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GS-1

Social Issues

Law, faith, unreason: (The Hindu, Editorial)

Context:

  • The Karnataka Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices and Black Magic Bill, 2017 has been approved by the State Cabinet and is likely to be introduced soon in the Assembly.
  • The approval of the bill is definitely a step towards complete eradication of black magic and inhuman practices.

What are the objectives of the Karnataka Prevention and Eradication of Inhuman Evil Practices and Black Magic Bill, 2017?

  • It is not just an anti-superstition bill.
  • It seeks to prohibit actions that offend human dignity, result in the exploitation of gullible and vulnerable people or cause harm to them.
  • Organising macabre rituals, offering magical cures and threatening people, under peril of incurring divine or supernatural displeasure, are covered by this law.
  • It exempts established religious practices and the propagation of spiritual learning and arts, besides astrology and vaastu.

Superstition in the context of Indian Society:

Superstition is a kind of blind belief in supernatural powers which don’t have any scientific explanations behind that. Superstitions in India are a serious problem.

  • Superstitions in India are not a fresh introduction. It has been prevalent since decades. For example:
  • In different parts of the country people still believe that the cawing of a crow on the roof of a house is the sign of the arrival of guests.

What are the causes behind these superstitions?

  1. Illiteracy proves to be prime reason of superstition in India.
  • The illiterate people generally fall in the grip of superstitions. They can’t judge an incident from the scientific point of view.
  • In India, the literacy rate is just 70.44% (as per recent data), which is quite low in comparison to other developed countries.
  1. Again in our country, a lot of “godman” are found who make people superstitious in the name of religion.
  • By doing so they not only make people fool but also scatter the seed of superstitions in India for their own benefits.

What are the harmful consequences of these superstitions?

  1. In the modern era, widows in India still couldn’t get shelter and received harsh treatment. They are not allowed to attend auspicious functions.
  2. The phenomenon of “witch hunting”, which has claimed many innocent lives.
  3. These superstitions also lead to caste bias and discrimination, which leads to violation of Right to equality, freedom, religion and against exploitation.

What are the constitutional measures against superstitions?

  • The Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code criminalises “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs”.
  • The Article 51 A (h) of the Constitution of India, lists “to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform” as a fundamental duty for every Indian citizen.
  • The article 25 guarantees freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion.
  • The Article 21 guarantees protection of life and personal liberty. No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.

What are the other measures to be taken?

  1. The literacy rate needs to be improved as much as possible to remove superstitions in India.
  2. Government or non-government organization can take initiatives to educate people and teach them to think scientifically.
  3. Parents play an important part in removing all the fears and beliefs in superstitions through personal guidance and real life examples.
  4. The teaching community has to shoulder more responsibility, to modernise India so that the desirable change may occur through education.

GS-2


Government Policies

SC lifts veil on Collegium recommendations: (The Hindu)

Context

  • The Supreme Court Collegium headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra has resolved to go public with all its recommendations to the government on judicial appointments, transfers and elevations to the High Courts and Supreme Court.

What are the new state of affairs?

  • The recommendations will be uploaded on the Supreme Court’s official website.
  • The Collegium is also going to indicate the reasons for which it has decided to recommend or reject names for appointment, transfer or elevation to the High Courts and the Supreme Court.
  • The Supreme Court has already posted online detailed reasons for its October 3, 2017 recommendations for judicial appointments to the Madras HC and the Kerala HC.

What does indicating the reason mean?

  • This means every time the collegium forwards the names of candidates to the government for appointment as judges, it would automatically place the names and the reasons for the recommendation before the public.

Why such steps have been taken?

  • Stating the reason for recommendations will counter the allegations that was earlier put on the collegium.
  • The allegations were such that the collegium has, under political pressure, cleared the names of individuals who turned out to be inefficient and sometimes corrupt.
  • For instance, former judge K Chandru had questioned how retired Calcutta High Court judge CS Karnan –currently serving a six-month jail sentence for contempt of court had made it through the collegium’s appointment process.
  • The latest row over the transfer and subsequent resignation of Justice Jayant Patel of Karnataka High Court has become one of the reason to bring in the transparency.

What were the criticism over functioning of collegium?

  • The criticism had grown after the Supreme Court struck down the National Judicial Appointments Commission(NJAC) as unconstitutional in 2015.
  • The NJAC was proposed as a replacement for the collegium, which is made up of the chief justice of India and the top court’s four most senior judges.
  • In contrast, the Commission included the chief justice of India, the Supreme Court’s two most senior judges, the law minister, and two “eminent persons” – who would be nominated by the chief justice, the prime minister and the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha.
  • The idea behind it was to make appointments to the higher judiciary more transparent. The collegium’s decisions were a closely-guarded secret and beyond public scrutiny. They were also kept out of the purview of the Right to Information Act.

