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September 2020
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Civil Services Reforms

Our civil services need a reboot

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Mission Karmayogi

Mains level : Paper 2- Mission Karmayogi

The Mission Karmayogi seeks to overhaul the bureaucracy in the country. The article discusses its aims and the challenges it could face.

Context

  • The Union cabinet’s approval of Mission Karmayogi has raised the hope of a national bureaucracy that is adequately responsive to the country’s needs.

Need for the overhaul

  • The system’s focus needs to be role- rather than rule-specific,
  • Coordination should prevail over battles for control, and IAS officers ought to be enablers instead of red-tape wrappers. 
  • There has been a near consensus in the country that our system of policy implementation needs an overhaul.

What  is Mission Karmayogi

  • It is an upskilling initiative for government officials that aims to fix and galvanize India’s administration.
  • As envisaged, the Karmayogi training mechanism will cover an estimated 4.6 million officials at all levels.
  • Due to the scale of the exercise elaborate multi-tier command structure is expected to be put in place for it.
  • At its apex would be a Human Resource Council, headed by the Prime Minister.
  • Human Resource Council shall approve and monitor various skill-enhancing programmes as well as review the performance of employees routinely.

Challenges

  • Given the way our bureaucracy has operated for decades, Mission Karmayogi is likely to prove disruptive.
  • The idea of being subject to continuous evaluation by a central authority could unsettle some officers.
  • There has been some disquiet within IAS ranks over the Centre’s lateral induction of people for senior roles, perhaps the new mission will resolve such disgruntlement.

Conclusion

Gentralized supervision of such large numbers does not promise to be easy. Globally, centralization has been observed to militate against diversity of thought. And that’s vital to the governance of a country like India.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Scrutinising government’s work in limited monsoon session

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Role and accountability of legislature

Mains level : Paper 2- Role of key organs of democracy during pandemic

The article analyses the impact of pandemic on the functioning legislatures and issues its implications.

Context

  • Due to coronavirus pandemic, several States have held very short sessions in which they ratified a number of ordinances and hardly questioned any executive action over the last few months.

Role of Parliament and Court

  • The government has the mandate to take decisions and perform various public tasks.
  • Government in turn is accountable to the legislature which can question it, and, as an extreme step, even replace it.
  • The legislature is accountable to citizens through regular elections.
  • Finally, constitutional courts are expected to ensure that all actions are made within the boundaries of the Constitution and laws made by the legislature.

Dilution of the role of Parliament in  India

  • Indian Parliament has allowed its role to be diluted over the last few decades.
  • It has not questioned and monitored the activity of the executive.
  • Comparison with British Parliament: The United Kingdom’s joint parliamentary committee on human rights examined the proposals of a contact tracing app.
  • The committee recommended that an app could be used only if there was specific primary legislation to enable it. 
  •  India, in contrast, rolled out Aarogya Setu through executive decision, and has created a grey zone on whether it is mandatory or not.
  • Parliament should recover lost ground by fulfilling its constitutionally mandated role.

Lack of parliamentary oversight during pandemic

  • Parliament will be meeting after 175 days.
  • 175 days’ is the longest gap without intervening general elections and just short of the six-month constitutional limit.
  • During the pandemic, over 900 central and nearly 6,000 State government notifications have been issued
  • Parliamentary committees did not meet for about four months.
  • This is unlike many other countries where both the plenary and committees have adopted technology to enable members to participate from home.

Judicial intervention in policy issues

  • The lack of parliamentary oversight has been compounded by judicial intervention in many policy issues.
  •  For example, the government’s actions related to the lockdown should have been questioned by Parliament.
  • However, this was taken to the Supreme Court, which is not equipped and mandated to balance policy options.
  • Directions of the Court have to be followed which removes flexibility needed to tackle evolving issues with implementation.
  • Consider another case, Court decided to limit the period in which telecom companies have to pay their dues to the government, and overruled a cabinet decision.
  • This is a policy matter that balances interests of telecom companies, consumers and banks.
  • This issue is best judged by the government with oversight by Parliament.
  • And court should step in if there is an illegality.

Way forward

  • Several events have taken place over the last six months that need thorough discussion.
  • This includes ways to tackle the spread of the coronavirus, economic growth which has had a sharp fall in the first quarter of this fiscal year.
  • This has far-reaching implications for creating jobs, stability of the banking system, and government finances.
  • The government is likely to bring in a supplementary budget; indeed, a fresh look at the Union Budget may be required given the changes in basic assumptions since January.
  • The situation at the China border also needs to be discussed.

Consider the question “Anlyse the impact of pandemic on the key organs of the democracy.”

Conclusion

Parliamentarians have a duty towards Indian citizens to fulfil their role in scrutinising the work of the government and guiding policy. Despite the curtailed session and the constraints due to the coronavirus, they should make the best of the limited time to do so. They need to wrest back their rightful role in our democracy.

