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Maintaining beard by a member of disciplined force may not be protected under Article 25: Allahabad HC

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In a very strong, strict, sagacious and suave observation, the Allahabad High Court has just recently on August 12, 2021 in a learned, laudable, landmark and latest judgment titled P.N.O.052150337 Mohd. Farman vs. State of U.P. Thru. Prin. Secy. Home & Ors. made it absolutely clear that maintaining beard by a member of disciplined force may not be protected under Article 25 of Constitution. It has also observed that non-cutting the beard by a police official despite there being a direction circular issued by Higher Officials that police personnel should not have a beard is not only a wrong behavior but the same is misdemeanor, misdeed and delinquency of such official. The Single Judge Bench of Justice Rajesh Singh Chauhan made it absolutely clear in his 11-page brief, brilliant, bold and balanced judgment that police force has to be a disciplined force and being a law enforcing agency, it is necessary that such force must have a secular image that strengthens the countenance of national integration.

How can it be easily glossed over that even in a hardline Islamic country like Pakistan, we see PM Imran Khan never having any beard, former PM Nawaz Sharif never having any beard, former President and former Army Chief General Pervez Musharraf never having any beard, former President and former Army Chief late Gen Zia ul Haq never having any beard and above all even in our homeland former Indian President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam never having any beard?

On a personal note, when I was studying in Sagar University in Madhya Pradesh doing my BSc, I too started enjoying keeping beard and this greatly angered my best friend Sageer Khan. One day he after jogging with me took me to a barber shop and said that just now have a clean shave. Initially I tried to evade saying it does not make any difference and then he thundered that, “It is true that I don’t like when Muslims say to you “Aadab Barse” and “Walik-o-Salam” and to me Hindus say “Jai Ram Ji Ki” and “Jai Mata Di” because I consider Hindu and Muslims as one and not different and consider no difference between you and me and so we must appear same with clean shave but the real reason for asking you to get shaved is beard is not good impression of any person’s personality and I am deadly opposed to it. I will never want you to ever keep beard in your life as it shows you in a poor light in front of others as a disinterested and lazy person. I fail to understand why many Muslims keep beard? As you have seen, I offer namaz five times a day which is imperative also for Muslims but keeping beard is certainly not imperative on anyone in Islam and it is individual’s own choice whether to keep or not to keep!”

To start with, the ball is set rolling in this notable judgment authored by a Single Judge Bench of Allahabad High Court comprising of Justice Rajesh Singh Chauhan in para 2 wherein it is put forth that, “By means of first writ petition, the petitioner has assailed the Circular dated 26.10.2020 issued by the Director General of Police, U.P. Lucknow (Annexure No.01) whereby the guidelines have been issued in respect of wearing proper uniform and proper appearance warranted for the member of disciplined force.”

Furthermore, the Bench then states in para 3 that, “The petitioner has also assailed the suspension order dated 05.11.2020 passed by Deputy Inspector General of Police/Senior Superintendent of Police, Ayodhya (Faizabad) (Annexure no.02) whereby the petitioner has been placed under suspension in contemplation of departmental inquiry for the reason that the petitioner despite being the member of disciplined force is maintaining his beard and despite the specific direction being issued by the superior authority to shave the beard he did not follow such direction.”

Moving on, the Bench then further states in para 4 that, “The petitioner has also assailed the order dated 13.11.2020 passed by Deputy Inspector General of Police/Senior Superintendent of Police, Ayodhya (Faizabad) (Annexure No.03) rejecting the application of the petitioner dated 03.11.2020 whereby the petitioner had sought permission to maintain his beard in accordance with tenets of Muslim religion.”

While continuing in the same vein, the Bench then also reveals in para 5 that, “Whereas, by means of second Writ Petition (S/S) No. 17225 of 2021 the petitioner has assailed the charge-sheet dated 29.07.2021 issued by Superintendent of Police (Rural Area), Ayodhya (Faizabad) which is contained as Annexure No.04 to the writ petition.”

Needless to say, the Bench then holds in para 6 that, “Since the facts of both the cases are common, therefore, both the writ petitions are being decided by the common judgment/order.”

To put things in perspective, the Bench then enunciates in para 7 that, “In the first writ petition so far as the order of suspension dated 05.11.2020 is concerned, it is to be noted here that the charge-sheet has been issued against the petitioner on 29.07.2021 which has been challenged in the second writ petition, therefore, as per my considered opinion if the charge-sheet is issued against any employee who is under suspension, the employee should submit his defence reply taking all pleas and grounds which are available to him enclosing therewith the copies of relevant documents which are necessary for disposal of the issue and the departmental inquiry should be conducted and concluded strictly in accordance with law by following the principals of natural justice with expedition preferably within a period of three months from the date the defence reply to the charge-sheet has been filed. Thereafter, the disciplinary authority may pass final order providing copy of the inquiry report and seeking explanation from the petitioner as per law. Therefore, the suspension order may not be interfered at least for the aforesaid period of three months till the departmental inquiry concludes. However, if the departmental inquiry does not conclude subject to the proper cooperation of the petitioner with the inquiry proceedings within a period of three months from the date of receipt of the defence reply to the charge-sheet, the suspension order shall be kept in abeyance and the petitioner shall be entitled for consequential relief. However, in that case the departmental inquiry may go on and final order may be passed but strictly in accordance with law.”

Going ahead, the Bench then adds in para 8 that, “So far as the Circular dated 26.10.2020 issued by the Director General of Police, U.P. Lucknow (Annexure No.01) issuing guidelines in respect of wearing proper uniform and maintaining the appearance in a manner required for member of disciplined force is concerned, I am of the considered opinion that this is a domain of competent authority to issue guidelines in respect of wearing proper uniform and keeping the appearance in a manner required for the members of disciplined force and no interference should be done, inasmuch as, maintaining and wearing proper uniform as well as maintaining physical appearance is one of the first and foremost requirement of the members of disciplined force. The parameters determined for the members of disciplined force are not the same as of parameters relating to the members of other services. By means of Circular dated 26.10.2020, the Director General of Police, U.P. Lucknow has followed other circulars referred in the circular itself issued from time to time with effect from 1985 till 2018 and the members of disciplined force are strictly following such guidelines.”

