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In exceptional cases, High Courts can quash cases to prevent misuse

The Supreme Court on Monday upheld a 2018 amendment which barred persons accused of committing atrocities against those belonging to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes from getting anticipatory bail.

But two of the judges on the Bench, Justices Arun Mishra and Vineet Saran, held in their joint opinion that a High Court would also have an “inherent power” to grant anticipatory bail in cases in which prima facie an offence under the anti-atrocities law is not made out.

The two judges held that a High Court, in “exceptional cases”, could quash cases to prevent the misuse of the anti-atrocities law.

Justice Bhat’s caveat

The third judge on the Bench, Justice S. Ravindra Bhat, in his separate opinion, however, added a caveat to what his two companion judges on the Bench said about the use of this “inherent power” by the High Courts.

Justice Bhat stressed that the courts should take care to use this power to grant anticipatory bail “only sparingly and in very exceptional cases”.

It should not become a norm lest it leads to miscarriage of justice and abuse of the process of law. The intention of the Parliament to protect the oppressed classes would suffer a defeat, he said. “I consider such stringent terms, otherwise contrary to the philosophy of bail, absolutely essential, because a liberal use of the power to grant pre-arrest bail would defeat the intention of Parliament,” Justice Bhat explained.

“It is important to reiterate and emphasise that unless provisions of the Act (anti-atrocities law) are enforced in their true letter and spirit, with utmost earnestness and dispatch, the dream and ideal of a casteless society will remain only a dream, a mirage. The marginalisation of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities is an enduring exclusion and is based almost solely on caste identities,” Justice Bhat observed.

The judge said the express provisions of the Constitution and statutes like the Act, meant to protect the oppressed classes, underline the social or collective resolve to ensure that “all humans are treated as humans, that their innate genius is allowed outlets through equal opportunities and each of them is fearless in the pursuit of her or his dreams”.

Nine-judge SC Bench frames 7 questions on religious rights

A nine-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court on Monday upheld the decision of the five-judge Sabarimala Review Bench to refer to a larger Bench questions on the ambit and scope of religious freedom practised by multiple faiths across the country.

The nine-judge Bench, led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) S.A. Bobde, said a Bench engaged in the review of a particular judgment could indeed refer other questions of law to a larger Bench. Arguments on merits would be heard from February 17.

The Bench also framed seven questions of law which it would decide now. These are: what is the scope and ambit of religious freedom under Article 25 of the Constitution? What is the interplay between religious freedom and rights of religious denominations under Article 26 of the Constitution? Whether religious denominations are subject to fundamental rights? What is the definition of ‘morality’ used in Articles 25 and 26? What is the ambit and scope of judicial review of Article 25? What is the meaning of the phrase “sections of Hindus” under Article 25 (2)(b)? Whether a person not belonging to a religious group can question the practices, beliefs of that group in a PIL petition?

On the last day of hearing, Chief Justice Bobde had defended the November 14, 2019, reference made by the Review Bench, led by then CJI Ranjan Gogoi. “By making this reference order [on November 14], the Bench [led by Justice Gogoi] has not prejudicially affected anybody’s rights. It may be the most innovative idea, but it has not affected any rights,” he had said orally.

On November 14 last year, the Gogoi Bench, in a majority judgment, did not decide the Sabarimala review cases before it. Instead, it went on to frame “larger issues” concerning essential religious practices of various religions. It further clubbed other pending cases on subjects as varied as female genital mutilation among the Dawoodi Bohras to entry of Parsi women who married inter-faith into the fire temple and Muslim women into mosques and referred them all to a larger Bench.

The reference order also asked the larger Bench to consider the rule pertaining to the prohibition of entry to women of menstruating age into the Sabarimala temple.

One or two will be finally named for Gaganyaan

The four Indian pilots chosen as candidate-astronauts on Monday began their 12-month training at the Gagarin Research and Test Cosmonaut Training Centre (GCTC) in Moscow, Russian space business company Glavkosmos has announced.

Much of the training will take place at the GCTC facilities, a statement issued in Moscow said. The full programme includes basic or generic astronaut training followed by activities specific to the first Indian human space mission, Gaganyaan.

From IAF team

The four candidates are fighter pilots from the Indian Air Force and were chosen from among hundreds of applicants over the last few months. At the end of all training modules in India and Russia, one or two of the four will be finally named to circle the earth in the first crewed Gaganyaan, which is planned around 2022.

12-month module

In June 2019, the Human Space Flight Centre of the Indian Space Research Organisation and the Russian government-owned Glavkosmos signed a contract for the training, which includes Russian support in the selection of candidates, their medical examination, and space training.

