16th November – Explained – What bringing the Chief Justice of India’s office under RTI means

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled that the office of the Chief Justice of India (CJI) is a public authority under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

Background –

  • The judgment pertained to three cases based on requests for information filed by Delhi-based RTI activist Subhash Agarwal, all of which eventually reached the Supreme Court.
  • While the CPIO of the Supreme Court said the office of the CJI was not a public authority under the RTI Act, the matter reached the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) where a full Bench, headed by then CIC Wajahat Habibullah, on January 6, 2009 directed disclosure of information.
  • The Supreme Court approached the Delhi High Court against the CIC order. High Court Justice Ravindra Bhatt (who was later elevated as a Supreme Court judge) held on September 2, 2009 that “the office of the Chief Justice of India is a public authority under the RTI Act and is covered by its provisions”.
  • The Supreme Court then approached a larger Bench comprising then Chief Justice of Delhi High Court Ajit Prakash Shah, Justice Vikramjit Sen, and Justice S Muralidhar, which passed its judgment on January 13, 2010 holding that the judgment of Justice Bhatt was “both proper and valid and needs no interference”.

The latest judgement –

  • While ruling that the office of the CJI is a public authority, the Supreme Court held that RTI cannot be used as a tool of surveillance and that judicial independence has to be kept in mind while dealing with transparency. While CJI Gogoi, Justice Gupta and Justice Khanna wrote one judgment, Justices Ramana and Chandrachud wrote separate verdicts.
  • Justice Ramana noted that Right to Privacy is an important aspect and has to be balanced with transparency while deciding to give out information from the office of the Chief Justice of India.
  • Justice Chandrachud wrote in his separate judgment that the judiciary cannot function in total insulation as judges enjoy a constitutional post and discharge public duty.
  • The verdict underlines the balance Supreme Court needs between transparency and protecting its independence. The step is significant because it opens the doors to RTI requests that will test the frontiers of what has been a rather opaque system.

What the order means

The outcome is that the office of the CJI will now entertain RTI applications.

  • Under Section 2(f) of the RTI Act, information means “any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force”.
  • Whether a public authority discloses the information sought or not, however, is a different matter. Offices such as those of the Prime Minister and the President too are public authorities under the RTI Act.
  • Public authorities have often denied information quoting separate observations by the Supreme Court itself in 2011: “Officials need to furnish only such information which already exists and is held by the public authority and not collate or create information”; and, “the nation does not want a scenario where 75% of the staff of public authorities spends 75% of their time in collecting and furnishing information to applicants instead of discharging their regular duties”.

SourceThe Indian Express

QUESTIONThe opening up of the Office of CJI to RTI applications is the first ray of sunlight into the dark chambers of Supreme Court. Comment.

15th November – There is nothing ‘fast’ about fast track courts

The Eleventh Finance Commission’s report was submitted in 2000 and its recommendations were for the period between 2000 and 2005.

Findings of the report –

The report said, “We have observed that there is a pendency of about two crore cases in the district and subordinate courts of the states. We are providing a grant of Rs 502.90 crore for creation of additional courts specifically for the purpose of disposing of the long-pending cases… This will enable the states to create 1,734 new additional courts.” This provision was based on an estimated cost of Rs 29 lakh for each additional court.

Fast Track Courts –

  • Though the Eleventh Finance Commission didn’t use the expression, these 1,734 courts were fast track courts (FTCs). The state governments were supposed to establish FTCs after consulting the high courts.
  • The term for the schemes recommended by the Finance Commission for FTCs ended on March 31, 2005. By that date, state governments had notified 1,711 FTCs, of which 1,562 were functional.
  • The performance of these courts varied widely across states. The all-India average of cases disposed per month by a FTC was 15. Originally, the cases disposed per month was meant to be a per judge norm — and not a per FTC norm.

Performance of Fast Track Courts –

  • On December 31, 2018, there were 699 FTCs (some of the courts that were established earlier had closed down). These were for cases against women, children, senior citizens, differently-abled, those with terminal ailments and civil property disputes that were more than five years old. The crime data for 2017 has been published recently. “Crime in India” has information on the IPC crimes tried by the FTCs.
  • The SLL (special and local law) crimes are unlikely to be transferred to FTCs. But yes, those data does not include civil cases handled by FTCs. When will one think that a court is fast track? Probably, when a court disposes the case transferred to it within a year.
  • In 2017, FTCs in Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu disposed off at least half their cases within one year. Chhattisgarh and Punjab missed the cut marginally.
  • If the cut-off is changed from one year to three years, a few other states — Gujarat, Haryana, Telangana, West Bengal and Delhi — will not have poor records.
  • However, the picture in some states is dismal. For example, FTCs in Bihar settled 6,704 cases in 2017. Two thousand five hundred and seven of these cases lasted more than 10 years and 1,655 cases took between five and 10 years. There is nothing “fast” about these courts.

