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Judging is ‘under stress’ in digital era, says Justice A K Sikri

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New Delhi | Judging is “under stress” in the digital era, a Supreme Court judge said Sunday, lamenting that even before a case is taken up by the court, people start discussing on social media what the outcome “should be” which has an influence on the judges.

Talking on “Freedom of press in the digital age” at the first Law Association For Asia and the Pacific (LAWASIA) conference here, Justice A K Sikri said the freedom of press is changing the paradigm of civil and human rights and the current pattern of media trials is an example of it.

“Media trials were there earlier also. But today what is happening is that when an issue is raised, a petition is filed, (and) even before it is taken up by the court, people start discussing what should be the outcome. Not what ‘is’ the outcome, (but) what ‘should be’ the outcome. And let me tell you from my experience here that it has an influence on how a judge decides a case.

“It is not so much in the Supreme Court because by the time they come to the apex court they are quite matured and they know how the case is to be decided on the basis of law irrespective of what is happening in the media. Today judging is under stress,” Justice Sikri said. He said the power of contempt of court is not being used that much.

“Few years ago, it has always been an opinion that once a judgment was rendered by the court, be it the Supreme Court, high courts or any trial court, you have every right to criticize the judgement. Now there is slander or defamatory speeches even against judges who gave that judgment. And still not much is said on this,” Justice Sikri said.

Additional Solicitor General Madhavi Goradia Divan, one of the speakers at the conference, also expressed her concurring views and said that on social media, there is a huge blur between news and fake news, news and opinion, citizens and journalists.

Divan said one of the challenges was that with the growth of Twitter, lawyers have become activists too. And in that quest for activism and stardom, she added, one should not eclipse one’s professional duties as the casualty would be independence of the judiciary and matters would be decided for the “wrong” reasons.

“It is all right to an activist be now and then. But when one has appeared on those cases, argued in those cases, tweeting immediately after (hearing) can conflict with your professional duties,” she said.

Divan said though the requirement is that one needs to be an accredited journalist to be able to report from the Supreme Court, “for the rest, there is Twitter”.

“It is true that you (a lawyer) have a much better understanding of the law and the justice delivery system than a journalist, but at the same time there is a certain shallowness to Twitter which may distort the public understanding of how the justice delivery system works.

“I think it can put the judge under pressure because the judges as much as they are trained to decide shorn of media reportage, we know they are as human as anybody else and we should not distract them from deciding independently shorn of all media pressures. The casualty would be independence of judiciary and matters would be decided for the wrong reasons.

Justice Sikri said the media has undergone a complete transformation in the digital age and now “we are in the era of paid and fake news”. “It is becoming very alarming but we are in the era of paid and fake news because of the digital era. Stories are created…and somebody puts it on any digital mode and these, in few hours time, become viral. The reach is a billion people,” he said.

He said though social media has become a watchdog, there was a challenge to human rights also as there is a real threat of surveillance by both private and public players. “How data is mined, how players like Facebook, WhatsApp etc collate data, how they can see what their consumers’ choices and preferences are. If it affects the freedom of people, privacy of people, then it becomes a very dangerous instrument. And issues of dignity comes in,” he said.

Divan also emphasised on how people’s dependence on social media for information have led tech titans and corporates to gather individual data and feed-curated information.

“The more people depend on social media for news and information, we know that tech titans have allowed themselves to plant customised or curated news based on the social profiling of individuals,” she said.

She talked about how most journalists today gather information from social media platforms, rather than being on field. “This is definitely impacting the capacity of independent news gathering. It’s not only the easy way out, I would say it is a great dereliction of duty on the part of the mainstream media because it is denying public access to credible, truthful information. There is absolutely no substitute to credible, accountable media. I think more than ever before we need that media now to be able to sift the truth from untruth and the grain from chaff,” Divan said.

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PM Modi inaugurates, lays foundation stone of projects worth Rs 33,000 crore in Bihar

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Barauni | Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday inaugurated and laid the foundation stone of projects worth over Rs 33,000 crore in Bihar, including the Patna Metro Rail Project.

He inaugurated the Patna City Gas Distribution project. The prime minister laid the foundation stone of the Barauni Refinery Expansion Project and the ATF Hydrotreating Unit (INDJET) at Barauni Refinery. He also laid the foundation stone of the Patna Metro Rail Project through a remote at a function in Baruani.

The first phase of River Front Development at Patna was inaugurated and the foundation stone for the Karmalichak Sewerage Network, spanning 96.54 km was also laid by Modi.

The prime minister inaugurated the electrification of railway lines on many sectors and flagged off the Ranchi-Patna AC Weekly Express. He also laid the foundation stone of medical colleges at Chhapra and Purnia.

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Punjab extends time period of policy granting reservation in plot allotment to riot victims

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Amarinder Singh

Chandigarh | The Punjab government has decided to extend till December 2021 the time period of a policy under which victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and terror attacks in the state get reservation in allotment of plots or houses by Urban Estates, Improvement Trust and Pepsu Township Development Board.

The time limit of the policy that expired on December 31, 2016, has been extended till the end of December 2021, an official release said here.  he Cabinet, which met here under the chairmanship of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, considered the demand of the ‘Danga Peerat Committee’ (1984 riot victims’ committee), Barnala and Sangrur, in this regard, “to take the significant decision in the interest of victims of the riots and terrorist violence”.

