Read summary of all news articles of the day below


GS-1

Urbanisation


Social issues

Supreme Court’s Lost Chance: (Indian Express, Editorial)

Context

  • Prior to the judgment on Triple Talaq, it was widely anticipated that the Court would strike down the practice on the basis that it breached constitutional morality. It was also hoped that the Supreme Court would overturn a long-standing decision of the Bombay High Court effectively insulating personal laws from constitutional scrutiny.

Issue

  • In spite of the majority of judges striking down the practice of instant triple talaq, the judgment did none of those things.
  • The case held significant opportunities for the Court. It was asked to decide if the practice violated the constitutional right to equality and protections against gender discrimination

The three separate opinions

  • The danger of three separate opinions amongst a panel of five judges deciding a case is that the lowest common denominator prevails.
  • In this case, the lowest common denominator was that the practice of instant triple talaq was not integral to Islam, and was therefore unprotected by the constitutional right to freedom of religion.
  • The Court decided the case on an interpretation of religious texts rather than constitutional provisions.

Right to religion matters the most

  • The most striking implication of the Court’s judgment is that it effectively signalled that triple talaq and other religious practices would be scrutinized through the lens of religion rather than the right to equality.
  • The battle for equality, continues to be waged in the language of religion rather than the language of rights.
  • There is another particularly disquieting feature of judges settling upon the significance of religious practices.
  • The Court opens itself up to uncomfortable questions of institutional and individual competence.
  • Transforming the language of argument from religious texts to constitutional rights would alleviate it considerably, for all judges are equally on questions of fundamental rights.
  • Yet, with the Court’s decision, the bench composition in cases involving personal law will become more significant than ever before.

The success of majority opinion

  • The greatest victory of the majority opinions is that they avoided the situation that would have arisen had the dissenting opinion prevailed.
  • In spite of holding the practice of triple talaq constitutionally valid, the dissenting opinion, recognizing the injustices associated with the practice was willing to decouple the constitutional right from the remedy.
  • The opinion would have otherwise imposed a six-month injunction to enable Parliament to enact legislation on the subject.
  • The injunction would continue if appropriate legislation was introduced in Parliament within that time frame.
  • This outcome would have been not only constitutionally suspect, but also pragmatically unsound.
  • The Supreme Court lacks the authority to direct Parliament to enact legislation.

GS-2

Welfare schemes

Executive and the Judiciary


A to Z of Privacy: (Indian Express, Explained); A sterling judgement on right to privacy: (Live Mint, Editorial) How privacy stacks up:  (The Hindu, Editorial)

Context

  • A nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court, unanimously affirmed the existence of a constitutional right to privacy.

Verdict

  • The ADM Jabalpur decision from the Emergency era was formally overruled, and the majority openly criticized the reasoning in Koushal, the verdict on Section 377.

The future of the right to privacy in India

Is the right to privacy a monolithic conception, or does it consist of different variants?

  • The Indian jurisprudence had a hint that privacy is best conceptualized as consisting of clusters of rights.
  • Privacy in India has raised issues ranging from surveillance, search and seizure, and telephone tapping to abortion, transgender rights and narco-analysis.
  • It is difficult to escape the conclusion that these cases raise distinct issues and demand different analyses.
  • The Supreme Court has now confirmed it by acknowledging that different conceptions of privacy exist, it has significantly advanced the privacy jurisprudence in the country.
  • Although there was near unanimity among the judges that privacy operates through different variants, there was no clear consensus on what these variants are.

When is it permissible for the state to restrict individuals’ privacy?

  • The judgment offered no majority view on this point, although it seemed clear that restrictions on the right to privacy must at the very minimum be ‘just, fair and reasonable’.

Do infractions by private entities as well as the state fall within the ambit of constitutional privacy?

  • Indian courts have abstained from applying fundamental rights against private persons unless required by the express words of the Constitution.
  • In the context of privacy however, the Court had, on at least three previous occasions, blurred the conceptual distinction between the private law infringement of privacy and the constitutional infraction.