Way forward –

  • There is now (2019) a scheme for fast track special courts (FTSCs) to adjudicate on rape and POCSO (Protection of Children against Sexual Offences) cases. “The 1,023 FTSCs will dispose of 166,882 cases of Rape and POCSO Act, that are pending trial in various courts.There are 389 districts in the country where the number of pending cases under POCSO Act exceeds 100. Therefore, as per the order of Hon’ble Apex Court, in each of these districts one exclusive POCSO court will be set up which will try no other cases.
  • Depending upon the pendency of POCSO Cases the State/UT Governments in consultation with the High Court could however decide if more number of exclusive POCSO Courts need to be established within overall number of FTSCs provided under this scheme.”
  • The Centre will meet part of the expense of FTSCs with a matching grant by the State/UT — this scheme is till 2020-21. However, the incentive structure of judges presiding over FTCs has a lesson also for FTSCs.

SourceThe Indian Express

QUESTIONIt is being argued that there is nothing ‘fast’ about ‘fast track courts’. Discuss the fiscal and judicial implications of having a ‘non-fast’ courts. Suggest a way forward.

13th November – India is making dramatic strides in addressing extreme poverty

In 2015, the United Nations adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030, of which the first two are “ending extreme poverty and hunger”.

What is extreme poverty?

Extreme poverty is defined as living on less than $1.90 a day, measured in 2011 purchasing power parity prices.

What is WPC?

  • The World Poverty Clock (WPC) provides real-time poverty estimates until 2030 for (almost) every country in the world.
  • It uses publicly available data on income distribution, production and consumption and bridges the common decadal gaps between large-scale surveys and censuses.
  • WPC is a systematic and consistent analytical framework to measure progress towards SDGs.

What does it say?

  • According to the WPC, 8% of the world, or nearly 600 million people, lives in extreme poverty. While 23,000 people escape poverty each day, about 7,000 are falling back into extreme poverty.
  • In 2015, the global “hot-spots” for extreme poverty were India, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Bangladesh, with nearly half of the world’s extreme poor.
  • For the last quarter century, the percentage of the world’s population living below the extreme poverty line has reduced from 36% to 10% in 2015. While much of that progress is attributable to declines in South-East Asia and East Asia, particularly China, the declines in this decade are due in substantial degree to South Asia, particularly India.

How did India achieve this feat?

  • An average GDP growth rate of over 7% for the last 26 years has made a dramatic impact on extreme poverty in India.
  • During the last full census in 2011, India’s extreme poverty rate was reported to be 21.9%, or 265 million people.
  • The latest figures say that the extreme poverty number is likely to have fallen to 4% or about 50 million in 2019, and is likely to drop below 40 million by 2021.

Concerns –

  • The richest 1% of India now hold 58% of wealth, and the richest 10% over 80%. This structural shift will have profound consequences for politics and economics, with an aspiring class that is very large and growing, and with abject poverty declining to a much smaller percentage of the population.
  • The garibi hatao (remove poverty) sentiment needs to be replaced by amiri badhao (increase wealth) for the lower middle class with a specific thrust on the re-distribution of wealth. India’s transformation to an unequal lower-middle-income country is upon us.

Way forward –

This shift in India’s poverty structure will necessitate two things—

  1. the state’s capacity will need to enable the effective delivery of all that’s required to meet evolving aspirations, and
  2. the state will have to embrace and enable the private sector as a participant in the next phase. The job is simply too large and complex for a single type of entity to accomplish. The Indian state has become better in one area—targeted redistribution. Those skills will have to be honed and refined to reduce leakages and improve direct help to marginal farmers, large sections of unemployed women, the north-eastern states and scheduled castes and tribes.
  • A dramatic refocus of the government towards fewer areas like security, infrastructure, primary education and public health is required.
  • At the same time, the government must reduce its distraction and participation in numerous other areas from banking to consumer goods. In all other areas, the government should play an enabling role like providing guarantees, gap funding and actions that have a meaningful impact on the ease of conducting business.

