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Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2018 approved, will force offenders to return India and face trial, says Centre Govt

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Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2018

New Delhi: Amid PNB fraud row, the government has come up with a Bill to deter economic offenders from evading the process of Indian law by remaining outside the jurisdiction of Indian courts. The Union Cabinet has approved the proposal of the Ministry of Finance to introduce the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2018  in the Parliament. 

The Bill makes provisions for a Court (‘Special Court’ under the Prevention of Money-laundering Act, 2002) to declare a person as a Fugitive Economic Offender.

The cases where the total value involved in such offences is Rs.100 crore or more will come under the purview of this Bill.

Purpose of the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill, 2018 Bill

The Bill is expected to include measures to compel the fugitive economic offenders to return to India to face trial for scheduled offences.

The government claimed it would also help the banks and other financial institutions to achieve higher recovery from financial defaults committed by such fugitive economic offenders.

It is expected that the special forum would be created for an expeditious confiscation of the proceeds of crime, in India or abroad. It would coerce the fugitive to return to India to submit to the jurisdiction of Courts in India to face the law for their offences, claimed the government.

What does Fugitive Economic Offender mean

A Fugitive Economic Offender is a person against whom an arrest warrant has been issued in respect of a scheduled offence and who has left India so as to avoid criminal prosecution, or being abroad, refuses to return to India to face criminal prosecution.

What are Scheduled offence

As per the government, a scheduled offence refers to a list of economic offences contained in the Schedule to this Bill. Further, in order to ensure that Courts are not over-burdened with such cases, only those cases where the total value involved in such offences is 100 crore rupees or more, is within the purview of this Bill.

Silent features of the FEO Bill, 2018 

  1. Application before the Special Court for a declaration that an individual is a fugitive economic offender;
  2. Attachment of the property of a fugitive economic offender;
  3. Issue of a notice by the Special Court to the individual alleged to be a fugitive economic offender;
  4. Confiscation of the property of an individual declared as a fugitive economic offender resulting from the proceeds of crime;
  5. Confiscation of other  property belonging to such offender in India and abroad, including benami property;
  6. Disentitlement of the fugitive economic offender from defending any civil claim; and
  7. An Administrator will be appointed to manage and dispose of the confiscated property under the Act.

Conditions

If at any point of time in the course of the proceeding prior to the declaration, however, the alleged Fugitive Economic Offender returns to India and submits to the appropriate jurisdictional Court, proceedings under the proposed Act would cease by law.

All necessary constitutional safeguards in terms of providing hearing to the person through counsel, allowing him time to file a reply, serving notice of summons to him, whether in India or abroad and appeal to the High Court have been provided for.

Further, provision has been made for the appointment of an Administrator to manage and dispose of the property in compliance with the provisions of law.

There have been several instances of economic offenders fleeing the jurisdiction of Indian courts, anticipating the commencement, or during the pendency, of criminal proceedings.

The absence of such offenders from Indian courts has several deleterious consequences – first, it hampers investigation in criminal cases; second, it wastes precious time of courts of law, third, it undermines the rule of law in India.

Further, most such cases of economic offences involve non-repayment of bank loans thereby worsening the financial health of the banking sector in India.

The existing civil and criminal provisions in law are not entirely adequate to deal with the severity of the problem. It is, therefore, necessary to provide an effective, expeditious and constitutionally permissible deterrent to ensure that such actions are curbed.

 It may be mentioned that the non-conviction-based asset confiscation for corruption-related cases is enabled under provisions of United Nations Convention against Corruption (ratified by India in 2011). The Bill adopts this principle.

In view of the above context, a Budget announcement was made by the Government in the Budget 2017-18 that the Government was considering to introduce legislative changes or even a new law to confiscate the assets of such absconders till they submit to the jurisdiction of the appropriate legal forum.

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‘Fighting Covid-19 requires empathy and cooperation’ – SAPAN (South Asia Peace Action Network)

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As dozens of South Asians came together for an online gathering on Sunday 26th April, 2021 to express grief and solidarity amidst the suffering inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic, a poignant moment arrived when one of the participants – a long time human rights and peace activist in Karachi – revealed his personal pain. Trade unionist Karamat Ali said his wife was visiting Delhi and was down with Covid-19 infection, but visa restrictions did not allow him to visit her. “I want to go to the Wagah border and take a tank of oxygen to my wife, but I can’t,” said Ali, his voice choking. He said he wanted to also take a defibrillator and whatever medical supplies he could carry. Karamat Ali’s story illustrates the anguish of divided families unable to help loved ones across the border. The frustration is compounded as citizens above the age of 65 are entitled to visa-on-arrival at the border, according to the 2012 agreement signed by India and Pakistan, ignored by both sides.

