[op-ed snap] Foreign hand returns

Note4students

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not Much

Mains level: Role of Social Media in influencing elections


NEWS

CONTEXT

It is widely accepted that the current general elections would be India’s first polls to be shaped by the social media. As rival parties weaponise new digital tools in a rather charged political moment, the question of preserving the integrity of India’s elections has come right to the top.

Examples of Foreign Interference

  • Foreign manipulation of elections is a major problem around the world.
  • In the last few years there have been charges of external intervention in elections in countries as different as the US, Cambodia, Madagascar and Taiwan.
  • For example, Indonesia, one of the world’s largest democracies. About 190 million people are set to elect the president, national parliament, provincial assemblies and local councils — all at one go — on April 17.
  • Last week, Arief Budiman, the chairman of Indonesia’s general election commission, told the press that hackers from Russia and China were trying to attack the voter data base and that these attacks were taking place not just every day, “but by the hour”.
  • “Voter behaviour can be changed by de-legitimising the election commission,” Budiman pointed out.

Indian Scenario

  • There was a time when the Indian political classes routinely accused the “foreign hand” for many unexpected developments, electoral or otherwise.
  • Most of the time, the “foreign hand” was a code for the US and its Central Intelligence Agency.
  • As the Congress, under Indira Gandhi, drifted close to the Soviet Union after 1969, the non-left opposition parties would often charge the KGB of meddling in the elections in favour of the Congress.
  • interfering in the internal politics of other societies — through overt and covert means — is as old as statecraft.
  • Before the age of mass politics, it was about influencing royal succession, ensuring friendly sovereigns in one’s neighbourhood, suborning key members of a foreign court, including ministers and military leaders.
  • According to one study, America and Russia intervened in at least one in nine elections around the world between 1946 and 2000.
  • As the global war for political influence raged during the Cold War, the CIA was accused of helping the Congress Party to push back against the Communists in Kerala and West Bengal. Russia and China, in turn, have been charged with supporting the Indian communists.
  • The end of the Cold War and the relative harmony among major powers meant there was less pressure on the great powers to intervene in India.

Cyber field as an arena for foreign interference

  • The contestation between great powers has returned, slowly but certainly.
  • As the cyber domain emerged as a new theatre for the political rivalry, charges have flown thick and fast about foreign intervention in the domestic politics of other countries.
  • Donald Trump’s surprising victory in the 2016 presidential elections has been followed by allegations of Russian intervention to manipulate the social media during the campaign.
  • There is no  question that platforms like Facebook were deliberately used to spread disinformation during the elections.
  • The unprecedented speed of online communication, the relative ease of spreading misinformation, the growing sophistication of fake news, the extraterritoriality of the web, the increasing impact of the digital influence operations by individuals, professional cyber consultants, criminal mafias, and above all governments, has helped constitute a new global cyber landscape that few could have imagined a decade ago.

Ways to address the cyber menace

  • The Indian political class has not devoted enough attention to the issues involved. The problem needs to be addressed at least at three levels.
  • One is for parties and political leaders to pay greater attention to cyber security of their campaigns and social media accounts.
  • Hacking and leaking of personal and sensitive information could have an explosive effect on the 2019 elections.
  • Two, the BJP and the Congress need a small, quiet and credible mechanism for mutual communication to contain the damage from hostile attempts to undermine Indian elections. The two parties must find the will to protect the legitimacy of the 2019 elections.
  • Finally, the national security establishment must extend full support to the Election Commission in fending off many likely threats to the integrity of the elections and help raise the awareness of the political class on the new dangers of the digital age.

 

Social Media: Prospect and Challenges

[op-ed snap] Lokpal, at last

Note4students

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Delay in appointment of Lokpal and consequences after appointment of Lokpal.


NEWS

CONTEXT

The selection of Justice P.C. Ghose as the first Lokpal has come after an unjustified delay of five years. Nevertheless, it ought to be welcomed as a milestone in the cause of fighting corruption in high places.

