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[op-ed snap] The ambiguity of reservations for the poor

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Social Justice| Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of the 103rd Constitution Amendment Act.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the recently passed 103rd Constitution Amendment Act and the challenge in its effective implementation, in a brief manner.


Context

  • The 103rd Constitution Amendment Act introducing special measures and reservations for ‘economically weaker sections’ (EWS) has been perceived as being unconstitutional by some experts.
  • However, the strongest constitutional challenge might not be to the amendment itself but to the manner in which governments implement it.

Special measures provided by the 103rd Constitution Amendment Act

  • Article 15 stands amended enabling the state to take special measures (not limited to reservations) in favour of EWS generally with an explicit sub-article on admissions to educational institutions with maximum 10% reservations.
  • The amendment to Article 16 allows 10% reservations (and not special measures) for EWS in public employment and does so in a manner that is different from reservations for Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes.
  • The amendment leaves the definition of ‘economically weaker sections’ to be determined by the state on the basis of ‘family income’ and other economic indicators.
  • Also critical to this amendment is the exclusion of SC/STs, OBCs and other beneficiary groups under Articles 15(4), 15(5) and 16(4) as beneficiaries of the 10% EWS reservation.

Indra Sawhney Case

  • To start the constitutional examination of the recent amendment let us take the Supreme Court’s view on reservations based purely on economic criteria.
  • Eight of the nine judges in Indra Sawhney (November 1992) held that the Narasimha Rao government’s executive order (and not a constitutional amendment) providing for 10% reservations based purely on economic criteria was unconstitutional.
  • Their reasons included the position that income/property holdings cannot be the basis for exclusion from government jobs, and that the Constitution was primarily concerned with addressing social backwardness.

103rdAmendment will be tested against the Basic structure doctrine

  • However, the decision in Indra Sawhney involved testing an executive order against existing constitutional provisions.
  • In the current situation, we are concerned with a constitutional amendment brought into force using the constituent power of Parliament.
  • The fact that we are not concerned with legislative or executive power means that the amendment will be tested against the ‘basic structure’ and not the constitutional provisions existing before the amendment.
  • The pointed question is whether measures based purely on economic criteria violate the ‘basic structure’ of the Constitution?
  • Experts believe, it is a sufficient answer to say that ‘backwardness’ in the Constitution can only mean ‘social and educational backwardness’.
  • It is difficult to see an argument that measures purely on economic criteria are per se violative of the ‘basic structure’.
  • EWS reservations might not able to alleviate poverty but that is not really the nature of ‘basic structure’ enquiry.
  • Economic criteria (if seen as poverty) forms the basis for differential treatment by the state in many ways and it would be a stretch to suddenly see it as constitutionally suspect when it comes to ‘special measures’ and reservations in education and public employment.
  • Poverty inflicts serious disadvantages and the prerogative of the state to use special measures/ reservations as one of the means to address it (however misplaced it might be as a policy) is unlikely to fall foul of the ‘basic structure’ doctrine.

Challenges to the amendment

  • A challenge to the amendment may lie in the context of Article 16 by virtue of shifting the manner in which reservations can be provided in public employment.
  • Under Article 16(4), reservations for backward classes (SC/STs, OBCs) are dependent on beneficiary groups not being ‘adequately represented’ but that has been omitted in the newly inserted Article 16(6) for EWS.
  • The amendment through Article 16(6) ends up making it easier for the state to provide reservations in public employment for EWS than the requirements to provide reservations for ‘backward classes’ under Article 16(4).
  • Supreme Court might have its own views on this. On the one hand, it is confronted with the reality that ‘backward classes’ like SC/STs and OBCs are disadvantaged along multiple axes.
  • On the other, it is now far more difficult for the state to provide reservations to these groups compared to the EWS.
  • The response might well be that ‘representation’ is not the aim of EWS reservation and questions of ‘adequacy’ are relevant only in the context of representation claims like those of the backward classes under Article 16(4).

