CURRENT AFFAIRS – MAY 2019
1. POLITY AND GOVERNANCE
RESERVATION IN PROMOTIONS
Recently, the Supreme Court upheld ‘The Karnataka Extension of Consequential Seniority to Government Servants Promoted on the Basis of Reservation (To the Posts in the Civil Services of the State) Act, 2018’, granting a quota in promotions for state government employees from the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities.
- Reservation was introduced in the Constitution of India, through Article 16(4), to give protection to deprived sections of society, who have been facing discrimination since ages.
- The debate over whether it should be limited to initial appointments or extended to promotions has been a bone of contention. Reservation in promotion rests on the principle of consequential seniority.
- Consequential Seniority means elevation to a senior position consequential to circumstances, and not through normal rules. Illustrating it, suppose there are 100 sanctioned posts in a department, out of which 30 are occupied by unreserved candidates, 15 are occupied by reserved candidates and 55 remain ‘vacant’. The reservation is 30%, which implies that 30 posts must be manned by reserved category employees. So, if a reserved category employee is junior to a general category employee, but there is vacancy for reserved category at a senior position, so reserved category employee will be considered senior and promoted above the general category employee.
- In 2002, Karnataka had brought a similar law, but was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2006 in M. Nagaraj vs. Union of India Case. The Supreme Court validated the state’s decision to extend reservation in promotion for SCs and STs, but gave direction that the state should provide proof on the following three parameters to it-
o Empirical Data on Backwardness of the class benefitting from the reservation.
o Empirical Data on Inadequate Representation in the position/service for which reservation in promotion is to be granted.
o Impact on efficiency how reservations in promotions would further administrative efficiency.
Related cases, constitutional provisions and amendments
- Article 15(4) allows State to make special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for SCs and STs.
- Article 16(4B)- provides that reserved promotion posts for SCs and STs that remain unfilled can be carried forward to the subsequent year. It ensures that the ceiling on the reservation quota – capped at 50% by Indra Sawhney Case – for these carried forward unfilled posts does not apply to subsequent years.
- Article 335 mandates that reservations have to be balanced with the ‘maintenance of efficiency’.
- In the Indira Sawhney case (1992), the Supreme Court held that the reservation policy cannot be extended to promotions.
- However, 77th Constitutional Amendment (CA), inserted Clause 4A in Article 16, which enables the state to make any law regarding reservation in promotion for SCs and STs.
- The court in 1990s restored their seniority once promoted at par with the SC/ST candidates who got quick promotions ahead of their batch mates.
- However, 85th CA Act, 2001 gave back “consequential seniority” to SC/ST promotees.
Recently the Delhi High Court has released the report on its pilot project titled “Zero Pendency Courts” which has highlighted that pendency of cases in the courts is the biggest challenge that Indian Judiciary is facing today.
Status of Judicial Backlog
- As per the National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG), in 2018, 2.93 crore cases are pending in the subordinate courts, 49 lakhs in High Courts and 57,987 cases in Supreme Court respectively.
- Five states which account for the highest pendency are Uttar Pradesh (61.58 lakh), Maharashtra (33.22 lakh), West Bengal (17.59 lakh), Bihar (16.58 lakh) and Gujarat (16.45 lakh).
In the Supreme Court, more than 30% of pending cases are more than five years old while in the Allahabad High Court, 15% of the appeals have been pending since 1980s.
- A Law Commission report in 2009 had quoted that it would require 464 years to clear the arrears with the present strength of judges.
ZERO PENDENCY COURTS PROJECT
- Delhi High Court started the pilot project from January 2017 in certain subordinate courts in Delhi.
- The objectives of the project were to study the actual, real-time ‘Flow of Cases’ from the date of institution till final disposal.
- It says that the Capital needs 43 more judges above the current strength of 143 to clear all the pending cases in one year.
- It says that absence of witnesses during the evidence stage causes a serious impediment to the progress of the case.
- Also, unnecessary adjournments sought by the advocates or the parties at various stages in a case delay the proceedings, thus prolonging the case life.
FAST TRACK COURTS
As per the recent study conducted by the National Law University (Delhi), fast-track courts (FTC) in India are increasingly getting sluggish.
