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Press freedom under attack around the world in 2018: Death Watch Data

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency & accountability

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Death Watch Data

Mains level: Threats posed by the fundamentalists to journalists and its effect on press freedom


News

  • Press freedom faced a slew of attacks around the world in 2018, as political leaders unwilling to accept scrutiny increasingly jail, prosecute or undermine the credibility of critical journalists.

Death Watch Data

  1. The Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) is organisation of editors, journalists and media executives in its Death Watch’ said as many as 78 journalists were killed in 2018.
  2. IPI has been compiling annual data on the killings of journalists since 1997 as part of its press freedom and safety of journalist programmes.
  3. The Death Watch data for 2018 show that as many as 28 reporters and journalists were killed in targeted attacks during the year, while 11 died covering armed conflict.
  4. There is a growing movement, including in countries once seen as guarantors of fundamental rights, aimed at destroying the press as an institution of democracy.
  5. This atmosphere of intolerance toward independent journalism is putting the lives and freedom of journalists at risk and threatening the public’s right to know.

Global Trends

  1. 2018 witnessed an overall decline in the state of press freedom worldwide amid a trend of increased harassment and intimidation of journalists and attacks on independent media.
  2. Mexico and Afghanistan were the deadliest countries for journalists were overall, with 13 deaths each.
  3. Investigations in a large number of cases are slow and tardy, due in many cases to a lack of political will to bring the killers and perpetrators to justice.
Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Govt moves to access and trace all ‘unlawful’ content online

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Internal Security | Role of media & social networking sites in internal security challenges

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Various sections mentioned

Mains level: Menace of fake news in India and measures to curb it


News

  • In what raises questions over freedom of speech online, the government is proposing draft amendments to rules governing content.

Filtering Unlawful content

  1. The proposed amendments to rules under Section 79 of the IT Act make it mandatory for online platforms to “proactively” deploy technology, which would enable a filtering of content seen as “unlawful”.
  2. They also require end-to-end encryption to be broken so that the origin of messages can be traced.
  3. In the draft of Amendment Rule 3(9) requires “intermediaries”, or online platforms, to “deploy technology based automated tools or appropriate mechanisms, with appropriate controls.
  4. This should be done for proactively identifying or removing or disabling access to unlawful information or content.
  5. The insertion of a new Rule 3(4) activates a pro-active monthly notification across intermediaries to warn users repeatedly.
  6. Rule 3(5), which will introduce a “traceability requirement”.

Background

  1. These changes will push back the regulation and legal architecture a full circle, from where it had been nudged after the Supreme Court ruled in the Shreya Singhal case in 2015.
  2. The landmark ruling on March 24, 2015, struck down Section 66A of the IT Act, which allowed the arrest of those allegedly posting offensive content online.

What do these rules imply?

  1. The proposed changes would mean that social media platforms with more than “50 lakh users” would be liable to help the government “within 72 hours” of a query.
  2. They would be expected to appoint a nodal person of contact for 24X7 coordination with law enforcement agencies and officers to ensure compliance.
  3. The draft amendments envisage that online platforms will keep a record of “unlawful activity” for a period of “180 days”, double the 90 days in the older version.

Why such move?

  1. The government is keen to be acting before the general elections on the proliferation of social media and its connection to mob violence seen in the recent past.
  2. The govt. is contemplating pro-active censorship and breaking encryption with traceability .
Social Media: Prospect and Challenges

GST rate cut slashed on 20+ items

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Economy | Mobilization of resources

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Goods and Services under various brackets of GST

Mains level: Issues related to GST


News

  • The GST Council slashed GST rate on over 20 items, including TV screens, movie tickets and digital cameras, in a relief for traders and common man.
  • The government has also rationalized the 28 per cent slab by bringing down the tax rate on seven items in the highest bracket, thereby leaving only 28 items in the slab.

Items set to get cheaper after GST slash

From 28% to 18%

  • Pulleys, transmission shafts and cranks, gear boxes etc., falling under HS Code 8483
  • Monitors and TVs of upto screen size of 32 inches
  • Re-treaded or used pneumatic tyres of rubber;
  • Power banks of lithium ion batteries. Lithium ion batteries are already at 18%. This will bring parity in GST rate of power bank and lithium ion battery.
  • Digital cameras and video camera recorders
  • Video game consoles and other games and sports requisites falling under HS code 9504.