What will be the Centre’s role now?

  • Placing collegium resolutions in the public domain, pressure is likely to build on the Union government to make its side of the process transparent as well.
  • Though the collegium’s recommendations are usually accepted without objection, there have been instances of the Centre turning down names for reasons such as adverse intelligence inputs.

Section 66A once more: (Indian Express, Editorial)

Context

  • An expert committee appointed by the government has proposed legislation to meet the challenge of hate speech online, by amending the Code of Criminal Procedure, the Indian Penal Code and the IT Act.
  • The amendment can introduce stringent provisions, specifying punishment, to deal with cases of hate speech and use of cyberspace that spreads hatred and incitement.

What are the court’s observation?

  • The court has observed that the weakness of Section 66A lay in the fact that it had created an offence on the basis of undefined actions, which do not fall among the exceptions granted under Article 19 of the Constitution, which guarantees the freedom of speech.
  • The court also observed that the challenge was to identify where to draw the line.
  • Local authorities could proceed autonomously, literally on the whim of their political masters.
  • The court refused to distinguish between traditional media and the internet in this regard, which suggests that existing laws, if diligently applied, should suffice.
  • Unconstitutional control on free speech are bound to resurface in any legislation designed to fill the void vacated by Section 66A, which had affected the lives of far too many innocents. It was a legislative crime which should not come back.

What are the committee’s recommendations?

Prohibiting incitement to hatred

  • The committee has recommended to amend IPC section 153 C. It has recommended to include in communication “spoken or written words, signs, visible representation, information, audio, video, or combination of both, transmitted, retransmitted through any telecommunication service, communication device or computer resource”.
  • Punishment : Up to two years or fine of Rs 5,000 or both.

Causing fear, alarm or provocation of violence in certain cases

  • The committee recommended amending IPC section 505 A, punishment of any person or group of persons who intentionally, on grounds of religion, race, caste or community, gender, sexual orientation, place of birth, residence, language, disability or tribe, uses any means of communication to communicate.
  • Punishment : Up to a year, or Rs 5000 or both.

Amendment to Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973

  • The committee recommended to add sections 25 B and 25 C — creating the post of a State Cyber Crime Coordinator and District Cyber Crime Cell, respectively.

Amendment to IT Act, 2000

  • The committee has recommended an amendment to Section 78 which allows a police officer not below the rank of Sub-Inspector to investigate any offence under this Act (report specifies young police officers, directly recruited as SIs, better equipped and trained to investigate cyber offences)

How was the committee formed?

  • The committee came into existence once Section 66A was struck down by the Supreme court.

What were the issues with Section 66A?

  • Section 66A was brought into the statute by the UPA-II in 2009.
  • Section 66A had empowered the police to make arrests over what the policemen, in terms of their subjective discretion, could construe as “offensive” or “menacing” or for the purposes of causing annoyance, inconvenience, etc.
  • It prescribed the punishment for sending messages through computer or any other communication device like a mobile phone or a tablet, and a conviction could fetch a maximum of three years in jail.
  • The law was amended in 2008 and received Presidential assent on February 5, 2009.

Striking down of 66A

  • Section 66A of the Information Technology Act was considered unconstitutional in its entirety.
  • The Supreme Court took down a “draconian” provision that had led to the arrests of many people for posting content deemed to be “allegedly objectionable” on the Internet.
  • In the judgment, the court said the liberty of thought and expression was a cardinal value of paramount significance under the Constitution.

GS-3


Indian Economy

GST Council gives relief to exporters, small businesses: (The Hindu)

Context

Recently  the GST Council announced a slew of decisions to reduce compliance burden for exporters and small businesses.

GST Council

  • The GST bill set up a GST Council.
  • The GST Council aims to develop a harmonized national market of goods and services

According the GST Bill, the President must constitute a GST Council within sixty days of this Act coming into force. The composition of the GST Council includes:

  • The Union Finance Minister (as Chairman),
  • The Union Minister of State in charge of Revenue or Finance, and
    The Minister in charge of Finance or Taxation or any other Minister, nominated by each state government.
  • The decisions of the GST Council will be made by three-fourth majority of the votes cast. The centre shall have one-third of the votes cast, and the states together shall have two-third of the votes cast.

