[op-ed snap]A new red line

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Polity | Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions & responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: ECI- functioning, appointments and powers

Mains level: Ethics code to regulate social media for conducting free and fair elections


NEWS

CONTEXT

On Wednesday, the Election Commission (EC) and Internet and Mobile Association of India — the body that represents social media firms — took a decisive step towards plugging this gap. The two agencies agreed on a Code of Ethics, which social media outfits will follow during the Lok Sabha elections.

Background

  • Ever since the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, new media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp, have become political battlegrounds.
  • These spaces of electioneering have, however, remained unregulated because the Representation of People Act (RPA), 1951, does not cover social media.

The vision of Ethics Code

  • The Code that came into effect on March 20 ticks several boxes — it emphasises transparency and stresses on measures to “prevent abuse of social media platforms”.
  • However, as Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora put it, “the document should be seen as a work in progress”.
  • Since adherence to the Code is voluntary, much will depend on the measures taken by individual social media outfits to put the document’s guidelines into practice.
  • Section 126 of the RPA prohibits political parties and candidates from campaigning in the two days before voting.
  • In January, an EC panel suggested bringing social media platforms under the Act’s ambit so that voters are “afforded a period of reflection”.
  • The panel suggested that these new media platforms should abide by the EC’s guidelines about taking down “objectionable content”.
  • Social media outfits, however, did not agree with the recommendation that such content “be taken down within three hours of a notice”.
  • Valid legal orders will be acknowledged and/ or processed within three hours for violations reported under Section 126.
  • Also welcome is the Code’s insistence on “transparency in paid political advertisements”. Any political advertisement posted without the EC’s certification and notified as such by the EC will be acted upon expeditiously, the Code says.
  • The Code asks social media firms to train the EC’s nodal officers on how their “platforms work and on mechanisms for sending requests on dealing with offensive material”.
  • These companies will also develop a “reporting mechanism” through which the poll watchdog can inform the platforms about “potential violations of Section 126”.

Way Forward

  • The Code’s success will depend, in large measure, on how these channels of communication work. In the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, the conduct of the social media firms — and the EC — will be watched.

 

 

Electoral Reforms In India

[op-ed snap]The Kerala alert

Note4students

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

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: West Nile virus & associated facts

Mains level: Reports of west Nile virus spread in India & Its history


NEWS

CONTEXT

The death of a child in Kerala’s Malappuram district has drawn attention to the epidemiology of the little-known West Nile Virus in India.

Background

  • The first documented WNV case in Kerala was in Alappuzha in 2011, with the numbers then growing.
  • Though awareness is low, the virus is endemic to several States.
  • However, official records do not reflect this, given the difficulty of diagnosing WNV in its acute phase.
  • This microbe is serologically similar to the Japanese Encephalitis virus, which means a go-to test, ELISA, often fails to differentiate JE antibodies from WNV antibodies.
  • More tests are typically needed to confirm WNV, and while the results appear in journals, they don’t always make it to State surveillance systems.
  • This is why, though a 2014 Journal of Clinical Virology paper identified the 2011 Alappuzha outbreak as WNV, with around six deaths, Kerala’s health department is calling the Malappuram death the State’s first.

Interventions after alert

  • Nevertheless, the alert is a welcome move. It means that State health authorities will look harder for the disease.
  • Historically, wherever Indian researchers have looked for the WNV, they have found it.

History of West Nile Virus in India

  • The first sign of its presence came from positive antibody tests among residents of Bombay in 1952.
  • Thereafter, it began showing up in encephalitis patients in many of the places it was tested for, including Maharashtra, Assam and Madhya Pradesh.
  • In Malappuram too, the rapid diagnosis was driven by heightened surveillance in Kerala following the 2018 Nipah outbreak.
  • Patient samples were sent to the Manipal Centre for Virus Research, which deployed the Plaque Reduction Neutralisation Test, more specific than ELISA.
  • If more States used such diagnostics, it would help determine just how widespread WNV is in India.

Impact of WNV at present and in future

  • There is a good chance the virus is a significant cause of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome, the infamous basket of illnesses with no known aetiology that affect over 10,000 Indians each year.
  • Still, WNV rarely kills.
  • In less than 1% of infections, the virus travels to the brain, triggering potentially fatal encephalitis.
  • Otherwise, it merely causes a mild flu-like illness.
  • Viruses are known to adapt for both greater virulence and more efficient transmission.
  • Urbanisation and land-use changes are bringing the virus’s zoonotic hosts, such as birds, in more frequent contact with humans.
  • Given increased mobility, viruses can hitch a ride to new regions via infected humans and vectors.
  • All this makes the WNV a formidable foe. India’s best defence is better surveillance, which will help doctors reach patients early to prevent complications.

