Copyright and trademark infringement do happen on the Internet, yet the Copyright Act, 1957, or Trade Mark Act, 1999 which explicitly manages infringements, is quiet on the issue. In this way we have no implementation apparatus to guarantee the protection of domain names on the Internet. Transmission of e-money and exchanges online are not given protection under the Negotiable Instrument Act, 1881. Online security isn’t ensured; Section 43 (penalty for damage to computer or computer systems) and Section 72 (Breach of confidentiality or privacy) discuss it in some degree, yet don’t address the ruin caused by online infringements.
With the advent of newer technology and advancement in the mode of communications, the internet has become an essential part of our lives. The benefits of cyber technology are immense and many facets of modern life are completely dependent upon it; however, at the same time, in the wrong hands it can be more dangerous than a nuclear weapon. Crimes are no longer confined only to the physical space but have also entered the digital, as cybercrime. Cybercrime or computer-oriented crime, is one that involves a computer and a network. All the rapid advancements of internet and related crimes were needed to be regulated and therefore accordingly a new branch of jurisprudence emerged to tackle the problems of cybercrimes in cyber space i.e. Cyber Law or Cyber Space Law or Information Technology Law or the Internet Law.
The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) adopted the Model Law on Electronic Commerce in 1996 and for the first time extended its efforts towards bringing uniformity in the laws of different countries. The General Assembly of the United Nations by Resolution No. 51/162 dated 30th January 1997 recommended that all States should give favourable consideration to this Model Law when they enact or revise their laws. The Model Law provides for equal legal treatment of users of electronic communication and paper based communication. The Information Technology Act, 2000 [hereinafter referred to as, “IT Act”] is also in consonance with the Model Law.
The IT Act, 2000 was passed by parliament on 15th May 2000, approved by the then President, on 9th June 2000 and enforced on 17 October 2000. It amended the following four Acts in the Indian legislation with its introduction: The Indian Penal Code, 1860; The Indian Evidence Act, 1872; The Bankers’ Book Evidence Act, 1891; and The Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934.
It is not only applicable to offences within India but also to offences and contraventions outside India (section 1(2)) and section 75 of the IT Act). Later on, the IT (Amendment) Bill, 2006 was introduced and passed in the Lok Sabha and amended the IT Act, 2000 by the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008.
What were the objectives?
The then Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Minister of Information Technology, Shri Pramod Mahajan, during the discussion on the Information Technology Bill, 1999 talked about the absence of a suitable law in India to deal with tampering of computer source documents, publishing information which is obscene in nature and issues relating to damage to computers and computer networks through a system of appropriate penalties and punishment. In furtherance of the same and making the law in tune with the Model law on e-commerce adopted by the UNCITRAL, the IT Act, 2000 came to life.
It is the enactment of the IT Act that provided legal recognition to transactions carried out by the means of electronic communication and has not only facilitated the electronic filing of documents and/or applications with the government but has also assisted and encouraged the use and acceptance of electronic records and digital signatures in government offices, making interactions between the government and civilians smooth and quick.
The government set up an expert committee to review the IT Act in January 2005. The committee comprised of representatives from the government, IT industry, legal experts etc. It found substantial lacunae in the existing Act and submitted its report in August 2005. It was noted that a lot of changes were required to the existing IT Act, 2000 because of the developments internationally and nationally especially in the area of the data protection and privacy. They observed that the field of cyber laws is a nascent area and experience of its formulation and implementation is still evolving worldwide and more so in India.
After due consideration and deliberation, the committee recommended that the IT Act should be technology neutral. It revisited the provisions related to data protection and privacy and proposed stringent provisions for handling sensitive personal data. The committee addressed the issue of liability of intermediaries and suggested amendments using the European Union Directive on E-Commerce as the guiding principle. It suggested severe punishments to prevent child pornography and also made recommendations on computer related crime and electronic evidence.
Later, the Information Technology (Amendment) Bill 2006 was introduced in Lok Sabha on 15th December in the year 2006. It was then referred to the standing committee on 19thDecember 2006. Further a report was submitted by the standing committee on 7th September 2007. The amendment Act was passed in the Lok Sabha on 22nd December 2008 and consequently in the Rajya Sabha on 23rd December 2008. The final assent was given by the President on 5th February 2009.
Highlights of the Information Technology (Amendment) Bill, 2018
Section 67BA is inserted by the Bill stating that whoever publishes or transmits or causes to be published or transmitted in the electronic form, any material which is repugnant to well established cultural ethos, that person shall be punished on first conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months and with fine which may extend to two lakhs INR.
Also, with respect to online gaming specifically, sections 67BB and 79B are inserted. Section 67BB states that whoever hosts any online game, which induces the users to commit any dangerous act which is harmful or any act that may cause injury or an illegal act, shall be punished with a maximum punishment of one year and fine which may extend to two lakhs and in the event of second or subsequent conviction, with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and also with fine which may extend to five lakh rupees. Games such as the ‘Blue Whale Challenge’ have been said to inflict injury on a number of individuals, also in some cases, resulting in suicidal acts. This game in particular has gained a huge fan base in India among children leaving to a number of deaths and cases of depression amongst children.
Section 79B states whoever hosts an online gaming resource or produces any storage media containing a gaming resource to be sold offline, shall ensure that the game resource is categorised for use by appropriate age group on the basis of game contents; and there is a suitable mechanism within the game resource to warn the users against repeating the dangerous acts, if any, shown in the game in their real lives.
