There are two aspects to the news- knowing the headline and understanding the intricacies of it. We at The Connectere focus on both. While The First Forum edition gives a brief about the headlines, The Weekly Analysis Edition is meant to educate the reader on what do various news mean and what are their intricacies. This initiative is meant to educate the reader on how to understand the important news. In the Forty Eighth Edition we are covering the following news:

  1. Second phase of Covid-19 vaccination drive in India
  2. Attorney General Refused to give Consent to Contempt Proceedings Against Ex CJI
  3. New Guidelines for Social Media, OTT platforms
  4. 4G Spectrum Auction ends
  5. India-Pakistan jointly announce maintenance of ceasefire agreement
  6. US bombs facilities in Syria in retaliation

 Second phase of Covid-19 vaccination drive in India

India has started the second phase of Covid-19 vaccination drive that will cover 10 crore people across the country from Monday. Government has  started the vaccination of people above 60 years and individuals above 45 years of age having comorbidities against coronavirus. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also joined the elite club of global leaders who had publicly received the Covid-19 vaccine and urged people to come out for vaccination in order to fight the deadly pandemic as he got vaccinated on the first day of the second phase of vaccination drive in India.
People with the presence of one of the 20 comorbidities, including diabetes and heart failure with hospital admission in the past one year, have been prioritised in this phase of the COVID-19 vaccination drive.
The simplified system of certifying people with these comorbidities within the 45-59 years age group was explained to the States Health Departments. The co-morbidities which have been prioritised include diabetes, heart failure with hospital admission in the past one year, post-cardiac transplant, moderate or severe valvular heart disease, end-stage kidney disease on haemodialysis, a severe respiratory disease with hospitalisation in the last two years, primary immunodeficiency diseases/HIV infection and angina and hypertension/diabetes on treatment.
An Advanced self-registration process is used under which the beneficiaries will be able to self-register in advance by downloading the CO-Win 2.0 portal and through other IT applications such as Arogya Setu etc. This app shows the government and private hospitals serving as COVID vaccination centres with the date and time of the available schedules. The beneficiary would be able to choose the CVC of his/her choice and book an appointment for vaccination.
According to the ministry,6.44 lakh people booked appointments on the Co-Win portal on the first day of the second phase to get vaccinated, and 25 lakh potential beneficiaries registered on the portal on the same day, out of which 50,000 were healthcare and frontline workers. So far, 1.47 crore vaccines have been administered in India.

Winner's Curse

Attorney General Refused to give Consent to Contempt Proceedings Against Ex CJI

The Attorney General for India, K.K.Venugopal, has declined his consent to initiate proceedings for criminal contempt against the nominated member of Rajya Sabha, Ranjan Gogoi, for the interview he gave at the India Today conclave on February 12. Venugopal agreed with transparency activist Saket Gokhale, who sought his consent, that Gogoi initially made some very strong statements about the judiciary and the Supreme Court of India during the event. But he added that the statements “apparently reflect his deep frustration with the ills that undoubtedly beset the justice delivery system”. Venugopal, who claimed that he watched the entirety of Gogoi’s interview, was of the view that what he said was for the good of the institution, and would not in any manner scandalise the court or lower its authority in the eyes of the public.
In the recent Prashant Bhushan case, Venugopal told the Supreme Court that nine former judges of the Supreme Court had said that there was corruption in higher judiciary and that seven of them made the remark immediately after their retirement. That the court did not use its suo motu powers to question those former judges was cited by Venugopal to justify dropping of the contempt of court case against Bhushan. By not agreeing with Venugopal, the court only confirmed its class bias. Venugopal’s consent for initiating cases against comedian Kunal Kamra and artist Rachita Taneja, while declining consent in the case of Gogoi, is being seen as a hidden understanding and appreciation of a class bias.
Under the Contempt of Courts Act and the pertinent rules, the Supreme Court can initiate criminal contempt proceedings either on its own motion or upon a petition filed by a private individual after obtaining consent of the attorney general or the solicitor general.

