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In India, the steady subversion of equality

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Equality in democracy

Context

The sharp turns away from democracy seen recently in the country must jolt citizens into stopping the descent.

Equality in democracy

  • The central edifice of a democracy, or what makes it a revolutionary idea, is equality, or that it accords an equal status to all its people.
  • The promise of the far-sighted Indian Constitution was of equal rights to all.
  • If any benefit was accorded to smaller groups, religious or linguistic minorities or Dalits, it was in order to achieve substantive equality.

Faith as a differentiator

  • The basis of citizenship under the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019, allowing for non-Muslims from three countries to fast-track their citizenship, was the most serious push to introduce religion into citizenship.
  • Impact on marital choice: In terms of marital choices, laws in the country in States where the national ruling party holds sway have drawn harsh attention on inter-faith couples.
  • The Gujarat law criminalising inter-faith marriages has been called out by the Gujarat High Court.
  • But the ordinance introduced in Uttar Pradesh (Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020) is now a law.
  • Food has been criminalised: Stringent laws on cattle end up penalising those who have a certain diet, namely beef. The mood in the country created and abetted by people close to the powers that be, has led to lynchings.
  • State governments and the Union government have mostly ignored the Supreme Court’s directions in 2018 to set up fast track courts, advice to take steps to stop hate messages on social media, or compensation to victims, or bringing in an anti-mob lynching law.
  • Circumscribe where on can reside: The Gujarat Prohibition of Transfer of Immovable Property and Provision for Protection of Tenants from Eviction from Premises in Disturbed Areas Act, popularly known as the Disturbed Areas Act, circumscribes where one can reside.
  • The act was brought in an atmosphere where there was communal rioting and forced displacement, to ostensibly protect communities from distress sales, the twist accorded to it over the years firmly makes the forced separation of communities. evident.

Hostile environment

  • Scholars like Thomas Blom Hansen and Paul Brass have unhesitatingly pointed to the role of violence that has historically been acceptable in Indian society and politics.
  • Scholars like Christophe Jaffrelot have pointed out that there will not be a seamless transition to an “ethnic democracy”.
  • The Indian nation is one formed on the promise of shared and participatory kinship, which recognised Indian nationalism as being distinct from the faith you practised at home.
  • Prioritising any one identity will have disastrous consequences and history provides enough evidence of this.

Conclusion

The mobs read together with actions of the Union government and that of State governments mark a sharp turn away from the democracy India claims it is. That must jolt us into recognising the distance we have already travelled down the wrong path. That may be the first step to try to wrest the descent into the darkness of an apartheid state.

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Digital India Initiatives

How to create a truly digital public

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Designing technology with public in mind

Context

Despite the push for the adoption of digital technologies, large segments of Indians still can’t access or haven’t learned to trust digital artefacts.

Issue of exclusion

  • Recognising the power of technology to drive inclusion at a massive scale, the state is doubling down on technology to reach more citizens and serve them better.
  • However, often the paradigm of technology for such services is built around the “elite” citizen, who is comfortable with technology.
  • Often, this imagined citizen is male, urban, upper class.
  • Large segments of Indians still can’t access or haven’t learned to trust digital artefacts.
  • Many among marginalised groups struggle to access digital civic platforms, and instead rely on trusted human intermediaries.

Suggestions to make digital space truly public

1) Design with the citizen

  • Encouraging human-centric design, and mandating user-assessments prior to roll out of GovTech platforms should be a key priority.
  • This is a shift from the default “build first and then disseminate” approach.
  • For example, formative research and human-centric design was informative in the creation of the first UPI payments app, BHIM.
  • BHIM’s simple interface and onboarding, use of relatable iconography and multi-language capabilities played an important role in early adoption of UPI among non “digital natives”.
  • Similarly, as the “Human Account” project demonstrated, it is possible to start with users in designing pro-poor fintech products, like the “Postman Savings” product which India Post Payments Bank designed for the rural poor.

2) Harness trusted human interface to serve those who are not comfortable with technology

  •  Local intermediaries, such as formal and informal community leaders and civil society organisations, can play a key role in bridging the digital divide.
  • Working with existing networks (for example ASHAs) or carefully setting them up (such as the Andhra Pradesh Ward Secretariat programme), where pre-existing trust, community knowledge, and embeddedness can play a significant role, should be prioritised.

3) Institutionalise an anchor entity that brings together innovators, policy makers and researchers

  • Such an entity will help to push the frontier on citizen-centricity in GovTech.
  • Such a platform — like the Citizen Lab in Denmark — can play a role in generating formative research.
  • Embedding this research in practice by partnering with the government as well as market innovators, and working with civil society organisations to enhance access to GovTech.

Conclusion

As India makes rapid strides in its digitalisation journey, it is timely to invoke Gandhiji’s talisman and ensure that GovTech can serve its highest and greatest purpose, that is, serving those who are last in line.

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e-Commerce: The New Boom

How ONDC seeks to democratize digital commerce?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ONDC Project

Mains level : Read the attached story

The department for the promotion of industry and internal trade (DPIIT) in the ministry of commerce and industry is building an open network for digital commerce (ONDC), designed to curb digital monopolies and standardize the onboarding of retailers on e-commerce sites.

What does the ONDC aim to achieve?

  • The Unified Payment Interface (UPI) has disrupted the digital payments domain. ONDC seeks to achieve something similar for e-commerce.
  • It aims to “democratize” digital commerce, moving it away from platform-centric models like Amazon and Flipkart to an open network.
  • ONDC may enable more sellers to be digitally visible. The transactions will be executed through an open network.
  • The system may empower merchants and consumers.
  • It will eventually touch every business, from retail goods and food to mobility.

How would ONDC work?

  • The ONDC is still work in progress and the details are not public.
  • But what we know so far is the network may make it easier for a small retailer to be discovered.

A boon for retailers

  • Once a retailer lists its products or services using the ONDC’s open protocol, the business can be discovered by consumers on e-commerce platforms that follow the same protocol.
  • A consumer searching for the product can see the location of the seller and opt to buy from the neighbourhood shop that can deliver faster compared to an e-commerce company.
  • This may promote hyperlocal delivery of goods such as groceries, directly from sellers to consumers.

What are the next steps?

  • A private sector-led non-profit unit will be set up to fast-track its roll-out.
  • It is expected to provide a startup mindset enabled by a management with a futuristic vision, deep understanding of commerce and comfort with cutting edge technology.
  • A non-profit company structure removes any incentive for profit maxi-mization,
  • It would keep focus on ethical and responsible behaviour while providing for trust, rigorous norms of governance, accountability and transparency.

 

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Police Reforms – SC directives, NPC, other committees reports

Karnataka Gambling Law: Ambit and the High Court Challenge

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Gambling and betting: Legal issues

Last month, the Karnataka legislature passed a legislation to amend the Karnataka Police Act, 1963, making all forms of gambling, including online, a cognisable and non-bailable offence.

