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Historical and Archaeological Findings in News

Rare life-size stucco figurine unearthed in Telangana

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Ikshavaku dynasty, Stucco

Mains level : Ancient Buddhist art

  • Archaeologists in Telangana have unearthed a rare treasure in the form of a life-sized stucco sculpture from a Buddhist site at Phanigiri.

What is stucco?

  • Stucco is a material made of aggregates, a binder, and water. Stucco is applied wet and hardens to a very dense solid.
  • It is used as a decorative coating for walls and ceilings, and as a sculptural and artistic material in architecture.
  • Stucco may be used to cover less visually appealing construction materials, such as metal, concrete, cinder block, or clay brick and adobe.

About the Bodhisattva statue

  • It is the biggest stucco sculpture found in the country so far.
  • The life-size figurine found in the excavations is thought to represent one of Bhodhisattva in Jathaka Chakra.
  • The stucco is about 1.73 metres in height and 35 cm in width, thus the biggest stucco sculpture found in the country so far
  • Apart from the life-sized stucco, these excavations brought to light a Mahastupa, apsidal chaitya grihas, votive stupas, pillared congregation halls, viharas, platforms with staircases at various levels.
  • It also had sculptural panels with Brahmi inscriptions, belonging to Satavahana period from first century BC, continued with Mahayana till the end of Ikshvaku period and others in third-fourth century AD.

About Ikshvaku Dynasty

  • The Ikshvaku dynasty, in Puranic literature, was a dynasty founded by the legendary king Ikshvaku. The dynasty is also known as Sūryavaṁśa (the Solar dynasty).
  • Lord Rama belonged to the Ikshavaku dynasty.
  • Twenty-two out of the twenty-four Jain Tirthankara belonged to this dynasty.
  • Rishabha is present in both Hindu as well as Jain mythology. Both refers to the same person.
  • According to the Buddhist texts, Prince Siddhartha belonged to this dynasty.
  • The Buddhist text, Mahavamsa traces the origin of the Shakyas to king Okkaka (Pali equivalent to Sanskrit Ikshvaku) and gives their genealogy from Mahasammata, an ancestor of Okkaka.

U.S. Commission says religious freedom in India deteriorated in 2018

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Read the attached story

  • The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan, independent federal government commission has said that there is an “overall deterioration of religious freedom conditions in 2018” in India.

Declining religious freedom across world

  • India continues to remain a Tier 2 country, according to the Commission, a list it has been unable to get off of since 2009.
  • Tier 2 countries are those in which “violations engaged in or tolerated by the government during 2018 are serious and characterized by at least one of the elements of the ‘systematic, ongoing, and egregious” CPC (Country of Particular Concern) standard.
  • CPCs are designated by the State Department and the latest list, from November 2018, contains 10 countries (including Burma, China, Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia).
  • In these countries the government has tolerated or engaged in “particularly severe religious freedom violations, meaning those are systematic, ongoing, and egregious.”
  • Other Tier 2 countries for 2018 are Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia and Turkey.
  • The Commission says in several countries where it found religious freedom declining, it also found an increased securitization and politicization of religion.

Indian case

  • In countries like India, it is increasingly difficult to separate religion and politics, a tactic that is sometimes intentional by those who seek to discriminate against and restrict the rights of certain religious communities.
  • The report says conditions for minorities in India have deteriorated over the last decade, adding that a “multifaceted campaign by various right wing nationalist groups.
  • It calls out the role of extremist groups, India’s anti-conversion laws, cow-protection lynch mobs, concerns that millions from Assam will be incorrectly left out of the NRC and a lack of transparency on denying international NGOs registration and political targeting of NGOs.

History- Important places, persons in news

750th birth anniversary of Vedanta Desikan

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Vedanta Desikan

Mains level : Socio-religious movements in South India

  • Vice-President has unveiled commemorative postage stamps on the 750th birth anniversary of ‘Vedanta Desikan’ a religious philosopher.

Vedanta Desikan (1268–1369)

  • Sri Vedanta Desikan was a Sri Vaishnava philosopher and one of the most brilliant stalwarts of Vaishnavism in the post-Ramanuja period.
  • He was a poet, devotee, philosopher and master-teacher (desikan).
  • He was the disciple of Kidambi Appullar, also known as Aathreya Ramanujachariar, who was of a master-disciple lineage that began with Ramanuja.
  • He composed many different works in languages such as Tamil, Sanskrit, Prakrit and Manipravala (a mixture of Sanskrit and Tamil).

