Editorial 1/Bomb squad
Editorial 2/Sickle and scythe
Kick down the cyber door
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/BOMB SQUAD 
 
 
 
 
It was expected the non-nuclear weapon states would put pressure on the permanent five powers to make an explicit commitment to global abolition of the bomb. After all, the permanent five had promised big cuts in their arsenals and a comprehensive nuclear test ban in return for the permanent extension of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty and had failed to deliver. The NPT tradeoff, disarmament in return for nonproliferation, was in danger. A concession would be needed if the movement towards a global nonproliferation regime was not to unravel. The permanent five’s face saver was an “unequivocal” pledge to “eventually” eliminate their atomic arsenals. There was no timetable, but at least a goal had been announced. More substantially it was agreed to move forward on nuclear disarmament. These included separating plutonium and uranium cores from warheads, reducing the numbers of nuclear weapons on alert status, agreeing to a test moratorium and negotiating a fissile materials cutoff treaty in the next five years. After years of nonproliferation themes, the millennium song is going to be nuclear disarmament.

India was the ghost at the banquet. New Delhi remains opposed to signing a treaty that designates it a non-nuclear weapons state. And its nuclear tests at one point threatened to bring down the nonproliferation edifice altogether. The external affairs minister, Mr Jaswant Singh, sent a message to the conference through a parliamentary statement. He made clear what India wanted. New Delhi understood that the NPT cannot be renegotiated to accommodate India’s nuclear weapons status. So India would remain outside. However, it would abide by responsibility required by the NPT of a nuclear weapons state. India, he said, had already pledged no first use and no use against non-nuclear states. It was prepared to assure the security of any nuclear weapons free zones. It was ready to talk abolition whenever the five were ready to do so. Mr Singh positioned India as a nuclear weapons state prepared to fulfill the promises to the non-nuclear states that the five had failed to deliver on. It was a curious but effective case of parallel diplomacy, further strengthening India’s case that it was not a rogue, nor just another nuclear power. India’s rhetorical position is strong. Especially now that it talks about dealerting and nuclear safety rather than harping on abolition, which is at present an unrealistic goal. India is not yet out of the doghouse. The 187 NPT signatories were quick to condemn Pokhran II. For one thing, India has yet to move beyond rhetoric. It has not signed any pieces of paper or implemented nuclear safety policies. The next step in showing itself to be a nuclear power with a difference, means a constructive approach to fissile materials cutoff talks and moves to keep the nuclear peace in the region.    


 
 
EDITORIAL 2/SICKLE AND SCYTHE 
 
 
 
 
Locals have begun to call it a “second Kargil”. Keshpur — part of the Lok Sabha constituency of Panskura in West Bengal’s Midnapore district — epitomizes the uncontrollable armed violence that marks Panskura’s run up to the Lok Sabha byelections on June 5. The latest flare-up of violence in the region between supporters of the Trinamool Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has resulted in the brutal massacre of 11 supporters, with extensive arson and looting, leaving several hundreds injured and homeless. This happened on the day of the state government’s imposition of section 144 on the constituency, instructed by the election commission, by which any person carrying arms will be immediately arrested. The coincidence proves the utter failure of the West Bengal government, and particularly of the police, to control this escalating tension in a constituency where the police has registered 642 licensed guns and suspect the owning of countless unlicensed ones. Over 60 Trinamool and CPI(M) activists have been killed in the last six months, and this severely underdeveloped region stands ravaged by arson and every other form of party-sponsored terrorism.

Formerly a Left Front bastion with the late Gita Mukherjee winning the Panskura seat in the 1999 Lok Sabha polls, Keshpur has witnessed over the years a dramatic erosion of the Left Front’s base with the emergence of the Trinamool Congress. The byelections have therefore become a prestige battle between the two parties, particularly with a view to next year’s assembly elections. Tremendous energies have been channelled into the campaigning by both parties, embodied — most notoriously — by Ms Mamata Banerjee’s recent speech to the Keshpur electorate, alleged by the Left Front to have instigated her supporters to armed violence. Whatever the allegations, both parties seem to have tapped into the most violently disruptive energies pent up in their regional electorate, unleashing a form of anarchy that takes up into itself every other social and economic conflict in the area. The armed “fronts” of local people see themselves as participating militantly in the most basic “struggle for existence”. The home (police) minister’s scheme of bringing this situation under control by establishing satellite links between every district police station and the police headquarters in the Writers’ Buildings seems characteristically quixotic. Electricity and telephone connections in most of Keshpur remain dysfunctional for days on end as a result of political sabotage or cable theft, unattended by the police. Mr Buddhadev Bhattachrya’s frequent musings on the situation will probably have to reckon with something far more fundamental and frightening.    


