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GS-2

Issues related to governance


Plea for early Aadhaar hearing: (The Hindu)

Context

  • The petitioners in the Aadhaar case is expected to make an urgent mentioning before a Bench, headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, on August 29 for an early decision on the validity of the scheme.

The need of the hour

  • The urgency is because September 30 is the deadline for the public to enroll themselves in the Aadhaar scheme for accessing welfare benefits.
  • The Centre had earlier prolonged the June 30 deadline till September 30 for those who are availing themselves of the benefits of welfare schemes without Aadhaar.
  • A five-judge Constitution Bench, led by J.S. Khehar who demitted office as Chief Justice of India on Monday, was considering the validity of the scheme.
  • The hearing before this Bench came to a halt after the court wanted to first know whether or not the right to privacy is a fundamental one.

A shot in the arm

  • The question was referred to a nine-judge Bench that unanimously ruled on August 24 that privacy is a fundamental right inherent to life and personal liberty.
  • Augmented by this judgment, the petitioners, represented by senior advocate Shyam Divan and Vipin Nair who have argued that the biometric details collected under the Aadhaar scheme violated bodily and informational privacy, want an early resolution of their case.

Constricts freedom

  • The petitioners have challenged the validity of over 17 government schemes that required Aadhaar.
  • They said the mandatory requirement of Aadhaar for these schemes “constricts rights and freedoms which a citizen has long been enjoying unless and until they part with their personal biometric information to the government.”
  • The petition termed the Aadhaar Act of 2016 unconstitutional and contrary to the concept of limited and accountable government.
  • “Collection of biometric data, including fingerprints, and storing them in a central depository per se puts the state in an extremely dominant position in relation to the individual citizen,” the petition said.
  • “Going by the stand of the UIDAI itself, the number of cases in which de-duplication resulted in the rejection of an application for an Aadhaar number is to the tune of nine crore out of around 100 crore enrolments. The number, nine crore, is just a little less than the population of Bihar and twice the population of Odisha as per the 2011 census,” it said.

Government policies


A right for the future: (The Hindu, Editorial)

Context

  • Understanding the nature and dilemmas of judicial innovation in the context of Right to Privacy.

Structural problem

  • The Supreme Court has often found itself bound by decisions of larger Benches.
  • The central dilemma is, what are courts to do when they find themselves curtailed by judgments given by larger Benches which are binding by virtue of the Bench strength but otherwise wholly inadequate in terms of their jurisprudential grounding as well as their political consequences?
  • In the present case, this was manifested in the form of two judgments ( M.P. Sharma , a 1954 decision of an eight-judge Bench, and Kharak Singh , a 1962 six-judge Bench decision) — both of which had held that there is no fundamental right to privacy.

The turning point: Gobind v. State of Madhya Pradesh (1975)

  • A three-judge Bench, proceeded with the assumption that fundamental rights have a penumbral zone.
  • The arguments however, if considered a right, it would then be restricted only by compelling public interest.
  • In an erudite paragraph that leaps out of the judgment, Justice K. Matthew observed, “Time works changes and brings into existence new conditions. Subtler and far reaching means of invading privacy will make it possible to be heard in the street what is whispered in the closet.”

How then do courts adapt and innovate within a set of formal constraints?

  • Solomon Benjamin and R. Bhuvaneswari in their work on urban poverty argue that in contrast to visible strategies of democratic politics such as protests, the urban poor also engage in ‘politics by stealth’.
  • This form of participation relies on a permeable and fluid approach that responds to stubborn structures such as the bureaucracy by sneaking up inside them, adapting and slowly transforming the structure itself.

A future-ready right

  • Senior advocate Arvind P. Datar describes the judgment as articulating a right for the future — an apt characterization to which I would add a further question.
  • The judgment might then be the first instance of the articulation of a human right in a post-human world.
  • In that sense the location of the right to privacy within a natural rights tradition by the court seems a little archaic and romantic.
  • The numerous historical references to media, urbanization and technology in the judgment intimate a judicial intuition of the transformed landscape of personhood that the language of rights has to negotiate and a recognition of the challenge of living.
  • For a judgment that is refreshingly unapologetic about its philosophical and jurisprudential ambitions, one hopes that in addition to the regulars of the liberal canon.

Welfare schemes


The admirable success of the Jan Dhan Yojana: (Live Mint, Editorial)

Context

  • The government’s flagship financial inclusion drive, is one of the grandest policy initiatives of its kind.
  • With an initial target of opening 75 million accounts by January 2015 under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY), Modi’s administration mobilized an oft-recalcitrant state apparatus to expand access to basic savings accounts with additional benefits in the form of debit cards, insurance cover, and overdraft facilities.

