GS: 1

Society related issues:

Protecting marriages across castes (The Hindu)

Context

SC’s direction against Khap panchayats

What has happened?

The Supreme Court on Tuesday declared that

  • It was illegal for parents or khappanchayats to interfere in decisions of adult men and women of different castes to marry
  • khappanchayat cannot summon adults and question their choice of marriage partner and warned that the court would step in if the centre failed to take steps to stop such interference

Khaps

Khaps are caste or community organizations in villages which at times act as quasi-judicial bodies and pronounce harsh punishments based on customs and traditions

Context of SC’s ruling

The court was hearing a 2010 petition by NGO Shakti Vahini against khap panchayats seeking directions to the centre and state governments for preventing honour crimes

Budget may increase health ooutlay by 11% (The Hindu)

 Context

India is poised to raise its public health spending by 11% in the annual budget next month, after rejecting the health minister’s demand for a much bigger increase to ramp up disease control, according to government sources and documents

Latest data (Source: World Bank)

Public health spending as a percentage of GDP

  • 1% (1995)
  • 4% (2014)

What has happened?

Health Minister J.P. Nadda sought a “bare minimum” budget of nearly $10 billion for 2018-19 — 33 % higher than last year — in a letter to the finance minister on Nov. 26

 Why, a higher outlay has been requested?

  • Funds are needed for expanding vaccination coverage and free drugs distribution, and also to ward off a growing threat of non-communicable diseases, such as cancer and diabetes, which killed 6 million people in India in 2016

By what amount the outlay might actually be raised?

The health budget is expected to rise by 11% to $8.2 billion

Significance

The present government last year set a target of raising annual health spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2025, from 1.15% now — one of the lowest proportions in the world. The health budget this year will put that pledge at risk

 Why the budget increase will be on the lower side?

The health budget increase for 2018-19 will be lower as the government’s finances are stretched by slowing economic growth and tax collections that have lagged under a new sales tax regime

  • Collections under the new goods and services tax stood at $12.6 billion in November, the lowest since its introduction in July, which finance officials say have upset the government’s overall revenues and budget calculations

India’s health system

India’s overburdened health system remains plagued with an acute shortage of government hospitals in rural areas. In 2016, more than 1 million children died before turning five, the highest number for any nation in the world, a United Nations report said last year

Why increased public health spending is necessary?

It is increasingly clear that emerging economies can benefit from allocating additional resources for healthcare and treating healthcare as an investment rather than a cost.

  • According to CDC estimates, there is a $10 return on investment for every $1 spent on childhood vaccinations, of which Peru and China are good examples
  • In fact, in 1971, China spent less than 2.5% of its GDP on healthcare, its life expectancy was less than 62 years and there was only one doctor per 1,100 people. Today, health expenditures have doubled to more than 5.5% of its GDP, and with it, its life expectancy has increased to more than 71 years.
  • The successful model of performance-based financing being followed in Rwanda and its neighbouring countries is also worth emulating. This can be replicated and moulded to the needs and requirements of the health sector in India.

GS: 2

International relations:

 China’s rise a big disruption, says Jaishankar (The Hindu)

Context

Concluding session of the Raisina Dialogue, organised jointly by the Ministry of External Affairs and the Observer Research Foundation

Foreign secretary’s views

  1. Jaishankar said that
  • one big disruption is the rise of China, then
  • the posture of the U.S.,
  • the challenge of terrorism, and
  • the fourth would be the implications of non-market economics

We are seeing the rise of a very different power, whether the rise is a model for others is certainly a question

Positive disruption

He said that the disruption was positive in many ways

  • “China has in a way opened up the international order, which allowed India to make its presence felt

Former Afghan President’s views

Hamid Karzai said that China was a huge reality in this region and the world. “We know China is a good friend of Pakistan, but so is the U,S. We don’t have a problem being friends… even with Pakistan

Quad’s China worries

The Navy chiefs and senior naval officials of the ‘Quad’ countries flagged the increasing Chinese assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific and stressed the importance of multilateral mechanisms to maintain peace in the region

  • “The reality is China is the disruptive force in the Indo-Pacific region. The trust deficit that exists in the region should be addressed by China,” said Admiral Harry Harris.