His work

  • He was know by various titles such as ‘Kavitarkika-kesari’ and ‘Kavitarkika-simham’, the lion amongst poets; and ‘Ramanuja-daya-patram’, the recipient of Ramanuja’s causeless mercy, given in a laudatory verse composed by the famous Brahma Tantra Svatantra Swami.
  • He is known as Sarva-tantra-svatantra or a master of science, philosophy, arts and crafts.

Citizenship and Related Issues

[op-ed snap] The smokescreen of an infiltrator-free India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NRC

Mains level : Citizenship on the basis of religion is not a good idea,

CONTEXT

The real aim of the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is to segregate non-citizens on the basis of religion.

Background of NRC

  • At present, Assam is the only State in the country to have an NRC, which was compiled way back in 1951.
  • The process of updating the 1951 NRC in Assam has been on since 2015 under constant monitoring by the Supreme Court.
  • The complete draft of the updated NRC in Assam published on July 30, 2018 excluded the names of over 40 lakh of the total 3.29 crore applicants.
  • The Supreme Court has fixed July 31 for publication of the final NRC list after disposal of all claims and objections.

No definition of infiltrators

  • The ideological position of the ruling party is that undocumented immigrants belonging to Hindu and other religious minority groups in these three countries cannot be treated as “illegal migrants” in India and need to be granted citizenship, while the Muslims among them are “infiltrators” must be identified and driven out.
  • This is an attempt to manufacture consent of the people on the definition of “infiltrator” according to the ideological lexicon of the saffron party.

The problem of the cut-off date

  • If the cut-off date is going to be different from that taken for updating the NRC in Assam, what will be the legal status of those included in the updated register in Assam in the rest of the country, and vice versa?
  • The cut-off date for updating the NRC in Assam is March 24, 1971, which is also the cut-off date in the Assam Accord for implementation of the core clause, Clause 5, which calls for identification, deletion of names and expulsion of “illegal migrants” from Bangladesh, irrespective of their religion.
  • Updating the NRC in Assam on the basis of this core clause led to a broad political consensus in the State that the updated register will be a critical document for implementing this clause and addressing the apprehension of the Assamese and other ethnic communities in the State of losing their linguistic, cultural and ethnic identities due to unabated migration from Bangladesh.
  • The Assam government recently informed the Supreme Court that it has submitted a ₹900 crore proposal to the Ministry of Home Affairs for sanctioning 1,000 Foreigners Tribunals to decide the cases of those to be excluded from the final NRC list. The State has a hundred Foreigners Tribunals at present.

Conclusion

The smokescreen of an infiltrator-free India without explicitly defining an infiltrator will not be able hide the real threat posed to the country’s secular fabric. If the Bill is made into an Act, it poses the threat of abusing the NRC to divide people on religious lines. The country can ill afford such a divisive agenda.

 

Antibiotics Resistance

[op-ed snap] The cost of antimicrobial resistance

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : AMR

Mains level : Steps to be taken to fightAntimicrobial Resistance in India.

CONTEXT

India must brace for the economic shocks from uncontrolled antimicrobial resistance.

Background

  • Even though antimicrobial resistance is acknowledged by policymakers as a major health crisis, few have considered its economic impact.
  •  Interagency Coordination Group on Antimicrobial Resistance (IACG) – Now, a report from the Interagency Coordination Group on Antimicrobial Resistance (IACG) puts the financial fall-out in perspective.
  • Titled “No Time to Wait: Securing The Future From Drug Resistant Infections”, it says in about three decades from now uncontrolled antimicrobial resistance will cause global economic shocks on the scale of the 2008-09 financial crisis.

Findings of the report

  • High human and economic cost – With nearly 10 million people estimated to die annually from resistant infections by 2050, health-care costs and the cost of food production will spike, while income inequality will widen.
  • GDP loss and poverty widening – In the worst-case scenario, the world will lose 3.8% of its annual GDP by 2050, while 24 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty by 2030.
  • Nations must acknowledge this eventuality, the IACG says, and act to fight it.
  • For high- and mid-income nations, the price of prevention, at $2 per head a year, is extremely affordable.
  • For poorer countries, the price is higher but still modest compared to the costs of an antibiotic apocalypse.

India’s efforts to fight resistance

  • India first published almost nine years ago the broad contours of a plan to fight antimicrobial resistance.
  • The difficulty has been in implementing it, given the twin challenges of antibiotic overuse and underuse.
  • On the one hand, many Indians still die of diseases like sepsis and pneumonia because they don’t get the right drug at the right time.
  • On the other hand, a poorly regulated pharmaceutical industry means that antibiotics are freely available to those who can afford them.
  • The IACG report acknowledges these obstacles, and calls for efforts to overcome them.

