Editorials - 30-06-2021

The criminal justice system needs to take note of the Delhi High Court’s recent judgment on ‘defining terrorism’

The criminal justice system is an instrument of state and a key index of the state of democracy. Every punishment which does not arise from absolute necessity is tyrannical, said French jurist Montesquieu. In fact criminal law should be used only as a ‘last resort’ (ultima ratio) and only for the ‘most reprehensible wrongs’. Unfortunately, ‘crimes’ originate in government policy and, therefore, criminal law reflects the idea of ‘power’ rather than ‘justice’. Should civil society activists, students, intellectuals and protesters be charged for the crime of terrorism? Is every criminal a terrorist and every violent crime a terrorist activity? Did Parliament in enacting the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, (TADA) and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA) intend to punish ordinary criminals under these anti-terror special laws?

Example of misuse

In the period 2015-2019, as many as 7,840 persons were arrested under the draconian UAPA but only 155 were convicted by the trial courts. Most would eventually be acquitted by the higher courts. Even Congress governments misused TADA (enacted in 1985 and amended in 1987). Till 1994, though 67,000 people were detained, just 725 were convicted in spite of confessions made to police officers being made admissible. InKartar Singh(1994), the Supreme Court of India had observed that in many cases, the prosecution had unjustifiably invoked provisions of TADA ‘with an oblique motive of depriving the accused persons from getting bail’. It added that such an invocation of TADA was ‘nothing but the sheer misuse and abuse of the Act by the police’.

UAPA’s experience has been worse than TADA. UAPA has also been equally used and abused. The recent 133 page bail order of the Delhi High Court inAsif Iqbal Tanha(June 15, 2021), that led to the release of three student activists, has come as a bolt from the blue for the Delhi police. At the heart of the controversy is the meaning of the term ‘terrorism’ and when UAPA can justifiably be invoked.

No consensus on definition

Though there are more than 100 definitions of terrorism available globally, there is no universal definition of the term ‘terrorism’ either in India or at the international level. The UN General Assembly had given this task to a committee, but in almost 50 years or so there has been no consensus on the meaning of terrorism. The fight against foreign occupation is to be kept out of terrorism as today’s terrorist may be tomorrow’s freedom fighter. Accordingly, neither TADA nor UAPA has a definition of the crucial terms ‘terror’ and ‘terrorism’. Section 15 of UAPA merely defines a terrorist act in extremely wide and vague words: ‘as any act with intent to threaten or likely to threaten the unity, integrity, security, or sovereignty of India or with intent to strike terror or likely to strike terror in the people....’

How is such a terrorist act committed? UAPA says ‘by using bombs, dynamite or other explosive substances or inflammable substances or firearms or other lethal weapons or poisonous or noxious gases ... or by any other means of whatever nature to cause or likely to cause death or injuries...,’ What is the meaning of the expression ‘by any other means’? When a general word is used in any statute after specific words, it is to be interpreted in the context of specific words. Thus, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) protests cannot be covered by this expression.

InYaqoob Abdul Razzak Memon(2013), the Supreme Court said that terrorist acts can range from threats to actual assassinations, kidnappings, airline hijacking, car bombs, explosions, mailing of dangerous materials, use of chemical, biological, nuclear weapons etc. Since the three student activists did not do any of these things, Justices Anup Jairam Bhambhani and Siddharth Mridul could not be convinced of their involvement in any terrorist act. Through an authoritative and enlightened bail order entirely based on the apex court judgments, Justice Bhambani reminded the Delhi police of the true meaning of a terrorist act.