The GST Council will make recommendations on:

  • taxes, cesses, and surcharges to be subsumed under the GST;
  • goods and services which may be subject to, or exempt from GST;
  • the threshold limit of turnover for application of GST;
  • rates of GST;
  • model GST laws, principles of levy, apportionment of IGST and principles related to place of supply;
  • special provisions with respect to the eight north eastern states, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, and Uttarakhand; and
    other related matters.
  • The GST Council may decide the system of resolving disputes arising out of its recommendations. The GST Council will also decide when the GST would be levied on petroleum crude, natural gas, high speed diesel, aviation turbine fuel and motor spirit (petrol).

Problem faced by exporter

  • The credit blockage felt by exporter was causing a liquidity problem.

Relief to exporter

  • each exporter will get an e-wallet in which a nominal sum will be deposited for tax credit purposes, which will be offset against the credit refund when it happens.
  • A small GST levy of  0.1% on export till March 31, 2018.
  • Exporter will get tax refund of july by october 10 of july and by october 18 for august.

Relief for SME sectors

  • Business with turnover of upto 1.5 crore allowed to file quarterly refund instead of monthly.
  • Compliance burden of medium and small taxpayer under GST being cut.

The GST Council also reduced the tax rates on 27 items.

These include sliced dried mangos, khakhra and plain chappatis, unbranded ayurvedic medicines, plastic, rubber and paper waste, yarn, diesel engine parts, pump parts, e-waste and several services.

Centre proposes three-year licence for contractors: (The Hindu)

Context

  • The government has proposed an overhaul in the contract labour law which includes a three-year licence for contractors to work across the country instead of a separate one for new work orders.

What was the main concern?

  • The Contract Labor (Regulation and abolition) Act of 1970 provided that engaging contract workers was mainly for temporary, seasonal work but not for work of a perennial nature.
  • Since temporary worker were becoming less productive, more expensive, hard to put to immediate work and legally challenging to lay off in the face of falling demand, the employers found this feature of the Act very restrictive.

What are the amendments proposed?

  • Contractors will no longer require a licence for undertaking each individual project.
  • The contractors can obtain a one-time licence valid for three years to work anywhere in the country from the Central Government. The contractor will have to, however, clearly define a particular area of work.
  • If the contractor wants to work in a single State for up to three years, the authorization needs to be obtained from the State Government.
  • The contractor will have to inform the government whenever it receives a work order from a company, failing which the licence may be cancelled.
  • The proposal makes a distinction between contractors who provide services and those who provide human resources. Contractors who provide human resources will no longer be responsible for providing canteen and restroom facilities to the workers, it will be the responsibility of the principal employer.
  • If a work order is given to a contractor who has hired employees on payroll, then the workers will not be treated as contract workers under the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act.
  • There is also a proposal to make wage payment “primarily” through electronic mode instead of cash payment.

First, fix the banks: (Indian Express, Editorial)

Context:

From a peak of 9.2 per cent in January-March 2016,  India’ GDP growth has fallen every successive quarter.

Introduction:

  • India’s Gross Domestic Product or GDP growth rate has slumped down to 6.1 per cent in the January-March period, lowest in more than two years.
  • The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) revised its growth projection to 6.7 per cent for the current fiscal, from 7.3 per cent earlier, due to lower kharif foodgrain production and disruptions arising from the implementations of GST.
  • This alongwith the stressed assets in banks and their decreased lending ability, has made it hard for the economy to recover with Private sector being the worst hit.

Which sectors are hit?

1-       Manufacturing sector:

  • The manufacturing sector, led the growth tumble, expanding by just 1.2% in.
  • This was the worst quarter for Indian manufacturing sector.
  • Overall industrial output also collapsed to 1.6% growth from 7.4% a year ago and 3.1% in the previous quarter.

2-       Construction sector:

  • The construction sector that has been the bulwark of job creation grew by just 2%(in GVA terms) as it grapples with the headwinds of a new regulatory regime(RERA).

3-       Service sector:

  • The service sector offered some stability, growing at 8.7% compared with 9% in the same quarter last year, but a deeper look suggests this was driven by a rise in trade-related GVA to 11.1%.
  • Agriculture GVA dipped from 2.5% in the first quarter of last year to 2.3%, though crop output increased healthily, such as animal husbandry, have dragged down the sector’s overall growth.

Why growth has fallen?

