GS-1

Social issues


Caste in new moulds: (Indian Express, Editorial)

Context:

  • The Union cabinet’s decision to set up a commission to explore the creation of subcategories in the central list of the Other Backward Classes is a move in the right direction.
  • This step has been taken with the proposals submitted by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, the National Commission for Backward Classes and a Parliamentary Standing Committee towards addressing grievances among OBCs regarding reservations in central government jobs and educational institutions.

The need for subcategories:

  • The OBC is an umbrella category that, at the Centre, clubs together nearly 5,000 castes that are at different stages of social, political and economic advancement.
  • It is a reasonable assumption that the better empowered castes in the OBC list have cornered the benefits of reservation to the exclusion of the rest.
  • Thus, the creation of subcategories could go some way in addressing the problem.
  • Moreover, in many states OBC lists have already been subcategories and the system has, by and large, worked.
  • Besides, there are no legal restrictions towards creating subcategories in the OBC list.

Suggestions:

  • The sub-categorisation needs to be done systematically and after rigorous scrutiny of the necessary data regarding income, education, employment etc, as required by the law.
  • The process must be guarded from various pressure groups, considering that reservation is a politically fraught subject.

GS-2

Indian Constitution


SC verdict to affect ban on slaughter: (The Hindu)

Context:

  • The landmark judgment declaring right to privacy a fundamental right would have some resemblance in matters relating to slaughter of cows, bulls and bullocks in Maharashtra.

Explanation:

  • Section 5(D) criminalises possession of flesh of cows, bulls or bullocks, slaughtered outside Maharashtra.
  • But after privacy being vindicated as a fundamental right, the right to eat food of one’s choice was now protected under the same.
  • The Supreme Court holds the fact that nobody would like to be told what to eat or how to dress for these activities come under the realm of right to privacy.

Government policies


Political freedoms necessary: SC: (The Hindu)

Context:

The Supreme Court in its privacy judgment on Thursday, said that a free environment for exercising political freedoms such as the right to dissent is necessary to end the malaise of corruption and diversion of funds and welfare benefits.

Court’s judgment:

  • The court said “Government leaders in authoritarian states” who choke citizens’ political freedoms find themselves often ill-prepared to resolve national crises.
  • The apex court said that lack of free flow of information and criticism has crippled the ability of the leadership to introspect on their actions and self-correct.
  • Quoting Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said: “Mr Amartya Sen’s analysis reveals that the political immunity enjoyed by government leaders in authoritarian states prevents effective measures being taken in critical situations like famine.”

Vibrancy of democracy:

  • An enabling atmosphere for citizens to dissent and scrutinise government measures add to the vibrancy of democracy.

Transparency in system:

  • Justice Chandrachud in his ruling said that capture of social welfare benefits can be obviated only when political systems are transparent and when there is a free flow of information.
  • Justice also said that the conditions necessary for realising or fulfilling socio-economic rights do not postulate the subversion of political freedom.

Vibrant assertion of rights:

  • Conditions of freedom and a vibrant assertion of civil and political rights promote a constant review of the justness of socio-economic programmes and of their effectiveness in addressing deprivation.
  • Scrutiny of public affairs is founded upon the existence of freedom. Therefore, civil and political rights and socio-economic rights are complementary and not mutually exclusive.

Curtailing the legislature: (Indian Express, Editorial)

Context:

  •    The Delhi High Court has entertained the PWD Secretary PIL which has stayed the investigation by privileges committee of the Delhi State Legislature on misrepresentation of facts to the privilege committee by PWD Secretary.

Background:

  • Justice P.N. Bhagwati handled the first Public Interest Litigation case in the Supreme Court in 1979.
  • The higher courts began to extend their powers of judicial review to oversee the executive actions of the central and state governments.

Issue of Conflict between Delhi Legislative Committee and Delhi High Court Powers:

  • The  petition committee of Delhi State Assembly asked for a full report from PWD Secretary on the status of desilting of drains.
  • The status report was examined by the privilege committee of legislature and found that  the not a single drain has been repaired as mentioned in the status report. It reported a case of misrepresentation of the fact to the committee.
  • PWD Secretary was summoned for explanation. The Secretary asked for some time but moved to High Court of Delhi for stay which was granted by High Court on the grounds that there was a PIL on the subject, filed 12 years ago in 2005, already before the court.
  • This constituted an “overlap of jurisdiction” in which, since the matter had been raised in the high court first, under Rule 201 of NCT of Delhi Rules it was the high court that had to deal with the matter.
  • Less than a week later, the Delhi High Court, summoned court officials and issued a similar stay order in favour of the chief secretary of Delhi, M.M. Kutty to withhold all payments for advertisements placed by the Delhi administration to recover Rs 97 crore paid for these advertisements from the Aam Aadmi Party.
  • The decisions of the High Court have created a piquant situation on two counts. First, the high court has made its own inability to dispose of a simple PIL for 12 years an obstacle to prevent another branch of democracy, the legislature, from performing its duty to the people who elected it.
  • Second, and more important, the Delhi High Court’s jurisdiction does not cover only the state legislature but also Parliament, for its powers on matters concerning clashes of jurisdiction with the Lok Sabha are spelt out in exactly the same words.
  • Thus, High Court’s decision has created a situation in which the fact that a matter is sub judice can bar the Lok Sabha from taking cognisance of a misrepresentation of facts by the bureaucracy or any other person or institution whom it summons for an accounting.