Other judgments

InHitendra Vishnu Thakur(1994), the Supreme Court had defined terrorism as the ‘use of violence when its most important result is not merely the physical and mental damage of the victim but the prolonged psychological effect it produces ... on the society as a whole’. Its main objective is to overawe the government or disturb the harmony of society or ‘terrorise’ people...’. Thus, what ‘distinguishes ‘terrorism’ from other forms of violence is the deliberate and systematic use of coercive intimidation’. InKartar Singh(1994), the Supreme Court held that a mere disturbance of public order that disturbs even the tempo of the life of community of any particular locality is not a terrorist act. By this interpretation, the CAA protests in a few localities of Delhi cannot be termed as terrorist activity. Even in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, the Supreme Court, inNalini and 25 Others(1999) held that none of the accused had intent to overawe the government or strike terror among people, and therefore the killing of Rajiv Gandhi and 15 others was not held to be a terrorist act or disruptive activity under Section 3 of TADA.

InRam Manohar Lohia(1966), the apex court explained the distinction between ‘law and order’, ‘public order’ and ‘security of state’. Law and order represents the largest circle within which is the next circle representing ‘public order’, and the smallest circle represents the ‘security of state’. Accordingly, an act may affect ‘law and order’ but not ‘public order’. Similarly, an act may adversely affect ‘public order’ but not the ‘security of state.’ In most UAPA cases, the police have failed to understand these distinctions and unnecessarily clamped UAPA charges for simple violations of law and order.

In the historic PUCL judgment (2003) where the constitutionality of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) was under challenge, the Supreme Court had highlighted another vital dimension of terrorist act by including within its meaning amongst other things the ‘razing of constitutional principles that we hold dear’, ‘tearing apart of the secular fabric’ and ‘promotion of prejudice and bigotry’.

Justice Bhambhani reiterated the first principle of criminal law, i.e., criminal provisions are to be given the narrowest possible meaning. It is a sad commentary on our criminal justice system that even the mention of this rule of thumb is being considered as a breeze of fresh air in an atmosphere of curtailment of liberties and democracy tilting towards authoritarianism.

Relying on A.K. Roy (1982) where the constitutionality of the National Security Act (NSA) was challenged, Justice Bhambhani concluded that to ensure that a person who was not within the parliamentary intendment does not get roped into a penal provision, more stringent a penal provision,it must be more strictly construed. The apex court itself had held that while construing preventive detention laws such as the NSA, care must be taken to restrict their application to as few situations as possible. InSanjay Dutt(1994) as well, the Supreme Court had held that those whom the law did not intend to punish are not to be roped in by stretching the penal provisions. In recent times, the Allahabad High Court had to quash 94 of 120 cases in which NSA has been invoked.

Accordingly, the Delhi High Court concluded that since the definition of a ‘terrorist act’ in UAPA is wide and somewhat vague, it cannot be casually applied to ordinary conventional crimes, and the act of the accused must reflect the essential character of terrorism. Indeed, the CAA protests were not terrorist acts. Defining terrorism may be difficult but does not everyone know when an act of terror is really committed?

What must be done

One hopes that, henceforth, our police will be far more cautious in charging people under black laws such as UAPA, the NSA, etc. In any case, no anti-terror law, howsoever stringent, can really end the problem of terrorism. Pushing a civilised state to state terrorism is the tried and tested strategy of all terrorists. Let us not fall in their trap.

Radicalisation generally succeeds only with those who have been subjected to real or perceived injustices. Let us remove injustice to combat terrorism. The creation of a truly just, egalitarian and non-oppressive society would be far more effective in combating terrorism.

Faizan Mustafa is Vice-Chancellor, NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad. The views expressed are personal

The belief in the utility of torture is embedded in institutional culture and accommodated by law

In a past interview, Juan E. Méndez, former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, recounts his fears while being tortured for “intelligence” by security forces of the military junta in 1970s Argentina: “I was very scared during the interrogations. Twice they had to call a doctor to check if they could continue torturing me without killing me. Only then did I realize that I could die. But when you are in that situation you live minute by minute, thinking of the moment when the torturers will get tired and stop so you can have a break”.

Mr. Méndez reminds us of the palpable fear created in the exercise of torture. Decades on, instilling fear through torture — physical or psychological — to reach the “truth”, is still seen as an effective interrogation “technique” by security forces. The reality that torture persists suggests that belief in its utility overrides the moral arguments and legal prohibitions against it.