Indian Navy Chief’s views

Indian Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba said China had been making increasing forays in the Indian Ocean in the name of anti-piracy and the scenario was likely to continue

  • “On overseas bases, it is an open question, but China has invested money in port facilities. But they are economically unviable,

Australian Navy Chief-Vice Admiral’s views

Australian Navy chief Vice-Admiral Tim Barrett said there was more trust between the militaries of the region than there was on political dialogue

  • “An abundance of these organisations and institutions, poorly managed or not aligned, makes it difficult for us to achieve meaningful outcomes,” he said of the various groupings

Japan’s admirals’views

Japan’s Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano said it was difficult to change China’s aggressive policy and if it continued violating international norms, it would be isolated

  • The One Belt One Road initiative seemed to be an “economic initiative,” but with military aspects

Tibetan leader cautions India (The Hindu)

 Context

Views of the president of Central Tibetan Administration in India

Occasion

He expressed his views while announcing upcoming events to mark the 60th anniversary of the arrival of the Dalai Lama and Tibetans in India. He announced that the Tibetan community in India will hold a major inter-religious event in New Delhi to commemorate March 31, 1959 arrival of the Dalai Lama in India

What did he say?

  • India has to be cautious about China’s plans in Doklam. China has traditionally maintained that Tibet is the palm and the five fingers are Bhutan, Nepal, Arunachal [Pradesh], Ladakh and Sikkim. Therefore its actions in the Doklam region should be taken seriously

 

 

Indian Constitution and Polity:

Supreme Court stays ban on screening of Padmaavat (The Hindu)

Context

The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed the notifications and orders passed by certain States to prohibit the exhibition of the Censor Board certified movie, Padmaavat, saying the court’s “conscience is shocked” that the States have guillotined creative rights

Court’s directions

  • Court ordered all States to ensure that public law and order situation is maintained during the screening of the film across the country
  • The court ordered the States to protect the artistes and the people involved in the movie from threats. It further forbade the States from passing any order, notification which amounts to prohibition of the exhibition of the movie.

Court’s observations

  • States cannot use its machinery to prohibit the movie’s exhibition citing risk to public order
  • The grant of certificate by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) under the Cinematograph Act of 1952 denudes the States of any power to exercise prohibition on the exhibition of the film

Backdrop

The moviemakers had moved the court against the ‘hostile’ moves made by the BJP-ruled States of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh against the movie.

Electoral bonds won’t solve all issues:Joti (Indian Express)

 Context

Electoral bonds will not solve all problems pertaining to transparency in political funding, Chief Election Commissioner A K Joti said today, but hoped that it will be a step in the “right direction”

News

Electoral bonds will not solve all problems pertaining to transparency in political funding, Chief Election Commissioner A K Joti said today, but hoped that it will be a step in the “right direction”

Electoral bonds

These were introduced by the government to make funding to political parties transparent. They allow a political donor to purchase bonds from authorised banks and can be redeemed by parties only through registered accounts in a prescribed time frame

  • An electoral bond can be purchased by any citizen of India or a body incorporated in India
  • The bonds will be issued in multiples of Rs 1,000, Rs 10,000, Rs 1 lakh, Rs 10 lakh and Rs 1 crore, and will be available at specified branches of the State Bank of India
  • Donors can donate the bonds to their party of choice which can then be cashed via the party’s verified account within 15 days
  • Every party that is registered under section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and has secured at least one per cent of the votes polled in the most recent Lok Sabha or assembly election will be allotted a verified account by the Election Commission. Electoral bond transactions can be made only via that account

Read more: You can read more about electoral bonds here

Backdrop

Responding to questions at a press conference on the possible use of electoral bonds by people to fund parties during the upcoming Assembly polls in Meghalaya, Tripura and Nagaland, the CEC said the bonds will “definitely” be used as the finance ministry has already notified their availability

 Commission’s earlier views

The commission, in a written submission to the parliamentary standing committee on law and personnel in May, had said changes made in the election laws after the introduction of the bonds would compromise transparency in political fundings

