Newspaper notes for UPSC 19-07-18

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Lok Sabha to debate TDP’s no-trust motion tomorrow

  • Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan accepted a notice for a no-confidence motion against the Narendra Modi government on the first day of the monsoon session of Parliament on Wednesday. Ms. Mahajan fixed Friday as the day when the Lower House will debate the motion.
  • This is the first time that the Modi government will face such a motion.
  • A notice for a no-confidence motion against a government is accepted only if at least 50 members of the Lower House support it. The Speaker then fixes a date for discussion, followed by a vote. If the government loses it, it falls.
  • Sources in the BJP said there were 10 vacancies in the Lok Sabha at the moment due to various reasons, making 534 the effective strength of the House (excluding Speaker Mahajan).
  • Refer Laxmikanth for the details about no-confidence motion.
  • The last no-confidence motion moved in Parliament was in 2003 when a Congress-led Opposition was defeated by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government in a trust vote. That time the issue was related to the re-induction of defence minister George Fernandes in the Union Cabinet over corruption charges.
  • Further up in history, Vajpayee had lost a no-confidence motion in 1999 by a single vote, the narrowest so far, after the Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK withdrew its support. It led to fresh elections.

Sabarimala temple bar unreasonable: SC

  • Tagging a woman’s right to enter the famous Sabarimala temple with her menstrual cycle is unreasonable, the Supreme Court’s Constitution Bench observed.
  • The Bench, led by Chief Justice of India , asked whether the exclusion of women aged between 10 and 50 from entering a temple because they are considered ‘impure’ amounts to the practice of untouchability, a social evil abolished by law.
  • The CJI said there is no concept of “private mandirs (temples).” Once a temple is opened, everybody can go and offer prayers. Nobody can be excluded. The Chief Justice noted that the Sabarimala temple drew funds from the Consolidated Fund, had people coming from all over the world and thus, qualified to be called a “public place of worship.”
  • Views of the Bench: In a public place of worship, a woman can enter, where a man can go. What applies to a man, applies to a woman,” Chief Justice observed  in the Sabarimala temple entry case.
  • Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said women and their physiological phenomena are creations of God. If not God, of nature.
  • “A woman is a creation of God, if you don’t believe in God, then of nature. Why should this (menstruation) be a reason for exclusion for employment or worship or anything,” he said.
  • He quoted Article 25 (1) which mandates freedom of conscience and right to practise religion. “All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion…”
  • “This means your right as a woman to pray is not even dependent on a legislation. It is your constitutional right. Nobody has an exclusionary right of entry to a temple,” Justice Chandrachud observed.
  • Rule 3 (b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Rules, 1965 allows a “religious denomination” to ban entry of women between the age of 10 to 50.The discrimination was a violation of the rights to equality and gender justice.
  • The Kerala government’s various flip-flops in the Supreme Court since 2007, in support and against the ban on allowing women to enter the Sabarimala temple, were mentioned by the court on Wednesday.
  • The Kerala government pointed out to the Bench that the State supported entry of women into the Sabarimala temple. In 2016, the State had opposed it in the Supreme Court.

‘Consolidated Fund of India’

  • This term derives its origin from the Constitution of India.
  • Under Article 266 (1) of the Constitution of India, all revenues ( example tax revenue from personal income tax, corporate income tax, customs and excise duties as well as non-tax revenue such as licence fees, dividends and profits from public sector undertakings etc. ) received by the Union government as well as all loans raised by issue of treasury bills, internal and external loans and all moneys received by the Union Government in repayment of loans shall form a consolidated fund entitled the ‘Consolidated Fund of India’ for the Union Government.
  • Similarly, under Article 266 (1) of the Constitution of India, a Consolidated Fund Of State ( a separate fund for each state) has been established.
  • The Comptroller and Auditor General of India audits these Funds and reports to the Union/State legislatures when proper accounting procedures have not been followed.

LS clears detention policy

  • A Bill to amend the Right to Education (RTE) Act to abolish the ‘no detention policy’ in schools was passed in the Lok Sabha.
  • Replying to the debate in the Lok Sabha on The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (second amendment) Bill, 2017, Union Human Resource Development Minister  said that it would be at the discretion of the States whether to continue with no detention or not.
  • Under the current provisions of the RTE Act, no student can be detained till class 8 and all students are promoted to the next grade.

Bill on death penalty for child rape to be tabled

  • The Bill to award the death penalty for those convicted of raping girls below the age of 12 will be introduced in the monsoon session of Parliament, the Cabinet decided.
  • The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2018, once approved by Parliament, will replace the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance promulgated on April 21 following an outcry over the rape and murder of a minor girl at Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir and the rape of a woman at Unnao in Uttar Pradesh.
  • The Bill stipulates stringent punishment for perpetrators of rape, particularly of girls below 12.A provision for the death penalty has been provided for rapists of girls aged under 12.
  • The minimum punishment in the case of rape of women has been increased from rigorous imprisonment of seven years to 10.
  • Under the Bill, in case of the rape of a girl aged under 16 and above 12, the minimum punishment has been increased from 10 years to 20.
  • The punishment for gang rape of a girl aged below 16 and above 12 will be imprisonment for the rest of life of the convict, the official said.
  • Correcting an anomaly: While punishments for crimes against girls was enhanced through amendment to the IPC, there was no mention of crimes against boys. The government will seek to correct that anomaly as well.
  • POCSO amendment for enhanced punishment for sexual assaults on young boys has been approved by the Law Ministry.

