[op-ed snap] Slipping state

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Citizens charters, transparency & accountability and institutional and other measures

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Custodial deaths are still a reality in India and such instances erode Confidence in government and administration.


NEWS

CONTEXT

The deaths of two men, Taslim Ansari and Gufran Alam, accused of theft and murder, in police custody, in Sitamarhi on March 7 raise disturbing questions about the  government’s claims to sushasan (good governance).

Background

  • The men were held for stealing a motorcycle and allegedly tortured to death.
  •  Five policemen, including the officer-in-charge of the concerned police station, have been suspended since.
  • But the government must do more and ensure quick and exemplary punishment to the culprits. It needs to send out the message that it will not allow a culture of impunity to return and thrive in the state.

History of misuse of power

  • Beginning in the 1990s, the Bihar story has been about the oppressed and marginalised finding a voice.
  • This was not merely about a transfer of power at the top from the upper castes to hitherto unrepresented communities, but also about instruments of state power, including police, becoming less hostile to the poor, the lower castes and the minorities.
  •  A mandate promising to build a stable state and offer good governance without reversing the social advancement achieved in the ‘90s was given to state.
  • Yet, the Sitamarhi deaths are a throwback to a time in Bihar when the law and order machinery was seen as biased against certain groups — incidents such as the Bhagalpur blindings of 1980, wherein policemen blinded 31 undertrials by pouring acid in their eyes and numerous anti-Dalit atrocities across the state had created the perception of the state police as a force that served the interests of the dominant castes. 
  • The police thana continues to be a representative institution of state power in rural areas and mofussil towns and its conduct is a barometer of the justice and inclusiveness in state and society. 
  • Custodial deaths and torture are an indication of a slipping state.
  • They puncture the governments’s claim to have turned around Bihar’s law enforcement culture and machinery.

Way Forward

  • Present government in Bihar has been shrewd in building political alliances to consolidate his hold on office. However, rise in political stature has been on account of the  claim to be a fair and competent administrator, who refuses to be dictated to by sectarian interests and communal prejudice.
  • A fair and timely inquiry into the Sitamarhi incident and action against the perpetrators alone can help retrieve that reputation.
Human Rights Issues

[op-ed snap]The urgent need for electoral reforms in India

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: The newscard briefly discusses how present electoral system is problematic and needs reforms.


NEWS

CONTEXT

Electoral system, election Machinery are in dire need of reforms.

Election Year

  • The Election Commission (EC) has urged voters to vote freely, fearlessly, and make an informed and ethical choice.
  • The numbers are staggering: 900 million eligible voters, a million voting booths, 10 million election officials (not counting security personnel), an expected 10,000 candidates for 545 seats, and more than 500 political parties in the fray.

Weaknesses of The first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system 

  • The first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system seems to encourage polarization, since in a multi-corner contest, even a low vote share is enough to get you elected and this often involves an extreme ideological focus on a core voter base.
  • One consequence of FPTP is the trend of constituents being micro-targeted with customized messages.
  • Another result is the non-linear relationship between vote share and seat share. 
  • Even a 1% vote swing can increase a party’s seat share by 10-15%.
  • The particularly stark case was that of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which in 2014 got 20% of Uttar Pradesh’s vote but no single Lok Sabha seat. 

Suggestions for Electoral Reforms

  •  Electoral reforms are overdue. A comprehensive agenda was laid out by the EC itself in a letter to the prime minister back in July 2004.
  • The gist of them is to make the process more transparent, disqualify criminal elements, mandate greater disclosure of money power, forge inner-party democracy and raise voter participation. 
  • Elections are now vulnerable to the adverse influence of three ‘M’s: money, muscle and media (including the social kind).
  • The EC’s job is to minimize this influence and ensure voting free from fear and coercion, plus a level playing field.

Representativeness of Indian Parliament

  • The trend over past several Lok Sabhas has been of a widening gap between the people and their representatives. This is a matter of grave concern.
  • Be it MPs or MLAs, elected representatives are agents of the people. In economics lingo, this is a principal-agent problem, where people are the “principal”.
  • Whoever they appoint (i.e. elect) has to do their bidding, or at least act in their best interest.
  • In the absence of any other signal of “credibility” or “trustworthiness” from candidates, voters often make choices based on caste, muscle power (to “get things done”) or charisma.

