Mains Paper 2: Polity | Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act
From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:
Prelims level: NOTA option in elections
Mains level: Changes initiated in the election process by Maharashtra & Haryana Election commissions and need of replicating these across states
In People’s Union For Civil Liberties v. Union Of India (September 27, 2013), the Supreme Court had ruled that a None of the Above (NOTA) option “may be provided in EVMs” so that voters are able to exercise their “right not to vote while maintaining their right of secrecy”
On October 29 that year, the Election Commission of India (ECI) said that if a situation arose where the number of NOTA votes exceeded the number of votes polled by any of the candidates, the candidate with the highest number of votes would be declared the winner
This, it said, was in accordance with Rule 64 of the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961
This provision made the NOTA option almost redundant
While it ensured confidentiality for a voter who did not want to choose any of the candidates and yet wished to exercise her franchise, the provision clarified that a NOTA vote would not have any impact on the election result, which is what interests candidates, political parties, and voters
Soon after this, candidates began campaigning against NOTA, telling voters that choosing the option meant wasting a vote
SC view of NOTA
The ECI seemed to have completely overlooked the spirit of the judgment, illustrated in the following excerpts
For democracy to survive, it is essential that the best available men should be chosen as people’s representatives
This can be best achieved through men of high moral and ethical values, who win the elections on a positive vote
Thus, in a vibrant democracy, the voter must be given an opportunity to choose NOTA, which will compel the political parties to nominate a sound candidate
Democracy is all about choice. This choice can be better expressed by giving the voters an opportunity to verbalize themselves unreservedly and by imposing least restrictions on their ability to make such a choice
By providing a NOTA button in the EVMs, it will accelerate the effective political participation in the present state of the democratic system and the voters will be empowered
When the political parties will realize that a large number of people are expressing their disapproval with the candidates there will be a systemic change and the political parties will be forced to accept the will of the people and field candidates who are known for their integrity
Changes at the state level started by ECI
The State Election Commission (SEC) of Maharashtra was the first to understand the spirit of the judgment
It issued a reasoned order on June 13 saying, “If it is noticed while counting, that NOTA has received the highest number of valid votes, then the said election for that particular seat shall be countermanded and fresh elections shall be held for such post.”
This was commendable, but it stopped short of giving NOTA the teeth that the court wanted. It meant that the same candidates could contest the new election, which meant that the result could be the same as earlier
The SEC of Haryana, in an order dated November 22, stated that if “all the contesting candidates individually receive lesser votes than NOTA,” then not only would “none of the contesting candidates be declared as elected,” but “all such contesting candidates who secured less votes than NOTA shall not be eligible to re-file the nomination/contest the re-election
Powers of State ECs
The two SECs are within the ambit of the Constitution and various Supreme Court judgments to issue these orders for various reasons: they have powers identical to the ECI for elections that take place in their jurisdictions
They have plenary powers to issue directions in areas related to the conduct of elections where there is no specific legislation, till such time as Parliament or the State Assembly enacts such legislation; and there is no specific legislation pertaining to NOTA
With two SECs showing the way, the remaining SECs and the ECI should follow suit so that political parties are compelled to nominate sound candidates, and are forced to accept the will of the people, as desired by the highest court in the land
Mains Paper 2: Polity | Structure, organization & functioning of the Executive & the Judiciary
From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:
Prelims level: Article 233, 234, 312
Mains level: Vacancy across various levels of the judiciary and the idea of an All India Judicial Service
Idea of a pan India judicial service
In its report, ‘Strategy for New India@75’, the NITI Aayog mooted the creation of an All India Judicial Service (AIJS) for making appointments to the lower judiciary through an all India judicial services examination conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) in order to maintain “high standards” in the judiciary
Similar proposals were made by the Union Law Minister on three different occasions this year as a solution to the problems of vacancies in the lower judiciary and a lack of representation in the judiciary from marginalised communities
The argument against AIJS
The argument that the creation of the AIJS and a centralised recruitment process will help the lower judicial services is based on the assumption that the current federal structure, that vests the recruitment and appointment for the lower judiciary in the hands of State Governors, High Courts and State Public Service Commissions, is broken and inefficient
Going by the latest figures published by the Supreme Court in its publication Court News (December 2017 and the last available figures), many States are doing a very efficient job when it comes to recruiting lower court judges
The problem of vacancies is not uniform across different States and varies significantly from one state to another
The argument that the centralisation of recruitment processes through the UPSC automatically leads to a more efficient recruitment process is flawed and not a guarantee of a solution
For example, the Indian Administrative Service — its recruitments are through the UPSC — reportedly has a vacancy rate of 22%, while the Indian Army’s officer cadre, also under a centralised recruitment mechanism, is short of nearly 7,298 officers
Another argument in support of the AIJS is that its creation, along with provisions of reservations for the marginalised communities and women, will lead to a better represented lower judiciary