The Ordinance:

  • Punishment for the crime of rape of a girl under 16 years, minimum punishment has been  increased from 10 years to 20 years, which can be extended to imprisonment for the  rest of life.
  • Minimum punishment for rape of women has also been increased from rigorous  imprisonment of 7 years to 10 years, which can be extended to life imprisonment.
  • It provides for speedy investigation and trial, which must be completed in two months.
  • There will be no provision for anticipatory bail for a person accused of rape or gang rape  of a girl under 16 years.
  • New Fast Track Courts will be set up in consultation with states/UTs and High Courts.
  • Special forensic kits for rape cases to all police stations and hospitals and labs to be  setup.
  • Database: National Crime Records Bureau will maintain a national database and profile  of sexual offenders. This data will be regularly shared with States/UTs for tracking,  monitoring and investigation, including verification of antecedents by police.

Will death penalty help?

  • The Justice Verma Committee, which was constituted in the aftermath of December  2012 gangrape in Delhi to recommend legal reforms to curb sexual assault crimes, in its  report said introduction of death penalty for rape may not have a deterrent effect and  recommended enhanced sentence of jail for the remainder of life.

Facts and criticism:

  • As per the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data for 2016, 94.6% of total crimes  against children under the POCSO Act as well as Section 376 are committed by either  relatives or acquaintances.
  • conviction rate under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act is as low as 18%.
  • sexual assaults against boys have been left unaddressed by the ordinance.

Two-constituency norm reasonable: govt. tells SC

  • The government objected to a plea to stop candidates from contesting from two different constituencies, saying such a limitation infringes on a person’s right to contest the polls and curtails the polity’s choice of candidates.
  • The government told the Supreme Court that one-candidate-one-constituency restriction would require a legislative amendment.
  • The government supported Section 33 (7) of the Representation of the People Act of 1951 which restricts candidates to contesting from two constituencies. Before the amendment, candidates could contest from any number of constituencies.
  • A Bench led by Chief Justice of India is hearing the petition  seeking a declaration that Section 33(7) of the Representation of the People Act of 1951, which allows candidates to contest from two constituencies at a time, as invalid and unconstitutional.
  • Election Commission informed the Supreme Court that it had proposed the amendment of Section 33(7) way back in July 2004. It was one of the 22 “urgent electoral reforms” the Election Commission had suggested to a Rajya Sabha Parliamentary Standing Committee.
  • The poll body had pointed out that “there have been cases where a person contests election from two constituencies, and wins from both. In such a situation he vacates the seat in one of the two constituencies. The consequence is that a by-election would be required from one constituency involving avoidable labour and expenditure on the conduct of that by-election.”
  • The EC concluded that the “law should be amended to provide that a person cannot contest from more than one constituency at a time.”
  • The poll body suggested that a candidate should deposit an amount of Rs. 5 lakh for contesting in two constituencies in an Assembly election or Rs. 10 lakh in a general election. This would be used to conduct a by-election in the eventuality that he or she is victorious in both constituencies and has to relinquish one.

WTO to hear India plea from today

  • The government has once again expressed its concern at the imposition of import duties by the U.S. on aluminium and steel.
  • Its appeal in the WTO Appellate Disputes Settlement Committee will be heard on July 19 and 20, Minister of State for Commerce and Industry  informed the Rajya Sabha.
  • China, Japan and several other countries have done the same.
  • S. President Donald Trump signed into effect import tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminium in March this year. It sparked off a trade war involving the U.S., EU, China, and India.
  • India also increased import tariffs on 29 items originating from the U.S. by 10-20%,These will come into effect from August 4.

Law panel reviewing sedition legislation

  • The government told the Rajya Sabha that the Law Commission was considering the “scope and ambit” of the law on sedition and suggest amendments, if any.
  • The government’s reply to Parliament said that during 2014-15, as many as 112 cases of sedition were registered across India and 36 persons were chargesheeted. During the period, the police secured conviction in only two cases.
  • Home Ministry had written to the Law and Justice Ministry to request the Law Commission of India to study the usage of the provisions of Section 124 A (Sedition) of the Indian Penal Code and suggest amendments, if any.

Cane price gets bittersweet response

  • The Centre has raised the fair and remunerative price (FRP) for sugar cane for the next season to Rs. 275 a quintal at a 10% recovery rate. This is the minimum price that mills must pay farmers from October. It represents an effective increase of a little over Rs. 6.50 a quintal from the current price.
  • The decision was approved by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs at its meeting chaired by Prime Minister.
  • The production cost is Rs. 155 a quintal. Thus, the FRP is higher than costs by more than 77% .
  • Most northern States set their own much higher minimum prices for cane; in Uttar Pradesh this year, the price is set at Rs. 325 per quintal.
  • The recovery rate for sugar represents the amount of sugar that can be extracted from cane; thus, if 10 kg of sugar is produced from 100 kg of cane, it has a 10% recovery rate.