 
 
KICK DOWN THE CYBER DOOR 
 
 
BY PAVAN DUGGAL
 
 
The Parliament of India has passed its first cyberlaw, the Information Technology Act 2000. This provides the legal infrastructure for electronic commerce in India. Unfortunately, it also gives draconian powers to the police to enter and search, without any warrant, any public place for the purpose of nabbing cyber criminals and preventing cyber crime.

A good feature of the act is that it legally recognizes email as a valid form of communication in India. Acceptance in an electronic form of any offer, culminating in an electronic contract, has also been declared legal and enforceable. The new act has recognized digital signatures for the first time in Indian law. It has also set up a controller for certifying authorities, adjudicating officers and a cyber appellate tribunal.

Hacking has been defined for the first time. It is now punishable with upto three years’ imprisonment and a fine which may extend to Rs 200,000, or with both. This is a welcome measure as hacking has assumed tremendous importance of late.

Under the present act the penalties for damaging computers, computer systems and so on have been fixed at damages by way of compensation not exceeding Rs 10 million. This is in tune with present times. The recent ILOVEYOU virus episode shows how easy it is to cause havoc in computer systems and inflict billions of dollars in damages.

Seen from an overall perspective, the information technology bill 1999 is a laudatory effort by the government to create the necessary legal infrastructure for promotion and growth of electronic commerce. However, all this has come a bit late. With the phenomenal growth of internet, an entity which doubles approximately every 100 days, this sort of law should have been passed a long time back.

The other problem is that the act has some grey areas. The most distressing part of the new act is its absolute trampling of cyber liberties and freedom. A police officer of the rank of a deputy superintendent of police has been granted unheard of powers, unparalleled in cyberlaws across the world, to do almost anything to nab a cybercriminal.

The power granted to the police is almost unrestricted. A police officer has absolute discretion to enter and search any public place and arrest any person — without a warrant — who is “reasonably suspected” of having committed or of committing a cyber crime, or even about to commit a cyber crime. The discretion of the police officer further extends to defining as to who is going to be “reasonably suspected” of committing a cybercrime.

Special note should be taken of the fact the new laws talk of arresting a person who is about to commit a cybercrime. It is alien to cyberlaw jurisprudence as to how any police officer is going to decide whether a person is about to commit a cybercrime. The requirements of cyberspace are very different from the actual world. Most times, it is difficult to decide till the last moment as to whether any cybercrime is about to be committed.

To top it all, the Information Technology Act 2000 gives immunity to the Centre and its officials including police from any suit, prosecution and other legal proceedings for any act done in good faith in pursuance of the provisions of the act. Effectively, this rules out any remedy for a person who is made a target of police abuse.

And there is more. The Indian law makes itself applicable to not only all of India but also to any contravention or offence committed outside India by any person of any nationality throughout the world. The internet is about abolishing boundaries, not about creating them. The new law opens up a Pandora’s box for conflict of jurisdiction.

It further takes immovable property out of the ambit of electronic commerce. Under the law, immovable property is excluded from the purview of the act.

The Indian government further claims immunity from judicial review in its appointment of the presiding officer of the cyber appellate tribunal, a feature unknown to Indian jurisprudence . This attacks the root of established procedure of law.

Another surprising feature of the new law is that it begins by granting a legal infrastructure for e-commerce without touching other important legal issues for the corporate sector like intellectual property rights, domain names, internet policy, linking or disclaimers.

Another clause of the new law takes a contrary stand from emerging global cyberlaw trend relating to the liability of internet service providers for third party data and information. Contrary to global trends, Indian ISPs as a matter of principle will be made liable for third party data and information made available through their service.