From 28% to 5%

Parts and accessories for the carriages for disabled persons

GST rate reduction on other goods

18% to 12%

  • Cork roughly squared or debagged
  • Articles of natural cork
  • Agglomerated cork

18% to 5%

  • Marble rubble

12% to 5%

  • Natural cork
  • Walking Stick
  • Fly ash Blocks

12% to Nil

  • Music Books

5% to Nil

  • Vegetables, (uncooked or cooked by steaming or boilinginwater), frozen, branded and put in a unit container
  • Vegetable provisionally preserved (for example by sulphur dioxide gas, in brine, in sulphur water or in other preservative solutions), but unsuitable in that state for immediate consumption.

Miscellaneous

  • Exemption from GST on supply of gold by Nominated Agencies to exporters of article of gold Jewellery.
  • Exemption from GST on proceeds received by Government from auction of gifts received by President, Prime Minister, Governor or Chief Minister of a State and public servants, the proceeds of which is used for public or charitable cause.
  • Exemption from IGST/Compensation cess on vehicles imported for temporary purposes under the Customs Convention on the Temporary importation of Private Road Vehicles (carnet de passages-en-douane).
  • Rate of 5%/18% to be applied based on transaction value of footwear
  • Uniform GST rate of 12% on Flexible Intermediate Bulk Container (FIBC) from existing 5%/12% (depending on the value)

Back2Basics

GST Council

For a precise reading , please navigate to the homepage : GST Council

Goods and Services Tax (GST)

Odisha’s KALIA to attack poverty

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Agriculture | Issues related to direct & indirect farm subsidies & minimum support prices

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: KALIA Scheme

Mains level: Various support schemes for farmers , labourers and their effectiveness


News

  • Instead of announcing farm loan waiver like other States, the Odisha govt has approved KALIA scheme amounting to ₹10,000 crore to accelerate agricultural prosperity in the State and to reduce poverty.

Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation

  1. KALIA aims to make a direct attack on poverty by way of massive investment in the agriculture sector and making benefits reach the most needy through DBT.
  2. Under KALIA an amount of ₹10,180 crore will be spent over a period of three years till 2020-211.
  3. Crop loans up to ₹50,000 will henceforth be interest free, and the scheme will be reviewed in 2020-21 for further modifications.
  4. KALIA scheme covers the cultivators, loanee, as well as non-loanee farmers, share croppers and landless agricultural labourers.
  5. It also specifically takes care of vulnerable agricultural families identified through gram panchayats and crop loans are made available at 0% interest.

Other assistance

  1. All the small and marginal farmers of the State (92% cultivators) will be covered under the scheme.
  2. An amount of ₹10,000 per family at the rate of ₹5,000 for Kharif and Rabi shall be provided as financial assistance for taking up cultivation.
  3. This component is not linked to extent of land owned and will greatly benefit share croppers and actual cultivators most of whom own very small extent of land.
  4. Under this initiative, 10 lakh landless households will be supported to take up activities like small goat rearing units, mini layer units, duck units, fishery kits for fishermen and women, mushroom cultivation and bee keeping.
  5. As regards financial assistance to vulnerable agriculture households and landless labourers, an annual financial assistance of ₹10,000 per household will be provided.
  6. Deserving families will be identified and selected by gram panchayats.
  7. Further, life insurance cover of ₹2 lakh and additional personal accident cover of ₹2 lakh will be provided to both cultivators and agricultural labourers covering about 57 lakh households.
Poverty Eradication – Definition, Debates, etc.

[pib] Information Fusion Centre – Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR)

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: IFC-IOR

Mains level: Enhancing maritime security in the Indian Ocean Region


News

  • Raksha Mantri has launched the Information Fusion Centre – Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) at Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC) Gurugram.

Information Fusion Centre (IFC)

  1. The IFC-IOR is established with the vision of strengthening maritime security in the region by building a common coherent maritime situation picture and acting as a maritime information hub for the region.
  2. The IFC has been established at the Navy’s Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC) in Gurugram.
  3. IMAC is the single point centre linking all the coastal radar chains to generate a seamless real-time picture of the nearly 7,500-km coastline.
  4. All countries that have already signed white shipping information exchange agreements with us, about 21 of them, are IFC partners.