Expect more PSU banks to receive capital, says ICRA

  • The Centre’s decision to infuse Rs. 11,336 crore capital in five public sector banks (PSBs) is critical for servicing their debt instruments such as Additional Tier 1 bonds (AT-1), Upper Tier 2 and Innovative Perpetual Debt instruments, rating agency ICRA said.
  • On Tuesday, the finance ministry approved capital infusion in five banks — Punjab National Bank (Rs. 2,816 crore), Indian Overseas bank (Rs. 2,157 crore), Andhra Bank (Rs. 2,019 crore), Corporation Bank (Rs. 2,555 crore), and Allahabad bank (Rs. 1,790 crore).
  • As per our estimates, adjusted for deferred losses and early recall of AT1 bonds, the Tier 1 ratio of 8 PSBs was lower than the regulatory requirements of 7% hence constraining their ability to meet a CRAR of 9%
  • Capital Adequacy Ratio (CAR) is the ratio of a bank’s capital in relation to its risk weighted assets and current liabilities. It is decided by central banks and bank regulators to prevent commercial banks from taking excess leverage and becoming insolvent in the process.The risk weighted assets take into account credit risk, market risk and operational risk.
  • The Basel III norms stipulated a capital to risk weighted assets of 8%. However, as per RBI norms, Indian scheduled commercial banks are required to maintain a CAR of 9% while Indian public sector banks are emphasized to maintain a CAR of 12%.

Cabinet relaxes NELP, pre-NELP pact rules

  • The Union Cabinet approved the policy framework to streamline production sharing contracts signed in the pre-New Exploration Licensing Policy (NELP) and NELP periods.
  • Based on recommendations in ‘Hydrocarbon Vision 2030 for North East’, government has extended timelines for exploration and appraisal period in operational blocks of north eastern region of India considering geographical, environmental and logistical challenges.
  • The exploration period has been increased by two years and appraisal period by one year.
  • The government has created an enabling framework for sharing of statutory levies including royalty and cess in proportion to the participating interest of the contractor in Pre-NELP Exploration Blocks.

Three in five HIV-carriers now have access to drugs: UN

  • Almost three in five people infected with HIV, or 21.7 million globally, took antiretroviral therapy in 2017 — a new record for anti-AIDS drug access, the UNAIDS said.
  • There were 36.9 million people living with the immune system-attacking virus in 2017, of whom 15.2 million were not getting the drugs they need — the lowest number since the epidemic exploded.
  • Hailing progress in curbing new infections and deaths, the agency nevertheless lamented the mounting human toll: almost 80 million infections and 35.4 million lives lost since the first cases became known in the early 1980s.
  • “We are short by $7 billion per year to maintain our results and to achieve our objectives for 2020,” UNAIDS executive director said.
  • In 2017, about $20.6 billion was available for AIDS programmes in low-and middle-income countries which funded about 56% from their own budgets, said the report.
  • Under Donald Trump, the U.S. administration — a major funder of AIDS programmes historically, has threatened to cut spending.
  • Prelims: The UN goal is for 90% of all HIV-positive people to know their status by 2020. Of these, at least 90% must receive ART, and the HIV virus be suppressed in 90% of those.
  • Assessing progress towards the target, UNAIDS said 1.8 million people became newly infected with HIV in 2017.
  • ART inhibits the virus and can limit its spread between people — mainly through sex — but does not kill it.
  • UNAIDS reported large variation between world regions in the battle against the killer virus.

Google hit with record € 4.34 bn EU fine over ‘illegal’ Android strategy

  • The EU said Wednesday it had slapped a record € 4.34-billion ($5.04 billion) antitrust fine on Google for illegally using its Android operating system to strengthen the dominance of its search engine.
  • This is illegal under EU antitrust rules.
  • The decision, which follows a three-year investigation, comes as fears of a transatlantic trade war mount due to President Donald Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on European steel and aluminium exports.
  • Google shut out rivals by forcing major phone makers including South Korea’s Samsung and China’s Huawei to pre-install its search engine and Google Chrome browser, thereby freezing out rivals.
  • They were also made to set Google Search as the default, as a condition of licensing some Google apps. Google Search and Chrome are as a result pre-installed on the “significant majority” of devices sold in the EU, the European Commission says.
  • An EU complaint formally lodged in April also accuses Google of preventing manufacturers from selling smartphones that run on rival operating systems based on the Android open source code.
  • Google also gave “financial incentives” to manufacturers and mobile network operators if they pre-installed Google Search on their devices, the commission said.
  • Under EU rules Google could have been fined up to 10 percent of parent company Alphabet’s annual revenue, which hit $110.9 billion in 2017.

Editorial and Opinion :