The IT Act has been quite useful in setting up the guidelines to settle the disputes pertaining to the internet/digital domain but specialists have also opined that the Act is a toothless legislation and has not been totally compelling in issuing punishments to the culprits. There are surely territories of digital laws which needs consideration. Some of the areas which could be worked upon includes:
Spam might be characterized as unsolicited bulk e-mail. At first, it was seen as a negligible irritation however at this point it is presenting major economic issues. Without sufficient specialized technical protection, stringent legislation is required to manage the issue of spam. The Information Technology Act does not talk about the issue of spamming. The USA and the European Union have authorized anti-spam legislation. Australia has exceptionally stringent spam laws (Spam Act, 2003) under which spammers might be fined 440 dollars per contravention for an individual with a maximum penalty of 22,000 dollars for a single day. Phishing
Phishing is the procedure of endeavouring to secure sensitive data, for example, usernames, passwords, and credit card details, by taking on the appearance of a dependable element in electronic correspondence. Phishing is ordinarily done by email and frequently guides clients to enter individual and financial details at a site.
There is no law against phishing under the Information Technology Act. Though the Indian Penal Code discusses duping, it isn’t adequate to check phishing. Recently, a phishing assault was seen on the clients of State Bank of India wherein a clone of the SBI site was utilized. What is more regrettable is that even SBI has not alerted its clients. So there is need of an enactment that prevents phishing in India.
Information Protection in Internet Banking
Users are assured by banks that their information will be kept confidential, however, the web banking system includes banks and their clients; but may also involve various outsiders as well. It is outdated for banks to hold data inside their very own computer systems. India currently has no laws on information insurance and therefore the risks associated with altering of personal information is pretty high.
The Information Technology Act discusses access; however, it does not discuss keeping up the integrity of client exchanges. The legislation does not set out any obligation upon banks to secure the details of clients and customers. U.K had an Information Protection Law enacted in 1998 which is repealed by the enactment of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) under which banks or any individual holding sensitive data might be held liable for damages in the event of it neglecting to keep up satisfactory security protection in regard of information. In India, a bank’s obligation would be out of agreement as there is no resolution on the point. Cyber War
The issue of cyber war has not been talked about in the Act. India, as of late, has confronted various digital assaults from programmers outside of India who penetrated through the Indian firewalls. In the 26/11 attacks of Mumbai, various characterized information was given as intel to the culprits from other countries planning attacks against India. There are no arrangements in the Act to make such culprits liable for their activities.
Almost all cyber-crimes, barring a couple, are bailable offences under the IT (Amendment) Act, 2008. The quantum of civil liability is sought to be enhanced in the Act, while the quantum of punishment is reduced due to which convictions in cybercrime is very low.
Intellectual Property Infringement
The most widespread digital “abuse” that an individual makes these days is downloading motion pictures through distributed sharing systems. This is a widespread infringement of copyright laws; however, the numbers of culprits are so large that a successful measure cannot be taken to check it. So, to check the developing threat of digital violations, government through measures frequently deny access to sites. This has been contended to be a draconian measure and a violation of the right to speak freely and articulation under Article 19(1)(a).
Copyright and trade mark infringement do happen on the internet, yet the Copyright Act, 1957, or Trade Mark Act, 1999 which explicitly manages infringements, is quiet on the issue. In this way we have no implementation apparatus to guarantee the protection of domain names on the internet.
Transmission of e-money and exchanges online are not given protection under the Negotiable Instrument Act, 1881. Online security isn’t ensured just Section 43 (penalty for damage to computer or computer systems) and Section 72 (Breach of confidentiality or privacy) discusses it in some degree yet doesn’t address the ruin caused by infringements caused over the internet. Indeed, even the Internet Service Providers (ISP) who transmit some outsider data without human mediation isn’t made liable under the Information Technology Act, 2000. One can undoubtedly take cover under the exclusion condition on the off chance that the ISP demonstrates that it was submitted without his knowledge or that he practiced due perseverance to counteract the offense.
With the internet saturation on a rise in India, the evil of online piracy is growing at an alarming rate, and to fight with the problem of piracy, the Government of India was compelled to issue the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011 which mandate an intermediary to observe due diligence while discharging its duties and not knowingly host or publish any information which infringes the Intellectual Property Rights of anyone. But the guidelines would not stop the piracy because of the vastness of the domain. Most of such records are made available on different websites, on or before the date of release. When a record is uploaded on the internet, it opens the floodgates for the masses to download it, thereby, causing heavy losses to the creators. The most difficult thing in the current piracy world is that the person who uploads such records on the internet is unknown to the world. Therefore, preventive action in the nature of ‘John Doe orders’ or Ashok Kumar orders has become significant globally to prevent intellectual property right infringements.
Suggestions and the Way Forward
When I look at the IT Act today, I strongly feel for the modernization of existing laws and enactment of new ones. Maybe it is time we need specific laws on Social Media, Fake news, and eCommerce. Often, we witness the application of two different legislations such as the IT Act and the IPC in a particular scenario. The decision of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Sharat Babu Digumarti v. NCT of Delhi was followed by the Bombay High Court in Gagan Harsh Sharma v. The State of Maharashtra, holding that when an offence is sufficiently covered under the provisions of the Information Technology Act, 2000, the IT Act will apply as lex specialis to the exclusion of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The IT Act, a later special law contained overriding provisions over IPC, a general law. Majority of the offences under the IT Act are bailable and compoundable and may also lead to amicable settlement between the parties, wherein, the offence under IPC may not be bailable and can attract higher punishment. Hence, if the complainant is willing to prosecute the offender under sections of IPC, it may deprive the offender from getting bail and from the case being settled, which the IT Act permits. Along with the IPC, the IT Act also at times collides with the Copyrights Act, 1957, the Companies Act, 2013 and the Contract Act, 1872. A settled principle on this point will make the implementation of the IT Act smooth.
