Today's Headlines

Today's Headlines - 24 September 2023

Immunity of legislators from bribery charges

GS Paper - 2 (Polity)

The Supreme Court referred to a seven-judge bench on the question of whether the legal immunity of legislators under Articles 105(2) and 194(2) of the Constitution protects them from being prosecuted in a criminal court for the offence of offering or accepting a bribe. Observing the need to examine the “correctness” of its 1998 constitution bench ruling in PV Narasimha Rao vs. State, a five-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud referred the verdict to a larger bench for fresh consideration.

What are the provisions that grant legislators immunity from prosecution?

  • Broadly, Article 105 of the Constitution deals with the “powers, privileges, etc. of the Houses of Parliament and of the members and committees thereof”.
  • Article 105(2) states, “No member of Parliament shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of any thing said or any vote given by him in Parliament or any committee thereof, and no person shall be so liable in respect of the publication by or under the authority of either House of Parliament of any report, paper, votes or proceedings.”
  • In a nutshell, this provision exempts MPs from any legal action for any statement made or act done in the course of their duties. For example, a defamation suit cannot be filed for a statement made in the House.
  • Additionally, this immunity extends to certain non-members, like the Attorney General of India or a Minister who may not be a member but speaks in the House.
  • In cases where a member oversteps or exceeds the contours of admissible free speech, the Speaker of the House will deal with it, as opposed to the court.
  • Meanwhile, Article 194(2) extends this immunity to MLAs and states, “No member of the Legislature of a State shall be liable to any proceedings in any court in respect of anything said or any vote given by him in the Legislature or any committee thereof, and no person shall be so liable in respect of the publication by or under the authority of a House of such a Legislature of any report, paper, votes, or proceedings.”
  • In the present case, the court has to decide if the legal immunity enjoyed by parliamentarians extends to prosecution for demanding or taking a bribe.

What is the current case with the SC?

  • The case arose out of a plea filed by Sita Soren, a member of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), who was accused of accepting a bribe to cast her vote for a certain candidate in the Rajya Sabha elections of 2012.
  • After these accusations came to the forefront, a complaint was filed before the Chief Election Commissioner of India to conduct a CBI probe in this case. Subsequently, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed its chargesheet against Soren, accusing her of various offences under the IPC and the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, such as briberycriminal conspiracy, and criminal misconduct by a public servant.
  • Seeking to quash the chargesheet and the criminal proceedings against her, Soren approached the Jharkhand HC, contending that she was protected by the immunity granted to her by Article 194(2).
  • However, her plea was rejected by the Jharkhand High Court in 2014. This led her to petition the apex court against the High Court’s order.

India’s agri imports from Canada

GS Paper - 2 (International Relations)

Diplomatic tensions between New Delhi and Ottawa continued to escalate, with India stopping visa services in Canada and Canada “adjusting its staff presence in India”.

India-Canada trade

  • India’s total trade with Canada in the last (2022-23) financial year was $8 billion — that’s 0.7% of India’s total trade ($1.1 trillion) with the world.
  • The share has remained this way at least for the past five years, even though the export and import numbers have gone up and down, especially during the Covid year.
  • Bilateral trade has also been fairly evenly balanced; in 2022-23, for instance, roughly $4 bn of imports were matched by $4 billion of exports even though India enjoyed a tiny trade surplus of $58 million.
  • Among what India imports from Canada, three categories of goods dominate and account for 46% (that is, almost half) of the total import by value. These are:
  • Mineral fuelsmineral oils and products of their distillation; bituminous substances; mineral waxes.
  • Pulp of wood or of other fibrous cellulosic material; waste and scrap of paper or paperboard
  • Edible vegetables and certain roots and tubers

The top three exports, on the other hand, accounted for only 30% of the total exports. These were:

  • Pharmaceutical products
  • Articles of iron or steel
  • Nuclear reactors, boilers, machinery and mechanical appliances; parts thereof

The major agri imports from Canada 

  • Canada is important to India as a supplier of two major agri-related commodities.
  • The first is muriate of potash (MOP), the third most consumed fertiliser in India after urea and di-ammonium phosphate.
  • Canada was India’s largest MOP supplier last year, followed by IsraelJordanBelarusTurkmenistan and Russia.
  • The second major item is masur or red lentil. India is a significant importer of pulses, with masur being the biggest after arhar/tur or pigeon-pea.
  • Canada is India’s largest masur supplier, followed by Australia.

Indian visa service in Canada shut down

GS Paper - 2 (International Relations)

As diplomatic tensions with Canada continued to rise, India suspended visa services in that country. The announcement was made on the visa facility website of the Indian High Commission in Canada. A day earlier, New Delhi had advised all Indian nationals in Canada, as well as those who were planning to visit that country, to “exercise utmost caution”, given the “growing anti-India activities and politically-condoned hate crimes and criminal violence in Canada”.

Who in Canada is impacted by the suspension of visa services?

  • Canadian nationals who intend to visit India, but who do not have an Indian visa yet, will be impacted.
  • This group would include mainly Canadian touristsbusiness travellers, and students, as well as family members of Indian citizens travelling to visit relatives and friends.
  • Tour operators in India had been expecting a large number of tourists from Canada to visit this winter.
  • Foreign tourist arrivals have been impacted from the 2019-20 season onward as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath, and it is widely anticipated that the coming season will be busy. Some operators were already bracing for cancellations from Canada.

Will Indian-origin Canadians with OCI cards also be impacted?

  • No, Indian-origin Canadians who have a valid Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card, or a valid long-term visa for India, will not be impacted by the suspension of visa services.
  • OCI cards allow holders lifetime entry into India, and to live and work in the country indefinitely.
  • Canadians with a valid Indian visa will not be impacted by the Indian government’s latest decision. As of now, their visa stands. They have not been cancelled yet.

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