Getting the language count right

  • The death of a language is literally shrouded in silence. Because of its nature, a language is not visible and fails to move anyone except its very last speaker who nurtures an unrequited hope of a response. When a language disappears it goes forever, taking with it knowledge gathered over centuries. With it goes a unique world view. This too is a form of violence.
  • Large parts of culture get exterminated through slight shifts in policy instruments than through armed conflicts. Just as nature’s creations do not require a tsunami to destroy them, the destruction of culture can be caused by something as small as a bureaucrat’s benign decision. Even a well-intentioned language census can do much damage.
  • Over the last many decades, successive governments have carried out a decadal census. The 1931 Census was a landmark as it held up a mirror to the country about the composition of caste and community.
  • It was during the 1961 census that languages in the country were enumerated in full. India learnt that a a total of 1,652 mother tongues were being spoken. Using ill-founded logic, this figure was pegged at only 109, in the 1971 Census. The logic was that a language deserving respectability should not have less than 10,000 speakers. This had no scientific basis nor was it a fair decision but it has stuck and the practice continues to be followed.
  • The language enumeration takes place in the first year of every decade. The findings are made public about seven years later as the processing of language data is far more time consuming than handling economic or scientific data. Early this month, the Census of India made public the language data based on the 2011 Census, which took into account 120 crore speakers of a very large number of languages. The Language division of the Census office deserves praise but the data presented leaves behind a trail of questions.
  • During the census, citizens submitted 19,569 names of mother tongues — technically called “raw returns”. Based on previous linguistic and sociological information, the authorities decided that of these, 18,200 did not match “logically” with known information. A total of 1,369 names — technically called “labels” — were picked as “being names of languages”. The “raw returns” left out represent nearly 60 lakh citizens.
  • In addition to the 1,369 “mother tongue” names shortlisted, there were 1,474 other mother tongue names. These were placed under the generic label “Others”. As far as the Census is concerned, these linguistic “Others” are not seen to be of any concern. But the fact is that they have languages of their own. The classification system has not been able to identify what or which languages these are and so they have been silenced by having an innocuous label slapped on them.
  • The 1,369 have been grouped further under a total of 121 “group labels”, which have been presented as “Languages”. Of these, 22 are languages included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, called “Scheduled Languages”. The remainder, 99, are “Non-scheduled Languages”. An analysis shows that most of the groupings are forced.
  • For instance, under the heading “Hindi”, there are nearly 50 other languages. Bhojpuri (spoken by more than 5 crore people, and with its own cinema, theatre, literature, vocabulary and style) comes under “Hindi”. Under Hindi too is the nearly 3 crore population from Rajasthan with its own independent languages. The Powari/Pawri of tribals in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh too has been added. Even the Kumauni of Uttarakhand has been yoked to Hindi. While the report shows 52,83,47,193 individuals speaking Hindi as their mother tongue, this is not so.
  • There is a similar and inflated figure for Sanskrit by counting the returns against the question about a person’s “second language”.
  • As against this, the use of English is not seen through the perspective of a second language. Counting for this is restricted to the “mother tongue” category — in effect bringing down the figure substantially. So the Census informs us that a total of 2,59,678 Indians speak English as their “mother tongue” — numerically accurate and semantically disastrous.
  • From time to time, UNESCO tries to highlight the key role that language plays in widening access to education, protecting livelihoods and preserving culture and knowledge traditions. In 1999/2000, it proclaimed and observed February 21 as International Mother Language Day, while in 2001 the ‘Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity’ accepted the principle of “Safeguarding the linguistic heritage of humanity and giving support to expression, creation and dissemination in the greatest possible number of languages.” In pursuit of these, UNESCO has launched a linguistic diversity network and supported research. It has also brought out an Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, which highlights the central place of language in the world’s heritage. Is our language census consistent with these ideas and principles?
  • One expects that the Census in India should adequately reflect the linguistic composition of the country. It is not good practice when data helps neither educators nor policy makers or the speakers of languages themselves. The Census, a massive exercise that consumes so much time and energy, needs to see how it can help in a greater inclusion of the marginal communities, how our intangible heritage can be preserved, and how India’s linguistic diversity can become an integral part of our national pride.

The tough road to academic excellence

  • The winners of the “excellence contest” of the Institutions of Eminence (IoE) have been announced by the Ministry of Human Resource Development.
  • While 10 institutions were supposed to have been chosen, apparently only six were affordable — a telling reality, especially since only three will receive any government funds.
  • And none of the winners is actually a public university — a multidisciplinary institution at the heart of any academic system.
  • The increased funding will help the institutions with innovations or perhaps the ability to raise academic salaries to better compete internationally but will not permit fundamental changes.
  • “Greenfield” experiments are always risky but in fact almost all of India’s top academic institutions are the result of such initiatives. The first few Indian Institutes of Technology were established in the 1950s.
  • Both BITS Pilani (1964) and Manipal (1953), private start-ups, were greenfield efforts at the time. So, the Jio initiative is not unusual in the Indian context.
  • How does it plan to differentiate itself from other universities in India and abroad, and at the same time match up to the best academic practices elsewhere?
  • The cost of creating a competitive world-class university is daunting especially when starting from scratch. For example, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) Saudi Arabia, established in 2009, spent $1.5 billion on its facilities and has an endowment of $10 billion for a current enrolment of 900 master’s and doctoral students.
  • While each world class university is unique there are three essential ingredients: talent, resources, and favourable governance. These will of course be necessary for all the IoEs.
  • Faculty are at the heart of any university, affecting every aspect of realising and implementing the university mission. In the case of rankings ambition, research output is a key metric.
  • The real challenge would be in attracting international students. International student decision-making process is complex, with many global choices available to the best students.
  • A positive element of the IoE programme is the high degree of autonomy and freedom from government policy and regulatory constraints. However, Jio (and the others chosen for IoE) need to have creative ideas for the organisation and governance of the institution.
  • Building world-class universities is a resource-intensive and highly creative endeavour which will be a test of patience and persistence. Indian higher education is in dire need of exemplars of excellence. We await the specific ideas and programmes necessary to realise these ambitions from Jio, and the others.

