[op-ed snap] An abhorrent and unjust device: on death penalty

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: The newscard talks against the death penalty. It supports the argument that there is no point of allowing death penalty.


NEWS

CONTEXT

On March 5, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court delivered verdicts in three different death penalty cases. In two of those the court entirely exonerated the suspects, while in the third it not only found the accused guilty of murder, but also deserving of capital punishment.Retention of the death penalty utterly undermines India’s moral foundations.

The arbitrariness of the Death Penalty

  • Collectively, the cases demonstrate how arbitrary the death penalty is, how its application is mired by a belief in conflicting values, and how the fundamental requirement of precision in criminal law has been replaced by a rhetorical cry for avenging crime by invoking the “collective conscience” of society.

Lackof uniformity in dealing  with the cases

  • In the first of the cases, Digamber Vaishnav v. State of Chhattisgarh, two persons were convicted of murdering five women and were sentenced to death in 2014.
  • But the chief testimony, was that of a nine-year-old child.This, the court therefore ruled, was effectively a conviction premised on surmise and conjecture.
  • Ankush Maruti Shinde v. State of Maharashtra, the second of the cases,a trial court found six persons guilty .However, in 2009, the Supreme Court not only dismissed the appeals filed by those sentenced to death, but also, astonishingly, enhanced the penalties of the three persons whose sentences had been commuted by ordering that they too be punished with death.

Court’s Justification for changing ruling

  • During this time, as the court records, “The accused remained under constant stress and in the perpetual fear of death.

Failure of Rarest Of the rare doctrine

  • After all, if these decisions had shown us anything, it was that the judicial process is far from inerrant.
  • But the collective conscience of society, represented through the court’s capital punishment jurisprudence, it appears, is still alive and kicking.
  • For in the third of the cases, in Khushwinder Singh v. State of Punjab, it not only affirmed the conviction of the accused, on charges of murdering six members of a family, but also gave its imprimatur to the award of the death penalty. The murders, the judgment holds, were “diabolical and dastardly” and the case fell into the “rarest of rare” categories where “there is no alternative punishment suitable, except the death sentence”.
  • The rarest of rare doctrine has its origins in Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab (1980).
  • There, the court declared Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code, which prescribes the death penalty for murder, as constitutionally valid, but bounded its limits by holding that the punishment can only be prescribed in the rarest of rare cases.
  • Since then, the court has repeatedly cautioned that capital punishment ought to only be decreed when the state can clearly establish that a convict is incapable of being reformed and rehabilitated.
  • But, in Khushwinder Singh, the court does not place on record any such piece of evidence that the state was called on to produce.
  • Indeed, the court does not so much as attempt to answer whether the accused was, in fact, capable of reformation or not. Instead, it merely endorses the death sentence by holding that there simply were no mitigating circumstances warranting an alternative penalty.

Victims of such system

  • That capital punishment serves no legitimate penological purpose is by now abundantly clear.
  • There’s almost no empirical evidence available showing that the death penalty actually deters crime.
  • If anything, independent studies have repeatedly shown the converse to be true.
  • In the U.S., for instance, States that employ capital punishment have had drastically higher rates of homicide in comparison with those States where the death penalty is no longer engaged.
  • In India, evidence also points to a disproportionate application of the sentence, with the most economically and socially marginalised amongst us suffering the most.
  • The Death Penalty India Report (DPIR), released on May 6, 2016, by Project 39A of the National Law University, Delhi, for example, shows that 74% of prisoners on death row, at the time of the study, were economically vulnerable, and 63% were either the primary or sole earners in their families.
  • More than 60% of those sentenced to death had not completed their secondary school education, and 23% had never attended school, a factor which, as the report states, “points to the alienation that they would experience from the legal process, in terms of the extent to which they are able to understand the case against them and engage with the criminal justice system.”