Moving on, the reporting of cyber-crimes should be encouraged in order to devise proper mechanisms for its redressal. According to the data analysis of cybercrime, only 50 out of 500 crimes get reported. Here, I would also like to draw the readers’ attention towards the National Cyber-Crime Reporting Portal launched by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. This portal which can be accessed on https:// cybercrime.gov.in facilitates the victims/complainants to report the cybercrime complaints online and also has a special focus on cybercrimes against women and children.
We are surely in need for a universal regulatory framework mechanism which helps in the restructuring of the substantive as well as the procedural laws relating to computer generated crimes. The problems arising due to divergence of laws and procedure of different nations may be eliminated to a considerable extent if at least major cyber-crimes are uniformly recognized and incorporated by all the countries in their penal laws.
The internet being a borderless medium has often posed jurisdictional challenges in handling of crimes especially cyber defamation. Attention should be drawn towards the multiple publication rule which means that in relation to an online material, each ‘hit’ on the website creates a new publication, potentially giving rise to a separate cause of action if it contains defamatory material. Jurisdiction in such cases may be prescribed by the principles laid down in International Law or applying the Principle of International Comity so that if there is no particular law in the country, the court can resort to the principles already established in other legal systems of the world.
The use of strong encryption technology especially in government commercial organizations that are mostly dependant on massive computerization for the transmission of transactions or sensitive information, will enable them to keep their data safe from leakage or disclosure to public or hackers.
The data landscape of India is bound to witness a sea change with the enactment of the Personal Data Protection Bill but at present the IT Act and the rules made thereunder have not even defined the term ‘encryption’. Strange, isn’t it?
The Information Technology Act, 2000 puts forward reasonable provisions for studying and examining the law and strategizing the field of cyber-crime legislations; however, the legislation falls short of strict implementation of its provisions. This suggests that no penal legislation should be left open for expansive translations, particularly concerning the digital age because the internet provides us with certain freedoms in real life which might make transgressing any law easier for us. Hence, any administrative instrument or authoritative measure must try to be exhaustive, clear and interpreted restrictively. I am keenly looking forward to a wellequipped law which caters to the age of digitization and emerging technologies such as blockchains, artificial intelligence, and cryptos.
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ANDHRA’S FINANCIAL STATUS QUO IS RINGING DANGER BELLS
Nowadays, the State of Andhra Pradesh has become a peculiar State, performing outside the purview of the accounting practices and even it adheres the Constitutional violations by diverting VAT on Liquor to Government incorporated Corporation instead of transfer to the Consolidated Fund by a special GO for raising additional Loans outside the FRBM limits— it is nothing but a mere window dressing of accounting practices and systems as a bad precedent for future of the country and most particularly the state itself. After careful examination of Financial Statements for the second quarter of the current financial year 2021-22, several key indicators of Andhra Pradesh financial adversity have been exposed with danger bells.
Estimated revenue collections and revenue expenditure in the budget and actuals thereof is very much vital in any Government since revenue surplus or deficit plays the crucial role for serving the capital expenditure for the future revenue-generating assets for the country or state; then it serves the interest on debts which impacts primary deficit and thereafter very much important component Fiscal Deficit arrives out of the impact of the all together above. Hence, Revenue Deficit is the root cause of all the other liking heads in the FINANCIAL Statements. Generally, revenue surplus for any State indicates a positive performance, and at least those states, which minimize the gap between revenue collections and revenue expenditure to register the shorter revenue deficit are also reasonably good.
As far as Andhra Pradesh is concerned, first indicator, Total Revenue Collections, estimated in the Budget for the Financial Year 2021-22 was Rs. 1,77,196.48 Crores and Estimated Total Revenue Expenditure was 1,82,196.54 Crores, Hence Estimated Revenue Deficit for the whole year was Rs. 5000.06 Crores. Total Revenues had registered for Rs. 64,871.99 Crores by September where the whole year estimated revenue was, it means, only 36.61% of the current financial year total revenue achieved after the lapse of 50% period in the year. But, the actual revenue deficit for the first two quarters of the current financial year has registered as Rs. 39,933.22 Crores, which means nearly 800% of the actual revenue deficit has emerged in the first six months itself when compared with the whole financial year’s revenue deficit. In these circumstances, we can predict that how worse the situation of Andhra Pradesh in the next 6 months.
Second indicator i.e the Capital Expenditure Targets are concerned, Andhra Pradesh had not achieved the target of 45% of the total Capital Expenditure estimated in the Budget for the financial year 2021-22 of Rs. 31,119.38 Crores in the second quarter of the current financial year to avail the additional loan as an incentive allowed by the Union Government based on the performance of creating future revenue-generating assets by incurring the targeted Capital Expenditure. Although, first-quarter target to incurring 15% of the Capital expenditure was achieved, it had not attained in the second quarter due to the lenient approach of the State Government in the exercise of Financial factors.
