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Thursday,29-September-2022

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After Delhi, excise policy of Punjab’s AAP govt under judicial scanner

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 Aiming to boost revenue by reducing the price of alcohol and making the booze lovers kings, the new excise policy of the AAP government in Punjab which became operational from July 1, has come under the judicial scanner with those in the trade accusing the government of monopolising the liquor industry in favour of a “handful of entities”.

However, the government claims the policy is aimed at keeping a stringent check on the smuggling of liquor from neighbouring states and is expecting revenue generation of Rs 9,647.85 crore, a spike of about Rs 2,600 crore from the previous fiscal year.

The new policy, approved by the cabinet last month, is applicable for nine months till March 31, 2023.

The petition filed by Akash Enterprises and other wholesale and retail vendors challenged the policy in the Punjab and Haryana High Court on the plea that it is an attempt to monopolise the liquor trade. It is pending before the court.

The petitioners pleaded that the government had issued a corrigendum whereby the maximum number of retail groups that can be allotted to an entity has been increased to five from three, which furthers the intent of monopolising the liquor industry into the hands of a few ‘resourceful’ bidders.

Contrary to the allegations, a spokesperson for the Chief Minister’s Office told IANS that the new excise policy aims to break the mafia nexus in the liquor trade.

Joining issue, rebel AAP leader and now Congress legislator Sukhpal Singh Khaira said since Arvind Kejriwal has replicated the Delhi excise policy in Punjab by putting the liquor trade into the hands of the mafia and has robbed small contractors of their livelihood, there should be a similar CBI probe ordered against this policy in Punjab to bring out the truth.

“It is an irony that while Kejriwal is crying wolf in Delhi and issuing clean chits to his ministers accused of corruption with irrefutable evidence, his government in Punjab is orchestrating a malicious and vengeful vendetta campaign in the state against political opponents on baseless allegations of corruption,” he said.

For consumers it has brought cheers with the reduction in the price.

The duties levied on liquor in the wholesale trade have been slashed by 25-60 per cent.

Also in the new policy no quota has been fixed for the sale of Indian made foreign liquor (IMFL) and beer, which means vend owners can sell as much liquor as they can.

Trade insiders told IANS the policy has reduced the number of groups or clusters of liquor vends from about 750 in the last financial year to 177, with the aim to increase control over the liquor trade and tap optimum revenue.

Als, the government gave its nod to allot two special battalions of police to the excise department, in addition to the existing force, for keeping an effective vigil over the excise duty pilferage.

To encourage investment, a provision for a new distillery and brewery licence has been made in the policy for the production of malt spirit which has been done to encourage crop diversification and provide better remuneration to the farmers.

A government official familiar with the matter told IANS earlier that it was the liberal liquor policy of Chandigarh that was hitting neighbouring states the most, including Punjab.

The chief ministers of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh on several occasions had requested the Chandigarh administration to fix a quota for licensees and increase levies as these have been causing an annual revenue loss of Rs 200-Rs 300 crore to them owing to liquor smuggling.

They had argued that allocation of unlimited quota to a licencee in Chandigarh was promoting smuggling of liquor to nearby states.

“Now it is the liberal liquor policy of Punjab that is going to hit neighbouring states the most,” added the official.

In Punjab, alcohol is the maximally abused substance by more than two million people, followed by tobacco which is consumed by more than 1.5 million people, finds the latest study by the Chandigarh-based Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER).

The abuse of opioids is by 1.7 lakh individuals, followed by cannabinoids as well as sedative-inhalant stimulants. The latter are largely a class of pharmacological or prescription drugs being used illicitly.

As per the State of Punjab Household Survey and statewide NCD STEPs Survey by the PGIMER, the projected number of overall substance use in Punjab is 15.4 per cent.

Coming out in support of the new liquor policy, Finance Minister Harpal Singh Cheema said the government has targeted to generate Rs 9,600 crore as against Rs 6,200 crore in the last fiscal.

He said earlier liquor purchased from Haryana used to be sold in Punjab. “The days of the liquor mafia are over now,” he added.

Responding to Delhi’s lieutenant governor V.K. Saxena asking the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to inquire into the Delhi government’s excise policy, BJP national general secretary Tarun Chugh said the AAP government’s links with the liquor cartel would soon be exposed in Punjab too.

In Punjab also Kejriwal has tried to replicate the Delhi model which would soon be exposed, he added.

National News

Rape to include marital rape for purpose of Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act: SC

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The Supreme Court on Thursday said that all women, including the unmarried, are entitled to safe and legal abortion, and also the meaning of rape must be understood as including marital rape, solely for the purposes of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act and any rules and regulations framed thereunder.

And, married women may also form part of the class of survivors of sexual assault or rape, it added.

A bench, headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, said it is not inconceivable that married women become pregnant as a result of their husbands having “raped” them and the nature of sexual violence and the contours of consent do not undergo a transformation when one decides to marry.

“The institution of marriage does not influence the answer to the question of whether a woman has consented to sexual relations. If the woman is in an abusive relationship, she may face great difficulty in accessing medical resources or consulting doctors,” it added.

The bench, also comprising Justices A.S. Bopanna and J.B. Pardiwala, said the state has a positive obligation under Article 21 of the Constitution to protect the right to health, and particularly reproductive health of individuals.