A number of factors could be responsible for this:

  • Increased NPA’s in banks- With the banking sector finding it hard to recover from the crisis, the investment is finding it hard to recover. Massive tightening of working capital has affected the bulk of entrepreneurs across the country, especially public sector banks (PSBs). These entities, comprises 21 “nationalized banks” and six of the State Bank of India group, account for almost 70 per cent of the assets and liabilities of the system-split 48 per cent among the former and 22 per cent in the latter. Non-performing loan assets (NPAs). According to the RBI’s Statistical Tables Rating to Banks in India 2015-16, NPAs were 3 per cent of gross advances of all banks in India in 2013. By 2016, NPAs had grown to 9.3 per cent. The financing squeeze had played a big role in decelerating growth
  •  After the global financial crisis of 2008, large corporations conceived major projects proposals in capital-intensive sectors such as power, ports, airports, housing and highway construction. Banks were only too keen to lend, often without sufficient evaluation of risks and returns.
  •  Merchandise exports:  One of the major reasons for the current deficit is the greater increase in merchandise imports than export.    
  • Increase import of Gold: Imports increased because of a rise in demand for gold (almost threefold) due to the upcoming festive season and tweaks in trade pacts with countries such as South Korea.
  •  ServicesFall in exports of Services due to domestic industry issues and increased protectionism worldwide.
  • Agricultural vows :Shortage of agricultural goods and lower farm growth due to erratic monsoons, decreased government spending, hoarding, black marketing, inefficient procurement etc.
  • Demonetisation: The effects of demonetisation such as reduced purchasing power, supply side inflation with decreased procurement of raw material, increased transportation costs, delayed payments, etc. Here, the effects on the real estate and construction sector have been specifically marked.
  • Introduction of GST: The consequences of new tax regime such as uncertainty, delayed payments, increase in prices of commodities, increased vows of informal sector, etc.
  • Delayed reforms:  In the long term, Delayed reforms such as Labour reforms (with no exit policy in India) and liberalisation discourage foreign investors to set up firms in India.

How have the PSBs behaved in such circumstances?

  • With large losses on account of heavy provisioning and bad loans eroding their balance sheets, they have curtailed loans and advances.
  • From a growth of around 15 per cent four years ago, PSB advances grew by just 3 per cent in 2015-16.

What are the solutions?

  • Recapitalising  the Public sector banks so that these can get back to lending. With the solutions such as a’Bad Bank’ or the Public asset rehabilitation agency.
  • Suspend the fiscal road map for a limited period in order to pump prime the economy through increased capital spending by the government.
  • Government Policies should focus on country’s development and people should give ideas for better governance.
  • Niti Aayog Vice Chairman said transformational ideas are the need of the hour to boost economy.
  • There is a need to modernise agricultural sector to increase productivity and income of farmers.

Conclusion:

Recapitalising  the Public sector banks so that these can get back to lending. It will raise their enterprise value, which can then be leveraged through selective divestment. The RBIs has also taken steps to clean up bad loans. This is a welcome step to improve the health of the banking sector, especially public sector banks.

‘Hypertension high in Kerala, low in Bihar’:

Context

  • A study ‘Diet and Nutritional Status of Urban Population in India and Prevalence of Obesity, Hypertension, Diabetes and Hyperlipidaemia in Urban Men and Women’ carried out by the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau during 2015-16, by researchers from the National Institute of Nutrition, has brought to the notice that prevalence rates for non-communicable diseases (NCD) as well as stunting, under-nutrition and obesity in children under 5 years in the 16 States surveyed.

Reason for prevalence of Non Communicable Diseases NCD):

The increase in incidence of NCDs can be attributed to a

  • Change in food habits,
  • Increased consumption of Alcohol
  • Increased incidence of youth resorting to drugs, alcoholism,smoking
  • Stressful lifestyle with long working hours
  • Lower standards of food safety
  • Increasing population and congestion on roads and public places.
  • Sedentary behaviour and unhealthy lifestyles.
  • Degradation of environment, loss of biodiversity,
  • High levels of pollution

What are the findings of the Survey:

  • Kerala has the highest prevalence of hypertension as well as high cholesterol in urban men and women.
  • Puducherry tops the list of States with the highest prevalence of diabetes.
  • Highest prevalence of hypertension was found to be in Kerala (31.4% women and 38.6% men) and lowest in Bihar (22.2% men and 15.7% women).
  • Puducherry had the highest number of diabetic men and women (42%), followed by Delhi (36%), Karnataka and Kerala (33% each). Diabetics were the highest in the age group of 60-70 and lowest in the age group of 18-30.
  • Tamil Nadu was close behind with 54% men and 38% women recorded as obese.
  • Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh recorded high levels of obesity among its urban men and women.
  • While U.P. had the highest (43.6%) proportion of underweight children followed by Madhya Pradesh (32.3%), Puducherry had the lowest (14.2%).
  • Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala were among the top six States which had the most tobacco smokers among urban men.

Conclusion:

The research conducted by National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau during 2015-16 suggests that the lifestyle pattern is one of the most important factor for prevalence of hypertension, obesity, stunting, undernutrition etc.

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