[op-ed snap] Indian elections, South Asian concerns

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SAARC

Mains level : South Asian region's want for stability


CONTEXT

The rest of South Asia wants the very best of democracy for India, plus to share in the peace dividend, growth and camaraderie.The level of worry is also at a pitch, for India should be the bulwark against weakening democracy in a world of Bolsonaro (Brazil), Duterte (the Philippines), Erdoğan (Turkey), Putin (Russia) and Trump (the U.S.) not to mention the People’s Republic of China.

The current democratic scenario in India

  • The term ‘world’s largest democracy’ is achieving banality as India gains majoritarian momentum.
  • Centralisation and majoritarianism – Centralised control of society would never be possible in such a vast and variegated society of sub-nationalities.
  • Degradation in quality
    • The high principle and probity of India’s political class, bureaucracy, academia and civil society are now exceptions rather than the rule.
    • India’s Ambassadors are no longer the self-confident professionals we knew for decades, they act today like timid note-takers.
    • Higher education is directed by those who insist that the achievements of Vedic era science included flying machines and organ transplants.
    • Meanwhile, the adventurism that marked economic management, including immiseration through demonetisation, has been ‘managed’ through loyal social and corporate media.

India As an Example for others in Subcontinent

  • Parliamentary democracy – Parliamentary democracy is the governance procedure adopted by each and every country of South Asia, and the Indian practice has always been held up as the example.
  • The professionalism of the civil service – The precedents set by India’s courts are studied elsewhere, the professionalism of the civil service is regarded as the benchmark, and everyone else seeks the aspirational welfare state set in motion in India in the middle of the 20th century.

Neighbour’s Observations

  • Pakistan – Lahore intellectuals watch with apprehension as India copies the excesses of Pakistan’s theocratic state.
  • Bangladesh – Dhaka observers are numbed into silence with New Delhi’s vigorous backing of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed as she constructs an intolerant one-party regime.
  • Sri Lanka – Colombo rides a geopolitical see-saw as New Delhi shadow-boxes Beijing.
  • Nepal –  Kathmandu wonders whether New Delhi has it in itself to concede that the amplified Chinese involvement in Nepal is the result of the Great Blockade of 2015-16.

Challenges

  • India is indeed large and important, but the chest size of a country does not translate into equity, social justice or international standing.
  • Inequality – Because nearly 20% of humanity lives within its boundaries, when India falters, the pit of despair and the potential for violence open up wide and deep.
  • Imagining south asian regionalism in right way
    • The South Asia that New Delhi’s policy and opinion-makers should consider is not the centralised Jambudvipa mega-state of the RSS imagination. Instead, the ideal South Asian regionalism is all about limiting the power of the national capitals, devolving power to federal units and strengthening local democracy.
    • Damage to SAARC -The freeze put by India on the inter-governmental South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is only a cynical means to keep Pakistan out of the club.
    • The sabotaging of SAARC can hardly be considered a victory, for that feather-light geopolitical stratagem fails to consider that regionalism is a potent means to bring economic growth and social justice to India’s own poverty-stricken ‘peripheral regions’ from Assam to Purvanchal to Rajasthan.
    • For its own security and prosperity as well as that of the rest of us, India must re-connect with South Asia.

Way Forward

  • Subcontinental regionalism – Subcontinental regionalism is also important to achieve New Delhi’s ambitions on the world stage, including that coveted seat at the UN Security Council.
  • Think tanks approach -India’s global comeback will start the day New Delhi think tanks begin questioning South and North Block rather than serving as purveyors of spin.
  • Gujral Doctrine – On South Asian matters, they should pull out a copy of the Gujral Doctrine from the archives, to be dusted and re-examined.
  • India that is prosperous and advancing at double digit growth,  would mean much not only for its 1.35 billion citizens, but to the other 500 million South Asians. For its own selfish interests, the rest of South Asia wants India to succeed in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] Sealed disclosure

Mains Paper 2 : Executive & Judiciary |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Supreme Court's Judgement is not adequate in maintaining transparency in elections.


CONTEXT

The Supreme Court’s interim order asking political parties to disclose, to the Election Commission in sealed covers, details of the donations they have received through anonymous electoral bonds is an inadequate and belated response to the serious concerns raised about the opaque scheme.