Rocky summit

  • A summit between the leaders of the world’s strongest nuclear powers, which fought the Cold War for decades, is an opportunity to discuss areas of shared interest, find ways to dial down mutual tensions and work together to address global issues.
  • The new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) is set to expire in 2021 and Russia has shown interest in extending it. For a consensus, high-level talks between the U.S. and Russia are needed. From the crisis in Ukraine to the civil war in Syria, Russia-U.S. cooperation is vital to finding lasting solutions.
  • The Iran nuclear deal, for which Mr. Putin and Barack Obama worked together despite differences, is in a shambles.
  • Most of these issues, including the threat posed by nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles, were discussed at the summit. But it’s not clear whether the talks will lead to any significant change in policies.
  • Since the Ukraine crisis, the West has tried different methods, including sanctions and pressure tactics, to isolate Russia and change its behaviour. But those methods have proved largely unsuccessful as Russia is now a far more ambitious foreign policy power with an enhanced presence in Eastern Europe and West Asia — even if its sanctions-hit economy is struggling.
  • The Western alliance should junk its Cold War mentality and engage with Russia; Russia, in turn, will have to shed its rogue attitude and be more open and stable in its dealings.

A fishy matter

  • Reports of traces of the chemical formaldehyde in fish in several States highlight both the uncertainties of science, and the importance of clear risk-communication.
  • In June, the Kerala government found formaldehyde-laced fish being transported into the State.
  • A study revealed around 5-20 ppm of the chemical in freshwater and marine fish in two of the city’s markets. Next, Goa reported similar findings. But its Food and Drugs Administration later said the levels in Goan samples were on a par with “naturally occurring” formaldehyde in marine fish.
  • This triggered suspicions among residents, who accused the government of playing down the health risk. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has banned formaldehyde in fresh fish, while the International Agency for Research on Cancer labelled the chemical a carcinogen in 2004.
  • The evidence the IARC relied on mainly consists of studies on workers in industries such as printing, textiles and embalming. Such workers inhale formaldehyde fumes, and the studies show high rates of nasopharyngeal and other cancers among them.
  • But there is little evidence that formaldehyde causes cancer when ingested orally. A 1990 study by U.S. researchers estimated that humans consume 11 mg of the chemical through dietary sources every day.
  • So, why is formaldehyde in fish a problem? For one thing, fresh fish should not have preservatives, and the presence of formaldehyde points to unscrupulous vendors trying to pass off stale catch as recent. Two, the lack of evidence linking ingested formaldehyde with cancer doesn’t necessarily make the chemical safe. At high doses, it causes gastric irritation.
  • The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
  • Third complication. When certain marine fish are improperly frozen during transit, formaldehyde forms in them naturally.But this formaldehyde binds to the tissue, unlike added formaldehyde, which remains free.
  • So, measuring free formaldehyde versus bound formaldehyde can be one way of distinguishing a contaminant from a naturally occurring chemical.
  • Did the Goan FDA measure free formaldehyde or bound formaldehyde? If it measured the sum of both, on what basis did it conclude that the chemical came from natural sources? Some formaldehyde consumption may be unavoidable for fish- lovers, and it may not be a health risk either. But the line between safe and unsafe consumption should be drawn by experts, in a transparent manner.

Something fishy on the table

  • Goa Chief Minister  Wednesday announced a 15-day ban on the entry of fish from other states, and ordered border checks to stop trucks bearing fish from outside.
  • on July 13, officials from the state Food and Drug Administration raided markets in South and North Goa, and picked up samples from 17 trucks carrying fish from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka.
  • The FDA, however, issued a statement in the evening, saying the seized fish did indeed contain formalin — though “within permissible limits”.
  • An FSSAI advisory clarified that “formaldehyde, the laboratory name for formalin, is not permitted for use in foods as per Food Safety and Standards Regulation, 2011”.
  • Formalin is a preservative mostly used in forensic museums and morgues where autopsies are conducted ,It tightens the cellular architecture, and is used in forensic museums. In morgues, we use formalin to ensure the specimen doesn’t decompose.

Restoring faith in EVMs

  • On July 17, several Opposition parties decided to discuss the issue of malfunctioning electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the current Monsoon Session of Parliament and place a joint demand to the Election Commission (EC) to use ballot papers in the upcoming Assembly elections and the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
  • In a recent interview, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) O.P. Rawat ruled out the option of reverting to ballot papers. EVMs are being made a “scapegoat” because they “cannot speak”, he said.
  • One of the main reasons the functioning of EVMs is being questioned is, ironically, the EC itself.
  • The Narendra Modi government has been accused of undermining various constitutional institutions including the EC. In contrast to the time when T.N. Seshan as CEC firmly established the EC as an independent authority by rigorously bringing in revolutionary reforms, the body has lost some sheen in the last few years.
  • Examples:Former Gujarat Chief Secretary Achal Kumar Jyoti was appointed the CEC in July 2017, months before the crucial Gujarat elections. In a peculiar decision, the EC chose not to announce dates for the Gujarat elections but announced dates for the Himachal Pradesh elections which were to be held at the same time. This conveniently allowed the Prime Minister to announce some new sops and schemes for Gujarat which he would not have been able to do if the dates had been announced.
  • The intermittent reports of malfunctioning EVMs have intensified the gloom. For instance, data obtained under the RTI revealed that votes cast for an Independent candidate went to the BJP candidate in the February 2017 polls to the Buldhana zilla parishad in Maharashtra.
  • In a democracy, there is perhaps nothing more important than the credibility of the electoral process. Many Opposition parties have asked for a return to the ballot paper.
  • EVMs have brought a certain structure that did not exist during the ballot paper days when a large number of invalid votes would often be higher than the margin of victory.
  • Solutions: A couple of procedural changes will bring in credibility to the voting process. The EC has already operationalised the voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) with an attached printer that will provide a paper trail for those who have cast their votes. At present, after casting the vote in EVMs, the printed paper is directly dropped in the box (the voter only has seven seconds to see this). Instead, the paper should be given to the voter who should then drop it in the ballot box.
  • The ECI should introduce a new procedure wherein the manual counting of the printed ballots has to be done before announcing the result if the difference between the winner and the loser is less than, say, 10%, and the loser demands a recount.
  • Way forward: In a democracy, elections should not only be fair but should be seen to be fair. By shoring up its image and bringing in some more transparent reforms, the EC can restore faith in elections.

