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GS: 2


International relations:

We’re alert in Doklam, says Defence Minister(The Hindu)

What has happened?

The government is ready for any eventuality in Doklam, said Union Minister for Defence

Upcoming visit

Indian Prime Minister will visit China to take part in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit to be held in Qingdao on June 9 and 10.

After the emergency(The Hindu Opinion)

Context

Maldives Emergency

Much more needs to be done

The Maldivian government’s decision to lift the state of emergency after 45 days, just ahead of the expiry of its second self-imposed deadline, comes as cold comfort for those concerned about the turn of events in the islands over the past couple of months

India interfering in Maldives’s internal matters:Male has reacted sharply to India’s public statements on the emergency, as well as now to the statement welcoming the lifting of the emergency, saying that the events of the past couple of months were “internal political matters”, and India’s statements of disapproval were “not helpful at all

Chinese help: China placed its diplomatic might behind Mr. Yameen, and even offered to broker talks between the government and the opposition, a role that India would have been naturally expected to play in the past

Repairing ties with the Maldiveswill test Indian diplomacy

India will have to demonstrate its relevance to the Maldives as the biggest power in the South Asian region, while helping steer Mr. Yameen to a more reasonable and inclusive democratic course ahead of the presidential election later this year.

Indian Constitution and Polity:

The need for ‘special’ attention(The Hindu Opinion)

Context

Special courts are not a panacea for judicial efficiency

What has happened?

Last December, the Supreme Court greenlit the Centre’s proposal to set up 12 fast-track courts to adjudicate and speedily dispose of 1,581 cases against Members of Parliament and Legislative Assemblies. Apart from uncertainties about the adequacy of such a measure, a more glaring issue is that the order conflates two distinct judicial features by using them interchangeably: special courts and fast-track courts.

Special Courts

  • A Court which was established under a statute, to deal with special types of cases under a shortened and simplified procedure (Acc. To The Special Courts Bill, 1978(Special Courts Case))
  • Over 25 special courts were set up between 1950 and 2015 through various Central and State legislations

Fast-track Courts

  • Fast track courts were the result of recommendations made by the 11th Finance Commission which advised the creation of 1,734 such courts to deal with the judicial backlog
  • They were actualized though an executive scheme (as opposed to a statute of the legislature) and were meant to be set up by State governments in consultation with the respective high courts
  • Though meant to be wound up in 2005, the scheme was extended till 2011
  • Since then, six such courts have been set up in Delhi to take up rape cases

The issue: Not enough research and analysis with respect to special courts has led to inconsistencies in legislation and operation

Ambiguities in operation

  • Different statutes use variety of phrases regarding creation or establishment of Special Courts
  • For States and high courts, this leads to ambiguities in operation in setting up such courts.
  • Example: two statutes use the term “establish”, while four use “constitute”, two use “create”, eight use “designate”, two use “notify”, and one uses “appoint”

Compulsory or not

  • 13 pieces of legislation state that the government “may” set up special courts, while 15 say the government “shall”
  • The answer as to whether a law requires a special court or not is a binary: yes or no
  • In such a situation, leaving options such as “may”, add to the ambiguities

Unclear purpose

If a special court is meant to address the volume of cases under a statute, then why use “may” as the enabling provision instead of “shall”?

Example:there seem to be more special courts under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 as compared to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 despite data showing the former having a tenth of the number of registered cases as the latter (2015)

What needs to be done?

Parameters such as the frequency and number of effective hearings and calculating the number of pending cases need to be developed to study the workings of special courts

Conclusion

Finally, it is important to ask questions and determine whether or not this special courts system is in fact helpful in addressing the judicial backlog.

Exception makes the rule(Indian Express)

Context

Apex court verdict will make the SC/ST Atrocities Act toothless, roll back social transformation

Why the recent SC verdict will make the act toothless?

  • Low arrest and conviction rate in such cases: According to the Ninth Annual Report of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes for 2015-16, rate of crime from increased from 16.7 per cent to 19.6 per cent in 2013 and there has also been a sharp decrease in conviction rate (from 29.6 per cent to 23.8 per cent) in the same period
  • Majority of the Cases filed are only between SCs and OBCs: The agrarian economy and the social structure in rural areas are such that conflicts are predominantly between the SCs and Shudras/OBCs. likeReddys, Jats and Patels.
  • Some misuse is inevitable: In the process of implementation, some misuse could happen, a few innocent people could go to jail, but to make the Act toothless will amount to rolling back social transformation
  • Political Connection: Atrocities on Dalits have increased after the BJP came to power
  • Hinduism’s Varnadharma order: Even the Shudra/OBCs who operate within the Hindutva ideological domain are against Constitutional reforms and they believe in the classical Varnadharma order in so far as the Dalit question is concerned
  • AdhithayanAgamashastra
    • The Supreme Court’s AdhithayanAgamashastra verdict of 2015 affirmed the Agamashastra position
    • The verdict allowed the continuation of inherited Brahmin priesthood in temples and checkmated spiritual reform
    • As in the case of the SC/ST Atrocities Act, there was no serious intervention from the government in AdhithayanAgamashastra

