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GS 1 Social issues


Re-arming the law: (Indian Express, Editorial) Reframing country’s law Context:

  • There is the emerging need of the Center and the Parliament to pass a Bill to deal with acts of violence so that each and every State Government will have better concrete legal action.

Introduction:

  • Not all lynching is cow-protection related. Some acts are frankly little ethnic wars, some purely on the basis of cast attacks against the Dalits, some acts of dire violence on Muslims, and all are politically tolerated.

Where the fault lies? Law and order is, and must remain a state subject. But a constitutional power can never be a license for lawlessness.

  • First, the law may never take its course when the police refuse to file the FIR, despite the Supreme Court’s insistence that they ought to.
  • Second, delayed and faulty investigation, either due to workload or to covert or overt party pressures, may tend to defeat the proceedings.
  • Third, the lack of effective legal representation and the postures of out-of-court settlement.
  • Fourth, the endless judicial delays, and the total lack of political will to improve access to justice, betray a structural indifference to the sufferings thus caused.
  • Fifth, parliament response to specific proposals may be problematic: For example, the targeted violence bill, 2011, and the “honor” crimes bill as proposed by the National Women’s Commission.

Suggestion:

  • Lynching should now be recognized as integral to collective political violence.
  • The targeted violence bill was prepared after years of effort by human rights and social activists, and vetted by legislative officials.
  • In the wake of new violence, it now needs to be owned by all, including political parties who ought to pass it in the current session of Parliament.
  • The law should never be deployed as a programme of political revenge but always regarded as an instrument for social justice and orderly change.

GS 2 Government policies


Half of HIV-infected get treatment now: Access to HIV treatment on the block Context

  • The latest UNAIDS report, released on Thursday, reveals that more than half of all People Living with HIV (PLHIV) now have access to HIV treatment.

Sign of relief for patients

  • The 2015 target of 15 million people on treatment have been met.
  • The next thing on table is to double that number to 30 million and meet the 2020 target.
  • As of last year, 19.5 million of the 36.7 million HIV+ patients had access to treatment.
  • Deaths caused by AIDS have fallen from 1.9 million in 2005 to 1 million in 2016.

Bad news

  • The bad news is that the majority of the cases nearly 95 per cent of the cases in 2016 were concentrated in just 10 countries, India being one of them.
  • India has 2.1 million people living with HIV, with 80,000 new infections annually, as of 2016. In 2005, the annual incidence was 1,50,000 people.
  • India is the country where newest HIV infections are occurring in the Asia-Pacific region.
  • While the world seems to be on track to reach the global target of 30 million people on treatment by 2020, access to medicines remains a major barrier and India plays a special role.

The Score Card

  • Actions focused on the junctures between intellectual property rights, innovation, and public health are important for resolving market failures in medicine development and manufacture, unmet needs for research and development, and pricing.
  • The report, Ending AIDS: Progress towards the 90–90–90 target, is the annual scorecard for progress.
  • The idea behind the 90-90-90 target is to diagnose 90% of people who are HIV positive; get 90% of the diagnosed HIV+ people on antiretroviral treatment, and 90% of those on antiretroviral should be virally suppressed.
  • This is attained when an HIV+ patient’s viral load reaches an undetectable level, curbing transmission.

‘Why is sharing data with state a problem?’: The issue of Government controlling citizen’s information Context

  • Justice D.Y. Chandrachud of the Supreme Court pinpointed that if 99% of citizens are ‘unconcerned’ about sharing personal data with private players, how is it qualitatively different if the state has the same information.

The issue of sharing personal information Private vs Government

  • The judge commented that there are 35 crore Internet users and 18 crore telephone users, but 99% of people are not concerned.
  • Even operating an iPad with one’s thumbprint, the data gets public.
  • The option that one gets on site if one is travelling using an app or site, all these information gets shared to private companies, so why not government.
  • The questions from the Bench came on the second day of the hearing on the reference whether right to privacy is an inviolable fundamental right under the Constitution.

Has SC already given tacit approval for Aadhar?: (Indian Express, Editorial) SC to take a call on Adhaar Context:

  • The batch of matters challenging the Aadhar Scheme has been pending for years with no fruitful result.
  • In regard to the issue of right to privacy, it may be illusory but it is mandatory on the court to determine whether the illusion is necessary in order to lead a life of freedom and dignity.