Breaching the 50% ceiling

  • In many of the responses to the amendment, breaching the 50% ceiling on reservations has been cited as its greatest weakness.
  • It is hard to see the merit of that argument because the amendment by itself does not push the reservations beyond 50%.
  • While it might be a ground to challenge the subsequent legislative/executive actions, the amendment itself is secure from this challenge.
  • But even beyond this narrow technical response, the 50% ceiling argument is far from clear.
  • In Indra Sawhney, the majority of judges held that the 50% ceiling must be the general rule and a higher proportion may be possible in ‘extraordinary situations’.
  • Fundamentally this argument stems from an unresolved normative tension in Indra Sawhney.

Reservations are not an ‘exception’ but a ‘facet’ of equality

  • While committing to the constitutional position that reservations are not an ‘exception’ but a ‘facet’ of equality, the majority in Indra Sawhney also invokes the idea of balancing the equality of opportunity of backward classes ‘against’ the right to equality of everyone else.
  • When governments implement the EWS reservations and push quotas beyond 50%, the Supreme Court will be forced to confront this normative tension.
  • If reservations further equality, what then are the justifications to limit it to 50% when the identified beneficiaries constitute significantly more than 50%?
  • The answer to that question might lie in Indra Sawhney’s position that the constitutional imagination is not one of ‘proportional representation’ but one of ‘adequate representation’.
  • However, as discussed above, if abandoning the ‘adequacy’ requirement per se is upheld for EWS reservations, the basis for a 50% ceiling becomes unclear.

Way Forward

Hardest test will be its implementation

  • While the constitutional amendment by itself might survive the ‘basic structure’ test, the hardest test for governments will be the manner in which they give effect to the amendment.
  • The definition of ‘economically weaker sections’ will be a major hurdle because the political temptation will be to go as broad as possible and include large sections of citizens.
  • But broader the definition, greater will be the constitutional risk. For example, if beneficiaries are defined as all those with family income of less than ₹8 lakh per annum, it must necessarily fail constitutional scrutiny.
  • To justify that an individual ‘below poverty line’ and another with a family income of ₹8 lakh per annum belong to the same group for purposes of affirmative action will involve constitutional jugglery at an unprecedented level.
Minority Issues – Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

[op-ed snap] Why EVMs must go

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance| Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential; citizens charters, transparency & accountability and institutional and other measures. Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of the role of EVMs in elections.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the issues and challenges with EVMs in the conduct of free and fair elections, in a brief manner.


Context

  • As the General Elections in India are getting nearer, the debates regarding EVMs have also begun.
  • As per the reports, the recent Assembly elections — the last major polling exercise before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls — were not devoid of Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) malfunctions.

Background

  • At present makes the general debate makes no distinction between a ‘malfunction’ (which suggests a technical defect) and ‘tampering’ (manipulation aimed at fraud).
  • However, there were several reports of misbehaving EVMs.
  • In Madhya Pradesh alone, the number of votes polled did not match the number of votes counted in 204 out of the 230 constituencies.
  • The Election Commission’s (EC) explanation is that the votes counted is the actual number of votes polled — a circular logic that precludes cross-verification.

Electoral principles of a free and fair election: Transparency, Verifiability and Secrecy

  • The reason a nation chooses to be a democracy is that it gives moral legitimacy to the government.
  • The fount of this legitimacy is the people’s will.
  • The people’s will is expressed through the vote, anonymously (the principle of secret ballot).
  • Not only must this vote be recorded correctly and counted correctly, it must also be seen to be recorded correctly and counted correctly.
  • The recording and counting process must be accessible to, and verifiable by, the public.
  • A discrepancy of even one vote between votes polled and votes counted is unacceptable. This is not an unreasonably high standard but one followed by democracies worldwide.
  • Therefore transparency, verifiability, and secrecy are the three pillars of a free and fair election.

EVMs unable to satisfy three pillars of a free and fair election

  • Regardless of whether one is for or against EVMs, there is no getting away from the fact that any polling method must pass these three tests to claim legitimacy.
  • Paper ballots obviously do. The voter can visually confirm that her selection has been registered, the voting happens in secret, and the counting happens in front of her representative’s eyes.
  • However, EVMs fail on all three, as established by a definitive judgment of the German constitutional court in 2009. The court’s ruling forced the country to scrap EVMs and return to paper ballot.
  • Other technologically advanced nations such as the Netherlands and Ireland have also abandoned EVMs.