Gambling Law

  • The Karnataka Police (Amendment) Act, 2021 was notified and came into force.
  • It is aimed for broadening the scope of gambling beyond what has been defined by law.
  • It was passed despite similar laws introduced in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Telangana having faced legal challenges.

What forms of gambling does the new law cover?

  • The amended law covers all forms of wagering or betting “in connection with any game of chance” with the exception of horse racing and lotteries.
  • It also puts betting on the skills of others in the category of gambling.
  • It provides an exception only to any pure game of skill and not to “wagering by persons taking part in such game of skill”.

Penalties prescribed

  • It enhances maximum punishment for owners of gambling centres from one year to three years of imprisonment and fines from Rs 1,000 to Rs 1 lakh.
  • The minimum punishment proposed is six months instead of the current one month and the fine is Rs 10,000 instead of Rs 500.

Implications of the law

  • Since the new law came into effect, several online gaming firms have geo-locked their apps and sites in Karnataka to prevent attracting police action if customers access the sites.

Legal issues raised by the amended laws

One of the primary grounds on which the new gaming laws in these states has been challenged is:

  • Games of skill: This been clubbed along with games of chance in the definition of gaming, if the games of skill are played for prizes or bets.
  • Violation of FR: Gaming companies have argued — successfully that competitive games of skill are business activities protected under Article 19 (1) (g) of the Constitution.
  • Other examples: Rummy and horse racing have been classified by the courts as games of skill that do not come under the purview of gaming laws.
  • Competence of the state: It has been argued that states do not have “legislative competence” to prohibit games of skill and that only games of chance can be regulated for gambling and betting.

Why has Karnataka amended the law?

  • Ban on online gambling: The statement of objects and reasons justify that the new law is needed to make gambling a cognisable and non-bailable offence (gambling in public streets remains cognisable and bailable).
  • More power to Police: Other reasons cited is that police cannot raid gambling dens without a formal written order from a magistrate, since gambling is a non-cognisable and bailable offence.
  • Public demands for ban: Recent public interest litigations seeking a ban on online gaming and betting, too, have been a trigger for the amendments.
  • Illicit use of cyber-space: The new law has also been introduced to include the use of cyberspace as defined in the IT Act 2000 to curb the menace of gaming through internet.

Will these amendments stand the test of law?

  • As mentioned, a similar law in Tamil Nadu was struck down by the Madras High Court as being ultra vires after it was challenged by online gaming firms.
  • The court ruled that- Games and sporting activities in the physical form cannot be equated with games conducted in virtual mode or in cyberspace.
  • However, when it comes to card games or board games such as chess or Scrabble, there is no distinction between the skill involved in the physical form of the activity or in the virtual form.
  • The HC said both rummy and poker are games of skill.

 

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Rural Distress, Farmer Suicides, Drought Measures

Farmer suicide

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NCRB

Mains level : Farmers suicides in India

The number of agricultural labourers who died by suicide in 2020 was 18% higher than the previous year, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report.

Farmers suicide in 2020

  • In 2020, 5,098 of these agricultural labourers died by suicide, an 18% rise from the 4,324 who died last year.
  • Overall, 10,677 people engaged in the farm sector died by suicide in 2020, slightly higher than the 10,281 who died in 2019.
  • They made up 7% of all suicides in the country.
  • Most of these deaths were among those whose primary work and main source of income comes from labour activities in agriculture or horticulture.
  • However, among farmers who cultivate their own land, with or without the help of other workers, the number of suicides dropped 3.7% from 5,129 to 4,940.
  • Among tenant farmers who cultivate leased land, there was a 23% drop in suicides from 828 to 639.

State-wise data

  • The worst among States continues to be Maharashtra, with 4,006 suicides in the farm sector, including a 15% increase in farm worker suicides.
  • Other States with a poor record include Karnataka (2016), Andhra Pradesh (889) and Madhya Pradesh (735).
  • Tamil Nadu also bucked the national trend; although the total number of farm suicides in the State was slightly higher.

Why more suicides despite a boom?

  • The farm sector was one of the few bright spots in the Indian economy since a year.
  • It recorded growth on the back of a healthy monsoon and the continuation of agricultural activities during a lockdown that crippled other sectors.
  • Hence, suicides among landowning farmers dropped slightly during the pandemic year.
  • Landless agricultural labourers who did not benefit from income support schemes such as PM Kisan may have faced higher levels of distress during the pandemic.

General causes of farmers suicides in India

Suicide victims are motivated by more than one cause however the primer reason is the inability to repay loans.

  • Debt trap: Major causes reportedly are bankruptcy/indebtedness, problems in the families, crop failure, illness and alcohol/substance abuse.
  • Lack of credit: Low access to credit, irrigation and technology worsens their ability to make a comfortable living.
  • Responsibility burden: In other words, debt to stress and family responsibilities as reasons were significantly higher than fertilizers and crop failure.
  • Disguised unemployment: This remains high. Fragmentation of land holdings has left far too many farmers with farms that are too small to be remunerative.
  • Mental health: One of the major causes behind suicidal intent is depression. Farmers are often subjected to fear of boycott due to societal pressures.

 

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Back2Basics: National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)

  • The NCRB is an Indian government agency responsible for collecting and analysing crime data as defined by the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Special and Local Laws (SLL).
  • It is headquartered in New Delhi and is part of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
  • It was set-up in 1986 to function as a repository of information on crime and criminals so as to assist the investigators in linking crime to the perpetrators.
  • It was set up based on the recommendation of the Task force, 1985 and National Police Commission, 197.
  • It merged the Directorate of Coordination and Police Computer (DCPC), Inter State Criminals Data Branch of CBI and Central Finger Print Bureau of CBI.

Also read:

[Burning Issue] Farmers’ suicide in India

 

Mother and Child Health – Immunization Program, BPBB, PMJSY, PMMSY, etc.

Nationwide Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV) drive launched

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : PCV

Mains level : Not Much

Union Health Minister has launched a nationwide expansion of Pneumococcal 13-valent Conjugate Vaccine (PCV) under the Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP).

Why such drive?

  • Pneumonia was a leading cause of death among children under five, globally and in India.
  • Pneumonia caused by pneumococcus is the most common cause of severe pneumonia in children.
  • Around 16% of deaths in children occur due to pneumonia in India.
  • The nationwide roll-out of PCV will reduce child mortality by around 60%.

Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV)

  • The PCV is a mix of several bacteria of the pneumococci family, which are known to cause pneumonia—hence ‘conjugate’ is included in the name of the vaccine.
  • PCV prevents pneumococcal disease. It can protect both children and adults from pneumococcal disease.
  • Such conjugate vaccines are made using a combination of two different components.

Pneumonia vs Pneumococcal pneumonia

  • Pneumonia is a lung disease.
  • Pneumococcal pneumonia, a kind of pneumonia, can infect the upper respiratory tract and can spread to the blood, lungs, middle ear, or nervous system.
  • Pneumococcal disease is a name for any infection caused by bacteria called Streptococcus pneumonia or pneumococcus.
  • Most people carry pneumococcus in their nose and throat, where the bacteria do not cause any symptoms.