Details of the Judgement

  • The scheme, under which one can purchase bonds of various denominations from a designated bank and deposit them in the accounts of any political party, had been challenged in the apex court a year ago.
  • When the matter was taken up last week, it was considered that the time available was too limited for an in-depth hearing.
  • Maintenance of status quo – The order, unfortunately, preserves the status quo, and any effect that the possible asymmetry in political funding would have on the election process will stay as it is.
  • Availability of donor’s name with EC – The only concession given to those concerned about the dangers of anonymous political funding is that the names would be available with the EC, albeit in sealed envelopes, until the court decides if they can be made public.
  • Large donations to ruling Party – There is some concern that a disproportionately large segment of the bonds purchased by corporate donors has gone to the Bharatiya Janata Party.
  • This donor anonymity may end if the court decides that the EC should disclose the names at the end of the litigation, but the influence such donations would have had on the electoral outcome would remain undisturbed.
  • Bearing on the electoral Process – The court notes in its order that the case gives rise to “weighty issues which have a tremendous bearing on the sanctity of the electoral process in the country”

Implications of Judgement

  • All it has done now is to ensure that its interim arrangement does not ‘tilt the balance’ in favour of either side.
  • Petitioner’s Argument – The petitioners, the Association for Democratic Reforms, questioned the anonymity-based funding scheme on the grounds that it promotes opacity, opens up the possibility of black money being donated to parties through shell companies and empowers the ruling party, which alone is in a position to identify the donors and, therefore, well placed to discourage donations to other parties
  • Government’s Argument – The government, on the other hand, argued that electoral bonds would prevent unaccounted money from entering the system through funding of parties.

Conclusion

  • Supreme court’s role in maintaining Transparency -For the last two decades, the Supreme Court has been proactive in empowering voters and in infusing transparency in the system.
  • It has developed a body of jurisprudence that says the electoral process involves the voter being given information about candidates, their qualifications, assets and crime records, if any.
  • Therefore, it is disappointing to hear the Attorney General arguing that voters do not have a right to know who funds parties.
  • Now that there is no stay on the operation of the scheme, the court must render an early verdict on the legality of the electoral bond scheme.

 

 

 

Electoral Reforms In India

[op-ed snap] Indelicate imbalance

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Doordarshan's Biasedness towards Ruling party weakens democratic structure.


CONTEXT

The Election Commission has pulled up Doordarshan for giving twice as much airtime to the ruling BJP as it has given to the most important opposition party, the Congress.

Track Record of Doordarshan in Lok Sabha Elections

  • The portion of the CPM is much worse: It has been allocated only a tenth of the Congress’s airtime and a twentieth that of the BJP.
  • Broadcaster’s Argument – The broadcaster has argued that that it is a reflection of ground realities.
  • The BJP controls more governments and has more legislators across the country — but that cuts no ice.

Harm to free and fair Elections

  • At this time, when voters are exercising their choice, candidates should be given equal opportunity, irrespective of their parties’ legislative strength.
  • Otherwise, the national public broadcaster, funded by the taxpayer and autonomous under the Prasar Bharati Act, would be seen as a captive channel of the ruling party, as it was in Indira Gandhi’s time.

Lessons From other countries

1.USA

  • In the US, an equal time rule for political candidates was spelled out in the Radio Act of 1927 and the Communications Act of 1934, on account of the fear that in its absence, television networks would be able to sway elections simply by blanking out one side.
  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also imposed a fairness doctrine from 1949 to 2011, which did not apply to candidates but to issues, and ensured that all sides of a debate were equitably represented on air.
  • However, this was withdrawn as an impractical principle, since one side of a debate is sometimes patently absurd.

2.UK

  • In 2014, the BBC Trust in the UK pulled up its journalists for skewing coverage of science issues by, for instance, giving climate change deniers equal representation in debates.
  • But in political matters, it has supported equal opportunity. In 2003, BBC staff were required to reflect “significant opposition to the conflict” (in short, protesters) in coverage of the invasion of Iraq, and “allow the arguments to be heard and tested”.

Way Forward

  • Doordarshan is publicly funded and is insulated from government interference by law.
  • If the apportioning of its airtime is seen to favour the ruling party, it is failing in its duty as a public broadcaster.
  • Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati has spoken of the pressures of competing with commercial channels.
  • The argument is irrelevant, since the primary responsibility of a public broadcaster is not to compete for eyeballs, but to present news and opinions in a balanced manner so that intelligent viewers can make up their own minds.
Electoral Reforms In India

How Justice Chandrachud’s dissent on Aadhaar influenced Jamaica ruling

Mains Paper 2 : Indian Constitution - historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Aadhaar and associated issues


News

  • In a recent ruling in Jamaica, its top court stroked down National Identification and Registration Act, which would have allowed collection of biometric information from all citizens to be centrally stored.
  • The apex court of Jamaica relied heavily on Indian SC Justice D Y Chandrachud’s dissenting judgment on the Aadhaar Act last year.