Conclusion

Kerala could not prevent the death in Malappuram, but other States should adopt its model of heightened surveillance.

 

 

[op-ed snap]Afghanistan and the Taliban: next stage in the Great Game

Note4Students

Mains Paper 2: International relations| India and its neighborhood- relations.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of India-Afghanistan relations.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the India’s Afghan policy in the light of US withdrawing from Afghanistan and ongoing talks with Taliban, in a brief manner.


NEWS

CONTEXT

Defeatism will hurt India’s interests more than the Taliban’s return to Kabul could.

Relationship dynamics over Taliban Inclusion

  • As international talks with the Taliban leadership gain momentum, India’s foreign policy establishment has gone through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
  • After the initial denial that several countries, including the U.S., Russia, U.A.E., Qatar and Saudi Arabia, were engaging with Pakistan in order to bring senior Taliban leaders to the table in late 2017, India protested against being cut out of the talks.
  • It then negotiated to join them, followed by expressions of deep misgiving over where the talks would lead.
  • And finally this has given way to acceptance today that the talks have not only progressed, but are being given priority over every other process in Afghanistan.

Details of Ongoing Talks

  • The talks appeared to be held on the Taliban’s terms, and at a venue of its choice.
  • Therefore, while clear agreements have been forged on the withdrawal of foreign forces and on not allowing Afghan soil for use by foreign terror groups, agreements on a comprehensive ceasefire and an intra-Afghan dialogue, once considered the minimum “redlines” or starting point of engaging with the Taliban, have now been made the last priority.
  • These talks have also broken the most important redline, that of being led by, or at least held with the full backing and knowledge of, the democratically-led government in Kabul.
  • During a visit to Washington on March 14, Afghan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib lashed out at Mr. Khalilzad for “delegitimising” the Ashraf Ghani government by carrying out talks in the dark.

Worrying Factors for India

  • reason for New Delhi’s disquiet is that these talks continue without acknowledging a role for India, despite this being an expressly stated goal of Mr. Trump’s South Asia policy.
  • This week, Mr. Khalilzad’s conference at the U.S. State Department to discuss “international support for the Afghan peace process, the role each party can play in bringing an end to the war, and progress to date in peace talks” included only special envoys from Russia, China and the European Union.
  • When talks with the Taliban began, the objective was to try to mainstream the insurgents into the political process, and at least have a working ceasefire by the time presidential elections, scheduled for April 2019, were held.
  • The reality is far from that.
  • The Taliban continues to carry out terror attacks in Afghanistan even as its leadership talks with the U.S. Despite the Ministry of External Affairs issuing a statement on the importance of holding the presidential elections, the Afghan vote has been further postponed to September 28.
  • This makes Mr. Ghani’s continuance more tenuous under the constitution, which could mean an interim government will be installed, something India has been opposed to as well.
  • New Delhi is worried about the prospect of chaos and civil war, akin to the scene after the previous U.S. pullout in the early 1990s that cut India out and brought the Taliban to power in Kabul with Pakistan’s support.

Way Forward for India

  • Despite the restricted room for manoeuvre, however, there are several steps New Delhi can and must take in the present scenario to ensure both its own relevance in Afghanistan and stability in the region.
  • To begin with, there is the question of talks with the Taliban, which India has thus far refused.
  • In the recent past, the Modi government has shown some flexibility on the issue, by sending a “non-official” representation to the Moscow talks with the Taliban.
  • After a visit to Delhi in January by Mr. Khalilzad, Army Chief General Bipin Rawat even suggested that India should “jump on the bandwagon” of engaging the Taliban.

Challenges in talks with Taliban

  • However, direct, open talks between India and the Taliban at this point would serve little purpose for either side.
  • For India, it would mean casting aside a consistently held moral principle and speaking to a non-state actor that espouses terrorism.
  • recognising the Taliban as a legitimate interlocutor for India at this point would be a betrayal of India’s values without any visible gains.
  • India’s policy for the past two decades is to deal with the government in Kabul, and this will hold it in good stead if the Taliban were to eventually be a part of the government there.