Apart from this, the State government had utilized the insurance premium, which was paid by the Women in the Self Help Groups for Rs. 2,100 Crores and LIC had openly declared in the newspaper advertisement that they were withdrawing the Agreement with Andhra Pradesh Government to pay future obligations to the beneficiaries since the State Government of Andhra Pradesh violated the terms and conditions and declared that the future obligations will be cleared by the nodal agency of the State Government Department SERP. Further, Recently the State government of Andhra Pradesh had incorporated Andhra Pradesh State Financial Services Corporation as an NBFC. Unfortunately, the State government had issued a direction to divert their bank deposits from every State Government Corporations, Departments, Boards etc., which are maintained in the Scheduled Banks to AP Financial Services Corporation forcibly— it causes the damage of independence of the respective Corporations, Departments, Boards as those funds have been diverting for unproductive expenditure which may hurt the actual system of the activity. And many experts have been questioned that Whether AP Financial Services Corporation is the reserve bank of Andhra Pradesh. There is an agitation of NTR Health University employees is going on against to transfer of Rs. 400 Crores of University-Corpus fund to the AP Financial Services Corporation from the Scheduled Bank. Ironically, State Government is expressing that Deposits in the Scheduled Banks are unsafe, whereas the people of Andhra Pradesh are in a feeling that the present approach of the State Government is not safe.
The financial destructive methods implemented by the State under the leadership of YS Jagan Mohan Reddy had cautioned by the CAG in their Report. The series of illegitimate and unconstitutional practices since the inception of YSRCP led State Government leads to Economic Nuclear explosion now. The State needs to repay 1.10 lack crores in the next seven years but the condition of the State is: it requires to raise debts even to repay the interest. As per the past expectation, the Revenue Deficit of the State should have reached zero by 2021, but the actual Revenue Deficit was registered for Rs. 36,000 Crores due to huge unproductive expenditure had been incurred. Further, the State Government was eligible to provide a guarantee on loans for Rs. 5,600 Crores only, But the same has crossed for Rs. 1.00 lack crores and the Government is trying to give guarantee for additional 1.00 lack crores where the gap in State Government Guarantees is eligible up to 90% as per norms, but State government has amended it up to 180%.
At present financial precarious condition has been emerged as Total Revenues and Debts are not serving the Budgetary Allocations other than the unproductive and illegitimate expenditure with corrupt practices. On the one hand, Total Debts had been registered for Rs. 39,914 18 by September where the whole year estimated debt was 37,029.79 Crores, it means more than 100% estimated debts for the financial year 2021-22 had crossed in the first two quarters itself without future revenue-generating productive assets through Capital expenditure and on the other hand, We can notice the Unconstitutional methods in the financial practices harm the state Brand Image, such as recent Order by the State Government to transfer the VAT on Liquor revenue to Beverage Corporation to raise debts. After analyzing the facts in the September month CAG report, danger bells of the AP State Financial Health have been ringing in all parameters and it needs remedial measures with immediate effect to put the things in order, otherwise, future financial damage to the state is unimaginable.
Controlling, addictive AI needs immediate attention
At the core of the concerns are the nature and design of algorithms that influence our choices. Online consumption, for instance, is not a free choice. Algorithms prod, poke and drive the consumer into a narrow set of choices which they may not have selected otherwise.
Can we govern the ungovernable? Should we even try to contain the advance of algorithms? These difficult questions don’t have a simple answer. However, what is clear is that the world needs a strong governance structure to shape the impact of algorithms and AI on our lives.
At the core of the concerns are the nature and design of algorithms that influence our choices. Online consumptions for instance is not a free choice. Algorithms prod, poke and drive the consumer into a narrow set of choices which they may not have selected otherwise.
“It is important to have ways to oversee the operations of these systems to ensure they are helping, not harming, humanity. The flurry of governance frameworks over the past two years has been crucial in helping leaders to better understand the issues surrounding AI, including potential for fairness and discrimination, disparate impact, and the associated issues of transparency and accountability,” says a recent report by World Economic Forum (WEF). “But much more innovation in the realm of AI governance is needed if we are to keep pace with both the advancement and application of AI-based systems,” says the report titled The AI Governance Journey published in November.
Until recently unfair market practice in the retail sector largely revolved around predatory pricing. In some cases, it involved using market muscle to prevent rivals from expanding their consumer base.
Today, unfair market practices are often baked into the business model using tech-based platforms of e-commerce companies. Anti-trust authorities in most free-market economies including India are trying to peek under the hood of the engines that run e-commerce sales.
Parts of the unfair play in digital markets are easier to see. Some e-commerce companies own a big chunk of a seller and therefore find it in their interest to promote that particular seller.
Other parts of unfair trade practice involve using algorithms that allow collusion between seemingly independent companies or manage reactive pricing which can hurt smaller sellers. The e-commerce may say that algorithms don’t choose for the consumer; consumers choose for themselves. However, the facts say otherwise.
The question now is not whether consumers choose or not. The question is what is their choice? Are the options available to the consumers open and fair? More importantly, do the sellers have equal access to the consumers in the market. Today this paradigm is often decided by the software robots who run the digital markets.
“It will be important to monitor developments in the application of machine learning and Artificial Intelligence to ensure they do not lead to anti-competitive behavior or consumer detriment, particularly in relation to vulnerable consumers,” says the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) of the UK. There are examples where an e-commerce site has shown different prices to different customers depending on their location. A CMA paper notes, “It has been alleged that Staples’ website displayed different prices to people, depending on how close they were to a rival brick-and-mortar store belonging to OfficeMax or Office Depot.” Similar investigations are required in India and other emerging economies to ensure that algorithm-triggered personalized pricing does not become harmful.
Another type of antitrust activity takes place when online rivals decide to use the same pricing algorithm to align the prices of different products. When questioned by regulators or anti-trust authorities, e-commerce companies like to say that the decision taken by an algorithm is not their responsibility. However, authorities including the Competition Commission of India are challenging this.
