
- The newly developed algorithm has been able to successfully track these accelerating solar eruptions in lower corona.
- CIISCO tested numerous eruptions captured by Solar-Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) launched by NASA and PROBA2 of the European Space Observatory (ESA). Very little is known about the properties of lower corona, and this can be improved using CIISCO, the study highlighted.
Copyright (Amendment) Rules 2021 notified
The government has notified Copyright (Amendment) Rules, 2021 and included a new provision that eliminates the requirement of publication in the Official Gazette. To encourage accountability and transparency, new provisions have been introduced to deal with the undistributed royalty amounts and use of electronic and traceable payment methods while collection and distribution of royalties. The compliance requirements for registration of software works have been reduced and the applicant can file the first 10 and last 10 pages of source code, or the entire source code if less than 20 pages, with no blocked out or redacted portions.
- In India, the copyright regime is governed by the Copyright Act, 1957 and the Copyright Rules, 2013. The Copyright Rules, 2013 was last amended in the year 2016.
- The amendments have been introduced with the objective of bringing the existing rules in parity with other relevant legislations, the commerce and industry ministry said.
- As per the amendments, a new rule has been introduced, whereby the copyright societies will be required to draw up and make public an Annual Transparency Report for each financial year and is aimed to reinforce transparency in working of copyright societies.
- The amendments have harmonised the Copyright Rules with the provisions of Finance Act, 2017 whereby the Copyright Board has been merged with Appellate Board.
- This is going to be quite beneficial to the members of the copyright societies who are essentially artists, lyricists, musicians, singers, and the like.
- The rules also replace powers in favour of the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB) from the Copyright Board.
- Now that the newly notified Tribunals Reforms (Rationalization and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021, has abolished the IPAB, all the powers that are supposed to vest with the IPAB as per the Rules, are actually vesting with the High Courts.
- The time limit for the Centre to respond to an application made before it for registration as a copyright society is extended to 180 days, so that the application can be more comprehensively examined.
Govt issues tribunal reforms ordinance
The Centre has amended 10 laws to remove several appellate bodies through an ordinance – the Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance, 2021 – which was notified on 4 April 2021. The ordinance noted that the Tribunal Reforms Bill, 2021 was introduced in Lok Sabha on 13 February 2021 but it could not be passed. Since Parliament is not in session “and the President is satisfied that circumstances exist which render it necessary for him to take immediate action” the ordinance mentioned.
The laws amended include:
- The Cinematograph Act, 1952
- Copyright Act, 1957
- Customs Act, 1962
- Patents Act, 1970
- Airport Authority of India Act, 1994
- Trade Marks Act, 1999
- Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999
- Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act, 2001
- Control of National Highways (Land and Traffic) Act, 2002
- The Finance Act, 2017
Monetary policy review
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on 7 April 2021 maintained status quo for the fifth time in a row on policy rate. RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das-headed rate-setting panel, Monetary Policy Committee (MPC), has left the repo unchanged at 4 per cent. The reverse repo rate stands at 3.35 per cent. The RBI Governor said that the Central bank will maintain accommodative monetary policy stance to support growth and keep inflation at targeted level. Last month, the government had asked the RBI to maintain retail inflation at 4 per cent with a margin of 2 per cent on either side for another five-year period ending March 2026.
Highlights of this review
- Policy repo rates unchanged; accommodative stance to continue as long as necessary
- CPI inflation for Q4FY21 projected at 5%; Q1FY22 and Q2FY22 at 5.2%; Q3FY22 at 4.4% & Q4FY22 at 5.1%
- Real GDP projection retained at 10.5% for FY22 — 26.2% in Q1, 8.3% in Q2, 5.4% in Q3, 6.2% in Q4
- Deadline for on-tap TLTRO scheme extended till Sept 30, 2021
- AIFIs to get Rs 50,000 cr as fresh support from RBI for new lending in 2021-22
- Payment banks can now hold Rs 2 lakh instead of Rs 1 lakh as end-day balance per customer
- Panel to be formed to undertake comprehensive review of ARCs
- PSL classification for bank loans to NBFCs for on-lending extended till Sept 30
- Non-bank payment entities can now take direct memberships of centralised payment systems — NEFT and RTGS
- RBI to periodically publish “Financial Inclusion Index” to measure the extent of financial inclusion
- Limit on loan against warehouse receipts for agri produce hiked from Rs 50 lakh to Rs 75 lakh
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) said it has revised its inflation-forecasting model to better capture how fiscal and monetary policy interacts with real-economy elements. The adjustments incorporate fiscal-monetary dynamics, the unique and often chaotic fuel pricing regime, exchange-rate fluctuations and their impact on balance of payments, the RBI said in its latest bi-annual monetary policy report published 7 April 2021.