India comes to scene

  • Aadhar data thefts are very well versed in news these days, invoking the dissents for Aadhar.
  • Justice Chandrachud had expressed the sole dissenting opinion in a 4:1 verdict that had upheld the Aadhaar Act.

Dissenting opinion matters

  • The court referred to Justice Chandrachud’s (JC) observation that when biometric systems are adopted in the absence of strong legal frameworks can pose “grave threats to privacy and personal security.
  • Their application can be broadened to facilitate discrimination, profiling and mass surveillance.
  • He also referred to JC’s observations about recent trends indicating reluctance of developed countries to deploy biometric technology including scrapping of the National Id Register and ID cards in the UK.
  • Justice Chandrachud demonstrated a greater sensitivity to the issues of privacy and freedom that is not as evident in the judgments of the majority.
  • He had a clear-eyed view of the dangers of a state or anyone having control over one’s personal information and generally.

Why Indian case is relevant globally?

  • Justice Chandrachud’s observation that absence of an independent regulatory framework renders the Act largely ineffective while dealing with data violations.
  • A fair data protection regime requires establishment of an independent authority to deal with the contraventions of the data protection framework as well as to proactively supervise its compliance.
  • There is a dire need for a strong independent and autonomous body which has the power to examine the operations of the Authority and report to an institution that is independent of the Authority.

Consent at Peril

  • Justice Chandrachud had observed that the “proportionality test failed because the Aadhar Act allowed private entities to use Aadhaar numbers.
  • It would lead to commercial exploitation of the personal data and profiling without consent.
  • Profiling can be used to predict market behaviour and preferences and even influence the choice for political office.
  • These are contrary to privacy protection norms. Susceptibility to communal exploitation renders the relevant provisions arbitrary.
  • The failure to define ‘services and benefits’ also were unreasonable and disproportionate.

Way Forward: One right cannot be taken away at the behest of another

  • The state failed to demonstrate that the targeted delivery of subsidies entails a necessary sacrifice of the right to individual autonomy, data protection and dignity.
  • The technology deployed in the Aadhaar scheme reduces different constitutional identities into a single identity of a 12-digit number.
  • This infringes the right of an individual to identify her or himself through a chosen means.
  • Aadhaar is about identification and is an instrument which facilitates a proof of identity. It must not be allowed to obliterate constitutional identity.
Aadhaar Card Issues

Scientific management of mangroves is need of the hour

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Distribution of Mangroves in India

Mains level : Read the attached story


News

What are Mangroves?

  • Mangroves are salt-tolerant vegetation that grows in intertidal regions of rivers and estuaries.
  • They are referred to as ‘tidal forests’ and belong to the category of ‘tropical wetland rainforest ecosystem’.
  • Mangroves are trees and shrub species that grow at the interface between land and sea in tropical and subtropical regions of the world.

Mangroves in India

  • Mangrove forests occupy around 2,00,000 square kilometres across the globe in tropical regions of 30 countries. India has a total mangrove cover of 4,482 sq km.
  • A mangrove ecosystem is the interface between terrestrial forests and aquatic marine ecosystems.
  • The ecosystem includes diversified habitats like mangrove-dominant forests, litter-laden forest floors, mudflats, coral reefs and contiguous water courses such as river estuaries, bays, inter-tidal waters, channels and backwaters.
  • Sundarbans in the Gangetic delta with an area of 2.12 lakh hectares (ha) supports 26 plant species of mangrove with a maximum height of more than 10 metres.
  • Pichavaram in Tamil Nadu with an area of 1,100 ha supports 12 plant species growing to a height of 5 metres.

Significance of Mangroves

  • The structural complexities of mangrove vegetation create unique environments which provide ecological niches for a wide variety of organisms.
  • Mangroves serve as breeding, feeding and nursery grounds for most of the commercial fishes and crustaceans on which thousands of people depend for their livelihood.
  • Mangroves give protection to the coastline and minimize disasters due to cyclones and tsunami.
  • Recent studies have shown that mangroves store more carbon dioxide than most other forests.
  • Mangroves are intermediate vegetation between land and sea that grow in oxygen deficient waterlogged soils which have Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S).
  • They perform important ecological functions like nutrient cycling, hydrological regime, coastal protection, fish-fauna production, etc.
  • Mangroves act as shock absorbers. They reduce high tides and waves and help prevent soil erosion.