Concerns

(a) EVMs are neither transparent nor verifiable

  • Neither can the voter see her vote being recorded, nor can it be verified later whether the vote was recorded correctly.
  • What is verifiable is the total number of votes cast, not the choice expressed in each vote.
  • An electronic display of the voter’s selection may not be the same as the vote stored electronically in the machine’s memory.
  • This gap was why the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) was introduced.

VVPAT does not solve the problem either

  • However, VVPATs solve only one-half of the EVMs’ transparency/verifiability problem: the voting part.
  • The counting part remains an opaque operation.
  • If anyone suspects a counting error, there is no recourse since by definition an electronic recount is absurd. However, some believe the VVPATs can solve this problem too, through statistics.
  • At present, the EC’s VVPAT auditing is restricted to one randomly chosen polling booth per constituency.
  • However, experts have demonstrated that this sample size will fail to detect faulty EVMs 98-99% of the time.
  • They also shows that VVPATs can be an effective deterrent to fraud only on the condition that the detection of even one faulty EVM in a constituency must entail the VVPAT hand-counting of all the EVMs in that constituency.
  • Without this proviso, VVPATs would merely provide the sheen of integrity without its substance.

(b) Secrecy

  • Here too, EVMs disappoint. With the paper ballot, the EC could mix ballot papers from different booths before counting, so that voting preferences could not be connected to a given locality.
  • But with EVMs, we are back to booth-wise counting, which allows one to discern voting patterns and renders marginalised communities vulnerable to pressure.
  • Totaliser machines can remedy this, but the EC has shown no intent to adopt them.

So, on all three counts — transparency, verifiability and secrecy — EVMs are flawed. VVPATs are not the answer either, given the sheer magnitude of the logistical challenges.

Unjustified suspicions: EVMs continue to enjoy the confidence of the EC

  • The recent track record of EVMs indicates that the number of malfunctions in a national election will be high.
  • For that very reason, the EC is unlikely to adopt a policy of hand-counting all EVMs in constituencies where faulty machines are reported, as this might entail hand-counting on a scale that defeats the very purpose of EVMs.
  • And yet, this is a principle without which the use of VVPATs is meaningless.
  • Despite these issues, EVMs continue to enjoy the confidence of the EC, which insists that Indian EVMs, unlike the Western ones, are tamper-proof.
  • However, this is a matter of trust. Even if the software has been burnt into the microchip, neither the EC nor the voter knows for sure what software is running in a particular EVM. One has to simply trust the manufacturer and the EC.

Arguments made in favour of the EVM

  • Results come quicker and the process is cheaper: While it is true that the results come quicker and the process is cheaper with EVMs as compared to paper ballot, both these considerations are undeniably secondary to the integrity of the election.
  • Eliminates malpractices such as booth-capturing: EVM eliminates the malpractices such as booth-capturing and ballot-box stuffing. However, in the age of the smartphone, the opportunity costs of ballot-box-stuffing and the risk of exposure are prohibitively high.
  • In contrast, tampering with code could accomplish rigging on a scale unimaginable for booth-capturers.
  • Moreover, it is nearly impossible to detect EVM-tampering. As a result, suspicions of tampering in the tallying of votes — as opposed to malfunction in registering the votes, which alone is detectable — are destined to remain in the realm of speculation.

Way Forward

  • The absence of proven fraud might save the EVM for now, but its survival comes at a dangerous cost — the corrosion of people’s faith in the electoral process.
  • Yet there doesn’t have to be incontrovertible evidence of EVM-tampering for a nation to return to paper ballot.
  • The EC has always maintained that suspicions against EVMs are unjustified.
  • Clearly, the solution is not to dismiss EVM-sceptics as ignorant technophobes.
  • Rather, the EC is obliged to provide the people of India a polling process capable of refuting unjustified suspicion, as this is a basic requirement for democratic legitimacy, not an optional accessory.
Electoral Reforms In India

Arunachal govt declares Pakke Hornbill Fest as ‘state festival’

Note4students

Mains Paper 1: Arts and Culture| Salient aspects of Art Forms, Literature and Architecture from ancient to modern times.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Hornbill Festival, Great Indian Hornbill

Mains level: India’s rich cultural treasure and ways to preserve it


News

  • The government of Arunachal Pradesh has declared the Pakke Paga Hornbill Festival (PPHF)–the state’s only conservation festival, as a “state festival”.

