[op-ed snap]Closure on cynicism

Mains Paper 2 : Governance, Transparency & Accountability, Citizens Charters |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : EVM and VVPAT issue is resolved through Supreme Court's Order


CONTEXT

By ordering an increase of the existing Voter-Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) verification rate from one to five random Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) per Assembly constituency or segment, the Supreme Court has sought to reassure those sceptical about the integrity of counting by means of EVMs.

Impact of this decision

  • By limiting the verification to five machines instead of the 125-odd machines per constituency that the Opposition’s demand for a 50% VVPAT count would have amounted to, the apex court has enabled the Election Commission of India to declare the results on the counting day itself.
  • The higher figure, which will increase the overall number of EVMs to be counted to close to 20,000 machines, should reasonably address the very remote possibility of ‘insider fraud’.
  • It will also verify a higher sample of EVMs in the smaller States and bring the sample within reasonable confidence levels to discount chances of EVM-tampering.
  • In any case, the VVPAT slip verification is more of a reassurance to voters that the EVM is indeed foolproof, over and above the technical and administrative safeguards that are already in place to prevent any tampering.

ECI’s Point of view and efforts

  • For the ECI, the key technical issue with EVMs and VVPATs is not really in regard to tampering but to machine glitches.
  • While the parliamentary by-elections in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and the Assembly election in Karnataka last year had registered significant machine replacement rates (20% and 4%, respectively), these were brought down to less than 2% in later elections held in the winter months.
  • The ECI made technical fixes to the VVPAT to make them more resilient during use across the country, and it should be well-prepared to handle any glitches during the seven-phase Lok Sabha election.
  • The availability of replacement machines and the ability to deploy them quickly in case of a failure of VVPATs are essential to avoid disruptions.

Conclusion

  • In the past couple of years, the doubts raised about EVMs by parties and the new constraints encountered in the electoral process due to hastened VVPAT implementation have bogged down the ECI and narrowed the discourse regarding electoral reforms.
  • Now that the Supreme Court has brought a closure of sorts to the issue, it is time for the ECI to focus on the hassle-free conduct of polls to the Lok Sabha and to four State Assemblies, and later consider other important issues — increasing voter enrolment, effective regulation of campaign financing and implementation of the model code of conduct.
Electoral Reforms In India

[op-ed snap]The right to criticise

Mains Paper 2 : Executive & Judiciary |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Courts should follow manipur high court's stand on sedition charges.


CONTEXT

In its judgment dated April 8, the Manipur High Court ordered the release of journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem, who was charged with sedition under the National Security Act for criticising the Chief Minister.

History of sedition judgments

  • Though the petition was allowed only on the technical ground that certain material mentioned in the detention order was not supplied to the petitioner, it could have also succeeded on the ground that in a democracy people have a right to criticise the government.
  • Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution was upheld by the Supreme Court in Romesh Thapar v. The State of Madras (1950).
  • In Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar (1962), the Supreme Court held that mere criticism of the government is not sedition unless it is an incitement to violence or breach of public order.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court, in Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), laid down the ‘imminent lawless action’ test, which says that free speech is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution unless it incites imminent (not remote) lawless action.
  • This judgment was followed by the Indian Supreme Court in Arup Bhuyan v. State of Assam (2011) and in Sri Indra Das v. State of Assam (2011), and hence it is the law of the land in India too.

The present situation in India

  • Unfortunately, what has been often witnessed in India is that political functionaries get incensed and cannot tolerate criticism.
  • Then they slap sedition charges or preventive detention laws against their critics, as the Maharashtra government did in the case of the cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, or the West Bengal government did in the case of Professor Ambikesh Mahapatra of Jadavpur University, or the Tamil Nadu government in the case of the folk singer Kovan
  • To speak for the poor or marginalised sections of society has become particularly dangerous, as was seen in the cases of those accused of inciting violence in Bhima Koregaon.

Conclusion

  • By enacting the Fundamental Rights of the people in Part III of the Constitution, and by making the courts the guardians of the rights of the people, a solemn duty has been cast on the judiciary to uphold democratic principles.
  • The Manipur High Court therefore deserves to be commended in this connection.
  • It is hoped that other courts in India, too, will follow its example.
Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

[op-ed snap]Is there a problem with the 10% quota?

Mains Paper 2 : Laws, Institutions & Bodies Constituted For The Vulnerable Sections |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : EWS is alreday represented more than 10% in higher education.


CONTEXT

In January, the Rajya Sabha passed the Constitution Amendment Bill guaranteeing 10% quota in education and employment to economically weaker sections in the general category.

Background

  • Families that earn an annual income of less than ₹8 lakh and do not possess agricultural land of five acres or above are eligible for the quota.
  • This includes 95% of Indian households.

Concerns

  • Isn’t it strange that in a country which claims to have lifted millions out of poverty, so many households fall in this category?
  • What is more is that these households require reservation, nothing else, to enable them to be socio-economically better off.
  • The Bill has served an unintended purpose, though: Reservation is no more the preserve of the so-called merit-less.
  • The proposed quota has transformed cynics of the reservation policy into champions of it.