Torture does not work

A latest effort to combat torture during investigation, spearheaded by Mr. Méndez, reinforces empirical evidence that torture does not work. Launched in June 2020, the ‘Principles on Effective Interviewing for Investigations and Information Gathering’, dubbed the ‘Méndez Principles’ (https://bit.ly/3A6P8Xo), were developed through a comprehensive, expert-driven consultative process.

The Méndez Principles aim to provide a cohesive blueprint of practical measures to replace torture and coercive interrogation with “rapport-based” interviews, reinforced through legal and procedural safeguards at every step. They offer practical guidance for non-coercive interrogations; address heightened vulnerabilities in custody; and provide specific guidance on training, accountability and implementation. They are to apply to all authorities who have the power to detain and question people, including the police, military, and intelligence. At their core, the Principles seek to prevent coercive techniques and torture by introducing a paradigm shift away from “confession” based information gathering.

Crucially, they are grounded in scientific empirical studies across disciplines — psychology, criminology, sociology, neuroscience — which establish that coercive interrogation is counterproductive. Extreme torture tactics, such as forced stress positions or waterboarding, have been shown to significantly damage the affected person’s memory and recollection of information. Aggressive questioning is more likely to make the interviewee resistant, or ‘say anything’ just for the threat of violence to stop. Coercive interviewing leads to unreliable information and false confessions. These studies provide scientific evidence to reject the widely-held misconception that a certain degree of ‘pressure’, or physical pain, will yield accurate information.

Its persistence in India

With their emergence as a new set of aspirational standards, it is tempting to assess whether the Méndez Principles can readily apply to the Indian context. Unfortunately, enough evidence indicates that the Indian context typifies the belief in the utility of torture, and is embedded in institutional culture and accommodated by law.

In spite of the prohibition of and safeguards against “third degree methods”, they are normalised in police practice. Even the National Human Rights Commission has said that “custodial violence and torture is so rampant in this country that it has become almost routine”.

The belief that a certain degree of fear and pressure is necessary to compel a suspect to cough up the “truth” is widely held by police officers. This emerged strongly in a 2019 survey of about 12,000 police personnel across India, published by Common Cause and Lokniti (https://bit.ly/3jw5ljb). Three out of four personnel felt that it is justified for the police to be violent towards “criminals”, and four out of five personnel responded that there is nothing wrong in the police beating criminals to extract confessions. Scholars, Khanikar (2018; https://bit.ly/3h5Wfrq) and Jauregui (2013; https://bit.ly/3AaXwFm), studying the police in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, reveal practices of using tools such as wooden sticks in interrogation, signalling the presence of tools to beat or intimidate, while perversely labelling them with suggestive phrases like “aan milo saajna” (“come to me, my beloved”). Coercion and the resort to violence are common in both the choice of tools and approach to interrogation. There would need to be a fundamental shift in police thinking before the goal set by the Méndez Principles of moving from coercive practices to “rapport-based interrogation” can be realised.

Structural constraints fuel the persistence of torture, since it is seen to be effective. Investigating officers are in short supply, and have little scope to develop specialisation in investigative work. Working under perceived or actual constraints, of inadequate resources, political pressure, and an overburdened legal system, officers conjure the image of a vigilante cop compelled to take matters into their own hands. Popular films, and political and public support to illegal police killings as in the Hyderabad ‘Disha’ case (November-December 2019), further legitimise the vigilante cop as the only ‘hope’ for serving justice.