Pakke Paga Hornbill Festival (PPHF)

  1. The first-ever PPHF was held on January 16–18, 2015.
  2. The organizers had a number of objectives in mind-
  • to recognise the role played by the resident Nyishi tribe in conserving hornbills in the Pakke Tiger Reserve (PTR),
  • to devise alternative sources of income for a region that relies on hunting and logging, and
  • to tell the rest of the country about the wonders of the PTR and its surrounding areas.
  1. As part of the festival, visitors are treated to cultural programmes, food stalls, plays, sightseeing, river and village walks, bird-watching, screenings of short films as well as local tribal sports and dances.

About Great Indian Hornbill

  1. The great hornbill (Buceros bicornis) also known as the great Indian hornbill or great pied hornbill, is one of the larger members of the hornbill family.
  2. The great hornbill is long-lived, living for nearly 50 years in captivity.
  3. It is predominantly fruit eating, but is an opportunist and preys on small mammals, reptiles and birds.
  4. Its impressive size and colour have made it important in many tribal cultures and rituals.
  5. IUCN status: Vulnerable (uplisted from Near Threatened in 2018).
  6. It is also listed in Appendix I of CITES.
Tourism Sector

International Solar Alliance plans bank to fund energy access

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: IR | Important International institutions, agencies & fora, their structure, mandate

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: International Solar Alliance

Mains level: India’s initiatives for transition towards Renewable Energy


News

  • The International Solar Alliance (ISA) is going to propose a new bank exclusively for financing energy access to billions.

About the ISA Bank

  1. The bank is still at the ideation stage.
  2. ISA has asked the Asian Development Bank to prepare a concept note.
  3. A public-private partnership is being thought of for the proposed, which will work for 1.2 billion people who lack access to energy as well as the 2.4 billion who lack access to clean energy.

Why need such bank?

  1. According to a recent World Bank report, 600 million people would continue to have no access to energy even in 2040.
  2. Those using kerosene and other fuels that are costlier than renewable options.
  3. The bank would need to prioritise these groups and develop a mechanism.
  4. Existing banks do not focus on universal energy access those still deprived are the poorest of the poor.
  5. Hence ISA needs special finance mechanism which can target these people.

For additional reading, please navigate to the page:

ISA plans global solar bank to finance $150 billion of power projects

Solar Energy – JNNSM, Solar Cities, Solar Pumps, etc.

Centre proposes to hike monthly pensions for the elderly poor, disabled and widows

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre & States & the performance of these schemes

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: NSAP

Mains level: Condition of elderly persons and need for care and rehabilitation


News

Proposed hike in Pensions

  1. The Rural Development Ministry has proposed that the monthly pensions under NSAP.
  2. For the elderly poor, disabled and widows pensions are to be increased from the current ₹200 to ₹800.
  3. For those above the age of 80, the proposal is to increase the pension from ₹500 to ₹1,200 a month.

National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP)

  1. The NSAP is a Centrally Sponsored Scheme under the Ministry of Rural Development.
  2. It came into effect from 15th August,1995 represents a significant step towards the fulfillment of the DPSP in Article 41 of the Constitution.
  3. It aims to provide financial assistance to the elderly, widows and persons with disabilities in the form of social pensions.
  4. It currently covers more than three crore people who are below the poverty line (BPL), including about 80 lakh widows, 10 lakh disabled and 2.2 crore elderly.
  5. Those who are older than 80 years are paid ₹500 per month, while the rest are given ₹200 per month. These amounts have not been revised since 2007.
  6. State governments add their own contribution, ranging from less than ₹500 to ₹2000 per month.
  7. The scheme will need a total budget of ₹30,000 crore in order to increase the pension amounts to ₹800 and ₹1200.

