February 2020
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Corruption Challenges – Lokpal, POCA, etc

Six years on, Lokpal is a non-starterop-ed of the day

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Institution of Lokpal is yet prove its efficacy to deal with the corruption. What are the reasons for not starting function as stated in the law.


Context

More than six years after the Lokpal law received the President’s assent, the institution of the Lokpal is yet to play any significant role in tackling corruption in the country.

Delay in appointment

  • Five-year delay in appointment: For more than five years, the chairperson and members of the Lokpal were not appointed.
    • LoP issue: The government claimed that since no one could be recognised as the Leader of the Opposition (LoP) after the 2014 general election, the committee responsible for selecting members of the Lokpal could not be constituted.
    • This malady could have been easily remedied by either recognising the leader of the single largest party in Opposition in the Lok Sabha as the LoP, or by amendment as was done for the selection committee of the CBI Director.
    • However, neither recourse was taken.

Truncated appointment committee

  • Special invitee: The leader of the largest Opposition party in the Lok Sabha was invited for meetings of the selection committee as a ‘special invitee’.
    • Which he declined on grounds that it was mere tokenism.

Non-starter

  • More than 10 months later, however, evidence suggests that the Lokpal is a non-starter.
  • No rules prescribing the form: Till date, the government has not made rules prescribing the form for filing complaints to the Lokpal.
  • No rules regarding asset disclosure: The Central government has also failed to formulate rules regarding asset disclosure by public servants.
  • In order to ensure independent and credible action on allegations of corruption, the Lokpal was empowered under the law to set up its own inquiry wing headed by a Director of Inquiry and its own prosecution wing headed by a Director of Prosecution.
  • The Inquiry and prosecution wing not set up yet: The inquiry and prosecution wings of the anti-corruption ombudsman are yet to be set up.
    • The Lokpal has also not appointed the Director of Inquiry or Prosecution.
    • Regulations for inquiry and investigation not made: Regulations which the Lokpal was obligated to make under the law are yet to be made, including those specifying the manner and procedure of conducting preliminary inquiry and investigation.
  • Legal veracity of the decisions uncertain: Since necessary procedures to operationalise the law are yet to be put in place, the legal veracity of the decisions of the Lokpal could potentially be challenged in a court of law.

Conclusion

The failure to operationalise the Lokpal in an effective manner lays bare the lack of will of the government. It took nearly half a century for the Lokpal law to be enacted from the time the need for the oversight institution was first articulated. The government must act to have an effective, independent and empowered Lokpal.

US policy wise : Visa, Free Trade and WTO

A new approach on investmentop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- Trade deal with the US, issues involved.


Context

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomes U.S. President Donald Trump to India this month the two leaders are expected to sign a first-ever trade agreement.

What will be on the agenda of the trade deal?

  • GSP issues: The restoration of India’s Generalised System of Preferences benefits,
  • Pricing of medical devices.
  • And agriculture trade are all important.
  • Incremental outcomes: If the two sides continue efforts to achieve incremental outcomes, the start of negotiations on a comprehensive free trade agreement (FTA) could even be a credible scenario. Presently, this is not the case.

What could be the incremental outcomes?

  • The most obvious candidates are-
    • Intellectual property rights (IPR).
    • IPR has historically been an area of contention between the two, but discussions on IPR have progressed well in recent years.
    • Digital trade.
    • Both are grappling with the appropriate scope and approach for regulating electronic commerce issues in this digital age.
    • Ideally, there should be room to seriously consider better ways to encourage skilled professionals to work in the other’s economy.
  • Progress on the investment

There are already some shared interests in the area of investment.