“Victims of the 1984 riots and terror attacks in Punjab are all set to get a major relief with the Punjab Cabinet deciding to extend to them 5 per cent reservation in allotment of plots/houses by Urban Estates/Improvement Trust/Pepsu Township Development Board, without any financial concession, for five more years (from December 2016),” the release said.

In another decision, the Cabinet gave its nod to “The Punjab Food Grains Transportation Policy 2019-20” for transportation of food grains from ‘mandis’ to its storage points at minimum rates through competitive tenders from various transporters. The decision is aimed at bringing further efficiency and transparency in procurement of food grains operations, the release said.

It said for the upcoming procurement season, commencing from April 1, transportation of food grains beyond eight km would be allowed through a competitive online tender process.

This would be done by district tender committees, of which the respective Deputy Commissioners would be the Chairpersons, with district Food Corporation of India head, district heads of all state procurement agencies and district Controller of Food Supplies as members.

The tenders under this policy would be invited for the financial year 2019-20 and would be valid for the period from April 1, 2019 to December 3, 2009.

Further, to ascertain competitive rates, detailed Schedule of Rate (SOR) guidelines have been incorporated in the policy, listing out rates per metric tonne from more than 8 km up to 52 km. For every additional km beyond 52 km, charge of Rs 3.10 per tonne/kilometer would be applied.

Notably, the state procuring agencies of Punjab including Punjab State Warehousing Corporation (PSWC), PUNSUP, along with Food Corporation of India (FCI), procure food grains every year for the Central Pool or for Public Distribution System at the Minimum Support Price fixed by the Government of India.

Among other decisions, the Cabinet decided to provide the facility of air ambulance to serving/retired High Court Judges and their dependents. It has been decided to accordingly amend the particular Rule of Punjab Services (Medical Attendance) Rule, 1940, which covers Punjab government employees.

At a meeting in the Punjab and Haryana High Court on January 28, 2019, the Chief Justice and other judges had sought amendment to the Punjab Services (Medical Attendance) Rule, 1940, for providing facility of air ambulance in case of emergency to sitting and retired Judges and their dependents.

The Cabinet also approved filling up of 153 vacant sanctioned direct quota posts of 42 professors, 46 associate professors and 65 assistant professors in the Government Medical Colleges at Amritsar and Patiala.

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Curfew continues without relaxation in Jammu, efforts on to restore normalcy

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Jammu | Curfew continued without any relaxation in Jammu for the third consecutive day on Sunday even as the Army staged flag march in sensitive areas, officials said.

Senior civil and police officers held a marathon meeting with prominent citizens as part of efforts to restore normalcy in the city, they said. Internal security columns of the Army, which were deployed in the curfew-bound areas, were seen staging flag marches, while dozens of persons were taken into preventive custody to maintain law and order, they said.

Curfew was imposed in Jammu city on Friday following massive anti-Pakistan protests and sporadic incidents of violence over the terror attack in Pulwama district of south Kashmir which left 40 CRPF personnel dead on Thursday. “Curfew continues to remain in force in the city and there is no untoward incident reported during the night or this morning,” Inspector General of Police, Jammu, M K Sinha, told PTI.

He, however, said minor stone-pelting incidents were reported at a few places on Saturday but overall the situation was under control. “The situation is being monitored and a decision to relax curfew will be taken later in the day after fresh review of the situation,” he said.

Sinha along with Divisonal Commisioner, Jammu, Sanjeev Kumar Verma and district development commissioner, Jammu, Ramesh Kumar held a marathon meeting with prominent citizens of different faiths here late Saturday evening.

The officers appealed to participants to play their role in restoring normalcy in the city and frustrate nefarious designs of elements bent upon dividing people on communal lines. “Anti-national elements have a design to divide people. They want to change the narrative of a terror incident into a communal incident. We need to stand up united and do not fall pray to their propaganda,” the IGP said addressing the meeting. He said there is a need to look deeply into the Thursday’s terror attack on CRPF convoy.

“There is a game plan behind the killing of our jawans and it is to divide the society,” he said, asking participants to guide and counsel youngsters to stay away form the violence and help the administration catch those persons who are trying to vitiate the peaceful atmosphere in the region.

The officials said 18 Internal Security (IS) columns of Tiger Division along with air support from White Knight Corps continue to remain deployed in curfew-bound areas including Gujjar Nagar, Janipur, Shahidi Chowk, Talab Khatika, Sidhra and other sensitive areas.

While nine columns were deployed on Friday after a requisition by Jammu civil authorities to bring the situation under control, nine more columns were deployed on Saturday. “Helicopters and UAVs of Army also put into operation to monitor the situation. The proactive approach jointly taken by J&K Police, Civil administration (Divisional Commissioner and District Collector’s office) and Indian Army has ensured the situation in control,” a defence spokesman had said.

The officials said dozens of persons were taken into preventive custody as groups of protesters attempted to defy curfew at some pockets including Janipur and New plot in the city on Saturday. “The police acted promptly and the situation was brought under control,” he said.

Reports of peaceful candle light protests were also reported from almost all district headquarters across Jammu region Saturday night to pay homage to martyrs. Authorities have deployed security personnel in strength in sensitive areas across Jammu region to maintain law and order, the officials said.

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