26TH FEBRUARY CURRENT AFFAIRS

1. Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code, 2021

News: Amidst growing concerns around lack of transparency, accountability and rights of users related to digital media and after elaborate consultation with the public and stakeholders, the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 has been framed in exercise of powers under section 87 (2) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and in supersession of the earlier Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules 2011.

  • Part- II of these Rules shall be administered by Ministry of Electronics and IT, while Part-III relating to Code of Ethics and procedure and safeguards in relation to digital media shall be administered by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

Background:

  • The Digital India programme has now become a movement which is empowering common Indians with the power of technology. The extensive spread of mobile phones, Internet etc. has also enabled many social media platforms to expand their footprints in India. Common people are also using these platforms in a very significant way. Some portals, which publish analysis about social media platforms and which have not been disputed, have reported the following numbers as user base of major social media platforms in India:
  • WhatsApp users: 53 Crore
  • YouTube users: 44.8 Crore
  • Facebook users: 41 Crore
  • Instagram users: 21 Crore
  • Twitter users: 1.75 Crore
  • These social platforms have enabled common Indians to show their creativity, ask questions, be informed and freely share their views, including criticism of the Government and its functionaries. The Government acknowledges and respects the right of every Indian to criticize and disagree as an essential element of democracy. India is the world’s largest open Internet society and the Government welcomes social media companies to operate in India, do business and also earn profits. However, they will have to be accountable to the Constitution and laws of India.
  • Proliferation of social media, on one hand empowers the citizens then on the other hand gives rise to some serious concerns and consequences which have grown manifold in recent years. These concerns have been raised from time to time in various forums including in the Parliament and its committees, judicial orders and in civil society deliberations in different parts of country. Such concerns are also raised all over the world and it is becoming an international issue.
  • Of late, some very disturbing developments are observed on the social media platforms. Persistent spread of fake news has compelled many media platforms to create fact-check mechanisms. Rampant abuse of social media to share morphed images of women and contents related to revenge porn have often threatened the dignity of women. Misuse of social media for settling corporate rivalries in blatantly unethical manner has become a major concern for businesses. Instances of use of abusive language, defamatory and obscene contents and blatant disrespect to religious sentiments through platforms are growing.
  • Over the years, the increasing instances of misuse of social media by criminals, anti-national elements have brought new challenges for law enforcement agencies. These include inducement for recruitment of terrorists, circulation of obscene content, spread of disharmony, financial frauds, incitement of violence, public order etc.
  • It was found that currently there is no robust complaint mechanism wherein the ordinary users of social media and OTT platforms can register their complaint and get it redressed within defined timeline. Lack of transparency and absence of robust grievance redressal mechanism have left the users totally dependent on the whims and fancies of social media platforms.
  • Often it has been seen that a user who has spent his time, energy and money in developing a social media profile is left with no remedies in case that profile is restricted or removed by the platform without giving any opportunity to be heard.
  • If we notice the evolution of social media intermediaries, they are no longer limited to playing the role of pure intermediary and often they become publishers. These Rules are a fine blend of liberal touch with gentle self-regulatory framework. It works on the existing laws and statues of the country which are applicable to content whether online or offline. In respect of news and current affairs publishers are expected to follow the journalistic conduct of Press Council of India and the Programme Code under the Cable Television Network Act, which are already applicable to print and TV. Hence, only a level playing field has been proposed.
  • These Rules substantially empower the ordinary users of digital platforms to seek redressal for their grievances and command accountability in case of infringement of their rights. In this direction, the following developments are noteworthy:

Guidelines Related to Social Media:

  • The Rules prescribe due diligence that must be followed by intermediaries, including social media intermediaries. In case, due diligence is not followed by the intermediary, safe harbour provisions will not apply to them.
  • The Rules seek to empower the users by mandating the intermediaries, including social media intermediaries, to establish a grievance redressal mechanism for receiving resolving complaints from the users or victims. Intermediaries shall appoint a Grievance Officer to deal with such complaints and share the name and contact details of such officer. Grievance Officer shall acknowledge the complaint within twenty four hours and resolve it within fifteen days from its receipt.
  • Intermediaries shall remove or disable access withing 24 hours of receipt of complaints of contents that exposes the private areas of individuals, show such individuals in full or partial nudity or in sexual act or is in the nature of impersonation including morphed images etc. Such a complaint can be filed either by the individual or by any other person on his/her behalf.
  • To encourage innovations and enable growth of new social media intermediaries without subjecting smaller platforms to significant compliance requirement, the Rules make a distinction between social media intermediaries and significant social media intermediaries. This distinction is based on the number of users on the social media platform.
  • Government is empowered to notify the threshold of user base that will distinguish between social media intermediaries and significant social media intermediaries. The Rules require the significant social media intermediaries to follow certain additional due diligence.