  • For example, India invests in the U.S. and continues to seek U.S. investment in India.
  • FDI issue: Foreign direct investment (FDI), this is an important moment to do more to encourage it than simply welcoming it.
  • Need to negotiate o investment: Ideally, the two sides should move ahead to negotiate an agreement on investment matters that can provide greater transparency, predictability, and regulatory certainty to investors from the other country.
  • Negotiation on FDI off the table: It appears that the traditional approach through which countries pursue commitments on FDI, bilateral investment treaties, or ‘BITs’ (bilateral investment treaties) is off the table.
  • The Trump administration has put a hold on negotiating additional BITs and appears to be suspicious of how well they balance U.S. interests.
  • The Indian government is similarly sceptical of BITs, having cancelled all existing ones soon after it came into office.

Need for the new approach on the investment issues

  • Until they resume their work on BITs, the two sides may find common ground in devising a new approach to investment issue.
  • What the new approach involve?
  • Taking cues from their respective FTAs: A starting point should be to review what they have done in their recent FTAs.
  • Abandonment of investor-state dispute settlement: The recently concluded U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement contains a novel approach on investment notably its abandonment of investor-state dispute settlement with respect to the U.S. and Canada.
    • Similarly, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which India had been negotiating with ASEAN, Australia, China, Japan, Korea, and New Zealand, does not include investor-state dispute settlement.
    • While India chose not to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership when it was concluded at the end of last year, it appears to have been on board with the FTA’s investment provisions.
  • Where the agreement focus as of now? For now, however, both countries should focus on what is doable. A U.S.-India investment agreement could focus on-
    • Fair treatment for investors from the other country.
    • Regulatory transparency and predictability.
    • And approaches for resolving concerns short of investor-state dispute settlements.
  • At a later stage: At a later stage-
    • Most likely when the two are prepared to negotiate a more comprehensive bilateral FTA, they can go further on investment matters.

Conclusion

A new, hybrid approach on investment would be a substantial step in the right direction. It will be critical to sustaining momentum coming out of a first trade deal when the two leaders meet in Delhi. If India and the U.S. fail this test, the trade relationship is more likely to languish than blossom.

 

Government Budgets

Shun fiscal adventurismop-ed snap

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3- Why fiscal stimulus is not the elixir as it is made out to be?


Context

In the run-up to the budget, there was enormous pressure on the finance minister to launch a fiscal stimulus so as to pump-prime the economy. That she did not succumb to the temptation is a big relief.

Why fiscal stimulus is unwarranted?

  • There is already considerable stimulus in the system. 
  • Excessive fiscal deficit: To her credit, the finance minister took a step towards transparency by admitting to off-balance-sheet borrowings of 0.8 per cent of GDP for both the current and next fiscal year.
    • Acknowledging that the fiscal deficit would actually be higher at 4.6 per cent and 4.3 per cent of GDP respectively. This is already excessive.
  • Unrealistic projection of revenue growth: Add to this the unrealistic projections of revenue growth and disinvestment proceeds for next year and we have a potentially unsustainable fiscal situation.
    • Any stimulus on top of this would have been clearly

Possibility of undermining the RBI’s efforts

Fiscal pressure could harm the RBI’s efforts to revive the economy in the following ways-

  • Harming long term investment rates: Fiscal pressures will undermine the Reserve Bank of India’s struggle to revive investment by bringing down long-term interest rates.
  • Rating downgrades: It could result in a sovereign rating downgrade and jeopardise efforts to attract foreign capital.
  • Increase in inflationary pressure: It can stoke inflationary pressures, something we cannot afford when inflation is above the RBI’s target rate.
  • Pressure on the external sector: And most importantly, it can lead to pressures on the external sector.
  • Past experiences: The balance of payments crisis of 1991 and the near crisis of 2013 in the wake of taper tantrums were, at their heart, a consequence of extended fiscal profligacy.