Can State Legislature can investigate when matter are subjudice:

  • Parliamentary practice had found a way around it by giving the speaker the right to waive conflicts of jurisdiction so that a case could be heard by it and the judiciary at the same time.
  • This happened during the Bofors case, and again in the 2G case. The same waiver rights apply to the Delhi assembly speaker as well.
  • This is a lacuna that Parliament should move speedily to fill. The fact that previous Lok Sabhas and Vidhan Sabhas have not had a shining record in enforcing accountability on the executive does not mean that they should be denied the opportunity to do so in the future.

MPs fret over trade deficit with ASEAN: (The Hindu)

Context

  • The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce has questioned the government for suggesting that the country’s increasing trade deficit with ASEAN nations is due to imports of essential commodities and has strongly recommended that India seek better market access for its products and services with the 10-nation bloc.

The committee’s report

  • India suffers a trade deficit in respect of five ASEAN members — Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Brunei and Lao PDR over 2015-16 and 2016-17, with the biggest deficit emerging in trade with Indonesia, the committee has noted.
  • Under the existing trade agreement, Indonesia has committed a tariff elimination on 50.1% of its items which is the least in comparison to other ASEAN member States,” the committee said.
  • The least tariff elimination by Indonesia has resulted in biggest trade deficit from India amongst all ASEAN member States.
  • The committee chaired by BJP MP Bhupender Yadav has said India must seek better market access for goods where India has an edge over ASEAN nations, like leather goods and pharmaceuticals, to progress the trade balance.
  • The committee stressed that its inspection of the Indo-ASEAN trade dynamics assumed significance given that this year marks 25 years of the formal partnership.
  • The Ministry of Commerce apprised the panel that the imports of essential commodities — coal, petroleum and edible oils — from ASEAN constitute a significant percentage of India’s imports.
  • If these essential commodities are excluded, India will have a better or positive balance of trade position.
  • The committee also held that ‘if this approach or argument is subscribed, then there was no need for the trade agreement with ASEAN.’
  • The import of essential commodities will continue with or without the trade agreements.
  • The better market access in terms of higher export has not materialized and this is a matter of concern.
  • The Committee would like to impress on the Department that various trade instruments/agreements must aim towards better market access,” it asserted.
  • As per official data, among the ‘essential commodities’ cited by the government, imports of coal fell by 2.5% in 2016-17 from a year earlier, while vegetable oil imports grew by 3.7% to touch $6.19 billion in 2016-17.
  • Crude petroleum imports rose by almost 50% in 2016-17, but exports of petroleum products surged 58.4%.
  • Among the other top 10 commodities imported from ASEAN, consumer electronics grew at the highest pace in 2016-17 (18.33%), followed by ships and boats (12.82%), electronic components (11.72%) and telecom instruments (9.17%).
  • India’s second-largest export commodity to ASEAN — buffalo meat — saw a 4.92% increase in 2016-17 to reach $2.78 billion.
  • ASEAN is India’s fourth largest trading partner with total trade in 2016-17 at $71.69 billion, constituting almost 11% of India’s overall global trade of $660.6 billion.
  • Total exports to ASEAN in 2016-17 stood at $31.07 billion, while imports were $40.63 billion, creating an adverse trade balance of $9.56 billion.

Effect on Food processing sector

  • The committee also found that while exports of agricultural products from India faced high import tariffs and barriers, leading to a sharp drop in trade, India’s food processing sector had raised concerns about the ‘near absence of quality norms’ for import of cheap processed food products from ASEAN countries.
  • The Committee recommends the Department to look into cheap import of poor quality processed food products.
  • It desires that appropriate quality norms may be fixed for import of such products from ASEAN as well as other regions of the world,” its report said.

Textiles

  • Similar concerns have been raised by the committee about the imposition of safeguards and non-tariff barriers by ASEAN nations on exports of India’s textiles and pharmaceuticals.
  • The committee demanded that the government must ensure reciprocity in the reduction of tariffs in products like steel.

Others

  • It has also sought efforts to improve India’s access to services trade in ASEAN, with a focus on increasing the footprint of Indian banks and financial institutions in the region.
  • The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) comprises of Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam

GS-3

Science and Tech


Claims on Bt cotton need to be probed, says panel: (The Hindu)

Context:

A Parliamentary panel headed by Congress MP Renuka Chowdhury in a report released on Friday said the government agencies have portrayed “a rosy picture” on Bt Cotton which is far removed from the truth.

Key highlights:

  • The report of the Standing Committee on Science and Technology claimed that the government cited only overall cotton output and not the average yield in area.
  • India’s cotton yields increased by 69% in the five years(2000-2005) when Bt Cotton was less than 6% of total cotton area, but by only 10% in the 10 years from 2005-2015 when Bt Cotton grew to 94% of the total cotton area.
  • The report slammed the government for its “casual” approach to the need for a scientific study of GM crop impact on health.
  • The committee pointed that  two decades after introduction of GM crops in 1996, only six countries continue to account for over 90% of all GM crop area globally including U.S, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, China and India.
  • The Ministry of Agriculture conceded to the committee that herbicide-tolerant gene may escape through pollen into nearby farm and fields, to another GM or non-GM crops.

 

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