Lok Sabha distancing from people

  • To assess representativeness, consider the gaps between electors and the elected on such parameters as age, gender, wealth, criminality, education, dynasty and size of constituency.
  • The average age of the 13th Lok Sabha was 55.5 years, which went down to 52.7 in the 14th, but then went up again to 53 in the 15th, and 56 in the outgoing one.
  • It was only 46.5 years in 1952. India’s median age, however, is just 26. Two-thirds of the population is below 35. Yet our MPs are getting older. In contrast, the so-called ageing countries like the UK, Italy, France and Canada are electing much younger leaders.
  • On gender, women account for only 12% of the Lok Sabha. At least three states have zero female MPs. Less than 10% of candidates are women. Not so long ago, more than two-thirds of constituencies had no single female candidate. The Women’s Reservation Bill, meanwhile, has been pending in Parliament for over four decades.
  • 82% of all Lok Sabha members are crorepatis, i.e. have declared wealth of more than 1 crore. Their numbers have gone up from 156 to 315 to 449 in the last three Lok Sabhas. Their average wealth (declared via self-sworn affidavits) is around 14 crore. (In the Rajya Sabha, the average is 55 crore). The average income is around 31 lakh, which is 20 times India’s present per capita income.
  • On criminality, the proportion of MPs with criminal cases has been going up steadily, from 12% to 15% to 21%, since 2004.
  • On dynasty, it is well known (and documented by Patrick French) that an increasing number of elected representatives have a close relative (parent, spouse, sibling or cousin) who was an incumbent or a senior politician. 
  • Since the size of India’s parliament is frozen, we have a curious anomaly of constituency sizes ranging from a few thousand to over 3 million.

Conclusion

India will soon have to grapple the issue of delimitation of constituencies and increase the number of MPs if it wants to retain the representativeness of parliament that’s essential to democracy.

 

Electoral Reforms In India

[op-ed snap] To serve the governed: on Official Secrets Act

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance- applications, models,

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Provisions and utility of the OSA Act,it’s  effcts on freedom of press.


NEWS

CONTEXT

Recently Official secret Act was in news regarding leak of documents with respect to Rafale deal.

Colonial Legacy

  • The constitutional freedom to use and publicise information is directly affected by the provisions of the Official Secrets Act, 1923, which as with most of British India enactments followed the Official Secrets Act, 1920, passed by the British Parliament.
  • It was strict enough then but after Independence in ‘free India’ it was amended  and made stricter in 1967, widening the scope of Section 5 (“Wrongful communication. etc., of information”) and enlarging the scope of Section 8 (“Duty of giving information as to commission of offences”).

Second Press Commission

  •  Janata government which came to power at the end of the Internal Emergency, and set up what was then known (and is now forgotten) as the Second Press Commission, it was chaired by a great and good judge, Justice Goswami of the Supreme Court of India, whose common sense approach to all subjects greatly attracted me to him.
  •  The Commission proceeded in great earnestness for months, and ultimately, when its report was ready in December 1979, a report that implored the government of the day to immediately repeal the Official Secrets Act, 1923, it never saw the light of day. 
  •  It was replaced by the now officially known Second Press Commission presided over by Justice K.K. Mathew.
  • The Official Second Press Commission (the Mathew Commission) did not recommend the repeal of the Official Secrets Act of 1923.

Freedon Of Press

  • Press (and no longer the electronic media) is regarded as the champion of Article 19(1)(a) freedoms.
  • In his famous Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln described good governance as “of the people, by the people and for the people”. 
  • Centuries later we do understand the “of”, and are willing to tolerate the “by” but unfortunately we keep forgetting the “for”. If government is indeed for the people, it has a solemn obligation to keep the people well informed.

