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Social Issues

Will Swachh Bharat Abhiyan be a success?: (The Hindu, Editorial)

Context

To achieve the mission of a clean India , there is a need to break the link between caste and occupation.

Link between caste and occupation : Manual scavenging

  • In India, there is an inexorable link between occupation and caste; the occupation of manual scavenging is linked with caste.
  • We have to break the link between caste and occupation before we set out to achieve Swachh Bharat.
  • We have made certain communities from particular castes clean the country.
  • Without breaking the chain, those who make Bharat swachh will never be a part of the campaign.
  • We need to come out openly and say that caste is the root cause of the problem we wishe to annihilate.
  • Constitution has declared the abolition of untouchability in Article 17, it is still practised by perpetuating occupations such as scavenging.
  • In the Indian context, manual scavenging is a misery, drudgery, so one cannot worship it.
  • One has to begin by recasting society and its target, reconstructing society first by breaking the links between occupation castes.

What are the challenges?

  • People are not using toilets because they neither have access nor the capacity to use one. We cannot organise campaigns to shame them.
  • If the priority is poor, let them choose what they want. The Constitution says the state cannot interfere in people’s lives.
  • But by appointing whistle-blowers who shame those who do not use toilets, the state is terrorising people.
  • Then, let us come to the toilets being constructed. Each toilet requires a septic tank. Instead of modernising the sewer lines and septic tanks and investing money and energy on smart techniques of sanitation, we are adding more problems to the existing problem.
  • People who have given up their lives in keeping Bharat clean, we have not spoken about their Right to Life.
  • The sewers are being cleaned by those very people shamed in the campaign.
  • Every month, there is news about people dying in manholes after being ordered to clean them. This needs to be addressed.

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VVPAT to be used in Gujarat polls: (The Hindu)

Context:

  • Use of Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT)

What is the news?

  • The Election Commission of India will use Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) gadgets with Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) in upcoming Assembly polls in Gujarat.

Why is it important?

  • This is the first time an entire assembly poll will be conducted using EVMs equipped with VVPAT
  • VVPAT machines will allow voters to verify if their vote has gone to the intended candidate
  • This would ensure transparency in the voting process
  • The machine is being put to use in Gujarat following a petition

Hope in Darjeeling: (The Hindu)

Context:

almost 100 days after a near- total shutdown in Darjeeling hills demanding a separate state of Gorkhaland, Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) president Bimal Gurung on Tuesday announced withdrawal of the bandh.

Introduction:

  • The development came hours after Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh made a fresh appeal to Mr. Gurung to withdraw the ongoing bandh.

GJM’s demand:

  • The GJM has been demanding that a tripartite dialogue involving the Centre, State and the GJM be started for the strike to be lifted.
  • While there was no direct assurance of tripartite talks by the Centre, the proposal of an official-level meeting was enough for the GJM.

Background:

  • The present agitation was sparked by grievances over the Ms Mamata Banerjee’s initial statement about Bengali being made a compulsory language of study in the State.
  • A section of the GJM, led by Binay Tamang, had shown an inclination to negotiate with the State government.
  • Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had, a week ago, named Mr. Tamang the chairperson of a new board of administrators to head the now-defunct Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, which had been set up in 2012 as a semi-autonomous body with substantive powers.
  • In the past three months, the hills also witnessed several incidents of violence as clashes broke out between Gorkhaland supporters and police.

A modern police: (Indian Express, Editorial

Context

  • Government spending money on police infrastructure is only the first step.

Modernisation  of police infrastructure : Statistics

  • The government has finally put numbers to the speeding up the modernisation of India’s creaking police infrastructure.
  • The cash on the table is substantial: Rs 25,000 crore over three years, of which over Rs 18,000 crore will come from the Union government.
  • Police in Jammu and Kashmir, the Northeast and states fighting Maoists will receive the largest share of the money, Rs 10,132 crore, to meet their needs for everything from modern weapons to hiring helicopters.
  • For police forces across the country, hard-hit by funding cuts, this is good news.