The two crucial components of the Judgement

Doctrinal component

  • The Narendra Modi government’s stance that there is no fundamental right to privacy is based on the precedent of two Supreme Court judgements—M.P. Sharma vs Satish Chandra, district magistrate, Delhi in 1954 and Kharak Singh vs State of Uttar Pradesh in 1962.
  • Both noted that the Constitution did not “specifically protect” the right to privacy.
  • Those observations were based on the Supreme Court’s then-doctrinal position on fundamental rights crafted in the A.K. Gopalan vs State of Madras judgement in 1950.
  • This position held that the fundamental rights guaranteed by Article III of the Constitution existed not as an interlocking grid but in silos.
  • Article 14, which guarantees equality before the law, ensures that state laws cannot be arbitrary in nature or application.
  • They must be reasonable. Article 21 protects life and personal libertyand the petitioners in the current case have argued that it implicitly contains the right to privacy as well.
  • Those protections and rights can be constrained by “procedure established by law”. Without the reasonableness guaranteed by Article 14 to test that procedure, Article 21 is weakened.
  • The privacy judgement thus reaffirms the strength of the Constitutional protections given to fundamental rights.

The philosophical component

  • When the state has the right to intrude where it will in a citizen’s life, there can be no effective personal sphere.
  • That is a dystopian vision. It is also incompatible with democratic structures on a practical level.
  • The judgement also sketches out the evolution of the concepts of human dignity and the right to life, both guaranteed by the Constitution.
  • Over the past century and a half, the understanding of the right to life and liberty has evolved beyond the physical into the idea of “an inviolate personality.”
  • As justice Chandrachud pithily puts it, “The right to be let alone is a part of the right to enjoy life. The right to enjoy life is, in its turn, a part of the fundamental right to life of the individual.”

Impact of individual privacy a fundamental right

On Aadhar –

  • The government has collected biometric and demographic data of 1.17 billion Indians, which it claims will help in plugging leaks in social welfare schemes.
  • Several petitioners had challenged Aadhaar claiming that since it is mandatory in all but name, it goes against their right to privacy.
  • The government maintained that Indians don’t have a fundamental right to privacy.

On Biometrics –

  • Biometric data include photographs, fingerprints, iris scans etc., which can be used to identify a person.
  • Apart from the welfare schemes in which it is used to validate a beneficiary’s identity, India is pushing it for a host of other services, and companies are building technology to use this biometric data.
  • Activists say such a large repository of biometric information can be used as a tool of mass surveillance.

On Choice –

  • At a time of increasingly intrusive majoritarianism, the court has made it clear that “liberty enables the individual to have a choice of preferences on various facets of life including what and how one will eat, the way one will dress, the faith one will espouse and a myriad other matters on which autonomy and self-determination require a choice to be made within the privacy of the mind”.
  • This was done in the backdrop of beef eating issue.

Data – Mining –

  • Data is the new natural resource. We are at the beginning of an era where data is the new oil.
  • The Supreme Court noted: Something interesting is happening. Uber knows our whereabouts and the places we frequent. Facebook at the least knows who we are friends with. Alibaba knows our shopping habits. Airbnb knows where we are travelling to.

Euthanasia –

  • Indian law disallows medically assisted suicide. But the Bench said the right to privacy includes the right to refuse food or even medicine.

Financial Technology –

  • As Internet penetration increases, so does the opportunity for financial institutions to use technology to capture and service clients better.
  • The government has been an enthusiastic backer of FinTech, using Jan Dhan Accounts, Aadhaar and Mobile, to reach a large section of the population that lay outside the banking system
  • On the other hand, extensive use of FinTech in a country with poor Internet literacy and little awareness of cyber hygiene is in itself a threat to the integrity of the financial system.

On Laws –

  • The Supreme Court ruled that “the right to privacy is protected as an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 and as a part of the freedoms guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution”.
  • Attorney General K K Venugopal had argued that “the right of privacy may at best be a common law right, but [it was] not a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution”.

On NATGRID –

  •  Conceptualised when P Chidambaram was Home Minister after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, NATGRID seeks to integrate over 25 categories of database from agencies like railways, banks, airlines, credit card companies, immigration, etc., and make it available to law enforcement officers.
  • Following last week’s order, the implementation of the programme could require amendments in several laws to allow sharing and transferring of data on items such as property and bank transaction details.

On Reproductive Rights –

  • The Supreme Court counts reproductive rights as inherent to the right to life and liberty.
  • Like privacy, this right is not mentioned in the text of the Constitution, but is a penumbral right, one derived from rights mentioned in the text
  • The Supreme Court used the jurisprudence on reproductive rights in India and the United States to draw parallels with privacy as a penumbral right.

On Sexual Identity –

  • The family, marriage, procreation and sexual orientation are all integral to the dignity of the individual,” said the SC.
  • It said its 2013 judgment, which re-instated Section 377 IPC, effectively criminalizing homosexuality, struck a “discordant note” on the jurisprudence of privacy.
  • Sexual orientation is an essential component of identity. Equal protection demands protection of the identity of every individual without discrimination.