At their root, anti-trust or anti-monopoly laws aim to ensure that consumers and sellers have the freedom to choose and compete on fair terms. A few sellers should not be allowed to dominate any market to the extent that other sellers are destroyed and therefore consumer choice is undermined.
Most regulators struggle to find proof of such activity as the level of sophistication is increasing constantly. Some are already unleashing their own algorithms to track and understand the pricing software of e-commerce companies. While companies collude on pricing, governments are collaborating on curbing online malpractices. The legal liability of an algorithmic decision will be interpreted as the legal liability of an entity of an individual. Anti-trust activities of algorithms should not go unchallenged in any economy.
Similar governance rules are needed for the algorithms used by social media giants. Privacy and data protection are often the key issues when debating the regulation around social media giants. However, an important dimension that needs more attention is the algorithms that decide, define, and drive online user behavior.
Even as various countries across the world battle social media giants for lack of transparency and accountability, some governments have begun to question the algorithms too.
The US Senate Judiciary Committee recently held hearings on “Algorithms and Amplification: How Social Media Platforms’ Design Choices Shape our Discourse and Our Minds.”
Like many countries, the US is concerned about the algorithms which are designed to addict. “… This advanced technology is harnessed into algorithms designed to attract our time and attention on social media, and the results can be harmful to our kids’ attention spans, to the quality of our public discourse, to our public health, and even to our democracy itself,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), chair of the Senate Judiciary’s subcommittee on privacy and tech
In the same way that India has the social media intermediary rules and laws, US has the Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act which offers some immunity for website platforms from third-party content.
The Senate hearings could lead to amendments in Section 230. Another Senator at the hearing said that the business model of “these companies is addiction.”
A legislation called ‘Don’t Push My Buttons Act’ has been introduced in the Senate with Tulsi Gabbard as the bill’s lead co-sponsor. The law would require that platforms with more than 10 million users should get user permissions before offering them content based on past behavior.
Basically, this means that companies can’t access our behavior and drive us further into similar content. This behavior is believed to be particularly harmful during Brexit conversations. Rather than allowing people to explore and stumble upon new content and alternate views on a subject, the algorithms drove users into more of the same. Effectively, it created online echo chambers and prevented people from absorbing other ideas.
The same principle can apply to consumer products or services. Algorithms can drive consumers to certain brands, categories while reducing choice and therefore hurting competition.
The laws will seek changes in Section 230 and remove the protection offered to the giants if they persist with addictive algorithms. Companies including Facebook, Google, and Twitter have testified at the Senate hearings on addictive algorithms.
While the hearings are focused on US citizens, governments in other countries should also be alert about the consequence of addictive algorithms. As the government of India is establishing the rules of play for social media giants, it will be important to scrutinize and question addictive algorithms. With an addressable market of over a billion users, the tech giants will invest a lot of resources to increase their users. The variety of languages and users in the country lend themselves to using algorithms that use personal data for greater effect.
India has to put in place legislation and rules which seek more clarity and transparency from technology companies. Domestic and global companies that use consumer behavior data to enhance addictive behavior must be scrutinized and controlled.
Currently, the intermediary guidelines focus mostly on content management and grievance redressal. However, the underlying software engines that influence online consumer behavior need oversight too.
The WEF report has made some suggestions for the future. The world needs, “Standards providing a framework for responsible AI. Standards for measuring bias, fairness and related technical details – Processes and tools for assessing AI systems.” The regulation of algorithms that define AI and thus our choices will have to be made at several levels. From Multilateral to national to local, depending on the sector, geography, and usage.
The writer is the author of ‘India Automated: How the Fourth Industrial Revolution is Transforming India’. Views expressed are the writer’s personal.
Democratic deficits and disaster management
Disaster management may turn into a bigger disaster if complaint handling
mechanisms fail to resonate in the Parliament. In our emerging concern for
Parliament’s democratic deficits, one need not be complacent to phenomenal challenges
that besiege disaster management in the country’s larger governance.
Substantive democracy led by ethics and the spirit of the Constitution is a flywheel of governance. After the suspension of 12 Rajya Sabha Members on the first day of Parliament’s winter session for the rest of its session, it is more than obvious that institutions of governance suffer from a culture of democratic deficits. That, Parliament is becoming a platform for reprimanding opposition, bowdlerising debates, pecking into question hour and using available disciplinary authority in a repressive manner hounds the Constitutional spirit. In sharp contrast to Subramaniam Swamy’s expulsion on the basis of a detailed report on his alleged anti-national activities produced before the House in 1976, the current expulsion with short liner allegations and that too from a previous session appears monkey business. A right to speak, be heard and debate within Parliament represents the strength of this apex national institution as a repository of freedom and aspirations of people. Anything other than this can prove to be suicidal to policy formulation especially in the management of disasters which is currently the highest priority besides being indispensable to achieve Sustainable Development Goals by the year 2030. Crisis incidentally, overlooks procedures for the demand of speed and efficiency but this cannot escape the hawkish eyes of a belligerent or cantankerous opposition in the Parliament. Any disproportionate use of disciplinary authority will provide a cover to all illegalities, diversion of funds, human insecurity and rise of surreptitious developmental mafias in disaster-affected zones where it would not be easy for the country to escape its catastrophic impact for a long time to come.
