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[op-ed snap] A reward for ‘egregious’ violationsop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Ayodhya verdict : what it shows about our constitutional leanings


Context

  • The Supreme Court of India’s effort to resolve the Ayodhya dispute is commendable.

What the decision implies

  • It is a matter involving criminal trespass that should have been reversed by local administrative action. 
  • That the matter finally reached a Constitution Bench is a sign of democratic dysfunction.

What the judgment says

  • Not archaeological – SC pronounced that a finding of title cannot be based on archaeological findings. The matter must be decided on settled legal principles, applying evidentiary standards that govern a civil trial.
  • No proof to history – bench pleads its inability to entertain claims that stem from the actions of the Mughal rulers against Hindu places of worship. 
  • 4 legal regimes – the genesis of the dispute spanned “four distinct legal regimes — Vikramaditya, the Mughals, the British and Independent India.

Constitution as watershed

  • The court said that India’s history is replete with actions that have been judged to be morally incorrect and are liable to trigger an ideological debate. 
  • A moment of liberation from the torments of the past occurred at a “watershed moment” when India adopted its republican Constitution.
  • At that juncture, all Indian citizens “submitted to the rule of law”.

From the past

  • Certain continuities between republican India and the British Raj were retained.
  • Article 372 of the Constitution allowed the adjudication of title bequeathed from before. The court invoked an extraordinary power uniquely granted under Article 142 to ensure that justice is delivered to all.
  • It seeks to bridge “significant gaps in the positive law” by applying principles of “justice, equity and good conscience”.

Ayodhya dispute

  • On December 22, 1949, a number of idols were smuggled into a place of worship at Ayodhya. 
  • The court has declared that this was a “desecration of the mosque and the ouster of the Muslims otherwise than by due process of law”. 
  • The final act of destruction on December 6, 1992, was recognised in the court as “an egregious violation of the rule of law”.

What lies ahead

  • There is a mystery with the Supreme Court ruling on Ayodhya, on how to negotiate the complicated routine through which it seeks to reward the worst violations of the rule of law. 
  • After acknowledging all these historical wrongs, the court recognizes a body that has been the most serious offender against the rule of law and awards it undiluted title to the land. 
  • It seeks to placate the victims of this cycle of physical and rhetorical violence, through the award of five acres in the near vicinity of Ayodhya, for the 2.77 acres lost. 
  • The court has decreed that the injuries to an entire religious community’s sense of identity and belonging, can be easily redressed through seeming generosity in the quantitative sense.

Implications

  • Equal citizenship was a promise that India made to itself at the time of its transition to a modern republic. B.R. Ambedkar and other preceptors of the democratic order knew that it was a difficult transition, because of the deep chasm between the assurance of political equality and the reality of social and economic inequality.
  • Ideas of persons such as Govind Ballabh Pant have been likened by scholars to a “Jacobin” position, that insisted on the extinction of all intermediary loyalties between the citizen and the State. They believed that, in a republican order, none of these distinctions would have any reason to exist.

Equal citizenship

  • G.B. Pant had deprecated the tendency to disregard the “individual citizen who is the backbone of the State and whose happiness and satisfaction should be the goal of every social mechanism.
  • He regretted that the citizens had been lost in the “body known as the community because of the “degrading habit of always thinking in terms of communities and never in terms of citizens”.
  • The course of Indian democracy exposed its assurances of republican equality as a thin cover for the upper-caste privilege. 
  • From being an unstated premise, sectarianism was officially reintroduced into India’s electoral politics in the 1980s, as the foundations of upper caste hegemony began to falter. 

Conclusion

The Ayodhya dispute was one among many manifestations of this moment of crisis. The Supreme Court’s heroic and logic-defying effort to set right the problem may well be too little and too late.

Air Pollution

[op-ed snap] From Plate to Plough: A crop for clean airop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Changing cropping patterns to address pollution


Context

Last week, the Air Quality Index (AQI) touched emergency levels in the National Capital Region. The Supreme Court came down heavily on the chief secretaries of four states — Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. 

Stubble burning

  • Paddy stubble burning in states neighbouring Delhi, especially Punjab, is being seen as one of the reasons for the smog in the national capital. 
  • Supreme court has asked the Punjab government to pay Rs 100 per quintal to farmers as an incentive for desisting from burning stubble. 
  • Solutions such as subsidising Happy Seeders are also being talked about. 

These solutions are not enough

  • The problem is much deeper than stubble burning. 
  • The solution to the problem rests with the political class — both in the Centre as well as in these states. 