Counter-arguments of the supporters of the stimulus and fallacies in it

  • Low Debt-to-GDP ratio: It is argued that our debt-to-GDP ratio is low in international terms.
    • Misleading comparison: The data don’t bear this out. In any case, our experience, as well as research, shows that international comparisons of debt-to-GDP ratios, without reference to other parameters, are misleading.
  • Debt in domestic currency: It is also argued that we do not need to worry because our debt is mostly in domestic currency unlike that of many emerging economies.
    • The fallacy in this argument: Our debt in the domestic market didn’t protect us from previous crises, and there is no reason to believe that it will protect us from the next one, especially as our foreign debt is proportionally higher than before.
  • Robust foreign exchange reserves: It is argued that our foreign exchange reserves are robust and a balance of payments crisis is improbable. Such complacency is misplaced.
    • Fallacy- No forex is large enough in bad times: We should not forget the lesson that in good times any amount of forex reserves looks like it is too large, but in bad times no amount of reserves is large enough.

Quality of fiscal consolidation

  • Quality a cause for concern: As much as the headline fiscal deficit numbers are a cause for concern, the underlying quality of fiscal consolidation is a bigger concern.
  • Increasing revenue deficit: Conveniently off the radar, the revenue deficit, far from coming down, is actually going up.
    • Two-third borrowing to finance revenue expenditure: This year, more than two-thirds of what the government is borrowing is going to finance current expenditures like salaries, pensions, interest payments and subsidies.
    • That ratio will rise to three-quarters next year.
    • Crowding out of the expenditure: This debt-financed revenue expenditure is simply unsustainable as it will increasingly crowd out capital expenditure.
  • Red flags on the state finances.
    • Another dimension of the quality of fiscal consolidation is the combined fiscal position of states which is, in fact, the big elephant in the room.
    • Together, states spend one-and-a-half times more than the Centre.
    • Larger development impact than Centre: Studies show that how efficiently states spend their money has a much greater development impact as compared to the Centre.
    • Red flags by the RBI on states finances: The states are not doing a good job. In its latest annual report on state finances, the RBI raised several red flags on state finances-
    • states’ increasing weakness in their own revenue generation.
    • Their unsustainable debt burdens.
    • And their tendency to retrench capital expenditures in order to accommodate fiscal shocks such as farm loan waivers, power sector loans under UDAY and a host of income transfer schemes.
    • Consequences in the market: The market will penalise mismanagement of public finances; it does not care who is responsible — the Centre or states — for an unsustainable fiscal stance.

Conclusion

  • The fear of one-off fiscal stimulus becoming permanent: By far the biggest fear about a fiscal stimulus is that it is tempting to plunge into a spending programme saying it is a one-off and will be withdrawn when the pressure eases. Experience shows that it is very difficult to bail out. It is good that the finance minster avoided doing any such thing.
    • As Milton Friedman famously said, there is nothing more permanent than a temporary government programme.
  • Need to kick-start the private investment: What the economy needs for a sustained turnaround is kick-starting private investment.
    • Implementation of reforms: A necessary condition for inspiring investor confidence is the implementation of structural and governance reforms. This will be a long-haul.
    • That the budget did not launch the journey is a big disappointment. But, at least, the budget did not make a bad situation worse by embarking on fiscal adventurism.
    • It’s better, as Keynes said, to be roughly right than precisely wrong.

 

 

Services Sector

SC uphold changes in SC/ST Atrocities LawSC Judgements

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Protection of SCs and STs against caste based atrocities


 

The Supreme Court has upheld the SCs/STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act of 2018, which nullified it’s own controversial March 20, 2018 judgement.  Earlier judgment had diluted the original 1989 legislation, saying they were using its provisions to file false criminal complaints against innocent persons.

Why such ruling?

  • The 2018 Act had nullified a March 20 judgment of the Supreme Court, which allowed anticipatory bail to those booked for committing atrocities against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes members.
  • The original 1989 Act bars anticipatory bail.
  • The Supreme Court verdict saw a huge backlash across the country. Several died in ensuing protests and property worth crores of rupees was destroyed.
  • The government reacted by filing a review petition in the Supreme Court and subsequently amended the 1989 Act back into its original form.
  • The government had enacted the Amendments, saying the SCs and STs continued to face the same social stigma, poverty and humiliation which they had been subjected to for centuries.