Democracy and disaster management are Siamese twins and this relationship rests on five pillars of disaster management, that is, (i) participatory decision making; (ii) transparency of aid flows; (iii) financial safeguards; (vi) transparent procurement and contracting; (v) Project monitoring, evaluation and feedback. Disaster management may turn into a bigger disaster if complaint handling mechanisms fail to resonate in the Parliament. In our emerging concern for Parliament’s democratic deficits, one need not be complacent to phenomenal challenges that besiege disaster management in the country’s larger governance. In a 2015 report of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, it was found that a 10% increase in the per capita amount of disbursed funds leads to a 12.2 % increase in corruption. However, the disaster led fund transfers are much larger and therefore, offer a wider scope for corruption. This aspect is of particular interest in the kind of governance that weaker democracies suffer in non-tax transfers such as relief from national and international organisations.
The real source of democracy comes from community-based organisations such as the Panchayats in rural areas or Municipal Corporation in urban areas. At this level, tolerance to undemocratic measures is the least, reactions are mostly direct and confrontation more united and lasting against the government. From the tribal protest against three controversial bills in Manipur that lasted 600 days from 2015 to 2017 with eight bodies of their young boys kept in the morgue to the farmers’ protest against three contentious land laws lasting 466 days, one can see that these results of a united agitation are impossible from those areas distanced from communities. There was intensive research that went behind a transformative governance framework suggested by the post-Tsunami Hyogo Declaration of 2005 for a community-based action in disaster management. Hyogo Framework for Action, as it is referred to, directed governments to focus on community resilience-building as a priority. It stated, ‘communities and local authorities should be empowered to manage and reduce disaster risk by having access to the necessary information, resources and authority to implement actions for disaster risk reduction.’ It is sad that grassroots slippages of disaster management policies have weakened action against disasters. During the 2018 Kerala floods most of the Panchayat members from Kottayam to Idukki and Munnar shared that even though some alerts in the form of red, yellow and green were being sent to them, they were unable to make any sense of it as no one had ever spoken to them or trained them to understand it. This deficit of mutuality and participation runs through the system up to the Parliament yet no government ever pays any heed to priority action needed at the ground.
How democracy replenishes community resilience building is to be understood by our various research visits to regions marooned in hopeless islands of corrupt governance. Around 2009, tea plantation workers of 14 tea gardens of Dooars in West Bengal lost their livelihood and were pushed into starvation and death. The estate owners had fled bag and baggage without anyone’s knowledge to escape huge payments to workers under the Tea Board Act 1949, Plantation Labour Act 1951 and Industrial Disputes Act 1947 leaving behind ageing and unproductive tea gardens. Since these workers had known no other skill but plucking tea leaves they did not know how to cope up with the sudden closure and absentee government. Our visit to their broken homes raised hopes that someone is reaching out to them, they started coming out in numbers during our evening discussion groups arranged in their villages. These meetings also brought out a subtle presence of mafias which helped garden owners to flee without notice after which they illegitimately started collecting relief funds, indulging in trafficking across borders and also becoming their despotic masters. Our meetings which had nothing to give them except sharing information, inadvertently enlightened them on the Constitutional framework and the laws to strengthen their conviction during depressive times. Their awakening helped to revive the inactive Tea Board, receive a more meaningful restoration plan within the Panchayat Act and receive livelihood guarantee under MNREGA.
During 2015-17 our team visited Sundarbans in West Bengal and some districts of Manipur. Despite much segregation and high vulnerability due to its geographical location, Sundarbans could display a vibrant community action. We could talk to people waiting in queue for seeking the benefits of the public distribution system and also those who were repairing their homes to prevent snakes and tigers from entering. The place was vulnerable to many forms of disasters but people despite poverty were prepared with their indigenous techniques and plans using the most basic equipment for early warning, human and cattle rescue besides grain storage for emergency use. On the other hand in Manipur, as we travelled through Churchanpur, Thoubal, Senapati and Tamenglong people flocked around us as they felt that the government officials were finally visiting them for a change. Even their Ward Councilors had no knowledge of their responsibilities and availability of developmental funds for their Ward. The communities over there had not seen any government official visiting them. There was a big dent between the Meitei led government and Kuki, Paite and Nagas outside Imphal. No one had ever spoken to them and they felt that probably a change of government at the Centre has sent this JNU fact-finding team to their villages. It was a coincidence but in the election that followed this silent suffering tribal abode kicked out a non-participatory government in their silent revenge. If some of these examples could be a lighthouse on the power of democracy, Hyogo Declaration would become a serious enterprise.
A participatory framework provides a unique opportunity to promote a strategic and systematic approach to reducing vulnerabilities and risks to hazards besides identifying ways of building the resilience of nations and communities to disasters. Now that the community of world nations has been taking Hyogo spirit through Sendai Framework (2015-30) on the adoption of measures which address the three dimensions of disaster risk (exposure to hazards, vulnerability and capacity) a need for an increased resilience-building rests on nation’s ability to protect democracy at every Constitutional layer of governance. No technology, internet-based information or e-governance can replace physical meetings and face to face discussions and learning. Yet, how could this be possible if representatives of these people are not able to air concerns in the State Assembly of the Parliament? There are Rules as strict as Rule 256 and Rule 259 of the General Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Rajya Sabha, but the Constitutional spirit behind the rules combined with the ethics of enforcement defines the manner in which these Rules are to be used against representatives of people.
Parliament is not a confidential Committee Room of the Intelligence Bureau or the Pentagon Boardroom but a microcosm of society where the government’s democratic personality and tolerance to Constitutional norms are most needed. If this tolerance is lost, there would be no time for multihazard disasters to inflict our country stretching beyond the government’s capacity to prevent or manage them. It is hoped that the government in its true wisdom realises that the genie may not be released from the corked bottle.