Simply put, the Bench then envisages in para 9 that, “Therefore, I do not find any infirmity or illegality in the Circular dated 26.10.2020. Likewise, the application of the petitioner dated 03.11.2020 has been rejected in terms of Circular dated 26.10.2020 assigning the reasons, therefore, I do not find any infirmity or illegality in the order dated 13.11.2020 rejecting the application of the petitioner dated 03.11.2020 whereby he had requested to maintain his beard in accordance with the tenets of Muslim religion. The order dated 13.11.2020 is a speaking and reasoned order, therefore, it may not be interfered.”

As a corollary, the Bench then holds in para 10 that, “In view of aforesaid facts and reasons stated herein above, the first Writ Petition (S/S) No. 24979 of 2020 is hereby dismissed.”

Quite ostensibly, the Bench then hastens to add in para 11 that, “It is needless to say that the Inquiry Officer shall conduct and conclude the departmental inquiry strictly in accordance with law, following the principals of natural justice with expedition preferably within a period of three months subject to the cooperation of the petitioner, inasmuch as, no departmental inquiry may be concluded to its logical end unless the employee cooperates with the inquiry proceedings properly.”

Quite rightly, the Bench then maintained in para 19 that, “Having heard learned counsel for the parties and having perused the material available on record, I am of the considered opinion that a member of a disciplined force must strictly follow the executive orders or circulars or instructions issued by the department or by the higher authority of the department as those executive orders etc. are as good as service condition.”

Adding more to it, the Bench then observes in para 20 that, “As a matter of fact such executive intimation/order has been issued to maintain the discipline in the force directing to keep the appearance and uniform befitting for the members of disciplined force. Further, police force has to be a disciplined force and being a law enforcing agency, it is necessary that such force must have secular image which strengthen the countenance of national integration. Sri Amit Bose, learned Senior Advocate while assailing the charge-sheet has submitted that the conduct of the petitioner not cutting his beard despite the specific direction being issued by the superior authority does not come within the purview of misconduct, therefore, no charge-sheet should have been issued against the petitioner to conduct the departmental inquiry.”

Adding further more strength to its findings, the Bench then waxes eloquent in para 21 that, “So as to appreciate the aforesaid submission of Sri Amit Bose, I am considering the definition of “Misconduct” as per Black’s Law Dictionary Ninth Edition is a dereliction of duty; unlawful or improper behaviour. As per The New International Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary of the English Language (Encyclopedic 2013 Edition), the “Misconduct” is to behave improperly, to mismanage or bad behaviour. As per P. Ramanatha Aiyar’s The Law Lexicon Encyclopedic Law Dictionary with Legal Maxims, Latin Terms and Words & Phrases Second Edition, the “Misconduct” means a transgression of some established and defend rule of action, a forbidden act, a dereliction from duty, unlawful behaviour, willful incharacter, improper or wrong behaviour, misdemeanor, misdeed, misbehavior, delinquency, impropriety, mismanagement etc.”

Most significantly, the Bench then sends across a loud and clear message in para 22 that, “Therefore, non-cutting the beard despite making the petitioner aware by the In-charge Station House Officer of police station Khandasa when the petitioner was posted as constable to the effect that the police personnel may not have beard as it is a violation of direction/circular being issued by the higher officials is not only a wrong behaviour but the same is misdemeanor, misdeed and delinquency of the petitioner. So the submission of Sri Amit Bose is not acceptable to the effect that the alleged conduct of the petitioner is not misconduct. However, his misconduct/misdeed shall be examined by the Inquiry Officer during the course of inquiry, strictly in accordance with law by affording him an opportunity of hearing on that no observations of this Court are required.”

What is no less significant is that the Bench then also makes it abundantly clear in para 23 that, “So far as the submission regarding protection of fundamental right enshrined under Article 25 of the Constitution of India is concerned, it is clear that Article 25 guarantees freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion, therefore, having beard by a member of disciplined force may not be protected under Article 25 of the Constitution of India, inasmuch as, Article 25 of the Constitution of India does not confer absolute right in this regard, all the rights have to be viewed in the context and letter and spirit in which they have framed under the Constitution. As a matter of fact rights guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution of India have inbuilt restrictions.”

Be it noted, the Bench then enunciates in para 26 that, “Three Judges of the Hon’ble Apex Court in re:- Mohammed Zubair Corporal No. 781467-G vs. Union of India and others [reported in (2017) 2 SCC 115] has held that regulations and policies in regard to personal appearance are not intended to discriminate against religious beliefs nor do they have effect doing so. Their object and purpose is to ensure uniformity, cohesiveness, discipline and order which are indispensable to the force.”

In continuation, the Bench then commendably points out in para 27 that, “In this case also the Hon’ble Apex Court was examining the question as to whether the police personnel can keep beard taking shelter of Article 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India. Before the Hon’ble Apex Court in re:- Mohammed Zubair (supra) this fact could not be established by the litigant as to whether there is any specific mandate in Islam which prohibits the cutting of hairs or shaving the facial hairs and no substantial material was placed before the Hon’ble Apex Court to convince that a police personnel professing Islam may not cut his beard or hairs. Para 15 & 18 of the judgment are being reproduced herein below:-

“15. During the course of the hearing, we had inquired of Shri Salman Khurshid, learned Senior Counsel appearing on behalf of the appellants whether there is a specific mandate in Islam which “prohibits the cutting of hair or shaving of facial hair”. The learned Senior Counsel, in response to the query of the Court, indicated that on this aspect, there are varying interpretations, one of which is that it is desirable to maintain a beard. No material has been produced before this Court to indicate that the appellant professes a religious belief that would bring him within the ambit of Regulation 425(b) which applies to “personnel whose religion prohibits the cutting off the hair or shaving off the face of its members”. The policy letters which have been issued by the Air Headquarters from time to time do not override the provisions of Regulation 425(b) which have a statutory character. The policy circulars are only clarificatory or supplementary in nature.”