Tacit acceptance by law

Additionally, Indian law creates conditions which further permit torture through the “back door”. While confessions before a police officer are not admissible evidence, to prevent the police from resorting to torture, other legal provisions have the effect of indirectly accommodating the use of torture in investigative practice. Section 27 of the Indian Evidence Act permits the admissibility of statements before the police to the extent that they relate to the recovery of material objects, often called ‘recovery evidence’. Thus, investigators still have incentive to seek “disclosures”, and information implicit in a confession, as central to their investigation. Torture and falsification, by forcing an accused to sign on blank papers, are known abuses in the use of this provision. In an opinion study of former Supreme Court judges published in 2018 (https://bit.ly/3x6zNnU), 12 out of 58 judges acknowledged the heightened risk of torture as the shortcut method to obtain recovery evidence. Yet, Indian law still does not bar tainted evidence obtained through torture or coercive methods as inadmissible. It is up to individual judges to decide whether to rely on it or not.

The introduction of so-called scientific techniques of interrogation, such as lie detectors and narco-analysis, are often presented as the solutions to end physical torture. Jinee Lokaneeta’s analysis inThe Truth Machines(2020) reveals that introduction of these techniques, without addressing the existing conditions which perpetuate torture, has resulted in psychological forms of torture, supplementing coercive interrogation strategies. While the scientific validity of these techniques in determining the “truth” is held suspect, Indian law allows evidence voluntarily given by an accused through these techniques to be used as corroborative evidence. What can be voluntary in police custody without the protective cover of enforced safeguards?

In all of these ways, Indian law remains ambivalent and fails to fully prevent torture and coercion from creeping in. Structural constraints, popular culture, and political approval have shaped policing institutional cultures to valorise violence and coercion. Without urgent introspection, Méndez’s anti-torture vision will remain distant for India.

Devika Prasad and Zeba Sikora are with Project 39A at the National Law University Delhi

A tribute to the former PM for his vision in executing India’s new diplomacy following economic reforms

Diplomacy increasingly blends economics and politics. In this article, I look at how former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao’s momentous economic reforms of 1991 played out in Europe’s largest economic power.

In September 1991, just before India’s Ambassador to Germany, A. Madhavan, was to retire, Prime Minister Rao travelled to Germany, mainly to fulfil an obligation from three years ago, to launch a year-long Festival of India. Some months earlier, India had tried to postpone this event on account of the financial distress that had brought the country to the brink of insolvency, but the Germans were adamant that the commitment made by an earlier Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, regarding the festival be honoured.

A talkfest

In Germany, an ‘accidental’ Prime Minister who was guiding India towards national renewal encountered a rejuvenated Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, who had just steered his nation to a serendipitous ‘unification’ with East Germany (which had come to pass thanks to the collapse of the Soviet Union). This created unforeseen chemistry. In effect, Chancellor Kohl decided to take a chance; he seemed to believe that the Rao government would survive though it lacked a parliamentary majority. Taking a small step, the two leaders decided to create an annual talkfest called the Indo-German Consultative Group (IGCG). At this talkfest, non-official public figures of the two countries (about half of them business leaders and the rest from the fields of academia, culture, the media, and science) were to discuss ways to steer the relationship between the two countries towards a new future. Two or three officials joined, but in a listening role; the IGCG’s recommendations would go directly to the two leaders.

When I reached Bonn in May 1992, for the first working meeting at the German Foreign Office, I was told that the IGCG was an experiment for the Germans. They had no such mechanism with any non-ally country. Incidentally, nor did India, besides one with Japan, dating to the 1950s, which had ossified into an annual, unproductive ritual. In New Delhi, the Ministry of External Affairs was cautiously optimistic about the new mechanism. It gradually appointed about 17 Indian figures, with P.N. Dhar as the co-chair. Germany had already named Deutsche Bank board member Ulrich Cartellieri as co-chair, and a sterling group of some 16 members. In both countries, the two Ambassadors worked with the co-chairs and the designated members, and discussed actionable ideas. The IGCG met in September 1992, at Bonn’s St. Petersburg Castle overlooking the Rhine river. Its recommendations covered a page-and-a-half. A day later, Chancellor Kohl received P.N. Dhar and I, and declared himself pleased. The Foreign Office, which is not given to hyperbole, said that the meeting had “exceeded their expectations”.

