What has happened?
The Union Cabinet’s decision recently to not only continue with the Rashtriya UchchatarShiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) — ‘a Centrally sponsored scheme launched in 2013 to provide strategic funding to eligible State higher educational institutions’ — but also give it due importance augurs well for the system of higher education in India. That the government is backing the scheme speaks volumes about the robustness and relevance of the scheme.
The Problem: No funding for State Institutions
- About 150 Centrally-funded institutions (less than 6% of students study in them) get almost the entire funding by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD).
- To make things worse, investment by State governments has been also dwindling each year as higher education is a low-priority area.
RUSA to the rescue
The scheme is largely based on the conditional release of funds linked to reforms in the key areas of governance, learning-teaching outcomes, reaching out to the unreached and infrastructure support
- Process driven scheme: RUSA is a process-driven scheme and Its design and conceptualisation were finalised through extensive consultations with all key stakeholders, especially State governments
- Preparatory grants : They were released to States to have the required systems, processes, and the technical support in place
- Extensive stakeholder consultations: All the State Higher Education Perspective Plans for five/10 years have been prepared after extensive stakeholder consultations
- Performance linked funding: Since funding is conditional to performance, it is critical to have a robust monitoring and evaluation system in place.
- Tools to monitor performance
- Geo-tagging, introduction of a public financial management system, a fund tracker and reform tracker system and regular video conferences have proved effective tools, since 2015
Governance Reform under RUSA
Governance reform is central to the scheme
Creation of SHECs: State Higher Education Councils (SHECs) which have eminent academics, industrialists and other experts have been created, playing a major role, from an academic and professional point of view, in the formulation of medium- and long-term State perspective plans.
State’s recommendation in selection of Vice-Chancellors: In order to avoid arbitrariness, a State, for example, has to also give its commitment to creating a search-cum-select committee in the selection of vice-chancellors
Reforming Affiliation system: Reduction in the number of colleges affiliated per university by creating cluster universities and promoting autonomous colleges
Lifting ban on recruitments: An important precondition is the filling up of faculty positions and lifting the ban on recruitment (as in some States).
Reform in learning-teaching outcomes
- To improve learning-teaching outcomes, there is an effort towards improving pedagogy by capacity-building of faculty, selecting teachers in a transparent manner, adopting accreditation as a mandatory quality-assurance framework, implementing a semester system, and involving academics of repute and distinction in decision-making processes.
An independent performance review (of four years) of the scheme was done by IIT Bombay in 2017
Findings of the performance review
It concluded that the funding linked to reforms has had a visible impact on higher education.
- GER improved
- Before: When RUSA began, the gross enrolment ratio (GER) was 19.4%, faculty vacancies were at a high level of 60%, and a large number of universities were bloated with a teacher-student ratio of 1:24
- Now: GER is 25.2%, faculty vacancies are down to 35%, the ban on faculty recruitment by States has been lifted, and and the teacher-student ratio is now 1:20
- SHECs and governance reforms visible
Several universities in Karnataka, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have been right-sized, and critical governance reforms such as the formation of the SHEC and merit-based appointments of vice-chancellors in Odisha, Goa, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu are visible
- Improvement in accredited institutions
There has been an improvement in the number of institutions accredited and their scores. In 2012, 106 State universities and 4,684 colleges were accredited. By 2017, an additional 145 State universities and 5,445 Colleges were accredited.
Potential of RUSA
It has not only reprioritised the country’s needs, from funding just a few premier institutions to reaching out to institutions at the bottom of the pyramid, but has also changed the way regulators need to function
Letting go of government control is the key
The litmus test of RUSA will be in how impartially the scheme is administered by the MHRD and the degree to which State governments allow the SHEC to function. Letting go of the governmental stranglehold over universities is linked to this.
What has happened?
The district magistrate or police chief have to provide couples, who risk the wrath of khap panchayats, not only with logistics and protection at their wedding but also a “safe house” to stay during the first year of marriage.
Supreme Court issues guidelines for ensuring safety
- Timeframe: Guidelines to be implemented within 6 weeks
- Safe Houses:
- Nominal Charges: The safe house, located in the same district or elsewhere, can accommodate the couple for a nominal charge
- Location of Safe House: State governments have to establish safe houses in district headquarters.