“18. We see no reason to take a view of the matter at variance with the judgment under appeal. The appellant has been unable to establish that his case falls within the ambit of Regulation 425(b). In the circumstances, the Commanding Officer was acting within his jurisdiction in the interest of maintaining discipline of the Air Force. The appellant having been enrolled as a member of the Air Force was necessarily required to abide by the discipline of the Force. Regulations and policies in regard to personal appearance are not intended to discriminate against religious beliefs nor do they have the effect of doing so. Their object and purpose is to ensure uniformity, cohesiveness. discipline and order which are indispensable to the Air Force, as indeed to every Armed Force of the Union.”

As we see, the Bench then holds in para 28 that, “In view of the facts, reasons and case laws so cited by the respective parties, I do not find any infirmity or illegality in the impugned charge-sheet dated 29.07.2021 issued against the petitioner by the Senior Superintendent of Police, Ayodhya/Faizabad (Annexure No.04 to the writ petition). I am also of the considered opinion that the departmental inquiry against the petitioner should be conducted and concluded to its logical end as directed above. The judgment of Hon’ble Apex Court in re:- Upendra Singh (supra) may not rescue the petitioner, inasmuch as, the allegation levelled in the charge-sheet, prima facie, constitute misconduct subject to the specific findings of the Inquiry Officer on that.”

As an inevitable fallout, the Bench then holds in para 29 that, “Therefore, I hereby dismiss the writ petition being misconceived and direct the Inquiry Officer to conduct and conclude the inquiry against the petitioner in a manner directed above and the disciplinary authority may pass final order strictly as per law.”

On a different note, the Bench then makes it clear in para 30 that, “It is, however, made clear that no prejudice shall be caused to the petitioner for the reason that he has filed the aforesaid writ petitions challenging the suspension order and charge-sheet.”

Finally, the Bench then holds in para 31 that, “No order as to costs.”

No doubt, this judgment very commendably cites the relevant case laws as also accords pragmatic reasons for holding why maintaining beard by a member of disciplined force may not be protected under Article 25 of Constitution. Being from an Army background, I have never in my life seen any Muslim officer or soldier having a beard as it is considered to be an act of “grave indiscipline” something which is totally unacceptable!

On a very personal note, even in my own house my mother and father have always been opposed to sporting beard and once when I went home in 1994 at Babina from Sagar, my mother was shell shocked to see me in beard and thought that I had converted to Islam. She slapped me gently and asked me to swear if I have not converted as she was aware of my deep and abiding friendship with Sageer Khan. Then I assured her pledging that I have not converted even though I was impressed with his religion as he practiced offering namaz five times a day but as Sageer himself was firmly against conversion and so he even took a vow also from me to never enter mosque or bow even head in front of mosque but always worship Lord Shiv whom I worshipped till then in 1994 till I die and in fact Sageer Khan himself was deadly against beard and he never kept the same and as he had gone home at Vidisha so I got the unique opportunity to develop the same! Then she got relaxed but still she also took a vow from me as she felt that a man with beard looks like a lazy, laggard and lethargic person! So I had to honour it! By all accounts, what the Allahabad High Court has held makes eminent sense also and it has brilliantly justified it also in this noteworthy judgment! This judgment must be definitely implemented in letter and spirit and it is really a worth hailing judgment and the best part would be that it should not be linked to be in favour or against any one particular religion!

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Policy & Politics

All-time high exports of engineering goods in August suggest pandemic may be behind us: EEPC India chairman

Tarun Nangia

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Reflecting strong demand from its key markets, engineering goods exports to 24 out of 25 top nations recorded positive growth in August, 2021 blowing past its previous monthly record of US$ 9.13 billion in July.

Unlike the previous months, exports to China registered the second largest export destination witnessing positive monthly growth in August 2021. Shipments to China rose 15% in August to reach US$ 613.3 million as compared to US$ 531.3 million in the same month last year.

Malaysia was the only country which saw a negative trend in import of engineering goods from India.

The US continued to be on top of the chart with August import of engineering goods from India growing 42% to US$ 1.3 billion as compared to US$ 916.5 million in the same month last year.

All the European countries for India’s top 25 engineering export destinations – Italy, Germany, Turkey, Belgium, UK, Poland, Spain and France recorded high positive growth during August as well as on a cumulative basis this fiscal.

The share of India’s engineering exports to its top 25 nations accounted for 76.8% of India’s total engineering exports in April-August 2021. This significant high share is indicative of the dependence of India’s engineering export on the traditional markets.

India’s engineering exports was at its all-time monthly high for the second straight month in August. The robust performance of the sector resulted in the share of engineering goods in total merchandise exports during the previous month rising significantly.

Share of engineering in total merchandise export was 27.68% in August 2021 as against 25.82% in July, 27.19% in June, 25.44% in May, 24.83% in April 2021 and 25.36 percent in March 2021.

“In the month of August, engineering goods exports recorded more than 40% growth even when compared with the same month in 2019. It now seems that the pandemic is behind us. We are positively hopeful that as a result of a turnaround in global trade and policy support the sector would do better than expected in the full financial year,” said EEPC India Chairman Mr Mahesh Desai.

“The annual target of US$ 107 billion looks very doable even though the achievement till August fell a bit short of the target when calculated on a pro-rata basis,” he said.

