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POLITICS-GOVERNANCE

Katju: Need for judicial introspection

It would be churlish to deny the merit of some scathing observations made about the print and electronic media by the new chairman of the Press Council of India, in a recent television interview. Justice Markandey Katju speaks for a large segment of readers and viewers when he expresses disappointment at media functioning, and its poor intellectual standards. Some humility on our part is in order, as is introspection.

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It would be churlish to deny the merit of some scathing observations made about the print and electronic media by the new chairman of the Press Council of India, in a recent television interview. Justice Markandey Katju speaks for a large segment of readers and viewers when he expresses disappointment at media functioning, and its poor intellectual standards. Some humility on our part is in order, as is introspection.

Justice Katju is right when he says that critical national problems are poverty, unemployment, price rise and health care; while media devotes unconscionable energy to trivia about film stars, fashion parades, and above all, cricket, which has emerged as the new opium of the masses. This insight suggests that religion is no longer solacing people in these troubled times; this calls for soul-searching by traditional mathams and globe-trotting sanyasis.

Perhaps his outdated ‘Aryan invasion’ education has led Justice Katju to call India a country of immigrants; but we shall focus on his core critique. The first is a disquieting assertion that media demonizes Muslims whenever terror attacks takes place by reporting that X or Y (Muslim) terrorist organisation has claimed responsibility for the act. The charge that this is a deliberate ploy to divide people on religious lines is fatuous given the myriad terrorist cells waging jihad for over two decades. After assaults on Parliament (2001) and the Mumbai 2008 mini-war, to mention only the most sensational, any insinuation that terror has a secular face is simply non-application of the judicial mind.

Justice Katju seeks awesome powers to curb the excesses of the electronic media, and lambasts the scandal of ‘paid news’ in the 2009 parliamentary and assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana.We may therefore ask the learned judge how he intends, as new chairman, to make amends for PCI’s treatment of its own ‘paid news’ investigation report.

When the ‘paid news’ scam erupted, a journalists union complained that some journalists were targetted by managements for opposing this misconduct. Then chairman Justice G.N. Ray appointed a sub-committee of journalists to examine the matter; the report, submitted in April 2010, was not accepted by the Council. Indeed, PCI uploaded the report on its website only after an order from the Central Information Commission in September 2011, with a disclaimer.

Actually, the Sub Committee Report was the first serious introspection into the decline of media values in the past three decades, with random deviant behaviour by individual journalists giving way to organised corruption by managements, to sharply escalate profits. Certain news pages were reserved for ‘paid content’ and publicity given to commercial product launches or personal events. Next, advertising space was offered in exchange for allotment of equity shares to the media house (‘private treaties’), which were valued at several thousand crores of rupees.

The Securities and Exchange Board of India informed the Press Council that ‘private treaties’ between media companies and corporate entities listed on the stock exchanges or coming out with public offer of shares, required disclosure to protect the shareholders; PCI framed guidelines in 1996. SEBI warned that media publicity in exchange for shares ‘may give rise to conflict of interest’ and affect the news/editorials relating to such firms.

The report linked the proliferation of ‘paid news’ to the diminution of the role and status of editors, and erosion of freedom enjoyed by journalists under the Working Journalists Act, as a result of the pervasive ‘contract’ system. Witnesses appearing before the sub-committee named several reputed media houses which gave ‘rate cards’ and ‘packages’ to candidates for favourable coverage about themselves, and/or harmful coverage about their rivals; those who did not fall in line were blacked out.

‘Paid news’ deceives the reader/viewer to believe that a disguised advertisement is actually an independently produced news item. It does not reflect in a candidates’ election expense statement and violates the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961. The concerned media companies do not show such monies as official income and violate the Companies Act, 1956 and Income Tax Act, 1961.

One politician was summoned by the PCI and presented with circumstantial evidence of having made such a financial transaction. Three rival newspapers of his state carried the same article about him, word for word, by different reporters! Clearly the reports were ‘ad copy’ from a PR firm.

Senior journalists feel that ‘paid news’ is criminalization of elections and should be made a punishable offence. The sub-committee made many valuable suggestions; it is now for the new chairman PCI to explain how he proposes to act upon them, and if not, why not. A man seeking powers to shut down news channels should be able to curb malpractices at least within the print media which is his jurisdiction.