Challenges in IOR

  1. The Indian Ocean Region is vital to world trade and economic prosperity of many nations.
  2. More than 75% of the world’s maritime trade and 50% of global oil consumption passes through the IOR.
  3. However, maritime terrorism, piracy, human and contraband trafficking, illegal and unregulated fishing, arms running and poaching pose myriad challenges to maritime safety and security in the region.
  4. Response to these challenges requires enhanced situational awareness of the maritime activities in the region so as to enable security agencies function effectively.

Why such move?

  1. The scale, scope and the multi-national nature of maritime activities, make it difficult for countries to address these challenges individually.
  2. Hence, collaborative efforts between maritime nations in the IOR, was essential.
  3. IFC-IOR aims to engage with partner nations and multi-national maritime constructs to develop comprehensive maritime domain awareness and share information on vessels of interest.
  4. The IFC – IOR shall be a collaborative construct that will work with partners, countries as well as international agencies; to enhance maritime security and safety.
  5. It would also aim to work closely with the multi-national constructs and other information fusion centres.
Indian Ocean Power Competition

[op-ed snap] From plate to plough: If you want to help farmers

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Agriculture | Issues related to direct & indirect farm subsidies & minimum support prices

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Rythu Bandhu scheme

Mains level: Need of an income support policy for agriculture


Context

Farm loan waivers by state governments

  1. The talk of the season on the farm front seems to be loan waivers
  2. Farmer leaders are asking for it and those looking for power are ready to oblige
  3. Newly elected chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan have all announced loan waivers within their promised time of 10 days
  4. It may cost the state exchequers more than Rs 50,000 crore
  5. A pan-India loan waiver is likely to cost anywhere between Rs 4 and 5 lakh crore, including states that have waived farm loans since 2017

Atonement exercise

  1. It can be called as atonement for not reforming agriculture and following restrictive trade and marketing policies which, as per the OECD-ICRIER report, inflicted an implicit tax on farmers to the tune of 14 per cent of their gross farm receipts over a period of 2000-01 to 2016-17
  2. The loan waiver is only a temporary relief, that too tilted towards larger farmers
  3. It may be noted that institutional credit comprises about 64 per cent of total credit taken by all farmers, the remaining 36 per cent coming from non-institutional sources
  4. The marginal farmers with holdings of less than one hectare, who constitute 68.5 per cent of the peasantry, actually take more than half of their loans from non-institutional sources at interest rates that range from 24-36 per cent, and sometimes even higher

Income support is a better alternative

  1. The alternative is to think of a structured and stable income/investment support policy for farmers
  2. An improvised version of Telangana’s Rythu Bandhu scheme could serve as a starting point
  3. Under this scheme, the government can give Rs 10,000/ha as investment support to cultivators
  4. Payments under this scheme could be inversely related to the holding size, making it more pro-small holders
  5. Farms can be geo-tagged to ensure that only those farmers get benefits who are cultivating the land
  6. Land records will have to be upgraded to include tenants
  7. Government records still show only 10 per cent of tenancy in the country while ground realities are very different
  8. In any case, if this scheme is implemented in over 20 crore hectares of gross cropped area of the country, it will cost about Rs 2 lakh crore per annum, which could be equally distributed between the Centre and the states
  9. The Centre should also include fertiliser subsidy into this and encourage states to transfer their power subsidy through this platform based on per hectare basis
  10. Such a policy can reach the largest number of farmers, be more equitable, the least market distorting, and predictable

Way forward

  1. Striking the right balance between consumers and farmers is the need of the hour
  2. Loan waivers are poll bait. What is needed is a structured and stable income support policy
Minimum Support Prices for Agricultural Produce

[op-ed snap] A duty great and grave

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Structure, organization & functioning of the Executive & the Judiciary

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

Mains level: Rising instances of communal violence in India and the absence of an anti-genocide law leading to poor convictions