During April-August period of 2021-22, India’s engineering exports have fallen short of the target set by about US$ 1.82 billion calculated on a pro-rata basis achieving 40% of the target against 42% of desired level for the full year.

Engineering exports crossed US$ 9 billion mark consecutively for the second time after the month of July, reaching an all-time high of US$ 9.21 billion in August.

Cumulative engineering exports during April-August 2021-22 stood at US$ 42.91 billion registering 66.18% growth over the shipments of April-August 2020-21 at US$ 25.82 billion.

Out of 33 engineering panels or product groups, 29 panels witnessed positive growth in exports and remaining four panels witnessed negative export growth during August 2021 vis-à-vis August 2020.

Exports of iron and steel recorded a continuous growth to the extent of 142% in August 2021 compared to the same period last year. In case of non-ferrous metals, sectors like Zinc and products exhibited negative growth in exports to the extent of 26% during the month of August 2021 vis-a-vis August 2020. All the remaining segments showed positive growth.

All the seven panels under Industrial machinery exhibited positive growth in August 2021 which led the total industrial machinery panel increase by 39% during August 2021.

Electrical Machinery and equipment which is a major engineering exporting sector for India experienced a growth in exports both monthly and on cumulative basis increasing to the extent of 26.8% from US$ 692.9 million in August 2020 to US$ 878.4 million in August 2021.

The automobile sector (combination of Two and Three wheelers and Motor vehicles and Cars) recorded consecutive massive jumps in exports to the extent of 57.5% primarily due to sharp jump in exports of Two and Three Wheelers by 72.4% and Motor Vehicles by 52.5% during August 2021.

Exports of Aircrafts and Spacecraft parts and products recorded 12.8% negative monthly growth while ‘Ship, Boats and Floating Bodies’ exhibited a monthly decline of 21.7%.

“The government has relentlessly supported the industry and we hope that the two key issues of high raw material prices and container shortage would also be looked into. The industry is awaiting proper rates under RoDTEP,” said EEPC India Chairman.

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Policy & Politics

Centre provides a massive relief to the exporters

The government releases Rs 56,027 crore under various Export Promotion Schemes.

Tarun Nangia

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The Government of India has decided to budget Rs 56,027 crore in this Financial Year FY 21-22 itself in order to disburse all pending export incentives due to exporters. This amount includes claims relating to MEIS, SEIS, RoSL, RoSCTL, other scrip based schemes relating to earlier policies and the remission support for RoDTEP and RoSCTL for exports made in the 4th quarter of FY 20-21. Benefits would be disbursed to more than 45,000 exporters, out of which about 98% are small exporters in the MSME category.

The amount of Rs 56,027 crores of arrears is for different export promotion and remission schemes: MEIS (Rs 33,010 crore), SEIS (Rs 10,002 crore), RoSCTL (Rs 5,286 cr), RoSL (Rs 330 crore), RoDTEP(Rs 2,568 crore), other legacy Schemes like Target Plus etc (Rs 4,831 crore). This amount is over and above duty remission amount of Rs 12,454 crore for the RoDTEP scheme and Rs 6,946 crore for RoSCTLscheme already announced for exports made in this year i.e. FY 2021-22.

Exports in India have seen robust growth in recent months. Merchandise exports for April-August, 2021 was nearly $164 billion, which is an increase of 67% over 2020-21 and 23% over 2019-20. This decision to clear all pending export incentives within this financial year, will lead to even more rapid export growth in coming months.

For merchandise exports, all sectors covered under MEIS, such as Pharmaceuticals, Iron and steel, Engineering, Chemicals, Fisheries, Agriculture and allied Sectors, Auto and Auto Components would be able to claim benefits for exports made in earlier years. Benefits would help such sectors to maintain cash flows and meet export demand in international market, which is recovering fast this financial year.

Service sector exporters, including those in the travel, tourism and hospitality segments will be able to claim SEIS benefits for FY 2019-2020, for which Rs 2,061 crore has been provisioned. The SEIS for FY 2019-20 with certain revisions in service categories and rates is being notified. This support would have a multiplier effect and spur employment generation.

The apparel sector, which is a major labour-intensive sector, would get past arrears under ROSCTL and ROSL, and all stakeholders in the interconnected supply chains would be strengthened to meet the festive season demand in international markets.

Export claims relating to earlier years will need to be filed by the exporters by 31st December 2021 beyond which they will become time barred. The Online IT portal will be enabled shortly to accept MEIS and other scrip based applications and would be integrated with a robust mechanism set up by Ministry of Finance to monitor provisioning and disbursement of the export incentives under a budgetary framework.

A decision to clear all pending export incentives within this Financial Year itself despite other budgetary commitments arising out of the pandemic is with the objective of providing timely and crucial support to this vital pillar of Indian economy.

FIEO HAILS GOVERNMENT’S DECISION TO DISBURSE ALL PENDING EXPORT INCENTIVES TO EASE THE LIQUIDITY AT MOST CHALLENGING TIMES: DR SAKTHIVEL

Welcoming the government’s decision of budgeting an amount of Rs 56,027 crores to disburse all pending export incentives due to exporters as claims related to different export promotion and remission schemes including MEIS, SEIS, RoSL, RoSCTL, other scrip-based schemes relating to earlier policies and the remission support for RoDTEP and RoSCTL for exports made in the 4th quarter of FY 20-21, FIEO President, Dr A Sakthivel said that such a move will help the sector in meeting the liquidity concerns and maintaining cash flow of the exports sector thereby further facilitating in addressing the export demand in the international market.

Benefits to be disbursed to over 45,000 exporters, specially those from the MSME sector has come as a booster dose for them as it would help them to be able to complete their booked order more efficiently, said Dr Sakthivel. Thanking the Hon’ble Prime Minister, the Union Commerce & Industry and Textiles Minister and the Union Finance Minister, President, FIEO added that the decision will lead to an even more rapid growth in exports in coming months.

