February 23, 2021

Bhima-Koregaon case: Poet-activist Varavara Rao granted bail on medical grounds

Rights: The Bombay High Court has granted temporary bail on medical grounds to 81-year-old poet and activist Varavara Rao, who has been in custody since August 28th, 2018, awaiting trial in the Bhima-Koregaon case. Rao would have to surrender after completion of the bail period of six months.

Rao, who is currently undergoing treatment at Mumbai’s Nanavati Hospital where he was admitted by the Maharashtra government, has been granted bail on the condition that he will remain in Mumbai and be available for investigation. The court further asked him to furnish a personal bond of INR 50,000, and also to be present at the National Investigation Agency (NIA) court for trial. He has also been forbidden from establishing any contact with his co-accused in the case.

In a writ petition filed earlier this month, his lawyer, Indira Jaising, had highlighted Rao’s poor health condition before the Bombay High Court, saying that of the 365 days since last February, he had spent 149 days in hospital.

The Bhima-Koregaon case, being probed by the NIA, involves allegations of provocative speeches made at the Elgar Parishad conclave held in Pune on December 31st, 2017, which the police claimed led to violence the next day near the Bhima-Koregaon war memorial.

Varavara Rao and nine other activists were accused of plotting the violence with Maoists. Rao, who headed Veerasam, an association of revolutionary writers, has denied the charge.

Read this article on the state of justice in India.

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February 26, 2021

Centre withdraws widely-criticised order on international webinars and conferences

Advocacy & Government: The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has withdrawn its order that required academic and scientific institutions to seek prior approval before organising any international online seminar or conference.

In a fresh order issued two days ago, the MEA said that the November 25th guidelines regarding political clearance for international conferences, seminars, and training would no longer be applicable in view of the easing of restrictions on travel and assembly of people. All such events would, however, continue to be governed by the same rules and regulations that were applicable to political clearances prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

However, going forward such webinars will fall under the purview of the home ministry. So far, this ministry has not issued any directives on webinars. There is also some confusion regarding this handover since home ministry guidelines restrict themselves to face-to-face conferences, not online events. They also deal with issuance of visas to international delegates, which is immaterial in case of webinars.

The fresh order comes in the wake of objections to the November 25th order by the scientific community. Two leading academies in the country—Indian Academy of Sciences and Indian National Academy of Sciences—had written to the government seeking withdrawal of the order, saying such restrictions could halt all topical scientific discussions.

Read this article to learn about how to put together a great webinar.


February 26, 2021

Centre opposes same-sex marriage, says it’s not the same as an ‘Indian family unit’

Rights: The central government opposed petitions seeking recognition and registration of same-sex marriages in the country and stated that same-sex marriage was not a fundamental right in the country. It also submitted that same-sex couples living together as partners and having a sexual relationship could not be compared to an ‘Indian family unit’ of a husband, wife, and children.

“In our country, despite statutory recognition of the relationship of marriage between a biological man and a biological woman, marriage necessarily depends upon age-old customs, rituals, practices, cultural ethos, and societal values,” the centre told the Delhi High Court in response to three petitions seeking recognition and registration of same-sex marriages under the Hindu Marriage Act, the Special Marriage Act, and the Foreign Marriage Act.

The affidavit submitted by the government in response to the petitions said that despite the Supreme Court decriminalising Section 377 under the Indian Penal Code, the petitioners cannot claim a fundamental right to same-sex marriage under the laws of the country. It said that such relationships can be governed, regulated, permitted, or proscribed only by a law made by the competent legislature.

The PIL seeking the recognition of same-sex marriages under the Hindu Marriage Act had been filed by Abhijit Iyer Mitra and three others. In October 2020, the Delhi High Court observed that the statute is gender-neutral and must be interpreted in favour of the citizens of India. Meanwhile, four more people from the LGBTQ community approached the Delhi High Court seeking similar provisions.

The matter will next be heard on April 20th, 2021.