Context

Need for an anti-genocide law

  1. What distinguishes the learned judgment delivered by Justices S Muralidhar and Vinod Goel is not just the meticulous finding of criminality and award of punishment in the Sajjan Kumar case but the urging that “Neither ‘crimes against humanity’ nor ‘genocide’ is part of our domestic law of crime
  2. This loophole needs to be addressed urgently
  3. The court refers to the “mass killings in Punjab, Delhi and elsewhere during the country’s Partition”, a “familiar pattern of mass killings in Mumbai in 1993, in Gujarat in 2002, in Kandhamal, Odisha in 2008, in Muzaffarnagar in UP in 2013, to name a few
  4. All these “mass crimes were the targeting of minorities and the attacks spearheaded by the dominant political actors being facilitated by the law enforcement agencies” and the “criminals responsible for the mass crimes have enjoyed political patronage and managed to evade prosecution and punishment”
  5. The court’s suggestion for an end to impunity is meant to promote constitutional good governance

India under treaty obligations

  1. India signed the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide on December 8, 1949 (ratified on August 27, 1959)
  2. Article V of the Convention obligates all contracting parties “to enact, in accordance with their respective constitutions, the necessary legislation to give effect to the provisions of the present Convention, and, in particular, to provide effective penalties for persons guilty of genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in article III”
  3. And by Article 1 the “Contracting parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish”
  4. Article 51 [C] of the Indian Constitution casts a duty to “foster respect for international law and treaty obligations in the dealings of organised peoples with one another”
  5. The duties to prevent and punish acts of genocide, reiterated by the ICJ, are binding on India, both as an aspect of conventional and customary international law; they are also an integral aspect of Article 21, the rights to life and liberty as interpreted and innovated by the apex court

State involvement in genocides and ICJ verdict

  1. Genocide cannot be a lone wolf crime; it has to be the work of many hands and minds working in concert and with a clear and specific intention to physically annihilate a whole group of people
  2. Yet, howsoever much human rights activists may wish for it, cultural genocide is not yet a category of the law of genocide
  3. International Court of Justice ruling (in 2007) maintained that states may also commit genocide
  4. The ICJ does not merely interpret the Convention to say that states have a duty to do their best that such acts do not occur; but that in order to incur responsibility “it is enough that the State was aware or should normally have been aware, of the serious danger that acts of genocide would be committed”

Way forward

  1. The Delhi High Court also pointedly refers to the work of the International Law Commission towards a Convention on Crimes against Humanity
  2. Its draft articles already submitted to the UN General Assembly are expected to receive governmental and non-governmental comments for likely adoption of the final text by the UN General Assembly in 2019 or 2020
  3. Ethnic cleansing may not be the same, in technical law, as genocide, but the state duty to prevent and punish crimes against humanity remains as great and grave

[op-ed snap] Capital idea? on banks recapitalisation plan

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Economy | Mobilization of resources

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: PCA framework

Mains level: Government initiatives for improving the state of banks


Context

Capital infusion in banks by the government

  1. The Centre has sought Parliament’s approval to infuse an additional ₹41,000 crore into public sector banks that are starved of precious capital to remain afloat
  2. Along with another ₹42,000 crore that is already budgeted for infusion, this tranche will take the total planned funds infusion into banks this year to ₹83,000 crore
  3. Adding the outlays since 2015-16 — when the exercise to enable PSBs to clean up their balance sheets by fully providing for and absorbing losses on bad loans began — the estimated aggregate capital infusion would come to over Rs 3 lakh crore

Motive behind the exercise

  1. The government’s claim is that recapitalisation will allow PSBs — especially those with large non-performing assets and facing lending restrictions under the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) so-called prompt corrective action — to resume normal banking operations, boosting credit growth necessary for overall economic revival
  2. As many as 11 public sector banks have been stopped from lending freely by the RBI under the PCA framework due to their poor financial health

Actual reforms required

  1. The roots of the bad loan crisis lay in these banks not being allowed to function as autonomous and board-managed entities
  2. By not linking recapitalisation to reform — which can happen only with the government’s stake falling to below 50 per cent and transferring even this to a separate holding company that would secure the former’s financial interests — the danger is of the seeds of the next crisis is being sown through imprudent lending
  3. It is important that the additional capital is not wasted on banks that have not shown any improvement but rather used to support the weak ones that are on the recovery path

Way forward

  1. There are enough headaches for banks to handle in the form of the waiver of agriculture loans and the rising share of loans to small businesses, which are risky
  2. While the idea of infusing more money into banks is not bad per se, given that they are grappling with inadequate capital, a lot depends on how and to which banks this money is distributed
  3. This is where the government has to exercise prudence and caution

With inputs from the article: Seeds of a crisis

Banking Sector Reforms