FIEO Chief said that support to Service sector exporters, including those in the travel, tourism and hospitality segments, with certain revisions in service categories and rates being notified will not only have a multiplier effect but will also help in employment generation. Incentivising major labour-intensive sectors and all the stakeholders including those from the supply chain will help in strengthening their endeavours to meet the festive season demand in the international market.

Such support and handholding to the sector during these challenging times, when the whole exporting community is showing their commitment and resilience to perform impressively has definitely given a boost to the government vision of achieving USD 400 billion exports for the fiscal. Dr Sakthivel said that these announcements has further infused confidence in exporters that the Government is working hand in hand with exporters as promised by our Hon’ble Prime Minister.

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Policy & Politics

Analysing a bill passed by Rajasthan Assembly that allows registration of child marriages

Surya Pratap

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“Unity is meaningless without the accompaniment of women. Education is fruitless without educated women and agitation is incomplete without the strength of women.”

— Dr BR Ambedkar

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) charged on September 17 that the Rajasthan Compulsory Registration of Marriages (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which was passed by voice vote in the state Assembly to amend a 2009 Act on mandatory marriage registration within 30 days of the union, will legitimise child marriages.

Despite parliamentary affairs minister Shanti Kumar Dhariwaldefended the Bill by claiming that registering child marriage does not make it legitimate, the opposition staged a walkout. He also promised that anyone who organise child weddings, even after they have been registered, will face consequences.

JUDGMENT OF THE SC IN 2006

The minister further informed the House that the Supreme Court had ordered that all forms of weddings be registered in its 2006 decision in Seema vs Ashwini Kumar.

He claimed that registering child weddings does not legitimisethem, and that if a kid gets married, he or she will have the ability to dissolve the marriage once they reach adulthood.

WHAT DOES THE BILL STATE?

On 17 September, the Rajasthan Assembly passed the Rajasthan Compulsory Registration of Marriages (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which changes the Rajasthan Compulsory Registration of Marriages Act, 2009, and requires parents or guardians to provide information on child marriages within 30 days after the wedding.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) questioned the need for child marriage registration and asked that the law be withdrawn. “How can they include child marriage in this Bill if child marriage is prohibited? All of this is done by Congress in order to create a vote bank.” If this measure passes, the assembly will have a bad day. Is it possible for the assembly to agree to legalise child marriages? We shall approve child weddings by a show of hands. The bill would write a dark chapter in the assembly’s history. Ashok, a BJP MLA.

WHAT DOES THE GOVERNMENT SAY?

Shanti Kumar Dhariwal, the Parliamentary Affairs Minister, defended the legislation, saying, “The bill makes no mention of the legality of child marriage. According to the bill, only registration is required after marriage. This is not to say that child marriage is legal. The district collector can still take action against underage marriages if he or she so desires.”

Dhariwal further stated that the legislation now allows for registration at the District Marriage Registration Officer, Additional District Marriage Registration Officer, and Block Marriage Registration Officer levels. These officers will be able to monitor and review the work of registration. This will make it easier for the general public to register. This will bring simplicity and transparency to the work. He further said that the marriage registration certificate was a legal document without which widows would be unable to benefit from numerous government programmes. According to him, any or both parties in a marriage will be entitled to file for marriage registration and get a certificate as a result of the mandatory registration.

MARRIAGES IN INDIA

Although no comprehensive data is available, estimates show that at least 1.5 million girls under the age of 18 marry each year in India, making it the country with the most child brides in the world, accounting for a third of the global total. While the percentage of females marrying before the age of 18 has decreased from 47% to 27% between 2005-2006 and 2015-2016, it is still too high.

Multiple reasons, including greater maternal literacy, improved access to education for girls, robust laws, and migration from rural to urban regions, may be contributing to the reduction. Among the reasons for the shift include increased rates of girls’ education, aggressive government investments in teenage girls, and strong public messaging about the illegality of child marriage and the harm it causes.

At the global level, child marriage is included in Goal 5 “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” Under Target 5.3 “Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation”.

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Policy & Politics

Will we hand over a ruined world to our posterity?

The world engaged in the race for power has waged a relentless war against nature. If nature does not survive, we will not survive either.

Vijay Darda

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I was performing ‘Pratikraman’ (introspection) on the occasion of Paryushan Parva and felt that this festival embraces the entire environment. I was seeking forgiveness from all the creatures of water, land and sky. I was asking for forgiveness from human beings, I was asking for forgiveness from trees, birds, insects and moths and also from animals. While doing so, a question came up in my mind that while we worship the five elements, do we practise it meaningfully in day-to-day life? Why has man deliberately waged a war against the nature? Every loss of nature is our loss, then why are we hoisting with our own petard?

I am always in a state of contemplation about the environment and it worries me that the craving of the present generation of human beings is causing huge damage to the environment and we are not only suffering because of it, our children are suffering too. I don’t understand how much of a ruined world we will leave for the generations to come. Environment is the most important subject for me. There are many people like me who care about the environment but there is a large section that doesn’t care! This world is heading for destruction. We do not even think about how much carbon dioxide we are emitting even personally. When I look around myself, I am amazed. In my institution, my offices are visited by so many people. Some come by car and some by motorcycle. How much carbon is being emitted! This emission can be reduced if public modes of transport are available. If many people ride in a bus or train, the emissions per person will be less, but if one person is going by car then it is unfair.

When I used to look at the operation of machines in the printing press of my institution and the consumption of electricity in the offices, I used to think that this electricity is made from coal and how much carbon is being emitted from it. This concern turned us towards solar energy and we are using solar energy to print newspapers. Yes, we have to invest heavily for this, but we take comfort from the fact that we have taken steps towards environmental protection.