Social Media

New Guidelines for Social Media, OTT platforms

As the influence of social media and OTT platforms in providing information to public is increasing, the govt. has unveiled its plan to enact greater oversight over social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook and also bring digital media and streaming platforms into a stricter regulatory net called the ‘Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021’. The proposed changes may go down as the largest shake-up in the technology regulation space in nearly a decade. The new rules will require big social media companies to take down unlawful content within a specific time frame of being served either by a court order or notice of an appropriate government agency. The rules also carve out a separate category for sexual content under which an intermediary shall, within 24 hours, remove the offending content. These will come into effect the day these are notified for the most applicable entities, although a 3-month window would be given to significant social media intermediaries. The rules aim at tracking first originator by making it mandatory for significant social media messaging intermediaries like Whatsapp to enable the identification of “first originator” of the information to target people threatening the sovereignty and integrity of the country, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, or public order or those committing offences relating to the above or in relation with rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material punishable with imprisonment for a term not less than five years. This move is aimed at tracking down people who use Whatsapp or Signal to spread fake news or carry out illegal activities, but at the same time, cyber experts fear that it may require companies to break their end-to-end encryption protocols and pave the way for a surveillance state.
The changes further include a ‘Code of Ethics and Procedure and Safeguards in Relation to Digital/ Online Media’. The rules under this code will apply to everyone from online news and digital media entities to OTT platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime. Publishers of news on digital media will 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’ which is needed to provide a level playing field between the offline and digital media. To ensure adherence to the Code of Ethics, the govt. envisages the establishment of three- tier structure under which user grievances can be addressed through self-regulation and oversight. Although, the motive of regulating the digital content is welcomed by digital media houses, there have been concerns about the privacy of people and the cumbersome dispute redressal system involving bureaucratic controls which can threaten the freedom of press and free speech in the country.

4G Spectrum Auction ends

the govt. has completed the much awaited spectrum auction for 4G airwaves in a two-day event generating proceeds much higher than those estimated beforehand. The last spectrum auctions were held in 2016, when the government offered 2,354.55 MHz at a reserve price of Rs 5.60 lakh crore. Although the govt. managed to sell only 965 MHz or about 40% of the spectrum that was put up for sale then and the total value of bids received was just Rs 65,789 crore, the need for a new spectrum auction had arisen because the validity of the airwaves bought by companies is set to expire in 2021. The govt. wrapped up an auction for fourth-generation or 4G airwaves generating Rs 77,815 crore in proceeds or about a fifth of spectrum value put on sale. It, however, claimed that the auction was a success as demand far exceeded its modest expectations. Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd, India’s largest telco, emerged as the top bidder, cornering roughly three-fourths of the spectrum sold in two-day event. It has acquired 488.35 MHz of airwaves across three bands 800 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2300 MHz worth Rs 57,122.65 crore which is much higher than the industry estimates. Jio has about 98.8 MHz of spectrum expiring this year for which it was expected to shell out Rs 23,863.8 crore. Similarly, it was expected that Airtel would largely renew the spectrum in 900 MHz and 1800 MHz that’s due to expire this year, and its total outgo would be around Rs 13,500 crore. However, Airtel went a step ahead and acquired spectrum in 800 MHz, 2100 MHz and 2300 MHz as well worth Rs 18,699 crore. Vodafone, on the other hand, was modest by acquiring airwaves of just 11.9 MHz of spectrum for Rs 1,993.4 crore-much lower than the industry estimates. Telecos need to pay upfront 25% of the spectrum won in the 700 MHz, 800 MHz and 900 MHz and 50 % of the rest of the bands. The rest is to be paid in 16 annual installments after a two-year moratorium. According to DOT, the payment is to be made in 10 days post the issue of demand notice which is expected to be released within the next 7-10 days. The govt. will, however, just get Rs 19,000-20,000 crore in the year upto 31st march from the latest sale as auction rules allow operators to stagger payments. Still, the money will be crucial for the govt, as it stares a record fiscal deficit of 9.5% this year.  Spectrum Usage Charges (SUC) for the spectrum acquired in this auction will be payable at the rate of 3% of Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) of the license, excluding revenue from wireline services.
Besides, it has also been told that 5G spectrum will be rolled out by the end of 2021 but not on a pan-India basis and only in select areas where the demand would justify the capex.