Dalit and tribal politicians are supporting the AIJS on these grounds
The fact is that several States already provide for reservations in their lower judicial service
Unlike States, the Centre almost never provides reservation for women in the all India services
On the issue of caste, an AIJS may provide for SC/ST reservation along with reservation for the Other Backward Classes (OBC) but it should be noted that a recent Supreme Court ruling has held that SC/STs can avail the benefit of reservation in State government jobs only in their home States and not when they have migrated
The same principle is usually followed even for OBC reservations
Thus, instituting an AIJS would mean that nationally dominant SC, ST and OBC groups would be at an advantage as they can compete for posts across the country, which they would otherwise be disqualified from because of the domicile requirement
No constitutional hurdle in creating AIJS
Articles 233 and 234 of the Constitution vested all powers of recruitment and appointment with the State Public Service Commission and High Courts
During the Emergency, Parliament amended Article 312 of the Constitution to allow for the Rajya Sabha to pass a resolution, by a two-thirds majority, in order to kick-start the process of creating an all India judicial service for the posts of district judge
Once the resolution is passed, Parliament can amend Articles 233 and 234 through a simple law (passed by a simple majority), which law will strip States of their appointment powers
This is unlike a constitutional amendment under Article 368 that would have required ratification by State legislatures
In other words, if Parliament decides to go ahead with the creation of the AIJS, State legislatures can do nothing to stop the process
The AIJS is not a solution to judiciary recruitment problems and the government would be well advised to reconsider its stance
The solution is to pressure poorly performing States into performing more efficiently
Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency & accountability
From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:
Prelims level: Not much
Mains level: India’s march towards a surveillance state and preventing such moves via the right to privacy
Extended surveillance of citizens
A Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) notification authorising 10 Central agencies to intercept, monitor, and decrypt online communications and data has caused a furore in both Parliament and the wider civil society
The notification was described as an incremental step towards a surveillance state
The government’s defence was equally swift: it protested that the notification created no new powers of surveillance. It was only issued under the 2009 Information Technology Rules, sanctioned by the previous United Progressive Alliance government
The 10 agencies had not been given a blank check; rather, specific surveillance requests, the government contended, still had to be authorised by the MHA in accordance with law
Status of surveillance in India
The existing surveillance framework is complex and confusing
Two statutes control the field: telephone surveillance is sanctioned under the 1885 Telegraph Act (and its rules), while electronic surveillance is authorised under the 2000 Information Technology Act (and its rules)
The procedural structure in both cases is broadly similar, and flows from a 1997 Supreme Court judgment: surveillance requests have to be signed off by an official who is at least at the level of a Joint Secretary
Features of the regime
It is bureaucratised
Decisions about surveillance are taken by the executive branch (including the review process), with no parliamentary or judicial supervision
An individual will almost never know that she is being surveilled means that finding out about surveillance, and then challenging it before a court, is a near-impossibility
The surveillance regime is vague and ambiguous
Under Section 69 of the IT Act, the grounds of surveillance have been simply lifted from Article 19(2) of the Constitution, and pasted into the law
They include very wide phrases such as “friendly relations with foreign States” or “sovereignty and integrity of India”
The regime is opaque
There is almost no information available about the bases on which surveillance decisions are taken, and how the legal standards are applied
Indeed, the evidence seems to suggest that there are none: a 2014 RTI request revealed that, on an average, 250 surveillance requests are approved every day
It stands to reason that in a situation like this, approval resembles a rubber stamp more than an independent application of mind
The tradeoff between security and privacy
Surveillance is essential to ensure national security and pre-empt terrorist threats, and it is in the very nature of surveillance that it must take place outside the public eye
Consequently, the regime is justified as it strikes a pragmatic balance between the competing values of privacy and security
The staunchest civil rights advocates will not deny that an individual reasonably suspected of planning a terrorist attack should be placed under surveillance
Need for a better process
A heavily bureaucratised and minimally accountable regime of surveillance does nothing to enhance security but does have significant privacy costs
Such a system often has counterproductive effects: a government that is not checked in any meaningful way will tend to go overboard with surveillance and, in the process, gather so much material that actually vital information can get lost in the noise
It is exceedingly important to assess the balance on the basis of constitutional principles and fundamental rights, rather than blindly accepting the government’s rhetoric of national security
After the Supreme Court’s 2017 judgment in K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India (‘the right to privacy case’), the constitutional contours within which the questions of ‘how, when, and what kind’ have to be answered have been made clear
Any impingement upon the right to privacy must be proportionate. One of the factors of the proportionality standard is that the government’s action must be the least restrictive method by which a state goal is to be realised
In other words, if the same goal — i.e., protecting national security — can be achieved by a smaller infringement upon fundamental rights, then the government is constitutionally bound to adopt the method that does, indeed, involve minimal infringement
What can be done for improvement?
