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Times Top10: Today’s Top News Headlines and Latest News from India & across the World


5 THINGS FIRST

Supreme Court to hear UP govt’s plea in the matter of OBC quota in local polls; Bombay HC to examine land allotment decision by Eknath Shinde as minister in previous Maharashtra govt; CMs of Punjab and Haryana to meet over Sutlej Yamuna Link Canal row; Kerala Congress to observe ‘black day’ over Saji Cherian’s oath taking as minister; ED court to hear bail plea of AAP’s Vijay Nair and businessmen Abhishek Boinpally in Delhi excise policy case

1. Do ministers and lawmakers have absolute freedom of speech?
1. Do ministers and lawmakers have absolute freedom of speech?
  • Ministers and lawmakers enjoy freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1) of the Constitution as other citizens and additional restrictions cannot be imposed to curb their right to free speech, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday.
  • A five-judge Constitution bench of Justices BR Gavai, AS Bopanna, V Ramasubramanian, SA Nazeer and BV Nagarathna held that curbs on free speech cannot extend beyond what is prescribed under Article 19(2) of the Constitution that imposes reasonable restrictions and applies equally on all citizens.

A majority verdict

  • The Court by 4:1 majority held that freedom of speech of public officials cannot be restricted in favour of another person’s fundamental rights, even as they held that the State has an obligation to protect the fundamental rights of citizens even against non-state actors such as other private persons.
  • However, Justice Nagarathna delivered a separate judgment. She held that the Court cannot impose any additional restrictions on the fundamental right of free speech of such public functionaries.

The case

  • The proceedings in the case began when the top court took cognisance of a controversial statement made by former UP minister Azam Khan in July 2016. He had allegedly termed a gangrape case in Bulandshahr as part of a “political conspiracy”. While Khan was let off with an unconditional apology, the Court agreed to examine the larger issue.
  • In October 2017, a three-judge bench referred the matter to the constitution bench to decide on various aspects of the matter.

Key issues

  • The top priority was to examine whether ministers, public functionaries and lawmakers can claim freedom of speech while expressing views on sensitive matters.
  • Another key aspect of the matter was whether a statement by a minister in relation to any affairs of the State or for the protection of government can be attributed vicariously to the government itself.
2. ‘All conversions cannot be illegal’
2. ‘All conversions cannot be illegal’
  • What: Observing that not all cases of religious conversion can be illegal and influenced by allurement and coercion, the Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to stay the Madhya Pradesh High Court’s order restraining the state government from implementing its anti-conversion law by which a person had to give a 60 days’ prior notice to the state authority before converting and embracing another religion.
  • Why: While the apex court agreed to examine an appeal filed by the MP government against the HC order, it turned its plea for interim stay. The state government had rushed to the top court as the HC prima facie held that Section 10 of Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act (MPFRA), 2021, requiring a two-month prior notice to the district magistrate before the conversion, was unconstitutional and stayed its operation in November last year.
  • How: The HC had said, “An individual has a fundamental right to decide the form of expression which includes his right to remain silent. Silence postulates a realm of privacy. The right to remain silent includes the right to decide the preferences on various aspects of life including the faith one will espouse. The constitutional Right to the Freedom of Religion under Article 25 has implicit within it the ability to choose a faith and the freedom to express or not express those choices to the world.”
3. Three Russians die mysteriously in a fortnight. Coincidence?
3. Three Russians die mysteriously in a fortnight. Coincidence?
At Paradip Port

  • A Russian national identified as Milyakov Sergey was found dead on Tuesday in a ship anchored at Paradip Port in Jagatsinghpur district. This was the third incident of Russian nationals being found dead in Odisha within a fortnight.

Unnatural death

  • The 51-year-old man was the chief engineer of the vessel, M B Aldnah, which was on its way to Mumbai from Chittagong Port in Bangladesh via Paradip. He was found dead in his ship chamber around 4.30 am.

Earlier

  • Two Russian tourists were found dead under mysterious circumstances in Rayagada town in southern Odisha in the latter half of December.
  • Pavel Antov (65), a lawmaker in Russia, died after allegedly falling from a hotel’s third floor on December 24.
  • His friend Vladimir Bydenov (61) was found dead in his room on December 22.
  • Two separate cases of unnatural deaths were registered at the Sadar Police Station in Rayagada. Both cases are being investigated by the Odisha Police.

Ashes to ashes

  • Usually when foreigners die their bodies are repatriated to their home countries. But that didn’t happen in the case of the two Russians.
  • In fact the haste with which their bodies were cremated have added to the mystery of their deaths.
  • Police said their kin had authorised the cremation.

