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WILL SET UP EXPERT PANEL OVER PEGASUS ROW, GOVT TELLS SC

Ashish Sinha

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The Centre on Monday filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court saying that it will set up a committee of experts to examine all aspects of the alleged surveillance of Indian citizens with the Israeli Pegasus spyware, even as it cited “vested interests” behind the controversy.

The Centre in its affidavit also stated that: “With a view to dispel any wrong narrative spread by certain vested interests and with an object of examining the issues raised, the Union of India will constitute a committee of experts in the field which will go into all aspects of the issue,”.

During the hearing, the Supreme Court noted that the Centre’s two-page affidavit, denying snooping charges and agreeing to form a panel of experts to examine all aspects of the matter, has not satisfied a group of petitioners seeking an independent probe. “We will continue to hear the matter tomorrow (Tuesday). If you have a change of mind, let us know tomorrow. If you decide to file an affidavit, then we have nothing to say, else we will hear all of you,” the bench said.

The Supreme court was hearing nine petitions, including those of Advocate ML Sharma, Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas, Director of Hindu Group of publications N. Ram, founder of Asianet Sashi Kumar, Editors Guild of India, journalists Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, SNM Abdi, Prem Shankar Jha, and Rupesh Kumar Singh, seeking a court-monitored SIT probe into the Pegasus snoopgate.

On 3 August, the Editors Guild of India had filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking a court-monitored SIT probe into the Pegasus snoopgate. The plea also sought directions to be issued to the Central government to produce any contracts, agreements, memoranda of understanding entered into with foreign companies for supplying spyware, hacking or electronic surveillance for use on Indian citizens.

The petitioner stated that the Government of India has not expressly denied procuring Pegasus spyware, or using it on journalists, and consequently must uncover and furnish all information regarding purchase and use of this malware, and illegal surveillance carried out by the use of this spyware/surveillance tool/hacking. The petitioner said that the citizens of India have a right to know about the violation of fundamental rights, abuse of power by the state, occurrence of cyber terrorist attacks, and threats to their privacy, safety and freedoms.

On 27 July, senior journalists N. Ram and Shashi Kumar had filed a plea in Supreme Court for an independent probe headed by a former or sitting top court judge into Pegasus issue. The petitioners also sought direction to the Center to disclose if the government or any of its agencies have obtained license(s) for Pegasus spyware and/or used/employed it, either directly or indirectly, to conduct surveillance in any manner whatsoever.

The petitioners stated that such targeted surveillance using weapons grade Pegasus software violates Article 21, 19 and 14 of the Constitution of India, as it breaches the right to privacy and the right to freedom of speech and expression. The present surveillance is also in complete derogation of the Telegraph Act, 1885 and the Information Technology Act, 2000 and as such is completely illegal and a criminal act, it added.

The plea further stated that such targeted surveillance violates the right to privacy, which is the Constitutional core of human dignity and is protected under Article 21, 19, 14, 25, 28, the Preamble and Part III of the Constitution according to the landmark judgment of a nine-judge bench of this Court in K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India.

On 25 July, Rajya Sabha member John Brittas had filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking a court-monitored probe into reports of alleged snooping of activists, politicians, journalists and constitutional functionaries using Israeli spyware Pegasus. The parliamentarian said the recent Pegasus snooping allegations as reported by a website on 19 July are causing huge apprehensions and great agony for the citizens of India as such snooping violate  citizen’s freedom of speech under Article-19 (1) (a) as well as his/her personal liberty under Article-21.

On 22 July, Advocate ML Sharma had filed a petition in Supreme Court seeking a court-monitored probe by a Special Investigation Team into the reports of alleged snooping by government agencies using Israeli spyware Pegasus over journalists, activists, politicians and others. The plea further sought to declare buying of Pegasus software for snooping illegal and unconstitutional.

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Delhi police call meet of intel agencies, anti-terror squad heads

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With the situation in India’s western neighbourhood volatile, an inter-state coordination meeting of all intelligence agencies and state heads of the Anti Terror Squad has been called in Delhi on Friday. This is the first time the centrally administered Delhi Police has called for such a meeting.

A senior MHA official confirmed that after the Taliban, backed by other terror organisations and state actors in Pakistan, took over Afghanistan, there were inputs about heightened activities in the border areas. The meeting will help to coordinate better and prepare in advance for any untoward incident. “The purpose of the meeting is to smoothen the exchange of intelligence inputs and better coordination,” said the official.

For the first time, the inter-state coordination meeting of intelligence agencies like the Intelligence Bureau, Research and Analysis Wing, Military Intelligence, and other agencies have been called at Delhi Police headquarters. The meeting will also be attended by 11 ATS chiefs of other states and senior officers in field operations.