Questions regarding policy

  • The first is the rationale underlying the policy that economically weaker sections from the general category remain “excluded from attending the higher education institutions” in India “due to their financial incapacity”.
  • The second is the fact that the Bill also brings private educational institutions under its ambit.

Data Regarding Economically backwards’s representation in educational Institutions

  • The Ministry of Human Resource Development introduced a ranking of higher education institutions in India in 2016.
  • A total of 445 institutions were ranked under the NIRF in 2018.
  • The NIRF data provide the composition of ‘economically backward class’ (EBC) students and ‘socially challenged category’ (Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes/Other Backward Classes) students.
  • The data reveal that of the 16.09 lakh students enrolled in the 445 top institutions in 2016-17, about 28% (4.55 lakh) belonged to the EBC.
  • The share of EBC students was about 30% in private educational institutions. If we consider institutions as the basis of analysis, the facts are self-explanatory.
  • About 66% of the 445 NIRF-ranked higher education institutions had more than 10% of students from the EBC.
  • Interestingly, 68% of private educational institutions also had more than 10% of EBC students.
  • EBC students had already secured about three times the proposed quota of 10% without any reservation in top higher education institutions.
  • This is despite the fact that the income criteria used by most of these institutions vary from ₹2 lakh to ₹5.5 lakh annually, which is far less than the proposed eligibility criterion for the reservation quota, which is ₹8 lakh.

Under-representation of SCs/STs/OBCs

  • The share of ‘socially challenged category’ (SCs/ STs/ OBCs) students in these 445 institutions was 38%, only 10 percentage points more than the share of EBC students.
  • Surprisingly, the share of SC/ST/OBC students stood at only 44% in public institutions, which are mandated to implement 49.5% reservation.
  • In private educational institutions ranked by the NIRF, their share was as low as 30%, which was similar to the share of EBC students.
  • Here too, only 19% of private higher educational institutions ranked by the NIRF had more than 49.5% of SC/ST/OBC students.
  • Thus, SC/ST/OBC students remained greatly under-represented, especially in premier private educational institutions. This is despite the fact that the SC/ST/OBC population constitutes about 70% of the total population of India (NSSO, 2011-12).

Conclusion

  • The EBC students have already secured more than 10% share in these institutions without any reservation.
  • Hence, the proposed policy seems to be empirically unfounded.
  • By contrast, what emerges from the NIRF data is the under-representation of the ‘socially challenged category’ in premier education institutions.
  • It appears that the government is going to extend reservation for SC/ST/OBC students to private higher education institutions. This would certainly bring the much-needed diversity in premier private higher education institutions in India.
Minority Issues – Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

US names Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a terrorist group

Mains Paper 2 : Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and agreements involving India |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : FTO

Mains level : US-Iran turmoil and its impact on India


News

  • US has decided to name Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organisation (FTO) in accordance with Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
  • In retaliatory action, Tehran named the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) as a terrorist organisation and the US government as a sponsor of terror.

What is an FTO?

Section 219 of the United States Immigration and Nationality Act authorises the Secretary of State to “designate an organization as a foreign terrorist organization if it finds that:

  • the organization is a foreign organization;
  • the organization engages in terrorist activity or terrorism or
  • threatens the security of United States nationals or the national security of the US

The List

  • 67 terrorist organisations currently figure as FTOs, including Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaida and its regional branches, the Islamic State and its regional operations, Jundallah, Boko Haram, and the Colombian FARC.
  • Also on the list are several organisations based in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which directly threaten India, such as the JeM, LeT, Hizb ul-Mujahideen, Haqqani Network, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
  • The Indian Mujahideen, LTTE, and Harkat-ul Jihad al-Islami-Bangladesh are also on the list.

Why this move?

  • The new designation makes it easier to prosecute EU or other companies or individuals that do business with Iran.
  • US accused Iranian regime for use of terrorism as a tool of statecraft makes it fundamentally different from any other government.
  • Their involvement in Iran’s banking and shipping industries could complicate matters with U.S. allies including the European Union.
  • The United States has already blacklisted dozens of entities and people for affiliations with the IRGC, but not the organization as a whole.

About IRGC

  • The IRGC was set up in 1979 after Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution as an ideologically-driven branch of the armed forces of Iran.
  • It aims to protect the newly established Islamic system from hostile foreign powers and internal dissensions.
  • The IRGC is today a 125,000-strong force with ground, naval, and air wings, tasked with internal and border security, law enforcement, and protection of Iran’s missiles.
  • The IRGC is in charge of Iran’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Iran

Explained: A new high in Maldives

Mains Paper 2 : India & Its Neighborhood - Relations |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Reclaiming ties with India’s neighborhood in light of China’s increasing interference


News

  • The Maldives is about to welcome former President Mohamed Nasheed after getting re-elected with huge majority for his party.