Why was the SC/ST Act enacted?

  • Since crimes against SCs and STs are fundamentally hate crimes, the Rajiv Gandhi enacted the Act in 1989.
  • It gave furtherance to the provisions for abolition of untouchability (Article 17) and equality (Articles 14, 15).

Why it was amended?

  • The Bench reasoned that human failing and not caste is the reason behind the lodging of false criminal complaints.
  • The Supreme Court condemned its own earlier judgment, saying it was against “basic human dignity” to treat all SC/ST community members as “a liar or crook.”
  • Caste of a person cannot be a cause for lodging a false report, the verdict observed.
  • Members of the SCs and STs, due to backwardness, cannot even muster the courage to lodge an FIR, much less, a false one, the judgment noted.

The Subhash Kashinath Mahajan case

  • Mahajan was Director of Technical Education in Maharashtra.
  • Two non-SC officers had made an adverse entry on the character and integrity of a Dalit employee, whom Mahajan in 2011 denied sanction for prosecution against those officers.
  • The denial was challenged on the ground that the state government and not the director was the competent authority.
  • The apex Court held that safeguards against blackmail are necessary as by way of rampant misuse, complaints are largely being filed against public servants with oblique motive for the satisfaction of vested interests.

In what manner had the 2018 judgment diluted provisions for arrest?

ANTICIPATORY BAIL

  • In section 18 of the Act, Parliament had laid down that the provision of anticipatory bail under Section 438 of the CrPC of 1973 will not be available to an accused under the Act.
  • The provision of anticipatory bail was introduced for the first time on the recommendation of 41st Law Commission in 1973.
  • It is a statutory right, not part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution, and thus there is no fundamental right to anticipatory bail.
  • In the 2018 judgment, the Court laid down safeguards, including provisions for anticipatory bail and a “preliminary enquiry” before registering a case under the Act.
  • While review the Bench said Section 18 was enacted to instil a sense of deterrence and relied on Kartar Singh (1994) in which the court had held that denial of anticipatory bail does not violate Article 21.

FIR

  • The court had observed that “liberty of one cannot be sacrificed to protect another”, and the “Atrocities Act cannot be converted into charter for exploitation or oppression by unscrupulous persons or by police for extraneous reasons”.
  • He ordered that neither is an FIR to be immediately registered nor are arrests to be made without a preliminary inquiry by an SSP.
  • An arrest can only be made if there is “credible” information and police officer has “reason to believe” that an offence was committed.
  • In the review judgment, Justice Mishra said public servants already have a remedy in false cases under CrPC Section 482 and can get such FIRs quashed by High Courts.
  • He rejected the need of an SSP’s approval for arrest.

PERMISSION

  • In 2018, the court had said that even if a preliminary inquiry is held and a case registered, arrest is not necessary, and that no public servant is to be arrested without the written permission of the appointing authority.
  • The court extended the benefit to other citizens and said they cannot be arrested without the written permission of the SSP of the district.
  • In review the court said that the decision on arrest is to be taken by the investigating authority, not the appointing authority.

Were other provisions diluted?

  • The court had observed that interpretation of Atrocities Act should promote constitutional values of fraternity and integration of the society.
  • This may require ‘check on false implication of innocent citizens on caste lines’.
  • Observing that the law should not result in caste hatred, the court overlooked the fact that the Act had to be enacted due to caste hatred.
  • The review judgment said that such riders for registering a report are wrong and it would give an advantage to upper castes whose complaints can be registered without any such inquiry.

How frequently do SCs/STs face atrocities?

  • A crime is committed against an SC every 15 minutes. Six SC women are raped every day on an average.
  • Between 2007 and 2017, there was a 66 per cent growth in crimes against SCs.
  • Data from the National Crime Record Bureau, which the 2018 judgment was based on, showed cases of rape of SC women had doubled in 10 years.