Steps required

  • Phasing out critical human-use antibiotics in the animal husbandry sector – Some steps can be initiated right away, it says, such as phasing out critical human-use antibiotics in the animal husbandry sector, such as quinolones.
  • Multi-stakeholder approach -But these steps cannot be driven by regulation alone.A multi-stakeholder approach, involving private industry, philanthropic groups and citizen activists is needed.
  • Responsibility of Private pharmaceutical – Private pharmaceutical industries must take it upon themselves to distribute drugs in a responsible manner.
  • Responsibility of Philanthropic charities – Philanthropic charities must fund the development of new antibiotics, while citizen activists must drive awareness.
  • These stakeholders must appreciate that the only way to postpone resistance is through improved hygiene and vaccinations.

Conclusion

It is a formidable task as India still struggles with low immunisation rates and drinking water contamination. But it must consider the consequences of a failure.

While the 2008-09 financial crisis caused global hardships, its effects began to wear off by 2011. Once crucial antibiotics are lost to humankind, they may be lost for decades.

 

Delhi Full Statehood Issue

[op-ed snap] Power shift

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Lt. Governor

Mains level : Madras High Court Judgement will resolve power tussle in Puducherry.

CONTEXT

The Madras High Court verdict that the Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry should not interfere in the day-to-day administration of the Union Territory is a serious setback to the incumbent Administrator, Kiran Bedi. She has been locked in a prolonged dispute over the extent of her powers with Chief Minister V. Narayanasamy, who says she has been disregarding the elected regime and seeking to run the Union Territory on her own.

Verdict

1. Decisions are Binding on officials -The court has laid down that “the decision taken by the Council of Ministers and the Chief Minister is binding on the Secretaries and other officials.”

2. Inspired by Supreme Court –  Inspired by the Supreme Court’s appeal to constitutional morality and trust among high dignitaries, the High Court has also reminded the Centre and the Administrator that they should be true to the concept of democratic principles, lest the constitutional scheme based on democracy and republicanism be defeated.

3. L-G has no independent decision-making powers –

  • The judgment is based  in last year’s Constitution Bench decision on the conflict between the elected regime in the National Capital Territory (NCT) and its Lt.Governor.
  • The five-judge Bench had ruled that the L-G has to either act on the ‘aid and advice’ of the Council of Ministers, or refer to the President for a decision any matter on which there is a difference with the Ministry, but has no independent decision-making powers.
  • The High Court also says the Administrator is bound by the ‘aid and advice’ clause in matters over which the Assembly is competent to enact laws.
  • The L-G’s power to refer any matter to the President to resolve differences should not mean “every matter”, the court has cautioned.

Difference between Delhi and Puducherry

1. The difference in status – Justice R. Mahadevan, who delivered the Madras High Court judgment, is conscious of the difference in status between Delhi and Puducherry.

2. Constitutional and parliamentary Law – The Puducherry legislature is the creation of a parliamentary law, based on an enabling provision in Article 239A of the Constitution, whereas the NCT legislature has been created by the Constitution itself under Article 239AA.

3. NCT is sui generis – The Supreme Court had described the NCT as sui generis. At the same time, the NCT Assembly is limited in the extent of its legislative powers, as it is barred from dealing with the subjects of public order, police and land.

More Power to representative Government

  • However, looking at the Business Rules as well as other statutory provisions on Puducherry, the judge has sought to give greater credence to the concept of a representative government.
  • He has set aside two clarifications issued by the Centre in 2017 to the effect that the L-G enjoys more power than the Governor of a State and can act without aid and advice.
  • In view of the Constitution Bench judgment on Delhi, he has differed with another Madras High Court decision of 2018 in which the LG’s power to act irrespective of the Cabinet’s advice was upheld.

Conclusion

In the event that the latest judgment is taken up on appeal, a key question may be how far the decision of the five-judge Bench on the limits of the Delhi L-G’s powers would indeed apply to Puducherry.

Terrorism and Challenges Related To It

UNSC designates Masood Azhar as global terrorist

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : UNSC 1267

Mains level : Blacklisting of Azhar and its implications for India

Context

  • Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar was listed as a designated terrorist by the UN Security Council 1267 Committee.
  • It would mean a travel ban, arms embargo and asset freeze on Azhar.
  • The listing is a victory for India in a decade-old diplomatic battle waged primarily by it and supported by its friends at the UNSC.

Paradigm shift by China

  • Since China had blocked it four times at the UNSC Resolution 1267 Sanctions committee, US felt that this would put China in an awkward position.
  • It would have to publicly defend the veto — and, in effect, a terrorist.