About Fast Track Courts (FTCs)
- They were established in the year 2000, to expeditiously dispose of long pending cases in the Sessions Courts and long pending cases of under trial prisoners in a time bound manner.
- The 11th Finance Commission recommended the creation of 1734 FTCs in the country. They were to be established by the state governments in consultation with the respective High Courts.
- FTCs have also been set up on the orders of various High Courts to accelerate disposal of cases on matters ranging from sexual offences, anti-corruption, riots, and cheque bouncing.
- The judges for these were appointed on an ad hoc basis, selected by the High Courts of the respective states.
- There is no central funding to FTCs after 2011. However, the state governments could establish FTCs from their own funds.
- The 14th Finance Commission endorsed the proposal for setting up 1800 FTCs at a cost of Rs.4144.00 crore. It also urged the State Governments to utilize the enhanced devolution of central taxes from 32% to 42% to fund this effort. As on December 2018, 699 FTCs are functional across the country
ELECTION COMMISSION OF INDIA (ECI)
- Article 324 of the Constitution of India provides for an independent Election Commission. It was established in accordance with the Constitution on 25th January 1950.
- It has the powers of superintendence, direction and conduct of elections to the Parliament, the state legislatures, the office of the President and the office of the Vice-President.
- Originally the commission had only a Chief Election Commissioner. It currently consists of Chief Election Commissioner and two Election Commissioners.
- Parliament has been empowered to make provisions with respect to all matters relating to elections. However, the ECI can also take necessary measures under Article 324 to ensure free and fair elections.
CHANGING NATURE OF ELECTIONS IN INDIA
Recent elections to the Indian parliament raised the debate of Indian elections becoming more personality centric.
What shift is happening?
- Electoral campaigning is becoming more personality based where political parties are focussing on individual leadership rather than local issues and local representatives.
- Narrative capture where election outcome is decided by “artificial issues” rather than state specific or local issues and diversion of attention from genuine public concerns.
- Change in voters’ attitude as issue of national leadership is central in determining voter decisions. Voters know which individuals it wants but not necessarily which parties or policies.
- Weak political culture, weak opposition also limit the scope for genuine public debate.
Why this shift is a matter of concern?
- Undermining parliamentary system where voters elect local representatives, on the basis of local concerns, to make laws.
- No genuine separation of powers- The legislature cannot truly hold the executive accountable since electors have won in the name of their leader. It leads to undermining of legislature. Frequent disruptions in the Parliament further aggrevate this problem.
- Turncoat candidates (persons changing parties) who found it difficult earlier to get elected are now overpowering personality of leader makes it easier for them to get elected. This leads to corruption, criminalisation, fall in ethical values in politics.
- Populism and personality-based politics weaken the spirit of democracy and reduce space for critical debate.
REDACTIVE PRICING AUDIT
The Supreme Court’s observations in connection with the Rafale fighter aircraft deal by citing the Comptroller and Auditor General of India’s (CAG’s) report on redacted pricing brought back into the spotlight the role of the supreme audit institution of India.
In an unprecedented move, the CAG in the preface of its ‘Performance Audit Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on Capital Acquisition in Indian Air Force’, stated that redactive pricing had been done but it had to be accepted due to the Ministry’s insistence citing security concerns.
- Redaction is the selection or adaption by ‘obscuring or removing sensitive information’ from a document prior to publication. Consequently, the full commercial details were withheld and the figures on the procurement deal were blackened in the report.
- Hence, it was unprecedented that an audit report submitted by the CAG to the President under Article 151 of the Constitution suppressed relevant information. It has generated a discussion on the constitutional mandate of CAG and whether redactive pricing could be included in it.
JAL SHAKTI MINISTRY
The Union Government has setup a Jal Shakti Ministry, a dedicated ministry overseeing various issues related to water.
- The government has merged the erstwhile the Ministry of Water Resources, River development and Ganga Rejuvenation and the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation to form the Ministry of ‘Jal Shakti’ (Water Power).
- The new ministry will deal with all critical issues like water scarcity, overexploited water resources, contaminated groundwater, polluted rivers, dwindling supplies of freshwater, international and inter-states water disputes etc.