Take this yorker from CSP 2020:

Q.What is the importance of using Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccines in India?

  1. These vaccines are effective against pneumonia as well as meningitis and sepsis.
  2. Dependence on antibiotics that are not effective against drug-resistant bacteria can be reduced.
  3. These vaccines have no side effects and cause no allergic reactions.

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a) 1 only

(b) 1 and 2 only

(c) 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

 

Post your answers here.

 

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Promoting Science and Technology – Missions,Policies & Schemes

Mission Samudrayan: India’s First and Unique Manned Ocean

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Mission Samudrayan

Mains level : Deep Ocean Mission

Union Minister of Earth Sciences has launched India’s First Manned Ocean Mission Samudrayan at Chennai.

Mission Samudrayan

  • The Samudrayan project has been undertaken by the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT).
  • It will be a part of the Rs 6,000 crore Deep Ocean Mission.
  • It is designed to carry 3 persons in 2.1meter diameter Titanium Alloy Personnel Sphere with an operational endurance of 12hrs and systems to support emergency endurance up to 96hrs.
  • It could work at a depth between 1000 and 5500 meters.

Objectives

  • Samudrayan shall facilitate carrying out deep ocean exploration of the non-living resources such as polymetallic manganese nodules, gas hydrates, hydro-thermal sulphides and cobalt crusts.
  • The mission would carry out subsea activities such as high-resolution bathymetry, biodiversity assessment, geo-scientific observation, search activities, salvage operation and engineering support.

Focus areas of the Project

  • Ocean climate change advisory services
  • Underwater vehicles
  • Underwater robotics-related technologies
  • Deep-sea mining: Exploitation of polymetallic nodules

Components of the mission

Some of the critical subsystems of the manned submersibles are:

  • Development of Titanium Alloy Personnel Sphere, Human support and safety system in enclosed space, low density buoyancy modules, Ballast and Trim System
  • Pressure compensated batteries and propulsion system, control and communication systems and Launching and Recovery System.

Progress till date

  • The preliminary design of the manned submersible MATSYA 6000 is completed.
  • Sea trials of 500 metre rated shallow water version of the manned submersible are expected to take place in the last quarter of 2022 and the MATSYA 6000.
  • The deep-water manned submersible will be ready for trials by the second quarter of 2024.

Why need such mission?

  • This manned submersible mission provides a feel of direct physical presence for researchers and has better intervention capability.
  • With the advancing subsea technologies, the recent Fendouzhe manned submersible developed by China in 2020 has touched ~11000m water depths.
  • With Samudrayan, India joins the elite club of nations such as USA, Russia, Japan, France and China to have such underwater vehicles for carrying out subsea activities.

Back2Basics: India and International Seabed Authority (ISA)

  • The ISA, an autonomous international organization established under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, allots the ‘area’ for deep-sea mining.
  • India was the first country to receive the status of a ‘Pioneer Investor’ in 1987 and was given an area of about 1.5 lakh sqkm in the Central Indian Ocean Basin (CIOB) for nodule exploration.
  • In 2002, India signed a contract with the ISA, and after a complete resource analysis of the seabed, India surrendered 50%, and the country retained an area of 75,000 sqkm.
  • Further studies have helped narrow the mining area to 18,000 sqkm, the ‘First Generation Mine-site’.

 

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Start-up Ecosystem In India

The three acts of entrepreneurship that accelerated India’s start-up ecosystem

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Start-up ecosystem in India

Context

Three acts of entrepreneurship from five years ago — Jio, UPI, and GST — have converged to accelerate our startup ecosystem.

Let’s look at each in more detail

  • Impact of JIO: India’s per GB internet data costs are just 3 per cent of those in the US.
  • A bold and risky $35 billion bet made by a private company transformed Indians from being data deprived to data-rich; consumption has jumped 15 times because costs fell by over 90 per cent.
  • The addition of millions of consumers and smartphones since Jio’s delightful five-year disruption of the market has exploded the most important universal metric in startup valuation — addressable market.
  • Affordable digital connectivity is transforming 75 crore of them into consumers, entrepreneurs, employees, and suppliers.
  • Role of UPI: Google’s letter to the US Federal Reserve suggesting America learn from India’s Universal Payments Interface (UPI) acknowledged that our real-time, low-cost, open-architecture payment plumbing is a public good.
  • UPI’s mobile-first architecture is a key pillar of the paperless, presenceless, and cashless framework of the Aadhaar-seeded India Stack.
  •  Impact of GST: GST attacked complexity and incentivised law-abiding supply and distribution chains.
  • It was long in the making but going live needed the risk-taking of starting with a second-best architecture, accepting some unjustifiable rates, and state revenue guarantees.
  • The doubling of indirect tax registered enterprises since GST creates a virtuous economic cycle of higher total factor productivity for enterprises and employees.

Flourishing startup ecosystem

  • India now has the highest ratio of unlisted to listed companies with a $1 billion valuation.
  • Initial public offering documents filed by early startups like Nykaa, Paytm, Zomato and PolicyBazaar roughly average a 10x valuation rise since the triad did IPO.
  • Estimates suggest India’s startup ecosystem valuation will explode from $315 billion today to $1 trillion by 2025.

Conclusion

Gandhiji’s notion of democracy — where the weakest have the same opportunity as the strongest — needs an economic meritocracy only possible when entrepreneurs have all the ingredients in the right proportions.

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Water Management – Institutional Reforms, Conservation Efforts, etc.

What India’s new water policy seeks to deliver

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- National Water Policy

Context

Over a period of one year, the committee set up to draft the new National Water Policy (NWP) received 124 submissions by state and central governments, academics and practitioners. The NWP is based on the striking consensus that emerged through these wide-ranging deliberations.

Major suggestion in NWP

Demand-side: Diversification of public procurement operations

  • Irrigation consumes 80-90 per cent of India’s water, most of which is used by rice, wheat and sugarcane.
  • Thus, crop diversification is the single most important step in resolving India’s water crisis.
  • The policy suggests diversifying public procurement operations to include nutri-cereals, pulses and oilseeds.
  • This would incentivise farmers to diversify their cropping patterns, resulting in huge savings of water.

2) Reduce-Recycle-Reuse

  • Reduce-Recycle-Reuse has been proposed as the basic mantra of integrated urban water supply and wastewater management, with treatment of sewage and eco-restoration of urban river stretches, as far as possible through decentralised wastewater management.
  • All non-potable use, such as flushing, fire protection, vehicle washing must mandatorily shift to treated wastewater.

3) Supply-side measure: Using technology to utilised stored water in dams

  • Within supply-side options, the NWP points to trillions of litres stored in big dams, which are still not reaching farmers.
  • NWP suggests how the irrigated areas could be greatly expanded at very low cost by deploying pressurised closed conveyance pipelines, combined with Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems and pressurised micro-irrigation.