Assist this newscard with:

[Burning Issue] SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Private Members BillPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Private Members Bill

Mains level : Difference between private and government Bills


A member in Rajya Sabha appeared to abandon his plan of introducing a private member’s Bill on the Uniform Civil Code (UCC), a code that would be applicable to all religious communities in personal matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance and adoption.

Private Member’s Bill

  • A private member’s Bill is different from a government Bill and is piloted by an MP who is not a minister. An MP who is not a minister is a private member.
  • Individual MPs may introduce private member’s Bill to draw the government’s attention to what they might see as issues requiring legislative intervention.

Difference between private and government Bills

  • While both private members and ministers take part in the lawmaking process, Bills introduced by private members are referred to as private member’s Bills and those introduced by ministers are called government Bills.
  • Government Bills are backed by the government and also reflect its legislative agenda.
  • The admissibility of a Private Bill is decided by the Chairman in the case of the Rajya Sabha and the Speaker in the case of the Lok Sabha.
  • Before the Bill can be listed for introduction, the Member must give at least a month’s notice, for the House Secretariat to examine it for compliance with constitutional provisions and rules on legislation.
  • While a government Bill can be introduced and discussed on any day, a private member’s bill can only be introduced and discussed on Fridays.

Has a private member’s bill ever become a law?

  • No private member’s Bill has been passed by Parliament since 1970.
  • To date, Parliament has passed 14 such Bills, six of them in 1956.
  • In the 14th Lok Sabha, of the over 300 private member’s Bills introduced, roughly four per cent were discussed, the remaining 96 per cent lapsed without a single dialogue.
  • The selection of Bills for discussion is done through a ballot.
Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

Arsenic ContaminationDOMRStates in News

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Arsenic poisoning and its effects on food chain

Mains level : Groundwater contamination


As the geography of arsenic contamination spreads, there is an urgent need for governments to reorient mitigation measures. That’s because the focus till now has only been on drinking water, but new research says arsenic has contaminated our food chain.

Arsenic contamination of water

  • Arsenic contamination in groundwater is one of the most crippling issues in the drinking water scenario of India.
  • According to the latest report of the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), 21 states across the country have pockets with arsenic levels higher than the BIS stipulated permissible limit of 0.01 milligram per litre (mg/l).
  • The states along the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM) river basin — Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Assam — are the worst affected by this human-amplified geogenic occurrence.
  • In India, arsenic contamination was first officially confirmed in West Bengal in 1983.
  • Close to four decades after its detection, the scenario has worsened.
  • About 9.6 million people in West Bengal, 1.6 million in Assam, 1.2 million in Bihar, 0.5 million in Uttar Pradesh and 0.013 million in Jharkhand are at immediate risk from arsenic contamination in groundwater.

Effects of arsenic poisoning

  • Long-term exposure to arsenic in drinking water can cause cancer in the skin, lungs, bladder and kidney. It can also cause other skin changes such as thickening and pigmentation.
  • The likelihood of effects is related to the level of exposure to arsenic and in areas where drinking water is heavily contaminated, these effects can be seen in many individuals in the population.
  • Increased risks of lung and bladder cancer and skin changes have been reported in people ingesting arsenic in drinking water at concentrations of 50 µg/litre, or even lower.

Affecting food

  • Recent research says arsenic contamination in groundwater has penetrated the food chain.
  • It eventually causes photo-accumulation of arsenic in the food crops, especially in the leaves, can emanate from contaminated water sprayed on them.
  • Yet the focus remained on drinking water, and the affected regions became the primary stake-holder in the mitigation approach.