Need For Reforms

  • In the face of this invidiously prejudiced application, the retention of capital punishment utterly undermines the country’s moral foundations.
  • The Supreme Court may well have expanded the rights of death row prisoners: delays by the President in disposing of mercy petitions now constitute a valid ground for commutation; review petitions filed by death row convicts now have to be mandatorily heard in open court.
  • But as the judgments delivered on March 5 reveal, the very preservation of the death penalty creates iniquitous results.
  • Cases such as Ankush Maruti Shinde, where the accused, as the judgment records, were very poor labourers, “nomadic tribes coming from the lower strata of the society,” ought to make it evident that the death penalty is an abhorrent and unjust device.
  • The Constitution promises to every person equality before the law. But capital punishment renders this pledge hollow.
  • t legalises a form of violence, and it closes down, as Judith Butler wrote, expounding Jacques Derrida, “the distinction between justice and vengeance,” where “justice becomes the moralised form that vengeance assumes.”

 

[op-ed snap]Vote on national security

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Internal Security | Security challenges & their management in border areas

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not Much

Mains level: National Seecurity Doctrine should be an issue in Election and Plotcal Prties should include it in their mandate.


NEWS

CONTEXT

In the wake of Pulwama and Balakot, national security may become the key issue in the forthcoming general elections.

Security Issue as an Election Issue

  • It would be most timely if national security indeed became a serious election issue, not in terms of scoring political points, but in drawing attention to persistent infirmities in our governance systems, the failure to address serious gaps identified by expert committees such as the Kargil Review Committee (2000) and the Naresh Chandra Task Force on National Security (2012) and the blatant lack of accountability apparent in avoiding public reckoning in subsequent serious security lapses evident in the Pathankot, Uri and now the Pulwama incidents.
  • Let each political party in the fray have the courage to acknowledge India’s national security challenge in its various dimensions and include in their respective manifestos what practical steps they are committed to undertaking to make our country safe from external and domestic threats.

Introspecting Policy responses

  • One must expose our hostile neighbour’s responsibility for threats to our national security.
  • But it is as important to turn the spotlight on our own failings which allow our adversaries to exploit them repeatedly.
  • The surgical strikes in 2016 and now the air attacks on Balakot are significant actions in raising the costs for Pakistan pursuing cross-border terror against India.
  • Any triumphalism which deflects attention from what needs to be done to strengthen our national security structures and processes, must be avoided.
  • No government, no political leader, no institution of the state should claim immunity from scrutiny or questioning, especially in a democracy.

Issues to be present in mandates

  • Recognising that national security has become a major public preoccupation, each party should include in its manifesto what it believes should be the national security doctrine for a plural and democratic country like India.
  • It should be a doctrine based not on creating fear but clearly spelling out the real trade-off between security and the space to enjoy democratic values and fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.
  • A national security doctrine will make sense only if it is placed in the framework of India’s Constitution and conveys a sense of where India wishes to be as a country and society in 10, 20 or 30 years.

Way Forward For Political Parties

  • political parties should commit to updating the reports of the Kargil Review Committee and the Naresh Chandra Task Force on National Security, make public their outcome and promote an open debate as a prelude to implementing key recommendations.
  • They emphasise the need to draw lessons from past successes and failures and avoid ad hoc responses.

Challenges

  • Any security system is as good and efficient as its junior-most footsoldier.
  • Problems With Lower Rung
    • The recruitment of police personnel at these levels is often subject to political patronage and corrupt practices.
    • They lack basic training. Some, being virtually illiterate, are not even trainable.
    • Their conditions of work and living are pathetic.
    • They are easily corrupted.
    • Most state governments are guilty of allowing large vacancies in their police forces.
    • India has one of the lowest police to population ratios at 125 per 1,00,000. At the ground level, there is virtually no policing of the kind which might have apprehended the LeT terrorists as they landed on the beach outside Mumbai.
  • That there is regular smuggling from across the sea and our land borders is an open secret.
  • Terrorists slip through using these smuggling routes often relying upon corrupted elements in security forces.
  • No additional bureaucratic layers added to an already top heavy system are likely to make much difference unless the reality at the local level is addressed.
  • There is inordinate stress on the personal security of political personages and senior officials at the expense of public security. There are three security personnel, on an average, for every VIP.
  • This is anachronistic in a democratic and egalitarian society, but also impacts adversely on the state’s ability to ensure public security and law and order without which terrorist threats cannot be addressed.

