Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Google dips into CSR budget, ties up with Election Commission for voters’ registration

The Election Commission (EC) has  entered a key partnership with US-based internet giant, Google, to help it manage online voter registration and facilitation services ahead of the democratic exercise. Over the next six months, Google will offer EC its resources, including its search engine, to enable voters to check their enrollment status online and locate their polling station, complete with directions using Google Maps.

The "arrangement" between EC and Google is learnt to have been clinched late this month, and is expected to be "operational" by the second week of January. As part of the partnership, Google will put its worldwide network and resources at the Commission's disposal until June 2014 to help it manage online registration of new voters and allow the enrolled ones to check the address at which they are registered, and get directions to the polling station. With the new rolls with reference to January 1, 2014, slated to be out by January 6, the voters' queries on the Commission website are likely to be managed by Google starting from the second week of January.

Google will not charge the EC for these services, estimated to cost $50,000 (over Rs 30 lakh), and fund the same from its corporate social responsibility (CSR) budget.

"The EC is going ahead with the use of hi-tech and professional expertise to manage online enrolment of voters and search a voter's name in electoral rolls along with the polling station. "So, all that one needs to do now is to type his name/EPIC no and address on the Google Search engine, which will promptly generate results matching the voters' name with his assembly/Lok Sabha constituency, and pinpointing the location of his polling station...in fact, Google Maps will give exact directions to the voter on how to get to the correct polling station on the polling day," explained a senior EC official.

Google is offering similar services across 100 countries as part of its CSR obligations. The American firm had approached the EC some time ago to offer its expertise for better management of online services on the Commission's website, particularly voter enrolment and facilitation. The Commission, which felt that the management of its online interface with the voters left much scope for improvement, welcomed the offer from the "global leader" and the two signed on the dotted line recently.

EC is also exploring the option of using the worldwide network and servers of Google for dissemination of results for the 2014 general election likely to be held in May. EC had tied up with US-based IT firm Akamai for putting out results for the recent assembly polls in five states. The use of 272 servers of Akamai across the world to disseminate the results, as against barely two servers in use during the 2009 Lok Sabha poll, ensured that the ECI website could handle the millions of hits it received per minute on the counting day (December 8).

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Encash cheque via phone in UK

People will be able to take pictures of cheques on their smartphones and send them to their bank to receive the money early, under a British treasury plan announced on Thursday.

The idea could give individuals and businesses access to payments by cheque in two days instead of six days as at present. It could also safeguard the long term future of the cheque in the age of internet banking.

Legislation allowing banks to process images rather than paper is one option being considered by the treasury. The technology is already widely used in the US and Barclays Bank plans to experiment with mobile cheque depositing in the UK in the new year.

The change could take effect by next Christmas. Customers without smartphones would be able to use similar technology at cashpoints or bank branches or continue to pay in paper cheques if they wished.

"Cheque imaging" does not require a hard copy of the cheque at every stage of the paying-in process. Saving the time spent transferring paper copies between different banks and central clearing depots means it also cuts costs.

Cheques with a value of almost £840 bn were processed in the UK in 2012 — 10% of all payments by individuals.

Some 23 million cheques were used as gifts because they are still the most trusted method of sending money through the post.

Businesses accounted for more than 370 million cheque transactions and a quarter of payments made by small businesses were by cheque.

Sajid Javid, the financial secretary to the treasury, said: "This government is determined to create a banking sector that works for consumers and serves businesses. We want to see more innovation so that customers see the benefits of new technologies."

John Allan, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: "Speeding up cheque payments into business accounts is to be welcomed as many find the current process frustratingly slow."

The treasury also announced a plan to boost lending to small firms by making it easier for the new "challenger" banks that are taking on the "Big Four" high street names to check the creditworthiness of potential business customers. It will consult on new rules requiring banks to share their credit data on small and medium-sized enterprises through credit reference agencies. At present, the Big Four banks control 85% of lending to these firms.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Gay sex verdict- Government moves Supreme Court for review

Government on Friday moved the Supreme Court with a review petition seeking re-examination of its verdict on Section 377 of IPC, reviving the penal provision making gay sex an offence punishable with life imprisonment.

The review petition contended that the December 11 judgment of the apex court setting aside the Delhi high court verdict decriminalizing sexual intercourse between same sex of consenting adults is "unsustainable".

The Centre's petition settled by attorney general G E Vahavati sought that oral arguments be heard in an open court before disposing of its review petition.

The review petitions are generally decided in chamber hearing.

In the petition filed through advocate Devdutt Kamath, the Centre has taken 76 grounds to contend that the judgment passed by Justice G S Singhvi (since retired) and Justice S J Mukhopadhaya "suffers from errors apparent on the face of the record, and is contrary to well-established principles of law laid down by this court enunciating the width and ambit of Fundamental Rights under Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution."

"The govt has filed the review petition on Section 377 in the Supreme Court today. Let's hope the right to personal choices is preserved, Union law minister Kapil Sibal tweeted on Friday.