Conclusion

Casteism and untouchability is a self-negating institutional mechanism that is built into Hinduism. If the courts do not examine this issue from the perspective of social equality — and continue to defend the right to practise untouchability by imposing all kinds of controlling mechanisms — they would end up harming Hinduism itself.


GS: 3


Economy:

Why do farmers go marching?(The Hindu)

Context

Why are Indian farmers perpetually in revolt? The question has been raised by many after the recent farmers’ march to Mumbai and simmering rebellions across the States in recent years.

Changing reasons for agricultural distress

Earlier:  deficient monsoons, input shortages and low yields

Now: surplus output and un-remunerative prices, e.g. in case of Wheat, rice, pulses

Same old problem of Infrastructure: Shortage of Storage facilities

Poor storage facilities and State laws that keep farmers bound to their local mandis, have exposed farmers to wild swings in prices

Hike in MSPs by the Centre as well as the State governments

  • In the last ten years, the support prices for wheat and paddy have risen 73% and 108% and those on pulses have trebled
  • In recent years, State governments have also competed furiously with the Centre, announcing bonuses and their own support prices for crops such as onions, tomatoes, potatoes and even green chillies.

Market prices for many crops stay below their official MSPs for extended periods

  • Though the Centre announces MSPs for 24 crops, the bulk of its procurement operations (via FCI) are restricted to just two — rice and wheat, with NAFED chipping in on pulses
    • State-level procurement operations are even more adhoc, lacking both direction and funding
    • No guarantee of getting the promised MSPs:Therefore, while a farmer may plant mustard, grapes or onions in any given year based on the MSP promise, there’s really no guarantee that he will get that price when he visits the mandi.
  • Market interventions by the State and the Centre tend to be too selective and sporadic to make any real difference to a majority of farmers
  • Given that the Centre’s market interventions on rice and wheat have proved so ineffectual despite large spends, it is unclear how the Centre or copycat States will fund MSPs in a host of other crops.

Sizeable imports irrespective of abundant supplies

In the last couple of years, despite supply gluts, the Centre has continued with sizeable imports of wheat and pulses at low tariffs.

Conclusion

All this makes it clear why Indian farmers are seething. It’s for the same reason that salaried employees are often unhappy

Set aside divestment proceeds for sick PSUs’ revival: panel(The Hindu)

What has happened?

A Parliamentary panel has recommended the earmarking of a defined portion of proceeds from the divestment of State-owned enterprises for funding revival, restructuring and modernisation proposals of sick public sector undertakings (PSUs) that have the potential to turn around

Divestment target

  • The government had set a target of raising Rs. 80,000 crore in 2018-19 by selling stakes in the State-owned firms, with strategic divestment of 24 CPSEs (central public sector undertakings) on the cards and privatization of Air India on track
  • The Aayog had already recommended strategic divestment of 40 sick public sector undertakings

Parliamentary Standing Committee observations

In its report, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Industry said it was of the firm opinion that while making a decision to disinvest PSUs, especially those that are profit-making, the government must accord due consideration to the jobs supported by them, the track record of their contribution to the national economy, their capex (capital expenditure) creation potential and also their role in balancing the social/regional fabric

New vehicle scrappage policy may need tinkering(The Hindu)

Context

The new vehicle scrappage policy of the Centre is unlikely to have any significant impact on the automobile industry in terms of increased demand, according to rating agencies.

The Draft Policy

  • The policy, cleared by the Prime Minister’s Office and awaiting the approval of the GST Council, targets to take polluting vehicles out of the roads and help the automobile industry register higher sales.
  • The draft policy, released by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways in May 2016, mentioned about vehicles older than 15 years becoming eligible for benefits under the scrappage scheme but the criteria was reworked with benefits being applicable to vehicles older than 20 years.
  • The scheme would now come in effect from April 1, 2020, coinciding with the implementation of the BS-VI norms.

Number of vehicles

CRISIL

  • The total population of commercial vehicles that will be older than 20 years in fiscal 2021 would be 50,000 vehicles, much lower than the government’s earlier estimate of 2.8 crore vehicles and our internal estimate of 6,40,000 vehicles
  • In any case, 70,000 to 90,000 vehicles are scrapped every year. So,the impact of the scrappage policy will be limited.