Background

  • The concept of an institutional mechanism, or an anti-corruption ombudsman, has been around for over 50 years.
  • It was finally enacted as a law in 2013, and came into effect on January 16, 2014.
  • Some of the credit for driving this legislation must be given to Anna Hazare’s movement against what many saw as unreasonable levels of corruption under the previous UPA regime.

Delay in implementation

  • Barring a report by the Standing Committee of Parliament and a couple of amendments passed in 2016 on the declaration of assets by public servants, there has been very little progress.
  • At one point, the government’s lack of political will to establish a Lokpal became obvious, leading to the Supreme Court repeatedly asking it to show progress in its efforts.
  • Ultimately, it was the court’s stern ultimatum to appoint a Lokpal within a timeframe that worked.
  • The government had initially taken the position that it was awaiting the passage of amendments based on the parliamentary committee report.
  • One amendment pertained to including the leader of the largest party in the Opposition in the selection committee, in the absence of a recognised Leader of the Opposition.
  • In a verdict in April 2017, the Supreme Court rejected the excuse and said there was no legal bar on the selection committee moving ahead even if there was a vacancy.
  • It is not clear why this simple amendment, carried out in respect of selection committees for the posts of CBI Director and Chief Information Commissioner, was not made in the Lokpal Act.
  • The Congress leader in the Lok Sabha,  did not want to attend selection committee meetings as a ‘special invitee’ and wanted full membership.

Appointment System

  • The appointment system is quite long, a two-stage process.
  • A search committee has to be formed.
  • It recommends a panel of names to the high-power selection committee, which comprises the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the Leader of the Opposition, the Chief Justice of India (or his nominee) and an eminent jurist.
  • The selection panel has to choose from a short-list consisting of names for the posts of Lokpal chairperson, and judicial and non-judicial members.

Consequences

  • Now that the Lokpal has been chosen, victims of corruption have a viable avenue of redress.
  • The Lokpal will take over the work of sanctioning prosecution, besides exercising its power to order preliminary inquiries and full-fledged investigations by any agency, including the CBI.

Conclusion

It may be unrealistic to expect any dramatic impact on the lives of the common people, but the Lokpal and other members have a historic responsibility to live up to popular expectations.

 

 

 

 

Corruption Challenges – Lokpal, POCA, etc

[op-ed snap] National insecurity

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Indian Economy| Investment models

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not Much

Mains level: The newscard discusses flaws in India’s defence procurement policy , Which is threatening national security.


NEWS

CONTEXT

The stain of the Bofors scandal that was unearthed in 1987 has diseased India’s defence procurement ever since. Be it the purchase of howitzers or AgustaWestland choppers or indeed the Rafale aircraft, every Indian defence procurement initiative invites severe political challenge.

Hesitations in procurements

  • Given that the Bofors scandal brought down the Rajiv Gandhi government, every Opposition party sees the purchase of any defence equipment from abroad as a political opportunity to attack the government of corruption.
  • This has reached such a stage that defence procurement in India has become well-nigh impossible and as a country we are imperilling our security at a time when the world is geo politically unstable.

Comparison with Neighbours

  • It is  a time when over a 5, 10 or 25 year period, India’s GDP has grown at 7 per cent per annum making India the second fastest growing large economy over the last two decades.
  • This year it has even surpassed China’s GDP growth rate.
  • But it is a fact that between 2000 and 2015, China went from a $1.2 trillion dollar economy to an over $11 trillion economy while India went from a $0.48 trillion economy to a $2.2 trillion dollar economy, making India only one-fifth the size of the Chinese economy.
  • But what should concern us much more is that if we were to do this comparison in respect of defence equipment and overall military might, we would likely be more like one-fifteenth the size of China.
  • With respect to Pakistan, the difference in our economic might does not reflect in our comparative military advantage against Pakistan.
  • We are today seven times the size of Pakistan’s GDP but the armies and military equipment are much more comparable.
  • This is not okay in today’s world as even Japan and Germany are discovering with the arrival of Donald Trump in the US and his taking away the US protective umbrella for them.