Issue with Right to Privacy:

  • The issue of whether the right to privacy is a fundamental right or not under the Constitution is being heard by a nine-judge bench.
  • In its judgment on August 11, 2015, the three-judge bench of the Supreme Court had clearly told the Centre as well as the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) that the Aadhar card could not be a mandatory requirement for obtaining any benefit due to a citizen.
  • Assuming the Supreme Court decides the right to privacy is a fundamental right, it will be crucial for the Court to also decide whether it should, and can be, applied “horizontally”.
  • Horizontal application would mean that even the actions of private actors are tested on its cornerstone.
  • Over the years, courts have expanded the number of institutions within the definition of “State,” thereby allowing fundamental rights to be asserted horizontally.
  • The impact of the decision on private players, such as companies like Google and social media platforms, may also be significant.
  • If privacy is a fundamental right, it can be claimed and asserted against the State by citizens.

Current news:

  • The nine-judge Bench observed on July 20, 2017, that a significant amount of personal data has already been given by individuals to private players, and may be on the Internet or the “dark web”.
  • While there is some amount of regulation under the Information Technology Act and restrictions on the use of “sensitive personal information,” India has yet to adopt a comprehensive Data Protection Code as has been done by the UK and European Union

Suggestion:

  • The Supreme Court should urge the State to enact such legislation or fill the gap by detailing guidelines for data protection until such legislation is enacted.
  • The Supreme Court could outlaw the entire Aadhar scheme and declare the Aadhar Act unconstitutional.
  • The consequence of that would be far-reaching and politically radical – especially as Rs 9029.6 crores has already been spent and Aadhar is being widely used as proof of identity
  • What the decision cannot do is retrospectively prevent the proliferation of Aadhar or monitor the manner in which it was promoted.

India and neighbors GS 3


Indian Economy. Planning, Growth and Employment ‘GSTN, CBDT to share data’: Data exchange, analytics can help stop tax evasion Context: The Goods and Services Tax Network and the Central Board of Direct Taxes will soon join hands to share data to stop tax evasion, GST Network Chairman Navin Kumar said Key points:

  • Vendors from whom small businessmen buy products or services are too small to be in GST, but for businesses to get input tax credits, the vendors must be registered.
  • The GST Network is going to be such a vast repository of corporate tax data.
  • Before GST even started, in Maharashtra, the State government obtained income tax and matched it with their VAT data and discovered a tax evasion of the order of Rs 300 crore in a month.
  • Provisional IDs were created for all 86 lakh who were earlier registered on other tax networks. Of the 70.5 lakh who have migrated, 41 lakh of the people who have activated their accounts have completed their applications also.
  • About 35,000-40,000 new people are registering every day.

The Central Board of Direct Taxes in India:

  • Direct taxation in India is overseen by the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT). The CBDT is a part of the Department of Revenue in the Ministry of Finance and is responsible for the administration of the direct tax laws. It also provides inputs and suggestions for policy and planning of the direct taxes in India.

‘Cement prices may rebound with supply-demand boost’: Demonetisation impact wearing off since Q1 of FY 18: ICRA Context: Rating agency ICRA on Thursday said that it expected cement demand growth to recover to about 5% during 2017-18 as against a decline of 1.2% in 2016-17, driven by a pick-up in the infrastructure segment, mostly road and irrigation projects and the housing segment. Introduction: Cement prices recovered from February 2017 and reached pre-demonetisation levels in most markets by April 2017. Key points:

  • While improvement in the supply-demand scenario in FY 18 is expected to support the cement prices going forward, sustenance of the same is critical, given the rising costs.
  • While in the short term, demonetization has had a negative impact on real estate and construction activities and hence on the cement off-take, the impact has started to subside from Q1 FY 18, driven by a pick-up in the infrastructure segment.
  • The increased budgetary allocation for the infrastructure sector, which includes roads, railways, metro, irrigation and housing, during FY 18 will directly and indirectly support cement demand.
  • Higher rural credit and increased allocation for rural, agricultural and allied sectors, including the demand for rural housing, are significant contributors to the overall cement demand mix.

Drop in production:

  • All-India cement production dwindled by 1.2% YoY to 279.8 million MT in FY 17 for the first-time over the last decade.
  • Cement volumes declined between November 2016 and March 2017 by 9% when compared to the corresponding previous, following demonetization.
  • Cement volume growth has witnessed recovery since March 2017 and reported a growth of 17.5% on MoM basis to 25.2 million MT. Prices too have seen improvement across markets, especially since April 2017.

Taxing Body Parts: (Indian Express, Editorial) Cropping pattern, Agriculture, e-technology Tax on survival necessity Context:

  • GST on aids, appliances for disabled directs to the government’s misplaced priorities.