Notice from NHRC

  • As the deaths of Russian nationals, including a lawmaker, were being investigated, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) issued a notice to the Rayagada SP seeking an Action Taken Report (ATR) within four weeks. More here on the mysterious deaths
4. ‘Men knew woman was under the wheel’
4. ‘Men knew woman was under the wheel’
  • Friend speaks: The 20-year-old woman who died in the Delhi scooty horror incident was drunk and insisted on driving the vehicle, said her friend Nidhi, who was riding pillion when a car hit them on January 1.
  • The men knew that the woman, Anjali Singh, had come under the wheel but they kept driving the car, Nidhi told reporters after giving a statement to the Delhi Police which recorded her statement on Tuesday.
  • Horrific but not sexual assault: The preliminary autopsy report of the 20-year-old woman, Anjali Singh, who died after being dragged by a speeding car for several kilometres shows shock and haemorrhage due to injury to the head, spine, and lower limbs led to the death, police said on Tuesday.
  • The police said, “All injuries occurred due to blunt force impact and possibly with a vehicular accident and dragging. Also, the postmortem report indicates that there is no injury suggestive of sexual assault. The final report will be received in due course. Further investigation in the case is under way.”
  • Wait: However, the final report will be given after the receipt of chemical analysis and biological samples’ reports, news agency PTI quoted sources as saying. The deceased was cremated on Tuesday.
  • The woman was killed in the early hours of the New Year after her scooter was hit by a car. Her body was found in the Kanjhawala area. All five accused were sent to three days in police custody on Monday.
  • Meanwhile, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal on Tuesday met the victim’s family and announced, “Rs 10 lakh compensation will be paid to Kanjhawala victim’s family. We will appoint the best lawyer to fight the case.” The cost of treatment of the victim’s mother will be borne by Delhi govt, Kejriwal said.
  • All five accused are in three-day police custody. The Union home minister, under direction from home minister Amit Shah, has sought a detailed report from the Delhi Police, which is planning to use a dummy to recreate the crime scene.
6. Who broke the window? Politics? Conspiracy?
6. Who broke the window? Politics? Conspiracy?
  • Within a few days of launch, the Vande Bharat Express connecting Howrah to New Jalpaiguri had its window panes and a door damaged when stones were thrown at the train – an incident that triggered a political fight on Tuesday between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Trinamool Congress (TMC).

Where it happened

  • The incident took place in Kumarganj of Malda district around 5 pm on Monday. According to the Railways, a door on the right side of compartment C-13 and window panes were damaged due to stone pelting but no passengers were injured. A police case has been filed against unidentified persons.

BJP demands NIA probe

  • The BJP has demanded a probe by the NIA in the incident.
  • Leader of Opposition in West Bengal Assembly and BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari said that he wondered whether the incident was “revenge” for the raising of ‘Jai Shree Ram’ slogans at the inaugural function in Howrah station.
  • PM Modi flagged off India’s seventh Vande Bharat Express from Howrah on December 30, 2022, in the presence of Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee. Banerjee refused to take the dais at Howrah station during the flagging-off ceremony after a crowd of flag-bearing BJP workers shouted ‘Jai Sri Ram’ slogans. The incident created a controversy, with TMC taking exception to the “political slogans” at a government programme, even as BJP tried to downplay the incident.