- Under supervision of DM or SP: The safe houses would function under the direct supervision of the jurisdictional District Magistrate and Superintendent of Police.
- Couple must be capable adults: Before the district magistrate or the police chief take the couple under their official protection, they have to assess whether the “bachelor-bachelorette are capable adults.”
- Condemned khap panchayats strongly
- Women are treated by the khaps as servile persons who have no desire for autonomy Masculine dominance becomes the sole governing factor of perceptive honour
240 jails across the country are housing inmates 150% above their normal capacity.
What has happened?
Criminals sentenced to imprisonment for six months or a year should be allocated social service duties rather than be put in already overflowing prisons, the Supreme Court advised the government on Tuesday.
Staff-prisoner ratio much worse in prisons
- Of about 77,000 sanctioned posts, 24500 lie vacant.
- Tamil Nadu and U.P. are some of the worst cases in prison staff-inmate ratio.
- Only about 5,000 prison staff monitor over 92,000 inmates in Uttar Pradesh.
- Tamil Nadu has about 4,000 prison staffers to monitor 13,000 prisoners.
No space for women prisoners
- There are 18 jails exclusively for women
- Plus there are separate areas for women in other jails, but there is complete disproportionality as far as space for women inmates are concerned.
- These jails were not modelled to house women inmates, especially those with minor children staying with them.
Plight of undertrial prisoners
- Sixty percent of those arrested need not be actually arrested.
- The police say there is no need for arrest, but they still do
- Again, half of those arrested, need not be remanded, but they are still remanded
Reforms suggested by the SC
- Open prisons: On September 15 last year, a Supreme Court judgment had encouraged the need for open prisons.
- Counsellors and support persons for prisoners: It had urged for steps like the appointment of counsellors and support persons for prisoners, particularly first-time offenders.
- More family visits: The apex court had suggested steps like more family visits for prisoners and use of phones and video-conferencing not only between a prisoner and family, but also his lawyers.
- Audit of prisons: It had directed the State Legal Services Authorities (SLSAs) to conduct a study and performance audit of prisons
- Board of visitors: It wanted the government to constitute a Board of Visitors to initiate prison reforms.
What has happened?
How people can expect justice to be delivered by courts that function from “dilapidated” buildings which do not offer basic facilities like water, toilets and electricity, Justice Madan B. Lokur said on Tuesday
Justice Lokur, the fifth senior-most judge in the Supreme Court and a Collegium member, was hearing a suomotu petition on overpopulated prisons.
CSS for improving court infrastructure
- On March 7, the government addressed the Lok Sabha on the steps taken to strengthen judicial infrastructure in districts through the Centrally Sponsored Scheme (CSS) for ‘Development of Infrastructure Facilities for Judiciary.’
- It said a total of Rs. 6, 100 crore had been released since 1993-94, out of which Rs. 2,655 crore (43.52%) was released after April, 2014.
CSS to continue
The government told the House that it had approved the continuation of the CSS beyond the 12th Five Year Plan period, from April 1, 2017 to March 31, 2020, with an estimated outlay of Rs. 3,320 crore.
What has happened?
Coming down heavily on crimes committed in the name of honour, the Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the choice of consenting adults to love and marry as a part of their fundamental rights
It issued a set of guidelines for authorities to safeguard young couples under threat for marrying outside their caste or religion
Condemnation of Khap Panchayats by SC
Elevated sense of honor among elders: It ridiculed the “elevated sense of honour” of elders, the collective and khap panchayats who rain horror on couples for choosing to marry outside their caste, clan or religion
Elders nothing but patriarchal monarchs: It termed the elders, presiding over murder in broad daylight, as “patriarchal monarchs” who believe they are the descendants of Caesar or Louis XIV.
Human rights are not to be mortgaged
The human rights of a daughter, brother, sister or son are not mortgaged to the so-called or so-understood honour of the family or clan or the collective
Consent of family not necessary
The court held that the consent of the family, community or clan is not necessary.
Background: The judgment came on a petition filed by NGO Shakti Vahini to curb honour crimes.