The difference in situation from 1989

  • While Afghan security forces have suffered many losses in the past year, it is unlikely that the Taliban would today be able to overrun and hold Kabul or any other big Afghan city as it did before.
  • It also seems inconceivable that a “full withdrawal” of U.S. troops will include giving up all the bases they hold at present.
  • Given technology, social media and the progress in education in Afghanistan since 2001 (the number of secondary graduates rose from 10,000 to more than 300,000 in 2015), it is also unlikely that the Taliban will be able to control the hearts and minds of Afghans if it were to revert to its brutal ways.
  • Nor could it run policies that endanger Indian interests in the country, given the special place India enjoys, amongst thousands of Afghans who have studied in India, youth and women supported by Indian development projects, and hundreds of military officers trained in the country.
  • India is also host to a sizeable population of Afghans who live, work and study in the country, and an outreach is important.

Conclusion

  • Despite all the many reasons for despondency, it is necessary that Indian strategists don’t lose sight of the bigger picture — India’s longstanding relationship with the people of Afghanistan.
  • This is a relationship nurtured by every government in New Delhi, with more than $3 billion invested by India since 2001, which has reaped manifold returns in terms of goodwill and friendship across Afghanistan.
  • Defeatism or a lack of ambition for the India-Afghanistan relationship at this juncture would be much more detrimental to India’s interests than anything the Taliban’s return to Afghanistan’s political centrestage can do.

 

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Afghanistan

Coming, a law to empower forest staff

Note4students

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Indian Forest Act, 2019

Mains level: Mechanism for forest conservation in India


News

  • A proposed legislation accords significant powers to India’s forest officers — including the power issue search warrants, enter and investigate lands within their jurisdictions, and to provide indemnity to forest officers using arms to prevent forest-related offences.

Indian Forest Act, 2019

  • The Indian Forest Act, 2019 is envisaged as an amendment to the Indian Forest Act, 1927.
  • It is an attempt to address contemporary challenges to India’s forests.
  • It proposed to provide indemnity to Forest-officer using arms etc, to prevent the forest offence.
  • Forest-officer not below the rank of a Ranger shall have power to hold an inquiry into forest offences and shall have the powers to search or issue a search warrant under the CrPC, 1973.
  • Any Forest-officer not below the rank of a Forester may, at any time enter and inspect any land within his area of jurisdiction.

Defining Village forests

  • Village forests according to the proposed Act, may be forestland or wasteland, which is the property of the government.
  • It would be jointly managed by the community through the Joint Forest Management Committee or Gram Sabha.

Issues surrounding this Act

  • Independent experts said that the proposed law would lead to conflicts during implementation, particularly when seen in the context of the Forest Rights Act, 2006.
  • In effect, the aim is to strengthen the forest bureaucracy in terms of deciding on how to decide on [title claims] over forest land, what parts to declare [off-limits] for conservation, checking encroachments, etc.
  • In recent times, things have dramatically changed since 1927 with new laws, greater rights accorded to forest dwellers by the Constitution.
Forest Conservation Efforts – NFP, Western Ghats, etc.

India’s first forest-certification scheme gets global recognition

Note4students

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Forest Certification

Mains level: Forest Certification Scheme of India


News

  • Recently, a Geneva-based non-profit decided to endorse the Certification Standard for Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) developed by Network for Certification and Conservation of Forests (NCCF), an Indian non-profit.

Forest Certification

  • Forest certification is a global movement initiated in 1990s after Rio Earth Summit.
  • It is a market-based non-regulatory conservation tool designed to promote sustainable management of forests and trees outside forests by an independent third party.
  • As several developed countries have put trade restrictions on import of non-certified timber, non-timber forest products and wood-based goods into their countries, getting sustainable forest management certificates has become mandatory for exports.

Significance

  • The council of Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) that provides independent third-party certification for sustainable forest management took this decision through a postal ballot.
  • India now has a globally recognised forest-certification scheme developed specifically for Indian forests.

About NCCF

  • Forest-based industries in India, particularly those for paper, boards, plywood, medium density fibreboard, furniture and handicrafts etc, have been pushing for forest certification to enhance their market accessibility to western markets including European Union and USA.
  • The NCCF was set up in 2015 by representatives of forest-based industries, non-profits, forest auditors and government forest departments with an aim to set standards for certifying India’s forests, their products and their sustainable management.
  • The NCCF’s forest certification scheme is aimed to improve India’s forest management regime that is often criticised for various issues ailing the sector such as forest rights, forest degradation, biodiversity losses, encroachments, lack of manpower, etc.
Forest Conservation Efforts – NFP, Western Ghats, etc.