RBI Notifications

Priority Sector Lending (PSL)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : PSL

Mains level : PSL

The RBI has released a revised priority sector lending guidelines to augment funding to segments including start-ups and agriculture.

New Priority Sector Lending (PSL) guidelines

  • Bank finance of up to ₹50 crores to start-ups, loans to farmers both for installation of solar power plants for Solarization of grid-connected agriculture pumps and for setting up compressed biogas (CBG) plants have been included as fresh categories eligible for finance under the priority sector.
  • This has come to align it with emerging national priorities and bring a sharper focus on inclusive development, after having wide-ranging discussions with all stakeholders.
  • It will enable better credit penetration to credit deficient areas, increase the lending to small and marginal farmers and weaker sections, boost credit to renewable energy, and health infrastructure
  • The targets prescribed for ‘small and marginal farmers’ and ‘weaker sections’ are being increased in a phased manner.
  • Higher credit limit has been specified for farmer producer organisations (FPOs)/farmers producers companies (FPCs) undertaking farming with assured marketing of their produce at a pre-determined price.

Back2Basics: Priority Sector Lending

  • PSL is an important role given by the (RBI) to the banks for providing a specified portion of the bank lending to few specific sectors like agriculture and allied activities, micro and small enterprises, poor people for housing, students for education and other low-income groups and weaker sections.
  • This is essentially meant for an all-round development of the economy as opposed to focusing only on the financial sector.
  • The broad categories of priority sector for all scheduled commercial banks are as under:
  1. Agriculture and Allied Activities (Direct and Indirect finance)
  2. Small Scale Industries (Direct and Indirect Finance)
  3. Small Business / Service Enterprises
  4. Micro Credit
  5. Education loans
  6. Housing loans

Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

What counts as ‘Act of God’?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Act of God , Force Majeure clause

Mains level : Not Much

Amid disruptions caused by Covid-19, the Finance Minister has referred to an Act of God while businesses are looking at a legal provision, force majeure, to cut losses.

Note the key differences between the Act of God and Force Majeure.

Evoking “Act of God”

  • The force majeure or “Act of God” clause has its origins in the Napoleonic Code.
  • The finance ministry had issued an office memorandum inviting attention to the force majeure clause (FMC) in the 2017 Manual for Procurement of Goods issued by the Department of Expenditure.
  • It clarified that the pandemic should be considered a case of natural calamity and FMC may be invoked, wherever considered appropriate.

What is a force majeure clause?

  • The law of contracts is built around a fundamental norm that the parties must perform the contract.
  • When a party fails to perform its part of the contract, the loss to the other party is made good.
  • However, the law carves out exceptions when the performance of the contract becomes impossible for the parties.
  • A force majeure clause is one such exception that releases the party of its obligations to an extent when events beyond their control take place and leave them unable to perform their part of the contract.
  • FMC is a clause that is present in most commercial contracts and is a carefully drafted legal arrangement in the event of a crisis.
  • When the clause is triggered, parties can decide to break from their obligations temporarily or permanently without necessarily breaching the contract.
  • Companies in such situations use the clause as a safe exit route, sometimes in opportunistic ways, without having to incur the penalty of breaching the contract.

Difference between the two

  • Both concepts elicit the same consequences in law.
  • Generally, an “Act of God” is understood to include only natural unforeseen circumstances, whereas force majeure is wider in its ambit and includes both naturally occurring events and events that occur due to human intervention.

What situations legally qualify for use of force majeure?

  • While some contracts have clauses with standard circumstances, some contracts would have specific circumstances that are more focused.
  • For example, a shipping contract would have a force majeure clause that could cover a natural disaster like a tsunami.
  • If an event is not described, then it is interpreted in a way that it falls in the same category of events that are described.
  • An FMC is negotiated by parties, and events that could potentially hamper the performance of the contract are catalogued.
  • It is not invoked just by expressing that an unforeseen event has occurred.
  • In case a contract does not have a force majeure clause, there are some protections in common law that can be invoked by parties.
  • For example, the Indian Contract Act, 1872 provides that a contract becomes void if it becomes impossible due to an event after the contract was signed that the party could not prevent.

Global precedents dealing with COVID-19 pandemic

  • In China, where the Covid-19 outbreak originated, the Council for Promotion of International Trade is issuing force majeure certificates to businesses.
  • China’s Supreme People’s Court had recognised the 2002 SARS outbreak as a force majeure event.
  • Singapore enacted the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act in April to provide relief to businesses that could not perform their contractual obligations due to the pandemic.
  • The Paris Commercial Court in July ruled that the pandemic could be equated to a force majeure event.
  • In the UK, the Financial Conduct Authority has brought in a test case before the High Court to look into business insurance contracts and interpret the standard wordings in such contracts.
  • The International Chamber of Commerce has developed a Model Code on the force majeure clause reflecting current international practice.