INDIA’S SHIFT TOWARDS BIMSTEC
Recently BIMSTEC leaders were invited for Prime Minister’s swearing in ceremony. This is seen as indicator of India’s policy of engaging neighbours and keeping Pakistan out as in 2014 SAARC leaders were invited for the swearing in ceremony.
Recent examples of shifting focus from SAARC to BIMSTEC
Since then, tensions between India and Pakistan have led to New Delhi shifting focus from SAARC to BIMSTEC. Notable events depicting this shift include-
Kathmandu SAARC summit (2014): Pakistan vetoed connectivity agreements initiated by India when all other countries were ready to sign it.
- After the Uri attack of 2016, India boycotted the SAARC summit, which was to be held in Islamabad. The Summit was called off after other SAARC member states followed suit.
- Soon after, India invited BIMSTEC leaders to the BRICS outreach summit in Goa in 2016.
- In 2017 BIMSTEC summit, India’s PM announced, “It is a natural platform to fulfil our key foreign policy priorities of Neighbourhood First and Act East.”
- Thereafter, the 2018 BIMSTEC summit in Nepal saw the grouping pass a resolution demanding that states that “encourage, support or finance terrorism, provide sanctuaries to terrorists and terror groups” be held accountable.
Bay of Bengal Initiatives for Multi-sectoral, Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is a regional group of seven members: Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan, and Nepal, established in 1997 through Bangkok Declaration.
Recently, India was re-elected as an Observer (first it became in 2013) to the Arctic Council.
About the Arctic Council
- It was established by the eight Arctic States through the Ottawa Declaration of 1996. These are— Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States.
- It is not a formalized treaty-based international legal entity and does not allocate resources.
- Six organisations representing the indigenous people of the Arctic region have also been granted the status of permanent participants in the Council.
- It is one of the leading intergovernmental forums, for discussing issues concerning the Arctic region, including scientific research, and peaceful and sustainable use of resources in the region.
- The Council does not prohibit the commercial exploitation of resources in the Arctic.
INDIA AND CTBT
Recently, India has been invited to join Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) in the capacity of an observer.
- It is a multilateral treaty that bans all nuclear explosions, for both civilian and military purposes, in all environments.
- Since the time it was opened for signature, India did not support the treaty based on its discriminatory nature.
Why India has not joined CTBT?
- CTBT divides the world permanently into nuclear “haves and have-nots”, as it favors the nuclear power states, who have already
achieved sophistication in nuclear technology and have little utility in testing further. Whereas other countries’ programs would be stopped at the nascent stage itself.
- No time frame mentioned to dismantle existing nuclear weapons and is silent on complete nuclear disarmament. On the other hand, India is “committed to working towards a CTBT that will promote the goal of total nuclear disarmament”.
- Does not address India’s security concerns- as India faces threats from hostile neighbourhood. E.g. as a party to the CTBT, India would be waiving the possibility of testing and developing its own nuclear weapons whereas China would be able to retain its arsenal as per the NPT. This was compounded by the fear of nuclear collusion between China and Pakistan.
- Would hinder India’s strategic nuclear program development- for scientific development and energy needs given its growing population and requirement of clean energy.
India has criticised the slow pace of UN Security Council reform process and opaque methodologies, non-attribution of assertions and obfuscation of references by the member states which are blocking the early reform of the UN.
What constitutes UNSC reform agenda?
Five sets of issues have been identified by the General Assembly. These are
- Categories of membership
- The question of the veto
- Regional representation
- Size of an enlarged Council and its working methods and
- The Security Council-General Assembly relationship.
3.1. MIDDLE INCOME TRAP
Recently, a member of PM Economic Advisory Council (PMEAC) warned that India may be nearing a structural slowdown and may soon get caught in the ‘middle income trap’ like Brazil and South Africa.
What is middle income trap?
- The term middle-income trap (MIT) usually refers to countries that have experienced rapid growth and thus quickly reached middle-income status (with Gross National Product per capita between $1,000 & $12,000), but then failed to overcome that income range to further catch up to the developed countries and achieve high-income status. MIT is a relatively new phenomenon and was first mentioned in 2007 in the World Bank report.