On Terror –

  • The seamless structure and anonymity provided by the Internet has emerged as a new space for terrorists to exploit in the form of indoctrination, cyber attacks on financial systems, etc.
  • Justice Chandrachud underscored the “legitimate interest” of the state to monitor the Internet against terrorists, subject to just, fair and reasonable restrictions against encroachment into privacy.

India and neighbors


Search for democracy: (The Hindu, Editorial)

Context

  • The newest twist to the ongoing political turmoil in Thailand is the failure on of the former Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, deposed in 2014 by a constitutional court, to appear for the final verdict in a case relating to a rice subsidy scheme.

The on-going speculations

  • Shinawatra absence has fueled conjecture that she may have fled the country, much like her sibling and erstwhile head of government Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in 2006 in a military coup and has been living in exile since.
  • The Shinawatras largely symbolize the boiling opposition to the deep-rooted influence of the military and urban elites in a nation where the contemporary record is a continuous cycle of coups and military-inspired Constitutions.

The state of constitution

  • The Constitution has little to praise itself in terms of either enshrining democratic principles or popular legitimacy.
  • It provides for a nominated upper house, a non-elected Prime Minister, and greater powers for the Generals.
  • A 2016 referendum drew a mere 61% approval even from the small 55% voter turnout.
  • The plebiscite uncovered long-festering ethnic divisions between the Malay Muslim-concentrated provinces in the south who rejected the Constitution and the remaining majority Buddhist regions.
  • Given the systematic suppression of dissent and the introduction of draconian legislation, human rights activists have all too often fallen foul of the Generals.
  • Any hopes for a stable democratic government in Thailand will hinge on the conduct of free and fair general elections promised for 2018.

Scheme for farmers

  • The government of Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha was obliged to offer farmers loans owing to record-low global prices for rice.
  • The move was not much unlike the subsidy scheme that Ms. Shinawatra was sought to be proceeded against.

Position at ASEAN

  • There is perhaps weight in the assessment that the once-thriving Thai economy could be losing out to competition from ASEAN neighbours who have emerged from conflict and dictatorship of the recent past.
  • The country’s leaders should also be concerned that shortfalls in democratic governance may not always go unnoticed, notwithstanding the ASEAN principle of mutual non-interference in the internal affairs of member nations.

 


That old spark: (The Hindu, Editorial)

Context

  • Nepal’s Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba visit to India was his first foreign visit as Prime Minister, and it confirmed Kathmandu’s abiding interest in strong ties with India.

Rebuilding relations

  • The recovery of bilateral warmth has taken some doing on both sides.
  • India had mounted strong obstruction to the Constitution with demands that it be made more inclusive, especially vis-à-vis the Madhesis in the Terai area, sending ties with Kathmandu’s ruling establishment on a downward spiral.
  • Even as Nepal fought to cope with rehabilitation work after the massive earthquake of 2015, many in Kathmandu held India responsible for the three-month-long “great blockade” of goods and fuel supplies that followed sustained protests by Madhesi groups.
  • To that end, Mr. Deuba’s visit was another opportunity, as were the visits of his predecessors K.P. Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, to repair the India-Nepal relationship.

The upcoming projects

  • The joint statement at the end of his visit refers to the “deep, comprehensive and multi-faceted” ties between the neighbours as it listed projects being developed in Nepal under lines of credit provided by India.
  • These include $200 million for irrigation projects, $330 million for road development and $250 million for power infrastructure in Nepal.
  • India made the requisite appeal to Kathmandu “to take all sections of society on board” while implementing its Constitution, but the tenor was notably softer this time.
  • No mention was made of a key amendment to the Constitution to accommodate Madhesi demands that had been defeated just last Monday.

Not an easy path to rekindle friendship

  • The memories of the blockade still rankle in Nepal.
  • While the South Block and Singha Durbar have been keen to move ahead with trade linkages and complete the integrated check-posts at Raxaul-Birgunj and Jogbani-Biratnagar, the land-locked country has actively sought to break its dependence on India for fuel and connectivity.
  • Since 2015, Nepal and China have cooperated on infrastructure plans, including a big hydroelectric project and a rail link to Tibet.
  • Nepal is also part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
  • India is struggling to influence the historical closeness with Nepal, the open border the two share and the special status Nepalis working in India have appreciated.
  • The India-China stand-off in Doklam will add to the awkwardness in the trilateral relationship. Mr. Deuba’s visit will need a sustained follow-up.