What is the background?

  • In the wake of the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, the Union government had significantly enhanced support for police modernisation.
  • In 2015, though, the government terminated financial support for creating physical infrastructure, like police stations, housing, forensic labs, and training institutions.
  • The idea was that state governments would pick up the slack.
  • In practice, police budgets in most states have been under severe stress, with police left unable in some cases to even meet routine expenditure, like purchasing new vehicles or meeting fuel bills.

Problems with police modernisation earlier

  • Hard questions need to be asked about how this cash will be spent and whether it alone will be enough to give Indian citizens better policing.
  • For one, the post-26/11 police modernisation effort suffered from poor conception and execution.
  • Police stations on the coast have rotted away; expensive boats no longer work; guns purchased for commando units turned out to be impracticable.
  • While physical infrastructure improved, its use didn’t: New forensic labs were built, for example, but police on ground remained unskilled in modern investigation techniques.
  • For years, experts backed by the Supreme Court, have been calling for new legislation to insulate the police from political interference.
  • Though many states have passed new police legislation, few have respected the Supreme Court’s injunction to ensure these laws give functional autonomy to the top police leadership.
  • In the absence of autonomy, there can be no accountability and the consequences of a lack of accountability have been demonstrated across the country, in everything from the collapse of police during Haryana’s Jat agitation, to botched prosecutions.

Conclusion

Police modernisation isn’t just about guns or buildings. The successes of the new police modernisation scheme will have to be judged not by the cash it delivers, but how far the government is able to use this financial leverage to actually deliver better policing to citizens.

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Infrastructure

Centre to review flexi-fares on select trains: (The Hindu)

Context

The Union government will review the flexi-fare system introduced in premium trains last year.

Reviewing flexi-fare system system

  • The Railways were also planning to reset its timetable by reducing the travel time for 600-700 trains through rescheduling and increasing speed.
  • Discussions were held to review flexi-fare system in a way that passengers do not face inconvenience and the Railways are able to meet its revenues.
  • The government is not considering any hike in the rail fares at present.

What is the background?

  • The Railways introduced the flexi-fare scheme in September last year in Rajdhani, Duronto and Shatabdi trains.
  • Under it, 10% of the seats were sold at normal fare.
  • The fare was increased thereafter by 10% for every 10% of the berths sold.
  • The highest fare was 50% more than the normal price of the ticket.
  • The Railways had delayed the release of its timetable by a month to redraft it focussing on speed and efficiency.

What are the other priorities?

  • The Railways are also in discussions with the Indian Space Research Organisation to use GPS technology to monitor trains for punctuality.
  • The preliminary assessment is that travel time will be reduced on 600-700 trains when we increase train speed and rewrite the timetable via organisation research keeping in mind efficiency and better utilisation of rail assets.
  • The timetable would also be realigned keeping railway safety in mind so that stoppage of traffic for maintenance work gets priority.

What is the Importance of the move?

This move holds importance in the light of derailment of the Utkal Express near the Khatauli railway station in Uttar Pradesh that killed at least 21 people and injured many more people.

  • The preliminary investigation had found that the Khatauli station officials did not allow stoppage of traffic for repairs and the maintenance team started working on the track without due permission.

FM urges CPSEs to spend ‘aggressively’: (The Hindu)

Context

  • Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday asked central public sector enterprises (CPSEs) to aggressively push capital expenditure and warned against any laziness as the government looks to boost growth through increased public spending.

What were the demands?