Conclusion –

“In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of,” said Confucius.


QUESTIONTo combat abject poverty, India needs an attitudinal change from ‘garibi hatao’ to ‘amiri badhao’. Discuss

8th November – An unwanted booster dose for vaccine hesitancy

In January this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) listed “vaccine hesitancy” as among the top 10 threats to global health this year.

What is ‘vaccine hesitancy’?

  • It is defined as [a] “reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines”.
  • According to WHO, vaccination prevents between two-three million deaths each year, a figure that will rise by another 1.5 million if vaccine coverage improves. Yet, a survey of over 1,40,000 people from 140 countries has revealed the striking difference in how people trust vaccines.

Global trust in vaccines –

  • At 95%, people from South Asia trusted vaccines followed by eastern Africa at 92%. Western Europe and eastern Europe brought up the rear with just 59% and 52%, respectively.
  • The repercussions of vaccine hesitance are now playing out globally — as on October 10, 2019, nearly 4,24,000 children have confirmed measles, as against a figure of 1,73,000 in the whole of 2018.

Vaccine hesitancy in India –

  • Vaccine hesitancy has been a concern in India. For instance, one of the main reasons for five times low uptake of oral polio vaccine in the early 2000s among poor Muslim communities in Uttar Pradesh was the fear and the misconception that the polio vaccine caused illness, infertility and was ineffective.
  • Similarly, as recently as 2016, Muslim communities in two districts in north Kerala reported low uptake of diphtheria vaccine. One of the reasons: propaganda that the vaccine may contain microbes, chemicals and animal-derived products which is forbidden by Islamic law.
  • Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, which have traditionally seen high vaccine acceptance, witnessed low uptake of the measles-rubella vaccine when it was introduced in 2017. A reason was again a fear, spread through social media, of adverse effects from vaccination.
  • As a December 2018 study points out, vaccine hesitancy continues to be a huge challenge for India. The study found nearly a quarter of parents did not vaccinate their children out of a fear of adverse events; this was in 121 high priority districts chosen by the Health Ministry for intensified immunisation drive to increase vaccine coverage.

Way forward – The case for flu vaccination –

  • The reason why influenza should be taken seriously is because in the U.S. alone, since 2010, an estimated 7,000-26,000 children younger than five are hospitalised each year; many end up dying. It is already proven that vaccination offers the best defence against flu and its potentially serious consequences, reduces flu illnesses, hospitalisations and even deaths.
  • Despite H1N1 (swine flu) becoming a seasonal flu virus strain in India even during summer, the uptake of flu vaccine in India is poor. The number of H1N1 influenza cases (42,592) and deaths (2,991) in India peaked in 2015.
  • A study in 2017 that looked at flu seasons between 2010 and 2014 found that vaccination reduced flu-associated deaths by 65% among healthy children. The vaccine can also prevent hospitalisation, reduce the severity of illness and “prevent severe, lifethreatening complications” in children.

SourceThe Hindu

QUESTIONVaccine hesitancy is an orthodoxy that hinders the progress in our aim of ‘Healthy India’. What is vaccine hesitancy? Give a detailed background and way forward.

7th November – Providing sexuality education

In a recent judgment, the Madras High Court ruled that courts should not be influenced by misconceptions that children are likely to lie in cases of sexual abuse or that they are tutored by parents to make false statements in court.

Concerns –

  • The attitude of defence lawyers reflects a structural problem in the legal system, for it is biased and derogatory towards victims of child sexual abuse. Defence questions are hostile, often sexually explicit, and structured to imply that lack of resistance means consent.
  • To discourage this controversial practice, one of the guidelines in (2004) requires questions in cross-examination to be routed to the prosecutrix through the Presiding Officer, to prevent harassment and intimidation by the defence counsel. However, this is not an established practice and happens only when cross-examination gets unacceptably offensive and objectionable.
  • Compounding the problem is the fact that child witnesses don’t understand the confusing questions of defence counsel. This makes them vulnerable and they end up giving vague answers.
  • Also, as children typically delay disclosure of abuse (one third of them wait at least a year), chances are that medical evidence may go undetected or get lost, thus hampering their chances of securing justice.
  • Delayed disclosure also makes it difficult for child witnesses to recall specific details of the abuse, which makes it easier for the defence to disprove allegations. So, the moot question is, what policy should be adopted to address the concerns of delayed reporting of abuse and brutal cross-examination of child witnesses?