Wildlife Conservation Efforts

What is Project Dolphin?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Project Dolphin

Mains level : NA

In his Independence Day Speech this year, PM has announced the government’s plan to launch a Project Dolphin. The proposed project is aimed at saving both river and marine dolphins.

Project Dolphin

  • The Project will be on the lines of Project Tiger, which has helped increase the tiger population.
  • So far, the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), which implements the government’s flagship scheme Namami Gange, has been taking some initiatives for saving dolphins.
  • Now, Project Dolphin is expected to be implemented by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.

About Gangetic Dolphin

  • The Gangetic river system is home to a vast variety of aquatic life, including the Gangetic dolphin (Platanista gangetica).
  • It is one of five species of river dolphin found around the world.
  • It is found mainly in the Indian subcontinent, particularly in Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli-Sangu river systems.
  • An adult dolphin could weigh between 70 kg and 90 kg. The breeding season of the Gangetic dolphin extends from January to June.
  • They feed on several species of fishes, invertebrates etc.

Why is it important to save dolphins?

  • The construction of dams and barrages and increasing pollution has led to a decline in the population of aquatic animals in the rivers in general and of dolphins in particular.
  • Aquatic life is an indicator of the health of river ecosystems.
  • As the Gangetic dolphin is at the top of the food chain, protecting the species and its habitat will ensure

Aquatic life as an indicator of the health of a river system

  • Globally, there have been such examples. For instance, the Rhine Action Plan (1987) of the International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine (ICPR) brought back the salmon.
  • The return of the migratory fish is taken as an indicator of the river’s improved health.
  • Salmon used to migrate from the North Sea to the Rhine every year and reproduce, but this stopped when pollution increased in the river.
  • After a chemical accident in 1986 that caused the death of fish and microorganisms, the Action Plan was launched.
  • This led to an improvement in the quality of the river water, and the salmons began to return.

What has been done to save Gangetic dolphins so far?

  • Although efforts to save them were started in the mid-1980s, the estimates suggest the numbers have not risen as a result.
  • The Gangetic dolphin remains listed as Endangered by the IUCN.
  • After the launch of Ganga Action Plan in 1985, the government on November 24, 1986, included Gangetic dolphins in the First Schedule of the Indian Wildlife (Protection), Act 1972.
  • This was aimed at checking hunting and providing conservation facilities such as wildlife sanctuaries. For instance, Vikramshila Ganges Dolphin Sanctuary was established in Bihar under this Act.

Conservation so far

  • The government has prepared The Conservation Action Plan for the Ganges River Dolphin 2010-2020.
  • It identified threats to Gangetic Dolphins and impact of river traffic, irrigation canals and depletion of prey-base on Dolphins populations.
  • On October 5, 2009, the then PM declared the Gangetic river dolphin as the national aquatic animal.
  • A notification was issued by the MoEFCC the following year. Now, the National Mission for Clean Ganga celebrates October 5 as National Ganga River Dolphin Day.

Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

Vitamin-D Deficiency

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Vitamin D

Mains level : Not Much

The pandemic-induced lockdown has confined people to their houses for five months now. The resultant lack of sunlight, followed by rains, has brought down the vitamin D levels to the lowest.

Try this PYQ from CSP 2014:

Q.Consider the following pairs:

Vitamin Deficiency:: Disease

  1. Vitamin C::Scurvy
  2. Vitamin D:: Rickets
  3. Vitamin E:: Night blindness

Which of the pairs given above is/are correctly matched?

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 3 only

(c) 1, 2 and 3

(d) None

What is Vitamin-D?

  • Vitamin D is an essential vitamin that has myriad positive effects on several systems in the body.
  • Unlike other vitamins, it functions like a hormone and every cell in your body has a receptor for it.
  • It is sparsely found in certain fatty fish and fortified dairy products, and it is extremely difficult to get the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of 600-800 IU from diet alone.

There are two main forms of vitamin D in the diet:

– Vitamin D2 (Ergocalciferol) — found in plant foods like mushrooms.
– Vitamin D3 (Cholecalciferol) — found in animal foods like salmon, cod and egg yolks.

Common signs and symptoms of the deficiency

Vitamin D deficiency is incredibly common and most people are unaware of it, as the symptoms are subtle and nonspecific.

– Getting sick or infected often with common cold and flu, because of a weak immune system.
– Fatigue and tiredness
– Bone and muscle pains
– Depression
– Impaired wound healing
– Bone loss and osteoporosis

Sources of Vit. D

  • Sunlight is the best natural source of vitamin D. Sunlight synthesizes cholesterol into Vitamin D3.
  • Usually, 20 to 30 minutes of sun exposure between 10 am and 3 pm is adequate to meet daily requirements, in places with minimum pollution levels.