Additional Due Diligence to Be Followed by Significant Social Media Intermediary:

  • Appoint a Chief Compliance Officer who shall be responsible for ensuring compliance with the Act and Rules. Such a person should be a resident in India. Appoint a Nodal Contact Person for 24×7 coordination with law enforcement agencies. Such a person shall be a resident in India.
  • Appoint a Resident Grievance Officer who shall perform the functions mentioned under Grievance Redressal Mechanism. Such a person shall be a resident in India.
  • Publish a monthly compliance report mentioning the details of complaints received and action taken on the complaints as well as details of contents removed proactively by the significant social media intermediary.
  • Significant social media intermediaries providing services primarily in the nature of messaging shall enable identification of the first originator of the information that is required only for the purposes of prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offence related to sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, or public order or of incitement to an offence relating to the above or in relation with rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material punishable with imprisonment for a term of not less than five years. Intermediary shall not be required to disclose the contents of any message or any other information to the first originator.
  • Significant social media intermediary shall have a physical contact address in India published on its website or mobile app or both.
  • Users who wish to verify their accounts voluntarily shall be provided an appropriate mechanism to verify their accounts and provided with demonstrable and visible mark of verification.
  • In cases where significant social media intermediaries removes or disables access to any information on their own accord, then a prior intimation for the same shall be communicated to the user who has shared that information with a notice explaining the grounds and reasons for such action. Users must be provided an adequate and reasonable opportunity to dispute the action taken by the intermediary.
  • An intermediary upon receiving actual knowledge in the form of an order by a court or being notified by the Appropriate Govt. or its agencies through authorized officer should not host or publish any information which is prohibited under any law in relation to the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, public order, friendly relations with foreign countries etc.
  • The Rules will come in effect from the date of their publication in the gazette, except for the additional due diligence for significant social media intermediaries, which shall come in effect 3 months after publication of these Rules.

Digital Media Ethics Code Relating to Digital Media and OTT Platforms (

  • There have been widespread concerns about issues relating to digital contents both on digital media and OTT platforms. Civil Society, film makers, political leaders including Chief Minister, trade organizations and associations have all voiced their concerns and highlighted the imperative need for an appropriate institutional mechanism. The Government also received many complaints from civil society and parents requesting interventions. There were many court proceedings in the Supreme Court and High Courts, where courts also urged the Government to take suitable measures.
  • Since the matter relates to digital platforms, therefore, a conscious decision was taken that issues relating to digital media and OTT and other creative programmes on Internet shall be administered by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting but the overall architecture shall be under the Information Technology Act, which governs digital platforms.
  • The Rules establish a soft-touch self-regulatory architecture and a Code of Ethics and three tier grievance redressal mechanism for news publishers and OTT Platforms and digital media.

Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to implement Part-III of the Rules which prescribe the following:

  • Code of Ethics for online news, OTT platforms and digital media: This Code of Ethics prescribe the guidelines to be followed by OTT platforms and online news and digital media entities.
  • Self-Classification of Content: The OTT platforms, called as the publishers of online curated content in the rules, would self-classify the content into five age based categories- U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult).
  • Platforms would be required to implement parental locks for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher, and reliable age verification mechanisms for content classified as “A”.
  • The publisher of online curated content shall prominently display the classification rating specific to each content or programme together with a content descriptor informing the user about the nature of the content, and advising on viewer description (if applicable) at the beginning of every programme enabling the user to make an informed decision, prior to watching the programme.
  • Publishers of news on digital media would be required to observe Norms of Journalistic Conduct of the Press Council of India and the Programme Code under the Cable Television Networks Regulation Act there by providing a level playing field between the offline (Print, TV) and digital media.
  • A three-level grievance redressal mechanism has been established under the rules with different levels of self-regulation.
  • Level-I: Self-regulation by the publishers;
  • Level-II: Self-regulation by the self-regulating bodies of the publishers;
  • Level-III: Oversight mechanism.
  • Publisher shall appoint a Grievance Redressal Officer based in India who shall be responsible for the redressal of grievances received by it. The officer shall take decision on every grievance received by it within 15 days.
  • There may be one or more self-regulatory bodies of publishers. Such a body shall be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, a High Court or independent eminent person and have not more than six members. Such a body will have to register with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. This body will oversee the adherence by the publisher to the Code of Ethics and address grievances that have not be been resolved by the publisher within 15 days.
  • Ministry of Information and Broadcasting shall formulate an oversight mechanism. It shall publish a charter for self-regulating bodies, including Codes of Practices. It shall establish an Inter-Departmental Committee for hearing grievances.