GS-3

Pollution and conservation


Why does the 2022 target for rooftop solar seem ambitious?: (The Hindu)

Context

  • The government has set itself a target of 100 GW of solar power by 2022, of which 60 GW is to come from utilities and 40 GW from rooftop solar installations.

Main concern

  • While the 60 GW target seems attainable, India is lagging behind on the target set for rooftop solar.

What is rooftop solar?

  • Rooftop solar installations can be installed on the roofs of buildings.
  • They fall under two brackets: commercial and residential.
  • This simply has to do with whether the solar panels are being installed on top of commercial buildings or residential complexes.

Benefits of installing rooftop solar

  • Rooftop solar provides companies and residential areas the choice of an alternative source of electricity to that provided by the grid.
  • The main benefit of rooftop solar is to the environment, since it reduces the dependence on fossil-fuel generated electricity.
  • Solar power can also augment the grid supply in places where it is erratic.
  • Rooftop solar also has the great benefit of being able to provide electricity to those areas that are not yet connected to the grid like remote locations and areas where the terrain makes it difficult to set up power stations and lay power lines.

Way ahead for rooftop solar in India

  • The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has pegged the market potential for rooftop solar at 124 GW.
  • \However, only 1,247 MW of capacity had been installed as of December 31, 2016. That is a little more than 3% of the target for 2022, and 1% of the potential.
  • Imports of cheap solar panels are continuously placing a downward pressure on prices and so this scenario could change in the future.
  • Commercial applications of rooftop solar are already feasible in most states.

Loopholes in adopting the rooftop solar

The problem of variability in supply

  • Not only can the efficiency of the solar panels vary on any given day depending on how bright the sunlight is, but the solar panels also produce no electricity during the night.
  • Arguably, night is when off-grid locations most need alternative sources of electricity.

Solution

  • Storage technology for electricity, however, is still underdeveloped and storage solutions are expensive.
  • ]So, while some companies will be able to afford storage solutions for the solar energy they produce, most residential customers will find the cost of installing both rooftop solar panels and storage facilities prohibitive.
  • \Residential areas also come with the associated issues of use restrictions of the roof, if the roof is being used for solar generation, then it cannot be used for anything else.

The current electricity tariff structure rendering it as a useless option.

  • Many states have adopted a net metering policy, which allows disaggregated power producers to sell excess electricity to the grid.
  • However, the subsidized tariffs charged to residential customers undermine the economic viability of installing rooftop solar panels.
  • The potential profit simply does not outweigh the costs.

Indian Economy. Planning, Growth and Employment


New tax regime to give manufacturing a boost: (The Hindu)

Context

  • The manufacturing sector will be getting a boost as GST is expected to address long-standing issues like inter-state taxes, high compliance costs, cascading impact of taxes, high logistics costs and to also ensure a level-playing field with respect to imports as GST provides for appropriate countervailing duty.

New developments with new issues

  • Several capital goods are likely to witness a 12-14% drop in cost owing to availability of full input tax credit, it will help spur investments and generate jobs.
  • For automobiles, GST has largely been to the benefit except for certain issues. The higher GST rate for hybrid vehicles will make them unviable for consumers and will result in petrol and diesel variants being sold instead.
  • This is not desirable as hybrids are much more fuel-efficient and environment-friendly vehicles.
  • A levy of tax on used cars at the same rate as for new cars is likely to push this business in the informal sector.
  • This would negate the Centre’s aim of bringing the unregulated part of this business under the regulated mainstream and also lead to the state losing tax revenue in the process.

The dynamic shift

  • The shift in the taxable event from the sale, manufacture, provision of service or import in the past, to the supply of goods and/or services under GST is an important change.
  • The GSTN system matches the details of tax paid by a supplier to the details of credit claimed by the recipient, excess credit claim by the recipient will be disallowed automatically till the time the return is rectified. Thus, the new system motivates recipients to keep a check on suppliers.
  • The GST-compliance rating system for dealers has moved part of the burden of ensuring compliance to the recipient. This, along with technology enablement, will help improve compliance significantly.

Criticism

  • The GST structure has been criticized owing to multiple slabs and high effective peak rate of GST.
  • It has been argued by many that the true spirit of GST has been lost and that a high GST rate will fuel inflation.
  • In the present socio-economic context, it is unrealistic to expect a single or a two-tax slab structure.
  • With better compliance that is expected, the Government may actually achieve enough space in future to consider reducing the number of slabs or lowering the compensation cess.