Actually every person will have to be concerned and many options will have to be adopted at the personal level. We can’t rely only on the government. Even our small efforts can be effective. Take, for example, the need to prevent food wastage. Statistics show that about 70 per cent of food grains and fruits are wasted. During the production of cereals and fruits, the electricity used in irrigation or the production of pesticides causes a lot of damage to the environment. What a benefit it would be if we could save grains and fruits from being wasted!

There have been many conferences on the environment under the banner of the United Nations. When the conference was held in Geneva, more than a hundred countries had agreed to save the environment. This resolution was also repeated in Rio de Janeiro and Paris. In 1994, it was decided that by the year 2000, carbon emissions in the world would be brought down to 1990 levels. In this task, developed countries will help developing countries financially and technologically. But what happened? The agreement was left in abeyance! Even in 2019, the then US President Trump broke the Paris Agreement on global warming. On the other hand, it blamed India, Russia and China that these countries are not doing anything and American money is being wasted. But the fact is that America is not even allowing the appointment of an inspector who audits carbon emissions in the world. Surely America has inflicted the maximum damage to the environment, so it should pay for it too. The compulsions of developing countries also have to be taken into account. If you work, a lot will go wrong but that doesn’t mean you should point your finger at it. Five, ten, fifteen or twenty per cent errors will occur but 80 per cent of good things will happen!

As of now, the situation is extremely worrisome. Forests are being annihilated. Rivers are drying up, the atmosphere is getting polluted, the ozone layer is getting thinner and mountains are getting washed away. Many animals have become extinct. Diseases are on the rise. It goes without saying that the destruction of the environment means the destruction of the human species! Can any of our government units today say that they are not harming the environment? We all have to find a way to get better because we have done this destruction! You will remember the period of lockdown when people were locked in their homes, the nature started becoming so wonderful. We may not impose a lockdown but change the behaviour! Just think, what kind of world will we leave for our posterity?

At present I am in Switzerland. There is no air pollution here. Rivers are flowing smooth and clear. The lakes are absolutely clean. There is an excellent system of disposal of medical waste. Trash is nowhere to be seen. I talked to the local people. They say this is our responsibility. If only this kind of thinking developed all over the world! Everyone should be concerned about the environment and think about how to make this world a beautiful place to live in!

The author is the chairman, Editorial Board of Lokmat Media and former member of Rajya Sabha. vijaydarda@lokmat.com

We are all engaged in the struggle of life. But on the issue of the environment, due to which we are enjoying our life, we do not see the same vigour. Man seems to be hell-bent on destroying the environment. Keep in mind that if the environment is not preserved and protected, human beings will not survive on the earth too!

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Policy & Politics

Making it happen: ZIIEI initiative of Aurobindo Society

Anil Swarup

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It was March 17th 2018. In my capacity as Secretary, School Education, Government of India I visited Agra to launch Innovative Pathshaala- a series of booklets for the teachers comprising experiential and activity-based lesson plans mapped with the State Board. The event was organized by Sri Aurobindo Society and HDFC Bank’s initiative, ‘Zero-Investment Innovations for Education Initiatives’ (ZIIEI). There were education officers and teachers from many districts of Uttar Pradesh and I could sense a lot of positive energy and the collective zeal to bring about a transformation in school education. ‘Rupantar’, a nation-wide education transformation programme of Sri Aurobindo Society was on show.

What I saw was just a glimpse of a bigger change that was being attempted through the power of zero-investment innovations in education. These were innovations developed and contributed by the teachers from length and breadth of the country as a part of the ‘Zero-Investment Innovations for Education Initiatives’ (ZIIEI) under inspired leadership of Sambhrant Sharma.

ZIIEI started its journey from Uttar Pradesh in the year 2015-16. The aim was to bring the best practices and zero-investment innovative ideas of the teachers to the forefront. Since then, ZIIEI has travelled a long distance. With more than 20 lakh teachers oriented towards zero-investment innovation ecosystem, accessing experiential-activity based teaching content digitally and impacting around 2 crore students with innovative and best teaching practices, ZIIEI has moved beyond the peripheries of an initiative, it has become a mass movement in education.

The movement has been acknowledged and appreciated by the President of India. The Vice President of India too went on to state, “Teachers lead students on the path of becoming self-reliant. I am glad to know that Sri Aurobindo Society’s education initiative ZIIEI is giving the confidence to the teachers to experiment with new ideas.”

In early 2016 when the teacher started attending the one-day training session in all the 75 districts of Uttar Pradesh, they assumed that another long-drawn lecture would be delivered to them. However, to their surprise, instead of telling the teachers what to do, ZIIEI team members asked for inputs and zero-investment innovations from them to improve the quality of education. When there’s no cost involved there is no barter, no favours, only free flow of optimism and collective efforts takes place. As mentioned in the Process Monitoring Report on ZIIEI submitted by Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), ZIIEI reflects an approach where engagement with all stakeholders in planning, strategizing and implementation process, has resulted in better outcomes

ZIIEI aims to develop joyful, engaging and experiential teaching- learning environment in classrooms. Teacher training sessions ZIIEI programme provided the much need platform and support for innovation in education but there still remained a gap in regular practice of zero-investment innovations. To bridge this gap and make everyday teaching – learning a joyful process, ZIIEI programme developed “Innovative Pathshaala”- the teaching tool for teachers. Each subject specific book, mapped with the respective State board, is a repository of innovative teaching methods based on zero-investment ideas published in the state specific Innovations Handbook/Navachar Pustika. These books give teacher the choice to deliver any topic using different types of activities. Innovative Pathshaala booklets have been distributed in more than 5,000 schools, and more than 20 lakh users access experiential teaching content in Innovative Pathshaala App.

ZIIEI has emerged as the largest programme in terms of the number of teachers receiving support and the number of States in India in which the programme directly operates.