Roots of the problem in Punjab

  • Green Revolution – The Punjab-Haryana region was not India’s rice belt before the Green Revolution. Punjab was known for “makki ki roti and sarson ka saag”. 
  • Much of the kharif area in the region is under rice — about 3.1 million hectares in Punjab and 1.4 million hectares in Haryana. 
  • Groundwater – This has caused havoc with the groundwater table that has been depleting at about 33 cms each year. Groundwater in more than three-fourths of blocks in Punjab is over-exploited.
  • Punjab regulation – In order to save water during the peak summer season, the Punjab government passed a law in 2009 outlawing paddy sowing before June 15. This pushes the rice harvesting to the late October-mid-November period, leaving very little time for sowing the rabi crop, mainly wheat. 
  • Harvesters – Farmers rely on paddy harvesters that leave stubbles. These are then burnt to make the field ready for sowing wheat. Farm labour has become more expensive during the peak season.

Why paddy?

  • Not aligned to Geography – Their water resource endowment does not align with the crop’s requirement. 
  • More water needed – One kilogram of rice requires about 5,000 litres of irrigation water in this belt. And, the natural rainfall is too less for the purpose. 
  • Profits – Farmers cultivate paddy as it gives them higher profits, compared to competing crops like corn. 
  • Subsidies – The key reasons for profits are the massive subsidies on power provided by the state government and fertiliser subsidy given to them by the Centre. They are assured procurement of paddy by state government agencies on behalf of the Food Corporation of India.

Way ahead

 

  • Paddy in Eastern India –In the eastern parts of the country, water is available much more abundantly. 
  • About two million hectares of rice growing area in the northern belt needs to shift to this part of the country. 
  • Basmati – The basmati-growing area in the Northern belt is about 1.2 million hectares; it produces 4.6 million tonnes of basmati. It’s value basmati is almost three times higher than that of common rice and much of that is exported . So Punjab and Haryana should focus on cultivating basmati
  • They should get away from common paddy, which is largely meant for the Public Distribution System – sold at Rs 3/kg under the National Food Security Act.

Steps to encourage the shift

  • Policy at the Centre and state-level. 
  • Chances for abolishing subsidies are remote, given the place of free power and cheap fertilisers in the country’s political discourse. 
  • Subsidy basis – A move towards giving these subsidies in cash on per hectare basis to farmers can lead to some improvement. 
  • Cropping pattern – Farmers could be encouraged to change their crop preference if the Centre and the Punjab and Haryana governments announce a cash incentive of Rs 12,000 per hectare for growing corn in place of paddy. It will not cost the state or central exchequer anything extra. 
  • Ancillary benefits of corn – corn cultivation will have to be absorbed by feed mills for poultry, starch mills and ethanol. 
  • Incentives for corn – tax incentives for the corn-based industry in this belt could create a more market-aligned demand for corn.

Conclusion

  • This is just the right time to make this switch from paddy to corn as rice stocks with government are way above the buffer stock norms. 
  • Centre should announce that it will not procure more than 50% of production of common paddy from the blocks that are over-exploited.
  • It will not give to the state procurement agencies more than 4% as commission, mandi fee, or any cess for procuring on behalf of FCI.
Air Pollution

[op-ed snap] Stubble resistanceop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Stubble Burning - way ahead


Context

Last week, Delhi recorded its worst reading in three years on the Air Quality Index. The Supreme Court pulled up governments of Punjab, Haryana, and Delhi for their lack of concerted action against stubble burning. 

Supreme court

  • It questioned the chief secretaries of Punjab and Haryana for not being sensitive enough to the issue. 
  • It has asked the governments of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to pay, within seven days, Rs 100 per quintal of paddy as an incentive to farmers who have not burnt stubble on their fields. 
  • The directive meets a longstanding demand of farmers’ organisations.

Questions it rises

  • Do the states have the financial resources to bear the burden of the cash incentive? 
  • Are such incentives enough to wean farmers away from stubble burning?

Response to judgement

  • Punjab agreed to the judgement. More than 90% of the non-Basmati paddy crop has been harvested. 
  • Punjab CM has given indications of the state’s limitations in providing cash incentives in the future. 
  • States demand that the Centre will have to help the states, which are facing serious fiscal constraints. 
  • GST regime has stifled financial resources of all states. 

Finances

  • The Supreme court said that it will take a final call on the “aspect of finance” after considering the detailed report to be submitted by the state governments. 
  • It will have to chart a plan that takes into account the interests of the farmers as well as recognises the constraints of the states.

State actions

  • The Punjab and Haryana governments subsidise the Happy Seeder sowing machines, which obviate straw burning. 
  • Still, the technology has not got the necessary traction because farmers do not want to invest in a machine that lies idle for most of the year.
  •  As in the case of most farm technologies in the country, the adoption of Happy Seeders will require changing mindsets. 
  • To persuade farmers to not set their fields on fires, state governments will need to reach out to them with educational programmes — not just financial incentives.
Electoral Reforms In India

T.N. Seshan and his contributions to the Indian electoral systemPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ECI

Mains level : TN Seshan and his contributions



T.N. Seshan the election commissioner of India who transformed the way polls were conducted and contested in the country has passed away.