Image source: TOI

 

Speculating Chinese intentions

  • China’s decision appears to be a well-rounded exercise aimed at encouraging India to bond with Eurasia instead of the Indo-Pacific.
  • It has taken its “all weather” ally Pakistan on board before taking the decision.
  • China’s move followed Russia’s decision last month to honour Mr. Modi with ‘Order of the Holy Apostle Andrew the First,’ –Russia’s highest civilian award, in the midst of the election campaign.
  • Both China and Russia want New Delhi to consolidate its ties with Eurasia on Mr. Modi’s watch, rather than allow India to drift further in the direction of the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific strategy.
  • India is already a member of the Eurasia-centred Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

Again a bliss for Pakistan

  • Beijing had decided to announce listing after the Belt and Road Forum (BRF), so as not to embarrass visiting Pakistan PM Imran Khan, who was guest at the conclave.
  • Pakistan may not be averse to Azhar’s designation, as it could help avoid being “blacklisted” by the FATF.
  • Otherwise it could advance Islamabad’s economic isolation.

Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

Explained: Cyclone Fani- an unusual storm

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Cyclone Fani

Mains level : Tropical Cyclones in India

Cyclone Fani

  • A powerful cyclonic storm named Fani (pronounced Foni) is headed towards the Odisha coast..
  • It is not just a severe cyclone but an “extremely severe cyclone”.
  • Expected to generate storms with wind speeds as high as 200 km per hour, it has the potential to cause widespread damage in Odisha and neighbouring states.
  • The last time such a powerful cyclonic storm had emerged in the Bay of Bengal at this time of the year, in 2008, it had killed more than 1.25 lakh people in Myanmar.
  • However India has impressively managed disasters caused by cyclones, most remarkably during Cyclone Phailin of 2013, which was even stronger than the approaching Fani.
  • Fani is, thus, unusual, and that is mainly because of the place it originated, very close to the Equator, and the long route it has taken to reach the landmass.

How are they formed?

  • Cyclones are formed over slightly warm ocean waters.
  • The temperature of the top layer of the sea, up to a depth of about 60 metres, need to be at least 28°C to support the formation of a cyclone.
  • This explains why the April-May and October-December periods are conducive for cyclones.
  • Then, the low level of air above the waters needs to have an ‘anticlockwise’ rotation (in the northern hemisphere; clockwise in the southern hemisphere).
  • During these periods, there is a ITCZ in the Bay of Bengal whose southern boundary experiences winds from west to east, while the northern boundary has winds flowing east to west.
  • This induces the anticlockwise rotation of air.
  • Once formed, cyclones in this area usually move northwest. As it travels over the sea, the cyclone gathers more moist air from the warm sea, and adds to its heft.

What strengthens them?

  • A thumb rule for cyclones is that the more time they spend over the seas, the stronger they become.
  • Hurricanes around the US, which originate in the vast open Pacific Ocean, are usually much stronger than the tropical cyclones in the Bay of Bengal, a relatively narrow and enclosed region.
  • The cyclones originating here, after hitting the landmass, decay rapidly due to friction and absence of moisture.

Cyclone Fani in Odisha: In situ origins

  • A big difference between the strengths of cyclones in April-May and October-December is that the former originate in situ in the Bay of Bengal itself, barely a few hundred kilometres from the landmass.
  • On the other hand, cyclones in October-December are usually remnants of cyclonic systems that emerge in the Pacific Ocean, but manage to come to the Bay of Bengal.
  • They are considerably weakened after crossing the southeast Asian landmass near the South China Sea.
  • These systems already have some energy, and gather momentum as they traverse over the Bay of Bengal.
  • April-May is not the season for typhoons in the west Pacific Ocean. Most of the typhoons in west Pacific in northern hemisphere form between June and November.
  • That is why almost all the cyclones in the Bay of Bengal in April-May period are in situ systems.

What’s unusual with Fani?

  • The in situ cyclonic systems in the Bay of Bengal usually originate around latitude 10°, in line with Chennai or Thiruvananthapuram.
  • Fani, on the other hand, originated quite close to the Equator, around latitude 2°, well below the Sri Lankan landmass.
  • The forecast landfall on the Odisha coast is at a latitude of almost 20°.
  • It has traversed a long way on the sea, thus gaining strength that is unusual for cyclones originating in the Bay of Bengal in this season.
  • It was initially headed northwestwards, towards the Tamil Nadu coast, but changed course midway, and swerved northeast away from the coastline to reach Odisha.
  • If it had remained on its original course, and made a landfall over the Tamil Nadu coastline, Fani would only have been a normal cyclone, not the extremely severe cyclone it has now become.