- The countries caught in the Middle Income Trap are unable to compete with low-income, low-wage economies in manufactured exports and unable to compete with advanced economies in high-skill innovations.
- MIT is associated with a relatively sustained growth slowdown with both direct effects (e.g. income losses) as well as indirect effects (e.g. social conflicts).
JAN DHAN YOJANA
The aggregate deposits in the PMJDY accounts have increased to ₹1 lakh crore, having grown ten-fold from the ₹10,500 crore in the first phase of the scheme in January 2015. 23
About Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY)
- PMJDY is a National Mission on Financial Inclusion encompassing an integrated approach to bring about comprehensive financial inclusion of all the households in the country.
- Jan Dhan Yojana has been a success, be it on number of bank accounts opened, their inclusivity, their balance and even their usage.
- Prompted by the success, the government last year, extended the programme with the focus shifting from opening accounts of “every household” to “every unbanked adult”.
Under this, the overdraft limit was revised from Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000, while accident insurance cover was raised from existing Rs 1 lakh to Rs 2 lakh for new PMJDY accounts opened after August 8, 2018.
RBI REMOVES CHARGES ON NEFT AND RTGS
RBI has removed charges for payments via NEFT and RTGS and asked banks to pass on the benefits to customers.
- Reserve Bank of India had also recently increased the Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) time window for customer transactions (initial cut-off) from 4.30 pm to 6 pm.
- This follows a robust year-on-year increase in the number of RTGS transactions by 8 per cent to ₹1,335 crore in March 2019.
- The volume of NEFT transactions has steadily grown at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 26 per cent over the past four years
DISCOM DEBT TO RETURN TO PRE-UDAY LEVELS
As per a recent report of the rating agency CRISIL, the total debt of state-owned DISCOMS is set to increase to pre-Uday levels of Rs 2.6 trillion by the end of this fiscal year.
About Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY)
- In 2015, The Ministry of Power, Government of India launched this scheme, to improve the financial health and operational efficiency of India’s debt-ridden power distribution companies (DISCOMS that supply power to consumer. They can be a private or a government company.
- It involved a tripartite agreement (Memorandum of Understanding, MoU) between Ministry of Power (MoP), state governments and respective DISCOMs.
- Under UDAY, DISCOMS can convert their debt into state government bonds, but are required to fulfill certain conditions such as AT&C loss reduction, mandatory metering, power purchase planning and performance monitoring. In lieu, state governments took over three-fourths of discom debts, thus reducing the interest burden.
CHALLENGE OF ISIS IN INDIA
Recently, the Islamic State (IS) terror group has claimed for the first time that it has established a “province” in India, after a clash between militants and security forces in the Kashmir region killed a militant with alleged ties to the group.
- Islamic state previously known as the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), is a terror group which envisages to establish an “Islamic state based on Sharia law or Islamic Caliphate”.
- IS’s Amaq News Agency has announced its new province in India, that it called “Wilayah of Hind”, but did not elaborate on the branch’s geographical remit.
- In the past, IS had vowed to convert India into Khurasan State, a historic name for a region that covers Afghanistan, Pakistan, parts of India, and other surrounding countries./
INDIAN TRI-SERVICES COMMANDO UNIT
In a major step towards setting up of an elite Indian tri-services commando unit, a Major General ranked officer has been appointed as the first chief of the Armed Forces Special Operations Division.
About Armed Forces Special Operations Division.
- The tri-services formation will have Special Forces commandos from Army’s Parachute Regiment, Navy’s MARCOS and Air Force’s Garud Commando Force.
- The three forces have operated together but this will be first effort to bring them under a common command and control structure, an important step in integration of the three forces.
Supreme Court held that a Foreigners’ Tribunal’s order declaring a person as an illegal foreigner would be binding and would prevail over the government decision to exclude or include the name from the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam.
- When the draft NRC was published in 2018, around 40.7 lakh people were excluded from the NRC. However, those excluded were allowed to file claims and objections with NRC Seva Kendras. The claims-and-objections process will also take into account errors during the update and any new document submitted (like birth certificates, land records etc.)
- Once the final NRC is published, those excluded can approach Foreigners’ Tribunal, followed by further appeals from Guwahati High Court and Supreme Court.