 “The amendment in section 29 C of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 making it no longer necessary to report details of donations received through electoral bonds is a retrograde step as transparency of political funding would be compromised as a result of the change”

 Should the four SC judges have dissented publicly (The Hindu)

 Context

An unprecedented event took place on January 12 when the four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court, after the Chief Justice of India (CJI), held a press conference, issued a statement, and also answered questions from the media. Justice J. Chelameswar, at whose residence the press conference was held, said that the judges were “left with no choice” other than to communicate to the nation the many “less than desirable things” that have happened “in the last few months”.

 YES

Last resort

  • They had no option but to address the nation and inform its citizens about the lack of impartiality, which is the bedrock of administration of justice.
  • The four judges were absolutely right in informing the public of the dangers that lie ahead

 Protecting the Democracy

  • Democracy is enshrined in the Constitution. It is their duty as Supreme Court judges to protect the Constitution
  • If there is no democracy, there is no Constitution and no constitutional democracy

Their attempts were unsuccessful

  • It is not as if the four judges did not try for months to convince the CJI that he must not resort to selectivity in the assignment of cases, but it bore no results
  • Even on the day of the press conference, they met the CJI (in regard to the listing of cases) but could not convince him

Analysis

Unless this lack of impartiality in the administration of justice is enquired into, and unless rules are framed on a rational basis and a system is devised for an impartial allocation of cases, the damaged faith of the people of India in the impartiality of the Supreme Court will not be fully restored.

Role of the Attorney General failed

  • It was expected of the Attorney General of India as a constitutional authority to squarely confront the serious issues raised by the four judges and ensure that the faith of the people in the independence and impartiality of judges is restored
  • The Attorney General has unfortunately failed to deal with the vital issues raised

 Opportunity for the Attorney General

  • This is an opportunity for the Attorney General to save the Constitution. He should not act as an agent of the government, but as a constitutional authority
  • Equally, it is his constitutional duty to squarely attend to the vital issues raised by the four judges in discussion with the CJI and all other judges of the Supreme Court to find a solution that will restore the dignity of the Supreme Court.

NO

If the judiciary is divided, it will have a direct effect on the very survival of democracy

A strong and united judiciary is the sine qua non (The essential, crucial, or indispensable ingredient without which something would be impossible: From Latin, meaning “without which nothing) for a strong and vibrant democracy

Have internal discussions

When any judge has a difference of opinion on any professional matter with his brother colleagues, the best way to iron out these differences is to have an amicable discussion on the same

Hope of the common man is diminished

  • The stability of a nation depends on two factors: the common man’s absolute faith in the currency of the nation and in the judiciary
  • In a democracy, the judiciary is one of the most important pillars and it is the last ray of hope for the common man
  • If his faith in the judiciary is hampered in any manner, the result is a huge loss to the country and to the judiciary.

Contempt of Courts Act: truth is not a valid defence

  • Judicial discipline also requires maintaining a certain decorum because under the Contempt of Courts Act, truth is not a valid defence
  • The legislature has made this rule to ensure that the common man’s interests are protected, even if there is a ring of truth in the allegations

President’s help

  • Either the judges should have called for a full-court meeting where they could have discussed the issue and found a solution or they could have sought the intervention of the President to resolve the issues
  • Appointments of judges are issued in his name
  • Informing and seeking the intervention of the President would also have ensured that there was no interference in the judiciary

Should not set a precedent

  • What I also fear is that the subordinate judiciary might take this as a cue to air their differences. After all, they too can do the same
  • The High Courts, the lower courts and various judges could all come out and publicly speak against their chief justices

Corrective measures need to be taken by the judiciary itself in order to set things in order.