Conclusion

  • These are some of the real issues relating to national security and can be addressed through efficient and accountable institutions and not through individual bravery or brilliance.
  • Citizens have the right to hold their political leaders and governing institutions accountable and that is only possible if there is transparency mandated by law, not left to the discretion of a government.
  • It is unacceptable to assert that questioning the armed forces or government is unpatriotic.
  • Armed forces are not invincible. They can make mistakes, they may lack the capacity or the right kind of weaponry and equipment.
  • National security does not justify hiding from one’s own citizens the infirmities which plague our security forces.
  • Governments make mistakes and will continue making them if citizens cannot question them.
  • Let us, by all means, make national security an election issue because there are serious concerns on how it is being handled.

 

 

 

Defence Sector – DPP, Missions, Schemes, Security Forces, etc.

[op-ed snap] China’s block: on not listing Azhar as global terrorist

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: IR | Effect of policies & politics of developed & developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: UNSC

Mains level: Impact of China’s Block on listing of Masood Azhar

CONTEXT

China’s decision to block the listing of Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist at the UN Security Council is both a setback to India’s post-Pulwama diplomatic strategy and a reality check on ties with China at present.

Background

  • After the February 14 attack, claimed by the JeM, the government had made the listing of Azhar a focus in its diplomatic efforts.
  • It reached out to several governments, and shared a dossier on Azhar with each member of the Security Council, who are all members of the 1267 ISIL and al-Qaeda sanctions committee.
  • A special effort was made with Beijing, which has blocked the Azhar listing in the past, including just after the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
  • From 2016 to 2018, India’s proposals to list Azhar, with evidence of JeM involvement in the Pathankot airbase attack, were also foiled by China, which placed holds on the listing, and then vetoed it.
  • The vetoes came despite the fact that the JeM is banned, and in the UNSC listing it is noted that Azhar, as its leader and founder, accepted funds from Osama bin Laden.
  • China, as the one country that has refused to allow Azhar’s name on the list, is well aware of the evidence against him, but is not ready to withdraw its objections.
  • It is clear that despite India-China relations improving after the Wuhan summit in April 2018, China is unwilling to align itself with India on its concerns on cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan.

Challenges and  resistance

  • China’s stand is regrettable and condemnable, and it has been consistent on this issue.
  • New Delhi must now consider whether it wishes to accept this as a fait accompli, or confront Beijing to try to persuade it to change its stand by means of incentives or coercion.
  • This is a challenge, as any kind of concerted international pressure from the Western countries in this regard has in the past only served to be counterproductive.
  • It is also unlikely that the suggestions being offered by some political groups, of cutting imports from China and other punitive actions, will yield much.

Steps That can be taken

  • The government may be more successful if it identifies the incentives it can offer China in the next few months to review its position.
  • While some of those incentives would be bilateral, the Chinese spokesperson’s hint that dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad, and even possible “triangular” talks including Beijing, is indicative of China’s thinking.
  • The government must also not lose sight of the bigger picture: that the UNSC cannot enforce its own listings, and other leaders who have been sanctioned in the past remain free and unencumbered.
  • While listing Azhar at the UNSC is an unfinished task, the larger issue remains: to ensure that Pakistan takes substantive action against Azhar, the JeM and other terror groups that are threatening India.
  • China, with its economic and strategic leverage with Pakistan, may be better-placed to help in this matter.

 

Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

RTI trumps Official Secrets Act, says SC

Note4students

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

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: OSA, RTI

Mains level: Importance of RTI in enhancing transparency and accountability


News

  • An all-out effort by the government to claim privilege and push the Rafale jets’ pricing details back into the dark zone was rejected by the apex court.