That set the stage for Chancellor Kohl’s visit to India in February 1993, probably the first major visit by a foreign leader to Delhi after the 1991 reforms. While preparing for this visit, Chancellor Kohl’s Chief of Staff, Harald Nestroy, raised a problem. It was Kohl’s practice to take about 20 ‘special guests’ — top business leaders, a few academics, scientists and public figures on his visits. Kohl wanted he and his guests to meet Rao for a substantive discussion following his own official meeting with the Prime Minister. New Delhi firmly refused: there was no such practice in India. Mr. Nestroy asked whether Prime Minister Rao would accommodate this special request. I sought and obtained an assurance on reciprocity and used backchannels to convey this request to the Prime Minister. He knew well the importance of that German opening and agreed readily.

At Hyderabad House on February 3, 1993, after lunch, the German businesspersons raised a host of issues over India’s reforms, urging improvements. Prime Minister Rao spontaneously invited them to give him all their suggestions. Kohl endorsed this, adding that when the Indian Prime Minister visited Germany a year later to continue their dialogue, they would discuss this further. Prime Minister Rao then added that he would respond to the German requests before he reached Germany. This was done; our response reached Bonn four days before the Prime Minister went there.

A new practice

More important, as the aircraft left Delhi, Chancellor Kohl gathered his friends and asked, “Why are we so absent from India?” India had found a good ally. A few months later, for the first and only time in his 16-year chancellorship, Kohl asked the Foreign Office to produce a study on their Asia Policy. When that was finalised (after the draft was debated in the Bundestag), China, Japan and India were named as Germany’s three ‘strategic partners’ in Asia. It was a first for India, in any western country; in those days, ‘strategic’ carried weight.

At Prime Minister Rao’s return visit to Germany in February 1994, we stumbled into a new practice. Indian leaders were always coy about taking business delegations. This was despite the fact that by then, the three Indian apex bodies — CII, FICCI and ASSOCHAM — had begun to jointly host foreign leaders visiting New Delhi, to boost economic exchanges. But they had not “officially” been taken abroad by our leaders. That somehow seemed improper. Japan had a similar inhibition, which lasted much longer, into the 2000s.

When I asked the Foreign Office to confirm a meeting for our businesspersons with Chancellor Kohl, they stonewalled us saying there was no such practice in Germany. Mr. Nestroy then stepped in and confirmed that India could bring the businesspersons, provided they were “accompanying the Prime Minister”. But a new problem came up. In New Delhi, high officials from the External Affairs Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office said that the Indian businesspersons were not “officially” with the Prime Minister; they “just happened to be in Germany at that time”. That little impasse was sorted out via a direct approach with the Prime Minister, who said he had no problem with the businesspersons being associated with his visit.

The above narrative is a small tribute to P.V. Narasimha Rao for his vision and guidance in executing our new diplomacy following economic reforms. He personally steered this, sweeping away accumulated cobwebs in our thinking. After 30 years, the details or individuals are unimportant. We were all in a new game, unfamiliar with its rules and modes. And we learnt as we went along. My tribute is also to a succession of Indian and German envoys and officials who have raised this bilateral relationship to a much higher level, one that is mutually profitable. Such pragmatism became embedded in our practice of international relations. Prime Minister Rao guided and led us from the front, permitting India a smooth transition to the post-Cold War world. We confront today a different and perhaps more difficult national economy to manage, in the midst of a complex international political front. We need similar adaptability plus an ability to improvise and innovate, guided by the lodestar of national benefit.

Kishan S. Rana is former Ambassador, author of ‘Diplomacy at the Cutting Edge’ (2016), and teacher

A university should be judged within its social perspective

A culture of ranking is dominating today’s world. University rankings such as Times Higher Education and Quacquarelli Symonds create a huge uproar. But should they really deserve to be the yardstick of excellence in today’s higher education?