The progress report

  • The government has opened more than 294 million accounts as of August 2017.
  • However, it was unclear whether increasing the supply of such accounts (introduced by the Reserve Bank of India in 2005) would guarantee that account holders engage in financial transactions.
  • Researchers have only recently acquired data of sufficient vintage from administrative records on the transactions in PMJDY accounts to individual and household-level survey data that yields preliminary findings on India’s progress towards genuine financial inclusion.
  • Opening the banking floodgates, this new research finds, enhanced account use and brought marginalized groups into the financial mainstream.

Work on PMJDY, Georgetown University

  • In a 2017 working paper, Georgetown University professor Sumit Agarwal and his co-authors studied account activity in 1.5 million PMJDY accounts from August 2014 to May 2015.
  • While usage started off slowly, 81% of new consumers did not make any deposits in the first six months.
  • Individuals inclined to become more proficient as their awareness of financial services grew.
  • Within one year, the frequency of remittances and deposit and withdrawal transactions gradually reached the same level as a comparable set of accounts opened before the PMJDY, with a concomitant increase in monthly account balance.
  • Along with demand, the supply of financial products rose as well.
  • The authors found an increase in lending in regions where the PMJDY generated new demand for formal credit.

Research at Indian School of Business, and University of Maryland

  • Yakshup Chopra and Prasanna Tantri, researchers at the Indian School of Business, and University of Maryland professor Nagpurnanand R. Prabhala, tracked activity in more than 3,000 PMJDY accounts from August 2014 to October 2016 (prior to demonetization).
  • Their analysis also found evidence of PMJDY accounts catching up with their counterparts over time, with the differences in usage between both type of accounts shrinking by close to half between the first and the seventh quarter.
  • The average account balance of PMJDY accounts more than doubled in the same period.
  • Similar to the “learning” phenomenon observed by Agarwal and his co-authors, these researchers found that increase in ATM usage among PMJDY account holders surpassed those without such accounts.
  • Beyond enabling account ownership and the use of financial services, the PMJDY also facilitated financial inclusion for a variety of demographics.

Report by the Overseas Development Institute

  • The Overseas Development Institute’s Manuela Kristin Günther examined data from several recent rounds of the Financial Inclusion Insights (FII) survey of individuals as well as the 2015 FinScope survey of households in four low-income states, and found that socioeconomic hurdles were attenuated.
  • Women, low-income individuals, rural residents, and the less educated enjoyed greater account ownership following the PMJDY.
  • Owning an account also appeared to weaken significant constraints like large household size, distrust of financial institutions, and distance to the nearest bank branch.

What was common in all the research work?

  • The PMJDY’s ability to tap a deep well of unmet demand for financial services was a common theme running through these studies.
  • The 2017 round of the FII confirmed that many of these gains were not ephemeral.
  • There was negligible variation in PMJDY account ownership on the basis of gender, urban or rural residency, and income levels.
  • In terms of account registration and transaction activity, PMJDY account holders were ahead of those with non-PMJDY accounts.

The second volume of the 2016-17 Economic Survey findings

  • The average account balance in PMJDY accounts effectively doubled between 2015 and 2017, zero-balance accounts declined by more than half between 2015 and 2016, and cross-bank transactions facilitated by business correspondents grew sharply.

Concerning Issues

  • Account duplication and dormancy remain key stumbling blocks.
  • Chopra and his co-authors found that the PMJDY accounts were less likely than other accounts to move out of inactivity.

2016 national survey by Microsave

  • A financial inclusion consultancy, estimated that 33% of PMJDY customers already had a bank account, and 28% of all PMJDY accounts were inactive.
  • Misunderstandings about the policy are widespread.
  • The government’s impulse to route direct benefits transfers through these accounts was a possible driver for duplication, with several beneficiaries opening second accounts expressly to receive benefits.

The 2017 FII survey

  • It observed that not only was there a higher account inactivity rate among women, rural residents, and below- poverty-line individuals overall, the same groups were more likely to report being unaware if their account was opened under the PMJDY.
  • Regional variation is another arena with room for improvement: Günther found large asymmetries in both account ownership and activity across Indian states.
  • Finally, while business correspondents contributed significantly to realizing last-mile banking, they were relatively underutilized for regular financial services – a consequence, as Microsave ascertained, of low and irregular commissions per transaction.

Conclusion

  • These studies provide initial insights into the extraordinary impact of the PMJDY and outline opportunities for course correction.
  • While the programme has made significant headway towards genuine financial inclusion, it is clear that improving policy communication, widening and deepening progress in low-income states, and ironing out the kinks in the bank-agent model will be crucial if these hard-fought gains are to prove sustainable.