The online event was organized by the recently launched South Asia Peace Action Network (SAPAN), which seeks to complement other organisations working to bring peace in South Asia. The Network believes that a great volume of pain and suffering could be mitigated through greater socio-economic cooperation, resource-sharing, and a visa-free South Asia, a region with soft borders reflecting the shared history and inter-connected space. On fighting the pandemic, the participants emphasised the need for cross-border empathy and cooperation. The focus of the Sunday event, originally planned as a call to open sporting ties and visas in the South Asia, was changed at the last minute due to the dire situation on the ground in India where a mounting daily death toll and rising infection rates are stretching health facilities, crematoriums and burial grounds beyond capacity.

Other participants also shared their experience of personal loss over the past 24 hours. Prominent educationist Baela Jamil had to leave the programme as news came in about a cousin’s death in Lahore. Eminent sports journalist Sharda Ugra lost a friend in Mumbai that morning, prominent photojournalist Vivek Bendre. Two prominent peace activists also passed away that morning in India. Pivoting from the original discussion titled ‘Khelne Do – Imagine! Neighbours in Peace’, top sports personalities, journalists and activists instead shared thoughts and experiences in a moving expression of regional solidarity even as the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic hit India grievously. The T20 World Cup cricket, scheduled in India later this year had raised hopes that India would grant visas to Pakistani players, media and fans.

The event was the first of a series of monthly discussions being curated by a coalition of individuals and organisations joining hands to take forward the principles and ideals of peace, justice, democracy and human rights in South Asia as championed by the late I.A Rehman, Asma Jahangir, Dr Mubashir Hasan, Nikhil Chakravartty, Nirmala Deshpande, Kuldip Nayar, Rajni Kothari and others. Other participants at the meeting included Kathmandu-based journalist Kanak Mani Dixit, environmental, peace and rights activist Lalita Ramdas and former Indian Navy chief R. Ramdas in Alibag village, south of Mumbai, former Planning Commission member Dr Syeda Hameed in Delhi, Lahore-based artists Salima Hashmi, Dhaka-based activists Nazneen Firdausi and Khushi Kabir, journalist Rajdeep Sardesai from Delhi, Boston-based journalist Beena Sarwar from Karachi, former Pakistani test cricketer Jalaluddin, international squash player Nooreena Shams and sports journalists Afia Salam in Karachi and Zainab Abbas in Lahore.

Source:   SAPAN @southasiapeace, Beena Sarwar, Mandira Nayar, Vishal Sharma and other peace activists present in the virtual session

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South Asian Activists Join Hands to Form SAPAN (South Asia Peace Action Network)

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Peace activists from India and Pakistan on March 28th through a virtual session resolved to float a South Asia Peace Action Network (SAPAN) to bring “peace-monger” groups and individuals working towards peace and stability in the region under one umbrella. These activists have been working on these issues for a long time and were talking about such a network much before the recent attempts at reconciliation between Delhi and Islamabad. Through this network they plan to urge both governments to reduce hostility and work towards a peaceful South Asia.

India and Pakistan peace activists came together for a virtual brainstorming session on March 28, inspired by the work of giants like Dr Mubashir Hasan, Asma Jahangir, Kuldip Nayar and Nikhil Chakravarty. On the agenda was the way forward for the movement, how to invigorate it by involving more allies, younger people and expatriates. The meeting coincidentally capitalised on a rare moment in recent years where there has been a deliberate lowering of hostility by both governments. With the recent announcement of a ceasefire by both armies and the meeting of the Indus Water Commissioners last week, a thaw between the two nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours does not seem impossible.

Regional Context, Education and Peace Journalism

“There is a need to place the India-Pakistan issue into a regional context’,’ said Beena Sarwar, senior journalist and editor of Aman Ki Asha, or ‘hope for peace. Then, Milind Champanerkar a Pune based writer and winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2017 also stated that “more progressive groups should emerge in both countries and should make peace building efforts in numerous regional languages of both countries as it would help more on the ground”. Rubina Saigol a Feminist scholar and Educationalist who was a pioneering member of the Women’s Action Forum, Pakistan, talked about how negative nationalism and infighting within the specified countries are derailing the peace process and laid emphasis on having Peace education programs for especially the youth of India and Pakistan which could help in tackling hyper-nationalism and could invariably lead to lesser defence budgets. Further, while speaking about the role of media in fuelling tensions between both countries renowned journalist Raza Rumi, editor Naya Daur said,  “There is conflict reporting, but we haven’t placed enough emphasis on peace journalism,’’ specifying that something needs to be done to build the existing peace constituencies on both sides.