Repercussions of policy failure in procurement

  • The fact that the Air Force pilot who was shot down by Pakistan recently was flying a MiG-21, termed by many as a flying coffin, is shameful.
  • We have no right to talk of ourselves as a global force with such an ancient and depleted level of military equipment. We don’t spend enough, either, on intelligence or defence armaments.
  • We have faced at least six major attacks since Kargil — Kashmir assembly, Parliament and the year of standoff thereafter, Mumbai, Pathankot, Uri, and Pulwama now.

Is change possible?

  • Today kickbacks from defence procurement cannot be a large part of election funding because our elections cost a lot and our defence procurement is meagre.
  • Yet for 10 years Defence Minister A K Antony made sure that no defence equipment was purchased under his watch, as it might stain his clean reputation.
  • What we need, therefore, are some rules to ensure that we do not weaken ourselves so much that we endanger the nation.
  • We need to ensure equipment gets purchased in a time-bound manner and a certain amount of the annual budget is allocated to defence equipment and that an interparty group approves the final purchases.

Suggestion for defence procurement

  • First, we should agree to a certain minimum defence equipment purchase budget as a percentage of our annual budget.
  • The Parliament should be informed each year whether the allocated amount was spent on defence equipment.
  • Second, we need to create a new institutional mechanism for defence purchase.
  • This mechanism needs to both de-risk the officials involved in defence procurement, provide robust oversight and yet be conducted in a time-bound manner.
  • There should be three parts to it, including a technical committee comprising defence officials, a separate commercial negotiations team from the finance and defence ministries, including possibly officials from the CAG, and a PM-led approval team that includes the leader of Opposition, CAG, defence minister and possibly the chief vigilance commissioner.
  • Each part would need to complete its job within a pre-set time limit that should also be reported to the Parliament.
  • Thereafter, these discussions should be kept outside the purview of the media.
  • A record of the comments of the approval committee should be viewed by a select joint party committee after a pre-determined time period as a check.
  • Any complaints on the process followed can only be made to the Supreme Court, which would hear the complaint and pronounce judgement in secrecy to depoliticise procurement and not allow it to become an election issue.
  • Allowing for this challenge, though, would ensure probity.

Way Forward

It is important to create a national consensus on this vital issue to guard our national sovereignty. The time to act is right after the upcoming election.

 

 

 

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

Explained: How Lokpal will form, function

Note4students

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Lokpal and Lokayukta

Mains level: Appointment of the Lokpal


News

  • On this Sunday, a selection panel finalised the name of former SC judge Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose as the first head of the Lokpal, a national anti-corruption ombudsman.
  • This comes five years after the President had given assent to the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013.
  • Take a look at how the rest of the Lokpal will be selected, and how it will function:

Who all remain to be selected in Lokpal?

  • Justice Ghose was selected by committee headed by the Prime Minister.
  • The same selection committee will choose the Lokpal’s other members.
  • Under the 2013 Act, the Lokpal should consist of a chairperson and such number of members, not exceeding eight, of whom 50% should be judicial members.
  • The selection procedure for these posts is the same as that for the chairperson.
  • A search committee will prepare a panel of candidates, a selection committee will recommend names from among this panel, and the President will appoint these as members.
  • The Act states that not less than 50% of the members of the Lokpal should be from among persons belonging to the SCs, the STs, OBCs, minorities and women.
  • The same rules apply members of the search committee.
  • Salaries, allowances and service conditions of the Lokpal chairperson will be the same as those for the Chief Justice of India; those for other members will be the same as those for a judge of the Supreme Court.