Glavkosmos said, “The 12-month training programme includes comprehensive and biomedical training of the Indian candidates, combined with regular physical practices. They will study in detail the systems of the Soyuz manned spaceship, as well as be trained in short-term weightlessness mode aboard the Il-76MDK aircraft.”

The Il-76MDK is an Ilyushin-78 military transport plane specially re-designed for parabolic flights of trainee astronauts and space tourists. The candidates will also be trained to take appropriate actions during emergencies — for example should the spacecraft make an abnormal landing in (unplanned) climate and geographic zones.

The proposal will be debated at the 13th Conference of Parties in Gandhinagar

Jumbo cause: An elephant herd searching for food in a forest near Panbari village, on the outskirts of Guwahati.AP/FILEAnupam Nath

India will be moving to include the Asian Elephant and the Great Indian Bustard in the list of species that merit heightened conservation measures. The list will be debated at the 13th Conference of Parties (COP) of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), an environment treaty under the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Gujarat convention

The COP is scheduled to be organised from February 17 to 22 in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. There are 130 parties to the convention and India has been a member since 1983.

“We expect the COP to clear the inclusion of the Great Indian Bustard and the elephant as it has been vetted by technical experts and reflects the consensus of several countries. The elephant faces risks particularly in neighbouring Bangladesh and Nepal,” Soumitra Dasgupta, a senior official in the Union Environment Ministry told The Hindu.

India is home to several migratory species of wildlife, including the snow leopard, Amur falcons, bar- headed geese, black-necked cranes, marine turtles, dugongs and hump-backed whales.

Having the elephant and the Great Indian Bustard in the list — more formally known as Appendix 1 — would coax countries neighbouring India, where wild animals such as tigers and elephant foray into, to direct more resources and attention to protecting them. There are now 173 species in the Appendix 1.

PM to address meet

Representatives from across the world, and conservationists and international NGOs working in wildlife conservation, are expected to attend the COP, which will also see Prime Minister Narendra Modi address the gathering via video conference.

The Union Environment Ministry reports India as having 29,964 elephants according to the Project Elephant Census in 2017. The pachyderm merits the highest level of protection, or Schedule 1, under the Wildlife Protection Act.

India to lead

India has been designated the President of the COP for the next three years. “The government of India has been taking necessary actions to protect and conserve migratory marine species. Seven species that include Dugong, Whale Shark, Marine Turtle (two species), have been identified for preparation of Conservation and Recovery Action Plan,” the Ministry said.

In what might be a befitting tribute, the digitisation process of flying licences is being undertaken by Tata Consultancy Services

The flying licence of J.R.D. Tata.Special Arrangement

In was on February 10, 1929 that India got its its first pilot in Jehangir R.D. Tata, who qualified with number 1 on his flying licence, giving birth to Indian aviation.

India has come a long way since then, with digitisation process of flying licences underway, being the latest among initiatives to be undertaken by Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). In what might be a befitting tribute to the legend, the digitisation process, which kicked off in December 2019 is being undertaken by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).

‘Aviators certificate’

Dated February 10, 1929, J.R.D’s licence, then called an ‘aviators certificate’, was issued by The Aero Club of India and Burma, an associate of the Royal Aero Club of Great Britain, which was authorised to issue licences by the British Empire’s Federation Aeronautique Internationale. The Aero Club of India and Burma was recognised by Federation Aeronautique Internationale as a sporting authority.

The certificate in itself was a beginning of Indian aviation, as many aviation historians have noted over time.

Though not the first to register, J.R.D was the first Indian to pass out with ‘No. 1’ endorsed on his flying licence. Purushottam Meghji Kabali is by various aviator accounts considered to be the first Indian pilot.

Born on July 29, 1904, in Paris, J.R.D. launched India’s first airmail service in 1932, when he flew into Mumbai in a De Havilland Puss Moth from Karachi’s Drigh Road Aerodrome to the Juhu Airstrip via Ahmedabad on the basis of this flying license. This later became the country’s national carrier, Air India.

Capt. Russi Bunsha, executive trustee, J. R. D. Tata Memorial Trust recalled that that planned flight was delayed by a month to October 15, 1932, as Juhu mud flats, where it would land was witness to heavy rainfall.

“In in first year, Tata Air Mail made a profit of ₹60,000, while rose to ₹6 lakh by 1937,” Capt. Bunsha said referring to available records.

Arun Kumar, the current director general of the DGCA the aviation regulator was now issuing Commercial Pilots License online after verification of the log-book of the concerned flying training school, while Airline Transport Pilot’s License will go online in May. “As we say, we have miles to go before we sleep,” Mr. Kumar said.

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