The mob that hates

  • It is true that lynching is not officially a crime in India.
  • But, in fact, if state administrations choose to clamp down, the Indian Penal Code already punishes all the criminalities perpetrated by lynch mobs. Section 223(a) of the Code of Criminal Procedure also enables a group of people involved in the same offence to be tried together.
  • What the Supreme Court judgment does not squarely address is that lynching is not just “mobocracy”; it is collective hate crime. Lynching may be sparked variously by disputes over allegations of cow smuggling or slaughter, or wild rumours of cattle theft or child kidnapping, or something even as trivial as a seat in an unreserved train compartment. Whatever the ostensible trigger, murderous mobs gather to lynch people of hated identities with gratuitous cruelty.
  • What is significant, also, is who the principal targets of these mob attacks are. IndiaSpend found that 86 per cent of persons killed in cow-related lynching were Muslim, and 8 per cent Dalit. The recent spate of mob killings on rumours of child kidnapping target strangers and mentally challenged persons.
  • The police in almost every case, instead, registers crimes against the victims. Those who are killed are dubbed as cow thieves or cow smugglers, and those who are injured and survive have a battery of crimes registered against them. State home ministers, sometimes chief ministers, and senior police officials publicly denounce not the members of the lynch mobs but the victims and survivors.
  • For people in political authority, uniform and magistrates to take sides in hate battles is a profound crime against humanity. Yet this still is recognised at best as a moral failure, not a punishable crime.
  • But no law — already on the statute books or a new statute — will in itself ensure an end to this malign mass affliction of hate lynching, which if unchecked can tear us apart as a people. The challenge, I am convinced, ultimately, is not of law, but of our collective morality and our collective humanity.

On crime against women, bad questions, poor answers

  • The debate around the new survey has only proved that India is asking all the wrong questions about sexual crime, and still misunderstanding all the answers, six years after it had something of its own #MeToo moment.
  • Recently, the Thomson Reuters Foundation put out the results of its 2018 The World’s Most Dangerous Countries for Women survey. The Foundation said that it surveyed “548 experts focused on women’s issues including aid and development professionals, academics. and policymakers”. The questions centred on five key areas: Healthcare, economic resources and discrimination, customary practices, sexual violence and harassment, non-sexual violence and human trafficking. India, fourth most dangerous in 2011, was now the world’s most dangerous, it said.
  • What has not evolved is India’s use and misunderstanding of data on sexual crime. Much of the debate over the Reuters Foundation data hinged on whether official statistics capture the full extent of sexual crime in India. They do not, but the problem is two-fold: There is the part that official data is not capturing, and the part that it is erroneously capturing.
  • On the first, it is fair to expect that in a deeply patriarchal and often violent country, women might fear speaking out about sexual crime, and also fear reporting it to the police.
  • The Delhi gang-rape led to months of daily frontpage news coverage for the first time and sexual crime reported to the police spiked in the years after. However, police officials and women rights activists told me that this was a clear result of increased awareness, and better responsiveness on the part of the police, and the spike soon tapered off.
  • There is no doubt that there is under-reporting of sexual crime. Researcher Aashish Gupta showed that less than 1 per cent of sexual violence was reported to the police. But here’s the rub: Nearly all (98 per cent) sexual violence that women told surveyors they had experienced was by their husbands, even while marital rape is not recognised as a crime in India.
  • Second, there is all that the official data captures that isn’t necessarily about crime.
  • I analysed all rape cases decided by Delhi’s local courts in a calender year — nearly 600 in all. I found that the largest share of these were cases involving consensual sex between sometimes inter-religious or inter-caste couples, matches set by the couples themselves often to their families’ disapproval. In case after case, adult couples had been detained by a cooperative, often paternalistic police force, after the woman’s father or uncle filed rape charges against her lover or chosen husband. The women were detained in “shelter homes” and the men tossed into jail as they waited years for their case to be heard. In a majority of such cases, the judges acquitted the men, often after the impassioned testimony of the wife.
  • Then the enduring issue of some men being charged with rape after a “breach of promise to marry”, yet another example of the price on a woman’s “chastity” — have had the opposite effect of under-reporting; it inflated the number of rape cases to an unspecifiable extent.
  • None of this adds up to a particularly positive image. If there is some “over-reporting” of rape in India, it stems from the deep discomfort the country continues to have over women’s sexual autonomy.
  • But the question to ask is not whether India’s women are safe. It is whether India’s women are free.