The concept of a university

There has been a paradigm shift in the concept of a university in the modern era from the ancient times when universities like Nalanda and Taxila existed. In his 1852 book,The Idea of a University, John Henry Newman assumed that knowledge should be pursued “for its own sake”. Newman used the ancient designation of a Studium Generale, or “School of Universal Learning”. “A University seems to be in its essence, a place for the communication and circulation of thought, by means of personal intercourse, through a wide extent of country,” Newman wrote.

The idea of the university, however, was shaped through the reforms of Wilhelm von Humboldt in Prussia. Ever since the University of Berlin was founded in 1810, the ‘Humboldtian’ university became a model for Europe, and subsequently for the research universities of the U.S. The central Humboldtian principle was the fusion of teaching and research in the work of the individual scholar, and the objective of the university was to advance knowledge by original and critical investigation, not just to transmit the legacy of the past or to teach skills.

In India, the Universities of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras were established in 1857. The immediate interest was to produce graduates to fill up the salaried positions emerging in the wake of colonial rule. The mottos of these universities, however, were “Advancement of Learning”, “Śīlastataphalā Vidyā” (The Fruit of Learning is Character and Righteous Conduct), and “Doctrina Vim Promovet Insitam” (Learning Promotes Natural Talent), respectively. In 1919, Rabindranath Tagore wrote: “the primary function of our University should be the constructive work of knowledge”.

While the concept of a university has evolved a lot, blaming the contemporary universities from Newman’s standpoint would be like blaming a jet engine for not having the excellences of a windmill, as the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre said.

Back to ranking. In fact, weighted averages of scores for several performance-related criteria are considered for ranking of the universities. The criteria and their weights differ from one ranking organisation to another. Change in weights may produce a different list of rankings. The criteria constitute research income from industry; ratio of international to domestic staff and students; number of students, research papers, citations; etc. Small but important institutes might thus trail in the ranking race. Also, many people think ‘citation’ is an inappropriate measure of usefulness of a research paper.

The most controversial part of the ranking methodology maybe reputational survey or academic peer review, where opinions of academics get importance. This component has significant weight, and these rankings have come in for criticism for too much emphasis on perception. Last year, seven leading IITs announced that they would boycott one such ranking, saying they are not satisfied with the transparency of the process.

Churning out papers

Research publication is important to enhance the rank. Academics are expected to keep churning out papers. An institute invariably seeks a list of recent publications once or twice a year from its faculty members. But how does that help in quality research? Peter Higgs, the 2013 Nobel Laureate in Physics, believes that he would not have got a job in today’s academic system because he would not be considered “productive” enough. When his department at Edinburgh University would ask for a list of recent publications, Higgs would reply: “None”. Still, today’s academics are mostly confined within the world of such ‘compulsory’ research and publication, for mere survival.

The concept of a university should not be the same everywhere. Universities at Chicago, Harvard and Oxford might fancy making the achievements of their students or professors the yardstick of excellence. However, there are many universities which cater to the local people as the only spectacles of higher education and prism of enlightenment. Their importance is no less than the ‘elite’ universities. A university should be judged within its social perspective.

The worth of university rankings, thus, is not very clear. “When we see a foreign University, we see only its smaller body – its buildings, its furniture, its regulations, its syllabus; its larger body is not present to us. But as the kernel of the coconut is in the whole coconut, so the University,” Tagore envisaged a century ago. We might need to redefine the idea of a university within the framework of an ever-changing social perspective and need.

Atanu Biswas is Professor of Statistics, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata

The G7 failed to take a firm stance on the prevention of future pandemics

Recently, the Group of Seven or G7 met in Cornwall, England. The leaders discussed a number of issues, but failed to take a firm stance on the prevention of future pandemics.

Pandemics of the future

COVID-19 is not the last pandemic we are going to see. Given the closer proximity between humans and animals due to deforestation, displacement of humans, population growth, and the search for wild food, pathogens can easily be transmitted from animals to humans (zoonotic spillover). A report by the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response (IPPPR) notes that most of the new pathogens’ origins are zoonotic.

