The Hindu Editorial Current Affairs ( Summary )

QUESTION : Examine and provide suggestions to make UAPA more citizen’s right friendly without compromising on anti-terrorism activities. 

Criticism of Nature of UAPA
 Father Stan Swamy passed away in a Mumbai hospital recently while his case for bail was going on in the Bombay High Court. 
• He 84-year-old Jesuit priest and a tribal rights activist based in Jharkhand.
• He was arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), in the Bhima Koregaon case.
• NIA had alleged that he was a CPI (Maoist) cadre which is a banned organisation and carrying on activities to overthrow the democracy of the nation” 
• International Ire: The Indian system’s treatment of Fr. Swamy has attracted substantial and pointed criticism from significant international quarters like UNHRC, US & EU.
• Government’s refusal to engage with liberal opinion: Indian diplomatic engagement with international liberal opinion on Stan Swamy’s death was wooden and inflexible assertions of general principles only. There was expectation of sensitivity in the response which was belied.
• Red-Tapism in Indian Prisons:  There are criticism that it took almost a month for the jail authorities to provide a straw, sipper and winter clothes to Fr. Swamy, as Parkinson’s disease made it difficult for him to hold cups or glasses. 
• The stringent nature of UAPA renders it difficult for one held under it to obtain bail.
o Under Section 43D(5) of UAPA Act, bail cannot be granted to a suspect if the court is of the opinion that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the charges are prima facie true. 
o A Supreme Court judgment on this has clarified that this meant that the court considering bail should not examine the evidence too deeply, but must go by the prosecution version based on broad probabilities.
o This means that the onus is on the accused to show that the case is false but without inviting the court to evaluate the available evidence. 
o UAPA presumes a person is guilty until proven innocent, contrary to the spirit of Constitution.
o This is why human rights defenders feel that the provision is draconian, virtually rendering it impossible for anyone to obtain bail until the completion of the trial. 
• The Act gives special procedures to handle terrorist activities, among other things. It aims at the effective prevention of unlawful activities associations in India. Unlawful activity refers to any action taken by an individual or association intended to disrupt the territorial integrity and sovereignty of India.
• Who may commit terrorism: According to the Act, the union government may proclaim or designate an organisation as a terrorist organisation if it: (i) commits or participates in acts of terrorism, (ii) prepares for terrorism, (iii) promotes terrorism, or (iv) is otherwise involved in terrorism. The Bill also empowers the government to designate individuals as terrorists on the same grounds. 
• UAPA has the death penalty and life imprisonment as the highest punishments. The Act assigns absolute power to the central government, by way of which if the Centre deems an activity as unlawful then it may, by way of an Official Gazette, declare it so.
• Under UAPA, both Indian and foreign nationals can be charged. The offenders will be charged in the same manner whether the act is performed in a foreign land, outside India.
• Approval for property seizure by National Investigation Agency (NIA): As per the Act, an investigating officer is required to obtain the prior approval of the Director-General of Police to seize properties that may be connected with terrorism. The Bill adds that if the investigation is conducted by an officer of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the approval of the Director-General of NIA would be required for seizure of such property. 
• The investigation by the National Investigation Agency (NIA): Under the provisions of the Act, investigation of cases can be conducted by officers of the rank of Deputy Superintendent or Assistant Commissioner of Police or above. The Bill additionally empowers the officers of the NIA, of the rank of Inspector or above, to investigate cases. 
• Insertion to the schedule of treaties: The Act defines terrorist acts to include acts committed within the scope of any of the treaties listed in a schedule to the Act. The Schedule lists nine treaties, comprising of the Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings (1997), and the Convention against Taking of Hostages (1979). The Bill adds another treaty to this list namely, the International Convention for Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005).  
• A strong and effective state can and must also be a humane state
• Government needs to be reminded that the principle to achieve development in India should not through an authoritarian polity but a democratic and liberal one.
• Superior judiciary needs to redress the situation of misuse of UAPA through an audit of such cases. Fr. Stan Swamy’s case should provide an impetus to put such an audit machinery in place.
• The Parliament should rectify the anomalies with a suitable amendment and vague provisions for improving the interpretation. 
• The court should also strike down the inappropriate provisions of UAPA especially the ones which undermine fundamental rights. 
o The SC had done this in the past as well.  For instance, in Shreya Singhal Case, Section 66A of the IT Act was held as unconstitutional due to its vagueness that undermined the right to free speech.
• The government needs to educate the Law enforcement authorities to prevent the problem of misuse. The enforcement authorities should be trained regarding the application and non-application cases of UAPA. Further, they should be made sensitive towards Right of Dissent in a democratic setup.
• The record of cases filed under UAPA must be subcategorised on the basis of religion, race, caste, or gender. This will help in the identification of the groups/communities who are most prone to abuse under the act. 
Special laws were to continue to be required to meet the challenges that arise from violence that cannot be confronted under the ordinary criminal statute. Their application requires constant review.