 

2. City Innovation Exchange

 

News: The City Innovation Exchange (CiX) platform was launched by Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs.

City Innovation Exchange (CiX) 

  • The City Innovation Exchange (CiX) will connect cities to innovators across the national ecosystem to design innovative solutions for their pressing challenges.
  • The platform will ease the discovery, design& validation of solutions through a robust, transparent and user centric process that will reduce barriers for innovators and cities to discover fitting solutions.
  • Built on the concept of ‘open innovation’, the platform will help in the flow of ideas ‘outside in and inside out’, enhancing the skills and capacity required to deliver smart urban governance.
  • Through interaction with the Academia and Businesses/Startups, the platform will benefit cities in the transfer of ideas from ‘labs’ to real environment.
  • Similarly, by helping urban governments interact with citizens, the platform will ensure adoption of tested solutions that will be impactful and sustainable.
  • The platform in due time will help our cities in adopting solutions that will enhance the quality of life for its residents and significantly improve the Ease of Doing Business.
  • The Platform has more than 400 start-ups, 100 smart cities, more than 150 challenges statements and over 215 solutions at the time of launch.

Significance:

  • The platform will be a significant addition to the growing innovation ecosystem of India and focuses on fostering innovative practices in cities.
  • CiX, through an ‘open innovation’ process, engages with innovators to design-test-deliver on solutions to pressing urban challenges.
  • This initiative is among the ongoing efforts of the Government to realise Prime Minister’s vision of New and AtmaNirbhar Bharat, by making cities more self-reliant and enabled to meet the needs of and provide services to their citizens.
  • Designed on the philosophy of ‘everyone is an innovator’, the platform will bring together Citizen Organisations-Academia- Businesses- Government to co-create for the future of Urban India in a transparent and sustainable manner.
  • The Smart Cities Mission will partner and effectively collaborate with Startup India, Atal Innovation Mission, AGNIi and other initiatives in the Indian Innovation ecosystem.

3. Winter Air Pollution report by CSE

News: Recently, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) reported that the levels of PM 2.5, worsened in 43 out of 99 cities whose winter air was compared for two years, 2020 and 2019.

Basis of Analysis:

  • The analysis is part of the air pollution tracker initiative of CSE. It’s based on publicly available granular real time data from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
  • The data is captured from 248 official stations under the Continuous Ambient Air Quality Monitoring System (CAAQMS)spread across 115 cities in 22 States and Union Territories. CAAQMS facilitates in measuring a real time monitoring of Air Pollution, including particulate matter, all round the year.
  • It also displays digitally, other viral statistics of weather, to include wind speed, direction, ambient temperature, relative humidity, solar radiation, barometric pressure and rain gauge.

Details:

  • The cities with the worst pollution spikes in 2020 over 2019 include Gurugram, Lucknow, Jaipur, Visakhapatnam, Agra, Navi Mumbai, and Jodhpur. Kolkata is the only mega city in this group.
  • When ranked from the most to the least polluted cities, 23 of the most polluted cities are from north India.
  • Ghaziabad is the most polluted city in the northern belt.
  • Only 19 registered “substantial improvement” in PM 2.5 levels, one of these was
  • There are only four cities(Satna, Mysuru, Vijaypura and Chikkamagaluru) that have met the national 24-hour standard (60 μg/m3) during the winter season.
  • Satna and Maihar in Madhya Pradesh, and Mysuru in Karnataka, are the cleanest cities in the country.
  • In 37 cities that are otherwise showing stable or declining seasonal averages, their peak pollution levels have risen significantly during winter.
  • These include Aurangabad, Indore, Nashik, Jabalpur, Rupnagar, Bhopal, Dewas, Kochi, and Kozhikode.
  • In North India, other cities, including Delhi, have experienced the reverse, that is, an increase in the seasonal average but decline in the seasonal peak.

