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18.5.21 The Hindu Editorials

The arrest of K. Raghu Ramakrishna Raju, an MP from Andhra Pradesh, on the grave charge of sedition, is yet another instance of the misuse of the provision relating to exciting “disaffection” against the government. The police in different States have been invoking sedition, an offence defined in Section 124A IPC, against critics of the establishment and prominent dissenters. It is not surprising that Mr. Raju, a vocal detractor of A.P. Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, is sought to be prosecuted. However, his arrest is unwarranted, considering that he is being accused of only speech-based offences relating to his diatribe against his party leader and CM. It has predictably, and not without justification, invited charges of political vendetta. Even if one were to accept at face value the prosecution’s claim that his speeches stoked hatred against communities — he had referred to alleged rampant conversion activities in the State — and attracted prosecution under Section 153-A or Section 505, was his arrest necessary? These offences attract a prison term of only three years and, under the Arnesh Kumar ruling (2014) of the Supreme Court, there is no need to arrest a person for an offence that invites a prison term of seven years and less. Further, even sedition, which allows a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, also prescribes an alternative jail term of three years.

Mr. Raju has alleged ill-treatment while in CID custody. The Supreme Court has directed that he be examined at the Army hospital in Secunderabad in neighbouring Telangana. His bail petition is likely to be taken up later this week. It is unedifying to note that the CID has also named in the FIR, two television channels to which he gave interviews. While the legal process will take its course, it is once again time for a reflection on the need and relevance of the offence of sedition, a colonial-era provision used to imprison people for political writings in support of Indian independence, to remain on the statute book. That State governments and various police departments are known for the casual resort to prosecution under this section is a poor reflection of the understanding of the law among civil servants everywhere. It is now fairly well known that the section is attracted only if there is an imminent threat to public order or there is actual incitement to violence — ingredients that are invariably absent in most cases. In addition, it remains vaguely and too broadly defined (the term ‘disaffection’ is said to include ‘disloyalty’ and ‘feelings of enmity’), warranting a total reconsideration. Recently, the Supreme Court decided to revisit the constitutionality of this section. While a judicial verdict will be welcome, it would be even more protective of free speech if the Centre abolished the provision.

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1.Grave (Adj)-seriously bad. गंभीर

2.Sedition (N)-incitement of resistance to or insurrection against lawful authority. राजद्रोह

3.Dissenters (N)-someone who strongly disagrees with something.

4.Detractor (N)-a person who disparages someone or something. आलोचक

5.Unwarranted (Adj)-not justified or authorized. अनुचित

6.Diatribe (N)-a forceful and bitter verbal attack against someone or something. अभियोगात्मक भाषण

7.Vendetta (N)-a prolonged bitter quarrel with or campaign against someone.

8.Unedifying (Adj)-unpleasant and without any useful or positive features.

9.Relevance (N)-the quality or state of being closely connected or appropriate. संबद्धता

10.Abolished (V)-to end an activity or custom officially. समाप्त किया

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🛑After a gap of over seven months, the GST Council will now meet on May 28, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced last Saturday. That the Council, expected to meet every quarter, has taken possibly the longest pause in its functioning does not set a good precedent. Given the acrimony that transpired in its last few meetings over how the States’ GST compensation dues for the pandemic-induced lockdown-dented 2020-21 were to be met, the long break makes Centre-State equations even more awkward. States later reluctantly agreed to the Centre’s proposal to raise ₹1.1 lakh crore of GST recompense dues through special market borrowings, after the Finance Ministry backed off from insisting that States raise these loans directly. In the intervening period, the economy almost surged back to normalcy before being hobbled again by the second wave of infections. And unlike the first wave, there is a greater onus on the States now to figure out everything from what mobility restrictions to put in place, to vaccination sequencing, and the bigger headache of sourcing enough vaccines from within or outside India. A Council meeting before or after the Union Budget could have helped soothe States’ frayed nerves.

Having ignored the call by several States for a Council meet all these months, citing the Assembly polls, the Centre will now also have to contend with a slight change in equations. The elan of re-elected State governments apart, a large State such as Tamil Nadu can no longer be expected to toe the Centre’s line. There is much big ticket pending work on the Council’s plate, but from the States’ perspective, it would be necessary to get clarity on the modalities for receiving the ₹63,000 crore GST compensation still due to them, along with this year’s dues, in a timely manner. Cash flow visibility would help them gear up better, be it for vaccines or subsequent COVID-19 waves. Even more pressing is the demand to drop GST on material to battle the pandemic, including the 12% tax on oxygen concentrators, 5% on vaccines, and on relief supplies from abroad. Ms. Sitharaman responded with a tweet storm to a missive on the issue from the West Bengal CM to the PM. This suggests an irascible approach on an issue that more States are raising. Tax experts believe solutions are possible to reduce the GST burden. The Centre had dropped the GST on sanitary napkins after strongly defending the tax, with one stated worry being cheap imports. In the case of vaccines and critical supplies, the more the imports, the merrier it is now. That the GST revenue will be shared with the States may be factually correct, but surely, neither the States nor the Centre are eyeing COVID-19 expenses as a fat source of revenue. An accommodative approach from the Centre could ensure India’s fiscal federalism framework does not suffer an irretrievable breakdown at this calamitous juncture.

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1.Precedent (N)-an example that is used to justify similar occurrences at a later time. उदाहरण

2.Acrimony (N)-bitterness or ill feeling. कटुता, तीक्ष्णता

3.Awkward (Adj)-causing difficulty; hard to do or deal with. चिन्ताजनक

4.Reluctantly (Adv)-in an unwilling and hesitant way. अनिच्छा से

5.Hobbled (V)-to prevent something developing or being successful.

6.Onus (N)-something that is one's duty or responsibility. दायित्व

7.Elan (N)-vigorous spirit or enthusiasm.

8.Big Ticket (Adj)-constituting a major expense.

9.Gear Up (Phrasal Verb)-to prepare for an activity or event.

10.Irascible (Adj)-having or showing a tendency to be easily angered.

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With thanks to the original source


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