4) Supply of water through “nature-based solutions”

  • The NWP places major emphasis on supply of water through “nature-based solutions” such as the rejuvenation of catchment areas, to be incentivised through compensation for ecosystem services.
  • Specially curated “blue-green infrastructure” such as rain gardens and bio-swales, restored rivers with wet meadows, wetlands constructed for bio-remediation, urban parks, permeable pavements, green roofs etc are proposed for urban areas.

5) Sustainable and equitable management of groundwater

  • Information on aquifer boundaries, water storage capacities and flows provided in a user-friendly manner to stakeholders, designated as custodians of their aquifers, would enable them to develop protocols for effective management of groundwater.

6) Rights of Rivers

  • The NWP accords river protection and revitalisation prior and primary importance.
  • Steps to restore river flows include: Re-vegetation of catchments, regulation of groundwater extraction, river-bed pumping and mining of sand and boulders.
  • The NWP outlines a process to draft a Rights of Rivers Act, including their right to flow, to meander and to meet the sea.

7) Emphasis on water quality

  • The new NWP considers water quality as the most serious un-addressed issue in India today.
  • It proposes that every water ministry, at the Centre and states, include a water quality department.
  • The policy advocates adoption of state-of-the-art, low-cost, low-energy, eco-sensitive technologies for sewage treatment.
  • Widespread use of reverse osmosis has led to huge water wastage and adverse impact on water quality.
  • The policy wants RO units to be discouraged if the total dissolved solids count in water is less than 500mg/L.
  • It suggests a task force on emerging water contaminants to better understand and tackle the threats they are likely to pose.

8) Reforming governance of water

  • The policy makes radical suggestions for reforming governance of water, which suffers from three kinds issues: That between irrigation and drinking water, surface and groundwater, as also water and wastewater.
  • Government departments, working in silos, have generally dealt with just one side of these binaries.
  • Dealing with drinking water and irrigation in silos has meant that aquifers providing assured sources of drinking water dry up because the same aquifers are used for irrigation, which consumes much more water.
  • And when water and wastewater are separated in planning, the result is a fall in water quality.

9) Creation of National Water Commission

  • The NWP also suggests the creation of a unified multi-disciplinary, multi-stakeholder National Water Commission (NWC), which would become an exemplar for states to follow.
  • Governments should build enduring partnerships with primary stakeholders of water, who must become an integral part of the NWC and its counterparts in the states.

Conclusion

The new National Water Policy calls for multi-disciplinary, multi-stakeholder approach to water management.

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Should the NDPS Act be amended?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NDPS Act

Mains level : Substance abuse in India

  • The Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has proposed certain changes to some provisions of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act of 1985.
  • The recommendations have assumed importance in the backdrop of some high-profile drug cases including the recent arrest of Bollywood actor’s son.

What is NDPS Act?

  • The NDPS Act, 1985 is the principal legislation through which the state regulates the operations of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.
  • It provides a stringent framework for punishing offenses related to illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances through imprisonments and forfeiture of property.
  • This is a stringent law where the death penalty can be prescribed for repeat offenders.

Key amendments suggested

  • To decriminalise the possession of narcotic drugs in smaller quantities for personal purposes.
  • Persons using drugs in smaller quantities be treated as victims.

Issues with the NDPS Act

Ans. First arrest and then investigate

  • First arrest and then investigate seems to be the principle for investigations under the NDPS Act.
  • Section 50 of the Act (conditions under which search of persons shall be conducted) needs to be followed scrupulously.
  • When officials stumble upon a person carrying drugs during raids or a routine check, the drugs must be seized in front of a Gazetted Officer or a Magistrate.

Why such provision?

  • In cases of sudden development, the suspect is taken to the nearby Magistrate or the latter is brought to the spot and then only drugs are seized.
  • If this is not adhered to, the court acquits the accused persons. Only then the next stage of investigation commences.
  • While tracking drugs cases, investigators go from consumers to drug suppliers.

Is there any scope of mi-use?

  • It is not possible at all. Once cannot manage all the people all the time.
  • Since the seizure procedure is to be followed, there could be one Magistrate at the time of seizing drugs, another during further investigation and a different Magistrate at the time of trial.
  • Moreover, governments can change.

Challenges in enforcing the NDPS Act

(a) Peddling

  • Since drug peddling is an organised crime, it is challenging for the police to catch the persons involved from the point of source to the point of destination.
  • Identifying drugs that are being transported is a challenge since we cannot stop each and every vehicle that plies on Indian roads.

(b) Transportation

  • Most drug bust cases are made possible with specific information leads.
  • Unless we check every vehicle with specially trained sniffer dogs, it is difficult to check narcotic drugs transportation.

(c) Production

  • The main challenge is to catch those producing these substances. Secret cultivation are mostly carried on in LWE affected areas.
  • Going beyond State jurisdiction, finding the source of narcotic substances and destroying them is another big challenge.

(d) Delay in trials

  • Securing conviction for the accused in drugs cases is yet another arduous task. There are frequent delays in court procedures.
  • Sometimes, cases do not come up for trial even after two years of having registered them.
  • By then, the accused are out on bail and do not turn up for trial.
  • Bringing them back from their States to trial is quite difficult let alone getting them convicted.

Other Challenges

(a) Growing hopelessness in society

  • The COVID-19 pandemic, for instance, has aggravated anxieties among the youth.
  • Joblessness and livelihood losses are the major push factors.

(b) Issues in rehabilitation

  • The proposal to send persons to rehabilitation centres is good on paper but we do not have the infrastructure to ensure that it is properly implemented.
  • We don’t have adequate de-addiction centre counsellors. We face an acute shortage of psychiatrists and counsellors.

Issues in legalization of drugs

  • Legalisation of drugs usage will only compound the problem.
  • It could lead to the proliferation of drugs.
  • It is dangerous. More and more people may start using them.

Way forward

  • We need to thoroughly examine why and how people are getting addicted to narcotic drugs.
  • No doubt the NDPS Act is stringent, but we need to make a distinction between the drug peddler and the end user.
  • The person using it in smaller quantities for personal use cannot be bracketed with the person producing narcotic drugs.
  • We need to make a clear distinction between a drug supplier and an end user.
  • A drug user needs to be seen as a patient. The Act as of now prescribes jail for everyone — the end user and the drug supplier.
  • Instead of suggesting proposals to change sections of the law for the entire country, it would be advisable to introduce this on a pilot basis in one State that faces an acute drugs-related problem.

Conclusion

  • We should examine the root cause of the problem.
  • Relying only on law-enforcing agencies, however hard they are at work to address the problem, is not going to solve it.
  • Civil society and governments will have to work together to create an enabling environment to address the issue.

 

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Indian Missile Program Updates

Agni V vs China’s Hypersonic Missile

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Hypersonic Glide Vehicle, ICBM

Mains level : Hypersonic Glide Missiles

Though inducted over three years ago, India’s foremost Agni 5 ballistic missile was tested for the first time after reports that China had tested a new hypersonic missile.

What is the Agni 5 missile?