- The State Government proposed to set up 1000 Foreigners Tribunals (FTs) to review the appeals of those declared as illegal immigrants.
- The decision of FTs cannot be abrogated through executive action. According to SC, the principle of ‘res-judicata’ (a judicially decided issue cannot be re-agitated) would apply on the decision of FTs and a person who has been declared an illegal immigrant cannot seek re-decision in normal circumstances.
- Those, whose appeals are rejected, will be sent to detention centres or deported.
About Foreigners’ Tribunals
- Foreigners’ Tribunals (FTs) are quasi-judicial bodies meant to determine whether a person is or is not a foreigner under Foreigner’s Act, 1946.
- FTs were first setup in 1964 and are unique to Assam. In rest of the country, a foreigner apprehended by the police for staying illegally is prosecuted in a local court and later deported/put in detention centres.
- Each FT is headed by a member who can be a retired judicial officer, bureaucrat or lawyer with minimum seven years of legal practice.
- Earlier, powers to constitute tribunals were vested only with Centre. Recently amended Foreigners (Tribunal) Order, 2019 has empowered district magistrates in all States & Union Territories to set up tribunals to decide whether a person staying illegally in India is a foreigner or not.
CARBON DIOXIDE IN THE ATMOSPHERE
Recently, for the first time, global concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have crossed 415 parts per million (ppm) mark as per Mauna Loa Observatory.
- Paris Agreement 2015: Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed to limit global temperature increase to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 C.
- In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C (IPCC SR 1.5°C) warned that the impacts of warming at 2°C would be significantly worse than those at 1.5°C.
- According to IPCC SR 1.5°C, to avoid or limit any overshoot of the 1.5°C temperature goal, CO2 emissions will need to be phased out almost entirely by 2050.
Recently, more than 25 states in the country have failed to submit their respective action plans on systematic disposal of plastic waste to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) due till the deadline of April 30, 2019.
- A 2017 report by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) pegs the amount of plastic waste generated in India at 25,940 tonnes per day.
- India notified the Plastic Waste Management Rules in 2016, which replaced the earlier Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011.
- Microplastics or Microbeads are plastic pieces or fibre, which is very small, generally measuring less than 1mm. They enter water bodies they accumulate as act as carriers for other pollutants. They carry carcinogenic chemical compounds in the food chain.
- Single-use plastics: Also referred as disposable plastics, are commonly used for plastic packaging and include items intended to be used only once before they are thrown away or recycled. They have a higher carbon footprint and are more resource and water intensive to produce.
COP TO BASEL, ROTTERDAM AND STOCKHOLM CONVENTIONS
Recently, 2019 joint Conferences of the Parties to the Basel (COP-14), Rotterdam (COP-09) and Stockholm (COP-09) convention was held in Geneva.
Important decisions taken during COP:
- Under the Rotterdam Convention: Establishment of a compliance mechanism to assist Parties to identify and address gaps in complying with the Convention, with the aim of ensuring that governments have the information they need about hazardous chemicals to assess the risks and take informed decisions when importing chemicals.
- Under Stockholm Convention: Listing for elimination of dicofol and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), its salts, and PFOA-related compounds under Annex A of the Convention, which obliges Parties to eliminate these chemicals from use.
- Under Basel Convention: Adoption of an amendment to include unsorted, mixed and contaminated plastic waste under PIC (Prior Informed Consent) procedure and improve the regulation of its trans-boundary movement.
BIO JET FUEL
Recently, a Russian-origin AN-32 transport plane was formally fleet certified by DRDO to fly with the 10 per cent bio-jet blended ATF (aviation turbine fuel) made from Jatropha oil.
- The first AN 32 was flown in December 2018 using the bio-jet fuel.
- India’s first biofuel-powered flight was successfully tested between Dehradun to Delhi in August 2018 by Spicejet Airlines to ascertain the feasibility of biofuel powered flights.
Extremely severe cyclonic Fani recently hit the Odisha coast.
- India Meteorological Department issued yellow warning, which indicates severely bad weather, warning people who are at risk to take preventive action.