Further, climate change is allowing the permafrost found in Arctic regions to melt and is reviving pathogens and organisms that were either once thought to be long gone or remain unknown. Recently, bdelloid rotifers, a microscopic creature that was slumbering for at least 24,000 years, was unearthed from the permafrost, which is melting in places due to climate change. Revich and Podolnaya (2011) conclude that vectors of deadly infections of the 18th and 19th centuries may make a comeback due to the same reason.

Given that we are still in the midst of a raging pandemic, what was the G7’s response to all this? The Carbis Bay Health Declaration of the G7 fails to take any concrete stance on many (or arguably, any) issues. The G7 merely “acknowledge the bold recommendations of the [IPPPR] and the other review committees” and state that they will “continue to work” with other countries, the G20, the World Health Organization (WHO), and other organisations.

The Declaration takes “note” of the IPPPR’s recommendation for a potential treaty under the framework of the WHO, suggesting a failure to reach a concrete agreement. Over 25 leaders from other regions have already supported the idea of a new treaty. Such a treaty is needed to plug holes in the current system and strengthen national capacities and resilience. COVID-19 has taught us that a pandemic anywhere is a pandemic everywhere. If the capacities of developing countries are not strengthened, another virus could spread around the world. Without giving any material support, G7 offers vague commitments to “strive for fairness, inclusion and equity” and “support vulnerable countries”.

Need for a holistic approach

The world needs to adopt a holistic approach for the prevention of future pandemics. Dr. Jorge E. Viñuales et al., in their article inThe Lancet, argue that the need is to focus on “deep prevention”. They draw a distinction between upstream, midstream, and downstream stages of intervention. Downstream intervention refers to steps taken on the public health front (for example, prevention of disease spread). ‘Deep prevention’ focuses on upstream and midstream intervention. In the former, one would focus on the ‘One Health’ approach, which acknowledges the interconnection between humans, animals, plants, and the shared ecosystem. This approach can be given varying levels of intrusiveness. Towards the extreme end, it might involve banning wet markets, such as the one suspected to be the origin of COVID-19. China banned such markets in 2003 after the SARS outbreak; however, incentives to keep the industry open eroded the ban eventually. Although the Declaration seems to support ‘One Health’, it dilutes it to encouraging coordination efforts between the UN, WHO, World Organisation for Animal Health, and others.

Viñuales et al. suggest that the midstream intervention would involve setting up a science and policy panel such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Such a panel could ensure that science informs the law, pre-emptively detect pathogens of concern, and identify potential hotspots for an outbreak and set up a mechanism for regular inspection by the national authority and appropriate international oversight, among other things.

Shubham Janghu is a lawyer practising in New Delhi

International cooperation is a must in combating new modes of terror attacks

The use of drones to attack an Indian Air Force base in Jammu on June 27-28 brought to the fore a troubling, though not unanticipated, new mode of terrorism for the country. Though there were no casualties at the base, the fact that there were at least two more subsequent attempts to use drones to attack military targets points to the future of terrorism. The use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), autonomous weapons systems and robotic soldiers by states in warfare and policing has raised moral and practical questions that remain unresolved. Non-state actors have caught up quickly. In 2018, Syrian rebels used homemade drones to attack Russian military bases in Syria; later, the same year, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro had a narrow escape after a drone flying towards him exploded a short distance away. In 2019, Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for bombing Saudi oil installations using drones. New modes of sabotage and violence enabled by technology reduce costs and risk of identification for terrorists while increasing their efficacy. Simultaneously, security agencies would find conventional tools redundant in combating terrorism. Terrorism may not even require organisations, as individuals with sufficient motivation and skills can carry out such attacks and remain under the radar like the drones they use. The existing international framework for controlling the proliferation of technology that can be weaponised, such as the Wassenaar Arrangement and Missile Technology Control Regime, is also largely useless in the emerging scenario.