  • Agni 5 is India’s long-range surface-to-surface ballistic missile, which can hit a target with a precision that is 5,000 km
  • The nuclear-capable missile is India’s contender for the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM).
  • Its range puts almost the entire China within the missile’s target range.
  • Though the government has claimed that it has a maximum range of around 5,000 km, several reports suggest that it can hit targets as distant as 8,000 km.
  • The nuclear capable missile can carry a warhead of around 1,500 kg and has a launch weight of 50,000 kg, making it one of the most potent missiles in the country.

Note: Officially an ICBM needs a missile to have a range of at least 5,500 km.

History of Agni Missiles

  • India began testing the Agni series of missiles in 1989 with the first test for Agni 1, an Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile, with a range of around 1,000 km.
  • At that time only the US, the erstwhile Soviet Union, China, France and Israel, had IRBM technology.
  • Since then, DRDO labs have continued to work on it, bringing the latest available Agni 5 to its present capability.
  • In addition to the IRBM-capable nations, only North Korea and the UK have ICBM technology at the moment.

Why is it important for India?

  • The success of AGNI missiles is in line with India’s stated policy to have ‘credible minimum deterrence’ that underpins the commitment to ‘No First Use’.
  • What makes Agni 5 agile is that it is a “canisterised” missile. It means that the missile can be launched from road and rail platforms, making it easier for it to be deployed and launched at a quicker pace.
  • The canisterisation also gives the missile a longer shelf life, protecting it from the harsher climatic conditions.
  • While India is among the handful of nations with ICBM capability.
  • The next generation of the missile, Agni VI, under development, is expected to have a range of around 8,000 km.

What is a Hypersonic Glide Vehicle that China tested?

  • HGV is nuclear capable missile, which circled the earth before moving towards its target, missing it by two dozen miles.
  • It is launched by a rocket which moves in the Earth’s lower orbit, at more than five times to 25 times the speed of sound.
  • The vehicle is capable of carrying nuclear payloads, which gives the launching country the strategic capacity to attack almost any target across the world.

How is HGV different from an ICBM?

  • A hypersonic glide vehicle orbits the earth at a lower height, and is manoeuvrable as compared to ICBM.
  • The ability to change track or target, mid-trajectory, along with the speed, makes them tougher to track and defend against.
  • The manoeuvrability provides them in-flight updates to attack a different target than originally planned.
  • They possess ability to fly at unpredictable trajectories, these missiles will hold extremely large areas at risk throughout much of their flights.

Which countries have hypersonic technology?

  • Apart from China, the US and Russia are working on the technology.
  • France and India are working together for gaining the capability.

Concerns about China developing such technology

  • China might have left the US behind in hypersonic capability.
  • It is being perceived as a Sputnik moment (first Russian space mission widely envied by the US).
  • A hypersonic attack could occur with very little warning time. The unpredictable trajectory would give them an advantage.

Another concern: Increasing Proliferation

  • Globally the main concern is that once the technology is successfully established by even one country, it would lead to a larger race for the capability and its eventual proliferation.
  • The more that hypersonic missiles proliferate into the hands of additional nations, the more paths develop for crises.

 

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Electoral Reforms In India

How Political Parties are registered in India?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Registering a Political Party

Mains level : Political Party registration benefits

Former Punjab CM has announced that he will be forming his own political party in Punjab ahead of the state assembly elections.

Registering a Political Party

  • The registration of all political parties is governed by the provisions of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
  • According to the Election Commission (EC), any party seeking registration has to submit an application to the Commission within a period of 30 days.
  • This is done as per guidelines prescribed by the EC in exercise of the powers conferred by Article 324 of the Constitution and Section 29A of the RP Act, 1951.

Note: There is no procedure available for de-registration of dormant political parties.

Process of registration

  • The applicant is asked to publish a proposed party name in two national daily newspapers and two local daily newspapers, and provide two days for submitting objections, if any.
  • The notice for publication is also displayed on the website of the Election Commission.

Why registering with the EC is important?

  • It is not mandatory to register with the Election Commission.
  • However, registering as a political party with the EC has its advantage in terms of intending to avail itself of the provisions of the RP Act, 1951.
  • The candidates set up by a political party registered with the EC will get preference in the matter of allotment of free symbols vis-à-vis purely independent candidates.
  • More importantly, these registered political parties, over course of time, can get recognition as a ‘state party’ or a ‘national party’.

How EC recognises a political party as a state or national party?

For recognition as a NATIONAL PARTY, the conditions specified are:

  1. a 6% vote share in the last Assembly polls in each of any four states, as well as four seats in the last Lok Sabha polls; or
  2. 2% of all Lok Sabha seats in the last such election, with MPs elected from at least three states; or
  3. recognition as a state party in at least four states.

For recognition as a STATE PARTY, any one of five conditions needs to be satisfied:

  1. two seats plus a 6% vote share in the last Assembly election in that state; or
  2. one seat plus a 6% vote share in the last Lok Sabha election from that state; or
  3. 3% of the total Assembly seats or 3 seats, whichever is more; or
  4. one of every 25 Lok Sabha seats (or an equivalent fraction) from a state; or
  5. an 8% state-wide vote share in either the last Lok Sabha or the last Assembly polls.

Benefits for recognized parties

  • This is subject to the fulfilment of the conditions prescribed by the Commission in the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968.

(a) Reserved Sybol

  • If a party is recognised as a ‘state party’, it is entitled for exclusive allotment of its reserved symbol to the candidates set up by it in the state in which it is so recognised. If a party is recognised as a ‘national party’ it is entitled for exclusive allotment of its reserved symbol to the candidates set up by it throughout India.

(b) Proposer for nomination

  • Recognised ‘state’ and ‘national’ parties need only one proposer for filing the nomination.

(c) Campaigning benefits

  • They are also entitled for two sets of electoral rolls free of cost and broadcast/telecast facilities over state-owned Akashvani/Doordarshan during the general elections.

 

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Minority Issues – SC, ST, Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

Religious Conversion and Quota Benefits

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Quota and Religious conversions

In a retaliatory move, a state minister has alleged about a decorated officer serving in the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), has benefitted from the reservation for Scheduled Castes (SCs) despite being Muslim.

Do you know?

If the quota/caste certificate is found to be false, the government servant is be removed or dismissed from the service.  There are many who are arranging EWS quota certificates based on forged evidences. Beware.

Quota and religion

  • The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950, lays down that no person professing a religion different from the Hindu or Sikh or Buddhist religion can be deemed to be a member of an SC.
  • However, this provision has been amended several times.
  • The original order under which only Hindus were classified as SCs, was amended to include Sikhs in 1956, and Buddhists in 1990.

Rules of Religion in eligibility for the SC Quota

  • There is a 15 per cent quota for SCs in government jobs.
  • But Hindu SCs who convert to Islam lose their SC status, and are no longer eligible for the quota.

A brochure on the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), site lays down the position on SC status and conversions:

  1. A person shall be held to be a member of a SC or ST if he belongs to a caste, or a tribe which has been declared as such.
  2. No person who professes a religion different from the Hindu or the Sikh religion shall be deemed to be a member of the SCs.
  3. Further a person belonging to a SC or ST will continue to be deemed as such irrespective of his/her marriage to a non-Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe.
  4. However, a convert or re-convert to Hinduism and Sikhism shall be accepted as a member of SC if he has been received back and accepted as a member of the concerned SC.
  5. No such religion-based bar, however, operates for STs and Other Backward Classes (OBCs).