“Married women may also form part of the class of survivors of sexual assault or rapea… A woman may become pregnant as a result of non-consensual sexual intercourse performed upon her by her husband. We would be remiss in not recognising that intimate partner violence is a reality and can take the form of rape,” said Justice Chandrachud, who authored the judgment on behalf of the bench.

It added that the misconception that strangers are exclusively or almost exclusively responsible for sex- and gender-based violence is a deeply regrettable one.

The bench said that there is no requirement that an FIR must be registered or the allegation of rape must be proved in a court of law or some other forum before it can be considered true for the purposes of the MTP Act.

Emphasising that the right to dignity encapsulates the right of every individual to be treated as a self-governing entity having intrinsic value, it added that in the context of abortion, the right to dignity entails recognising the competence and authority of every woman to take reproductive decisions, including the decision to terminate the pregnancy.

“The right of every woman to make reproductive choices without undue interference from the state is central to the idea of human dignity. Deprivation of access to reproductive healthcare or emotional and physical wellbeing also injures the dignity of women,” it added.

Justice Chandrachud said if women with unwanted pregnancies are forced to carry their pregnancies to term, the state would be stripping them of the right to determine the immediate and long-term path their lives would take.

“Depriving women of autonomy not only over their bodies but also over their lives would be an affront to their dignity. The right to choose for oneself – be it as significant as choosing the course of one’s life or as mundane as one’s day-to-day activities – forms a part of the right to dignity,” he added, in the 75-page verdict.

The bench said the law should not decide the beneficiaries of a statute based on narrow patriarchal principles about what constitutes “permissible sex”, which create invidious classifications and excludes groups based on their personal circumstances.

“The rights of reproductive autonomy, dignity, and privacy under Article 21 give an unmarried woman the right of choice on whether or not to bear a child, on a similar footing of a married woman, “it added.

The object of Section 3(2)(b) of the MTP Act read with Rule 3B is to provide for abortions between 20 and 24 weeks, rendered unwanted due to a change in the material circumstances of women.

“In view of the object, there is no rationale for excluding unmarried or single women (who face a change in their material circumstances) from the ambit of Rule 3B. A narrow interpretation of Rule 3B, limited only to married women, would render the provision discriminatory towards unmarried women and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution,” said Justice Chandrachud.

The bench said importantly, it is the woman alone who has the right over her body and is the ultimate decisionmaker on the question of whether she wants to undergo an abortion. “In order to avail the benefit of Rule 3B(a), the woman need not necessarily seek recourse to formal legal proceedings to prove the factum of sexual assault, rape or incest,” said the bench.

On July 21, the top court had allowed a 25-year-old to abort her 24-week pregnancy arising out of a consensual relationship. In the judgment, the top court dealt with various aspects of the issue, including forced pregnancy. The woman had moved challenged the Delhi High Court, which refused to entertain her request to terminate her 24-week foetus, under Rule 3B, dealing with categories of women entitled to abortion, of the MTP Rules, 2003.

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PFI had branches abroad with different names: Sources

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Banned Popular Front of India had its branches in other countries and each had a different name, sources have revealed.

The PFI was active in Kuwait under the name of ‘Kuwait India Social Forum (KISF)’. Sources in the National Investigation Agency (NIA) claimed that the KISF used to collect yearly membership fees from its members to support the activities of PFI in India.

The agencies have learnt that the Emirates Indian Fraternity Forum (EIFF) and Indian Cultural Society, which are based in Dubai, were PFI branches.

The PFI’s members used to send money into NRI accounts based in India. Later, they would transfer the amounts to the accounts of the PFI members, who would make the withdrawals.

The transactions were being done in violation of FERA as per the Enforcement Directorate (ED).

The PFI members also used to go to the UAE to meet their associates. The agencies have learnt that the PFI had been receiving foreign funding in the name of Haj.

The sources also said that the PFI’s cadre are worldwide and they were pushing the core agenda of the banned outfit through different means.

Another alleged radical organisation, Dawat-e-Islamia is also functioning in the PFI’s style and there are possibilities that a number of PFI cadre might join this organisation.

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Digvijaya to file nomination for Cong prez polls

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Congress leader Digvijaya Singh will file nomination for the post of the party president for which election is scheduled to be held on October 17.

He took his nomination form from the party’s Central Election Authority (CEA) earlier in the day.

Sources close to Singh on Wednesday said the decision to contest the polls is his personal one, adding that nobody from the Gandhi family asked him to do so.

The former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister may file the nomination by September 30, which is the last date for nominations.

Congress’ initial plan was to field Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot for the top party post, but the high-octane drama in Rajasthan has miffed the Gandhis. Gehlot is in Delhi and has met Mukul Wasnik, but the suspense over his candidature continues.

Sources in the know of things said, “Gehlot has not been ruled out from the race yet”.

Congress treasurer Pawan Kumar Bansal has taken a nomination form from the CEA. On his part, Bansal said he is only a proposer and not a candidate.

CEA chairman Madhusudan Mistry on Tuesday had said: “Till now, Shashi Tharoor and Pawan Bansal have taken nomination forms from the CEA.”

Senior Congress leader Kamal Nath whose name had also come up and had met Congress interim President Sonia Gandhi on Monday, said that he did not want to become the party chief, and wants to continue to work for the party in Madhya Pradesh.

The drama in Rajasthan has made the Congress leadership think about a ‘Plan B’ for the top party post for which Gehlot was being seen as a contender. However, the open defiance by his MLAs loyal to him brought him under a cloud.

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