States including India have sought to deal with terrorism with a combination of stringent laws, invasive surveillance, harsher policing and offensives against other countries that support terrorist groups. This approach has only had limited success in ensuring peace anywhere while the human and material costs have been high. The exponential proliferation of new technologies and Artificial Intelligence, vertically and horizontally, will make the task of combating terror even more challenging. The Jammu drone attack, Indian authorities reportedly suspect, was carried out by the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is patronised by Pakistan. The same group was behind the 2008 Mumbai terror attack in which perpetrators came by boats from Pakistan. India has tried to punish Pakistan for its support to terror groups in recent years which has shown some success. The entry of drones calls for a more complex response to terrorism. Terror groups do capitalise on state patronage but technology is enabling them too to be autonomous in an unprecedented fashion. From turning passenger planes into missiles in 2001, terrorism has come a long way, and one cannot foresee where it will go next. Enhanced international cooperation and consensus on the development and deployment of technologies are required to deal with the challenge. India can and must take an active role in the process.

New layers of censorship are a threat tothe existing space for public discourse

Film-makers around the world have often made extraordinary efforts to keep cinema alive. Under a repressive regime in Iran, directors such as Abbas Kiarostami, Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Majid Majidi fought for art as a basic social need with films likeWhere Is the Friend’s Home?,The CyclistandChildren of Heaven. In India, during the Emergency when the government apparatus came down heavily on any criticism, the prints of Amrit Nahata’s political satireKissa Kursi Ka, filmed in 1975, were destroyed. Even though a revised version was released in 1978, it invited several cuts from the Central Board of Film Certification. For the past few years, the CBFC has objected to the content of several films, ordering cuts. Now, a proposed amendment to the Cinematograph Act, 1952, will make it even more difficult for film-makers to work on thorny or controversial subjects. The draft Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill 2021, which has been put out for public comments, has a provision that allows the Government to order re-certification of a film already certified by the CBFC. Film-makers argue that the new provision adds one more layer of censorship to the existing process. Already in April, the Government took the ordinance route to scrap the Film Certificate Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), a statutory body set up to hear appeals of film-makers against decisions of the CBFC.

In 2000, the Supreme Court had upheld the verdict of the Karnataka High Court in the K.M. Shankarappa vs Union of India case that the Union government cannot exercise revisional powers in respect of films that are already certified by the CBFC. The draft acknowledges the existing apex court order but has added a new clause: “…that on receipt of any references by the Central government in respect of a film certified for public exhibition, on account of violation of Section 5B(1) of the Act, the Central government may, if it considers it necessary so to do, direct the chairman of the board to re-examine the film”. The provision of Section 5B(1) of the Act, the draft says, is derived from Article 19(2) of the Constitution “which imposes reasonable restrictions upon the freedom of speech and expression in the interests of sovereignty and integrity of India…” New restrictive laws have come into place for over-the-top (OTT) platforms as well. Giving the Government powers to vet content not only curbs freedom of expression but also quells democratic dissent. Fresh barriers to content generation are a threat to the existing space for public discourse and are indicative of the current pressures on freedoms from authoritarian tendencies of the ruling establishment.

Air and water pollution has reached such critical levels in the advanced countries that their environmental experts have warned that if remedial measures were not taken immediately the world would soon die of a choking cough, if not of a water-borne disease. In this race for self-destruction, Indians do not seem to be lagging far behind, judging from what was revealed at the discussion on environmental pollution held in Madras last week-end. Dr. A. Ramachandran pointed out, for instance, that the Cauvery river has become so contaminated by waste products dumped into it by industrial units that fish in the river have been killed, crops fed by its water have been damaged, many people living on its banks and drinking its water have fallen prey to river-borne diseases and wells on either side of the river upto a distance of 15 kilometres have been affected. This situation should be particularly disturbing to the citizens of Madras who will be getting Cauvery water soon when the Veeranam project is completed.