Russia made headlines for all the wrong reasons this week, when a clutch of countries led by the U.S. expelled more than 100 of its diplomats and intelligence officers over suspicion that the Kremlin was behind a nerve agent attack on a Russian spy and defector to the U.K., Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia, in Salisbury on March 4
TheQuestion: Has Russia truly gone rogue, and is this its grand strategy to reclaim its superpower status?
The Answer: Yes and No
Inconsistent actions of the US
Scarcely a week ago, Mr. Trump congratulated Russian President Vladimir Putin on his re-election, apparently against the advice of senior White House officials, and this drew sharp criticism even from fellow Republicans
Might be a diversionary tactic to distract from ongoing investigations into US elections
What would concern democracy-minded Americans is that the expulsion of Russian diplomats might serve as an easy distraction device in the ongoing investigation into whether Mr. Trump or his associates colluded with Russian entities to influence the 2016 presidential election
Russia will not miss any opportunity to tighten its strategic grip on global geopolitics
Whatever the true intentions of the current U.S. administration are, it would be naive to assume that Moscow will miss any opportunity to tighten its strategic grip on global geopolitics, whether in terms of influencing foreign elections, undermining Western coalition forces in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, or shadow manoeuvres that exacerbate instability in the context of North Korea and Iran.
Bringing Russia to the table
Contrarily, it is imperative that the West, perhaps led by the U.S. or the EU, find some means to bring Mr. Putin to the negotiating table, the corollary of which is that he must avoid his current preference for political subversion.
Scientists have developed a new cell phone-based blood testing technology that can provide immediate results in the comfort of one’s home or a doctor’s clinic
What has been done?
Researchers at the University of South Florida in the U.S. have created a mobile version of the “Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA)”, a technique used to detect the presence of an antibody or antigen
- Instead of sending patients to a laboratory, the cell phone-based technology allows for the very same test to be conducted in the doctor’s office, clinic or even in a remote area
What is MELISA?
The Mobile Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay (MELISA) device measures progesterone levels, a key hormone that impacts female fertility and is indicative of some cancers
- MELISA consists of a water bath heater that incubates samples at a target temperature and analyses them via images taken by cellphone
- It uses colour analysis to determine the RGB (red, green, blue) colour components of each sample
Need for MELISA
Traditional systems for ELISA incubation and reading are expensive and bulky, thus cannot be used at point-of-care or in the field.
The World Heritage-listed site is reeling from coral bleaching due to warming sea temperatures
What has been done?
Scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Biology have tested a floating “sun shield” made of calcium carbonate that has been shown to protect the reef from the effects of bleaching
How will the shield help?
Shield is designed to sit on the surface of the water above the corals, rather than directly on the corals, to provide an effective barrier against the sun
Idea behind the shield
The basic idea is that by reducing the amount of sunlight from reaching the corals in the first place, we can prevent them from becoming stressed which leads to bleaching
Can the shield be deployed over entire barrier reef area?
No. It will be deployed on a smaller, local level to protect high-value or high-risk areas of reef as the entire reef area is very large (348000sq km)
In early 2016 the Great Barrier Reef suffered the worst bleaching yet, affecting an estimated 93 per cent of coral on its vast northern section and killing more than a fifth of it. Since then, efforts are on for improving the condition of the reef
Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) CEO Ajay Bhushan Pandey 2nd day of presentation before Supreme Court on Aadhaar
What was communicated to SC?
- No Breach in the past: There has not been a single breach in the past seven years in the Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR) that stores and manages data for the country’s Aadhaar project
- Purpose blind data: UIDAI did not “collect emotions, likes/dislikes or pull out data” of individuals. For UIDAI, authentication of Aadhaar details was “purpose-blind.” It had no aggregate record of the purpose, location or details of data of Aadhaar holders
- Core biometrics” like fingerprints and iris scans are only shared if there is a national security threat. Even this would require consent at the Cabinet Secretary level
- Sharing demographic Aadhaar details like name, gender, date of birth and place would require the consent of the district judge
- Authentication process was done through the UIDAI software and any unauthorised sharing of personal information at the time of enrolment or authentication would make a person liable to imprisonment for three years under Section 37 of the Aadhaar Act
- Technology was challenged everyday and the UIDAI was constantly engaged in improving the safeguards
- UIDAI was working closely with the Justice Sri Krishna Committee on the data protection law