Groundwater assessment in India

Note4students

Mains Paper 1: Geography| Distribution of key natural resources

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Groundwater assessment

Mains level: Status of groundwater availability in India


News

  • With about 250 cubic km of extraction in a year, of which 85 per cent is used for agriculture, India is the largest extractor of groundwater in the world.
  • Almost the entire rural water supply and over half of urban water demand is catered by aquifers.
  • It is essential to assess this invaluable, invisible resource for its proper management.

Groundwater types in India

  • In India, we divide ground- water resource into dynamic or replenishable and static or in-situ.
  • The dynamic component is the annual recharge of aquifers while the static resource is the groundwater volume available at depth of rock formations, stored over hundreds or thousands of years.

Assessment

  • Southwestern monsoon is the major source of groundwater recharge.
  • India is one of the few countries engaged in a detailed assessment of the dynamic component at regular intervals since 2005.
  • Post 2009, the estimation is made every two years, the latest being in 2013.
  • The resource is assessed for each block/taluka/firka for all states and union territories in a joint endeavour by states and the Centre under the supervision of the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB).
  • The assessment calculates the recharge to aquifer and the extraction to work out the Stage of Groundwater Development (extraction/resource 100), or SOD.
  • The lower the SOD, the better the aquifer or area is.

Utility of SOD

  • The dynamic resource and SOD are extensively used in policy and governance, for instance, to prioritise government funding for schemes or issuing NOC by the Central Ground Water Authority to extract groundwater by industries.
  • The latest assessment in 2013 pegs India’s dynamic resources at 447 cu km, an increase of 14 cu km from 2011.
  • The extraction (an estimate of how much is taken out from aquifer for different societal uses) has also increased by 8 cu km.
  • SOD has remained the same, at 62 per cent.
  • However, recharge of the deeper aquifers and extraction from the deeper aquifer is not a part of this assessment.

Static component is more exploited

  • In overexploited areas there is an incremental eating up of the static resource, resulting in permanent damage to aquifers.
  • The static component should be used in case of emergency like drought.
  • Effort should be made to assess the static resource countrywide.

Assist this newscard with:

[pib] Management of Ground Water

Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

G7 Countries  

Note4students

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

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Belt and Road Initiative

Mains level: Concerns raised by Belt and Road Initiative


News

  • Italy set to become first G7 country to join ‘Belt and Road’ initiative.

About G7

  • The G7 or the Group of Seven is a group of the seven most advanced economies as per the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
  • The seven countries are Canada, USA, UK, France, Germany, Japan and Italy. The EU is also represented in the G7.
  • These countries, with the seven largest IMF-described advanced economies in the world represent 58% of the global net wealth ($317 trillion).
  • The G7 countries also represent more than 46% of the global gross domestic product (GDP) based on nominal values, and more than 32% of the global GDP based on purchasing power parity.
  • The requirements to be a member of the G7 are a high net national wealth and a high HDI (Human Development Index).

Eyebrows raised in West

  • Italy’s decision to get closer to Beijing has caused concern amongst its Western allies notably in Washington.
  • The White House National Security Council has earlier urged Rome not to give ”legitimacy to China’s infrastructure vanity project”.
  • Critics of the BRI say it is designed to bolster China’s political and military influence, bringing little reward to other nations, and warn that it could be used to spread technologies capable of spying on Western interests.
OBOR Initiative

Social media platforms present voluntary ‘code of ethics’

Image Source

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 manipulating election campaigning


News

  • Social media platforms and the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) have presented a ‘Voluntary Code of Ethics for the General Election 2019’ to the Election Commission.

About the Code

  • This code will become effective and will enter into force on March 20, 2019 and would remain operational during the election.
  • The code’s purpose is to identify measures that the platforms can take to increase confidence in the electoral process.
  • It is also to safeguard against misuse that vitiates the “free and fair character” of the Lok Sabha polls.
  • According to the code, the platforms will endeavour to where appropriate and keeping in mind the principle of freedom of expression,” deploy appropriate policies and processes to facilitate access to information on electoral matters.
  • The platforms will also ensure that political advertisements by parties or their candidates are pre-certified.
  • Campaigns will be organised to create awareness, including on electoral laws and other instructions from the EC.

Notification mechanism

  • The platforms and the Commission have developed a notification mechanism by which the electoral body can notify them of potential violations under Section 126 of the RP Act, and on other matters.
  • These valid legal orders will be acknowledged and/or processed within three hours for violations reported under Section 126 as per the Sinha Committee recommendations (for last 48hrs).
  • All other valid legal requests will be acted upon expeditiously by the participants, based on the nature of reported violation.
  • A high-priority dedicated reporting mechanism is being created for the EC and dedicated persons appointed for the purpose.
Social Media: Prospect and Challenges