Indo-Pak war of 1965

India-Pakistan jointly announce maintenance of ceasefire agreement

In an unexpected shift from geo-political tensions, India and Pakistan jointly announced that both the rival nations would cease firing across their shared border on either side of the Line of Control (LoC). The announcement came as a surprise to many as the military officials of both nations agreed to a cease-fire beginning from midnight of February 24-25, 2021. This step is the first in over almost 20 years to ease border tensions and a significant one considering that both nations gave a joint statement.
However, people following geopolitics had a decent bit of idea that something of this sort was about to happen. Beginning from Pakistan Army Chief Bajwa’s comment on “peace in all direction” to India allowing Pakistan PM Imran Khan to use India’s airspace for his Sri Lanka visit, signs were there for around a month.
The ceasefire is particularly important as several troops from both ends are regularly involved in war-like situations causing heavy damage to life and property.
One might think as to why Pakistan decided to review its stance against India. Beginning from the Kashmir issue, Pakistan has turned slightly soft understanding that the revocation of special status has taken place, life is gradually turning to normal in the union territories and only dialogue will lead to the solution. Secondly, Pakistan need vaccines to fight Covid-19 of which India can be a significant supplier considering it has already extended millions of doses to other neighbouring countries in the subcontinent.
The most substantial concern that experts note here is whether the announcement would stand or not? And if yes, then for how long? It’s not the first time that both nations have decided to cease firing.
Experts also believe this decision is not one taken merely by the military officials and it has to be backed by political support in one form or the other. A joint statement also points to the fact that the backchannel process was ongoing for several months possibly.
The announcement also comes as a relief to India as it has eased its border tensions with both Pakistan and China with the ongoing disengagement process in Ladakh. It relieves India of a two-front war with its neighbours during the ongoing pandemic that has seen a slight spike in the past couple of weeks.

US bombs facilities in Syria in retaliation

The United States government on Thursday launched airstrikes in Syria near the Syria-Iraq border following an order from President Joe Biden. This, therefore, became the 1st airstrike under Joe Biden’s presidency of over 42 days. According to the US, the airstrikes targeted facilities in the Al Bukamal region of Syria that had two allegedly Iran backed militias, namely Kait’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS) and Kait’ib Hezbollah (KH). The White House defended the airstrikes saying it would reduce the future risk of additional attacks in the coming weeks. As per initial reports, several fighters of the Iraqi armed group were wounded and at least 22 fighters were killed.
According to the Pentagon, the strikes were executed in retaliation to attacks on US interests at Erbil Airport in northern Iraq where a rocket attack killed a civilian contractor, wounded a U.S. service member and other coalition troops. The US forces were sent to the bordering region of Iraq and Syria by the President after his oath on 20th January 2021 to maintain peace in the region.
The direct impact of the airstrikes was seen in share markets worldwide that collapsed including the Indian market where benchmark index BSE Sensex fell around 1900 points i.e. 3.8% in intra-day trading. However, additional reasons of increasing bond yields and growing concern of pandemic in the past week also led to the fell.
The airstrikes deliver clear signals throughout the world that although Joe Biden would not be as aggressive as Donald Trump, he would not hesitate to come forward and launch strikes if it’s in the interest of the United States and American coalition personnel. It also creates an image of Joe Biden as a strong President who might launch attacks if required. There was a mild response from foreign ministers of Iran and Syria who spoke to each other and said the West should adhere to the U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria and that bombings on random places should be avoided.
The airstrikes would however have no impact on the Iran nuclear deal which is thought to be reinstated in the upcoming months. Iran is currently facing heavy sanctions from the past few years imposed by former President Donald Trump.

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