Factors responsible for Winter pollution:

  • Lockdown and Regional Factors: In the aftermath of the lockdown, several cities reported improved pollution levels but by winter, when lockdowns were significantly eased, pollution levels had clawed back to pre-Covid-19
  • This underlines the significant contribution of local and regional factors to a city’s pollution levels.
  • Calm Weather: During winter, cool and calm weather traps and spikes daily pollution, particularly in north Indian cities located in the Indo Gangetic Plain. In 2020, the average level of PM 2.5 during the summer and monsoon months was considerably lower than the previous year due to the summer lockdown. However, the winter PM 2.5 concentration has risen compared to the 2019 winter in many cities across regions.

Significance of the report:

  • Emphasised that rather than mega cities, it was the smaller and upcoming cities that were emerging as pollution hotspots.
  • The report findings call for quicker reforms and action in key sectors of pollution – vehicles, industry, power plants and waste management to control winter pollution and bend the annual air pollution curve.

Additional Information:

  • PM 2.5refers to fine particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. It causes respiratory problems and also reduces visibility. It is an endocrine disruptor that can affect insulin secretion and insulin sensitivity, thus contributing to diabetes.
  • CSEis a public interest research and advocacy organisation based in New Delhi. It researches into, lobbies for and communicates the urgency of development that is both sustainable and equitable.

4. Federalism and India’s Human Capital

What does latest data suggest?

  • In the World Bank’s Human Capital Index, the country ranked  The National Family Health Survey-5 for 2019-20 shows that malnutrition indicators stagnated or declined in most States. The National Achievement Survey 2017 and the Annual Status of Education Report 2018 show poor learning outcomes.
  • In addition, there is little convergence across States.
  • India spends just 4% of its GDP as public expenditure on human capital:1% and 3% on health and education respectively— one of the lowest among its peers.

Efforts made by the govt.:

  • Investing in human capital through interventions in nutrition, health, and education is critical for sustainable growth. The National Health Policy of 2017highlighted the need for interventions to address malnutrition. On the basis of NITI Aayog’s National Nutrition Strategy, the Poshan Abhiyaan was launched, as part of the Umbrella Integrated Child Development
  • The latest Union Budget has announced a ‘Mission Poshan 2.0’ and the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan has been the Centre’s flagship education scheme since 2018.

Decentralisation and human capital

  • International experience suggests that one reason why these interventions are not leading to better outcomes may be India’s record with decentralisation. Globally, there has been a gradual shift in the distribution of expenditures and revenue towards sub-national governments. These trends are backed by studies demonstrating a positive correlation between decentralisation and human capital.

Issues with decentralisation in India

  • The 73rd and 74th Amendments bolstered decentralisation by constitutionally recognising panchayats and municipalities as the third tier. The Amendment also added the Eleventh and Twelfth schedules containing the functions of panchayats and municipalities. These include education, health and sanitation, and social welfare for panchayats, and public health and socio-economic development planning for municipalities.
  • However, the Constitution lets States determine how they are empowered. In effect, three tiers of government are envisaged in the Constitution it divides powers between the first two tiers —the Centre and the States This has resulted in vast disparities in the roles played by third-tier governments.

Fiscal Sphere:

  • While the Constitution assigns the bulk of expenditure responsibilities to States, the Centre has major revenue sources. To address this vertical imbalance, the Constitution provides for fiscal transfers through tax devolution and grants-in-aid.
  • In addition, the Centre can make ‘grants for any public purpose’ under Article 282 of the Constitution.
  • While fiscal transfers that are part of tax devolution are unconditional, transfers under grants-in-aid or Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSSs)can be conditional.
  • Therefore, the increase in the States’ share of tax devolution represents more meaningful decentralisation.
  • Despite some shifts towards greater State autonomy in many spheres, the centralised nature of India’s fiscal architecture has persisted. 
  • Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS)have formed a sizeable chunk of intergovernmental fiscal transfers over the years, comprising almost 23% of transfers to States in 2021-22.
  • But its outsized role strays from the intentions of the Constitution. There are issues in the design of CSSs as well, with the conditions being overly prescriptive and, typically, input-based. Against this, international experience reveals that schemes with output-based conditions are more effective. Moreover, CSSs typically have a cost-sharing model, thereby pre-empting the States’ fiscal space.
  • Third-tier governments are not fiscally empowered. The collection of property tax, a major source of revenue for third-tier governments, is under 0.2% of GDP in India, compared to 3% of GDP in some other nations. The Constitution envisages State Finance Commissions (SFCs)to make recommendations for matters such as tax devolution and grants-in-aid to the third tier.
  • However, many States have not constituted or completed these commissions on time.