TMC smells conspiracy

  • The ruling TMC has hinted at some “conspiracy” behind the stone pelting incident. “It could be a conspiracy. They (BJP) are trying to malign Bengal. Also, in Uttar Pradesh, there is a double engine ‘Sarkar’, yet Vande Bharat has been attacked thrice. Why is there no probe by the NIA being demanded? Why are the BJP leaders not tweeting about it? We strongly condemn the incident but it could also be some cheap politics to malign Bengal,” said TMC spokesperson Kunal Ghosh.
7. Make in India, sell in India?
7. Make in India, sell in India?
  • India’s manufacturing sector remained robust and output growth soared to a 13-month high in December on the back of new business and rising production, a survey showed on Monday.
  • At 57.8 in December, up from 55.7 in November, the S&P Global India Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) pointed to a robust improvement in the health of the sector that was the best seen since October 2020.
  • The PMI average for the third fiscal quarter (56.3) was the highest recorded since one year ago, according to the survey. The 50-point mark separates expansion from contraction. The survey is compiled from responses to questionnaires sent to purchasing managers in a panel of around 400 manufacturers.
  • Orders from abroad, however, were at the slowest in five months. The survey showed that global demand for Indian goods also improved, but did so to a lesser extent than in November. Overall, new orders from abroad rose at the slowest pace in five months as several companies reportedly struggled to secure new work from key export markets.
  • Demand resilience boosted sales growth in December, with the rate of increase picking up to the quickest since February 2021. In some instances, panellists indicated that advertising, product diversification and favourable economic conditions supported sales, according to results of a PMI survey.
  • The manufacturing sector had picked up pace after the lifting of Covid-19 curbs but rising interest rates and the geopolitical situation have emerged as key challenges. Slowing global demand is also expected to act as an obstacle for the country’s exports.
8. Is the fourth Covid wave taking roots?
8. Is the fourth Covid wave taking roots?
  • The spike: For the second week running, India recorded a marginal rise in Covid-19 cases although the numbers remained very low. In the week ending Sunday, 1,526 fresh cases were recorded in the country, up 25% from the previous week’s tally of 1,219.
  • This comes when the government has sounded alert anticipating a spike in the Covid-19 cases in January, following the precarious situation of the pandemic in China and some other countries.
  • Where: There were signs of a spike in Karnataka, where new cases jumped from 116 in the previous week to 276. No sharp surge was reported elsewhere in the country, although cases rose marginally in a few states.
  • Kerala continued to report the highest number of new cases at 467, up from 416 in the previous week. Tamil Nadu also registered an increase, going from 47 in the preceding week to 86.
  • Case numbers remained flat in most other states. Maharashtra reported 168 fresh infections during the week as opposed to 172 in the previous one. Delhi logged 81 cases, up slightly from 72, while the numbers dipped in Rajasthan from 81 in the preceding week to 48. All other states recorded less than 50 new cases.
  • The government has advised the state to ramp up testing and administration of booster dose. It has asked the agencies to increase the number of genome sequencing of the samples to ascertain if the country has new variants of the SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. There has been apprehension of the emergence of new variants from the Chinese situation.
  • Meanwhile, in a first since March 2020, Covid deaths during the week (December 26-January 1) dipped to single figures at six. This was the lowest weekly toll since zero deaths were reported during March 16-22, 2020. In the previous week (December 19-25), 16 deaths were recorded, as per TOI’s Covid database.
X-PLAINED
9. Why Taliban are mocking Pak Army
9. Why Taliban are mocking Pak Army
  • The Afghan Taliban, long considered an ally of the Pakistan Army, have mocked the Pakistan Army, with deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Yasir tweeting a photograph showing the Pakistan Army surrendering to the Indian Army in 1971 in the Bangladesh liberation war.
  • Taliban are unhappy over Pakistan interior minister Rana Sanaullah hinting a military operation against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) hideouts in Afghanistan.
  • Warning Pakistan against attacking the Taliban, Yasir wrote, “Interior Minister of Pakistan! Excellent Sir! Afghanistan, Syria and Pakistan are not Turkey to target the Kurds in Syria. This is Afghanistan, the graveyard of proud empires. Do not think of a military attack on us, otherwise, there will be a shameful repetition of the military agreement with India.”
  • Yasir’s warning came days after Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said that Islamabad has the legal authority to act against “insurgents’ hideouts” in Afghanistan if its nation is threatened by such groups.
  • Pakistan has historically followed a “Strategic Depth Policy” towards Afghanistan, whereby it attempts to control the country as a political pawn and strategic hedge vis-a-vis India.
  • Then-ISI chief was in Kabul when the democratic government was ousted in August 2021 in Afghanistan to celebrate the Taliban takeover.
  • The US exit from Afghanistan bolstered TTP activities in Pakistan, where the group has gained considerable ground and increased its footprint.
  • Last month, the TTP formally withdrew its ceasefire agreement with Pakistan, which was formally declared in June. The withdrawal of the ceasefire agreement on November 28 was followed by a wave of terror attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
  • Further, skirmishes along the Pakistan-Taliban-led Afghanistan border have increased significantly over Durand Line since August 2021.
  • In December 2022, the Taliban fighters and Pakistani forces exchanged heavy artillery fire on the Spin-Boldak-Chaman border.
  • Meanwhile, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar made a veiled attack on Pakistan terming it the “epicentre of terrorism” in an interview to a popular Austrian TV show. More here
Answer to NEWS IN CLUES
Answer to NEWS IN CLUES
Siachen Glacier: Captain Shiva Chauhan has become the first-ever woman to be operationally deployed in the Siachen Glacier. The Siachen Glacier is the world’s highest battlefield where temperature drops to -50 degrees Celsius.The officer was deployed at the Kumar post, located at an altitude of around 15,600 feet in Siachen, on Monday, for a period of three months. Read more here.
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Written by: Rakesh Rai, Jayanta Kalita, Prabhash K Dutta, Abhishek Dey
Research: Rajesh Sharma

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