What about STs?

  • The rights of a person belonging to a Scheduled Tribe are independent of his/her religious faith.

Is the exclusion of Muslims and Christians discriminatory?

  • Petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court seeking the inclusion of Muslims and Christians in the SC category.
  • In 2008, the National Commission on Minorities concluded that there was a case for inclusion Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims in the SC category.
  • In January 2020, the SC agreed to examine a plea by the National Council of Dalit Christians to make the government’s affirmative action programmes religion-neutral.
  • The plea is pending before the court.

In inter-caste marriages, can mother’s caste be the caste of the couple’s child?

  • The child carries the caste of the father, and caste certificates are issued on this basis.
  • However, courts have taken note of the surroundings in which the child was brought up.
  • In Rameshbhai Dabhai Naika vs State of Gujarat & Ors (2012), the Supreme Court has set a precedence.
  • In an inter-caste marriage or a marriage between a tribal and a non-tribal there may be a presumption that the child has the caste of the father.
  • This presumption may be stronger in the case where husband belongs to a forward caste.
  • In 2006, then Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment has proposed that children born of inter-caste marriages should get SC status if either parent belongs to a SC.

Govt. stance on this

  • In 2006, then Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment has proposed that children born of inter-caste marriages should get SC status if either parent belongs to a SC.
  • A proposal was to be placed before the Cabinet in April 2008, but was withdrawn at the last minute.
  • There was resistance to the suggestion from many quarters, including the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC).

 

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

What is Climate Vulnerability Index?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Climate Vulnerability Index

Mains level : Mapping India's climate change vulnerability

Environmental think tank Council on Energy, Environment and Water has carried a first-of-its-kind district-level climate vulnerability assessment, or Climate Vulnerability Index (CVI).

Climate Vulnerability Index

  • The Index takes into account certain indicators when assessing the preparedness of a state or district.
  • It considers:
  1. Exposure (that is whether the district is prone to extreme weather events)
  2. Sensitivity (the likelihood of an impact on the district by the weather event)
  3. Adaptive capacity (what the response or coping mechanism of the district is)

Significance of CVI

  • CVI helps map critical vulnerabilities and plan strategies to enhance resilience and adapt by climate-proofing communities, economies and infrastructure.
  • Instead of looking at climate extremes in isolation, the study looks at the combined risk of hydro-met disasters, which is floods, cyclones and droughts, and their impact.
  • The study does not take into consideration other natural disasters such as earthquakes.

Why does India need a climate vulnerability index?

  • According to Germanwatch’s 2020 findings, India is the seventh-most vulnerable country with respect to climate extremes.
  • Extreme weather events have been increasing in the country such as supercyclone Amphan in the Bay of Bengal, which is now the strongest cyclone to be recorded in the country.
  • Recent events such as the landslides and floods in Uttarakhand and Kerala, have also increased in the past decade.
  • Further, the IPCC states that every degree rise in temperature will lead to a three per cent increase in precipitation, causing increased intensification of cyclones and floods.

Key findings of the CVI

According to CVI, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Bihar are most vulnerable to extreme climate events such as floods, droughts and cyclones in India.

  • 183 hotspot districts are highly vulnerable to more than one extreme climate events
  • 60% of Indian districts have medium to low adaptive capacity in handing extreme weather events – these districts don’t have robust plans in place to mitigate impact
  • North-eastern states are more vulnerable to floods
  • South and central are most vulnerable to extreme droughts
  • 59 and 41 per cent of the total districts in the eastern and western states, respectively, are highly vulnerable to extreme cyclones.

Best performing states

  • Kerala and West Bengal have performed well comparatively, despite both being coastal states and dealing with the threat of cyclones and floods annually.
  • The reason why these states have performed better is that they have stepped up their climate action plans as well as preparedness to handle an extreme weather event.

Key recommendations

  • Develop a high-resolution Climate Risk Atlas (CRA) to map critical vulnerabilities
  • Establish a centralised climate-risk commission to coordinate the environmental de-risking mission.
  • Undertake climate-sensitivity-led landscape restoration focused on rehabilitating, restoring, and reintegrating natural ecosystems as part of the developmental process.
  • Integrate climate risk profiling with infrastructure planning to increase adaptive capacity.
  • Provide for climate risk-interlinked adaptation financing by creating innovative CVI-based financing instruments that integrate climate risks for an effective risk transfer mechanism.

 

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

Sundarbans among 5 sites with highest ‘Blue Carbon’ globally

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Blue carbon, Sunderbans

Mains level : Carbon sequestration

India’s Sundarbans National Park is among five sites that have the highest blue carbon stocks globally, according to a new assessment.

Highlights of the study

  • ‘World Heritage forests’ are now releasing more carbon than they are absorbing, primarily due to human activity and climate change, according to the assessment.
  • UNESCO lists 50 sites across the globe for their unique marine values. These represent just one per cent of the global ocean area.
  • But they comprise at least 15 per cent of global blue carbon assests.

Try this question from CSP 2021:

Q. What is blue carbon?

(a) Carbon captured by oceans and coastal ecosystems

(b) Carbon sequestered in forest biomass and agricultural soils

(c) Carbon contained in petroleum and natural gas

(d) Carbon present in atmosphere

 

Post your answers here.

Carbon capacity of Sundarbans

  • The Sundarbans National Park has stores of 60 million tonnes of carbon (Mt C).
  • The other four sites besides the Sundarbans National Park in India are:
  1. Bangladeshi portion of the Sundarbans (110 Mt C)
  2. Great Barrier Reef in Australia (502 Mt C)
  3. Everglades National Park in the US (400 Mt C) and
  4. Banc d’Arguin National Park in Mauritania (110 Mt C)

About Sundarbans

  • Sundarbans is the largest delta and mangrove forest in the world.
  • The Indian Sunderbans, which covers 4,200 sq km, comprises of the Sunderban Tiger Reserve of 2,585 sq km is home to about 96 Royal Bengal Tigers (2020) is also a world heritage site and a Ramsar Site.
  • The Indian Sunderbans is bound on the west by river Muriganga and on the east by rivers Harinbhahga and Raimangal.
  • Other major rivers flowing through this eco-system are Saptamukhi, Thakuran, Matla and Goasaba.

Worrying scenario

  • The researchers found that 10 of 257 forests emitted more carbon than they captured between 2001 and 2020.
  • The reasons for included clearance of land for agriculture, the increasing scale and severity of wildfires due to drought as well as extreme weather phenomena.
  • The 10 sites are:
  1. Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra (Indonesia)
  2. Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve (Honduras)
  3. Yosemite National Park (US)
  4. Waterton Glacier International Peace Park (Canada, US)
  5. Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains (South Africa)
  6. Kinabalu Park (Malaysia)
  7. Uvs Nuur Basin (Russian Federation, Mongolia)
  8. Grand Canyon National Park (US)
  9. Greater Blue Mountains Area (Australia)
  10. Morne Trois Pitons National Park (Dominica)

(Try mapping these sites)


Back2Basics: Types of Carbon

  • Brown Carbon: It is brown smoke released by the combustion of organic matter.
  • Black Carbon: It is also a greenhouse gas and causes more pollution than Brown Carbon. The particles leftover from incomplete combustion of fossil fuels (soot and dust). It has a greater effect on radiation transmission.
  • Green Carbon: Carbon incorporated into plant biomass and the soils below. Green carbon is carbon removed by photosynthesis and stored in the plants and soil of natural ecosystems.
  • Blue Carbon: Blue Carbon refers to coastal, aquatic and marine carbon sinks held by the indicative vegetation, marine organism and sediments.

 

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

Strengthening healthcare through ABHIM

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ABHIM

Mains level : Paper 2- ABHIM

Context

The Pradhan Mantri Ayushman Bharat Health Infrastructure Mission (ABHIM), announced recently, seeks to realise greater investment in the health system as proposed in the Budget, implement the Fifteenth Finance Commission recommendations such as strengthening of urban and rural primary care, stronger surveillance systems and laboratory capacity.

Measures of ABHIM

  • It will support infrastructure development of 17,788 rural health and wellness centres (HWCs) in seven high-focus States and three north-eastern States.
  • In addition, 11,044 urban HWCs will be established in close collaboration with Urban Local Bodies.
  • The various measures of this scheme will extend primary healthcare services across India.
  • Areas like hypertension, diabetes and mental health will be covered, in addition to existing services.
  • Support for 3,382 block public health units (BPHUs) in 11 high-focus States and establishment of integrated district public health laboratories in all 730 districts will strengthen capacity for information technology-enabled disease surveillance.
  • To enhance the capabilities for microbial surveillance, a National Platform for One Health will be established.
  • Four Regional National Institutes of Virology will be established.
  • Laboratory capacity under the National Centre for Disease Control, the Indian Council of Medical Research and national research institutions will be strengthened.
  • Fifteen bio-safety level III labs will augment the capacity for infectious disease control and bio-security.

Way forward

  • There is a need to train and deploy a larger and better skilled health workforce.
  • We must scale up institutional capacity for training public health professionals.
  • Private sector participation in service delivery may be invited by States, as per need and availability.
  • ABHIM, if financed and implemented efficiently, can strengthen India’s health system by augmenting capacity in several areas and creating a framework for coordinated functioning at district, state and national levels.
  • Many independently functioning programmes will have to work with a common purpose by leaping across boundaries of separate budget lines and reporting structures.
  • That calls for a change of bureaucratic mindsets and a cultural shift in Centre-State relations.

Conclusion

The ABHIM can fix the weaknesses in India’s healthcare system.

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Foreign Policy Watch: India-Russia

Energy cooperation as the backbone of India-Russia ties

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Energy partnership with Russia

Context

With its abundant energy sources and appetite for trade diversification, Russia could be an ultimate long-term partner of India as it tries to diversify its trade relations.

Energy partnership

  • Indian Prime Minister in a virtual address at 6th Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in Russia’s Vladivostok said that “India-Russia energy partnership can help bring stability to the global energy market.”
  • Indian and Russian Energy Ministers announced that the countries’ companies have been pushing for greater cooperation in the oil and gas sector beyond the U.S.$32 billion already invested in joint projects.
  • India’s Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Hardeep Singh Puri referred to Russia as the largest investor in India’s energy sector.
  • One of the examples of cooperation between the two countries in energy transformation is the joint venture between India’s Reliance Industries Ltd. and Russia’s Sibur, the country’s largest petrochemicals producer.
  • Apart from accounting for most of the Indian butyl rubber market, Reliance Sibur Elastomers exports its products to Asia, Europe, the United States, Brazil and other countries.
  • A few years ago, Rosneft invested U.S.$12.9 billion in India’s second-largest private oil refiner, Essar Oil, renamed Nayara Energy, marking it one of the most significant foreign investments in years.
  • Partnership in renewable: In efforts to transition to green energy, India has recently achieved a significant milestone of completing the countrywide installation of 100 gigawatts of total installed renewable energy capacity, excluding large hydro.
  • A recent Deloitte report has forecasted that India could gain U.S.$11 trillion in economic value over the next 50 years by limiting rising global temperatures and realising its potential to ‘export decarbonization’.
  • Unknowns of climate change and threats of a new pandemic suggest that the country should accelerate its energy transition. Russia, one of the key global players across the energy market, could emerge as an indispensable partner for such a transition.
  • Partnership in nuclear energy: Russian companies have been involved in the construction of six nuclear reactors in the Kudankulam nuclear power project at Tamil Nadu.
  • India and Russia secure the potential of designing a nuclear reactor specifically for developing countries, which is a promising area of cooperation.
  • India’s nuclear power generation capacity of 6,780 MW may increase to 22,480 MW by 2031, contributing to the country’s efforts to turn to green energy.

Way forward

  • In September, almost all of Russia’s major energy companies were interested in projects in India, Russia’s Energy Minister said at the Vladivostok forum in September, adding that he sees prospects for energy cooperation in all areas.
  • However, the current bilateral exchange rate needs to accelerate for India to grasp its potential from energy transformation.

Conclusion

To meet its growing energy demand and succeed in green transformation, India needs approximately U.S.$500 billion of investments in wind and solar infrastructure, grid expansion, and storage to reach the 450 GW capacity target by 2030. Therefore, more efforts are needed to expand cooperation with such partners as Russia.

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Important Judgements In News

Analysing the Supreme Court’s Pegasus order

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Pegasus

Mains level : Paper 2- Pegasus issue

Context

The Supreme Court of India has appointed a committee presided by Justice (Retd.) R V Raveendran to inquire into the Pegasus revelations.

Terms of reference

  • The court’s terms of reference include queries on, “What steps/actions have been taken by the Union of India after reports were published in the year 2019 about hacking of WhatsApp accounts”, and, “Whether any Pegasus suite of spyware was acquired by the Union of India, or any State Government, or any central or state agency for use against the citizens of India”.
  • The constitution of this committee marks an important step towards accountability for the victims and the larger public on the use of Pegasus.

Significance of the committee on Pegasus issue

1) Transparency and disclosure

  • The order of the court constituting the committee attains significance for three clear reasons.
  • The first is the court’s continuing insistence on transparency and disclosure by the Union government.
  • The only filing made in court by the government was a limited affidavit, containing short paragraphs of generalised denials and the sole annexure of a statement by the Minister for Electronics and IT before Parliament.
  • Immediately, the Supreme Court pointed out that these are inadequate and provided further time.

2) The SC’s approach towards national security

  • The second reason is the Supreme Court’s firm approach towards the national security submissions by the Union government.
  • The court correctly applied the settled convention on legal pleadings and affidavits by asking the government to, “necessarily plead and prove the facts which indicate that the information sought must be kept secret as their divulgence would affect national security concerns.”
  • The second aspect of the national security argument is how the court balances it with the fundamental right to privacy.
  • Here, drawing from the framework of the K S Puttaswamy judgment the court specifically states that, “national security cannot be the bugbear that the judiciary shies away from, by virtue of its mere mentioning” and, “mere invocation of national security by the State does not render the Court a mute spectator”.
  • These are significant observations that, when followed as precedent, will bolster confidence in constitutional adjudications especially when courts demand evidence on arguments of “national security” to avoid generalised statements made to evade accountability.

3)  Rejection of the suggestion by the Solicitor-General to constitute a government committee of experts

  • The court correctly notes that even though the Pegasus revelations were first made on November 1, 2019, there has been little movement on any official inquiry.
  • It also records the genuine apprehension of the petitioners, many of whom are victims of Pegasus, that since the sale of this malware can only be made to governments, they fear the involvement of state agencies.

Challenges

  • These include the functioning of the committee and the cooperation of government witnesses, the publication of the report so as to ensure public confidence and, ultimately, the directions and remedy provided by the Supreme Court.

Conclusion

Hence, the constitution of this committee provides hope. At the same time, any honest assessment should consider the more challenging tasks ahead.

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Right To Privacy

Supreme Court forms committee to examine Pegasus allegations

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Articles mentioned in the newscard

Mains level : Pegasus issue

The Supreme Court has appointed an independent expert technical committee overseen by a former apex court judge, Justice R.V. Raveendran, to examine allegations that the government used Israeli spyware, Pegasus, to snoop on its own citizens.

Why need a committee?

  • Decisions in cases seeking enforcement of fundamental rights are based on facts.
  • The task of determining these facts, when they are disputed or unknown, are often assigned to committees, which act as an agent of the court.
  • Such committees or fact-finding teams can summon individuals, prepare ground reports, and inform the court.
  • The Pegasus case involves technical questions, and requires extensive fact-finding for the court to determine whether fundamental rights were violated, and to pass suitable orders.

Functions of the committee:

What is Pegasus?

  • All spyware do what the name suggests — they spy on people through their phones.
  • Pegasus works by sending an exploit link, and if the target user clicks on the link, the malware or the code that allows the surveillance is installed on the user’s phone.
  • A presumably newer version of the malware does not even require a target user to click a link.
  • Once Pegasus is installed, the attacker has complete access to the target user’s phone.

Why in news?

  • The three-judge bench, headed by CJI N V Ramana rejected the government’s plea to let it constitute an expert panel to investigate the issue.

What did the SC rule?

  • The SC order broadly addresses three issues that have been flagged in the Pegasus row:
  1. Citizen’s right to privacy (Article 21)
  2. Judicial review when the executive invokes national security (Article 13, Article 32)

(Article 13: declares that any law which contravenes any of the provisions of the part of Funda­mental Rights shall be void.

Articles 32 and 226 entrusts the roles of the protector and guarantor of fundamental rights to the Supreme and High Courts.)

  1. Implications of surveillance on free speech

[A] Upholding Right to Privacy

  • The Court, pointing to its own judgment in K S Puttaswamy Case (2017) has said that “right to privacy (under Article 21) is as sacrosanct as human existence.
  • It is inalienable to human dignity and autonomy.
  • While agreeing that it is not an absolute right, the Court has said any restrictions “must necessarily pass constitutional scrutiny”.
  • Any surveillance or snooping done on an individual by the state or any outside agency is an infringement of that person’s right to privacy.
  • Hence, any violation of that right by the state, even in national interest, has to follow procedures established by the law.

[B] Linking surveillance and censorship

  • The Court has also drawn a link between:
  1. Surveillance, especially the knowledge that one is under the threat of being spied on”, and
  2. Censorship, particularly self-censorship, to reflect on the potential chilling effect that snooping techniques may have
  • The chilling effect surveillance can produce, is an assault on the vital public-watchdog role of the press, which may undermine the ability of the press to provide accurate and reliable information.

[C] Constituting a panel

  • The Court has constituted a panel of experts under former SC judge Justice R V Raveendran.
  • It has sharply defined the questions it needs to ask and find answers to: Was any Pegasus suite of spyware acquired by the central or any state government for use against the citizens of India.
  • It would inquire under what law, rule, guidelines, protocol or lawful procedure was such deployment made.
  • These are vital questions at the heart of a citizen’s basic rights.

Significance of the Judgement

  • The order is a strong rebuttal of the government’s specious and self-serving use of national security.
  • The Court has ruled that the state does not get a free pass every time the spectre of ‘national security’ is raised.
  • This also means “no omnibus prohibition can be called for against judicial review” if the matter impinges on national security.

 

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AIIB & The Changing World Order

APVAX Initiative

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ADB, AIIB

Mains level : Not Much

The Government of India has applied for loans from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to procure as many as 667 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines under the APVAX initiative.

Try this question from CSP 2019

Q.With reference to Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), consider the following statements:

  1. AIIB has more than 80 member nations.
  2. India is the largest shareholder in AIIB.
  3. AIIB does not have any members from outside Asia.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 1 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

 

Post your answers here.

APVAX Initiative

  • The ADB is expected to lend $1.5 billion and the AIIB around $500 million for the vaccine purchase by India.
  • It which has been made under the ADB’s Asia Pacific Vaccine Access Facility (APVAX) initiative.
  • Launched in December 2020, APVAX offers “rapid and equitable support to its developing member countries as they procure and deliver effective and safe COVID-19 vaccines”.
  • The Beijing-headquartered AIIB will co-finance the vaccine procurement.

About Asian Development Bank (ADB)

  • The ADB is a regional development bank established on 19 December 1966.
  • It is headquartered in the Ortigas Center located in the city of Mandaluyong, Metro Manila, Philippines.
  • From 31 members at its establishment, ADB now has 68 members.
  • The ADB was modelled closely on the World Bank, and has a similar weighted voting system where votes are distributed in proportion with members’ capital subscriptions.
  • ADB is an official United Nations Observer.
  • As of 31 December 2020, Japan and the UN each holds the largest proportion of shares at 15.571%.
  • China holds 6.429%, India holds 6.317%, and Australia holds 5.773%.

Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)

  • The AIIB is a multilateral development bank that aims to improve economic and social outcomes in Asia.
  • The bank was proposed by China in 2013 and the initiative was launched at a ceremony in Beijing in October 2014.
  • The bank currently has 103 members, including 16 prospective members from around the world.
  • The starting capital of the bank was US$100 billion, equivalent to 2⁄3 of the capital of the Asian Development Bank and about half that of the World Bank.
  • It received the highest credit ratings from the three biggest rating agencies in the world, and is seen as a potential rival to the World Bank and IMF.

AIIB and India

  • So far, the AIIB has approved loans for 28 projects in India amounting to $6.7 billion, more than for any other member of the multilateral bank.
  • India is the second-largest shareholder after China in the bank, which does not count the U.S. and Japan among its members.

 

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