Conclusion

  • Fortunately, the modern trend in today’s world is towards less secrecy and more information. 
  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations way back in 1966, specifically includes the right to freedom of expression, defined as “the freedom to seek, receive and impart the information and ideas of all kinds”.
  • The Janata government signed and ratified this Covenant in 1979, but none of the later Governments has lived up to its ideals.
  • We have enacted Article 19(1)(a) in our 1950 Constitution with extremely limited restrictions — in Article 19(2) — but again only paid lip service to freedom of speech and expression.

 

RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

Centre allows states to put enemy properties exclusively to ‘public use’

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Economy | Mobilization of resources

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Enemy Property

Mains level: Alternative measures adopted by the government to increase revenues


News

  • The Centre has allowed state governments to put to “public use” some enemy properties that were left behind by people who migrated to Pakistan since the Partition and to China after the 1962 Sino-Indian war.
  • The move comes amid the central government’s efforts to sell more than 9,400 enemy properties, worth over Rs 1 trillion, and Rs 3,000 crore worth of enemy shares.

Enemy Property

  • As per the Enemy Property Act, 1968, ‘enemy property’ refers to any property that was belonging to a person who migrated from India to an enemy country when a war broke out.
  • After the war with China and Pakistan in 1962 and 1965, the government took over the properties, under the Defence of India Act, from persons who migrated to these countries.
  • The confiscated property included both movable and immovable properties such as securities, jewellery, land, and buildings.
  • Later in 1968, a law called the Enemy Property Act was enacted to regulate such properties and entrusted with the Custodian of Enemy Property (CEPI).

Why in news?

  • The guidelines for disposal of the Enemy Property Order, 2018, have been amended to facilitate “usages of enemy property by the state government exclusively for public use.
  • Of the total properties left behind by those who took Pakistani citizenship, 4,991 are located in Uttar Pradesh, the highest in the country. West Bengal has 2,735 such estates and Delhi 487.
  • The highest number of properties left by Chinese nationals is in Meghalaya (57) .West Bengal has 29 such properties and Assam seven.

Total Estimates of Property

  • There are 9,280 such properties left behind by Pakistani nationals and 126 by Chinese nationals.
  • A total 6,50,75,877 shares in 996 companies of 20,323 shareholders are under the custody of the Custodian of Enemy Property for India.
  • Of these companies, 588 are functional or active companies, 139 of these are listed and the remaining is unlisted.
Real Estate Industry

Arecanut gets its first GI tag for ‘Sirsi Arecanut’

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Indian Economy| Issues relating to intellectual property rights

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level:  GI, Sirsi arecanut

Mains level: GI Indications and their importance


News

  • For the first time in the arecanut sector, ‘Sirsi Supari’ grown in Uttara Kannada has received the Geographic Indication (GI) tag.

Sirsi Arecanut

  • It is cultivated in Yellapura, Siddapura and Sirsi taluks.
  • Totgars’ Cooperative Sale Society Ltd., Sirsi, is the registered proprietor of the GI.
  • The arecanut grown in these taluks have unique features like a round and flattened coin shape, particular texture, size, cross-sectional views, taste, etc.
  • These features are not seen in arecanut grown in any other regions.

Distinct Features

  • Its average dry weight is 7.5 g and average thickness is 16 mm.
  • This particular variety has a unique taste due to differences in chemical composition.
  • The total average flavonoids content in it is around 90 whereas in others it is around 80.
  • The total carbohydrates in ‘Sirsi Supari’ are 23% to 26%, total arecoline is 0.11% to 0.13%, total tannin content is 14.5% to 17.5%.

Back2Basics

Geographical Indications in India

  1. A Geographical Indication is used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin.
  2. Such a name conveys an assurance of quality and distinctiveness which is essentially attributable to its origin in that defined geographical locality.
  3. This tag is valid for a period of 10 years following which it can be renewed.
  4. Recently the Union Minister of Commerce and Industry has launched the logo and tagline for the Geographical Indications (GI) of India.
  5. The first product to get a GI tag in India was the Darjeeling tea in 2004. There are a total of 325productsfrom India that carry this indication.
  6. Darjeeling Tea, Mahabaleshwar Strawberry, Blue Pottery of Jaipur, Banarasi Sarees and Tirupati Laddus are some of the GIs.
  7. The Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 (GI Act) is a sui generis Act for protection of GI in India.
  8. India, as a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), enacted the Act to comply with the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights
  9. Geographical Indications protection is granted through the TRIPS Agreement. See also the Paris Convention, the Madrid Agreement, the Lisbon Agreement, the Geneva Act.
GI(Geographical Indicator) Tags

India’s biodiversity-rich zones also ‘hotspots’ of human impacts

Note4students

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

From UPSC perspectives, the following things are important

Prelims Level: Human Footprint Data

Mains Level: Read the attached story 


News

  • Human impacts on species occur across 84% of the earth’s surface, finds a study published in PLOS Biology, an international journal dedicated to biological science.