  • The minister asked CPSEs to give “liberal dividends” to the government so that the money could be used for funding physical-social infrastructure.
  • CPSEs were asked to raise more debt and not to rely entirely on cash and free reserves for finding new investments and capital expenditure.
  • The CPSEs were asked to consider declaring liberal dividends so as to promote more productive use of such resources for financing much needed physical and social infrastructure.
  • The CPSEs were also asked to release due payments expeditiously to help improve the liquidity in the market, besides raising more resources through innovative financing arrangements like InvITs, and monetization of assets.
  • Since private investment is low, public spending along with investment from CPSEs is expected to drive economic activities and help perk up growth.
  • Finance Minister stressed that the CPSEs may not only have to complete their budgeted capital expenditure but should also look to aggressively push capital expenditure in the interest of boosting investment in Indian economy.
  • He indicated that the capital expenditure programme would again be reviewed at the end of November/early December and added that in the discussions for raising capital investments, it also came to attention that most public sector undertakings have very low or no debt on their balance sheet which is reflected in their low debt to equity ratios.

Why did the meeting take place?

  • The meeting took place against the backdrop of restrained private investments and sagging growth, which slowed to a three-year low of 5.7% in the first quarter of the current fiscal.
  • Heads of major CPSEs in sectors like petroleum, defence, power, road transport, railways, coal, mines, steel and atomic energy have assured the government of raising capital expenditure by an additional Rs. 25,000 crore.

GST: small firms may get time to file returns: (The Hindu)

Context:

The union government is considering a proposal from the industry to allow small firms to file quarterly returns even as they pay taxes on a monthly basis under the Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime.

Problems small firms are facing today:

The small firms are facing following problems:

  • Small firms are facing problems  regarding complying with the GST norms due to their limitations in getting professional help, lack of connectivity and technological glitches.
  • Lack of IT infrastructure and a qualified manpower.

Demand of merchant exporters:

  • Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO) raised demands including seeking exemption for merchant exporters from GST.
  • Merchant exporters account for over 30% of country’s exports who usually work on razor thin margins of 2-4%.
  • The imposition of GST has made their costing go haywire, particularly for products having higher GST rate, as they have to pay GST and seek refund after some time lag.
  • They also wanted the Centre to expedite GST refunds to help them tide over the liquidity crunch.

Financial wherewithal

  • Most of the exporters, particularly from MSME category, hardly have financial wherewithal to pay GST liabilities for three months without having refund in the meantime.
  • For ease of doing business especially for the MSME, provisional input tax credit period may be extended to 6 months from the current 2 months’ period.

‘Banks may risk losing ₹3,800 cr. from cards’: (The Hindu)

Context

As per the new report, the Centre’s digital payments push, mainly card payments through Point of Sale (PoS) machines, may leave already capital starved banks bleeding by Rs. 3,800 crore annually.

What is the cause?

Post November’s note-ban, the government has pushed banks into installing millions of PoS machines to encourage online payments.
This resulted in increase in debit plus credit cards transactions at PoS from Rs. 51,900 crore in October 2016 to Rs. 68,500 crore in July 2017.
The estimate was for OFF-US transactions, the aggregate annual loss for card transactions at PoS terminals is around Rs. 4,700 crore.
However, the net revenue gain per annum from ON-US transactions at PoS would be around Rs. 900 crore only.
Thus, the total annual loss to the industry is of around Rs. 3,800 crore.

Search for a highly potent anti-snake venom:

Context:

  • Research on venom of snakes

What is the news all about?

  • The Madras Crocodile Bank Trust (MCBT) is researching the venom of snakes from different Indian regions in order to create a highly potent Anti Snake Venom (ASV).

What is the importance of this project?

  • Besides mortality, snakebite survivors often have to live with severe morbidity, including tissue damage and necrosis, amputations, and kidney failure.
  • The aim of the ongoing research project is to determine the efficacy of the existing ASV against these venoms collected from various parts of the country
  • Four snake species cause the most number of snakebite deaths in India
  • A highly potent  Anti Snake Venom (ASV) is crucial for two reasons:
  1. It will offer better relief for snakebite victims
  2. It will reduce the quantity of ASV required for treatment

What are the challenges?

  • Producing ASV is a tedious process that involves injecting venom from four different species of snakes into horses.
  • One horse can produce up to 50 vials of ASV depending on the weight of the animal.
  • There is only one venom extraction centre in the country, in Tamil Nadu which functions under the aegis of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in Tamil Nadu
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