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Indian Express Explained 25th April 2020

1)Explained: 47 years of a judgment that upheld basic structure of India’s constitution

Exactly 47 years ago, the Supreme Court passed its landmark judgment in Kesavananda Bharati vs State of Kerala, considered among the most significant constitutional cases in India’s judicial history.

By a 7-6 verdict, a 13-judge Constitution Bench ruled that the ‘basic structure’ of the Constitution is inviolable, and could not be amended by Parliament. The basic structure doctrine has since been regarded as a tenet of Indian constitutional law.

In the early years of Independence, the Supreme Court conceded absolute power to Parliament in amending the Constitution, as was seen in the verdicts in Shankari Prasad (1951) and Sajjan Singh (1965).

In subsequent years, as the Constitution kept being amended at will to suit the interests of the ruling dispensation, the Supreme Court in Golaknath (1967) held that Parliament’s amending power could not touch Fundamental Rights, and this power would be only with a Constituent Assembly.

In the early 1970s, the government of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had enacted major amendments to the Constitution (the 24th, 25th, 26th and 29th) to get over the judgments of the Supreme Court in RC Cooper (1970), Madhavrao Scindia (1970) and the earlier mentioned Golaknath.

What was the RC Cooper Case:- In RC Cooper, the court had struck down Indira Gandhi’s bank nationalisation policy, and in Madhavrao Scindia it had annulled the abolition of privy purses of former rulers.

All the four amendments, as well as the Golaknath judgment, came under challenge in the Kesavananda Bharati case.

Since Golaknath was decided by eleven judges, a larger bench was required to test its correctness, and thus 13 judges formed the Kesavananda bench.

What was the Judgement :-

The Constitutional Bench, whose members shared serious ideological differences, ruled by 7-6 verdict that Parliament should be restrained from altering the ‘basic structure’ of the Constitution.

The court held that under Article 368, which provides Parliament amending powers, something must remain of the original Constitution that the new amendment would change.

The court did not define the ‘basic structure’, and only listed a few principles — federalism, secularism, democracy — as being its part. Since then, the court has been adding new features to this concept.

The ‘basic structure’ doctrine has since been interpreted to include the supremacy of the Constitution, the rule of law, Independence of the judiciary, doctrine of separation of powers, federalism, secularism, sovereign democratic republic, the parliamentary system of government, the principle of free and fair elections, welfare state, etc.

An example of its application is SR Bommai (1994), when the Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of BJP governments by the President following the demolition of the Babri Masjid, invoking a threat to secularism by these governments.

2)Explained: How oil price crash impacts sugar, what it means for India

It is not only oil that has tumbled, with prices of West Texas Intermediate grade crude closing at an unprecedented minus $37.63 per barrel on April 20, before recovering a tad to $13.78 by Wednesday.

We know about oil. But why have global sugar prices also collapsed?

One reason for this collapse is the closure of restaurants, weddings and other social functions not taking place, and people avoiding ice-creams and sweetened cold beverages that might cause throat infections. The impact of coronavirus-induced lockdowns on out-of-home consumption and institutional (as opposed to direct household) demand for sugar is obvious. Prakash Naiknavare, managing director of the National Federation of Cooperative Sugar Factories, projects sugar consumption in India alone to dip by 1.5-2 mt in 2019-20, from the normal 25.5-26 mt levels.

Is that the only reason?

Sinking crude prices appear an even bigger factor. The juice from crushing sugarcane can be crystallised into sugar or fermented into alcohol. When oil prices are high, mills — especially in Brazil — tend to divert cane for making ethanol (alcohol of 99%-plus purity) that is used for blending with petrol.

In 2019-20 (April-March), only 34.32% of cane crushed by Brazilian mills went for manufacturing 26.73 mt of sugar. The rest was used to produce 31.62 billion litres of ethanol. But with oil prices tanking — WTI crude was quoting at $53-plus two months ago — mills will not find it attractive to divert cane for ethanol.

Brazil’s mills, which have started crushing (the Indian season is from October), are seen to produce up to 36 mt of sugar and hardly 26 billion litres of ethanol this year. So basically Production was more so more supply and then when demand fell, prices fell.

How will this affect India?

Dip in sugar consumption, together with higher Brazilian output, is bad news for both Indian sugar mills and cane farmers. Before COVID-19 happened, the Indian industry was expecting to export 5.5-6 mt of raw sugar in 2019-20.

Mills had already entered into contracts of some 3.8 mt, out of which 3.05 mt have been shipped out so far.

With ex-factory realisations from exports at Rs 2,250-2,400 per quintal and the Centre providing a subsidy of Rs 104.48 (it was termed lump-sum assistance towards defraying marketing, internal transport, port handling and ocean freight expenses), the industry’s woes from excess stocks were seemingly behind it. This was to be aided both by exports and lower production (26 mt, from 33.2 mt in 2018-19).

The current plunge in world prices, plus Brazil’s likely production surge, would upset these calculations.

3)Explained: What are deep nudes?

Cybercriminals use Artificial Intelligence (AI) software — now easily available on apps and websites — to superimpose a digital composite (assembling multiple media files to make a final one) on to an existing video, photo or audio.

Deep nudes are computer-generated images and videos. In March 2018, a fake video of then US First Lady Michelle Obama appeared on Reddit. An app called FakeApp was used to superimpose her face onto the video of a pornstar.

In 2017, a pornographic video surfaced on the Internet featuring actor Gal Gadot. Again, using the same AI technology. Other deepfake videos have used the facial features of Daisy Ridley, Scarlett Johansson, Maisie Williams, Taylor Swift and Aubrey Plaza.
According to a CSIRO Scope article from August 2019, “Creating a convincing deepfake is an unlikely feat for the general computer user. But an individual with advanced knowledge of machine learning (the specific software needed to digitally alter a piece of content) and access to the victim’s publicly-available social media profile for photographic, video and audio content, could do so.”
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