What should be done?

  • For this, it is imperative to introduce sexuality education in the school curriculum, underpinned by concepts of criminology and criminal justice.
  • Learning the names of body parts – Children need to learn the names of body parts instead of using euphemisms. In trial proceedings, defence lawyers ask specific and inappropriate questions, which require child witnesses to describe the details of abuse including the behaviour of the accused. Defence lawyers often capitalise on these responses and undermine the credibility of the witness while judges are less inclined to believe such incoherent accounts.
  • There is a compelling need to increase the awareness of the legal system about child-sensitive communication. But more essentially, children should be provided sexuality education so they can be equipped with the right vocabulary to talk about sexual abuse. Teaching the correct names of private parts will also reduce the shame and stigma associated with talking about them.

Significance –

  • Skills learnt through sexuality education will prepare children to recognise potentially inappropriate behaviour, understand the different emotions that come with feeling ‘unsafe’, verbalise abuse to seek help from adults, and disclose abuse promptly.
  • They will also be able to understand grooming behaviours which are subtle, methodical and even escalating. Sexuality education will thus significantly reduce the likelihood of delayed disclosure and subsequent healing of injury on the body, which often results in loss of vital forensic evidence.
  • The justice process appears frightening to child survivors because no one has educated them about the practices of the court. Sexuality education will thus allow children to gain knowledge about the most effective ways to respond to sexual abuse and the probative value of forensic evidence in improving justice outcomes.
  • It will prepare them adequately for courts while also helping them manage their expectations and psychological state throughout the legal process.

SourceThe Hindu

QUESTIONIn the interest of providing complete justice to victim children of sexual abuse, it is imperative to impart sexual education to them. Elucidate.

6th November – Predatory Pricing

News reports that e-commerce majors such as Amazon and Flipkart have sold goods worth ₹19,000 crore in their festival discount sales seem to be causing some heart-burn in India’s traditional retail industry.

The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), a trade body representing brick-and-mortar retailers, has been urging the Commerce and Finance Ministers to launch a probe into the deep discounting practices of e-commerce players for ‘predatory pricing’. But why would the discounts be anti-competition? The competition regulator will have final say on this.

What is it?

  • Predatory pricing is a strategy whereby the biggest players in an industry with deep pockets prices its goods or services at rock-bottom levels, so that no rivals can compete with it. Once everyone else runs up huge losses and is forced out of the business, the giant makes hay by withdrawing the freebies and fleecing consumers.
  • In India, the Competition Act of 2002 lays down the ground-rules on what constitutes predatory pricing. ‘Predatory pricing’ figures in the section on abuse of dominant position by a market player. It expressly forbids any enterprise or group from ‘abusing its dominant position’ in the market, either by imposing unfair conditions or an unfair and discriminatory price — including predatory price — resulting in denial of market access.
  • Predatory price is specifically defined as sale or goods or services at a price below the cost of production, with a view to reduce or eliminate competition.

The case –

If the CAIT really believes that e-commerce players are indulging in ‘predatory pricing’, it should be knocking on the doors of the Competition Commission of India with its complaints on e-commerce discounts, and not the Finance or Commerce Ministry.

Why is it difficult to establish the rules?

But even the CCI may not have easy time pinning down India’s e-tailers for predatory pricing.

  • One, despite the big splash they make, e-commerce players in India are still bit players in the humongous retail industry, which consists of thousands of mom-and-pop stores, super markets, hyper markets et al.
  • In value terms, online sales still make up less than 5 per cent of the total retail sales in India. It may therefore be hard to accuse them of ‘abusing their dominant position’ though they have deep pockets.
  • Two, for a case of predatory pricing to stick, the CCI will have to establish that e-commerce platforms are actually selling products below their costs of production. This can be tricky, especially as sellers on these platforms aren’t complaining.
  • In fact, predatory pricing is a much-debated facet of anti-competition law globally, because these laws are essentially meant to protect consumer interests. Discounts, however predatory, do initially benefit consumers. They turn anti-consumer only when the firm offering them withdraws them and begins misusing its monopoly position to fleece customers.

SourceThe Hindu Business Line

QUESTIONWhat is ‘predatory pricing’? What are the difficulties to control and regulate them?

2nd November – Hunger Pangs

India’s child ‘wasting’, at 20.8 per cent, is the highest for any country, says this year’s Global Hunger Index (GHI), in which India is a shameful 102nd among the 117 countries ranked.