The ISP is not liable in two exceptional cases. It is not liable if the ISP proves it had no knowledge of the commission of any offences or contravention of the provisions of the act. Otherwise, the ISP must prove that it acted with due diligence to prevent the commission of any offence or contravention of the provisions of the act. Both exceptions are extremely loosely defined. As a consequence, it is likely to become one more tool of harassment of companies in the hands of the authorities.

The bill talks about the use of electronic records and digital signatures in government agencies. Yet it says in section nine that this does not confer any right upon any person to insist that the document in question should be accepted in electronic form.

The control of the government is apparent as the controller of certifying authorities has to discharge his functions subject to the general control and direction of Centre. The internet and the phenomenon of electronic commerce require that minimum hurdles and obstacles need to be put in the way of users. The bill seeks to bureaucratize the entire process of controlling electronic commerce. This is likely to result in delays and other related problems.

Further, the information technology bill allows any agency of the government intercepting any information transmitted through any computer resource if the same is necessary to the interest of the sovereignty or integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of any cognizable offence.

This is one provision likely to be misused by future governments to suit their political motives, including the purposes of victimization. No standards or provisions have been laid down in the bill defining any conditions for when the government can carry out electronic eavesdropping.

The supporters of the cause of individual privacy and freedom see this provisions as a gross violation of individual freedom and see the conditions as unreasonable restrictions which are not permissible in the context of the rapid growth of the internet.

Also, the bill is likely to cause a conflict of jurisdiction. The cyber regulations advisory committee should be given more responsibilities in the formulating of policy and constant updating of Indian laws to be in tune with changing technology.

The biggest concern about the new Indian cyberlaw relates to its implementation. The act does not lay down parameters for its implementation. At a time when internet penetration in India is extremely low and government and police officials, in general, are not computer savvy, India’s cyberlaw raises more questions than it answers. The Parliament should give serious thought to amending the Information Technology Act 2000 to remove its many grey areas.

The new law is expected to put the necessary legal infrastructure in place so that electronic commerce in India can leapfrog to success. But it does at potentially terrible cost to the country’s civil liberties.

The author is a Supreme Court advocate and president, cyberlaws.net    


 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Blame it on the government

Sir — Satyanarayan Raghunath Mishra’s parents “had already spent Rs 6 lakh” on their son’s medical education. What is the payment of a mere Rs 25,000 to the Indian government compared to that — and that too for getting their son back from the hands of Chechen rebels (“Freedom flight costs Rs 25,000”, May18)? Parents like the Mishras have got their priorities wrong. They are also naive if they expect the Indian government to forever bail its citizens out. The same naiveness was displayed by the kin of the hostages on board the hijacked IC 814 in December last year. They demonstrated in front of the PMO, demanding that the government give in to the hijackers’ demands. In Mishra’s case, his family spent “far more than it could afford” to send him to Russia to study medicine. Weren’t there good enough medical colleges in his own country? The Indian government extended as much diplomatic help as it could to secure his release. But must cribbing about everything governmental be made into a national pastime?

Yours faithfully,
Surendranath Ghoshal, Calcutta

Darkling city

Sir — The editorial, “Fly freedom” (May 4), about British Airways and Air India dropping Calcutta from their flight schedule did not surprise me.

As a nonresident Indian setting up a joint venture in India, I have been travelling to India frequently since 1997. I have flown into all the four international airports — Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta and Chennai — at various times during the last three years. In my experience, the Calcutta airport is the worst of all. The infrastructure in Calcutta is so bad that it should not be called an international airport at all.

I have seen elderly people and children trip on the staircase while coming down from a 747 in the middle of night (a KLM flight). The plane was parked in the dark as the tarmac did not have enough light. There are no jetways at the Calcutta international airport. Passengers have to come down the stairs from nine metres up, a difficult task in the insufficient light.

The immigration and customs officials cannot handle the half plane load of passengers (the other half of both KLM and British Airways flights disembarks at Delhi) because they lack professional expertise. The whole process of getting through immigration takes much longer than at Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi. Retrieving the checked baggage is another difficult task as the baggage claim area is congested. There has been practically no improvement in the facilities at the airport.