Terms of Reference

  • The Lokpal will set about creating its various wings.
  • It will have an “Inquiry Wing, headed by the Director of Inquiry, for the purpose of conducting preliminary inquiry into any offence alleged to have been committed by a public servant punishable under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988”.
  • It will also have a “Prosecution Wing, headed by the Director of Prosecution, for the purpose of prosecution of public servants in relation to any complaint by the Lokpal under this Act”.
  • Once the other members of the Lokpal are appointed, the process for more appointments will start: Secretary, Director of Inquiry and Director of Prosecution and other officers and staff of the Lokpal.

Ambit of the Lokpal

  • For a wide range of public servants from the PM, ministers and MPs, to groups A, B, C and D employees of the central government various rules are in place.
  • If a complaint is filed against the PM, the Act says, “Lokpal shall inquire or cause an inquiry to be conducted into any matter involved in, or arising from, or connected with, any allegation of corruption made in a complaint”.
  • However, certain conditions will apply. The Act does not allow a Lokpal inquiry if the allegation against the PM relates to international relations, external and internal security, public order, atomic energy and space.
  • Also, complaints against the PM are not to be probed unless the full Lokpal bench considers the initiation of an inquiry and at least two-thirds of the members approve it.
  • Such an inquiry against the Prime Minister (if conducted) is to be held in camera and if the Lokpal comes to the conclusion that the complaint deserves to be dismissed, the records of the inquiry are not to be published or made available to anyone.

Lokpal itself is also subjected to the Law

  • The Act also includes the Lokpal’s own members under the definition of “public servant”.
  • The Chairperson, Members, officers and other employees of the Lokpal shall be deemed, when acting or purporting to act in pursuance of any of the provisions of this Act to be public servants.
  • It shall apply to public servants in and outside India.
  • It clarifies that a complaint under this Act shall only relate to a period during which the public servant was holding or serving in that capacity.

Inquiry Process

  • The Lokpal may, after receiving a complaint against any public servant, order a preliminary inquiry (to be completed with in 90 days) or investigation by any agency.
  • After receiving the report of the preliminary inquiry, the Lokpal may order an investigation by any agency or departmental proceedings or any other appropriate action by the competent authority, or it can order closure of the proceedings.

Office of the Lokayuktas

  • These are the state equivalents of the central Lokpal.
  • Every State shall establish a body to be known as the Lokayukta for the State, if not so established, constituted or appointed, by a law made by the State Legislature within a period of one year from the date of commencement of this Act,” states Section 63 of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act.
  • This means establishment of the institution of the Lokayukta including any appointment therein falls within the domain of the states.

When are the states expected to set up their respective Lokayuktas?

  • In some states, Lokayuktas were already functioning when the 2013 Act was passed. Most states, however, are without a Lokayukta.
  • The Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram Assemblies had passed Lokayukta Bills in 2014.
  • Following the SC order, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Puducherry Assemblies passed their respective Bills in July last year.
Corruption Challenges – Lokpal, POCA, etc

India, US to sign pact for exchange of country-by-country reports

Note4Students

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: CBC reports

Mains level: India-US trade relations


News

  • India and the US can now exchange country-by-country (CbC) reports filed by the ultimate parent corporations based in either of the countries.
  • This will reduce the compliance burden on their subsidiaries operating out of these countries.

CBC reports

  • The Income Tax Act requires Indian subsidiaries of multinational companies to provide details of key financial statements from other jurisdictions where they operate.
  • This provides the IT department with better operational view of such companies, primarily with regards to revenue and income tax paid.
  • The objective of mandating CbC is to ensure that all relevant tax authorities have access to the same information about an MNC’s value chain and the resulting tax consequences.
  • The provision was a part of the base erosion and profit shifting action plan, and later incorporated in IT Act also.

Why file such reports?

As per the Income-tax Act, a constituent entity of an international group, resident in India, other than a parent entity or an alternate reporting entity of an international group, resident in India, shall furnish the Country-by-Country (CbC) Report for a accounting year within the period as may be prescribed, if the parent entity of the said International Group is resident of a country or territory:

  • where the parent entity is not obligated to file the CbC Report
  • with which India does not have an agreement providing for exchange of the CbC Report OR
  • where there has been a systemic failure of the country or territory and the said failure has been intimated by the prescribed authority to such constituent entity

Why this move?

