17th February – Prelims Booster

Following SC rap, telcos asked to pay AGR dues immediately

The Supreme Court has ordered the managing directors and directors of telecom companies to show cause why contempt proceedings should not be initiated against them for failing to pay even a ‘single penny’ to the government in Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) dues.

About AGR –

  • Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) is the usage and licensing fee that telecom operators are charged by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).
  • It is divided into spectrum usage charges and licensing fees, pegged between 3-5 percent and 8 percent respectively.
  • As per DoT, the charges are calculated based on all revenues earned by a telco – including non-telecom related sources such as deposit interests and asset sales. Telcos, on their part, insist that AGR should comprise only the revenues generated from telecom services.
  • In 2015, Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal ruled that the companies’ definition is right. However, in October 2019, the Supreme Court set aside the tribunal’s judgement saying government definition is right.

Supreme Court Judgement –

  • The Supreme Court has upheld the definition of Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) calculation as stipulated by the Department of Telecommunications.
  • This means that telecom companies will have to pay up as much as Rs 92,642 crore to the government, more than half of which are owed by Airtel and Vodafone.
  • Terming the issues raised by telcos with respect to AGR as ‘frivolous’, the SC held that not only the original charges, but principal interest and penalties on delayed payments would also be payable.

UP government invokes NSA against Doctor Kafeel Khan

The Uttar Pradesh government has invoked the National Security Act (NSA) against Dr Kafeel Khan of Gorakhpur for his alleged inflammatory comments against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act at Aligarh Muslim University.

About National Security Act –

  • The NSA empowers the Centre or a State government to detain a person to prevent him from acting in any manner prejudicial to national security.
  • The government can also detain a person to prevent him from disrupting public order or for maintenance of supplies and services essential to the community.
  • The maximum period for which one may be detained is 12 months. But the term can be extended if the government finds fresh evidence.

What happens when NSA is imposed?

  • In the normal course, if a person is arrested, he or she is guaranteed certain basic rights. These include the right to be informed of the reason for the arrest.
  • Section 50 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.PC) mandates that the person arrested has to be informed of the grounds of arrest, and the right to bail. Sections 56 and 76 of the Cr. PC also provides that a person has to be produced before a court within 24 hours of arrest.
  • Additionally, Article 22(1) of the Constitution says an arrested person cannot be denied the right to consult, and to be defended by, a legal practitioner of his choice. But none of these rights are available to a person detained under the NSA.
  • A person could be kept in the dark about the reasons for his arrest for up to five days, and in exceptional circumstances not later than 10 days. Even when providing the grounds for arrest, the government can withhold information which it considers to be against public interest to disclose.
  • The arrested person is also not entitled to the aid of any legal practitioner in any matter connected with the proceedings before an advisory board, which is constituted by the government for dealing with NSA cases.

What a Dutch ruling means for digital identification schemes worldwide

In a first anywhere in the world, a court in the Netherlands recently stopped a digital identification scheme for reasons of exclusion. This has a context for similar artificial intelligence systems worldwide, especially at a time when identity, citizenship and privacy are pertinent questions in India.

What is the scheme?

  • Last week, a Dutch district court ruled against an identification mechanism called SyRI (System Risk Indicator), because of data privacy and human rights concerns.
  • The court held SyRI was too invasive and violative of the privacy guarantees given by European Human Rights Law as well as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

Background –

  • The Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs developed SyRI in 2014 to weed out those who are most likely to commit fraud and receive government benefits.
  • Legislation passed by Dutch Parliament allowed government agencies to share 17 categories of data about welfare recipients such as taxes, land registries, employment records, and vehicle registrations with a private company.

Arguments in the court – 

  • Critics alleged that the algorithm would begin associating poverty and immigrant statuses with fraud risk. The Dutch government defended the programme in court, saying it prevented abuse and acted as only a starting point for further investigation instead of a final determination.
  • The government also refused to disclose all information about how the system makes its decisions, stating that it would allow gaming of the system.
  • The court found that opaque algorithmic decision-making puts citizens at a disadvantage to challenge the resulting risk scores. The Netherlands continuously ranks high on democracy indices.

Implications for India –

  • Similar to the Supreme Court’s Aadhaar judgment setting limits on the ID’s usage, the Hague Court attempted to balance social interest with personal privacy.
  • The ruling is also an example of how a data protection regulation can be used against government surveillance.
  • India’s proposed regulation is similar to the such system has loopholes that could be potentially exploited. A system somewhat paralleling the Dutch SyRI system was a risk-scoring software being used by US court systems to establish bail times.

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