It is rather disappointing to see that Calcutta is not a destination in the schedules of most foreign airlines. Lufthansa has increased the frequency of flights to Chennai, and Sabena will start services to Chennai soon.

The reason why Calcutta has been dropped by most airlines is lack of business. It is difficult to bring a jumbo jet to Calcutta with only the passengers who are coming back to Calcutta on vacation or to visit family or friends. There has been hardly any growth of industry and commerce in Calcutta and West Bengal. In spite of the claims by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) government, the number of business passengers to Calcutta is very small.

The political leaders of West Bengal should not blame the Central government for not having a decent airport in Calcutta. It is the fault of the local government which has stunted the growth of industries. In the early Sixties when West Bengal was at the forefront of industrial growth, Calcutta had one of the busiest airports in Asia.

Yours faithfully,
Malay K. Kar, Iowa

Sir — One has been hearing of plans to set up an international airport at Bangalore since the Eighties. Five Central governments have looked at the project with varying degrees of apathy, even antipathy. Amazingly, one prime minister and two civil aviation ministers from Karnataka have not been able to clear the project. As is usual in India, the most long-winded part of setting up a project are the deliberations before it is begun.

The brouhaha over “build-own-operate” and “build-own-operate-transfer” leaves one wondering why anyone would want to build an airport, get it going — after braving all the red tape — and then give it away to someone else. At best, the BOOT option would yield only marginal profits. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that Ratan Tata has decided to pull out of the project.

Bangalore’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited-run airport has only one runway. A few years ago, an Airbus A300 burst its tyres on the runway, closing it down for about five hours with the attendant loss of revenue, costs of repair and inconvenience caused to the public. In March 1997, a Kuwaiti Boeing 747 cargo airplane closed the runway down for about 11 hours for the same reason. Unless a second runway is built, Bangalore airport will be a dangerous one to operate from, due to a growth rate of 7.2 per cent every year and a doubling of air traffic in the next 10 years, all of which will have to be borne by a single runway. It must also be kept in mind that more than 95 per cent of all civil aircraft accidents around the world occur either during take-off or landing. The risk is infinitely greater in case of a single runway.

If the civil aviation ministry continues with its chalta hai attitude, further losses to lives and property are imminent at this airport, given that Bangalore has the highest industrial growth rate in the country. The government should consider the risk perceptions instead of waiting for accidents to happen.

Yours faithfully,
Philip Elisha, Calcutta

Teachers trouble

Sir — The All India Federation of University and College Teacher’s Organizations has directed the Jadavpur University Teacher’s Association to stop its agitation because it is detrimental to the cause of students. JUTA is the only teachers’ organization which has stuck to the strike. The arrears due to teachers after the introduction of the University Grants Commission’s new scale have not been paid till date. Although the retirement age of teachers has been fixed at 62, the West Bengal government has yet to implement it. The students of Jadavpur University also support their teachers and are angry the minister of higher education did not meet the representatives of the striking teachers.

Yours faithfully,
D.K. Chakravarti, Calcutta

Sir — It has become quite clear that both university authorities and the state government have been turning a blind eye to the JUTA strike. It is the students who are caught in the crossfire although the strike is not their fault. It is quite unfair of the minister for higher education to grant the arrears of the teachers of Kalyani University, while making only empty promises to those at the Jadavpur University.

Yours faithfully,
Ambarish Sanyal and others, Calcutta

Sir — The news report, “300 teachers held under ESMA” (May 16), says that the teachers boycotting evaluation duty in Karnataka have been taken into police custody. Is it unjustified of the teachers to demand implementation of the UGC’s new payscales? In a society where success is measured by the amount of money one earns, why should teachers be at the bottom of the ladder? The recent agitation in Jadavpur University corroborates the need for a countrywide change in the attitude towards teachers.

An education commission should review the examination system so that objective type questions and short answers are introduced to make evaluation less punishing than it is today.

Yours faithfully,
Roshmi Lahiri, Calcutta

Letters to the editor should be sent to:
The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
Email: [email protected]    
 

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