ICRA

  • The proportion of commercial vehicles above 20 years would be one lakh to two lakh units
  • Most of these older vehicles are used in rural areas and smaller towns by small fleet operators who operate used vehicles and have limited financial resources to purchase new vehicles.
  • Around 70,000 to one lakh vehicles are scrapped on an annual basis.
  • As a result, the potential impact of the proposed policy on commercial vehicle sales will be limited

Banks told to be vigilant on Aadhaar(The Hindu)

What has happened?

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has asked banks to provide Aadhaar-based onetime password (OTP) for opening of bank accounts only in the presence of the customer, in a banking outlet

Effect on banks using Aadhaar based OTP authentication for account opening

The direction is a huge blow to the banks that are heavily dependent on Aadhaar-based OTP authentication process for account opening (where the customers do not have to visit branches) or use tab banking to open accounts by visiting the customer’s residence.

UIDAI’s concerns

  • There has been instances wherein: Aadhaar of person A got seeded with person B’s account to carry out fraudulent transaction
  • Stolen Aadhaar copy was used to open a bank account and obtain credit, debit card
  • The UIDAI said a fabricated Aadhaar card provided to a bank may result in fraud and loss of money, if the bank does not authenticate with finger print or OTP to adequately identify the Aadhaar holder

There are Limits on accounts opened via Aadhaar based OTP authentication process

According to RBI norms, there are limits for accounts that are opened through Aadhaar-based OTP authentication process, like deposits cannot exceed Rs. 1 lakh and full KYC requirements, which is submission of documents and giving biometric details, were needed to be made in 1 year

Banks told to be vigilant on Aadhaar(The Hindu)

Context

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has asked banks to provide Aadhaar-based onetime password (OTP) for opening of bank accounts only in the presence of the customer, in a banking outlet

Backdrop

There have been instances of misuse of Aadhaar while opening accounts like usage of a stolen Aadhaar copy to open a bank account and obtain credit, debit card

Why these directions might be a huge blow to certain banks?

Some banks are heavily dependent on Aadhaar-based OTP authentication process for account opening (where the customers do not have to visit branches) or use tab banking to open accounts by visiting the customer’s residence

Limits on accounts opened via Aadhaar-based OTP authentication

There are limits for accounts that are opened through Aadhaar-based OTP authentication process, like deposits cannot exceed Rs. 1 lakh and full KYC requirements, which is submission of documents and giving biometric details, were needed to be made in 1 year

Home truths(Indian Express)

Context

India must stay clear of the US-China trade war, focus on reviving the domestic economy

Backdrop

  • US imposed tariffs on Chinese imports worth up to $60 billion after an earlier move to raise import duty on steel and aluminum products coming into the US
  • China has retaliated imposing tariffs on US imports worth $3 billion, including aluminum, steel pipes, US pork besides fruit and wine fuelling fears of a trade war

How does it impact India?

The threat of a trade war comes at a time when global economy is on the recovery mode with signs that Indian exports might be benefitted with a subsequent increase

What should India do?

Indian government should focus more on reviving the economy and ensuring the completion of projects. A resurgent economy is the best insurance to counter the threat to the global economic recovery

Environment:

Fighting forest fires(The Hindu Opinion)

Context

The recent wildfire tragedy in Theni in Tamil Nadu, in which 20 trekkers lost their lives, once again brings into focus forest fires in India. Over the past few years, we have realised that these fires are not spontaneous; human beings set off fires. This tragedy raises several other issues — of approaches in fighting fires and ways of mitigating damage

What are the approaches to fight forest fires?

  • Technological: Under this, helicopters or ground-based personnel spray fire retardant chemicals, or pump water to fight the blaze. These are expensive methods and make sense when one is protecting a human community, but are usually not practised in India
  • Containing the fire in compartments: It is done via usage of natural barriers such as streams, roads, ridges, and fire lines along hillsides or across plains. A fire line is a line through a forest which has been cleared of all vegetation. The width depends on the type of forest being protected. Once the blaze has burnt out all combustibles in the affected compartment, it fizzles out and the neighbouring compartments are saved
  • Setting a counter fire: A counter fire is set, so that when a fire is unapproachable for humans, a line is cleared of combustibles and manned. One waits until the wildfire is near enough to be sucking oxygen towards it, and then all the people manning the line set fire to the line simultaneously. The counter fire rushes towards the wildfire, leaving a stretch of burnt ground. As soon as the two fires meet, the blaze is extinguished
  • Beating the fire out: The most practical and most widely used approach, is to have enough people with leafy green boughs to beat the fire out. This is practised in combination with fire lines and counter fires

Dangers associated with firefighting

  • Asphyxiation: The real danger is asphyxiation, since a vast quantity of smoke is generated, and the lack of oxygen in the immediate vicinity of tall flames can cause breathlessness. Once a person loses consciousness due to asphyxiation, the danger of being burnt alive becomes real, especially if one is alone
  • Dehydration is also an issue when fighting flames more than a meter high

What can still be done to mitigate the damage caused by forest fires? 