Who was Mr. Seshan?

  • Born on December 15, 1932 in Palakkad, Kerala, Mr. Seshan belonged to the 1955 batch of Tamil Nadu cadre officers of the IAS.
  • An alumnus of the Madras Christian College, he, as an IAS officer, did a year-long course in management at the Harvard University in the 1960s.

Electoral reforms under TN Seshan

Photo Ids

  • N. Seshan, as Chief Election Commissioner during 1990-96, had initiated the process of cleaning up the electoral system.
  • The introduction of electors’ photo identity cards was a measure towards this direction.

A strict disciplinary

  • He was known as a no nonsensical CEC and one who had enforced, in his own way, discipline on political parties and contestants.
  • He did not compromise on his position that every election had to be held in accordance with the model code of conduct and electoral laws.
  • Some of his big achievements include implementation of the election process and the Model Code of Conduct, introduction of voter ID cards, enforcing limits on poll expenses, and elimination of several malpractices like distribution of liquor, bribing voters, ban on wall writing, use of loud speakers, use of religion in election speeches etc.

Expansion of EC

  • As part of his variant of electoral reforms, the Election Commission had listed 150 malpractices in the elections.
  • It was during Mr. Seshan’s period that the EC was made a multi-member body in October 1993 with the appointment of M.S. Gill and G.V.G. Krishnamurthy.
  • Though he had opposed the government’s move, the Supreme Court had upheld the government’s decision to appoint Election Commissioners.

Other works

  • During his term, Seshan witnessed the implementation of Mandal Commission, giving reservation to other backward classes (OBCs) in government jobs.
  • These developments dominated politics and elections in India for nearly a decade.

Magsaysay award

  • Briefly in the mid-1990s, Mr. Seshan became an icon of the middle class as he was seen as a crusader against corruption and electoral malpractices.
  • His work was recognised internationally when he was given the Ramon Magsaysay award for 1996.
Waste Management – SWM Rules, EWM Rules, etc

Geochemical Baseline Atlas of IndiaPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : About the atlas

Mains level : Its significance


For the first time, ‘Geochemical Baseline Atlas of India’ developed by CSIR-National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) for use by policymakers to assess environmental damage was released.

Geochemical Baseline Atlas of India

  • The atlas consisting 45 maps of metals, oxides and elements present in top and bottom soils across India.
  • It will serve as a reference against which future generations of the country would be able to assess the chemical compositional changes on Earth’s surface.
  • These maps help in finding out future contamination caused by industries or other bodies which cause pollution.

Part of a Global Map

  • It will be given to International Union of Global Sciences (IUGS), which is preparing global maps.
  • To develop the maps, the globe was divided into 5,000 cells of 160 km by 160 km each. Of it, India has 122 cells.
  • CSIR started this work in 2007 from cell number 1 which is in Kanyakumari. The last cell is in Arunachal Pradesh.

Uses

  • Earlier, there was no way to prove if polluters denied causing damage to the environment. Now, the baseline maps atlas helps show evidence of it.
  • With a glance at it, policymakers will get to know regions with high and low concentrations of metal.
  • For instance, tanneries release chromium. By going through the map of chromium, policymakers will get to know regions with a high concentration of it.
Industrial Sector Updates – Industrial Policy, Ease of Doing Business, etc.

Harmonized System (HS) CodePriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : HS code

Mains level : Khadi and cottage industries in India



  • The Ministry of Commerce and Industry allocated a separate Harmonised System (HS) code for Khadi.

HS code

  • The Harmonized System, or simply ‘HS’, is a six-digit identification code developed by the World Customs Organization (WCO).
  • Called the “universal economic language” for goods, it is a multipurpose international product nomenclature.
  • Over 200 countries use the system as a basis for their customs tariffs, gathering international trade statistics, making trade policies, and for monitoring goods.
  • The system helps in harmonizing of customs and trade procedures, thus reducing costs in international trade.

What makes the 6 digit code?

  • A unique six-digit code has numbers arranged in a legal and logical structure, with well-defined rules to achieve uniform classification.
  • Of the six digits, the first two denote the HS Chapter, the next two give the HS heading, and the last two give the HS subheading.
  • The HS code for pineapple, for example, is 0804.30, which means it belongs to Chapter 08 (Edible fruit & nuts, peel of citrus/melons), Heading 04 (Dates, figs, pineapples, avocados, etc. fresh or dried), and Subheading 30 (Pineapples).