Prelims Related News


 


develop novel ‘dot’ system to improve cancer detection:

Context

  • Researchers at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) have developed a proof-of-concept nanosystem that dramatically improves the visualization of tumors.

Explanation

  • The article published in Nature Communications mentions that the platform achieves a five-fold increase over existing tumor-specific optical imaging methods.
  • This novel approach produces bright tumor signals by delivering “quantum dots” to cancer cells without any toxic effects.

Who developed it?

  • Xiangyou Liu, Ph.D., and Gary Braun, Ph.D., developed the method in the laboratories of Kazuki Sugahara, M.D., Ph.D., additional assistant professor at SBP and adjunct associate research scientist at Columbia University, and Erkki Ruoslahti, M.D., Ph.D., distinguished professor at SBP.

What is Tumor Imaging?

  • Tumor imaging is an integral part of cancer detection, treatment and tracking the progress of patients after treatment.
  • This new method getting developed will contribute to more personalized and potentially more effective interventions to improve the clinical outcomes of cancer patients.

Details about the new method

  • The new method utilizes quantum dots, QDs — tiny particles that emit intense fluorescent signals when exposed to light — and an “etchant” that eliminates background signals.
  • The QDs are delivered intravenously, and some of them leave the bloodstream and cross membranes, entering cancer cells.
  • Fluorescent signals emitted from excess QDs that remain in the bloodstream are then made invisible by injecting the etchant.

How does an etchant functions?

  • The novelty of this developed nanosystem is how the etchant works.
  • The etchant and the QDs undergo a “cation exchange” that occurs when zinc in the QDs is swapped for silver in the etchant.
  • Silver-containing QDs lose their fluorescent capabilities, and because the etchant can’t cross membranes to reach tumor cells, the QDs that have reached the tumor remain fluorescent.
  • Thus, the entire process eliminates background fluorescence while preserving tumor-specific signals.

How was this method developed?

  • The method was developed using mice harboring human breast, prostate and gastric tumors.
  • QDs were actively delivered to tumors using iRGD, a tumor penetrating peptide that activates a transport pathway that drives the peptide along with bystander molecules — in this case fluorescent QDs — into cancer cells.
  • iRGD methodology was originally developed in Ruoslahti’s lab.

First of its kind

  • This is one unique example of a background-destroying etchant being used to enhance the specificity of imaging.
  • It was encouraging to achieve a tumor-specific contrast index (CI) between five- and ten-fold greater than the general cut-off for optical imaging, which is 2.5.

Way forward

  • The focus will be on developing the novel nanosystem to work with routine imaging tests like PET scans and MRIs.
  • A new company is in the process of being founded to further develop the platform for human use.

 


Ocean forecasting system unveiled:

Context

  • The Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS) of the Ministry of Earth Sciences here inaugurated the Ocean Forecasting System for Comoros, Madagascar, and Mozambique at the third Ministerial Meeting of Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning.

Why is it required?

  • The ocean forecast and early warning information on high wave, currents, winds, tides, sub-surface ocean conditions cater to users like fishermen, coastal population, tourism sector, coastal defence officials, marine police, port authorities, research institutions and offshore industries of these countries.

Launch of the new system

  • M. Rajeevan, Secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences, and Chair, RIMES Council, launched the system for operational use.
  • The INCOIS has already been providing these operational services to the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Seychelles.
  • The Ministerial council and the WMO praised and placed on record the initiatives of INCOIS/India in providing the ocean forecast and early warning services to the Indian Ocean U

Utility

  • These ocean services are aimed towards safety at the sea.
  • The system would offer oil spill advisory services, high wave alerts, port warnings, forecast along the ship routes in addition to tsunami and storm surge warnings and help in search and rescue operations.
  • The Ocean Forecast System developed for the Indian Ocean countries and the real-time data from their territories also help to improve the ocean forecast and early warning system for the Indian coast too.
  • Wave surge ( kallkadal ) and coastal flooding that occurred from July 28 to August 3 in 2016 along Kerala and West Bengal were well predicted and real-time data from Seychelles were highly beneficial for predicting these incidents, as many of these remotely forced waves originated from the southern and western Indian Ocean.
  • It helps in navigation and operations at sea and the blue economic growth of many of these Indian Ocean rim countries and island nations.

 

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