The Paradox:

  • Items of luxury, whose deprivation causes no challenge to human existence, are being prioritized instead of aids and appliances that are essential items for persons with disabilities for their daily routine
  • Crutches, calipers, hearing aids, walking frame and all replacements, albeit artificial, for body parts along with a host of other aids and appliances which the disabled use would attract a GST of 5 per cent.
  • In comparison, items used to embellish your body, will attract less and in some cases, no GST. So, while kajal, kumkum, bindi, bangles and even human hair are not taxed at all.

The required clarification on:

  • First, items like Braille printer, refreshable Braille display and Braille note-taker, talking watches and clocks, audio labelling devices, DAISY players etc are entirely imported items and did not attract any taxes earlier. There are no domestic manufacturers of these products.
  • Second, raw materials like aluminium extrusions, square tubes and round tubes of aluminium used in the manufacture of artificial limbs and many rehabilitation aids were exempt from the earlier tax regime.
  • Third, it needs to be underlined that input tax credit is, in any case, merely a by-product of the tax channels’ unification.
  • Fourth, what the clarification does not mention is that there is a lower slab of 0.25 per cent for items like unpolished stones.

A new (agri)culture: (Indian Express, Editorial) (Agrarian crisis: the challenge of a small farmer economy) Context: The situation of the farmers was never very good to begin with, but has been steadily declining and has reached its nadir right now Introduction:

  • In any food crisis, it is the top of the food chain that suffers the most.
  • In the case of farmer’s distress, the top of food chain is the end consumer.

  • In India, 50 per cent of the people are still dependent, directly or indirectly, on farming. We cannot ignore their plight anymore.

Key point:

  • In the last 20 years, according to the government’s statistics, more than three lakh farmers have committed suicide in India.
  • The roots of this crisis lie in the Green Revolution and the policies adopted therein.
  • The situation has also been exacerbated by the government’s apathy towards the poor in general and towards farmers and rural folk in particular.
  • The Green Revolution led agriculture towards chemical fertilisers, pesticides, irrigation through large dams and massive irrigation projects.
  • This did lead to higher yields initially and, therefore, that period became known as the Green Revolution with most of the gains coming from the introduction of hybrid variety seeds.\
  • The chemical fertilisers and hybrid seeds came the problems of resistance in pests and that led to the wider use of pesticides and also of higher potency.
  • This infused poison in the food — especially for farmers, who also inhale the pesticides and, therefore, the higher incidence of cancer and other diseases — it also led to higher input costs and thereafter a gradual decline in productivity because of soil depletion.
  • The chemical fertilisers added only a few chemicals like nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus to the soil without replenishing it with micro-nutrients and the pesticides kill even the soil bacteria.
  • Canals and canal irrigation also led to water-logging and a substantial part of the land became wasteland. In areas which were not irrigated by canals, there was a rise in the unregulated and unsustainable usage of tubewells to mine groundwater, leading its levels to fall rapidly.
  • The Bhakra Dam was famously called one of the “temples of modern India” by Jawaharlal Nehru and has often been regarded as a boon to agriculture.
  • Many large irrigation projects were thereafter taken up on similar lines, the most famous being the Sardar Sarovar project in Gujarat, which has been called the lifeline of the state by successive chief ministers.
  • That project has taken up more than 90 per cent of Gujarat’s irrigation budget for the last 50 years and today irrigates less than 2 lakh hectares of agricultural land which is roughly 10 per cent of what was promised.

Problems:

  • Droughts and floods — problems that are compounded by climate change.
  • The government has fixed minimum support prices (MSP) for just wheat and rice, not for other crops and the MSP so fixed is just about adequate for farmers to meet their costs without giving even minimum wages for their own labour.
  • The Swaminathan Commission had gone into this issue of MSP and had recommended that it should be extended to all crops and should be at least 50 per cent above the average cost price of farmers in each state.
  • Payments for the loss of crops during droughts and floods have not been made despite loan waivers and the ever-greening of loans to big industrialists, who have defaulted on payments to the tune of thousands of crores, by banks.

Solutions:

  • Need to change the whole agriculture policy and move it towards organic farming, irrigation by rain-water harvesting and micro-water irrigation, shifting from chemical to organic fertilisers, which will also use less pesticide.
  • It may be noted that contrary to popular belief, the government’s data shows that the productivity from organically farmed lands is no less than those farmed with chemicals and pesticides.
  • The Swaminathan Committee’s recommendations must be implemented which will require a considerable amount of money.

Prelims Related News Major solar flare detected in dwarf star close to sun


(New Solar Flares in Proxima Centauri) Context:

  • AstroSat, along with other space and earth-based observatories, has detected a powerful solar flare sent out by the Sun’s closest star neighbour, Proxima Centauri.

The Concern:

  • The flare is recorded to be at energy of 10-raised-to-30 ergs, this explosion is about 100 times a typical flare.
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