India and neighbors


Doklam standoff ends as India, China step back: (The Hindu) & Agreeing to disagree: (The Hindu, Editorial)

Context

  • After weeks of diplomatic negotiations, India and China agreed to disengage from the standoff on the Doklam plateau, disputed between China and Bhutan, with a formula that saw China promise to make “necessary adjustments” to their troop deployments, after Indian troops withdrew back to their posts in Sikkim on Monday.

Current state of affairs

  • As per the statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs, the procedure of disengagement by border personnel had been “almost completed under verification” from both sides.
  • The move specified that no more troops were expected on the face off point at Doklam, which reverted to status quo ante June 16.
  • “Peace and tranquility in the border areas is an essential pre-requisite for further development of our bilateral relationship,” affirmed the MEA.
  • As India pulls back its personnel and equipment back to the boundary, China maintains to make necessary adjustments and deployment.
  • The agreement comes a week before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China to attend the BRICS summit from September 3 to 5.
  • At the brief meeting between Mr. Modi and President Xi at the Hamburg G-20 summit, the leaders had taken a decision to give diplomacy a chance on the standoff.

Welcome decision on both the sides

  • The distinct statements by India and China that the Doklam military stand-off has ended are a welcome sign that diplomacy has prevailed over the harsh rhetoric of the past 10 weeks.
  • The measured tone of the statement from New Delhi, referring to the “expeditious disengagement of border personnel” shows the government’s policy of pursuing diplomatic measures in the face of China’s angry rhetoric was wise.
  • In turn, China’s statement, which said that Indian troops had withdrawn from the disputed Doklam plateau while Chinese troops continue to patrol the area, gives Beijing the leeway it requires to end the stand-off peacefully.
  • The differing versions and the lack of further information leave several questions unanswered about the terms of the disengagement.
  • But the very fact that both countries have been able to issue statements even if they were designed to satisfy their domestic audiences suggests that in diplomatic negotiations, each took into account the other’s constraints.
  • In issuing statements that were inconsistent with each other, both sides seem to have agreed to disagree.
  • To that end, the importance lies less in the detail but in the détente itself, in the decision by the leaderships of both countries to pull back from what some feared could escalate into a full-blown conflict.
  • In this, it must be noted that New Delhi and Beijing have respected the wishes of the Bhutanese government, which wanted an early end to the crisis before the bitter winter set in.

Way ahead

  • The decision on Doklam, which comes a week before Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to go to China, will guide the bilateral spirit beyond the September 3-5 BRICS summit to be held in Xiamen.
  • Diplomats must begin the heavy lifting required to repair the rift in ties over the past few months, beginning with the cancellation of the Nathu La route for Kailash-Mansarovar pilgrims.
  • Statements from China during the stand-off indicate that it no longer recognizes the gains made in the Special Representative talks in 2012.
  • Nor does it regard the India-Bhutan-China tri-junction near Batang-La to have been settled.
  • India and China must revert to the spirit of the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement of 2013, which laid down specific guidelines on tackling future developments along the 3,488-km boundary the two countries share.
  • The past two and a half months are also a lesson that India cannot be unprepared for “another Doklam”, as Chief of the Army Staff Bipin Rawat.

GS-3

Science and Tech


Centre set to roll out new treatment for encephalitis: (The Hindu)

Context

  • The Centre is looking to introduce a new drug, conventionally used for acne, to deal with the seasonal outbreaks of acute encephalitis.

Reason of the research

  • The research is conducted weeks after several children died of encephalitis-related complications at the Baba Raghav Das (BRD) Medical College, Gorakhpur.
  • Last year the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said the drug did not appear potent enough to merit being immediately rolled out as a standard treatment for treating patients afflicted with the Japanese encephalitis (JE) virus.

History of research to cure JE

  • In 2008, researchers at the National Brain Research Centre (NBRC), Manesar found that minocycline, an antibiotic typically used to treat severe acne surprisingly seemed to cure rats infected with the JE virus.
  • Independent teams of doctors and researchers between 2008 and 2013 have conducted trials on patients and have concluded, that minocycline worked well on patients with AES symptoms, who survived the first day of hospitalization.
  • According to the studies the drug did not measurably protect patients beyond three months.
  • The studies included a trial on 50 patients, time at the BRD Medical College, Gorakhpur itself on the use of minocycline, in specific cases of JE.
  • The researchers found that using the medicine reduced hospital stay but didn’t significantly improve overall mortality.

The failure of the research

  • The ICMR said last year that the trials showed that the number of patients who seemed to benefit wasn’t “statistically significant”.
  • A larger, more systematic trial at multiple locations was needed to establish the efficacy of the drug.

 

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