The intelligence agencies are continuously receiving alerts regarding terrorists crossing the border and planning something ‘big’ in the country. On August 15, the government in Afghanistan collapsed and the Taliban took over the country. The sympathisers of the Taliban who were keeping an eye on India became active.

A senior official said that personnel of intelligence agencies active in Jammu and Kashmir got intel reports from their counterpart active in the PoK region regarding the movement of terrorists who are planning to infiltrate into the Jammu and Kashmir region.

All intelligence agencies have been put on high alert after they learnt about a meeting between Pakistan-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed and Taliban leaders in Kandhar during the third week of August. The meeting was attended by a group of Taliban leaders where JeM sought their support in ‘India-Centric’ operations. Sources further reveal that the political situation in Pakistan was also discussed in the meeting.

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AGENCIES CONTINUE GRILLING PAKISTAN BOAT CREW

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Indian agencies are continuing the interrogation of the 12-member crew of the apprehended Pakistani boat Allah Pawawakal as they want to ascertain their intentions inside Indian waters. The crew members claim they are fishermen but the boarding party could not find any fish on their boat and their replies give rise to suspicion about their intent. Their questioning is still going on, government officials told ANI. The boat was apprehended on the night of 14 September when the Indian Coast Guard Ship Rajratan, while on a surveillance mission apprehended it in Indian waters with 12 crew, the coast guard had stated in its statement on the incident.

The ICG ship under the command of Comdt (JG) Gaurav Sharma, challenged and the boarding party despite rough and adverse weather conditions was tasked to board the boat. The boat has now been brought to Okha for a further joint investigation by appropriate agencies.

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HARYANA CM MEETS PM, BRIEFS HIM ON FARMERS’ PROTEST

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Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday and briefed him on the farmers’ protest. He also invited the Prime Minister to the state for the foundation stone laying ceremony of the Haryana Orbital Rail Corridor. Khattar also extended birthday greetings to the Prime Minister on the eve of his birthday and told him that the state unit of the BJP would be devoting this day to service and dedication. Speaking to reporters after meeting PM Modi, Khattar said, “I briefed the PM on new initiatives and schemes introduced in the state. I also briefed him on the farmers’ protest and the incident that occurred in Karnal. I have invited him to the state for the foundation stone laying of the Haryana Orbital Rail Corridor.” Khattar also told reporters that the project is being built at a cost of Rs 5,600 crores and all the approvals for the project have been completed. Khattar’s meeting with PM Modi comes amid the ongoing farmers’ protest against the three farm laws during which they blocked the National Highway-44 at the Singhu border.

Haryana Police had on August 28 conducted a lathi-charge on protesting farmers near the Bastar toll plaza in Karnal. The All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) had alleged that Kajal, who belonged to Karnal district had “received severe blows in the atrocious police lathi charge” and died of a “heart attack”. However, Haryana Police denied the allegation.

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‘India ready to partner with nations for tech transfer, making Covid vaccines’

‘Both India and South Africa proposed a TRIPS waiver for vaccine production’.

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India has said it is ready to partner with interested countries for the transfer of technology and manufacture of Covid-19 vaccines indigenously developed in the country. Both India and South Africa proposed TRIPS waiver for vaccine production as well. Addressing the Commonwealth Foreign Affairs Ministers Meeting, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said that in order to address vaccine inequity and promote the interests of the developing world, several of whom are members of the Commonwealth, India, along with South Africa, has proposed the TRIPS waiver for vaccine production in developing countries.

“While this issue is being deliberated in the WTO, we stand ready to partner with interested countries for the transfer of technology and manufacture of Covid-19 vaccines indigenously developed in India,” he said.

India is also working on mass vaccine production under the Quad framework and also partnering with Australia, Japan and the United States to expand the vaccine manufacturing capacity in India, to assist countries in the Indo-Pacific region, again several of whom are small island states and members of the Commonwealth.

“We are proactively considering cooperation in critical areas of genomic surveillance and clinical trials,” Shringla said.

“India has taken the initiative to conduct customized Covid-19 specific training programmes for several countries, including Commonwealth member states to build the capacity of healthcare professionals and administrators.

“We are also making available Covid-19 mitigation technologies, solutions and products, including cost-effective test kits, indigenously developed in India for supply to the rest of the world,” he added.

He also highlighted the rapid pace of India’s own vaccination programme. “On the domestic front, we are implementing our vaccination programme successfully, having administered an overwhelming 750 million doses so far, with a record-breaking 10 million doses in a single day,” Shringla said. India has provided Covid-19 related support, including pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and vaccines, to more than 150 countries across the world over the last year.

