GS II Topic Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e‐governance‐ applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential; citizens charters, transparency & accountability and institutional and other measures.
The need for an Uniform Asylum Law
Baloch leader Brahamdagh Bugti’s request for asylum in India has prompted calls for a uniform and apolitical asylum law. That would be a mistake. Asylum has always been a diverse institution, resistant to homogeneity and friendly to political dissidents.
Asylees and refugees
- Asylum is an expansive institution of protection; refugees are a narrow category of people. An asylee need not be a refugee.
- In Europe, asylum was an ecclesiastical concept that provided safe haven in a place of worship. Asylum has no defining criteria other than the willingness of a state to grant it.
- The UN’s Refugee Convention of 1951 links refuge to persecution on racial, religious, national, social, or political grounds. Many countries including India disagreed with the UN’s definition. It set the bar for protection too high for ordinary people for whom proving targeted persecution is difficult. India did not sign the convention.
- Africa broke ranks too. In 1969, it adopted its own convention which recognised that refugees are people who flee serious public disorder, external aggression, occupation, and foreign domination. In other words, Africa recognised that during war, people do not wait to be individually persecuted, they flee en masse, and they are all refugees.
- Europe understood the shortcomings of the refugee regime during the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s. Many of those displaced were not technically refugees, forcing the European Union to create a new form of asylum distinct from refugee status. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) followed suit.
Politics versus humanitarianism
- The duty to protect refugees is a widely accepted, binding norm of international law. But the refugee convention refuses protection to people accused of “serious non-political crimes” such as terrorism. So governments routinely slap trumped-up terror accusations against their dissidents. For such people, asylum is a beacon. Because it is undefined, asylum has been widely interpreted by states to result in multiple forms of protection.
- Asylum need not be tied to national territory. It can be granted by diplomatic missions abroad as it has been to Julian Assange by Ecuador’s embassyin London. The political versus humanitarian conflict that some believe afflicts the heart of asylum is really no conflict at all. Asylum can be granted for political reasons and refuge for humanitarian reasons and the twain need not meet, even if contained in the same statute.
- Asylum and extradition are related concepts. Extradition law exempts a country from handing over a criminal if the offence for which she is wanted is of a political character. This is known as the ‘political offence exception.’ It enables political asylum. It is recognised in the Extradition Act, 1962 and earlier laws too — perhaps an indicator of the legislature’s intent to allow people like Mr. Bugti to shelter in India at the government’s discretion.
- If Mr. Bugti is accepted, it would not be the first time that Indian asylum has been politicised. The Dalai Lama has never been officially recognised as a refugee; he remains an “honoured guest” — diplomatese for political asylee. On the other hand, India hosts refugees from Tibet and elsewhere who fled persecution and conflict. For refugees, a law will regularise their stay in India and guarantee essential freedoms. But the law need not be uniform. Indeed it should vary so that victims of targeted persecution are individually protected, large groups fleeing war are protected as a group, and people displaced by natural disasters are given transient protection. The same law can allow the government to grant asylum to anyone it pleases, irrespective of what that person has done or where in the world he or she is located.
- The principle that governments have wide discretionary powers regarding foreigners is as old as the concept of sovereignty. It has been reiterated by the Supreme Court several times. It can be expressed in an asylum law without contradicting the duty to protect refugees. What India needs is a discretionary political asylum regime for people like Mr. Bugti as well as a mandatory refugee regime to ensure humanitarian protection.
GS II topic: Challenges to internal security through communication networks, role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges, basics of cyber security; money-laundering and its prevention.
Benami Property Transactions Prohibition Act comes into force
- The Act defines a benami transaction as a transaction where a property is held by or transferred to a person, but has been provided for or paid by another person. The Bill amends this definition to add other transactions which qualify as benami, such as property transactions where: (i) the transaction is made in a fictitious name, (ii) the owner is not aware of denies knowledge of the ownership of the property, or (iii) the person providing the consideration for the property is not traceable.