RTI >> OSA

  • But Justice Joseph, one of the three judges on the Bench, asked the government to read out Sections of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005.
  • The judge said the information law has revolutionized governance and overpowered notions of secrecy protected under the Official Secrets Act, 1923.
  • The Section 22 of the RTI Act, which declared the RTI to have an “overriding effect” over OSA.
  • Then Section 24 mandates even security and intelligence organisations to disclose information on corruption and human rights violations.
  • Section 8(2) compels the government to disclose information “if public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to protected interests.

Govt. Stance

  • The government wants the court to refrain from examining the documents, which have already been published in the media on the purchase of the Rafale fighter aircraft.
  • It claimed the documents were illicitly photocopied from the originals kept in the Ministry of Defence and sneaked into the public domain.
  • The government said the leak was a “conspiracy” to jeopardize national security and friendly relations with France.

Assist this newscard with:

Explained: India’s Official Secrets Act, its history and use


Back2Basics

Right to Information

  • Right to Information (RTI) is an Act of the Parliament of India to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens.
  • It replaces the erstwhile Freedom of information Act, 2002.
  • Under the provisions of the Act, any citizen of India may request information from a “public authority” (a body of Government or “instrumentality of State”) which is required to reply expeditiously or within thirty days.
  • The Act also requires every public authority to computerize their records for wide dissemination and to proactively certain categories of information so that the citizens need minimum recourse to request for information formally.
  • Information disclosure in India was restricted by the Official Secrets Act 1923 and various other special laws, which the new RTI Act relaxes.
RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

Climate Vulnerability Index for India on the anvil

Note4students

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Particulars of the Index

Mains level: Impact of climate change on Himalayan States


News

  • The Department of Science and Technology (DST) will be commissioning a study to assess the climate risks faced by States in India.
  • This follows an assessment of the global warming risks faced by 12 Himalayan States.

Climate Vulnerability Index

  • Last year the IIT at Mandi and Guwahati, and the IISc Bengaluru, coordinated with authorities of 12 Himalayan states to evolve a common methodology, and determine how districts there are equipped to deal with the vagaries of climate change.
  • The researchers prepared a ‘vulnerability index’ of each of these States based on district-level data.
  • Vulnerability would be a measure of the inherent risks a district faces, primarily by virtue of its geography and socio-economic situation.
  • The eight key parameters included: percentage of area in districts under forests, yield variability of food grain, population density, female literacy rate, infant mortality rate, percentage of population below poverty line (BPL), average man-days under MGNREGA and the area under slope > 30%.

Ranking of the states

  • On a scale ranging 0-1, 1 indicating the highest possible level of vulnerability, at the top of the scale were Assam with a score of 0.72 and Mizoram at 0.71, whereas Sikkim, with an index score of 0.42 was relatively less vulnerable.
  • This doesn’t mean that States with a lower score are safe in an absolute sense.
  • In fact, some districts in Uttarakhand [at 0.45 and at the lower end of the scale] are more vulnerable than those in Assam.

Different factors

  • Different factors contributed to a State’s vulnerability.
  • In Arunachal Pradesh, the key factors are low female literacy and high percentage of population above BPL whereas in Nagaland the key issues are loss of forest cover, steep slope and high yield variability.
Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

Despite objections, Bannerghatta National Park’s Eco-Sensitive Zone curtailed

Note4students

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

From UPSC perspectives, the following things are important

Prelims Level: Bannerghatta National Park, ESZs

Mains Level: Read the attached story 


News

  • Bannerghatta National Park’s Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ), which provides a regulated buffer zone around protected areas, will remain at 168.84 sqkm despite thousands of citizens formally objecting to the reduction of nearly 100 sq. km. as compared to the original proposal.
  • The new ESZ will range from 100 metres (towards Bengaluru) to 1 kilometre from the periphery of the protected area.

What are Eco-Sensitive Zones?