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2022 R-Day parade will be held in new Central Vista

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The next Republic Day parade on January 26 will be held in the new Central Vista, said Union Minister for Housing and Urban Affairs, Hardeep Singh Puri on Thursday. Speaking to journalists, the Union Minister said, “We have ongoing work on Central Vista Avenue. The next Republic Day parade on January 26 will be held on the new Central Vista. We will ensure that the winter session of Parliament during the 75th year of our Independence will be held in the new Parliament.” Puri further said the new building of the Ministry of Defence, which has been inaugurated by the Prime Minister, comes under the Central Vista project.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday inaugurated the Defence Offices Complexes at Kasturba Gandhi Marg and Africa Avenue in the national capital. The new Defence Offices Complexes will accommodate around 7,000 officials from the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces, including the Army, Navy and Air Force. The buildings will provide modern, secure and functional working spaces.

An Integrated Command and Control Centre has been established for managing building operations, while also catering to the end to end safety and surveillance of both the buildings.

The Central Vista Development project intends to revamp 86 acres of land in central Delhi which has structures such as Parliament House, North Block, South Block, Shastri Bhavan and Udyog Bhavan.

While interacting with Army, Navy, Air Force and civilian officers during the inauguration ceremony, the Prime Minister said: “The people who were criticising the Central Vista project never mentioned the Defence Offices Complexes, which is also part of the Centra Vista… They knew their falsity would be exposed.” “When we are focusing on ease of living and ease of doing business, modern infrastructure plays an equally important role. This is the idea behind the work that is being done in the development of the Central Vista,” PM Modi said.

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INCENTIVES WORTH RS 120 CRORE FOR DRONE SECTOR

Urvashi Khona

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Under the production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme, incentives of Rs 120 crore will be given in the next three years to the drone manufacturing sector, Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya M. Scindia said on Thursday, while briefing the media about the important features of the PLI scheme.

“This amount is 1.5 times the combined size of the drone manufacturing sector. Over a period of three years, an estimated investment worth Rs 5,000 crore for manufacturing drones will be done, and this, in turn, will bring a turnover of Rs 900 crore, and 10,000 job opportunities will be created,” Scindia said, adding that the objective is to establish India as a global drone hub by 2030.

Drones offer tremendous benefits to almost all sectors of the economy. These include: agriculture, mining, infrastructure, surveillance, emergency response, transportation, geo-spatial mapping, defence, and law enforcement, to name a few. Drones can be significant creators of employment and economic growth due to their reach, versatility, and ease of use, especially in India’s remote and inaccessible areas.

Focusing on this being a revolutionary step for the industry, Scindia detailed the features of scheme and said, “It’s the first step towards realising our collective vision of an Aatmanirbhar Bharat; the Central Government under the leadership of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, has approved the Production-Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme for drones and drone components.” After the liberalised drone rule enacted last month, the government on Wednesday approved the PLI scheme for drones and drone components.

FEATURES OF THE PLI SCHEME FOR DRONES, 2021:

• The total amount allocated for the PLI scheme for drones and drone components is INR 120 crore, spread over three financial years.

• The incentive for a manufacturer of drones and drone components shall be as high as 20% of the value addition made by the manufacturer.

• The value addition shall be calculated as the annual sales revenue from drones and drone components (net of GST), minus the purchase cost (net of GST) of drone and drone components.

• The Government has agreed to keep the PLI rate constant at 20% for all three years, an exceptional treatment given only to the drone industry. In PLI schemes for other sectors, the PLI rate reduces every year.

• The proposed tenure of the PLI scheme is three years, starting in FY 2021-22. The PLI scheme will be extended or redrafted after studying its impact in consultation with the industry.

• The Government has agreed to fix the minimum value addition norm at 40% of net salesfor drones and drone components, instead of 50%, another exceptional treatment given to the drone industry. This will allow widening the number of beneficiaries.

• The PLI scheme covers a wide variety of drone components:

• Airframe, propulsion systems (engine and electric), power systems, batteries and associated components, launch and recovery systems;

• Inertial Measurement Unit, Inertial Navigation System, flight control module, ground control station and associated components;

• Communications systems (radio frequency, transponders, satellite-based etc.)

• Cameras, sensors, spraying systems and related payload etc.;

• ‘Detect and Avoid’ system, emergency recovery system, trackers etc. and other components critical for safety and security.

• The list of eligible components may be expanded by the Government from time to time, as drone technology evolves.

• The Government has agreed to widen the coverage of the incentive scheme to include developers of drone-related IT products also.

• The Government has kept the eligibility norm for MSME and startups in terms of annual sales turnover at a nominal level—INR 2 crore (for drones) and INR 50 lakh (for drone components). This will allow widening the number of beneficiaries.

• Eligibility norm for non-MSME companies in terms of annual sales turnover has been kept at INR 4 crore (for drones) and INR 1 crore (for drone components).

• For foreign companies, Rs 8 crore for drones and Rs 2 crore for drone components.

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