May we now turn the spotlight on the Judiciary? At the time of writing, a news channel reported that several former and sitting judges of Orissa had, over the years, received flats from the government’s discretionary quota. Many judges took flats out of turn and at cheaper rates, in prime locations in Cuttack and Bhubaneswar. Many judges already owned ancestral property in Cuttack, and were ineligible for the discretionary quota.

These revelations come in the wake of scandals embroiling judges all over the country. A former Chief Justice of India is battling charges of disproportionate wealth accumulation by his close kin while he was in office; he has resisted an RTI appeal to disclose his income tax returns for this period. His very last judgment hugely benefitted a corporate entity that was later indicted by the Comptroller & Auditor General. A former Chief Justice of a High Court is denying officially established allegations of land grab.

Curiously, judges appear to have a special propensity for property, much of which is registered below the prevailing market price. Recently, the Lokayukta of a state resigned soon after his appointment when some of his land deals were questioned by the media. He was quickly followed by a deputy Lokayukta in the same state, who reputedly feared scrutiny of his land holdings.

Who will judge the judges? How shall justice be done? So far, there have been no satisfactory steps to investigate prima facie cases of judicial misconduct, even as allegations of corruption in the higher judiciary assume grim proportions. Please rise to the occasion, Justice Katju. Introspection, like charity, must begin at home.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this writing are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of League of India, its Editorial Board or the business and socio-political interests that they might represent.

This article was first published on Vijayvaani website here

Sandhya Jain
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Sandhya Jain is the Editor of www.vijayvaani.com, an internet-based public opinions forum dedicated to establishing a niche for independent journalism. The forum has been driven by the mainstream media’s selective coverage on a range of issues critical to national sovereignty.


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CHANGE ON THE GROUND

President Gives Nod to Ordinance for Death Penalty for Rapists of Children Below 12

There will also be no provision for anticipatory bail for a person accused of rape or gang rape of a girl under 16 years.

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NEW DELHI: President ram Nath Kovind promulgated The Criminal Law amendment ordinance, 2018 to amend Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act to pave way for a death penalty to those found guilty of raping children up to the age of 12 years.

The President’s nod to the ordinance came after the Union Cabinet’s approval yesterday for tightening the law against people involved in rape, following public outcry over cases of sexual assault and murder of minors in Kathua and Surat and the rape of a girl in Unnao.

“Whereas Parliament is not in session and the President is satisfied that the circumstances exist which render it necessary for him to take immediate action.

Earlier, the Cabinet on Saturday approved the promulgation of an Ordinance to amend Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012 to introduce the death penalty for rape of children younger than 12 years.

The decision was taken at a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi. In case of rape of a girl under 16 years, minimum punishment increased from 10 years to 20 years, extendable to life imprisonment.

Several political leaders cutting across party lines hailed Centre’s move.

“Now, therefore, in an exercise of the powers conferred by clause (1) of article 123 of the Constitution, the President is pleased to promulgate the following ordinance,” the gazette notification said.

The ordinance stipulates stringent punishment for perpetrators of rape, particularly of girls below 16 and 12 years.

The death sentence has been provided for rapists of girls under 12 years.

The minimum punishment in case of rape of women has been increased from the rigorous imprisonment of seven years to 10 years, extendable to life imprisonment.

According to the ordinance, in case of rape of a girl under 16 years, the minimum punishment has been increased from 10 years to 20 years, extendable to imprisonment for rest of life, which means jail term till the convicts “natural life”.

The punishment for gangrape of a girl below 16 years will invariably be imprisonment for the rest of life of the convict.

Stringent punishment for rape of a girl under 12 years has been provided with the minimum jail term being 20 years which may go up to life in prison or death sentence.

Gangrape of a girl under 12 years of age will invite punishment of jail term for the rest of life or death, it said.

The Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Evidence Act, the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act stand amended with the promulgation of the ordinance after the approval of the President.

The measure also provides for speedy investigation and trial.The time limit for investigation of all cases of rape has been prescribed, which has to be mandatorily completed within two months.

The deadline for the completion of a trial in all rape cases will be two months.

A six-month time limit for the disposal of appeals in rape cases has also been prescribed.

There will also be no provision for anticipatory bail for a person accused of rape or gang rape of a girl under 16 years.