  • An ecologically sensitive area is one that is protected by the government given the sheer number of species, plants and animals endemic to the region.
  • According to the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, the government can prohibit industrial operations such as mining, sand quarrying and building thermal power plants in sensitive areas.
  • The definition offered by the MoEF: An ecological sensitive area is a bio-climatic unit (as demarcated by entire landscapes) in the Western Ghats wherein human impacts have locally caused irreversible changes in the structure of biological communities (as evident in number/ composition of species and their relative abundances) and their natural habitats.
  • To categorise an area as ecologically sensitive, the government looks at topography, climate and rainfall, land use and land cover, roads and settlements, human population, biodiversity corridors and data of plants and animal species.

Citizens’ opposition ignored

  • When the ESZ notification for Bannerghatta National Park was issued in October 2018, citizens were given 60 days to submit their objections.
  • Environmental and civic action groups swung into action and encouraged people to submit their objections to the MoEFCC against the 100 sqkm reduction of ESZ.
  • The fear of many was that this reduction would lead to more quarrying in the area.
Wildlife Conservation Efforts

[pib] India Energy Modelling Forum

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Economy | Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Energy Modelling

Mains level: Move for energy modelling in India


News

India Energy Modelling Forum (IEMF)

  • The NITI Aayog and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) organized the first workshop on development of the India Energy Modelling Forum (IEMF).
  • The IEMF seeks to provide a platform for policy makers to study important energy and environmental issues and ensure induction of modelling and analysis in informed decision making process.
  • The Forum aims to improve cooperation and coordination between modeling teams, the Government of India, knowledge partners and think-tanks, build capacity of Indian institutions, and identify issues for joint modeling activities and future areas of research.

What is Energy Modelling?

  • Energy modeling or energy system modeling is the process of building computer models of energy systems in order to analyze them.
  • Such models often employ scenario analysis to investigate different assumptions about the technical and economic conditions at play.
  • Outputs may include the system feasibility, greenhouse gas emissions, cumulative financial costs, natural resource use, and energy efficiency of the system under investigation.
  • Governments maintain national energy models for energy policy development.

Outcomes of the forum

  • Discussions on energy modelling in India and the world explored how energy modelling can play an important role in decision-making.
  • The panelists laid focus on bridging the rural-urban divide and factoring in energy pressures from the informal economy within models.
  • Deliberations included a spotlight on how the impact of the evolving character of India’s cities, industries and especially the transport sector should be included in the any India-centric models.
  • The shift towards electric mobility, an increasing emphasis on mainstreaming of renewable energy options and overarching environmental concerns were also stated as key factors for determining India’s energy future.
Urban Transformation – Smart Cities, AMRUT, etc.

[pib] UNNATEE (UNlocking NATional Energy Efficiency Potential)

Note4students

From UPSC perspective, following things are important:

Prelims level: UNNATEE

Mains level: Not Much


News

UNNATEE

  • Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) has developed a national strategy document for accelerating energy efficiency in India.
  • PwC India has assisted BEE in executing this assignment.
  • The strategy document titled UNNATEE (Unlocking NATional Energy Efficiency potential) describes a plain framework and implementation strategy to establish a clear linkage between energy supply-demand scenarios and energy efficiency opportunities.
  • The document offers a comprehensive roadmap to address India’s environmental and climate change mitigation action through energy efficiency measures.
  • This exercise is first of its kind, clearly delineating the energy efficiency targets for the respective demand sectors upto the state levels.
  • Developing India’s blueprint of effective energy efficiency strategy is a leap towards stimulating energy efficiency ecosystem and enabling reduction of the pressure on demand.

About BEE

  • The BEE is a statutory body under the Ministry of Power, Government of India.
  • It assists in developing policies and strategies with the primary objective of reducing the energy intensity of the Indian economy.
  • BEE coordinates with designated consumers, designated agencies, and other organizations to identify and utilize the existing resources and infrastructure, in performing the functions assigned to it under the Energy Conservation Act.
Renewable Energy – Wind, Tidal, Geothermal, etc.