Back2Basics

Tropical Cyclones in India

  • The eastern coast of India is no stranger to cyclones.
  • On an average, five to six significant cyclonic storms emerge in the Bay of Bengal region every year.
  • The months of April and May just before the start of the monsoon, and then October to December immediately after the end of the monsoon, are the prime seasons for tropical cyclones.
  • Cyclones emerging in April-May usually are much weaker than those during October-December.
  • There have been only 14 instances of a “severe cyclone” forming in the Bay of Bengal region in April since 1891, and only one of them, which formed in 1956, touched the Indian mainland.
  • The others all swerved northeast to hit Bangladesh, Myanmar or other countries in the southeast Asian region. Since 1990, there have been only four such cyclones in April.

Grading of Cyclones

  • Tropical cyclones in the Bay of Bengal are graded according to maximum wind speeds at their centre.
  • At the lower end are depressions that generate wind speeds of 30 to 60 km per hour, followed by:
  1. cyclonic storms (61 to 88 kph)
  2. severe cyclonic storms (89 to 117 kph)
  3. very severe cyclonic storms (118 to 166 kph)
  4. extremely severe cyclonic storms (167 to 221 kph) and
  5. super cyclones (222 kph or higher)

Wildlife Conservation Efforts

Kashmir Stag (Hangul)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Kashmir Stag (Hangul)

Mains level : Not Much

  • A massive decline in the population of Kashmir’s iconic wildlife species, the Hangul (Cervus hanglu hanglu), also known as the Kashmir stag, continues to be a big concern.

Kashmir Stag (Hangul)

  • Hangul, the state animal of Jammu & Kashmir, is restricted to the Dachigam National Park some 15 km north-west of Jammu & Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar.
  • The Hangul is placed under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and the J&K Wildlife Protection Act, 1978.
  • The Hangul was once widely distributed in the mountains of Kashmir and parts of Chamba district in neighbouring Himachal Pradesh.
  • The IUCN’s Red List has classified it as Critically Endangered and is similarly listed under the Species Recovery Programme of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and the Environmental Information System (ENVIS) of the MoEFCC.

Why is Hangul crucial?

  • From a population of 5,000 in the early 1900s, the Hangul’s numbers have constantly declined over the decades.
  • The Hangul is considered equally significant to the state of Jammu & Kashmir as the tiger is to the whole of India.
  • It is the only Asiatic survivor or sub-species of the European red deer. But the state animal’s decreasing population remains a big concern.
  • According to the latest survey in 2017, the population of Hangul is 182 in Dachigam and adjoining areas. Earlier population estimates suggest that there were 197 deer in 2004 and 186 in 2015.
  • The IUCN Red Data Book — which contains lists of species at risk of extinction — has declared the Hangul as one of three species that were critically endangered in J&K.
  • The other two are the Markhor — the world’s largest species of wild goat found in Kashmir and several regions of central Asia — and the Tibetan antelope or ‘Chiru’.

Various threats

  • The biggest challenges which have been identified by experts in the way of conservation and population growth of Hangul are habitat fragmentation, predation and very low fawn-female ratio.
  • Lack of desirable breeding and fawn survival is a grave concern for the population growth.
  • Another challenge is the male-female and fawn-adult disparity in the Hangul population.
  • Influx of livestock herds of nomadic communities in the Dachigam National Park has been a challenge for years.
  • After the closing down of their traditional routes leading to over a dozen alpine pastures (in Gurez) by the army after the inception of armed conflict in Kashmir, nomads have not been able to graze their herds in those pastures.
  • So, they are taking their large herds of livestock to the upper reaches of Dachigam during summers.
  • Other dangers for the Hangul population include excessive predation of fawns by the Common Leopard, the Himalayan Black Bear and nomads’ dogs.

International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

99942 Apophis

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : 99942 Apophis

Mains level : Not Much

Asteroid ‘99942 Apophis’

  • On April 13, 2029, a near-Earth asteroid will cruise by Earth, about 31,000 km above the surface.
  • The asteroid, called 99942 Apophis, is 340 m wide.
  • At one point, it will travel more than the width of the full Moon within a minute and it will get as bright as the stars in the Little Dipper, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
  • It is rare for an asteroid this size to pass by Earth so close.
  • Although scientists have spotted small asteroids, on the order of 5-10 metres, flying by Earth at a similar distance, asteroids the size of Apophis are far fewer in number and so do not pass this close to Earth as often.
  • Among potential lessons from Apophis, scientists are hoping they can use its flyby to learn about an asteroid’s interior.
  • Apophis is one of about 2,000 currently known Potentially Hazardous Asteroids, and scientists also hope their observations might help gain important scientific knowledge that could one day be used for planetary defence.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-France

[pib] Exercise Varuna 19.1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : About the Exercise

Mains level : Not Much

  • The first part of the Indo-French joint naval exercise, Varuna 19.1 is being held off the Goa coast.