- The Bill also specifies certain cases will be exempt from the definition of a benami transaction. These include cases when a property is held by: (i) a member of a Hindu undivided family, and is being held for his or another family member’s benefit, and has been provided for or paid off from sources of income of that family; (ii) a person in a fiduciary capacity; (iii) a person in the name of his spouse or child, and the property has been paid for from the person’s income; and the Bill defines benamidar as the person in whose name the benami property is held or transferred, and a beneficial owner as the person for whose benefit the property is being held by the benamidar.
- Under the Act, an Authority to acquire benami properties was to be established by the Rules. The Bill seeks to establish four authorities to conduct inquiries or investigations regarding benami transactions: (i) Initiating Officer, (ii) Approving Authority, (iii) Administrator and (iv) Adjudicating Authority.
- The law prohibits recovery of the property held benami from benamdar by the real owner. As per the Act, properties held benami are liable for confiscation by the government, without payment of compensation.
- The Bill also seeks to establish an Appellate Tribunal to hear appeals against any orders passed by the Adjudicating Authority. Appeals against orders of the Appellate Tribunal will lie to the high court.
- Certain sessions courts would be designated as Special Courts for trying any offences which are punishable under the Bill.
GS II Topic: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.
Russia invites India to join fast reactor research project
Russia has invited India to join in developing nuclear reactors and participate in its fast reactor research project.
The multipurpose fast research reactor project, also known as MBIR, is coming up at the International Research Center in Dimitrovgrad, located in the Ulyanovsk region. The purpose of the programme is the creation of a new technological platform for nuclear energy, which will be based on the closed fuel cycle with fast neutron reactors.
The closed fuel cycle, which involves recycling the nuclear waste as new fuel, in the case of the MBIR project, essentially signifies research on a sodium-cooled Generation 4 fast reactor to design an advanced fast neutron reactor for use in nuclear power plants.
“MBIR’s design includes three independent loops that can be used to test different coolants like gas, lead, molten salt, among others, and therefore it will be possible to conduct material testing research in those different environments.”
Fast neutron reactor
A fast neutron reactor, also known simply as a fast reactor, is a type in which nuclear fission chain reaction is sustained by fast neutrons. Such a reactor needs no neutron moderator.
With fast-neutron reactors, it is possible to solve the major ecological problem of reprocessing and deactivation of the accumulated radioactive waste, at the same time providing society much needed energy.
Also, transition to the closed fuel cycle, which is based on the fast neutron reactors, will lead to the solution of the five key problems — safety, competitiveness, shortage of fuel, reprocessing and refabricating the used nuclear fuel and radioactive waste — as well as in enforcing non-proliferation of fission materials and weapons technologies.
Facts for prelims (Can be used in Mains as fodder)
A new state added under Open Defecation Free status
The State of Kerala was declared Open Defecation Free (ODF) under the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) (Gramin). Earlier Sikkim and Himachal Pradesh were declared ODF.
New CBDT chairman
Sushil Chandra has taken over as the new chairman of the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT).
The Central Board of Direct Taxes is a statutory authority functioning under the Central Board of Revenue Act, 1963.
- It is a part of the Department of Revenue in the Ministry of Finance, Government of India.
- It provides essential inputs for policy and planning of direct taxes in India and is also responsible for administration of the direct tax laws through Income Tax Department.
- It is also India’s official Financial Action Task Force unit.
3 million TB cases missing globally
According to the latest Global TB Report 2016,
- An estimated 10.4 million new cases were reported in 2015 but only 6.1 million out of these were detected and officially notified — leaving a significant gap of 4.3 million cases that are “missing” globally. These cases are either undiagnosed, or managed in large unregulated private sectors and not notified to TB programs.
- Of the 10.4 million cases, India accounts for 2.4 million but the annual report notes that the country had reported only 56 per cent of its TB burden in 2014 and 59 per cent in 2015.
- But a regular increase in reporting from India was due to the policy of mandatory TB notification. The government made TB a notifiable disease in 2012, resulting in this 34% increase in the number of cases — most of them being treated in the private sector that would have otherwise not been reported.