Human Footprint Data

  • Southeast Asian tropical forests — including India’s biodiversity-rich Western Ghats, Himalaya and the north-east also fall in this category.
  • Malaysia ranks first among the countries with the highest number of impacted species (125).
  • India ranks 16th in such human impacts, with 35 species impacted on average.
  • The study mapped the distribution of eight human activities — including hunting and conversion of natural habitats for agriculture — in areas occupied by 5,457 threatened birds, mammals and amphibians worldwide.

Roads poses threat

  • India has the world’s second largest road network.
  • While the impact of roads is highest (affecting 72% of terrestrial areas), crop lands affect the highest number of threatened species: 3,834.

Hot spots

  • Southeast Asian tropical forests — including those in India’s Western Ghats, Himalaya and north-east — are among the ‘hotspots’ of threatened species.
  • For instance, the average number of species impacted in the South Western Ghats montane rainforests is 60 and in the Himalayan subtropical broadleaf forests, 53.

Cool spots

  • There are ‘cool-spots’ (the world’s last refuges where high numbers of threatened species still persist).
  • Cool-spots could be the result of protection or because of intact habitat that has not been cleared yet.
  • India still has crucial refuges that need protecting. Identifying such areas could aid conservation and development planning for countries.
Wildlife Conservation Efforts

Role of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in the Dandi march of 1930

Note4students

Mains Paper 1: Freedom Struggle | its various stages and important contributors /contributions from different parts of the country

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Dandi March

Mains level: Contribution of Sardar Patel


News

  • On occasion of the 89th anniversary of the iconic Dandi March, PM Modi published a blog titled ‘When a handful of salt shook an empire’ paying tributes to the contributions made by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel to the movement.

Dandi March

  • On March 12, 1930, Gandhi along with 80 satyagrahis started out from Sabarmati Ashram and marched over 390 km to reach the coastal village of Dandi.
  • The march, a protest against the coercive salt tax imposed by the British, was the most significant organised challenge to British authority after the Non-Cooperation Movement of the early 1920s.
  • The march sparked a series of acts of civil disobedience across India against the salt laws.
  • Over 60,000 people were arrested across the country. Soon after, the Congress planned a Satyagraha at the Dharasana Salt Works, 25 miles south of Dandi.
  • However, the plan was shelved after Gandhi was arrested days before the beginning of the movement.

Role of Sardar Patel

  • Sardar Patel indeed play a very significant role in mobilizing people for the Dandi march.
  • However, when Gandhi proposed the idea of a salt march, the working committee of the Congress was not convinced of the impact it would have.
  • However, once the decision was taken, Patel threw his entire weight behind it and gave the movement its initial momentum.
  • It is believed Patel chose Dandi, and even planned the route Gandhi would take.
  • As Patel went about mobilizing people for the march, the district administration of Surat realized it was necessary to get him out of the way.
  • Consequently, on March 7, five days before the march was scheduled, Patel was arrested.
History- Important places, persons in news

Project Varshadhare

Note4students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Project Varshadhare

Mains level: Cloud Seeding


News

  • The Karnataka govt. has pushed a tender call for cloud seeding operations to enhance rainfall during the monsoons of 2019 and 2020.

Project Varshadhare

  • It is a cloud seeding project flagged off by the Karnataka government to enhance the amount of precipitation from the clouds to generate more rain.
  • Special aircraft will disperse the chemical silver iodide as they fly through rain-bearing clouds that will trigger and enhance the precipitation.

To read more about Cloud Seeding, navigate to the page:

Cloud seeding