Exercise Varuna 19.1

  • The bilateral naval exercise initiated in 1983 and christened as ‘Varuna’ in 2001, form a vital part of the Indo-French strategic partnership.
  • Having grown in scope and complexity over the years, this exercise exemplifies the strong relations between the two nations, in line with the Joint Strategic Vision of India-French Cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region.
  • The Varuna exercise aims at developing interoperability between the two navies and fostering mutual cooperation by learning from each other’s best practices to conduct joint operations.
  • The exercise underscores the shared interests and commitment of both nations in promoting maritime security.
  • The second part, Varuna 19.2, is scheduled to be held at the end of May in Djibouti.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

[op-ed snap] Wrong step

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Debate on directive of banning Niqab in Sri Lanka

CONTEXT

President Maithripala Sirisena has taken the extraordinary step of effectively banning the niqab, a face covering worn by some Muslim women, under the country’s Emergency regulations, promulgated after the Easter Sunday bombings claimed by ISIS. It makes Sri Lanka the only country outside Europe to take such a decision.

Problems With the directive

It is unfortunate that President Sirisena took such an extreme step without wider consultation, as it goes against the fundamental freedoms set out in the Sri Lankan constitution.

1.Violating Freedom -Even accepting that the Emergency gives the government vast powers to suspend some freedoms, this is an unwarranted and extreme measure.

2.Not commonly used -The niqab is an import from the Middle East.It is not a common sight in Sri Lanka. Few women wear it.

3. Demand for Ban on other garments –There is now the danger that the ban on the niqab will be read up in its implementation to include the more commonly worn hijab and burqa, especially as there have been demands earlier by Buddhist extremists that these garments should be banned.

It could also open up demands for banning other visible identity markers, such as caps and bears worn by men.

4. Steps were already taken by civil society – Significantly, even before the President took the step, Muslim civil society organisations and the clergy had already urgently appealed to their “sisters” to stop wearing the full face veil or desist from being seen in public spaces wearing it.

5. Fear of repercussion – It is clear the community, which is more integrated into the Sri Lankan polity and economy than the Tamils, are fearful of the repercussions of the attack, and wants to play down identity markers.

6. No consultation with women – It is unclear if the women in the community were consulted. They are being asked to shoulder the burden of holding up the community’s credentials.

Ineffective Directive

  • It cannot be stressed enough that the problem that has erupted in Sri Lanka has not been caused by women’s apparel.
  • Banning the niqab may make the government look as if it is taking action, but it is hardly the way to meet the challenge posed by radicalism of the ISIS kind. From 2015 at least, Sri Lanka has been aware that some of its young citizens have been attracted to ISIS and were travelling to Syria for battle innoculation. There is no evidence to show that it acted seriously on this information.
  • True, Sri Lanka was still in the first flush of the post-Rajapakse years, and the government was more focussed on dismantling some of the authoritarian structures from his time.
  • Still, it is beyond comprehension that the government did not have an accurate handle on the radicalisation of even the handful of ISIS recruits.

Issues related to Economic growth

[op-ed snap] An employment-oriented economic policy

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Ways to correct macroeconomic policy to boost employment and growth.

CONTEXT

In the heated debate on jobs, the crucial link between macroeconomic policy and unemployment has not been flagged.

Tasks associated with economic Policy

  • The first is to review the conduct of macroeconomic policy.
  • Though it must come across as arcane, this is an element of public policy that makes a difference to whether we enjoy economic security or not.
  • This brings up the second task for the winner, namely employment generation.

Impact of poor Macroeconomic Policy

1. Fiscal consolidation

  • The government has continued with fiscal consolidation, or shrinking the deficit, while mandating the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to exclusively target inflation leaving aside all other considerations.
  • This has contracted demand.
  • That high fiscal deficits and high inflation per se can never be good for an economy does not justify a permanently tight macroeconomic stance.
  • The rationale given for one is that it is conducive to private investment, said to be shy of fiscal deficits and held back by inflation.
  • Both the deficit and inflation have trended downward in the past five years, yet investment as a share of national income has remained frozen.

2.Inflation targeting

  •  Arguably though, India has seen a virtual inflation targeting since 2013 when the policies of the RBI became more closely aligned to the practices of central banks in western economies.
  • Thus in 2013-14 the real policy rate saw a positive swing of over four percentage points, and it has more or less remained there.
  • Admittedly, at double digits, inflation had been high in 2012-13 but that could have been due to abnormal hikes in the procurement price and not due to runaway growth.
  • The high interest rate regime in place since 2013 could not but have had a negative impact on growth by raising the cost of capital to industry.