  • With this, Indian constituent entities of international groups headquartered in USA, who have already filed CbC Reports in the USA, would not be required to do local filing of the CbC Reports of their international groups in India.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

Septic tanks meet norms says Ministry

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: SBM Rural

Mains level: Government measures to end Manual Scavenging activities


News

  • Septic tanks and single pits are safe sanitation technologies that meet the standards prescribed by the Sustainable Development Goals, according to the Union Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation.

Twin-Leach pit Toilets

  • A large proportion of the remaining toilets have single-leach pits which, like the twin-leach pits, are also safe.
  • The twin-leach pit toilet is among the most economical and safe sanitation technologies, and has been promoted and extensively adopted.
  • However, there are other safe technologies like septic tanks or single pits.

Hazards of twin-leach pits

  • A/c to a report only 26% of rural toilets uses twin-leach pits.
  • The data from the National Annual Rural Sanitation Survey (NARSS) 2018-19, concluded that the remainder of rural toilets [that do not use twin-leach pits] could create a new sanitation nightmare.
  • 34% of rural toilets are connected to septic tanks but failed to clarify that this was a perfectly safe sanitation solution.
  • The waste from the remainder of rural toilets could create a new sanitation nightmare — like groundwater contamination and pushing a new generation into manual scavenging.

What concerns the most?

  • The problem of sludge management along with lack of manpower to empty and clean such tanks is at the core.
  • There is a manpower challenge, given the social context of the country and caste prejudices against such cleaning work, even while acknowledging that the government was preparing technological and entrepreneurial solutions to the problem.
  • The transportation and treatment of faecal waste – including waste emptied from septic tanks – is a problem, and that surveys have shown such waste is often dumped into local ponds and farmlands.
Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

Govt.’s prerogative to frame schemes: SC

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Separation of powers between various organs

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Art.32 vs Art.226

Mains level: Writ Jurisdiction


News

  • It is the sole prerogative of the government to frame schemes and courts should stay out of governance, the Supreme Court has said in a judgment.
  • A Bench led by Justice A.M. Sapre criticised the Uttarakhand High Court for framing a scheme to regularize hundreds of casual workers engaged by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) in the construction of roads for Char Dham Yatra pilgrimage.

Courts can only direct

  • The High Court failed to see that it is not the function of the courts to frame any scheme but it is the sole prerogative of the government to do it.
  • All that the High Court, in exercise of its extraordinary power under Article 226 of the Constitution, can do is to direct the government to consider framing an appropriate scheme.
  • Such directions to the government to consider framing a scheme should be with regard to the facts and circumstances of each case.
  • It is only in exceptional cases when the court considers it proper, should it issue appropriate mandatory directions, the Supreme Court held.
  • Instead, in the present case, a single judge of the High Court framed a scheme itself to regularize the services of the casual labourers and granted the benefits similar to those of regular employees under the labour law.

To read more about the Writ Jurisdiction, navigate to the page:

Polity Titbits: Functions/powers of Judiciary

Judiciary Institutional Issues

Life imprisonment is the rule, death penalty the exception: SC

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not Much

Mains level: Row over capital punishment


News

  • If a court finds it difficult to make a choice between death penalty and life imprisonment, it should opt for the lesser punishment, the Supreme Court said in a recent judgment.

Death penalty is exceptional

  • Life imprisonment is the rule to which the death penalty is the exception.
  • The death sentence must be imposed only when life imprisonment appears to be an altogether inappropriate punishment, having regard to the relevant facts and circumstances of the crime.
  • The judgment was based on an appeal filed by a man sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a five-year-old in Madhya Pradesh.
  • The court ordered the convict to serve his life sentence with a minimum of 25 years’ imprisonment without remission.
Death Penalty Abolition Debate