IT’S COMPLICATED

The full facts are not out in the public domain, and may never be

Sitting judges seldom, if ever, speak to the media. The process of adjudication demands that the judge concentrate solely on the record before him

Judiciary should stay away from media

However, it is more than judicial reason that keeps judges from resorting to the media. Judges are very careful to stay out of political partisanship of any kind whatsoever

In the US

  • Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the U.S. Supreme Court scoffed at the idea of a Trump presidency
  • She later had to withdraw her words and agree that speaking to the press on politics was not a good idea

Restatement of Values of Judicial Life

On May 7, 1997, the Supreme Court of India adopted a charter called the Restatement of Values of Judicial Life

What is it?

  • This was to serve as a guide to be observed by judges and was considered essential for an independent, strong and respected judiciary
  • The charter advises judges to be “aloof”, and “not enter public debate” or “give interviews to the media”

Bad examples

  • It must be acknowledged that judges are the best arbiters (a person whose views or actions have influence in a particular sphere) of when rules require to be ignored, if not broken
  • Justice Dalveer Bhandari of the International Court of Justice gave media interviews on the Kulbhushan Jadhav case even as the matter is still pending

Festering problems

  • Their grievance was not simply about them being left out or being given non-substantial work
  • Their complaint was of work being selectively allocated to achieve a result which was to the government’s liking
  • The judges placed on record a letter written by all four of them over two months prior to the press conference
  • Considering that Chief Justice Dipak Misra assumed office on August 28, 2017, the fact that four senior judges felt compelled to caution him three months into his tenure is itself indicative of the fact that the collegial ways of administering the highest court had broken down.

Public debate on conduct

The press conference has had the effect of bringing into public debate the conduct of various judges, a course of action which the Constitution-makers wanted to avoid

 Article 121

Article 121 prohibits the legislature from discussing the official conduct of any judge of a constitutional court, except while debating an impeachment motion

No clear asnwers

For the moment, it is quite clear that there are no clear answers to the question of whether the four judges ought to have resorted to a press conference. The full facts are not out in the public domain, and may never be. The judges would be justified if their perception was of a clear and present danger to the Republic and to the independence of the judiciary.

Duel duty (The Hindu Editorial)

Context

The state cannot choose between protecting freedom of expression and preserving law and order. It has a duty to do both. This is the core message of the Supreme Court order staying the notifications and decisions of four States to prohibit the screening of the film Padmaavat, and directing them to ensure that law and order is maintained during its exhibition.

What

Gujarat and Rajasthan have notified a ban, while Haryana and Madhya Pradesh have indicated they would follow suit. 

Courts’ observations 

A Troubling state

What troubled the court was that creative freedom could be so easily prohibited by the state citing a possible risk to public order

Violation of Article 19(1)(a)

  • It needs no reiteration that summary bans on films violate the freedom of speech and expression enshrined in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution
  • Such a right is subject to reasonable restrictions on some grounds, including public order.

Use of violence unacceptable

  • Use of violence to stifle the fundamental freedoms is not acceptable
  • However, the use of the threat of violence and other forms of intimidation cannot give the state an oblique reason to stifle fundamental freedoms by voicing apprehensions and invoking its powers to maintain peace.

CBFC certificate enough

The court has reiterated that the grant of a certificate by the CBFC denudes the state of the power to prevent the exhibition of a film. 

Other similar judicial decisions

In S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram (1989), the Supreme Court said the state cannot plead inability to handle the problem of a hostile audience as that “would be tantamount to negation of the rule of law and a surrender to blackmail and intimidation.”

In Prakash Jha Productions v. Union of India (2011), it reiterated that it is the state’s duty to maintain law and order

Steps taken by filmmakers

  • In the current controversy, the filmmakers agreed to change its name from Padmavati to Padmaavat
  • The new title indicates it is based on a medieval poem on a legendary Rajput queen and not any historical personality
  • They also agreed to several cuts suggested by a special panel formed by the CBFC.