Reviewing RBI’s role

1.Reasons for review

  • A regime of high-interest rates can be bad not only for investment — and thus for growth and employment — but also for financial stability.
  • Sharp increases in interest rates can trigger distress.
  •  There has been a growth of non-performing assets of banks even after a change in the method of classification first resulted in their surging in 2015. This feature along with the spectacular collapse of the giant Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services Ltd (IL&FS) recently point to the need to review the role of the RBI.

2.Changes in Responsibility

  • Experience suggests that it must be tasked with far greater responsibility for maintaining financial stability while being granted wider powers.
  • Finance Ministry and its nominees on the RBI Board should desist from insisting upon actions that could jeopardise financial stability in trying to quicken the economy.
  • It also suggests that the movements in the financial markets are to be treated as the bellwether in economic policy-making.
  • Actually, over the past 30 years, from Mexico to southeast Asia, financial markets can be seen to have been fickle, self-serving and capable of causing great harm as they switch base globally in search of profits through speculation.

 

Job creation

1.Strengthening Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS)

We can assist the unemployed by strengthening the employment programme we already have, namely the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).

Timely Payment

First, there have been reports that though the budgetary allocation for the scheme may have increased, workers face delay in payment.

Extending the MGNREGS to urban India

Second, as has been suggested, there is a case for extending the MGNREGS to urban India for there is unemployment there.

Review of MGNREGS

  • However, as with macroeconomic policies, a thorough review of how the MGNREGS works on the ground is necessary.
  • The MGNREGS should target the waste dotting our countryside, and when extended to urban India should aid municipal waste-management efforts.
  • We would then have a cleaner environment and have at the same time created jobs.
  • That would a fitting tribute to the man after whom the programme is named, one who had worked for a clean India much of his life.

Child Rights – POSCO, Child Labour Laws, NAPC, etc.

Explained: Age of consent & age gap under POCSO Act

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : POCSO Act, Definition of Child

Mains level : Read the attached story

  • While acquitting a young accused of sexual assault charges under the POCSO Act, Madras High Court made two significant suggestions that:
  1. the age for the definition of a “child” be taken as 16 rather than 18, and
  2. the Act account for the difference in age between the offender and the girl involved in consensual sex

Madras HC Judgement

  • The definition of ‘Child’ under Section 2(d) of the POCSO Act can be redefined as 16 instead of 18.
  • Any consensual sex after the age of 16 can be excluded from the rigorous provisions of the POCSO Act and such sexual assault, if it is so defined can be tried under more liberal provision.
  • The Act can be amended to the effect that the age of the offender ought not to be more than five years or so than the consensual victim girl of 16 years or more.
  • While legal experts and child rights activists welcomed the redefinition of “child”, some of them called for further discussions on the suggestion for an amendment that would factor in the age difference.

Why decriminalizing the consensual act?

  • A senior Supreme Court advocate called for decriminalization of consensual sex between those aged between 16 and 18.
  • This provision denies young person falling in this age bracket consensual sexual agency, and subjects them to the control of families which motivated by casteist, communal or orthodox and regressive views lodge false criminal complaints.
  • Various studies tell us in the age group between 16-18, there is a lot of experimental consensual sexual acts that take place.
  • However in most of the cases, the parents of the girl lodge a complaint against the boy that it was non-consensual.
  • The judgement will help eliminate the unwarranted criminalisation of consensual or romantic sexual relations.

Enabling more scope for fair trial

  • The issue of consent would have to be decided from the circumstances rather than putting the victim on the stand and asking her if she gave consent.
  • In consensual sex both are offenders or both are victims.
  • Many activists feel that consensual sex cannot be criminalised at an age when sexual exploration is common, but argued against singling out the boy.
  • Normally the boy is tried under JJ and the girl is sent to CWC. They are equal partners.

Way Forward

  • There can always be a discussion on what should be the age gap between alleged offender and victim.
  • It is important to acknowledge that the law at present on this subject is very harsh and does not leave any scope for details and dynamics of a relationship to be taken into account by courts.

Delhi Full Statehood Issue

LG’s role in Puducherry

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : LG: Powers and Functions

Mains level : LG of Puducherry vs. LG of Delhi

  • The Madras High Court has that the Lieutenant-Governor (L-G) of Puducherry could not interfere with the day-to-day administration of the Union Territory when an elected government was in place.
  • The court said incessant interference from the L-G would amount to running a “parallel government.”

What did the court say?

  • The Central government as well as the Administrator [the term used in the Constitution to refer to the Lieutenant-Governor] should be true to the concept of democratic principles.
  • Otherwise, the constitutional scheme of the country of being democratic and republic would be defeated.
  • The judge made it clear that government secretaries were bound to take instructions from the ministers concerned and the Council of Ministers, headed by the CM, besides reporting to them on official matters.
  • The secretaries are not empowered to issue orders on their own or upon the instructions of the Administrator.