Significance of the move

  • Khadi is India’s signature handspun and hand-woven cloth that was made iconic by Mahatma Gandhi during the freedom struggle.
  • The move is expected to boost Khadi exports in the coming years.
  • In 2006, the government had given the MSME-controlled Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) the Export Promotion Council Status (EPCS).
  • Yet, the absence of a separate HS code hindered Khadi from achieving its full potential, as its exports were difficult to categorise and calculate. The latest move is expected to help resolve this issue.
History- Important places, persons in news

Travellers quoted in Ayodhya judgmentPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Read the attached story

Mains level : Accounts of various travellers in India


  • In the Ayodhya judgment delivered the Supreme Court relied in part on centuries-old travelogues, gazetteers and books to provide an account of the faith and belief of various parties involved in the case.
  • The travelogues that the court took note of included, among others, those by the European travellers Joseph Tieffenthaler, William Finch, and Montgomery Martin.

Joseph Tieffenthaler (1710-1785)

  • Tieffenthaler was an 18th-century missionary who travelled in India for 27 years, and wrote his travelogue titled “Description Historique et Geographique De l’Inde”.
  • Hailing from Bozano in present-day Italy, Tieffenthaler underwent religious training in the Jesuit order before setting sail for Goa from Portugal in 1743.
  • He said to have been proficient in mathematics, astronomy, geography and natural sciences, and in the German, Italian, Spanish, French, Hindustani, Persian, Arabic, and Sanskrit languages.
  • In India, he was commissioned at the famous observatory of Sawai Jai Singh, the Raja of Jaipur, and was later attached at the Jesuit College in Agra which was built with the patronage of Akbar.
  • Tieffenthaler is said to have lived in Awadh, where Ayodhya is located, for over five years.

William Finch (died 1613)

  • William Finch’s account has been recorded in the 1921 book ‘Early Travels in India (1583-1619)’ by the historiographer Sir William Foster.
  • The book contains the narratives of seven travellers from England, including Finch.
  • Finch is known to have arrived in India in 1608 at Surat with Sir William Hawkins, a representative of the East India Company.
  • His is said to be the earliest English language account of Kashmir, as well as trade routes connecting Punjab and eastern Turkistan and western China.
  • Finch visited Ayodhya between 1608 and 1611, and did not find any building of importance of Islamic origin.

Robert Montgomery Martin (1801-1868)

  • Originally from Dublin in Ireland, Martin was an Anglo-Irish author and civil servant.
  • He practised medicine in Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka), East Africa and Australia.
  • Martin then went on to work in Kolkata where helped found the paper ‘Bengal Herald’. He later returned to England where he wrote about the British Empire.
  • Martin wrote the three-volume work ‘History, Antiquities, Topography and Statistics of Eastern India’.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Nepal

Kalapani DisputePriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Kalapani

Mains level : India-nepal border disputes



  • The new political map of India, recently released by the government to account for the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir, has triggered fresh protests over an old issue in Kathmandu.

Kalapani

  • Mapped within Uttarakhand is a 372-sq km area called Kalapani, bordering far-west Nepal and Tibet.
  • While the Nepal government and political parties have protested, India has said the new map does not revise the existing boundary with Nepal.

Defining the boundaries

  • Nepal’s western boundary with India was marked out in the Treaty of Sugauli between the East India Company and Nepal in 1816.
  • Nepali authorities claim that people living in the low-density area were included in the Census of Nepal until 58 years ago.
  • Five years ago, Nepali Foreign Minister Mahendra Bahadur Pande claimed that the late King Mahendra had “handed over the territory to India”.
  • By some accounts in Nepal, this allegedly took place in the wake of India-China War of 1962.
Global Geological And Climatic Events

Species in news: PliosaurPrelims OnlySpecies in News

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Pliosaur

Mains level : NA



Pliosaurs

  • Over 150 million years ago, enormous reptiles swam the Jurassic oceans.
  • The largest aquatic carnivorous reptiles that have ever lived, they are often dubbed “sea monsters”.
  • Scientifically, they are placed in the suborder Pliosauroidea, whose members are called pliosaurs.
  • Interest in these giants has been revived with the recent discovery of their bones in a cornfield in the Polish village of Krzyzanowice. Remains of pliosaurs are rare in Europe.

What makes them special?

  • They measured over 10 metres in length and could weigh up to several dozen tons.
  • They had powerful, large skulls and massive jaws with large, sharp teeth.
  • Their limbs were in the form of fins.

Swietokrzyskie Mountains

  • The Swietokrzyskie Mountains are a mountain range in central Poland.
  • In the Jurassic era, the Swietokrzyskie Mountains area is believed to have been an archipelago of islands, where there were warm lagoons and shallow sea reservoirs, home to the marine reptiles discovered by the palaeontologists.
  • The locality where the remains were discovered is considered to be rich in the fossils of coastal reptiles. Researchers now hope to find more remains in the coming months.