Threats

  • Mangroves are being destroyed and facing severe threats due to urbanisation, industrialisation, and discharge of domestic sewage, industrial effluents and pesticides.
  • Saltpans and aquaculture also pose major threat to the mangroves.
  • 40 per cent of mangrove forests in West Coast of India have been converted into farmlands and housing colonies over the last three decades.
  • Some of the mangrove species like Bruguiera cylindrica and Sonneratia acida are at the verge of extinction.
  • Due to shrimp farming, about 35,000 ha of mangroves have been lost in India.

Conserving Mangroves

  • Suitable sites are to be identified for planting mangrove species. Mangrove nursery banks should be developed for propagation purposes.
  • Environmental monitoring in the existing mangrove areas should be taken up systematically and periodically.
  • Various threats to the mangrove resources and their root causes should be identified, and earnest measures should be taken to eliminate those causes.
  • The participation of the local community should be made compulsory for conservation and management.
  • Floristic survey of mangroves along the coast is to be taken up to prepare biodiversity atlas for mangroves.
  • Potential areas are to be identified for implementing the management action plan for mangroves, especially in cyclone prone areas.
  • Coastal industries and private owners need to be persuaded to actively participate in protecting and developing mangrove biodiversity.
  • The forest department officials should be trained on taxonomy, biology and ecology of mangrove species.

Way Forward

  • So far, none of the mangrove species has been included in the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
  • A scientific study reported that 100 per cent of mangrove species, 92 per cent of mangrove associates, 60.8 per cent of algae, 23.8 per cent of invertebrates and 21.1 per cent of fish are under threat.
  • Periodical monitoring of the mangrove forest is very much necessary to assess the status. The impact of environmental and human interference on marine flora and fauna needs to be assessed.
  • The traditional rights of coastal communities to use the natural resources in their surrounding natural habitats for their livelihood should also be recognised on priority basis.
Forest Conservation Efforts – NFP, Western Ghats, etc.

Bhutan govt to place bill for ratification of BBIN initiative at its upper senate

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : BBIN Initiative

Mains level : Importance of regional connectivity for India and its neighborhood


News

BBIN Initiative

  • Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal (BBIN) signed a Motor Vehicles Agreement for the Regulation of Passenger, Personal and Cargo Vehicular Traffic.
  • Aside from facilitating the cross-border movement of passengers and goods, the agreement is expected to “promote safe, economical efficient and environmentally sound road transport in the sub-region
  • It will help to create “an institutional mechanism for regional integration.”
  • It may increase trade within the South Asia region by nearly 60% and trade by the region with outside partners by more than 30% over current levels.
  • But nearly two years after ministers from Bhutan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal signed the BBIN MVA in Thimphu; the Bhutanese government withdrew from the agreement followed Bhutan’s domestic resistance to ratify the agreement.

Why in news again?

  • The Bhutan government will place the bill for ratification of Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) initiative for road and rail connectivity at its upper senate.
  • The Motor Vehicle Agreement of BBIN countries was signed in 2015 by the four member countries.
  • Bangladesh, India and Nepal have implemented the agreement but Bhutan is yet to accord its ratification of the agreement.

For additional readings on BBIN Initiative, navigate to:

BBIN agreement

Saturn’s moon Titan has 100-m deep methane lakes

Mains Paper 3 : Awareness In The Fields Of It, Space, Computers, Robotics, Nano-Technology, Bio-Technology |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Cassini-Huygens Mission

Mains level : Hydrology of earth and other celestial bodies


News

  • Saturn’s largest moon Titan has small liquid lakes that run more than 100 metres deep, perched atop hills and filled with methane, scientists have found using data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.

Methane Rains on Saturn

  • Scientists have known that Titan’s hydrologic cycle works similarly to Earth’s — with one major difference. Instead of water evaporating from seas, forming clouds and rain, Titan does it all with methane and ethane.
  • We tend to think of these hydrocarbons as a gas on Earth, unless they’re pressurized in a tank.
  • However, Titan is so cold that they behave as liquids, like gasoline at room temperature on our planet.

About Cassini Mission

  • Launched in 1997, the Cassini mission is a cooperation between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.
  • It has sent back thousands of stunning images and made numerous discoveries about the ringed planet and its moons.
  • Cassini–Huygens is an unmanned spacecraft sent to the planet Saturn.
  • Cassini is the fourth space probe to visit Saturn and the first to enter orbit. Its design includes a Saturn orbiter and a lander for the moon Titan.
  • The lander, called Huygens, landed on Titan in 2005.
International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries