Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pakistan

[op-ed snap] A bad deal

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : LoC

Mains level : Suspending trade across Loc mightnot prove to be a good idea.

CONTEXT

Suspension of LoC trade is a poorly-thought move that shrinks the space for manoeuvre in Kashmir and with Pakistan.

Importance of trade

1.Confidence building In Kashmir – That it was launched at all, and survived the deep freeze of India-Pakistan ties that followed 26/11, growing in value and symbolic importance to Kashmiris on either side of the LoC over the next decade, was due to the all around acknowledgment that Kashmir needs special specific confidence-building measures, and that these need to be kept separate from the India-Pakistan relationship.

2.Symbolic Value – Cross LoC interaction carried huge symbolic value in Kashmir, even though the trade itself has been far below its actual potential, and was tied up with red tape and the absence of banking facilities and telephone connections.

3.High Monetary Value – Moreover, it was being conducted through a barter system, as India and Pakistan could not reach agreement on currency transactions, even though its annual value grew from Rs 1 crore in 2008-09 to over Rs 3,000 crore at the present time.

1.Misuse of trade

  • It is unfortunate that the government has decided to “suspend” this Kashmir-specific confidence building measure now on the ground that it was being misused to push drugs, weapons and counterfeit currency into the Valley from across the border, as well as for trade in goods excluded from the list meant for cross-LoC trade.
  • After all, no trade routes into India are free from misuse.

2.Hawala –

  • Hawala, despite a severe crackdown, continues to exist as a channel through which Indians continue to send and receive money from abroad.
  • In the case of Kashmir, the absence of banking channels must have exacerbated the situation.

Alternatives –

1.Monitoring of trade routes-

  • If the government had apprehensions that the trade across the two sides of Kashmir was being used by terrorist benamis or other unscrupulous elements, the better course of action would have been to monitor the crossing points at Uri and Chakkan da Bagh through which it was taking place four times a week.
  • This is all in a day’s work for customs and other enforcement agencies, and this is how drugs were caught being smuggled in trucks from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

Conclusion

1. Signals loss of control – Calling off an entire trade route because it is being misused by some sends out the message that the government has lost control, as with the highway closure.

2. Push to alienation – Plus, drawing increasingly tighter red lines in Kashmir, India only makes it more difficult for itself to get out of the corners it has painted itself into when the time for dialogue comes, as it will eventually.

3. Election motives – But if this has been done to create the impression in the rest of the country in the midst of election season that the government is unsparing with Kashmiris, it can only be described as cutting the nose to spite the face.

Forest Conservation Efforts – NFP, Western Ghats, etc.

[op-ed snap] Humanise the law

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Forest Rights Act

Mains level : There is a need to tranform present forest law towards partnership and collaboration approach.

CONTEXT

Modernising colonial era laws is a long-delayed project, but the draft Indian Forest Act, 2019 is woefully short of being a transformative piece of legislation.

Need for reforms

1. Colonial Legacy – The original law, the Indian Forest Act, 1927, is an incongruous relic, its provisions having been drafted to suit the objectives of a colonial power that had extractive uses for forests in mind.

2. Ensuring Well being of Forest and forest dwellers – A new law enacted should make a departure and be aimed to expand India’s forests, and ensure the well-being of traditional forest-dwellers and biodiversity in these landscapes.

3. Community-led, scientific conservation – The need is for a paradigm that encourages community-led, scientifically validated conservation. This is critical, for only 2.99% of India’s geographic area is classified as very dense forest; the rest of the green cover of a total of 21.54% is nearly equally divided into open and moderately dense forest, according to the State of Forest Report 2017.

Draft Bill’s Proposals

1.Bureaucratic control of forests

  • The draft Bill reinforces the idea of bureaucratic control of forests, providing immunity for actions such as use of firearms by personnel to prevent an offence.
  • The hardline policing approach is reflected in the emphasis on creating infrastructure to detain and transport the accused, and to penalise entire communities through denial of access to forests for offences by individuals.
  • Such provisions invariably affect poor inhabitants, and run counter to the empowering and egalitarian goals that produced the Forest Rights Act.

Way forward to conserve Forest

1. Importance of Forests – India’s forests play a key role in moderating the lives of not just the adivasis and other traditional dwellers, but everyone in the subcontinent, through their impact on the climate and monsoons.

2. Improvement through collaboration – Their health can be improved only through collaboration.

    • Any new forest law must, therefore, aim to reduce conflicts, incentivise tribals and stop diversion for non-forest uses.
    • No commercial exploitation – This can be achieved by recognising all suitable landscapes as forests and insulating them from commercial exploitation.
    •  Partnership with communities and scientists – Such an approach requires a partnership with communities on the one hand, and scientists on the other. For decades now, the Forest Department has resisted independent scientific evaluation of forest health and biodiversity conservation outcomes.

Weaknesses of present Environment Policy

  •  Weakened public scrutiny – In parallel, environmental policy has weakened public scrutiny of decisions on diversion of forests for destructive activities such as mining and large dam construction.
  • Dilution of public hearings – Impact assessment reports have mostly been reduced to a farce, and the public hearings process has been diluted.

Conclusion

  • The government needs to launch a process of consultation, beginning with the State governments to ensure that a progressive law is adopted by all States, including those that have their own versions of the existing Act.
  • The Centre must hear the voice of all stakeholders and communities, including independent scientific experts.

Disasters and Disaster Management – Sendai Framework, Floods, Cyclones, etc.

The Face of Disasters 2019 Report

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : The Face of Disasters 2019 Report

Mains level : Multiple facets of Disasters in India and thier effective management

  • The Face of Disasters 2019 report was recently published by Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society (SEEDS).

The Face of Disasters 2019 Report

  • The ‘Face of Disasters 2019’ report released by SEEDS as part of its 25th anniversary, analyses past trends, looking at disasters from a broader perspective to capture their varied facets.
  • The report talks about the need to look at disaster vulnerabilities that lie under the radar, waiting to strike.
  • Eight key areas have emerged that will be critical to consider as we look ahead:
  1. Water and the changing nature of disaster risk: A ‘new normal’ of rainfall variability is bringing challenges of too much and too little water, often in parallel.
  2. No disaster is ‘natural’: Risks lurking under the radar slip through the cracks because they don’t meet the idea of a ‘natural disaster’.
  3. The silent events: The disasters that go unseen leave those affected at even greater risk.
  4. Land becomes water (and water becomes land): Changes to the coastline are already affecting livelihood sources and will be hotspots for vulnerability in the future.
  5. The complexity of disaster impact: Beyond official ‘damages’, the long-term and uncaptured disaster impacts have life-changing consequences for affected communities.
  6. The urban imperative: Risk is rapidly urbanising and will affect everyone.
  7. Transformations in the third pole: Himalayan glaciers are melting, with serious implications for the whole region.
  8. Planning for what you can’t see: Earthquake risk is looming large under the radar, but are we prepared?

Significance of the report

  • Analysis of past trends shows us that 2019 will see unusual flooding, as well as heatwaves and drought that are already ongoing.
  • The complexity of disasters today requires a proactive and multi-pronged approach.
  • A single mega-disaster can wipe out hard-won development gains and recurrent small-scale stresses keep vulnerable families in a cycle of poverty.
  • While this multiple event pattern is repeated every year, only a few really capture the public attention. Other risks continue to intensify under the radar.

Way Forward

  • Current trends are reinforcing that disasters have multiple facets and complexities.
  • In 2018, India witnessed nearly every type of natural hazard, except a major earthquake and related events.
  • Floods, droughts, heat and cold waves, lightning strikes, cyclones and even hailstorms, a wide range of disasters impacted most of the country.
  • This poses some critical questions and issues and also points to risks that lie ahead. At the core is the idea that disasters cannot be seen in isolation anymore.
  • There is a clear need for comprehensive understanding of risks, and hyper-localised plans and allocation of resources to reduce them.

Back2Basics

Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society (SEEDS)

  • SEEDS, a non profit voluntary organization, is a collective endeavor of young professionals drawn from development related fields.
  • It originated as an informal group of likeminded persons, getting together for the purpose of creative research projects of academic interest.
  • The group was later formalized in early 1994 and has been active in the field ever since.
  • It is involved in research activities in Community Development, Disaster Management, Environmental Planning, Transport Planning, and Urban and Regional Planning.
  • Activities are carried out on behalf of government, semi – government and international development agencies. Independent programs on vital issues are also taken up.

Electoral Reforms In India

Voting rights of undertrials and convicts

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Article 32, 326

Mains level : Voting rights of Prisoners

  • The Supreme Court is hearing a plea questioning an electoral law which denies undertrials and convicts their right to vote.
  • The petition has been moved under Article 32 of the Indian Constitution.

Voting rights of Prisoners

  • Section 62(5) of the RP Act of 1951 mandates that “no person shall vote at any election if he is confined in a prison, whether under a sentence of imprisonment or transportation or otherwise, or is in the lawful custody of the police”.
  • The provisions however exempt a person held under preventive detention from this rigor.

Invokes violation of FR

  • The petition highlights how the Section sees both an under-trial and a convicted person equally. The former’s guilt is yet to be proved in a court.
  • A person is innocent until proven guilty by law. Despite this, it denies an under-trial the right to vote but allows a detainee the same. However, a person out on bail is allowed to cast his vote.
  • The plea argued that the provision violates the rights to equality, vote (Article 326) and is arbitrary. It is not a reasonable restriction.

Back2Basic

Article 32 of the Indian Constitution

  • The right to move the SC by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the Fundamental Rights is guaranteed under this article.
  • The SC shall have power to issue directions or orders or writs any of the FRs.
  • Parliament can empower any other court to issue directions, orders and writs of all kinds (for HC, under 226).
  • The right to move the Supreme Court shall not be suspended except by President during a national emergency (Article 359).
  • Supreme Court has been vested with the powers for to provide a remedy for the protection of the FRs.
  • Only FRs can be enforced under Article 32 and not any other like non-fundamental constitutional rights, statutory rights, customary rights etc.

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

Western Disturbances

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Western Disturbances

Mains level : Western Disturbances and its impact on India

  • Under the continued influence of a western disturbance, various parts of the country received unprecedented rainfall and hailstorms few days back.

Western Disturbance

  • A Western Disturbance is an extratropical storm originating in the Mediterranean region that brings sudden winter rain to the northwestern parts of the Indian subcontinent.
  • It is a non-monsoonal precipitation pattern driven by the westerlies.
  • The moisture in these storms usually originates over the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Extratropical storms are a global phenomena with moisture usually carried in the upper atmosphere, unlike their tropical counterparts where the moisture is carried in the lower atmosphere.
  • They are important for the development of the Rabi crop, which includes the locally important staple wheat.

Importance of Western Disturbances

  • The western disturbances affect weather conditions during the winter season up to Patna (Bihar) and give occasional rainfall which is highly beneficial for the standing rabi crops.
  • The arrival of these causes precipitation leading to an abrupt decrease in air temperature over North-West India.
  • Western Disturbances also bring heavy snowfall in the Himalayan Region and a cold wave to north Indian plains.

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

[op-ed snap] A manifesto for health

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Steps to be taken to improve health care in India.

CONTEXT

Health is making an impact on the political scene, when on the one hand, Prime Minister launches the Ayushman Bharat scheme a year before the elections and on the other hand, the Congress’s manifesto carries the party’s pledge to enact a Right to Healthcare Act.

Current health scenario in the country

  • Stagnated spending – In the past five years, the Union health budget has stagnated in real terms, allocations to the National Health Mission do not cover inflation and there have been avoidable deaths of scores of children in public hospitals in Gorakhpur and other places that can be ascribed to the lack of material and human resources.
  • Failure in regulation – Governments have failed to regulate private hospitals effectively, leading to numerous instances of mismanagement and massive over-charging of patients, such as the tragic case of Adya Singh in Fortis hospital, Gurgaon.
  • Underfunding of the schemes – There are convincing facts which show that the “solution” being offered in the form of the Pradhan Mantri Jan Aarogya Yojna is not only seriously underfunded (current funds being less than one-fourth of required) but it will only scratch the tip of the iceberg of healthcare requirements in India.

Proposals to improve Health Sector

  • Right to Healthcare  – Adopting a Right to Healthcare legislation at the Centre and state levels. This would ensure that all residents of the country are entitled to healthcare facilities. Development of asystem for Universal Healthcare (UHC) would be a key constituent of this initiative, which would require expansion and strengthening of public health services at all levels. Private providers would also be involved, as per need, to supplement the public health system.
  •  Increasing the public health expenditure -Increasing the public health expenditure exponentially through taxation. This expenditure should be increased from the current grossly inadequate 1.2 per cent of the GDP to reach 3.5 per cent of the GDP in the next five years, and eventually touch 5 per cent of the GDP in the medium term.
  • Strengthening of public health services – Three, ensuring major reform and strengthening of public health services with increased staff and infrastructure. A key component of this reform would be guaranteed provision of free essential medicines and diagnostics to all patients in public health facilities, by adopting systems for procurement and distribution which are similar to the current models in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Rajasthan.
  •  Health sector human resource policy – there should be a comprehensive health sector human resource policy, which provides upgraded skill training, fair wages, social security and decent working conditions for all public health services staff. The services of all contractual health workers, including ASHAs and anganwadi workers, should be regularised.
  • Community-based monitoring and planning – Community-based monitoring and planning of health services that are being practised in a few states should be upscaled and user-friendly grievance redressal systems put in place to ensure social accountability and participation.
  • Replacing Schemes – the PMJAY component of Ayushman Bharat, which is based on a discredited insurance model, should be jettisoned. Such schemes need to be replaced by the universal healthcare system.
  • Regulations – Private hospitals must be brought under the ambit of regulations by modifying and adopting the Clinical Establishments Act in all states. This legislation must ensure that the Charter of Patient’s Rights is observed, it must provide a grievance redressal mechanism to patients, the rates for services must be regulated and standard treatment guidelines should be adopted in healthcare institutions.
  • Price Regulations – essential medicines and medical devices must be subject to price regulation, based on their manufacturing cost. A Uniform Code for Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices should be put in place to curb unethical marketing practices. Manufacturers should be asked, in a stepwise manner, to sell medicines only under their generic name, and doctors should be directed to write generic names of medicines in prescriptions.
  • Focus on vulnerable Sections – These initiatives must be accompanied by measures to ensure that people with special needs — women, children, differently-abled persons, people living with HIV — enjoy appropriate health services.
  • Environment – Traditional social determinants of health such as nutrition, water supply, sanitation and healthy environment must be ensured. There should be plans in place to tackle new determinants like air and water pollution and addictions.

Way Forward

  • Such a paradigm shift towards a rights-based system for universal healthcare, based on massive increase in health budgets and strengthened health systems, is not an unrealistic dream
  • EXAMPLES  -. Several low- and middle-income countries such as Thailand, Brazil and Sri Lanka have such systems in place. 
  • The core ingredient required for UHC is political will. As we prepare to exercise our choice in the elections, we need to boost such political will by supporting parties which have pledged the right to health care to all.

 

 

 

Civil Aviation Sector – CA Policy 2016, UDAN, Open Skies, etc.

[op-ed snap] Hard landing: Jet Airways’ temporary halt

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Need for policy intervention in air transport.

CONTEXT

Jet Airways announced a temporary halt of its operations from Wednesday night as funds to keep the airline going dried up.

Background

  • To the long line of private airline carcasses dotting the bleak landscape of Indian aviation, one more may soon be added.
  • Jet Airways announced a temporary halt of its operations from Wednesday night as funds to keep the airline going dried up.
  • Despite intense lobbying by the bankrupt airline, banks stood firm on their decision to not release emergency funds to sustain operations until a white knight is found.
  • With operations halted and the half a dozen or so planes that were flying till Wednesday grounded, the airline is staring down the barrel, especially because most of its prized departure slots at major airports across the country have either already been or will soon be allocated to other airlines.

Future prospects

  • Jet will be able to regain these slots only if it bounces back before the end of the summer schedule in October.
  • Whether that will happen is now in the hands of prospective buyers, who are said to have evinced interest in buying the airline during the Expression of Interest (EOI) process called by banks last week.
  • The fact that the banks refused to extend emergency support is probably an indicator of the quantity and quality of the EOIs received by them.
  • It is hard to believe that they would not have temporarily supported Jet if the EOIs had been serious.
  • In sum, it does appear at this point that a miracle will be needed for Jet to take wing again.

Reasons for such instances

  • The collapse of Jet has caused turbulence in the market and also raised some serious questions over why the domestic airline industry is proving to be so perilous for enterprises.
  • There have been more than half-a-dozen private airline companies that have fallen by the wayside in the last decade and more, and it is well-known how Air India is propped up with government support.
  • Reckless competition – While it is true that fuel costs, which account for about half of the expenses of running an airline, have been difficult to manage, the fact is that reckless competition is responsible for the sorry plight of the industry.
  • Low Margins – Margins in the airline industry are wafer-thin in the best of times and the combined effect of rising fuel prices and the inability to pass them on to consumers due to competition has proved to be a deadly cocktail.
  • Similar instances – In the race to the bottom, it was Kingfisher seven years ago, Air Deccan and Air Sahara before that, it is Jet now, and who knows which airline could be next. It is notable that airfares have largely stayed stable over several years, benefiting passengers but biting airlines.

Way Forward

  • Stopping undercutting – It is time that airlines took stock of their collective plight and stopped undercutting each other on fares.
  • Centre’s support – The Centre can help too by reviewing fuel taxes and surcharges apart from airport levies, which the airlines complain are too high.
  • After all, a healthy airline industry can only be good for government revenues over the long term.

 

 

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

CSIR plans genome sequencing to map population diversity

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Genome Sequencing

Mains level : Applications of Genome Sequencing

  • In an indigenous genetic mapping effort, nearly 1,000 rural youth from the length and breadth of India will have their genomes sequenced by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

Genome Sequencing

  • A genome is all of a living thing’s genetic material. It is the entire set of hereditary instructions for building, running, and maintaining an organism, and passing life on to the next generation.
  • Genome sequencing is figuring out the order of DNA nucleotides, or bases, in a genome—the order of As, Cs, Gs, and Ts that make up an organism’s DNA.
  • The human genome is made up of over 3 billion of these genetic letters.
  • Ever since the human genome was first sequenced in 2003, it opened a fresh perspective on the link between disease and the unique genetic make-up of each individual.
  • Nearly 10,000 diseases — including cystic fibrosis, thalassemia — are known to be the result of a single gene malfunctioning.
  • While genes may render some insensitive to certain drugs, genome sequencing has shown that cancer too can be understood from the viewpoint of genetics, rather than being seen as a disease of certain organs.

About the Project

  • The CSIR project aims at educating a generation of students on the “usefulness” of genomics.
  • It would involve the Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB).
  • This is the first time that such a large sample of at least 10,000 Indian genomes will be recruited for a detailed study.
  • The project is an adjunct to a much larger government-led programme, still in the works, to sequence at least 10,000 Indian genomes.
  • Typically, those recruited as part of genome-sample collections are representative of the country’s population diversity.
  • The bulk of them will be college students, both men and women, and pursuing degrees in the life sciences or biology.

Methodology

  • Genomes will be sequenced based on a blood sample and the scientists plan to hold at least 30 camps covering most States.
  • Every person whose genomes are sequenced will be given a report.
  • The participants would be told if they carry gene variants that make them less responsive to certain classes of medicines.

Utility of the Project

  • Globally, many countries have undertaken genome sequencing of a sample of their citizens to determine unique genetic traits, susceptibility (and resilience) to disease.
  • The project would prove India’s capabilities at executing whole-genome sequencing.
  • The human genome has about 3.2 billion base pairs and just 10 years ago cost about 10,000 dollars. Now prices have fallen to a tenth.

Ethical issues involved

  • For instance, having a certain gene makes some people less responsive to clopidogrel, a key drug that prevents strokes and heart attack.
  • CSIR won’t share such information in the report. A person can request such information through their clinician because many disorders have single-gene causes but no cure or even a line of treatment.
  • Ethics require such information to be shared only after appropriate counselling.

Electoral Reforms In India

[op-ed snap] The Lack of a Legal Status for the Model Code of Conduct Leaves Room for Ambiguity

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : MCC

Mains level : Election commission has been less powerful in controlling misconduct in 2019 General Elections.

Context

For the past few months, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has been brought under increasing scrutiny for its diffidence and deference to the ruling regime. The Election Commission is ceding space to the ruling party instead of innovatively enhancing the residuary powers bestowed upon it by Article 324 of the constitution.

Incidents of concession from ECI

  • Deferral of announcement of dates for the state assembly elections –  The ECI’s deferral of announcement of dates for the state assembly elections in five states in October last year, was largely construed as giving time to the prime minister to complete his public address in Ajmer, before the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) kicked in.
  • EVMs– More recently, the charges of EVM malfunctions and the ECI’s reluctance to check a more substantial proportion of VVPATs.
  • Not restraining political parties – and what appears to be its helplessness in restraining political parties – especially the ruling BJP – from violating the MCC, have diminished the stature of the ECI.

Model code of conduct

  • The MCC is an important mode through which procedural certainty and deliberative content of elections are assured.
  • A ‘firmed up’ MCC authorised by the ECI came into force in 1979.
  • Importance of MCC
    • Despite the fact that it emerged as a moral code for voluntary adherence, over the years the MCC has acquired ‘supplementary legality’
    • Since the MCC itself does not have the force of law, it is enforced through executive decision-making.
    • It remains, therefore, ambiguous and uneven as far as the modality of implementation and certainty of execution, are concerned.
    • Since 1991, the Model Code has come to be seen as an integral part of elections.
    • It was also during this period that the MCC experienced its passage from an ‘agreed set of dos and don’ts’ among political parties, to a measure directed at restraining the party in power.
    • James Lyngdoh, the CEC of India from 2001 to 2004, describes this transition as ‘pitching into the party in power’.

History of bureaucratic neutrality in Elections

  • Amidst allegations of misuse of official machinery by the ruling party, Nehru reminded all political parties to adopt the right means, in order to ensure fairness in electoral outcome. Speaking in Akola, in Maharashtra, Nehru reminded public servants to stay neutral.
  • The Bharatiya Jana Sangha addressed itself to the party in power, through the idiom of civil liberties. Speaking at the All India Civil Liberties Conference in Nagpur on 25th August 1951, Syama Prasad Mookerjee claimed that the protection of civil liberties was a component of free and fair elections.

ECI’s Role in present Elections

  • No legal sanction to MCC – The ECI has remained averse to giving the MCC a statutory character, preferring the advantage of ‘quick’ executive action and also to retain Article 324 as the source of its authority rather than re-assign it to a pre-existing parliamentary statute.
  • Political parties’ disregard –  MCC compliance deficit being witnessed in the 2019 elections reflects the political parties’ disregard towards the MCC, as well as the inability of the ECI to retain its constitutional advantage through constant vigilance and stern action.

Conclusion

  • In the past, successive ECIs have elicited compliance by public censure and invoking sections of the IPC and the Representation of the Peoples Act.
  • Elections have become the site of unprecedented display of money, muscle and technology as power.
  • Its concentration in any party gives it extraordinary and unfair advantage in electoral competition.
  • The ECI must guard against ceding the space which it has extracted and affirmed by innovatively enhancing the residuary powers given to it in Article 324 of the Constitution of India.

 

 

 

 

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

[op-ed snap] The legacy of Ambedkar

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Fundamental Rights

Mains level : Need for upholding Ambedkar's idea of Social Justice

CONTEXT

Ambedkar believed that unless the moral values of a constitution are upheld, the grandiloquent words in it will not protect the freedom and democratic values of the people.

Ambedkar’s thoughts

  • Ambedkar attached great importance to constitutional morality in the working of the Constitution.
  • He explained this — by referring to Grote, the Greek historian — as paramount reverence for the forms of the Constitution, enforcing obedience to authority acting under and within these forms yet combined with the habit of open speech, of action subject only to definite legal control.
  • Question of whether the President was bound by ministerial advice and could act independently?
    • Ambedkar was of the opinion that the president was bound by ministerial advice, and, Rajendra Prasad, the chairperson of the constituent assembly, had protracted exchanges with Ambedkar on this issue.
    • Ambedkar was of the firm view that “the President could not act and will not act except on the advice of the Ministers.
    • These passages are reproduced in the landmark judgment of our Supreme Court in Shamsher Singh’s case, in which the Court accepted Ambedkar’s view.
    • Fundamental rights
      • Ambedkar was also passionate about the guarantees of fundamental rights being appropriately incorporated in the Constitution.
      • Guarantees of fundamental rights remain ornamental promises unless they can be judicially enforced: With that objective in mind, the draft Constitution provided that a person can move the Supreme Court directly for the enforcement of his or her fundamental rights without going through the high court.
    • On Democracy
      • On the concluding day of the deliberations of the constituent assembly, Ambedkar expressed his misgivings about the successful functioning of democracy in our country.
      • If we wish to maintain democracy the first thing in my judgment we must do is to hold fast to constitutional methods of achieving our social and economic objectives.
      • It means we must abandon the bloody methods of revolution. It means that we must abandon the method of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and satyagraha.
      • These methods are nothing but the Grammar of Anarchy and the sooner they are abandoned, the better for us.
    • On Hero Worship -Ambedkar warned that Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.

Social Justice

  • Social justice was Ambedkar’s mission. He fervently believed that mere equality on paper was not sufficient.
  • What was needed was de facto equality, real equality of opportunity for the millions who had been denied it.
  • In ringing tones, on the last day of the constituent assembly, he pointed out the perils of a “life of contradictions”:
  • Cautions against inequality-
    • “How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril.
    • We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of democracy which this Constituent Assembly has so laboriously built up.”

Way Forward

  • The anguished questions posed by Ambedkar continue to haunt us.
  • Social justice, the signature tune of our Constitution, still eludes us.
  • The struggle for social justice must continue with determination and its achievement would be the best tribute we can pay to one of the greatest sons of India.

 

 

 

 

Electoral Reforms In India

[op-ed snap] The ethical act of voting

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Understanding importance of voting

CONTEXT

Voting is the duty of having to act not for individual benefit, but for the benefit of the larger society.

Human Nature

  • There is a puzzling trait that is pervasive and human.
  • It is that we often judge others with a different yardstick than with which we judge ourselves.
  • This is also part of a deeper human malaise: we think others are wrong and we are right in our beliefs and opinions. Elections exemplify these tendencies very well.

Sentiments during Elections

  • In the time of elections, we repeatedly hear these sentiments about other voters.
  •  Upper classes  – The upper classes will tell you that poorer citizens vote only to get benefits such as cash, clothes, television sets and other consumer goods.
  •  Majority group – The majority group will say that the minorities vote as a bloc since they have all been told whom to vote for.
  • These are seen as examples of voters not doing their duty of voting for the best person, namely, the best political representative who will govern well.
  • Ideological Approach – Those who support a particular party will say something similar about those who are voting for another party.
  • It is as if when people vote for money or as a vote bank, they are not doing what they should. But then it could also be argued that a person who blindly votes for one ideology or another is pretty much doing the same thing.

Getting paid for voting

1.Practice of gettin paid for voting

  • This practice is not only endemic across States but is also done quite brazenly in some places.
  • Party members go house to house and distribute money and other goods. This is done in the open and is a performance in itself.

2.Against Democracy

  • In the case of taking money or goods, voters see elections as a transaction.
  • This goes against a fundamental principle of democratic voting, which is that voting is not a transaction.
  • When we do a job for someone we don’t know, and which benefits that person, we generally expect to get paid for that act.
  • Voting is not a job – Voting is not a job in that sense. It is not a job which is eligible for some compensation.

3.Questions regarding voting

  • Are we voting for our own sake or for the benefit of others?
  • Does voting improve our well-being or that of others, the elected politicians?
  • Or is it that the ultimate purpose of an individual’s vote is to improve the well-being of the larger society?

4.Answers

  • If a person wins because of our votes, then he or she derives enormous benefit from being a member of the legislature.
  • The logic for getting Paid
    • Why can’t the voter who is enabling opportunity for another person’s wealth ask for a share in that wealth? If voters do so, then they are behaving rationally.
    • Giving money to voters is thus like an investment. The amount of payment to voters is really a measure of how much elected representatives hope to make during their tenure!
    • When we vote based on our ideology, we are following the same logic as those taking money.
    • When a group of rich people vote for a person who supports lower taxes, they are doing exactly the same as the poor, since voting is used as a transaction to get something they desire.

Way Forward

  • Voting is not a transaction – The fundamental problem lies in viewing voting as a transaction, the aim of which is to get some benefit for an individual or a group.
  • But we have to recognise that voting is not like any other transaction.
  • Voting is an ethical duty – The duty that is inherent in the act of voting is an ethical duty, not just a constitutional one.
  • It is the duty of having to act not for individual benefit, such as money or ideology, but for the benefit of the larger society.
  • For benefit of the larger society – Such benefit for the larger society will include others benefiting as much as each one of us does through each of our votes.
  • Beyond Self Interest – It is also a recognition that a democratic action like voting is primarily for the good of something larger than one’s self interests.

 

 

 

 

Electoral Reforms In India

Explained: What Supreme Court said on petition to disqualify tainted candidates

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Electoral Reforms: Prospects and Challenges

Background

  • A famous religious head who has been chargesheeted in a bomb blast case is contesting the elections.
  • This has raised concerns amongst various section of society including Politicians as well
  • The legal bar on contesting applies only to individuals who have been convicted by a court.

Criminalization of politics

  • It is a political buzzword in the democracies used in the media, by commentators, bloggers as well as by defenders of high-ranking government officials who have been indicted or have faced criminal or ethical investigations.

Judicial Limitations over the matter

  • Though criminalization in politics is a bitter manifest truth, which is a termite to the citadel of democracy, be that as it may, the Court cannot make the law.
  • In Sept 2018, the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court said that it was not within its powers to disqualify politicians facing criminal cases from contesting elections.
  • The Courts directions to the EC are of the nature as sought in the case at hand, may in an idealist world seem to be at a cursory glance, an antidote to the malignancy of criminalization in politics but such directions.
  • However on closer scrutiny, it clearly reveals that it is not constitutionally permissible.

What courts can do to prevent Criminalization?

  • The Court may Parliament to bring out a strong law whereby it is mandatory for the political parties to revoke membership of persons against whom charges are framed in heinous and grievous offences.
  • This, “in our attentive and plausible view”, the court said, “would go a long way in achieving decriminalization of politics and usher in an era of immaculate, spotless, unsullied and virtuous constitutional democracy”.

What about innocent accused?

  • It is one thing to take cover under the presumption of innocence of the accused.
  • It is true that false cases are foisted on prospective candidates, but the same can be addressed by the Parliament through appropriate legislation.
  • It is equally imperative that persons who enter public life and participate in law making should be above any kind of serious criminal allegation.

Way Forward

  • A time has come that the Parliament must make a law to ensure that persons facing serious criminal cases do not enter into the political stream.
  • The nation eagerly waits for such legislation, for the society has a legitimate expectation to be governed by proper constitutional governance.
  • The voters cry for systematic sustenance of constitutionalism should not be at the peril of lack of political will.

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

Proposed amendment to Indian Forest Act would deepen injustice

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Forest Rights Act

Mains level : Issues over Tribal Rights

  • Recently the Supreme Court, hearing a petition filed by wildlife conservationists and former forest department officials, directed state governments to evict “encroachers” or the “illegal” forest dwellers.
  • India’s forest dwellers were left undefended as the threat of an eviction from their habitation hovered over them.

Indian Forest Act, 1927 (IFA)

  1. The Indian Forest Act, 1927 was largely based on the British made Indian Forest Act of 1878.
  2. Both the 1878 act and the 1927 one sought to consolidate and reserve the areas having forest cover, or significant wildlife, to regulate movement and transit of forest produce, and duty leviable on timber and other forest produce.
  3. It also defines the procedure to be followed for declaring an area to be a Reserved Forest, a Protected Forest or a Village Forest.
  4. It defines what is a forest offence, what are the acts prohibited inside a Reserved Forest, and penalties leviable on violation of the provisions of the Act.
  5. Reserved Forest is an area mass of land duly notified under the provisions of India Forest Act or the State Forest Acts having full degree of protection. In Reserved Forests, all activities are prohibited unless permitted.

Ambiguity over Encroacher

  • As per the new draft, forest officials have been given the absolute authority to shoot tribals for “violation of laws”.
  • If a forest guard kills an “offender”, the move will invite no prosecution by the state governments without first initiating an inquiry into the matter under an executive magistrate.
  • Under the new amendment, forest departments can also declare any forest as reserved and alienate the forest-dwelling communities from their ancestral lands.
  • This will have a terrible effect on the tribal population, who are struggling to make both ends meet.

Democratic governance of Forests in India

  • During the 1980s and 1990s, at least the Centre showed some kind of sympathy for the tribals, as a result of which important legislations like FRA and the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, or PESA, were enacted.
  • In India, forest governance has turned significantly democratic in the past few years.
  • Back in 1976, the National Commission on Agriculture recommended that the tribals should be chased out. On the basis of that, the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 came into being.
  • However, through the National Forest Policy of 1988, the Centre recognised the symbiotic relationship between tribals and forests for the first time.
  • This was then consolidated with the passage of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006, when the Centre agreed that historical injustice had been committed and tried to undo the wrong.
  • But with the proposed amendment, the injustice will be deeper.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] Indian elections, South Asian concerns

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SAARC

Mains level : South Asian region's want for stability

CONTEXT

The rest of South Asia wants the very best of democracy for India, plus to share in the peace dividend, growth and camaraderie.The level of worry is also at a pitch, for India should be the bulwark against weakening democracy in a world of Bolsonaro (Brazil), Duterte (the Philippines), Erdoğan (Turkey), Putin (Russia) and Trump (the U.S.) not to mention the People’s Republic of China.

The current democratic scenario in India

  • The term ‘world’s largest democracy’ is achieving banality as India gains majoritarian momentum.
  • Centralisation and majoritarianism – Centralised control of society would never be possible in such a vast and variegated society of sub-nationalities.
  • Degradation in quality
    • The high principle and probity of India’s political class, bureaucracy, academia and civil society are now exceptions rather than the rule.
    • India’s Ambassadors are no longer the self-confident professionals we knew for decades, they act today like timid note-takers.
    • Higher education is directed by those who insist that the achievements of Vedic era science included flying machines and organ transplants.
    • Meanwhile, the adventurism that marked economic management, including immiseration through demonetisation, has been ‘managed’ through loyal social and corporate media.

India As an Example for others in Subcontinent

  • Parliamentary democracy – Parliamentary democracy is the governance procedure adopted by each and every country of South Asia, and the Indian practice has always been held up as the example.
  • The professionalism of the civil service – The precedents set by India’s courts are studied elsewhere, the professionalism of the civil service is regarded as the benchmark, and everyone else seeks the aspirational welfare state set in motion in India in the middle of the 20th century.

Neighbour’s Observations

  • Pakistan – Lahore intellectuals watch with apprehension as India copies the excesses of Pakistan’s theocratic state.
  • Bangladesh – Dhaka observers are numbed into silence with New Delhi’s vigorous backing of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed as she constructs an intolerant one-party regime.
  • Sri Lanka – Colombo rides a geopolitical see-saw as New Delhi shadow-boxes Beijing.
  • Nepal –  Kathmandu wonders whether New Delhi has it in itself to concede that the amplified Chinese involvement in Nepal is the result of the Great Blockade of 2015-16.

Challenges

  • India is indeed large and important, but the chest size of a country does not translate into equity, social justice or international standing.
  • Inequality – Because nearly 20% of humanity lives within its boundaries, when India falters, the pit of despair and the potential for violence open up wide and deep.
  • Imagining south asian regionalism in right way
    • The South Asia that New Delhi’s policy and opinion-makers should consider is not the centralised Jambudvipa mega-state of the RSS imagination. Instead, the ideal South Asian regionalism is all about limiting the power of the national capitals, devolving power to federal units and strengthening local democracy.
    • Damage to SAARC -The freeze put by India on the inter-governmental South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is only a cynical means to keep Pakistan out of the club.
    • The sabotaging of SAARC can hardly be considered a victory, for that feather-light geopolitical stratagem fails to consider that regionalism is a potent means to bring economic growth and social justice to India’s own poverty-stricken ‘peripheral regions’ from Assam to Purvanchal to Rajasthan.
    • For its own security and prosperity as well as that of the rest of us, India must re-connect with South Asia.

Way Forward

  • Subcontinental regionalism – Subcontinental regionalism is also important to achieve New Delhi’s ambitions on the world stage, including that coveted seat at the UN Security Council.
  • Think tanks approach -India’s global comeback will start the day New Delhi think tanks begin questioning South and North Block rather than serving as purveyors of spin.
  • Gujral Doctrine – On South Asian matters, they should pull out a copy of the Gujral Doctrine from the archives, to be dusted and re-examined.
  • India that is prosperous and advancing at double digit growth,  would mean much not only for its 1.35 billion citizens, but to the other 500 million South Asians. For its own selfish interests, the rest of South Asia wants India to succeed in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

Electoral Reforms In India

[op-ed snap] Sealed disclosure

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Supreme Court's Judgement is not adequate in maintaining transparency in elections.

CONTEXT

The Supreme Court’s interim order asking political parties to disclose, to the Election Commission in sealed covers, details of the donations they have received through anonymous electoral bonds is an inadequate and belated response to the serious concerns raised about the opaque scheme.

Details of the Judgement

  • The scheme, under which one can purchase bonds of various denominations from a designated bank and deposit them in the accounts of any political party, had been challenged in the apex court a year ago.
  • When the matter was taken up last week, it was considered that the time available was too limited for an in-depth hearing.
  • Maintenance of status quo – The order, unfortunately, preserves the status quo, and any effect that the possible asymmetry in political funding would have on the election process will stay as it is.
  • Availability of donor’s name with EC – The only concession given to those concerned about the dangers of anonymous political funding is that the names would be available with the EC, albeit in sealed envelopes, until the court decides if they can be made public.
  • Large donations to ruling Party – There is some concern that a disproportionately large segment of the bonds purchased by corporate donors has gone to the Bharatiya Janata Party.
  • This donor anonymity may end if the court decides that the EC should disclose the names at the end of the litigation, but the influence such donations would have had on the electoral outcome would remain undisturbed.
  • Bearing on the electoral Process – The court notes in its order that the case gives rise to “weighty issues which have a tremendous bearing on the sanctity of the electoral process in the country”

Implications of Judgement

  • All it has done now is to ensure that its interim arrangement does not ‘tilt the balance’ in favour of either side.
  • Petitioner’s Argument – The petitioners, the Association for Democratic Reforms, questioned the anonymity-based funding scheme on the grounds that it promotes opacity, opens up the possibility of black money being donated to parties through shell companies and empowers the ruling party, which alone is in a position to identify the donors and, therefore, well placed to discourage donations to other parties
  • Government’s Argument – The government, on the other hand, argued that electoral bonds would prevent unaccounted money from entering the system through funding of parties.

Conclusion

  • Supreme court’s role in maintaining Transparency -For the last two decades, the Supreme Court has been proactive in empowering voters and in infusing transparency in the system.
  • It has developed a body of jurisprudence that says the electoral process involves the voter being given information about candidates, their qualifications, assets and crime records, if any.
  • Therefore, it is disappointing to hear the Attorney General arguing that voters do not have a right to know who funds parties.
  • Now that there is no stay on the operation of the scheme, the court must render an early verdict on the legality of the electoral bond scheme.

 

 

 

Electoral Reforms In India

[op-ed snap] Indelicate imbalance

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Doordarshan's Biasedness towards Ruling party weakens democratic structure.

CONTEXT

The Election Commission has pulled up Doordarshan for giving twice as much airtime to the ruling BJP as it has given to the most important opposition party, the Congress.

Track Record of Doordarshan in Lok Sabha Elections

  • The portion of the CPM is much worse: It has been allocated only a tenth of the Congress’s airtime and a twentieth that of the BJP.
  • Broadcaster’s Argument – The broadcaster has argued that that it is a reflection of ground realities.
  • The BJP controls more governments and has more legislators across the country — but that cuts no ice.

Harm to free and fair Elections

  • At this time, when voters are exercising their choice, candidates should be given equal opportunity, irrespective of their parties’ legislative strength.
  • Otherwise, the national public broadcaster, funded by the taxpayer and autonomous under the Prasar Bharati Act, would be seen as a captive channel of the ruling party, as it was in Indira Gandhi’s time.

Lessons From other countries

1.USA

  • In the US, an equal time rule for political candidates was spelled out in the Radio Act of 1927 and the Communications Act of 1934, on account of the fear that in its absence, television networks would be able to sway elections simply by blanking out one side.
  • The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also imposed a fairness doctrine from 1949 to 2011, which did not apply to candidates but to issues, and ensured that all sides of a debate were equitably represented on air.
  • However, this was withdrawn as an impractical principle, since one side of a debate is sometimes patently absurd.

2.UK

  • In 2014, the BBC Trust in the UK pulled up its journalists for skewing coverage of science issues by, for instance, giving climate change deniers equal representation in debates.
  • But in political matters, it has supported equal opportunity. In 2003, BBC staff were required to reflect “significant opposition to the conflict” (in short, protesters) in coverage of the invasion of Iraq, and “allow the arguments to be heard and tested”.

Way Forward

  • Doordarshan is publicly funded and is insulated from government interference by law.
  • If the apportioning of its airtime is seen to favour the ruling party, it is failing in its duty as a public broadcaster.
  • Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati has spoken of the pressures of competing with commercial channels.
  • The argument is irrelevant, since the primary responsibility of a public broadcaster is not to compete for eyeballs, but to present news and opinions in a balanced manner so that intelligent viewers can make up their own minds.

Aadhaar Card Issues

How Justice Chandrachud’s dissent on Aadhaar influenced Jamaica ruling

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Aadhaar and associated issues

  • In a recent ruling in Jamaica, its top court stroked down National Identification and Registration Act, which would have allowed collection of biometric information from all citizens to be centrally stored.
  • The apex court of Jamaica relied heavily on Indian SC Justice D Y Chandrachud’s dissenting judgment on the Aadhaar Act last year.

India comes to scene

  • Aadhar data thefts are very well versed in news these days, invoking the dissents for Aadhar.
  • Justice Chandrachud had expressed the sole dissenting opinion in a 4:1 verdict that had upheld the Aadhaar Act.

Dissenting opinion matters

  • The court referred to Justice Chandrachud’s (JC) observation that when biometric systems are adopted in the absence of strong legal frameworks can pose “grave threats to privacy and personal security.
  • Their application can be broadened to facilitate discrimination, profiling and mass surveillance.
  • He also referred to JC’s observations about recent trends indicating reluctance of developed countries to deploy biometric technology including scrapping of the National Id Register and ID cards in the UK.
  • Justice Chandrachud demonstrated a greater sensitivity to the issues of privacy and freedom that is not as evident in the judgments of the majority.
  • He had a clear-eyed view of the dangers of a state or anyone having control over one’s personal information and generally.

Why Indian case is relevant globally?

  • Justice Chandrachud’s observation that absence of an independent regulatory framework renders the Act largely ineffective while dealing with data violations.
  • A fair data protection regime requires establishment of an independent authority to deal with the contraventions of the data protection framework as well as to proactively supervise its compliance.
  • There is a dire need for a strong independent and autonomous body which has the power to examine the operations of the Authority and report to an institution that is independent of the Authority.

Consent at Peril

  • Justice Chandrachud had observed that the “proportionality test failed because the Aadhar Act allowed private entities to use Aadhaar numbers.
  • It would lead to commercial exploitation of the personal data and profiling without consent.
  • Profiling can be used to predict market behaviour and preferences and even influence the choice for political office.
  • These are contrary to privacy protection norms. Susceptibility to communal exploitation renders the relevant provisions arbitrary.
  • The failure to define ‘services and benefits’ also were unreasonable and disproportionate.

Way Forward: One right cannot be taken away at the behest of another

  • The state failed to demonstrate that the targeted delivery of subsidies entails a necessary sacrifice of the right to individual autonomy, data protection and dignity.
  • The technology deployed in the Aadhaar scheme reduces different constitutional identities into a single identity of a 12-digit number.
  • This infringes the right of an individual to identify her or himself through a chosen means.
  • Aadhaar is about identification and is an instrument which facilitates a proof of identity. It must not be allowed to obliterate constitutional identity.

Forest Conservation Efforts – NFP, Western Ghats, etc.

Scientific management of mangroves is need of the hour

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Distribution of Mangroves in India

Mains level : Read the attached story

What are Mangroves?

  • Mangroves are salt-tolerant vegetation that grows in intertidal regions of rivers and estuaries.
  • They are referred to as ‘tidal forests’ and belong to the category of ‘tropical wetland rainforest ecosystem’.
  • Mangroves are trees and shrub species that grow at the interface between land and sea in tropical and subtropical regions of the world.

Mangroves in India

  • Mangrove forests occupy around 2,00,000 square kilometres across the globe in tropical regions of 30 countries. India has a total mangrove cover of 4,482 sq km.
  • A mangrove ecosystem is the interface between terrestrial forests and aquatic marine ecosystems.
  • The ecosystem includes diversified habitats like mangrove-dominant forests, litter-laden forest floors, mudflats, coral reefs and contiguous water courses such as river estuaries, bays, inter-tidal waters, channels and backwaters.
  • Sundarbans in the Gangetic delta with an area of 2.12 lakh hectares (ha) supports 26 plant species of mangrove with a maximum height of more than 10 metres.
  • Pichavaram in Tamil Nadu with an area of 1,100 ha supports 12 plant species growing to a height of 5 metres.

Significance of Mangroves

  • The structural complexities of mangrove vegetation create unique environments which provide ecological niches for a wide variety of organisms.
  • Mangroves serve as breeding, feeding and nursery grounds for most of the commercial fishes and crustaceans on which thousands of people depend for their livelihood.
  • Mangroves give protection to the coastline and minimize disasters due to cyclones and tsunami.
  • Recent studies have shown that mangroves store more carbon dioxide than most other forests.
  • Mangroves are intermediate vegetation between land and sea that grow in oxygen deficient waterlogged soils which have Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S).
  • They perform important ecological functions like nutrient cycling, hydrological regime, coastal protection, fish-fauna production, etc.
  • Mangroves act as shock absorbers. They reduce high tides and waves and help prevent soil erosion.

Threats

  • Mangroves are being destroyed and facing severe threats due to urbanisation, industrialisation, and discharge of domestic sewage, industrial effluents and pesticides.
  • Saltpans and aquaculture also pose major threat to the mangroves.
  • 40 per cent of mangrove forests in West Coast of India have been converted into farmlands and housing colonies over the last three decades.
  • Some of the mangrove species like Bruguiera cylindrica and Sonneratia acida are at the verge of extinction.
  • Due to shrimp farming, about 35,000 ha of mangroves have been lost in India.

Conserving Mangroves

  • Suitable sites are to be identified for planting mangrove species. Mangrove nursery banks should be developed for propagation purposes.
  • Environmental monitoring in the existing mangrove areas should be taken up systematically and periodically.
  • Various threats to the mangrove resources and their root causes should be identified, and earnest measures should be taken to eliminate those causes.
  • The participation of the local community should be made compulsory for conservation and management.
  • Floristic survey of mangroves along the coast is to be taken up to prepare biodiversity atlas for mangroves.
  • Potential areas are to be identified for implementing the management action plan for mangroves, especially in cyclone prone areas.
  • Coastal industries and private owners need to be persuaded to actively participate in protecting and developing mangrove biodiversity.
  • The forest department officials should be trained on taxonomy, biology and ecology of mangrove species.

Way Forward

  • So far, none of the mangrove species has been included in the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
  • A scientific study reported that 100 per cent of mangrove species, 92 per cent of mangrove associates, 60.8 per cent of algae, 23.8 per cent of invertebrates and 21.1 per cent of fish are under threat.
  • Periodical monitoring of the mangrove forest is very much necessary to assess the status. The impact of environmental and human interference on marine flora and fauna needs to be assessed.
  • The traditional rights of coastal communities to use the natural resources in their surrounding natural habitats for their livelihood should also be recognised on priority basis.

Electoral Reforms In India

[op-ed snap] Level-playing field matters

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Electoral Bonds

Mains level : How elections can be made more transparent and fair through state fundin of elections

CONTEXT

The finance ministry’s electoral bond scheme has afforded a way to fund political parties without disclosing the donor’s identity. The anonymity provision is antagonistic to transparency — the bonds merely enable an “on-the-books” secretive transfer.

Money power in Current General Election

  • In just 28 days since the announcement of the general election, the Election Commission (EC) has seized cash, drugs, alcohol, precious metals and other items worth Rs 1,800 crore.
  • Compare this to the legal upper limit of expenditure per candidate — Rs 70 lakh.
  • Simple arithmetic would show that the seized amount can fully finance up to five candidates from each of the 543 constituencies.
  • The expenditure in any election is estimated to be several times the legal upper limit.

Need for state Funding of elections

  • Fiscal constraints on electioneering give rise to the problem of unaccounted money.
  • There have been a few solutions.
  • However, all of them are premised on an adverse relationship between accountability and transparency.
  • Alternately, state funding of the recognised political parties and outlawing of corporate funding could be instrumental in making the electoral process fairer and more participatory.

History of introducing State funding of elections

  • In 1962, the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee moved a Private Member’s Bill to prevent electoral donations by corporates.
  • It was argued that since all shareholders need not subscribe to the political endorsement by a corporate, it was immoral to allow donations against their consent.
  • Vajpayee had propositioned that such funding would only serve corporate interests.
  • While all political parties welcomed the bill, the then ruling party did not vote in its favour.

Provision regarding donations

  • Under Section 29B of the Representation of the People Act 1951, political parties are free to accept donations from any person, except from a foreign source.
  • wo inferences can be drawn from this — first, money wields the ability to disrupt political agenda; second, foreign money dilutes electoral integrity.
  • Both reasons would equally be valid for any person who is alien to the election process — a non-voter.

Concerns from Foreign Funding and Corporate Funding

  • The concerns that arise from foreign-funding are equally applicable to funding from corporates, with the distinction that while the former is a jurisdictional alien; the latter, on account of being a non-participant, is an alien. However, party interests deter further expansion in the law.
  • Corporates’ Standing on donations to political Parties
    • Corporates have long defended their political donations on the grounds of freedom of speech.
    • Like citizens, they seek to endorse their economic and political views through contributions to campaign finance. However, casting such a wide net of freedom of speech seems misplaced.
  • Corporates are associations that further economic interests of their members who enjoy a freedom of trade.
  • Since corporates are not participants as voters, they have no claim to freedom of “political” speech and expression.
  • Therefore, while citizen-voters can donate to a political party pursuant to free speech, corporates must refrain from donating to a political party.

Analysis of Electoral Bond Scheme

  • The finance ministry’s electoral bond scheme afforded a way to fund political parties without disclosing the donor’s identity.
  • The ruling party is the main Beneficiary – Of the Rs 2,722 crore donated through the scheme in the last 15 months, almost 95 per cent has gone to the ruling party, which enjoys a 31.34 per cent vote share.
  • The remaining contestants with a 68.66 per cent vote share could only garner 5 per cent funding.
  • The anonymity provision under the scheme is antagonistic to transparency — the bonds merely enable an “on-the-books” secretive transfer.
  • The State Bank as the facilitator would be privy to the details of the depositor and the political party funded, therefore allowing the ruling party to monitor its rivals.
  • What would be unknown to others will be known by the ruling party.

Corporates’ Standing on donations to political Parties

  • Corporates have long defended their political donations on the grounds of freedom of speech.
  • Like citizens, they seek to endorse their economic and political views through contributions to campaign finance. However, casting such a wide net of freedom of speech seems misplaced.

Lessons From the Brazilian Supreme Court’s Verdict  on the corporate donation

  • In 2015, the Brazilian Supreme Court declared corporate financing of elections to be unconstitutional.
  • Right to equality is violated – The court understood that right to equality was essential to ensuring fairness through the extrinsic (fair options between candidates) and intrinsic (fair options between ideologies) conceptions.
  • Because 95 per cent of all campaign finance came from corporates, the courts felt that disclosure norms could only address the extrinsic aspect.
  • Corporate Funding Suppress ideological diversity – Corporates would still be able to collectively suppress certain socio-economic ideologies (welfare measures, controlled economy, wage-labour regulations) to their advantage, by inducing political parties and candidates.
  • So, the electoral contest would not allow certain policies to flourish, irrespective of who won. Outlawing corporate funding was important to ensure the right to equality.

Way Forward

  • In realpolitik terms, there is no incentive for any ruling political party to reform the law as it stands.
  • Even the main Opposition party lives in the hope that it would derive similar advantage when it comes to power.
  • Electoral Funding to EC –
    • Thus, necessity would dictate that the task of electoral funding be given to the EC under Article 324.
    • A fair and transparent manner to finance the political parties would require a censure of unaccounted money and direct donations by corporates and non-voters to political parties.
  • State Funding –
    • State funding of recognised political parties is a viable alternative.
    • A state funding scheme would be viable through the levy of an election cess on the direct taxes.
    • A National Election Fund could be maintained by the EC, into which the proceeds from this cess may be deposited.
    • At the current GDP-Direct Tax ratio and voter numbers, a 1 per cent election cess can fund Rs 500 for each vote cast in elections to the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies.
    • The cess being progressive would spare the poorer candidates from the costs of funding elections.
    • Direct donations to political parties may be permitted only from persons who are entitled to vote. Those not entitled to vote may contribute to the neutral National Election Fund.

Conclusion

  • Donations from corporates into this fund will not distort the election process, but would instead improve the integrity of the peoples’ electoral choice.
  • Parties would be inclined to adopt a more inclusive agenda when in government since more votes will translate into more state funding.
  • Parties will also vie for votes in absolute numbers than merely be the first past the post. Democracy will then truly be of the people, for the people and by the people.

Direct Benefits Transfers

[op-ed snap] Necessary steps to ending poverty

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Universal Basic services will lead to overty elimination.

CONTEXT

It is by now close to 50 years since Indira Gandhi brought the idea of eradicating poverty into the electoral arena in India. ‘Garibi Hatao’ had been her slogan.

Income Generation And Poverty Elimination

  • The role that income generation actually played in lowering poverty in India may be gauged from the facts that economic growth had surged in the 1980s, and the late 1960s was when agricultural production quickened as the Green Revolution progressed.

Why poverty still exist?

  • So, if there had been a focus on poverty even 50 years ago, why have we not seen it end?
  • This is because the approach of public policy to the problem has been to initiate schemes which could serve as no more than a palliative, as suggested by the very term ‘poverty alleviation’ commonly used in the discourse of this time.
  • These schemes failed to go to the root of poverty, which is capability deprivation that leaves an individual unable to earn sufficient income through work or entrepreneurship.
  • Income poverty is a manifestation of the deprivation, and focussing exclusively on the income shortfall can address only the symptom.

Efficacy of income support programme

  • An income-support scheme for any one section of the population is grossly inequitable.
  • We can think of agricultural labourers and urban pavement dwellers as equally deserving of support as poor farmers.
  • While it is the case that at present agricultural subsidies go to farmers alone, these are intended as production subsidies and so channelled due to the criticality of food production to all.

Welfare Programme More Efficient

  • On the other hand, a welfare programme cannot, ethically speaking, exclude those equally placed.
  • The BJP’s hurried introduction of its scheme also came with an overshooting of the fiscal deficit target, suggesting that it involves borrowing to consume, a fiscally imprudent practice.
  • The PM-Kisan has, however, been dwarfed by the promise of the Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY) of the Congress, which envisages an annual transfer 12 times greater to the poorest 20% households.
  • While this scheme is not discriminatory, it is severely challenged by the issue of beneficiary identification in real time.
  • Poverty is capability deprivation.
  • Health, education and physical infrastructure are central to the capabilities of individuals, and the extent of their presence in a society determine whether the poor will remain so or exit poverty permanently.

What is needed?

1.Universal Basic Scheme

  • In light of a pitch that has been made for the implementation in India of a publicly-funded universal basic income (UBI) scheme, we can say that from the perspective of eliminating poverty, universal basic services (UBS) from public sources are needed, though not necessarily financed through the budget.
  • The original case for a UBI came from European economists.
  • Europe is perhaps saturated with publicly provided UBS.
  • Also the state in some of its countries is immensely wealthy.
  • So if a part of the public revenues is paid out as basic income, the project of providing public services there will not be affected.
  • This is not the case in India, where the task of creating the wherewithal for providing public services has not even been seriously initiated.

2.Focus on Human Development

  • There is indirect evidence that the provision of health, education and public services matters more for poverty than the Central government’s poverty alleviation schemes in place for almost half a century.
  • A discernible pattern is that the southern and western regions of India have lower poverty than the northern, central and eastern ones.
  • This, very likely, is related to higher human development attainment in the former. This indicator is based on the health and education status of a population apart from per capita income, bringing us back to the relevance of income generation to poverty.

Way Forward

  • There is a crucial role for services, of both producer and consumer variety, in eliminating the capability deprivation that is poverty.
  • As these services cannot always be purchased in the market, income support alone cannot be sufficient to eliminate poverty.
  • It is in recognition of the role of services in enabling people to lead a productive and dignified life that the idea of multi-dimensionality has taken hold in the thinking on poverty globally.
  • At a minimum these services would involve the supply of water, sanitation and housing apart from health and education.
  • It has been estimated that if the absence of such services is accounted for, poverty in India would be found to be far higher than recorded at present.
  • The budgetary implication of the scale at which public services would have to be provided if we are to eliminate multi-dimensional poverty may now be imagined.
  • This allows us to appraise the challenge of ending effective poverty and to assess the potential of the income-support schemes proposed by the main political parties. There are no short cuts to ending poverty, but ending it soon is not insurmountable either.