The assessment report submitted by KPMG (India) on ZIIEI programme states that ZIIEI has successfully instilled high motivation in teachers, empowered them to become torch-bearers of transformation in education and enabled them to change their roles from ‘passive’ followers to ‘active’ contributors.

Boosted with high motivation and realization of their true potentials, lakhs of teachers share their innovative ideas with ZIIEI team members. All the ideas are evaluated by following a stringent, transparent and rigorous process. The potential ones are short-listed, and compiled in State specific Innovation Handbook/Navachar Pustika. The ideas in Navachar Pustika aim at creating a holistic environment for students, with equal emphasis on New-Age Teaching Techniques, Community Participation, Simplified Language Learning to Nation Building, and Health-Sanitation-Nutrition of the Students.

In 2016, the first Innovation Handbook/Navachar Pustika was launched. The growth, acceptance and significance of the programme is evident from the fact that 53 Innovations Handbooks/Navachar Pustika have been launched so far. Thus, for most of the States/UT’s at least two editions have been released.

The teachers look up to Navachar Pustika as the testimony of their efforts and significant contribution in making education better. Teachers whose ideas are selected in Navachar Pustika are recognized and felicitated at the National Conference & Workshop organised by Sri Aurobindo Society and HDFC Bank. Around 1,500 innovative teachers from all the States/UT’s and numerous education officers have received award from top leadership at the Central government. These annual events have become an integral part of bringing all the stakeholders in education and policy-makers at a common platform

The Covid-19 global pandemic has changed the way we used to perceive teaching and learning. The world is swiftly moving to digital platforms and our teachers need to acquire the skills to make their online classes as engaging and experiential as their physical classrooms. Aligning with the new needs, Innovative Pathshaala has developed teaching material for the teachers which can be used online and offline in classrooms. With the focus on learning outcomes, online training sessions are being organized for the teachers of 300 districts. These 300 districts will soon have Role-Model Schools which will be center of excellence and inspiration for others.

The efforts under ZIIEI and Innovative Pathshaala are in alignment with the vision of National Education Policy -2020. Through ZIIEI, Rupanatar is playing contributing role as a catalyst in bringing a positive change in education.

Aurobindo Society has demonstrated that even in the complex terrain of school education, impact can be created and that impact can be scaled through public-private partnership. They have made-it-happen and the impact what they have managed through Rupantar is clearly visible.

Anil Swarup has served as the head of the Project Monitoring Group, which is currently under the Prime Minister’s Offic. He has also served as Secretary, Ministry of Coal and Secretary, Ministry of School Education.

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Policy & Politics

The scepticism about ‘electronic evidence’ in India

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Technology has always been a double-edged sword which can be used for both good and bad, this equivocal nature of technology has been rightly expressed in the fitting words of Christian Lous Lange, “Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master”. The leakage of WhatsApp chats in recent times has shed some light on the concept of electronic evidence and its admissibility both in a civil and criminal trial in India. Legal provisions dealing with the admissibility of electronic evidence in India should be critically examined as the leakage of WhatsApp chats at the investment stage even before the commencement of trial has been an issue. Section 65B of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, talks about a specific legal framework governing the admissibility of electronic evidence in India, in regards to various judicial instances, Indian courts have exemplified perceptiveness towards electronic evidence in India which further apprehend its admissibility.

In the modern era, the usage of electronic devices such as smartphones, laptops, computers, etc. is prolific. Moreover, these devices generate data to a great extent, originating a call for digital evidence in any investigation. Electronic evidence can turn out to be very significant if the evidence is analysed appropriately via forensics after being identified.

The admissibility of electronic evidence is not a present-day theory, it goes back with time but the evolution and innovation in the prevention of the production of evidence have changed for good concerning the fact that usage of electronic evidence is at surge. The introduction of the Information Technology Act 2000 concerning technology laws, led to various amendments to

the specific legal frameworks namely Indian Evidence Act 1872, Indian Penal code 1860, etc. which made electronic evidence admissible in India.

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF ELECTRONIC EVIDENCE

Electronic or digital evidence is the data stored within electronic devices such as smartphones, laptops, etc., and can be extracted by forensic experts to use it as a piece of admissible evidence in the courtroom. Section 3 of the Indian Evidence defines evidence as “All the statements which are allowed in the court to be presented before it by the witnesses and have a connection with the matter of fact for further inquiry” Digital evidence plays a significant role in the modern world, keeping in mind the prolific usage of electronic devices. With the surge in the amount of data generated by digital devices, there is a high prospect of the discovery of electronic evidence. Accumulation of important data on a digital platform which can be presented as significant evidence in the court comes with a lot of security concerns. The major concern of the investigators is the preservation of digital evidence in a secure state with an assurance that that data is authentic, untouched, unaltered, and stored in a hard drive.

EVOLUTION AND INNOVATION OF ELECTRONIC EVIDENCE IN INDIA

The first half of the 20th century pretty much relied on paper but with time people shifted from paper to bits, due to the increase in the usage of digital communication methods over time the amount of data stored in digital form adequately increased. The shift from paper to digital data gave rise to an essential use of this information by bringing it to the court, but there was an expository question to the integrity of the digital evidence as alteration, malicious modification, destruction of the electronic evidence was at ease in the latter half of 20thcentury. The evolution of technology and information security prompted some methods for scrutinizing digital evidence, namely Checksum, One-way hash algorithm, Digital signature, etc, bearing some advantages and disadvantages. On Oct 17th, 2000 the Information Technology Act was enacted by the Indian government roused from the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law(UNICITRAL) which resulted in various amendments to some specific legal statutes concerning digital evidence. In a recent case of Anvar P.K. v. P.K.Basheer and ors., the Supreme Court of India overruled the judgment of another notable case, State v. Navjot Sandhu by redefining the application of sections 63, 65 & 65B of the Indian Evidence Act which further enlightened the evidentiary value of electronic evidence in India.