 People to People Contact

Participants stressed the importance of urging both governments to normalise relations between the two countries and allow free movement of people across the borders.

“We need to broaden the peace constituency by bringing people together, learning from each other on issues that affect us and that have the potential to change our future”, said Ravi Nitesh, co-founder of the youth group Aaghaz-e-Dosti. Sheema Kermani, a Social activist from Sindh, Pakistan, also the founder of the Tehrik-e-Niswan Cultural Action Group said that “South Asia requires open borders and more people to people contact”, also emphasizing the fact that a better Visa policy shall be in place concerning India and Pakistan.

Siraj Khan, President of the Pakistani Association of Greater Boston who has also worked a lot in India emphasized having a better Visa regime in India and Pakistan and stated that “the artist connection is the biggest peace-builder, and more focus should be put on connecting artists of both countries”.

COVID and Beyond

Furthermore, Jatin Desai, former General Secretary of Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy, the region’s largest and oldest people-to-people group said that “Things are moving ahead. It is a very important moment, and we must take advantage of it,’’ stating that the pandemic has underscored the need for better cooperation within the region and had forced the governments on both sides to moot better connectivity projects. Farooq Tariq a Lahore based activist and General Secretary of Pakistan Kissan Rabita stated that South Asian governments shall all work together in providing Covid vaccinations for their people.

Thus, all activists hoped the current thaw in India-Pakistan relations will lead to more exchanges between the countries which will further strengthen South Asia. Participants in several breakout rooms at the meeting discussing the way forward strongly felt the need to counter the vitriol on social media targeting those who speak for peace. Other noted participants in the discussions included human rights activist Rita Manchanda, artist Salima Hashmi, former Planning Commission member Syeda Hameed, labour activist Karamat Ali, author Urvashi Butalia, General Secretary PIPFPD India chapter Vijayan M.J., Sanjoy Hazarika of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Magsaysay awardee Dr Sandeep Panday, editor Kashmir Times Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal, senior journalist Panneerselvan, and former Indian Navy chief Ramu Ramdas who is also a Magsaysay awardee, besides several prominent Rotarians from both sides, among others.

Source: Aman Ki Asha, Beena Sarwar, Mandira Nayar, Vishal Sharma and some other peace activists present in the virtual session

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Read All New Rules, Guidelines for Social Media and OTT Platforms Issued by Indian Govt

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New Social media rules in India

New Delhi– The Government of India, following a recent tussle with social media platform (Twitter) and an OTT platform, has announced new rules to tighten the noose around them. The Government has rolled out its oversight mechanism in relation to social media platform as well as digital media and OTT platforms etc.

Yesterday, the Government announced Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021. The Government said these rules have been framed under section 87 (2) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and in supersession of the earlier Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines) Rules 2011.

Now, OTTs will have to self-classify the content into five age-based categories. These platforms were yet to release any statement in agreement or disagreement of these Rules. 

The justification given includes “misuse of social media by criminals, anti-national elements, prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offence related to sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, abusive language, defamatory and obscene contents and blatant disrespect to religious sentiments, prohibiting the publishing of content that the government deems unlawful, inducement for recruitment of terrorists, circulation of obscene content, the spread of disharmony, financial frauds, incitement of violence, public order etc., alarming issue of pornography on social media and its effect on children and society.”

“India is the world’s largest open Internet society and the Government welcomes social media companies to operate in India, do business and also earn profits. However, they will have to be accountable to the Constitution and laws of India,” the Government said.

New Rules, Guidelines 

These guidelines include a provision to make messaging apps to break their end-to-end encryption policy to identify the origin of the messages or the users who first sent them.

“Significant social media intermediaries providing services primarily like messaging would enable identification of the first originator of the information that is required only for prevention, detection, investigation, prosecution or punishment of an offence related to sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, or public order or of incitement to an offence relating to the above or in relation with rape, sexually explicit material or child sexual abuse material punishable with imprisonment for a term of not less than five years. The intermediary shall not be required to disclose the contents of any message or any other information to the first originator.”

The Government has also included it in its rules that these platforms would have to submit a monthly report to the government giving details of compliance with the government’s order.

“Publish a monthly compliance report mentioning the details of complaints received and action taken on the complaints as well as details of contents removed proactively by the significant social media intermediary.”

The social media platforms would also have to remove or prevent the publishing of whatever content the government prohibits.

“An intermediary upon receiving actual knowledge in the form of an order by a court or being notified by the Appropriate Govt. or its agencies through authorized officer should not host or publish any information which is prohibited under any law in relation to the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, public order, friendly relations with foreign countries etc.”