The Supreme Court recently dealt a cruel blow to lakhs of homosexuals, many of whom had started living together after the Delhi high court decriminalized same-sex relationships four years ago, by making it a crime again, even if it is consensual and done between adults in private. The 'crime' will attract a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.

The bench of Justices Singhvi and S J Mukhopadhaya reversed the Delhi HC's 2009 verdict and held that the 150-year-old Section 377, criminalizing gay sex, "does not suffer from the vice of unconstitutionality."

The bench said: "In the light of plain meaning and legislative history of the section, we hold that Section 377 IPC would apply irrespective of age and consent." It added that the section does not discriminate any group with a particular sexual preference, a stand that was diametrically opposite to that by the Delhi HC.

"It is relevant to mention here that Section 377 IPC does not criminalize a particular people or identity or orientation. It merely identifies certain acts, which if committed, would constitute an offence. Such prohibition regulates sexual conduct regardless of gender identity and orientation," Justices Singhvi said.

Monday, December 16, 2013

SC comes to the rescue of daughter of Rajasthan HC judge

The Supreme Court on Monday came to the rescue of the daughter of a sitting Rajasthan high court judge, allegedly restrained by him from marrying her boyfriend, by asking the state police to hand her over to her companion. 

"Keeping in view her welfare and the fact that she has already attained majority, we say that she is at liberty to take her own future decisions," a bench comprising justices H L Dattu and C Nagappan said after recording the statement of the girl who said she wanted to marry Siddharth Mukherjee. 

Mukherjee had filed the petition alleging that Justice 
Raghvendra Singh Rathore, a judge of the Rajasthan high court, was averse to his daughter's plan to marry him as he did not belong to their caste and had put his 30-year-old daughter under house arrest. 

The bench directed the authorities at 
Gandhinagar police station in Jaipur to hand over the girl to Mukherjee and gave them the liberty to approach the apex court in case any "inconvenience" is caused to them.

During the hearing, it said, "We informed her in the beginning that she is free to make a statement and assured her of the protection from the court. 

"She states (in the statement to the top court) that she does not have any ill will against anybody and wanted to marry the petitioner." 

The bench then disposed of the petition with a direction to the police to allow her to go to Mukherjee. 

Earlier, the court had issued a notice on the plea and asked the state police to produce the girl before it on December 16. 

The girl had last month written emails to Supreme Court and Rajasthan high court judges seeking help.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

SC order shadow on red beacon status symbol

The Supreme Court banning the use of the ubiquitous "lal batti" on all vehicles except those used by dignitaries holding constitutional posts.

The state government has said it would begin the process of identifying eligible beacon users following the apex court's ruling, but the authorities have been drawing flak for failing to curb the misuse of beacons by those not entitled to use them.

On September 27, 2010, the state transport department had issued a notification identifying 25 categories of positions eligible for using red beacons and 19 for amber lights, but the department failed to crack the whip on the violators.

"Let's hope that the state government will now execute the Supreme Court order in true spirit because it has turned a blind eye to violators in the past," said Nishikant Mishra, a high court lawyer and secretary of Utkal Vidyarthi Abhiyan (UVA), a voluntary organization.

Mishra said the new law would only benefit those bearing constitutional posts such as governor, speaker, deputy speaker, chief minister, cabinet ministers, ministers of state, chief justice of high court and high court judges.

The UVA had several times in the past filed PILs in the high court, seeking to check the misuse of red beacons. The September 2010 notification came in response to the high court directive following UVA's petition.

"According to the Flag Code India, 2002, and Motor Vehicle's Act, the use of flashing red lights is restricted to flag-bearing cars, that is, only those dignitaries who have the privilege of flying the national flag on their cars," Mishra said.

"In Odisha, a large number of government officials from different departments, judiciary and local bodies, state government officials not connected with the police, police officers working in non-police departments like printing presses and OSRTC use red lights even though they are not authorized to do so," Mishra added. He said though the transport department serviced notices to nearly 110 'unauthorized' dignitaries to remove red beacons from their vehicles, not a single person complied with the order.

While the state government's notification restricted chairperson of the state commission for women (SCW) from using red or amber beacon, the vehicle of the chairperson is still fitted with the beacon.

Contacted, state transport secretary G. Mathivathan said: "We had written all district collectors, SPs and commissioners of police to enforce the law. We will now abide by the Supreme Court order and release a new list of the eligible red beacon users."

Homosexuality is an offence, Supreme Court rules

The Supreme Court on Wednesday set aside the decision of the Delhi high court, which had in 2009 decriminalised sexual relation between persons belonging to same sex.

The apex court upheld the constitutional validity of Section 377 of Indian Penal Code that makes anal sex a punishable offence.

LGBT activists, whose sexual relationships had been legalised by the Delhi HC, broke down inside the court room.