Given the seriousness of the issue, a surveillance regime cannot have the executive sitting in judgment over the executive: there must be parliamentary oversight over the agencies that conduct surveillance
They cannot simply be authorised to do so through executive notifications
And equally important, all surveillance requests must necessarily go before a judicial authority, which can apply an independent legal mind to the merits of the request, in light of the proportionality standards
Judicial review will not achieve much if the grounds of surveillance remain as broad and vaguely worded as they presently are
Therefore, every surveillance request must mandatorily specify a probable cause for suspicion, and also set out, in reasonably concrete terms, what it is that the proposed target of surveillance is suspected of doing
As a corollary, evidence obtained through unconstitutional surveillance must be statutorily stipulated to be inadmissible in court
Across the world, there is an increasingly urgent debate about how to protect basic rights against encroachment by an aggressive and intrusive state, which wields the rhetoric of national security like a sword
The MHA notification lays bare the lopsided character of the surveillance framework in India and highlights an urgent need for comprehensive reform
Mains Paper 3: Science & Technology | Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology
From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:
Prelims level: Hongyun Project
Mains level: Global quest for low-cost, high-performance satellite network
China on December 22 launched its first communication satellite to provide broadband internet services worldwide in an apparent bid to rival Google and other international firms.
The Hongyun project, started in September 2016, aims to build a space-based communications network to provide broadband internet connectivity to users around the world, especially those in the underserved regions.
The satellite was launched from a Long March 11 carrier rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in north-western China.
It is the first in the Hongyun project planned by China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp (CASIC).
The spacecraft is tasked with verifying basic designs of Hongyun satellite and demonstrating low-orbit broadband communications technologies.
About the Satellite
Weighing 247 kilograms, the satellite works in a sun-synchronous orbit about 1,100 kilometres above earth.
It is powered by solar arrays and has a design life of one year, but is expected to operate longer.
CASIC plans to launch four mass-production Hongyun satellites in future.
A Global Quest
The concept of running a low-cost, high-performance satellite network to provide space-based communications and internet services has become popular globally among industry players.
Currently, many foreign tech companies, including Google, SpaceX, OneWeb and Telesat, have already launched plans to use satellites to provide free internet access.
The U.S.’ SpaceX launched two experimental satellites last month to test technologies for its Starlink project, in which tech tycoon Elon Musk proposes to put a total of nearly 12,000 satellites into orbit by the mid-2020s.
Similarly, U.S. firm, OneWeb, plans to launch a satellite constellation of 648 low-Earth orbit microsatellites by the end of 2019, though few developments have been reported.
Chinese internet technology firm unveiled the first satellite in a constellation plan comprising of 272 satellites to provide free WiFi service worldwide.
Mains Paper 1: Arts and Culture| Indian culture will cover the salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times
From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:
Prelims level: Carnatic Music and its Trinity
Mains level: Classical art forms of India
The country’s first music museum will be set up with assistance from the Central government in Thiruvaiyaru, Tamil Nadu, the birth place of Saint Tyagaraja, one of the Trinities of Carnatic music.
Trinities of Carnatic music
The other two of the Trinity are Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri.
All three composers were born in Thiruvarur, formerly part of Thanjavur District in Tamilnadu.
Along with Purandaradasa, the Pitamaha or father of Carnatic music, the trinity are considered in a way the greatest musicians and composers of the tradition.
Tyagaraja, also known as Tygayya in Telugu, was a renowned composer of Carnatic music, a form of Indian classical
He was prolific and highly influential in the development of the classical music tradition.
Tyagaraja saw the reigns of four kings of Maratha dynasty Tulaja II (17631787), Amarasimha (17871798), Serfoji II (17981832) and Sivaji II (18321855), although he served none of them.
Saint Muthuswami Dikshitar
His compositions, of which around 500 are commonly known, are noted for their elaborate and poetic descriptions of Hindu gods and temples and for capturing the essence of the raga forms through the vainika (veena) style that emphasises gamakas.
Saint Syama Sastri
Although Syma Sastri did not compose as so many kritis as his two prolific contemporaries, his compositions are still well known due to the literary, melodic and rhythmic proficiency observed in them.
It is a system of music commonly associated with South India, including the modern Indian states of Andhra Pardesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil nadu as well as Sri Lanka .
The basic elements are śruti (the relative musical pitch), swara (the musical sound of a single note), rāga (the mode or melodic formulæ), and tala (the rhythmic cycles).
It is usually performed by a small ensemble of musicians, consisting of a principal performer (usually a vocalist), a melodic accompaniment (usually a violin), a rhythm accompaniment (usually a mridangam), and a tambura, which acts as a drone throughout the performance.
Other typical instruments used in performances may include the ghatam, kanjira, morsing, venu flute, veena, and chitraveena.
The main emphasis in Carnatic music is on vocal music; most compositions are written to be sung, and even when played on instruments, they are meant to be performed in gayaki (singing) style.