A course correction

  • THE government has done well to decide to drop the Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance (FRDI) Bill in the face of criticism regarding some of the provisions in the proposed law which had stoked fears among deposit holders, leading to anxiety and panic withdrawal of deposits.
  • Clause 52 in the bill on “bail in”, which said that in the event of a failure or insolvency in a bank, depositors would also have to bear part of the burden of resolution, had sparked off protests.
  • The issue then, still valid now, is whether the G-20 Stability Forum’s recommendations that various jurisdictions should have legal provisions for resolution of financial firms should be implemented in India. The compelling reason for that policy approach in many countries which form part of this rich country grouping was the huge bail-out of many banks in the West using public funds.
  • Some countries have excluded deposits from the purview of bail-in provisions, making it easier to build a case for jettisoning this clause. What may have also weighed on the government is the suggestion of the the Financial Stability and Development Council, which has representation of the government and financial sector regulators, to exclude this clause when it comes to bank deposits.
  • What also matters is timing. A dozen state-owned banks are now under what is known as the Prompt Corrective Action framework of the RBI which imposes severe restrictions on their operational business after having piled up a mountain of bad loans.

Towards digital security

  • The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (Trai’s) recommendations on data ownership, privacy and purpose limitation have clearly been inspired by the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The ‘Right to be forgotten’ is being introduced as a concept for the first time in India as is the idea of ‘privacy by design’, along with granular end-user license agreements.
  • As working principles for crafting a framework for data protection and privacy, these guidelines appear unexceptionable. However, the release of these recommendations will cause confusion in the legislative domain. This is because the suggestions are not binding on the Department of Telecommunications, or private players in the digital and telecom services spaces. Also, a committee chaired by Justice Srikrishna is already looking at framing an overarching privacy legislation.
  • The Trai guidelines are important because they do offer a comprehensive framework for the future of digital data protection. There are important commercial implications because most apps are not compliant with these recommendations and the new concept of ‘privacy by design’ would affect the way future apps are designed.
  • The telecom service providers carry out stringent KYC checks, collecting significant amount of personal information. There is location data generated about all mobile subscribers, 24×7. An increasing number of subscribers is using smartphones to surf the web, carry out financial transactions, as well as social media interactions and to avail web-driven instant messaging services, besides consuming news and entertainment.
  • In addition, a large number of users are linked to their respective Aadhaar accounts, which means that digital information could leak from all sorts of sensitive areas, including health records, children’s birth and school records, among others.
  • Plus, there’s meta-data — that is the data generated about data which allows artificial intelligence (AI)-driven programs to guess with a high degree of accuracy what somebody is doing by looking at their actions online.
  • The Trai wishes to secure the data and metadata generated by users by a combination of methods. The user should be transparently informed if there is a breach of privacy. End-user licence agreements (EULA) should be written in simple language and data collection must be for specific purposes. If required, there should be multiple EULAs within the same app, for specific purposes.
  • The user should also have the right to delete pre-installed apps and demand the deletion of any data held by a digital service provider. Meta-data usage should either be banned, or stringently controlled for specific purposes. Apps should be designed keeping these concepts in minds, offering privacy by design.

Protecting privacy

  • As India becomes one of the top bandwidth consuming nations in the world it is important to put in place laws that ensures basic rights to users of data. Access to data is knowledge and knowledge is power. There are many players — both legitimate and unscrupulous — who want to lay their hands on this enormous power.
  • Even harmless looking mobile applications are able to collect large quantities of data from a user’s device. This includes information, such as the user’s contact list, messages, camera, location, which may not have any direct correlation with the underlying service being offered by the app. The TRAI has done the right thing by banning such practices.
  • But policy makers should also be aware of the unintended consequences of strong data protection rules as companies will have to spend billions to ensure compliance of the laws. In many cases, business models will have to be redone and many data gathering technologies may become illegal. Future technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and machine learning depend heavily on collecting user data. Then there are government agencies that use data analytics to keep tab on people for national security purposes.
  • The Supreme Court has clarified that the right to privacy is not absolute and that the state can place reasonable restrictions on it in the interest of fulfilling objectives such as protecting national security, preventing and investigating crime, encouraging innovation, and preventing the dissipation of social welfare benefits.

India set to break WTO rules, get protectionist tag

  • Despite multiple import duty hikes by New Delhi in the first half of 2018 that attracted criticism from the United States and China as being examples of ‘protectionism’, India hasn’t broken the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO) yet.
  • As soon as New Delhi’s higher import duties against the US kick in on August 4 – effectively breaching WTO mandated ‘bound rates’ for the first time – India will enter a long list of nations that have broken their commitments to WTO.
  • The bound tariff rate is the customs duty rate committed by a country to all other members under the most favoured nation
  • This global trade law for the 164 WTO members prohibits discrimination on the basis of tariffs.