- Dubbed as the Quarterly Projection Model 2.0, the RBI’s economists describe the framework as a forward-looking, open economy, calibrated, new-Keynesian gap model. The previous version had often been criticised for over-estimating upside risks to inflation.
- The amendments come just days after the RBI won approval from the government to retain its 2%-6% inflation target range for the next five years.
- It didn’t offer a comparison between inflation rates predicted under the previous model and the new one, but said its tools helped it keep inflation anchored around the 4% midpoint on average in the past five years.
- The RBI said the new model is broken into three blocks:
- The first, or fiscal block, decomposes the government’s primary deficit into structural and cyclical components.
- The second, or fuel block, takes into account India’s complex system of pricing. Items like gasoline and diesel are priced on the basis of international oil prices, exchange rates, and local taxes, while liquefied petroleum gas and kerosene prices are market-determined but with lagged pass-through. Electricity costs are administered by state governments.
- The balance of payments block recognizes the costs associated with spurts in volatility in the exchange rate. In case of a capital outflow shock of 1% of GDP, and assuming the RBI intervenes and sterilizes 70% of this outflow, reserves will deplete by 0.7% of GDP and the exchange rate will depreciate, inducing inflationary pressure.
US conduct 'freedom patrol' in Indian EEZ
In an unusual move, the United States has announced that it conducted patrols in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) this week, without seeking any prior consent, to assert its `navigational right and freedoms’. While such patrols are common in the South China Sea where the US Navy consistently challenges China’s claims on maritime boundaries, the public announcement of similar patrols in Indian waters has come as a surprise.
- The US Navy’s seventh fleet – infamous in India for sailing into the Bay of Bengal in 1971 when the war for liberation of Bangladesh was underway – has stated in an official release that it carried out the patrols near the Lakshadweep Islands on 7 April 2021.
- India requires prior consent for military exercises or maneuvers in its exclusive economic zone or continental shelf, a claim inconsistent with international law.
- This freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging India’s excessive maritime claims.
- The US occasionally mentions Indian EEZ waters as areas where it carries out such patrols in the annual Department of Defence Annual Freedom of Navigation (FON) reports but it is rare that such a precise statement about a particular violation of Indian rights is issued.
- As per Indian law, any military ship entering its EEZ that extends 200 nautical miles from shore, has to take prior consent.
- There have been several instances in the recent past where Chinese research vessels have been spotted in Indian EEZ and have been chased away by the Navy and Coast Guard.
- It is unclear yet if the US Navy’s intrusion of the EEZ was met with resistance from Indian forces.
Provisions criminalising begging
The Supreme Court has asked the Centre and four states, including Maharashtra and Gujarat, to file their response within three weeks on a plea seeking a direction to repeal the provisions criminalising begging. A bench of justices Ashok Bhushan and R Subhash Reddy noted in its order that though a notice was issued on the plea on 10 February this year, only Bihar has so far filed its response in the matter.
- Although notice has been issued on 10 February 2021, a reply has been filed by the respondent – state of Bihar – only and other respondents have not yet filed their reply.
- The top court had in February sought a response from the Centre, and the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana and Bihar on the plea which has claimed that the sections of the statute criminalising begging are violative of constitutional rights.
- The plea filed by Meerut resident Vishal Pathak has referred to the August 2018 verdict of the Delhi High Court which had decriminalised begging in the national capital and said that provisions of the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959 which treats begging as an offence cannot sustain constitutional scrutiny.
- The provisions of the statutes criminalising the act of begging put people in a situation to make an unreasonable choice between committing a crime or not committing one and starving, which goes against the very spirit of the Constitution and violates Article 21 i.e. Right to Life, said the plea, filed through advocate H K Chaturvedi.
- Referring to the Census 2011, the plea has said that the total number of beggars in India is 4, 13,670 and the number has increased from the last census.
- It said that the government has the mandate to provide social security to everyone and ensure that all have basic facilities, as embedded in the Directives Principles of State Policy in the Constitution.
- However, the presence of beggars is evidence that the State has failed to provide these basic facilities to all its citizens, thus instead of working on its failure and examining what made people beg, criminalising the act of beggary is irrational and against the approach of a socialist nation as embedded in the preamble of our Constitution, the plea has claimed.
What plea claimed?
- The plea has claimed that ‘The Abolition of Begging and Rehabilitation of Beggars Bill 2018’ was introduced in Lok Sabha but “till date, this bill is not passed and is wedged in length parliamentary procedures, that has resulted in thousands of poor facing more hardships because of present arbitrary statutes.”
- The petition has sought directions to declare as “illegal and void” all provisions, except some sections, of the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, 1959, Punjab Prevention of Beggary Act, 1971, Haryana Prevention of Begging Act, 1971 and Bihar Prevention of Begging Act 1951.
- It has also sought to declare all other similar Acts prevailing in any part of the country as illegal.