Current Affairs (28th June 2021)
Gujarat’s prohibition law
- The Gujarat Prohibition Act, 1949 is being challenged before the Gujarat High Court, more than seven decades after it came into effect as the Bombay Prohibition Act. The court is to give its verdict soon on the maintainability of the petitions.
Origin of the prohibition law in western India and its rationale:
- The first hint at the prohibition of liquor was through the Bombay Abkari Act, 1878. This Act dealt with levying of duties on intoxicants, among other things and aspects of prohibition via amendments made in 1939 and 1947.
- As per the ‘Statement of Objects and Reasons’ published in the Bombay Government Gazette on December 28, 1948, the policy of prohibition was initiated in 1939 and soon after its initiation “the popular government went out of office and for various reasons the enforcement of the policy remained dormant”.
- Then in 1940, the government reconsidered the question of prohibition and it was decided to undertake and enforce a policy of “total prohibition” in the whole of the Province of Bombay on the basis of a four-year plan.
- While following the reorganisation of Bombay province into the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat in 1960 there was continued amendment and liberalisation in the state of Maharashtra, especially in 1963, on the ground that liberalisation of the law was necessary to check the business of illicit liquor, Gujarat adopted the prohibition policy since 1960 and subsequently chose to enforce it with greater rigidity, but also made processes easier for foreign tourists and visitors to get liquor permits.
- In 2011, it renamed the Act as Gujarat Prohibition Act. By the state’s own admission in affidavits before the Gujarat HC, the government found that the policy was not working effectively and thus amendments were made through an ordinance in 2016.
- In the statement of objects and reasons of this amendment, it was stated that the state government was “committed to the ideals and principles of Mahatma Gandhi and firmly intends to eradicate the menace of drinking liquor.”
Main grounds raised against prohibition of liquor and in favour of prohibition:
- Two key grounds have been taken up by the petitioners, that of the right of privacy, which has been held as a fundamental right by the Supreme Court in several judgments since 2017, and a second ground of manifest arbitrariness.
- The second ground has been especially highlighted while challenging sections pertaining to grant of health permits and temporary permits to out-of-state tourists on the basis that there is no intelligible differences in the classes thus being created by the state on who gets to drink and who does not and violates the Right to Equality under Article 14 of the Constitution.
- The petitioners submit that any invasion by the state in an individual’s right to choice of food and beverage amounts to an unreasonable restriction and destroys the individual’s decisional and bodily autonomy.
What has come out in the arguments before the Gujarat HC so far?
- According to the state, since the Supreme Court has already upheld the Act broadly barring a few sections in 1951 in the judgment of State of Bombay and another versus F.N. Balsara, a fresh challenge on new grounds can only be heard before the SC, and not the Gujarat HC.
- The petitioners have however argued that firstly, the Act when it was upheld, was part of criminal trial and secondly, the new grounds on which the fresh challenge to the Act is being brought forth, especially about right to privacy, was not available as a right in 1951 and hence could not have been looked at by the SC at the time.
- Being the first constitutional court in Gujarat, Gujarat HC thus can indeed hear the challenge on merits.
- It is also the petitioners’ case that the Act has seen ‘material changes’ over the years, either in the form of amendments, such as the one that prohibits a person in an intoxicated condition from entering the state, and thus it cannot be deemed to be not maintainable before the Gujarat HC as such provisions were never under challenge.
- As argued by the petitioners, the right of privacy, upheld by the SC for the first time in 2017 in the judgment of Justice KS Puttaswamy versus Union of India, also requires to be tested constitutionally as to what degree and under what circumstances can it apply.
What happens next?
- The Division Bench of the Gujarat HC has reserved its order, solely to adjudicate on the maintainability, that is, if the Gujarat HC is the right forum which can examine and go into the merits of the challenge to the law.
- If the court finds it to be maintainable, it will then adjudicate on the challenge based on merits of the case. If in the negative, the petitioners will be left with going to the SC to challenge the law.
China’s Dragon Man
- The researchers from China have published their findings in the journal ‘The Innovation’, in which they note that the cranium (the portion that encloses the brain) could be over 146,000 years old. The skull was found in the Songhua River in north-east China’s Harbin city.
- They had identified a previously unknown kind of ancient human called “Nesher Ramla Homo” that co-existed with Homo sapiens nearly 100,000 years ago when several species of humans co-existed in Asia, Europe, and Africa.
- These include Homo sapiens, the Neanderthals, and the Denisovans.
- Homo sapiens, the species to which all existing humans belong, evolved in Africa nearly 300,000 years ago because of some dramatic climate change events.
- Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) are believed to be the closest extinct human relatives and lived about 400,000-40,000 years ago in Europe and southwestern to central Asia.
- These researchers note that this archaic Homo population had mastered the use of technology that until recently was linked only to Homo sapiens or Neanderthals.
- Members of the species Nesher Ramla Homo could hunt small and large game, they used wood for fuel, cooked and roasted meat, and maintained fires.
- These findings are important because they provide evidence that there were cultural interactions between different human lineages.
Why is this discovery being considered significant?
- For one, it brings new knowledge about the evolution of Homo sapiens — which is to say that if the “Dragon Man” is indeed a new species, it might help to bridge the gaps between our ancient ancestors called Homo erectus and us.
- This knowledge is important because there is very little consensus in the scientific community about how different human species are related, and which species are our immediate ancestors.
- India’s offensive cyber capability is “Pakistan-focused” and “regionally effective”, and not tuned towards China, says a new report by International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), an influential think tank that has done a qualitative assessment of cyber power in 15 countries.
- A country’s cyber capabilities have been assessed in seven categories: strategy and doctrine; governance, command, and control; core cyber-intelligence capability; cyber empowerment and dependence; cyber security and resilience; global leadership in cyberspace affairs and offensive cyber capability.
- The US is the only country in the first tier, for its world-leading strengths across “all” categories.
- India has been put in the third tier meant for countries that have strengths or potential strengths in some of these categories but “significant weaknesses” in others. Also, in this category are: Japan, Iran, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and North Korea.
- In the second tier, with world-leading strengths in “some” categories are: Australia, Canada, China, France, Israel, Russia, and the United Kingdom.
- Despite the geo-strategic instability of its region and a keen awareness of the cyber threat it faces, India has made only “modest progress” in developing its policy and doctrine for cyberspace security.
- India has some cyber-intelligence and offensive cyber capabilities but they are regionally focused, principally on Pakistan.
- It is currently aiming to compensate for its weaknesses by building new capability with the help of key international partners – including the US, the UK and France – and by looking to concerted international action to develop norms of restraint.
- The report said that India’s approach towards institutional reform of cyber governance has been “slow and incremental”, with key coordinating authorities for cyber security in the civil and military domains established only as late as 2018 and 2019 respectively.
- India has a good regional cyber-intelligence reach but relies on partners, including the United States, for wider insight.
- It said that the strengths of the Indian digital economy include a vibrant start-up culture and a very large talent pool. “The private sector has moved more quickly than the government in promoting national cyber security.”
- The country is active and visible in cyber diplomacy but has not been among the leaders on global norms, preferring instead to make productive practical arrangements with key states.
- India is a third-tier cyber power whose best chance of progressing to the second tier is by harnessing its great digital-industrial potential and adopting a whole-of-society approach to improving its cyber security.