Lessons learnt from bank nationalisation

  • As the country enters the golden jubilee year of bank nationalisation today, banks themselves have little to celebrate about.
  • So how has the banking sector fared in these five decades of nationalisation?
  • During the first decade, to bring about a change in the mindset and meet the goals of bank nationalisation, the government and the RBI set up nearly 50 study groups and working committees.
  • The second decade saw a spurt in social lending, project finance for agriculture, with many a small and marginal farmers benefiting, and more lending to small scale industries. Directed lending came under attack with several borrowers defaulting.
  • The late Rajiv Gandhi, in a public meeting then, mentioned that only 16 paise of every rupee lent was going to the beneficiaries of government- sponsored schemes.
  • The third decade changed the texture of banking in India. The Narasimham Committee in the wake of the liberalisation of the economy, had recommended more space for private banks to usher in a spirit of competitiveness among PSBs . IRAC norms were introduced and balance sheets built on accrued income basis were given a go-by.
  • Banks’ profitability and viability came to the fore front. Banks started viewing their rural lending portfolio and rural branches as being unviable. This period also witnessed the resurgence of private banking with the ICICI reverse merger, HDFC Bank, UTI Bank etc.
  • Retail banking and housing finance gained prominence in the lending portfolio. Micro finance institutions also made an aggressive push in the finance space.
  • The fourth decade saw a surge in arm-chair lending and template-based lending. Systems started replacing humans in intelligent appraisal of loans. Asset reconstruction companies were born following the enactment of SARFAESI Act 2002.
  • The Indian financial sector also proved its resilience during the 2008 global crisis. Net banking made banks close the time gaps in serving customers, though these were largely urban based and computer savvy. The number of ATMs also grew exponentially.
  • The fifth decade saw the progressive downfall of the banking system. CDR, and the RBI’s Asset Quality Review, dubious lending to the corporate entities, poor surveillance, unconcerned boards, and poor governance led to the ₹10-trillion bad loans mess. This decade also the likes of Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi taking the banking system for a ride and thereby exposing the gaps in regulation.
  • Demonetisation exposed the infrastructural inadequacies in the banking system. Banks, to retain profits, started fleecing the customers with high service charges.
  • Banks today are also increasingly facing trust issues with their customers. Today, banks do more non-banking business with hefty commissions.

So what is the road ahead for policy-makers?

  • One: deal with the problems comprehensively and address them through collective and well-informed wisdom;Two: trust in innovation and assess the innovation of its capacity to offer solutions material to the sector;Three: Improve governance: create a pool of independent directors for the regulator to chose from Four: Banks must not be left without a Managing Director even for a week;Five: Make sure banks focus on their core activities and not sell insurance policies, mutual funds and other third party products that could also include laddus and medallions at pilgrim centres.

Reform agriculture marketing systems

The recent increase in the minimum support prices (MSP) for major kharif crops has reignited the debate about food price policy.Why do we need an agricultural price policy at all? And, most importantly, what does it all mean for the hapless farmer?

  • The question of why we need a food price policy is the one most easily answered. Foodgrains are basic necessities. Any sharp increase in their prices can be extremely stressful, especially for low income and poor households, leading in turn to heightened political tension. Conversely, any sharp drop in crop prices can cause widespread distress among the millions of small farmers for whom the proceeds of their marketed produce is the main source of their livelihood. Hence, the policy of maintaining relatively stable and reasonable prices has a long history going back to the Great Bengal Famine of 1943.
  • The present food policy regime—consisting of the
    • Food Corporation of India (FCI), which procures rice and wheat, along with some state agencies,
    • the Commission on Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), which recommends procurement prices,
    • and the public distribution system (PDS), which distributes foodgrains and a few other essential items at subsidized prices—
  • was established following two consecutive drought years that led to severe food shortages in the mid- 1960s.

Next, are the recently announced kharif procurement prices too high or too low?

  • The government has in principle adopted the policy of fixing procurement prices at least 50% over what CACP calls cost A2 + FL. A2 includes the actual or imputed cost of all purchased or own inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, manure, bullock or machine labour + actual rent on leased in land + actual interest on working capital. FL is the imputed value of family labour.
  • Thus A2 + FL excludes the imputed value of owned fixed capital, such as farm machinery, and the rental value of own land. Adding these components would give us cost C2, the cost on which the Swaminathan Commission had recommended a 50% markup for procurement prices.
  • The debate over different concepts of cost of production is largely an academic matter. Cost of production is only one of several considerations factored into the determination of MSPs, such as the estimated demand-supply balance, global prices, etc.
  • Besides, announcing an MSP means nothing unless it is supported by public procurement at the announced MSP. Among food crops, FCI only procures wheat and rice along with some state agencies and the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (Nafed) has now started procuring pulses.

Way forward: Clearly, reform of agricultural marketing systems to squeeze if not altogether eliminate the 300% traders’ markup could provide far more remunerative prices for distressed farmers, freeing them from the clutches of money lenders, while at the same time making farm produce available to consumers at affordable prices. However, distressed farmers need not depend on the government to recover their viability. The Amul Dairy Cooperative is an outstanding example of how farmers empowered themselves through cooperation. There are more recent success stories in the Kudumbashree programme in Kerala, the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty in Andhra, and embryonic cases in other states of such cooperation led by women’s self-help groups, initially for mobilizing credit and later for other activities. These examples point to the power of aggregation and collective action in activities ranging from marketing and purchasing of inputs and machinery to land pooling, water management, organic agriculture, dairy, fishery and even some non-farm activities.


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