SECC: A must need reference

  1. The government aims to enact a comprehensive social security and protection programme to reach every household of old, widows, orphaned children, divyaang and deprived as per the Socio Economic Caste Census.
  2. However, the NSAP uses BPL Criteria to identify beneficiaries.
  3. If SECC data was used to determine the number of people covered under the scheme instead of the current BPL criteria, coverage would double to about six crore people.
  4. Several States, including Rajasthan, Telangana, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, have already shifted to SECC data for their own pension schemes.

Indians can use Aadhaar to visit Nepal, Bhutan

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: IR | India & its neighborhood- relations.

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Travel norms mentioned in the newscard

Mains level: India’s ties with Nepal and Bhutan


News

  • Aadhaar cards are now valid travel documents for Indians under 15 and over 65 travelling to Nepal and Bhutan, according to a Home Ministry communique.

New norms for Nepal

  1. Indian citizens going to Nepal and Bhutan don’t need a visa if they have a valid passport, a photo identity card issued by the government of India or an election ID card issued by the Election Commission.
  2. Earlier, persons over 65 and under 15 could show their PAN card, driving licence, Central Government Health Service (CGHS) card or ration card, but not the Aadhaar, to prove their identity and visit the two countries.
  3. The Aadhaar card has now been added to the list.
  4. A certificate of registration issued by the Embassy of India, Kathmandu, to Indian nationals is not an acceptable travel document for travelling between India and Nepal.
  5. However, the emergency certificate and identity certificate issued by the Indian Embassy in Nepal will be valid for single journey for travelling back to India.
  6. Article 7 the 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship allows free movement of people between the two nations on a reciprocal basis.

Other rules

  1. Teens between 15 to 18 years will be allowed to travel between India and Nepal on the basis of an identity certificate issued by the principal of their school in a prescribed form.
  2. In case of a family (like husband, wife, minor children and parents) travelling together, all persons will not be required to carry relevant documents (such as a passport or an election ID) if one of the adult members has valid travel papers.
  3. The other family members must have some proof of their identity with a photograph and their relationship as a family, such as a CGHS card, ration card, a driving licence or an ID card issued by school/college.

Why such move?

  1. About six lakh Indians live in Nepal, according to data by the Ministry of External Affairs.
  2. Nepal shares a border of over 1,850 km with five Indian states — Sikkim, West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

A case for Bhutan

  1. Indian nationals travelling to Bhutan need to have either an Indian passport with minimum validity of six months or a voter identity card issued by the Election Commission of India.
  2. Bhutan, which shares borders with the Indian states of Sikkim, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and West Bengal, has about 60,000 Indian nationals, employed mostly in the hydroelectric power and construction industry.
  3. In addition, between 8,000 and 10,000 daily workers enter and exit Bhutan everyday in border towns.
  4. The 1949 Treaty of Friendship between India and Bhutan allows for free movement of people between the two nations on a reciprocal basis.
Aadhaar Card Issues

Global alliance of companies to eliminate plastic waste launched

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Environment | Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: AEPW

Mains level: Issues related to plastic waste.


News

  • An alliance of global companies launched a new organisation to help eliminate plastic waste, especially in the ocean.

Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW)

  1. The AEPW comprises of about 30 companies, which pledged over $1 billion to eliminate plastic waste across the world.
  2. The aim is to develop solutions to mitigate plastic pollution and promote a circular economy by utlising used plastics.
  3. The Alliance has been working with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development as a founding strategic partner.
  4. Designed as a non-profit organization, the Alliance includes companies from across North and South America, Europe, Asia, Southeast Asia, Africa as well as the Middle East are part of the Alliance.
  5. Member companies include those that make, use, sell, process, collect and recycle plastics, as well as chemical and plastic manufacturers, consumer goods companies, retailers, converters, and waste management companies, also called the plastics value chain.
  6. From India, Reliance Industries will advance efforts towards a sustainable future.

Focus areas of AEPW

  • Infrastructure development to collect and manage waste and increase recycling
  • Innovation to advance and scale up new technologies that make recycling and recovering plastics easier and create value from post-use plastics
  • Education and engagement of governments, businesses, and communities to mobilize action;
  • Clean-up of concentrated areas of plastic waste in the environment, particularly the major conduits of waste, such as rivers, that carry land-based waste to the ocean.
Waste Management – SWM Rules, EWM Rules, etc