LEGAL FRAMEWORKS REGULATING DIGITAL EVIDENCE IN INDIA

The introduction of the Information Technology Act, 2000 elucidated the electronic form of evidence stating it as an electronic record, section 2(1)(t) of the IT Act defines “Electronic Record” as the data generated or stored, an image or sound stored that is sent from one end and received on another in an electronic or digital form. The term ‘electronic record’ was included in the term ‘evidence’ under the Indian Evidence Act followed by the amendment in Section 92 of the Information Technology Act. Steering court proceedings to utilize electronic evidence as an essential piece of information requires specific provisions, the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, regulates digital evidence in India.

• Section 45A of the evidence act talks about the opinion of the investigator who examines the electronic evidence as a relevant fact referred to under section 79A of IT Act 2000.

• Section 47A of the Indian Evidence Act states that the opinion of the certifying authority that issued the digital signature certificate will be a relevant fact when comes to the relevancy of an electronic signature.

• Electronic evidence must comply with the criteria stated under Section 65B to be deemed as an admissible piece of evidence in the courtroom. The paper on which the information of electronic record in printed or a form of media containing the information of such record will be admissible in any legal proceeding if the conditionsmentioned under section 65B(2) are fulfilled.

According to Section 65B of the Evidence Act, “The Data stored in an electronic record, whether it be the contents of a document or a conversation printed on paper, or stored, recorded, or copied in optical or magnetic media generated by a computer will be considered as a document and will be admissible as evidence without any further proof of the document.”

ADMISSIBILITY OF ELECTRONIC EVIDENCE IN INDIA VIS-À-VIS THE JUDICIAL INSTANCES

In the case of Anvar P.K. v. P.K. Basheer & Ors, as per the court, the certificate specified in Section (65)(B)(4), is required and does not come with an alternative. It is a unique clause that takes priority over the general requirements of Sections 63 and 65. The case of State (NCT of Delhi) v. Navjot Sandhu was overturned to the extent that the certificate was now deemed necessary. In the same matter, it was stated that an oral admission on the substance of electronic evidence is irrelevant unless the electronic evidence’s authenticity is in dispute, as stated in Section 22 of the Evidence Act.

Further in the case of Sanjaysinh Ramrao Chavan v. Dattatray Gulabrao Phalke & Anr., “As the voice recorder is not submitted to inspection, there is no sense in emphasizing the translated version,” the court said, referring to the decision in Anvar PV’s case. The translation is questionable since it lacks a source. The two most important aspects of electronic evidence are the source and authenticity.” In Tomaso Bruno and Anr. v. State of Uttar Pradesh, the relevance of electronic evidence and scientific procedures in the evidence-gathering process was demonstrated in this case. Procedural and electronic evidence under Sections 65A and 65B are admissible, as per the court.

In the recent case, Arjun Panditrao Khotkar v. Kailash Kushanrao Gorantyal and others, a three-judge bench led by J. RF Nariman resolved the uncertainty surrounding multiple interpretations of Section 65(B)(4) and rejected Shafhi Mohammad’s decision, supporting the position that a certificate issued under this section is not an option among several, but a necessity.

Various other judgments have also addressed the requirement of the severe criteria stated in section 65B of the Evidence Act. The Delhi High Court supported the necessity of section 65B in Dharambir v. CBI, noting that they are for the development of the law.

In a recent Supreme Court decision, the conflicting viewpoints on section 65B of the Evidence Act were ultimately resolved. In 2014, the Supreme Court, in the case of Anvar P.K. v. P.K Basheer and Ors., took a positivist approach and concluded that, under the existing legal frameworks, section 65B is indeed required, and courts must implement the criteria outlined in the Section. If any modifications are anticipated, the Legislature must take the lead rather than the courts, which just obey the procedures declared by the law.

THE FUTURE OUTLOOK OF COURTS TRANSITIONING INTOTECHNOLOGICAL COMMUNISM AFTER THE PANDEMIC

The Covid-19 crisis has come to a head concern that has sparked debate for ages. Even though the concept of e-courts has been debated for some time, the Indian judicial system has not been able to keep up with it on a digital platform. Linked with a cycle of re-designing and simplifying court tactics, the Indian judiciary, both in its physical and virtual structures, is looking forward to a bright future in terms of the development and resolution of some of its long-standing concerns. While our nation is struggling with a national health and financial emergency, it is essential to think outside the box and reform the perspective of work culture and a high time now for the courts to accept the prevailing innovation. On the contrary technology will have a significant impact on future of Indian judiciary and legislature, since the technology that is yet to be discovered will evolve and restructure the way of living our lives.

CONCLUSION

The major point of contention in regards of electronic evidence is to ensure its authenticity, veracity, genuineness, and dependability for it to be accepted in court. Following the Supreme Court’s judgment in Anvar’s case, which established the standards for admission of electronic evidence, Indian courts have been expected to use a uniform approach and implement all available precautions for admitting and valuing electronic evidence.

It is now a well-established fact that any electronic evidence, even if it is a secondary evidence, must adhere to the provisions of Section 65B of the Indian Evidence Act; it is typically inadmissible in a court of law without a certificate. Electronic gadgets can turn out to be extremely useful in investigations, but their usefulness is contingent on their compliance with the regulations of the Indian Evidence Act.

The laws regulating digital evidence in India made it clear that just including e-evidence in the legislation would not assist the case, the procedural issues that arose as a result of the usage of e-evidence should be addressed as soon as possible. Law, along with everything else, must evolve to keep up with the technological advancements. While nations like England have recognized this issue and implemented certain adjustments to their laws which resulted in electronic evidence being more effective. Although the courts have addressed the issues occasionally, it is the Legislature that should intercede for good.

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