“Intermediaries shall remove or disable access within 24 hours of receipt of complaints of contents that exposes the private areas of individuals, show such individuals in full or partial nudity or sexual act or is in the nature of impersonation including morphed images etc. Such a complaint can be filed either by the individual or by any other person on his/her behalf.”

Though the Government has justified the formation of these Rules to safeguard the country and the interest of its people, the announcement has sparked a debate over the future of the right to speech and freedom of expression of opinion.

Currently, in India, there are 53 Crore WhatsApp users, 44.8 Crore YouTube users, 41 Crore Facebook users, 21 Crore Instagram users, and 75 Crore Twitter users.

The reason behind these new Rules, the government said,

“Persistent spread of fake news has compelled many media platforms to create fact-check mechanisms. Rampant abuse of social media to share morphed images of women and contents related to revenge porn have often threatened the dignity of women. Misuse of social media for settling corporate rivalries in blatantly unethical manner has become a major concern for businesses. Instances of use of abusive language, defamatory and obscene contents and blatant disrespect to religious sentiments through platforms are growing.”

“Over the years, the increasing instances of misuse of social media by criminals, anti-national elements have brought new challenges for law enforcement agencies. These include inducement for recruitment of terrorists, circulation of obscene content, the spread of disharmony, financial frauds, incitement of violence, public order etc.”

In respect of news and current affairs publishers are expected to follow the journalistic conduct of the Press Council of India and the Programme Code under the Cable Television Network Act, which is already applicable to print and TV. Hence, only a level playing field has been proposed.

The Rules has divided social media into two categories -social media intermediaries and significant social media intermediaries. This distinction is based on the number of users on the social media platform. The government is empowered to notify the threshold of user base that will distinguish between social media intermediaries and significant social media intermediaries.

Part- II of these Rules would be administered by the Ministry of Electronics and IT, while Part-III relating to the Code of Ethics and procedure and safeguards in relation to digital media would be administered by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

Digital Media Ethics Code Relating to Digital Media and OTT Platforms to Be Administered by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting:

“Since the matter relates to digital platforms, therefore, a conscious decision was taken that issues relating to digital media and OTT and other creative programmes on the Internet shall be administered by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting but the overall architecture shall be under the Information Technology Act, which governs digital platforms.”

The government said that the Rules establish a soft-touch self-regulatory architecture and a Code of Ethics and three-tier grievance redressal mechanism for news publishers and OTT Platforms and digital media.

Notified under section 87 of the Information Technology Act, these Rules empower the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to implement Part-III of the Rules which prescribe the following:

  1. Code of Ethics for online news, OTT platforms and digital media: This Code of Ethics prescribe the guidelines to be followed by OTT platforms and online news and digital media entities.
  2. Self-Classification of Content: The OTT platforms, called as the publishers of online curated content in the rules, would self-classify the content into five age-based categories- U (Universal), U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+, and A (Adult). Platforms would be required to implement parental locks for content classified as U/A 13+ or higher, and reliable age verification mechanisms for content classified as “A”. The publisher of online curated content shall prominently display the classification rating specific to each content or programme together with a content descriptor informing the user about the nature of the content, and advising on viewer description (if applicable) at the beginning of every programme enabling the user to make an informed decision, prior to watching the programme.
  3. Publishers of news on digital media would 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 thereby providing a level playing field between the offline (Print, TV) and digital media.
  4. The platforms would have to form a self-regulatory body. There may be one or more self-regulatory bodies of publishers. Such a body would be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court, a High Court or independent eminent person and have not more than six members. Such a body will have to register with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. This body will oversee the adherence by the publisher to the Code of Ethics and address grievances that have not been resolved by the publisher within 15 days.
  5. Ministry of Information and Broadcasting will formulate an oversight mechanism. It will publish a charter for self-regulating bodies, including Codes of Practices. It shall establish an Inter-Departmental Committee for hearing grievances.  

At the same time, a debate is on the role of social media during protests expressing dissent that have been bothering the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party at large. In fact, it’s the fundamental tendency of the governments irrespective of their ideologies to show the least tolerance towards public dissent. While, mainstream news channels well under the control of the government, social media platforms weren’t. Recent tussle between the Indian government and Twitter over removal or suspending thousands of accounts including that of Kisan Ekta Morcha and several other individuals and activists had aptly explains it.  

Moreover, manipulation of existing rules (like UAPA) for suppression of dissent in several cases has come into light during the ongoing farmers’ protest over three contentious farm laws.  

Featured Image: Tracy Le Blanc

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