Parliament is authorised to remove Section 377, but as long as this provision is there, the court can not legalise this kind of sexual relationship, the SC bench observed.

"It is for the legislature to look into desirability of deleting section 377 of the IPC," the apex court said.

A bench of Justices G S Singhvi and S J Mukhopadhaya had reserved judgment on March 27 last year on a bunch of petitions, many arguing in support and some against the HC verdict, after hearing arguments on a day-to-day basis for over a month.

While pleading for decriminalisation of gay sex, the Centre had subsequently told the court that the anti-gay law in the country had resulted from British colonialism and the Indian society was much more tolerant towards homosexuality.

The Delhi high court had on July 2, in 2009 decriminalised gay sex as provided in Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and had ruled that sex between two consenting adults in private would not be an offence.

Section 377 (unnatural offences) of the IPC makes gay sex a criminal offence entailing punishment up to life term.

Those in favour of the Delhi HC verdict and those opposed to it are divided on religious considerations. While liberal organizations, including NGOs advocating LGBT rights, are supporting the HC decision, those opposed to it are mainly from religious groups belonging to Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities.

Those who challenged the Delhi HC verdict, which came on a petition filed by NGO 'Naz Foundation', included BJP leader B P Singhal, All India Muslim Personal Law Board, Utkal Christian Council and Apostolic Churches Alliance.

The Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Tamil Nadu Muslim Munn Kazhagam, astrologer Suresh Kumar Kaushal and yoga guru Ramdev have also opposed the verdict.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Married daughters entitled to job on father's death: HC

The Bombay high court has ruled that a married daughter is equally entitled to a government job on compassionate grounds on father's demise.

Giving job to unmarried daughters of government servants but denying the same benefit to married daughters violates the right to equality, equality of opportunity in matters of public employment and right to life which are enshrined in the Constitution, the court said.

The court was hearing a petition filed by 29-year-old Swati Kulkarni against Maharashtra Irrigation Department's decision to reject her claim for a job on compassionate grounds after her father's demise.

The department had cited a 1994 Government Resolution (GR) which said that only unmarried daughters would get this benefit.

The petitioner's father Ashok Kulkarni died while in service in 2008. Both her mother and younger sister did not wish to take the job, so Kulkarni herself staked claim.

Her name was put on waiting list. But when she got married, the name was struck off. Aggrieved, she moved the High Court challenging the October 1994 GR.

The division bench of Justices S C Dharmadhikari and Revati Mohite Dere yesterday quashed the Irrigation Officer's decision and ordered that Kulkarni's name be included in the waiting list.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Should 'juvenile maturity' be yardstick in trials?

 As the Centre prepares to deal with the public demand post-Nirbhaya case to limit the lenient trial process under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act of those aged 16-18 years accused of heinous crimes, the Supreme Court on Monday touched on the maturity of juveniles as a yardstick in such cases.

Should not trial courts examine the 'level of maturity and understanding' of a juvenile before permitting his trial by a Juvenile Justice Board, especially in serious and heinous offences, asked a bench of Justices B S Chauhan and S A Bobde before seeking a response from the Union ministry of women and child development.

In the brutal gang-rape-cum murder of Nirbhaya, a 17-year-old accused was tried by a Juvenile Justice Board and remanded to three years in a reform home. Other adult co-accused were convicted by a criminal court and awarded death penalty.

Given the remorseless barbarity shown by the perpetrators of the heinous crime, there has been a clamour for revisiting the lenient provisions of the JJ Act that allow those involved in such serious offences to receive lighter punishment solely because they were under 18 years at the time of commission of the crime.

Nirbhaya's parents through counsel Aman Hingorani argued before Justices Chauhan and Bobde about the constitutional transgression effected by Parliament-enacted JJ Act, which took away the Indian Penal Code conferred jurisdiction on normal criminal courts to try a person accused of a crime.

Hingorani said the IPC had provided for exceptions - Section 82 saying nothing is an offence that is done by a child below 7 years of age; and Section 83 which says "nothing is an offence which is done by a child above seven years of age and under 12, who has not attained sufficient maturity of understanding to judge of the nature and consequences of his conduct on that occasion".

He said the discretion vested in the court to test the maturity level of a child and co-relate it to commission of offence, as provided under the IPC, had been taken away by the JJ Act. The law warranted that a person accused of the crime, if he was below the age of 18 years, should be mandatorily tried by a JJ Board.

The bench clarified the petitioners' challenge to the constitutionality of the JJ Act might not stand judicial scrutiny as it was a special law enacted by Parliament keeping in view India's obligations under international treaties and agreements.

However, it agreed with Hingorani that it could be examined whether the JJ Act could have stripped normal criminal courts of the power conferred under Section 83 of the IPC to examine the maturity and understanding level of the juvenile aged 16-18 years and involved in a heinous offence.

It issued notice to the Union ministry of women and child development and sought its response within four weeks. However, it declined to seek response of the juvenile in Nirbhaya case for the time being.