News Wrap


In its final Meeting on 10 March 2017, the Supreme Court of India’s five judge collegium, headed by Chief Justice J S Khehar, unanimously rejected the recommendation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi government, that the government should have the power to reject any name for appointment of a judge of the high court, for reasons of ‘‘national security’’. The Supreme Court collegium has virtually rejected every contentious clause that the Modi government included in the new Memorandum of Procedure (MoP). Members of the collegium were unanimous in their view that allowing the government to reject names on the claim of national security, would be tantamount to handing the Executive a veto power. However, the collegium will never dismiss sensitive feedback on the appointment of candidate that could compromise national security. The collegium has disagreed to setting up a permanent secretariat to assist the collegium by ‘‘vetting and screening’’ the candidates, formally involving all sitting high court judges, senior advocates and state advocate general in suggesting names from among lawyers for elevation; setting up a formal mechanism to adjudicate ‘‘merit and integrity’’ to decide which high court chief justice, should be elevated to the Supreme Court.

Indian Train Drivers
Over a period of three years, the number of Indian train drivers failing alcohol tests at work, has almost tripled. Thousands of lives are put at risk, on one of the world’s busiest rail networks, that already suffers from a dismal safety record. Dilapidated Indian railway tracks carry 23 million passengers a day. There is an alarming spike in the number of drivers failing breathalyser tests. At least 81 were caught under the influence of alcohol in 2016, up from 55 in 2015 and 30 in 2014. Most of those who failed tests did so when signing in, and were prevented from working. At least 15% tested positive from alcohol, upon finishing a shift. Before and after work, train drivers are being breathathysed. But disciplinary measures are limited. Most caught drunk on duty face no more than a suspension. Prosecutions and dismissals are rare. One train carries 1000 to 1200 people, so even one train accident can cause disaster. Train drivers caught under the influence of alcohol, have blamed stress, long hours and poor wages and unsatisfactory working conditions.

Espionage and Death Sentence
In April 2017, Kulbhushan Jadhav, a former Indian naval officer has been sentenced to death, by a Pakistani court, after being found guilty of espionage and sabotage, in a military trial, attacked by India as ‘‘farcial’’. The Indian government, in a strongly worded diplomatic demarche, warned it would consider it ‘‘a case of premeditated murder’’ if Islamabad carried out the death sentence against Jadhav. Pakistan’s announcement of the court’s decision comes at a low point in links between the nuclear armed neighbours. The Indian national was arrested by Pakistan in March 2016, in circumstances that remain bitterly contested by India. Pakistan maintains that the 46-year-old was an agent in the Research and Analysis Wing of India’s intelligence agency, who was captured in Pakistan’s troubled Baluchistan province. New Delhi claims that Jadhav was kidnapped from Iran in 2016, where he reportedly had a small business, in the port city of Chabahar. India has made 13 formal requests for consular access to Jadhav, but has been repeatedly rebuffed. The International Court of Justice (ICJ), at the Hague on 18 May 2017 directed Islamabad to take all measures to ensure that Jadhav was not executed.

Sarin GAs
In the town of Khan Sheikhun, in rebel held north western Syria, on 04 April 2017, a chemical attack killed about 80 civilians, including several children. The opposition accused the Syrian government, and demanded a UN investigation. A hospital in the town where doctors were treating victims of the attack was also bombarded. Syria’s Idlib province is largely controlled by an alliance of rebels, including former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front. The province is regularly targeted in strikes by the regime, as well as Russian war planes. It has also been hit by the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group, usually targeting jihadists. The conflict in Syria, has claimed more than 320,000 lives, and displaced most of the Syrian population.

On 07 April 2017, USA fired 60 Tomahawk cruise missiles from US Navy ships in the Mediterranean, at Syria’s Shayrat airfield dealing heavy damage to the base. Washington believes the deadly chemical Sarin Gas attack was launched from the airbase. Nine civilians, including four children were killed in villages near the base. At least fifteen civilians, including four children were killed on 08 April 2017, in a suspected US-led coalition airstrike, near the Islamic State group’s Syrian bastion, Raqu and Heneyda, around 25 km west of the city of Raqa. In the wake of the first direct strike by USA on Bashar al-Assad’s regime, a Russian warship ‘Admiral Grigorovich’ armed with cruise missiles, has been deployed from the Black Sea to the Syrian coast port of Tartus, which houses a Russian naval base.

Vol. 50, No.2, Jul 16 - 22, 2017