Pure intimidation and blackmail

If even after these concessions the protestors are allowed to obtain a ban, it would undoubtedly amount to a base surrender to blackmail and intimidation

Conclusion

It would be a taint on the country’s record of protecting free speech if a film with admittedly no claim to historical accuracy is banned on the mere pretext that some people, who have not even seen it, find it offensive. The Supreme Court has indicated where the constitutional duty of State governments lies. It is now up to them to live up to that expectation

GS: 3

Economy:

Bitcoins rally may be over (The Hindu)

Context

Bitcoin, the popular digital currency whose meteoric rise in price last year surprised many of its critics, has lost almost half its market value in just the last month. The price of bitcoin dropped from its lifetime high of over $19,300 in mid-December to below $9,300 on Wednesday and has since been trading in a volatile manner around the $10,000 mark

Reasons to get worried

Struggled to maintain the uptrend

The digital currency, since it hit its peak price last month, has struggled to maintain its uptrend

Each time it has tried to rally upwards, the price has failed to go past its previous high and subsequent corrections have been severe enough to push the price below its previous low.

Indicative of downtrend

Such price behaviour, of making lower highs and lower lows, is typical of a downtrend in the price of any security

Below its bullish trend line

Further, at its current trading price, bitcoin has broken well below its bullish trend line in short-term charts and looks set to do the same in longer-term charts

Bearish behavior

Bitcoin’s bearish price behaviour in the last one month is in direct contrast to its monster rally last year when its price showed a clear uptrend marked by higher highs and higher lows

Meaning: That is, after reaching a new high, the ensuing correction was not severe enough to push the price below its previous low.

Time for prudence (cautiousness)?

In hindsight, if you were a speculator simply looking to make a quick buck without any care about fundamentals, a good time to buy bitcoin was when its price action showed a clear uptrend in price, which was over most of last year

No surprise for its sceptics

Negligible acceptance in digital world

For one, the digital currency, which is supposed to derive its value from its use as a medium of exchange, has had negligible acceptance in the real world of commerce

Government doesn’t want competing currencies: Second, it has always seemed foolish to think that governments, which fancy their monopoly power over the issuance of currency, would be ready to allow private currencies to compete against national currencies

Conclusion

Bitcoin’s price action over the last one month should offer immense solace to the fundamental investor who will be glad to see its price gravitating towards its true value.

GST rates on 29 goods, 53 services cut (The Hindu)

Context

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council has reduced the rates on 29 goods and 53 categories of services, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said following the Council’s meeting on Thursday.

GST Council also mulls approaches to ease the burden of filing returns in order to boost compliance

Against the backdrop of declining GST collections and waning compliance, the Council also discussed in detail various approaches to ease the return filing compliance burden, and the need for the implementation of anti-evasion measures.

Services

Some of the services for which the rates have been cut include:

  • Tailoring (18% to 5%)
  • Admission to theme parks (28% to 18%)
  • And petroleum and natural gas mining and exploration (18% to 12%)

Goods

The goods on which the rates have been reduced include:

  • Biodiesel buses used for public transport (28% to 18%)
  • Sugar boiled confectionery
  • Biodiesel
  • Drinking water packed in 20 litre containers (all from 18% to 12%)
  • And LPG supplied to domestic consumers by private distributors (18% to 5%)

In effect

The new rates would come into effect on January 25.

More cuts to come

“One would expect that over the next few months, this process would continue, particularly with respect to 28% category, which should only be for select luxury and demerit products

Anti-evasion measures

There is a need to build in anti-evasion measures

  • The e-waybill system [to be rolled out on February 1] will be one of these.

As these anti-evasion measures are implemented, the revenues should start picking up again.

Aadhaar contradicts the role of the state (The Hindu)

Context

The Aadhaar scheme contradicts the role of the state as the custodian of the citizens’ fundamental right of privacy. A duty is cast on the government and its agencies to protect the citizen’s crucial personal data from commercial exploitation by private corporates, petitioners challenging the scheme submitted in the Supreme Court

State exploiting personal rights of individuals’

Referring to the nine-judge Bench judgment which upheld privacy as a fundamental right, senior advocate Shyam Divan and advocate Vipin Nair submitted before a Constitution Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra that Aadhaar enrolment and subsequent leakages of personal mass data show that the state itself is exploiting personal rights of individuals by giving it to private corporates who use it for commercial ends

A Kill Switch

The state is empowered with a ‘switch’ by which it can cause the civil death of an individual. Where every basic facility is linked to Aadhaar and one cannot live in society without an Aadhaar number, the switching off of Aadhaar completely destroys the individual

No agreement with UIDAI

  • None of these private agencies which enrol citizens and collect their personal data have any agreement with the UIDAI
  • There was no audit check of these private collection agents to whom the UIDAI had outsourced the work of personal data collection for years prior to the Act.