The writer is president of Network Asia-Pacific Disaster Research Group, Senior Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, and former Professor of Administrative Reforms and Emergency Governance at JNU. The views expressed are personal.
PARLIAMENT MUST BE ALLOWED TO FUNCTION
Vice President Venkaiah Naidu should be commended for refusing to back down on his decision to suspend 12 MPs from the Rajya Sabha for the whole of the winter session for unruly conduct during the monsoon session. Public memory may be short, but it’s not that short that the bedlam Parliament witnessed in the monsoon session would be forgotten by now. In that session, MPs jumped up on tables, tore up documents, threw paper, misbehaved with the security staff, while at the same time playing victim and claiming that outsiders were brought in to manhandle them. Unprecedented scenes were witnessed in Parliament and the MPs who indulged in such mayhem deserved to be suspended. The parties that alleged that outsiders were brought in should have provided the evidence to back up such a charge, barring which the nation will be forced to consider only the video evidence that is available in the public domain and those clips show the most appalling behaviour by certain MPs.
That the Vice President, as Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, feels strongly about the disruption of Parliament has been clear for some time. In September, while delivering a lecture on the topic of “if disrupting Parliament was an MP’s privilege or could be regarded as a facet of Parliamentary democracy”, he had said that disruption was “a certain negation of the spirit and the intention behind the rules of the House, the code of conduct and the parliamentary etiquette and the scheme of parliamentary privileges, all aimed at enabling effective performance of individual members and the House collectively. Given the consequences, disruption of proceedings clearly amounts to contempt of the House…” Even otherwise he has been unhappy that disruptions were leading to the loss of productivity of both Houses. The monsoon session this year was among the least productive in the Narendra Modi government’s second tenure. According to available statistics, out of 96 hours, the Lok Sabha functioned for just 21 hours and 14 minutes, which is 22% productivity, and Rajya Sabha for only 28 of the total 97.5 hours, with 28% productivity. Important bills were passed without any debate and the government too adjourned Parliament early. All this signify a complete breakdown of Parliamentary proceedings.
Unless due process is followed and every bill debated and amendments suggested and incorporated, the sanctity of a Parliamentary democracy cannot be upheld. Parliament is a place for debates, discussions and repartees, with the jousting limited to verbal rapier thrusts. Indian Parliament has a long tradition of that. A good Parliamentary debate can be fascinating and intellectually stimulating, especially when both the treasury and the opposition benches are peopled with great orators. It is a shame when their voices get lost in the din and the nation is deprived of their views. For that matter, even a limited amount of din is acceptable, but not physical aggression. And as VP Naidu correctly pointed out on Wednesday, “the members who have committed this sacrilege…have not expressed any remorse”. Forget about remorse, some of them think that it’s a matter of pride that they have been suspended for “raising their voices on behalf of the farmers”. It is not known how rushing to the well of the House, throwing paper planes, tearing up files, jostling and pushing are part of the exercise of raising one’s voice on any issue. Street politics should be left outside when entering Parliament. In this context, mention must be made of the unparliamentary language being used by certain Parliamentarians, outside Parliament. One of these worthies implicitly compared the president of a rival political party with a barking dog. It is incumbent on every party leadership to rein in these foul-mouthed entities, instead of trying to portray them as fire-brand people’s politicians.
As for the disruptions that have started once again, it is hoped that saner heads among the Opposition will prevail and the two Houses will be allowed to function. Every government needs to be held accountable for its actions and inactions on the floor of the House, every bill needs to be debated and discussed before they are made into law. Not allowing that to happen amounts to “sacrilege”.
ANALYSING FEAR AND SPECULATION OVER THE OMICRON VARIANT
Are we ready for another lockdown? The fear of Omicron, the new coronavirus mutation hitting our shores has raised a high level of anxiety amongst Indians. The predominant fear of course is a repeat of the horrors of the second wave. Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has already asked the Prime Minister to stop all international flights from the affected countries. Kejriwal points out that a South African returnee has already landed in Chandigarh and tested positive for Covid-19. He has also infected his domestic and a family member. The genome sequencing is being done to figure out which strain of Covid-19 this is, and for now, the Union Health Minister has stated that there is no case of Omicron in India as yet.
Kejriwal, being Kejriwal, has taken to the social media amplifying the efforts his government is putting in to counter a fresh wave. The PM too we are told is holding several high-level meetings to ascertain the threat perception and our response to it. Testing has been ramped up at airports and there is talk about speeding up the booster shot and this is essential as the elderly and the health care workers have already had a gap of over six months since their last dose.
At stake are also the series of weddings and Christmas get-togethers planned as the post-Diwali surge showed an increase in cases but very few of them requiring hospitalisation. Instead, doctors claimed that it was dengue that was occupying the hospital beds. But dengue is an old familiar case study even though the cases were severe and the pollution was helping any. However, it is the fear of the unknown that has a more potent impact and the mere suggestion of another coronavirus mutation was enough to dispel any goodwill cheer.
However, the stock market is already mirroring the gloom felt in the industry. Businesses that had started are now again facing a road bump, especially the travel industry that was all set to reopen all international flights. Suddenly travel agents are getting cancellation requests on planned Christmas vacations. Offices that were opening up for offline work are also now rethinking this decision —and while there are inherent advantages to working from home and holding digital meetings, these do not match the productivity level of face to face meetings, especially in industries that require you to brainstorm.
However, we are being told by global health experts that the symptoms shown by patients infected with Omicron are mild and are mostly being treated at home. But until more data is known, one will have to live in the uncertainty that is fast becoming a regular feature in this Covid continuous world.