QUESTION : “Women in India are facing social and economic challenges posed by the conditions created by the pandemic .” Discuss with key solutions to tackle this situation. 

Plight of Women During covid-19
In October-November 2020, Dalberg firm conducted studies of the socio-economic impacts of Covid-19 on women in low-income households 
• Women tend to be the backbone of society during crises, even as they are also morelikely to face the disproportionate impacts of such events.
• The Covid-19 pandemic has severely exacerbated existing gendered barriers, widened India’s gender gap in the workforce, and affected caregivers, specifically women. 
• Women were more affected than men by employment issues.
• Women made up just 24% of those working before the pandemic, yet accounted for 28% of all those who lost their jobs.
o One consequence of the loss in incomes for women was reduced food supply.
o More than one in ten (estimated 32 million) women limited their food intake or ran out of food in the week they were surveyed, and 10% reported being worried about future food supply.
• Women constitute 43% of those who are yet to recover their paid work.
• 16% of women (estimated 17 million) had to stop using menstrual pads, a than one in three married women were unable to access contraceptives.
• There was 47% increase in unpaid labour for women, and a 41% increase in unpaid care work for women.
o Indian women already do almost three times more unpaid work than Indian men (nearly 6.5 hours a day).
• Far fewer women than men reported an increase in rest during the pandemic.
• Women from historically marginalised groups (Muslims, migrants, single/separated/divorced), were more affected than the average woman.
Govt. and SHG Support
• One in three women said that government welfare schemes and self-help groups (SHGs) had played an important role in pandemic, comparable to the commonly cited family support.
o Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, and the public distribution system supported 12 million, 100 million, and 180 million women respectively during the crisis.
• The SHG network served as a reliable borrowing channel for both its members and women in the community. 
(1) Expanding PDS beyond food
• Bundling free menstrual hygiene products with PDS would relax women’s dependence on income for these essentials.
• The government can also build upon its existing efforts through Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) workers, Mission Parivar Vikas, and other schemes to strategically focus on contraceptive usage.
(2) Employment through MGNREGS
• Launch drives to enlist women on MGNREGS job cards and increase the total number of person-days to meet women’s demand for job opportunities. 
• Strengthen the resilience of SHGs by focusing on their economic recovery and market linkages via the existing Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana – National Rural Livelihoods Mission.
• SHGs could provide technical and managerial training to help women develop the skills needed to run small businesses digitally. 
(4) Focus on inclusive development  
• There is need to focus on the inclusion of single, divorced/separated women in the One Nation One Ration Card rollout.
• Also, there is need for building social assistance programmes for informal workers, specifically domestic workers and casual labourers.
(5)  Prioritise Mental Health: Employers should start paying attention to not just the economic health of the employees but also their mental health and give some leverage to the employees, specifically the women employees who are more burdened with domestic work as the maids are on leave.
(6) Role of Media: Media has a big role to play here in starting a conversation about mental health which is a taboo subject to date in India.
Train more people to look into the issue of dealing with anxiety and stress. Identify training institutes to train volunteers who can assist women and children in distress under lockdown.
There is a multi-generational impact of poor nutrition, lack of access to contraceptives, and debt. Thus, making the right investments in women’s issues could prove transformational in the long-term recovery and health of our economy and society. 
These can be achieved through broader conversations around universalising, deepening, and extending support to women.

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