Disaster management:

Disaster warning system for Odisha by March (The Hindu)

Context

The Early Warning Dissemination System (EWDS), a project that aims at establishing a fool-proof communication system to disseminate disaster warning up to the community level, is expected to be commissioned by this March

It will alert a vast population along coast through loud sirens from towers installed at 122 locations

“The EWDS is a first of its kind automatic public address system in the country. It will help the State to warn a vast population residing along its coast from the State headquarters through loud sirens from towers installed at 122 locations in the event of occurrence of natural disasters like a tsunami or cyclone.

Reviews progress

Some of the technical features of the project include satellite-based mobile data voice terminals (SBMDVT), digital mobile radio (DMR), mass messaging system to be operated from the State emergency operation centre and universal communication interface to allow inter operability among different communication technologies

SMS alerts

The mass messaging system facilitates sending warning messages through SMS to all mobile phone subscribers in a particular locality or area likely to be affected by a threatening disaster.

World Bank

  • The EWDS for last mile connectivity is being implemented under a World Bank project
  • Now, the process has been set in motion to identify responsible persons from among community, gram panchayat offices, police stations and anganwadi centres and school teachers who will be in charge of the EWDS equipment.

Environment:

2017 was the second or third warmest year (The Hindu)

Context

Last year was the second or third warmest on record behind 2016, and the hottest without an extra dose of heat caused by an El Niño event in the Pacific Ocean, the United Nations (UN) said on Thursday.

Average temperatures were 1.1°C above pre-industrial levels

Average surface temperatures in 2017 were 1.1°C (2.0 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times, creeping towards a 1.5°C (2.7 F) ceiling set as the most ambitious limit for global warming by almost 200 nations under the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

No El Niño last year

Last year was indistinguishable, so far, from 2015 as the second or third warmest behind 2016, making 2017 “the warmest year without an El Niño”, the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said.

It’s getting hotter

Seventeen of the warmest 18 years since records began in the 19th century have now happened since 2000, confirming that ever more greenhouse gases are driving up temperatures, the WMO said.

Other effects

Among extreme weather events last year, the Caribbean and the United States suffered a battering from hurricanes, the Arctic ended 2017 with the least sea ice for mid-winter and tropical coral reefs suffered from high water temperatures.

Warmth in Arctic

Arctic warmth has been especially pronounced and this will have profound and long-lasting repercussions on sea levels, and on weather patterns in other parts of the world

India to set up $350 mn fund for solar projects to meet renewable energy target

 (The Hindu)

Context

India will set up a $350 million fund to finance solar projects, Power Minister R.K. Singh said, as the country steps up efforts to achieve its ambitious target of adding 175 gigawatts (GW) in renewable energy by 2022

Backdrop

An event organised by the International Solar Alliance (ISA) in Abu Dhabi

Minister confident of achieving 175 GW of installed capacity well before 2020

India will need at least $125 billion to fund a plan to increase the share of renewable power supply in the country’s grid by 2022, underlining the immense financing challenge ahead.

Ambitious target

  • India expects renewable energy to make up 40% of installed power capacity by 2030, compared with 18.2% at the end of 2017.
  • Installed renewable power capacity is currently about 60 GW, and India plans to complete the bidding process by the end of 2019/20 to add a further 115 GW of installed renewable energy capacity by 2022.

Contributions

Yes Bank: India’s Yes Bank Ltd. has committed to financing solar projects worth $5 billion

NTPC: State-run NTPC Ltd. will contribute $1 million to an ISA fund

Foreign capital

  • India wants foreign capital to account for a bulk of its investments to meet its renewable energy target.
  • But industry experts said most of the financing for the country’s renewables drive so far has come from domestic banks and such banks have to account for the lion’s share of new renewable investments in the future.

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