Comparison –

With a score of 30.3, India suffers from a hunger level that is ‘serious’, lagging behind Pakistan (28.5), Bangladesh (25.8), Nepal (20.8), and Myanmar (19.8).

Parameters –

The GHI looks at four parameters: undernourishment (insufficient calorie intake), child wasting (under-fives with low weight-height ratio), child stunting (under-fives with low height for age) and child mortality (under-five deaths).

Background –

In 2000, India scored an alarming 38.8; things have improved, but glacially. Myanmar’s improvement is laudable — from 44.4 in 2000, it’s at 19.8 this year.

Concerns –

  • The GHI also flagged how climate change is pushing hunger levels higher globally. The report points to ‘the inextricable link between hunger and climate change’ and how important and urgent it is to solve ‘two of the world’s greatest challenges’.
  • Just a day after this report was published, UNICEF said that in 2018, India reported the most number of deaths of under-fives in the world — 8,82,000.
  • The report, ‘The State of the World’s Children’, says 38 per cent of children under five in India suffer from stunting, and that malnutrition caused 69 per cent of the under-five deaths.
  • Every other child is also affected by some form of undernourishment. All this in a country that is the largest producer of milk — estimated production was 176.35 million tonnes during 2017-18 — and with excess foodgrain rotting in warehouses.

Way forward –

With such cheerless numbers, the Centre’s Poshan Abhiyaan, or National Nutrition Mission, aimed at making India malnutrition-free by 2022, seems ambitious. Collective effort is required to achieve zero hunger — one of the 17 sustainable development goals. It should be a pressing priority.

SourceThe Hindu Business Line

QUESTIONExamine the recent low rankings of India in the Global Hunger Index. Suggest a way forward to tackle the menace of undernutrition.

1st November – Aspirational Districts Programme is a laboratory for governance reforms

The Aspirational Districts Programme (ADP) is one of the largest experiments on outcomes-focused governance in the world.

Details –

Spread across 112 of India’s socio-economically challenged districts, the ADP is Niti Aayog’s flagship initiative to improve health, nutrition, education, and economic outcomes. Initial evidence suggests that the ADP has already contributed towards improving lakhs of lives. If successful, the ADP can present a new template for governance. It is therefore critical to try and get it right.

The foundation of ADP –

  • The ADP’s theory of change rests on three pillars: Competition, convergence, and collaboration. Competition fosters accountability on district governments for final outcomes (instead of inputs) using high-quality data.
  • Convergence creatively brings together the horizontal and vertical tiers of the government. Collaboration enables impactful partnerships between government, philanthropy and civil society.
  • Of the Aspirational Districts, Niti Aayog plays a mentoring role in 27 districts in eight states, home to about 60 million people. Twelve central government ministries have similarly adopted the remaining districts.

Outcomes –

Health outcomes in the mentored districts reveal significant improvements between the first and second third-party household surveys (in June-August 2018 and January-March 2019). We see increases in registering pregnant women into the health system (from 73 per cent to 86 per cent), institutional delivery of babies (66 per cent to 74 per cent), and anti-diarrheal treatment via ORS (51 per cent to 67 per cent) and zinc (34 per cent to 53 per cent). These rates are significantly faster than the usual trajectory for these indicators.

How did it become successful?

  • One, pioneering state and district-level initiatives in both the ADP and non-ADP districts in areas prioritised under the programme.
  • Two, spurred by competition on outcomes, local governments target their efforts and improve programme implementation and design.
  • Three, the focus on outcomes enables local experimentation based on a firm appreciation of ground realities.
  • Four, partnerships between various philanthropic and civil society organisations with district governments augment local capacity.

Way forward –

  • A simplified ranking index — with few but carefully chosen output and outcome measures — will more clearly signal national development targets, while providing autonomy to local governments.
  • High quality administrative data is critical to improve programme implementation and design at the local level. To help improve data quality, we can use independent surveys to validate administrative data. Building each district’s internal capacity to produce reliable and actionable data, and promoting a culture of data use, can be made a priority for the ADP.

Conclusion –

ADP is different from previous experiments. First and foremost, the programme has shifted focus away from inputs and budgets to outcomes, such as learning and malnutrition. It has also introduced non-financial incentives to encourage government officials to deliver results and actively encourages forging partnerships with philanthropies and civil society to create better impact using the same amount of budgetary spends. The programme has also developed a lean data infrastructure that smartly exploits complementary strengths of administrative and survey data.