Move for Constitutional change

  • The scale of the victory has put Nasheed-Solih in a position to drive decisive change in the Maldives.
  • An executive Presidency is unsuitable for a small country with deeply polarised and fractious politics.
  • Erstwhile regime had used the President’s executive powers to shackle the judiciary, impose an emergency, and muzzle the media.
  • Converting the Presidential form of government into a Parliamentary one is on top of Nasheed’s agenda.

IOR Security

  • Mindful of Chinese assertiveness, and their interlinked security interests in the Indian Ocean Region, New Delhi and Malé have agreed on the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the region.
  • They will enhance maritime security in the region through coordinated patrolling and aerial surveillance, exchange of information and capacity building.
  • The two sides have also expressed their unwavering commitment and support for increased cooperation in combating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations both within the region and elsewhere.
  • This is an important commitment, since Maldives has seen the rise of Islamist fundamentalism over the last few years, and it is said to have sent 50-200 fighters to the Islamic State.

Relations with India

  • Maldives is still trying to figure out the contours of the country’s “dire economic situation” created by Chinese debt.
  • After the unfriendly regime, India has come back in the strategic game with Solih’s victory last year.
  • India had announced financial assistance of $1.4 billion for the island nation in December. Chinese loans for projects account for around 70% of the Maldives’ national debt.
  • New Delhi’s economic help outreach is key to helping Male break free of Beijing’s “debt-for-leverage” model of diplomacy.

Easing Cultural contacts

  • A new agreement on visa facilitation is aimed at addressing common concerns and ensuring that people-to-people contacts are enhanced.
  • The Maldives is one of the very few countries with which India has a visa-free travel arrangement.
  • The recently signed pact will allow many Maldivians who send their children to school in India, to accompany them, and will facilitate easier travel for Maldivians to India for medical treatment.
  • The movement of people had become restricted after the Yameen government tightened the visa regime for Indian workers and professionals.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Maldives

Centre denies RTI plea on CIC appointments

Mains Paper 2 : Statutory, Regulatory & Various Quasi-Judicial Bodies |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : RTI, CIC

Mains level : Issues surrounding the office of CIC


News

  • The Centre has denied a RTI request for details of the ongoing recruitment process for four vacancies in the Central Information Commission (CIC), despite a recent Supreme Court order mandating that such information be made public.

CIC in limelight

  • The Centre is planning to setup bureaucrat-led committees to hear and decide on complaints against the Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and Information Commissioners (ICs).
  • This move has evoked sharp criticism from RTI activists and former Information Commissioners.
  • The proposed change would be in contravention to the current RTI law and therefore is being seen by the CIC as an attempt to erode its independence and undermine its role.
  • The SC had directed the Centre and States to pro-actively disclose all information regarding the recruitment, selection and appointment of candidates.

Back2Basics

Central Information Commission (CIC)

  • The Central Information Commission (CIC) set up under the Right to Information Act is the authorized quasi judicial body, established in 2005.
  • It acts upon complaints from those individuals who have not been able to submit information requests due to either the officer not having been appointed, or because the respective Officer refused to receive the application for information under the RTI Act.
  • The Commission includes 1 Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and not more than 10 Information Commissioners (IC) who are appointed by the President of India.
  • CIC and members are appointed by the President of India on the recommendation of a committee consisting of—Prime Minister as Chairperson, the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha; a Union Cabinet Minister to be nominated by the Prime Minister.
RTI – CIC, RTI Backlog, etc.

Discolouration of Periyar

Mains Paper 3 : Conservation, Environmental Pollution & Degradation, Eia |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Periyar River, Eutrophication

Mains level : Riverine water pollution in India


News

  • There has been continued discolouration of water in the Periyar River turning into pitch black.

What caused discolouration?

  • The discolouration was due to the poor quality of water as a result of eutrophication.
  • When excessive nutrients reach the waterbody, it leads to algal bloom.
  • A few days later, algae die and decay, resulting in a foul smell and discolouration of water.
  • Water in some reaches of the river system has been stagnant. Reduced water flow in the system has added to the deteriorating water quality.
  • Huge quantities of organic load in the form of sewage from nearby townships are regularly reaching the river system.

What is Eutrophication?

  • Eutrophication is the response to the addition of nutrients such as nitrates and phosphates naturally or artificially, fertilizing the aquatic ecosystem.
  • Algal blooms are the consequence of Eutrophication.
  • Eutrophication occurs naturally due to deposition of nutrients [such as in depositional environments] carried by flood waters. It takes over centuries for eutrophication to occur naturally.
  • Phytoplankton (algae and blue-green bacteria) thrive on the excess nutrients and their population explosion covers almost entire surface layer. This condition is known as algal bloom.
  • Oxygen in aquatic ecosystem is replenished by photosynthetic aquatic plants. Algal Blooms restrict the penetration of sunlight resulting in death of aquatic plants, and hence restricts the replenishment of oxygen.
  • The oxygen level is already depleted due to the population explosion of phytoplankton.
Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.