Solution

  • The Centre should play an enabling role, for instance, encouraging knowledge-sharing between States. For States to play a bigger role in human capital interventions, they need adequate fiscal resources. To this end, States should rationalise their priorities to focus on human capital development.
  • The Centre should refrain from offsetting tax devolution by altering cost-sharing ratios of CSSs and increasing cesses. Concomitantly, the heavy reliance on CSSs should be reduced, and tax devolution and grants-in-aid should be the primary sources of vertical fiscal transfers. Panchayats and municipalities need to be vested with the functions listed in the Eleventh and Twelfth Schedules.

5. Structural Fragility of UTs

Background:

  • Recently, the resignations of MLAs from the Puducherry Assembly led to the fall of government there. The same had happened in 2019 in Karnataka. Resigning from the membership of the House is every member’s right. But according to Article 190 of the Constitution, the resignation should be voluntary or genuine.
  • If the Speaker has information to the contrary, he or she is not obliged to accept the resignation.
  • But there is by now a familiar pattern to the resignations of Members of the Legislative Assembly.
  • Such resignations invariably lead to the fall of the government.
  • The Constitution-makers/ Parliament provided a legislature and Council of Ministers to some of the UTs to fulfil the democratic aspirations of the people of these territories.
  • There was a realisation that the administration of these territories directly by the President through the administrators under Article 239 does not meet the democratic aspirations of the people.
  • The creation of a legislature and a Council of Ministers is logical and in consonance with the policy of the state to promote democracy.

Two Structural Issues with UTs:

1. Nomination of members:

  • A closer look at the relevant provisions in the Constitution reveals that this professed aim has often been sought to be defeated by the Union.
  • Article 239Awas originally brought in, in 1962, to enable Parliament to create legislatures for the UTs.
  • A legislature without a Council of Ministers or a Council of Ministers without a legislature is a conceptual absurdity. Similarly, a legislature that is partly elected and partly nominated is another absurdity.
  • The issue of nomination of members to the Puducherry Assembly had raised a huge controversy.
  • The Government of Union Territories Act provides for a 33-member House for Puducherry of whom three are to be nominated by the Central government. So, when the Union government nominated three BJP members to the Assembly without consulting the government, it was challenged in the court.
  • Finally, the Supreme Court (K. Lakshminarayanan v. Union of India, 2019) held that the Union government is not required to consult the State government for nominating members to the Assembly and the nominated members have the same right to vote as the elected members.
  • There is provision for nomination of members to the Rajya Sabha [Article 80 (i)(a)].
  • But clause (3) of the Article specifies the fields from which they will be nominated.
  • But in the case of nomination to the Puducherry Assembly, no such qualification is laid down either in Article 239A or the Government of Union Territories Act. This leaves the field open for the Union government to nominate anyone irrespective of whether he or she is suitable. As things stand, the law invites arbitrariness in dealing with the nomination of members to the UT legislature.

2. Administrator’s powers

  • The administrator has the right to disagree with the decisions of the Council of Ministers and then refer them to the President for a final decision. The President decides on the advice of the Union government.
  • So, in effect, it is the Union government which finally determines the disputed issue.
  • Although in NCT of Delhi v. Union of India (2019),the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court had said that the administrator should not misuse this power.
  • The bench also said that the Administrator should use it after all methods have failed to reconcile the differences between him/her and the Council of Ministers.
  • As a matter of fact, such conflict between the administrator, who is the nominee of the President, and the elected government is inherent in the constitutional arrangement created for the UTs.

Conclusion

  • Experience shows that the UTs having legislatures with ultimate control vested in the central administrator are not workable. So far as the conspiratorial resignation by legislators to bring down their own government is concerned, the political class will have to get the better of the predatory instincts of political parties through constitutional or other means.