SourceThe Indian Express

QUESTIONAspirational Districts Programme is an improvement over previous poverty alleviation programmes. Discuss.

25th October – Minding the gaps in India’s digital data infrastructure

Much of the data quality discussions in the past have erupted when politically sensitive results around topics such as GDP growth rate or poverty rates have been released and partisan bickering allows for little room to think about data collection systems.

How can we improve data collection?

If we are to move towards developing a more robust data infrastructure, subscribing to the following core principles may be a good start.

  1. Set realistic goals – First, set realistic goals and use creative strategies. With a variety of small area estimation techniques available for pooling data from diverse sources to obtain robust estimates at district level, it may make sense for us to think of alternatives and to make sure that we obtain required local government directory identifiers in each aspect of government data, including Census, sample registration system, and Ayushman Bharat payment systems to ensure that these data can be pooled and leveraged.
  2. Ensuring quality – Second, adapt to changing institutional and technological environment for data collection. Some of the initiatives undertaken by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation for developing training programmes for investigators offer a welcome improvement but stop far short of the radical restructuring of data collection oversight. Where interviewers make a mistake, they must be retrained. Concurrent monitoring using technologically-enabled procedures such as random voice recording of interviews, judicious back checks, and evaluation of agency and interviewer performance on parameters such as skipping sections, inconsistent data and consistent misreporting may be needed to ensure quality.
  3. Need for exclusive units – Third, establish research units exclusively focused on data collection and research design. An innovative research institute on the lines of NSS could be undertaken as an associated unit of the Indian Statistical Institute.

Way forward –

While research on data collection methods has stagnated, research methodologies have changed phenomenally. Telephone surveys via random digit dialling or selection of respondents using voter lists are increasingly emerging as low-cost ways of collecting data.

Conclusion –

Unless we pay systematic attention to the data infrastructure, we are likely to have the national discourse hijacked by poor quality data as has happened in the past with a measurement of poverty or inconsistent data on GDP.

SourceThe Hindu

QUESTIONData collection by government agencies to formulate social welfare schemes have come into criticism from many quarters questioning the authenticity of the data. How can we ensure accurate data collection to formulate right policies at the various levels of government?

24th October – Fighting Fake News

The Maharashtra cyber police recently tied up with a fact-checking app, Logically, to detect fake news and bias ahead of the assembly elections; Logically was monitoring social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, and Instagram for violations of the Model Code of Conduct, and reporting these to the Election Commission.

Threat –

During the general elections, law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad replied in Parliament that a total of just 154 instances of fake news were detected by the Election Commission and reported to various platforms.

Analysing the threat –

Given the kind of misinformation floating around on social media, the number looks quite small, suggesting the government has a long way to go when it comes to detecting and tackling fake news.

Action by Government –

  • The government itself has been so worried about the proliferation of fake news, a year ago, it even asked all telecom service providers and internet service providers to explore how Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, etc, could be blocked; the IT secretary had, at that time, even said he expected all platforms to behave in a responsible manner.
  • IT and telecom minister Prasad, in fact, has been having a running confrontation with social media firms on the need to share information with the government in a lawful manner in case there is such a need.
  • Interestingly, the same point was made in a letter to Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg by US Attorney General William Barr; the UK secretary of state, the US secretary of Homeland Security, and Australia’s home minister were other signatories to Barr’s letter.

Successful examples –

  • Barr’s letter, in fact, said that more than 90% of the 18.4 million reports to the US National Centre for Missing & Exploited Children in 2018 were those made by Facebook (based on what it gleaned from people’s posts/messages). His letter, as it happens, was warning Facebook that such complaints wouldn’t be possible if the social network did end-to-end encryption of messages on it.
  • WhatsApp, similarly, had tied up with factchecker BoomLive for detecting fake news, and even had the Hyderabad police on its app to do the same thing. Those in the city could forward messages to the police on, say, a local gang of kidnappers, to get a confirmation.

Way forward –

  • The government would do well to keep engaging social media firms in finding solutions, and get more firms like ‘Logically’ on a common platform to help track fake news faster on a 24×7 basis. Indeed, some social media firms are doing similar work, and the government should help build on that.
  • Ideally, nodal officers for all state police should be on the same fact-checking app, as should credible news organisations.

SourceThe Financial Express

QUESTIONModern technology has propped up a new menace namely ‘Fake News’. Examine the steps taken by government to fight the threat of fake news. Suggest a way forward.