Way forward

  • Mitigation measures — that are currently focused on drinking water — must have a more comprehensive approach to ensure arsenic-free water for drinking and agricultural products.
  • That means that the government must check for arsenic in water used for agricultural produce.
  • Both the Union and state governments must work toward facilitating research that can investigate the accumulation of arsenic in crops and addressing the agricultural concerns of the affected regions.
  • They must watch out for arsenic percolation in the food chain and the possibilities of biomagnification.
  • The government needs to also conduct a larger study on the arsenic contamination of our food chain and its health impacts to understand its spatial spread through the agricultural supply chain.
Historical and Archaeological Findings in News

Species in news: ThanatotheristesSpecies in News

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Thanatotheristes

Mains level : Not Much


 

Scientists have found that a dinosaur fossil, found in Alberta in Canada in 2010, belongs to a new species of tyrannosaur. They have named it Thanatotheristes, which means “reaper of death”.

Thanatotheristes

  • Tyrannosaurs were one of the largest meat-eating dinosaurs to have ever lived, with very large and high skulls, and the best known among them is the Tyrannosaurus rex, celebrated in the Jurassic Park series.
  • The 79-million-year-old fossil that the researchers have found is the oldest tyrannosaur known from northern North America.
  • Thanatotheristes preyed on large plant-eating dinosaurs such as the horned xenoceratops and the dome-headed colepiochephale.
  • The research suggests that tyrannosaurs did not have one general body type; rather different tyrannosaur species evolved distinct body sizes, skull forms and other such physical features.
  • The fossil specimen is important to understand the Late Cretaceous period, which is the period when tyrannosaurs roamed the Earth.
International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

What is SuperCam?Prelims Only

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SuperCam

Mains level : Study of life on Mars


 

In its mission to Mars this summer, NASA is sending a new laser-toting robot called SuperCam as one of seven instruments aboard the Mars 2020 rover.

SuperCam

  • Called SuperCam, the robot is used for studying mineralogy and chemistry from up to about 7 metres away.
  • It might help scientists find signs of fossilized microbial life on Mars.
  • SuperCam packs what would typically require several sizable pieces of equipment into something no bigger than a cereal box.
  • It fires a pulsed laser beam out of the rover’s mast to vaporise small portions of rock from a distance, providing information that will be essential to the mission’s success.

NASA lists five things to know

  • From more than 7 m away, SuperCam can fire a laser to study rock targets smaller than a pencil point. That lets the rover study spots it can’t reach with its arm.
  • SuperCam looks at rock textures and chemicals to find those that formed or changed in water on Mars long ago.
  • SuperCam looks at different rock and “soil” types to find ones that could preserve signs of past microbial life on Mars — if any ever existed.
  • For the benefit of future explorers, SuperCam identifies which elements in the Martian dust may be harmful to humans.
  • Scientists can learn about how atmospheric molecules, water ice, and dust absorb or reflect solar radiation. This helps predict Martian weather better.
Agricultural Marketing Reforms – eNAM, Model APMC Act, Eco Survey Reco, etc.

Protected Special Agriculture ZonePrelims Only

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : PSAZ

Mains level : PSAZ and its benefits


The Cauvery delta region in Tamil Nadu will be declared as ‘Protected Special Agricultural Zone’ (PSAZ) by the TN govt.

Cauvery delta PSAZ

  • Declaring PSAZ ensures that particular region will not be granted permission for any new projects like those related to hydrocarbons.
  • Only Agro based Industries would be given permission to be built.
  • The special protection will be bestowed on Cauvery Delta districts such as Thanjavur, Tiruvarur, Nagappattinam, Pudukottai, Cuddalore, Ariyalur, Karur and Tiruchirappalli districts.

Significance of the move

  • The Cauvery Delta Region is Tamil Nadu’s rice bowl comprising above eight districts.
  • It is just and reasonable that projects like hydrocarbon exploration have raised concerns among farmers and other agriculture-based labourers.
  • Drilling for extraction of oil and gas in these regions that hampers agriculture and posing much environmental impact or health hazards will be stopped immediately.