It has also been prescribed that a court has to give notice of 15 days to a public prosecutor and the representative of the victim before deciding bail applications in case of rape of a girl under 16 years of age.

Enhancing the powers of the judiciary to provide stringent punishment in rape cases, the Union Cabinet had approved a number of measures, such as strengthening the prosecution, besides setting up new fast-track courts in consultation with the states and high courts concerned,  according to an official.

The National Crime Records Bureau will maintain a national database and profile of sexual offenders.

This data will be regularly shared with the states and the Union territories for tracking, monitoring and investigation, including verification of antecedents of sex offenders by the police, the official said.

The present scheme of One Stop Centres for assistance to the victim will also be extended to all districts in the country.

 

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POLITICS-GOVERNANCE

In a Setback for Mamata, HC Directs State EC to Reschedule WB Panchayat Poll

The panchayat elections in West Bengal were earlier scheduled from May 1 to May 5 and the counting of votes was scheduled on 8 May.

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KOLKATA (West Bengal): The Calcutta High Court has quashed the State Election Commission’s (SEC) order cancelling the notification for extension of the deadline for filing nomination for panchayat polls in West Bengal and directed it to allow nominations by issuing a fresh notification.

Justice Subrata Talukdar held that petitions, filed by the BJP, CPM and other Opposition parties, challenging the cancellation of notification are maintainable and asked the poll panel to issue fresh notification extending the date for filing nominations.

The court directed the commission to reschedule the dates for panchayat election process and accordingly conduct the polls.

The panchayat elections in West Bengal were to be held in three phases from 1 May to 5 May and the counting of votes was scheduled on 8 May.

The nomination process for the panchayat polls ended on 9 April, but it was extended by a day by the SEC the same evening following a Supreme Court court order on petitions alleging that candidates backed by Opposition parties were being prevented from filing nominations.

The West Bengal government and ruling Trinamool Congress had objected to the extension by the SEC, which had cited a Supreme Court direction to “allay apprehensions of intending candidates” in its notification extending the nomination process by a day.

The notification, which referred to the apex court order, was withdrawn by the SEC on 10 April morning.

The BJP again moved the Supreme Court on 11 April and was directed to approach the high court with its grievances over the deadline for filing nominations.

The BJP moved the high court challenging the withdrawal and Justice Talukdar stayed the election process on 12 April.

Apart from the BJP, the CPM, PDS and the Congress too have moved the high court separately challenging the SEC’s decision.

The Commission and the ruling Trinamool Congress opposed the petitions claiming that these were not maintainable since the election process had started.

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DIALOGUE FOR CHANGE

Maneka Wants All Police Officers to be Re-Trained About Sexual Offences

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NEW DELHI: In a letter addressed to Chief Ministers of all the States/UTs, Smt. Maneka Sanjay Gandhi, Union Minister for Women and Child Development has outlined various steps to be taken by the States/UTs in preventing and curbing the crimes against women and children. Some of the steps mentioned in the letter are:

  1. All police officers should be re-trained on various aspects of sexual offences particularly those related to collection and preservation of evidence.
  2. Instructions may be issued to all police officers that utmost priority is to be given to complete the investigation of cases of sexual offences against children strictly as per the timelines of Law.
  3. State Governments must take strict action against those police officers who are found to be obstructing the investigation or colluding with the perpetrators of such cases.
  4. A quick and timely professional investigation is the only method in which a potential offender can be deterred but this can be done only by the states as the police department is the state subject. Forming a special cell only for sexual offences or especially for sexual offences on children would be a significant step in this regard.

The Women and Child Development Minister offered help to State Governments in establishing Forensic Laboratories in states which can be used for forensic analysis of evidence in the investigation of sexual offences.

The WCD Minister has requested the states to generate awareness among the children in using the e-box set up under POCSO with child-help line number 1098.

The Minister also highlighted that till date 175 One-stop centres for women affected by violence have been set up by the Ministry of Women and Child Development.

One Stop Centres are to help those women who have no access to either police or medical facilities or are not able to visit a police station in times of distress.

The letter also stressed that Section 21 of the POCSO Act may be invoked in all cases wherever failure to report or record is noted. Section 21 states that any officer who fails to report or record the commission of an offence under section 19/20 of the Act is liable for punishment.

The WCD Minister called for suggestions from the state Governments on dealing with the crimes against women and children.

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