  • Increasing the numberof firefighters: We need to vastly increase the number of firefighters
  • Equipping firefighters with resources: We also need to equip firefighters properly with drinking water bottles, back-up supplies of food and water, proper shoes or boots, rakes, spades and other implements, light, rechargeable torches, and so on. They could also be paid better
  • Utilising local help:Seasonal labour could be contracted during the fire season. With adequate training, they would serve to fill gaps along the line. Local villagers would be the best resource
  • More Forest Department field staff could be hired to put out fires during the fire season and to patrol the forests during other times

Way forward

Increasing the field staff of Forest Departments by discontinuing the claimed ‘forest plantations’ would help control forest fires, which in turn would help rejuvenation of fire-stressed forest ecosystems. This would help indigenous forests grow back

A legacy of greed(The Hindu Opinion)

Context

How science is stepping in to save the northern white rhino from extinction

Places where Northern white rhinos cold be found earlier

  • Southern Chad
  • The Central African Republic
  • Southwestern Sudan
  • Northwestern Uganda, and
  • The Democratic Republic of the Congo

Why were these rhinos hunted?

They were hunted for their horns, an ingredient in traditional Vietnamese medicine

How many of these animals remain?

Only two northern white rhinos remain: Sudan’s daughter Najin and granddaughter Fatu, neither of whom will be able to carry a pregnancy to term. Hence, scientists are planning to resurrect the sub-species via in vitro fertilisation and stem cell technology

How are scientists planning to revive the sub-species?

From Berlin, a team of scientists from Leibniz-IZW (Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research) will go to Kenya in May to extract eggs from Najin and Fatu. In Cremona, Italy, the eggs will be fertilised with the sperm of northern white rhino bulls. Sudan’s sperm is not viable due to lack of genetic distance. Once the eggs are fertilised, they will need surrogate mothers and the closest living relatives are the southern white rhinos. IVF has been performed successfully on the Asian lion and the team at Leibniz-IZW is developing the procedure for rhinos. Steven Seet from Leibniz-IZW is optimistic about IVF. In the next two to three years, it is probable that the world will welcome the first living IVF northern white rhino

Internal security:

Controlling the machine(The Hindu Opinion)

Context

Data protection

Backdrop

Government of India has constituted a committee of Experts udner the chairmanship of former Supreme Court judge Shri BN Srikrishna to study various issues relating to data protection in India

Need for data protection

  • Digital services in India by various companies like google, facebook and Amazon are expanding at a very fast pace
  • Vast amounts of data is being gathered by government as linking Aadhaar is now mandatory for multitude of services

Learning from GDPR

  • It recognises the principle of protection of Right to Privacy with suitable exceptions under doctrines of necessity and proportionality
    • Under proportionality advantages due to limiting the privacy right are weighed against the disadvantages
  • A transparent system of data processing which makes users practically aware of what is happening with their personal information at all times
  • Government and companies are allowed to use data only for the original purpose under which they were gathered and only to the extent and amount as necessary for performing the function as specified by a user

What needs to be done?

  • Sufficient powers for the regulatory body and the courts enforce that powerful corporations and governments are held to account
  • Effective enforcement
  • Ensuring desirable legal language within the text of a law and also a larger environment of compliance and respect for privacy

Science and Technology:

GSAT-6A to give armed forces a shot in the arm(The Hindu)

Context

GSAT-6A, the second predominantly S-band communications satellite, is set to be launched from Sriharikota on March 29

Features of GSAT-6A

  • For armed forces: It is designated for the use of the Armed Forces and will not add any transponder capacity for general uses
  • Specialised antenna: A special feature of the GSAT-6A is its 6-metre-wide umbrella-like antenna, which will be unfurled in once it is in space. The antenna is thrice as broad as the antennas generally used in ISRO satellites. It will enable mobile communication from anywhere via hand-held ground terminals. Regular communication satellites with smaller antenna require much larger ground stations
  • The unfurl-able antenna, hand-held ground terminals, and network management techniques could be useful in future satellite-based mobile communication applications
  • GSAT-6A will also have a smaller 0.8-metre antenna for communication in the C band. GSAT-6A is slated to be launched at 4.56 p.m. on a GSLV-F08 rocket

What is the lifespan of the satellite?
Around 10 years

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