There lies a difference: Delhi and Puducherry

  • The court also went on to point out the differences between the powers conferred on the legislatures of Puducherry and Delhi under Articles 239A and 239AA of the Constitution.
  • The court said though Article 239AA imposes several restrictions on the legislature of Delhi, no such restrictions had been imposed explicitly in the case of Puducherry under Article 239A.
  • While the LG of Delhi is also guided by the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Act, 1991, and the Transaction of Business of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi Rules, 1993, the LG of Puducherry is guided mostly by the Government of Union Territories Act, 1963.

Back2Basics

LG of Puducherry Vs. LG of Delhi

  • The LG of Delhi enjoys greater powers than the LG of Puducherry.
  • The LG of Delhi has “Executive Functions” that allow him to exercise his powers in matters connected to public order, police and land “in consultation with the Chief Minister.
  • Under the constitutional scheme, the Delhi Assembly has the power to legislate on all subjects except law and order and land.
  • However, the Puducherry Assembly can legislate on any issue under the Concurrent and State Lists.
  • However, if the law is in conflict with a law passed by Parliament, the law passed by Parliament prevails.

Electoral Reforms In India

Supreme Court seeks ECs reply on voter prosecution

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Issues over EVM

  • The Supreme Court has sought the Election Commission’s response on a plea which sought striking down of a provision in election rules that envisages prosecution of an elector if a complaint alleging malfunctioning of EVMs and VVPATs cannot be proven.

49MA of the Conduct of Elections Rules

  • 49MA of the Conduct of Elections Rules is sought unconstitutional as it criminalised reporting of malfunctioning of EVM or VVPATs.
  • The plea contended that the onus of proving an allegation cannot be on a voter when machines used for voting showed ‘arbitrary deviant behaviour’.
  • The plea sought direction to the EC to register a complaint of any deviant behaviour of equipment used in the election process while pointing out that the burden of proof rests on the elector at the moment.
  • One risks criminal charges even if the complaint is correct as the machines need not repeat its arbitrary behavior for a second consecutive time.
  • When an elector is asked to cast a test vote, under Rule 49MA, s/he may not get the same result because of a pre-programmed deviant behaviour of EVMs, the plea said.

Then who will report malfunctioning?

  • In the course of reporting deviant behaviour of an electronic machine used in the election process, an elector has to cast two votes; first one in secrecy and the second a test vote in the presence of the candidates or polling agents.
  • A test vote cast subsequently in the presence of others cannot become a conclusive evidence of the deviant behaviour or otherwise of the previous vote cast in absolute secrecy.

Voters need security against persecution. Why?

  • Holding an elector accountable for deviant behaviours of EVMs and VVPATs could deter them from making a complaint, essential for improving the process.
  • This may also create an illusion of free and fair elections, whereas the fact would be that people have simply not come forward to lodge complaints.
  • Since only an elector could be a witness to the secrecy of his vote cast, it would violate Article 20(3) of the Constitution which says that no person accused of an offence shall be compelled to be a witness against himself.

Judicial Reforms

Contempt of Court

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Contempt of Court

Mains level : Judiciary and associated issues

Contempt of Court

  • According to the Contempt of Courts Act, 1971, contempt of court can either be civil contempt or criminal contempt.
  • Civil contempt means wilful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to a court.
  • On the other hand, criminal contempt means the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representations, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which
  1. Scandalizes or tends to scandalize, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court; or
  2. Prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of any judicial proceeding; or
  3. Interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.

Penalty for Contempt

  • A contempt of court may be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to two thousand rupees, or with both.
  • This is provided in case that the accused may be discharged or the punishment awarded may be remitted on apology being made to the satisfaction of the court.

Industrial Sector Updates – Industrial Policy, Ease of Doing Business, etc.

Technical Textiles

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Technical Textiles

Mains level : Not Much

  • The Ministry of Textiles has prepared two reports on technical textiles, to tap the potential and also how to utilise it at ‘National Conclave on Technical Textiles’.

Technical Textiles

  • Technical Textiles is a high technology sunrise sector which is steadily gaining ground in. India.
  • A technical textile is a textile product manufactured for non-aesthetic purposes, where function is the primary criterion.
  • Technical textiles include textiles for automotive applications, medical textiles (e.g., implants), geotextiles (reinforcement of embankments), agrotextiles (textiles for crop protection), and protective clothing (e.g., heat and radiation protection for fire fighter clothing, molten metal protection for welders, stab protection and bulletproof vests, and spacesuits).
  • They are functional fabrics that have applications across various industries including automobiles, civil engineering and construction, agriculture, healthcare, industrial safety, personal protection etc.