Why do Indians achieve more success in Western world than India?
On experiencing systems of the Western world, we come to realise what freedom and independence are. We get to see the true face of democracy in such nations. One finds no cause to hold ones’ opinions and is able to express them without any fear. In our country, even if one is right, still he can find himself in trouble if his expressions are to the dislike of the people in power.
We Indians are fundamentally noble and articulate people but this primary trait of ours had lost its significance as we had been ruled for centuries by invaders who exploited us to the maximum and unleashed a reign of misrule which went up to the extent that we almost forgot our identity and values. We had turned ourselves almost as slaves of our oppressors and this was not only confined to our body but our inner self too.
Islamic conquests made inroads into this subcontinent as early as the 8th century followed by the invasions of Mahmud Ghazni. The Delhi Sultanate was founded in the 13th century by the Central Asian Turks, who ruled major parts of the northern Indian subcontinent. This was followed by the Mughal Empire and their decline in the early 18th century that led to the rise of East India Company and consequent British Rule that lasted for over 200 years till 1947 when India was finally freed from the chains of slavery. However, it was not without a permanent scar on our motherland as it was not without the partition of this country.
We hoped to come out of this mindset that had deeply entrenched our hearts and minds during this long period of domination by invaders, but sadly we still continue to be under the shadow of the tendencies grown out of this long misrule and even after the passage of more than 70 years since we got independence, the misrule we faced earlier has not ended and we continue to watch it in one form or the other. Unfortunately, we continue to live under the same sort of oppression though in a different disguise. This takes us to believe that though the foreign rule ended, the legacy of misrule of that time is becoming more and more evident instead of being totally erased and wiped out from the face of this country.
Going by the above, one is led to believe that we Indians are not even now truly free and independent in real terms of the word. Freedom and independence connote freedom of thoughts and actions but without infringing such rights of others. What it further implies is that we are hesitant and scared in expressing our thoughts due to some dark fear of retribution from the powers that be. As a corollary, we have to accept the fact that after suffering foreign domination for a long period, we are and continue to be a suppressed society and also suppressed people. Our psyche always fears the unknown and we are totally shaken if we hear an unfamiliar knock at our doors. This has made us almost robotic and we only express the rehearsed lines as we are always controlled by the thought that if we express anything which is not found palatable, we would be made to suffer on one pretext or the other. So to find safety, we enter into our cocoon and seal our mouth.
We Indians are well aware of the rampant corruption around us. We are fully aware that some powerful people in our society are the most corrupt and there are anti-social elements but we see day in and day out such people ruling the roost and they use the powers at their command to serve their personal interests at the cost of this great nation. We have watched since independence such elements taking control of our destinies, but we have chosen to give a blind eye to this, just to ensure our personal well-being. It is there for everyone to see that barring a few, our political class is not entirely clean and the pity is that we stand helplessly and allow such things to continue.
But the contrast becomes crystal clear when we move to the Western world. On experiencing their systems, we come to realise what freedom and independence are. We get to see the true face of democracy in such nations. One finds no cause to hold ones’ opinions and is able to express them without any fear. In our country, even if one is right, still he can find himself in trouble if his expressions are to the dislike of the people in power. This has made us vulnerable before the political class and we don’t find ourselves safe even if we are following our normal routines. Things have come to such a pass that one is not safe while walking on the road. This has made our womenfolk and children more vulnerable.
It leads us to the question as to how Indians become important, rich, and leading lights when they are settled in some foreign land. We see everyday Indians achieving newer heights in the US, Europe, and many Asian countries. Most of these Indians enjoy ultra-high net worth and high status in these countries. The question arises of how such a thing is possible outside of our country. The answer lies in the fact that Indians are peace-loving people. When we are in our country, we are moulded by the prevailing environment that evidently is not clean and we feel helpless and sometimes make us choose the wrong options to achieve the right end. A further fact is that generally we Indians are intelligent and believe in toiling hard. But the predicament is that only a few attach values to such traits. However, the same people, when they go abroad, find that these values are given great importance and values. Indians achieve a higher success rate than the local people since they sacrifice their comforts and involve themselves with heart and soul in their endeavour but in comparison, a local wouldn’t make a similar sacrifice at the cost of his lifestyle and comforts. This endears the Indians to the local people and provides them with a priority. A similar approach can be noted as far as the academic field goes. Indians believe in achieving academic excellence and ignore extra-curricular activities when pursuing their education. Their effort is always to top in their career. Comparatively, people in such developed countries devote time to other activities such as games. This naturally makes Indians more suitable for various specialised fields and it is there for all to see that they hold important positions in foreign countries in such positions.
The need is to open eyes and call a spade a spade for the welfare of our teeming millions and this will help us to achieve the Eldorado we always dream of and then we will see no difference whether we are in India or abroad.
Jagdip Singh is Chairman, SIGMA GROUP of Industries and Hony. Consul General of South Korea. The views expressed are personal.
When we are in our country, we are moulded by the prevailing environment that evidently is not clean and we feel helpless and sometimes making us choose the wrong options to achieve the right end. A further fact is that generally we Indians are intelligent and believe in toiling hard. But the predicament is that only a few attach values to such traits. However, the same people, when they go abroad, find that these values are given great importance and values. Indians achieve a higher success rate than the local people since they sacrifice their comforts and involve themselves with heart and soul in their endeavour but in comparison, a local wouldn’t make a similar sacrifice at the cost of his lifestyle and comforts.
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