- With sustained winds of 240 kmph, the storm was the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
What makes Fani unique?
- Place of origin: The in situ cyclonic systems in the Bay of Bengal usually originate around latitude 10°, in line with Chennai or Thiruvananthapuram. Fani, on the other hand, originated quite close to the Equator, around latitude 2°, well below the Sri Lankan landmass.
- Lifespan: Tropical cyclones over the Bay of Bengal have a lifespan of four-seven days, whereas Fani traveled long which allowed it to gather a lot of moisture and momentum, resulting in strong winds.
- Route: Fani was initially headed north-westwards, towards the Tamil Nadu coast but changed its course midway and moved northeast away from the coastline to reach Odisha. The recurve it has taken gave it more time over the sea and has ensured that it has gathered unusual strength.
Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) has voted in favour of designating a new geological epoch — the Anthropocene. The panel plans to submit a formal proposal for the new epoch by 2021 to the International Commission on Stratigraphy, which oversees the official geologic time chart.
About Anthropocene Epoch
- The term ‘Anthropocene’ was coined in 2000 by Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer to denote the present geological time interval in which human activity has profoundly altered many conditions and processes on Earth.
- Rising global temperatures, sea levels, depleting ozone layer and acidifying oceans are the result of human activity that has “distinctively” altered our planet.
- According to experts, the new epoch should begin about 1950 and was likely to be defined by the radioactive elements dispersed across the planet by nuclear bomb tests, although an array of other signals, including plastic pollution, soot from power stations, concrete, and even the bones left by the global proliferation of the domestic chicken were now under consideration.
- The move signals the end of the Holocene epoch, which began 12,000 to 11,600 years ago.
- SOCIAL ISSUES
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE LAW
Recently Supreme Court held that even the brother-in-law has a liability to pay maintenance to a victim under the Domestic Violence Act if they had lived together under the same roof in a shared household as part of a joint family at any point of time.
About Domestic Violence
- Every third women, since the age of 15, has faced domestic violence of various forms in the country, reported the National Family Health Survey (NHFS-4).
- According to WHO, worldwide as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by a male intimate partner.
o In India intimate partner violence is the highest at 37.7% in the WHO South-East Asia region.
- Domestic violence can negatively affect a woman’s physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive health.
The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005:
The Act expanded the definition of domestic violence to include not just physical, but also verbal, emotional, sexual and economic violence.
o The law is broad in its definition— “domestic relationship” includes married women, mothers, daughters and sisters.
o This law not only protects women who are married but also protects women in live-in relationships, as well as family members including mothers, grandmothers, etc.
o Under this law, women can seek protection against domestic violence, financial compensation and they can get maintenance from their abuser in case they are living apart.
o It provides the Right to Secure Housing i.e. right to reside in the matrimonial or shared household, whether or not she has any title or rights in the household. This right is secured by a residence order, which is passed by a court.
o A magistrate can pass a protection order under the Act to ensure the abuser doesn’t contact or get close to the survivor.
o It provides for breach of protection order or interim protection order by the respondent as a cognisable and non-bailable offence punishable with imprisonment which may extend to one year or with fine which may extend to Rs. 20,000 or with both.
o It provides for appointment of protection officers and NGOs to provide assistance to the woman for medical examination, legal aid and safe Shelter.
o Punishment of one year maximum imprisonment and Rs. 20,000 each or both to the offenders is mentioned.
o PWDVA enshrines principles of the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which India ratified in 1993.
- The Dowry Prohibition Act: This is a criminal law that punishes the taking and giving of dowry. Under this law, if someone takes, gives or even demands dowry, they can be imprisoned for six months or they can be fined up to Rs 5,000.
- Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code: This is a criminal law, which applies to husbands or relatives of husbands who are cruel to women. Recently, the Supreme Court restored an immediate arrest provision in the dreaded Section 498A, IPC.
The Madras High Court suggested that consensual sex, physical contact or allied acts after the age of 16 be excluded from the ambit of POCSO Act.
Suggestions made by High Court
- The definition of ‘Child’ under Section 2(d) of the POCSO Act can be redefined as 16 instead of 18.
- It suggested that suitable amendments could be made so that a consensual relationship between a girl above 16 years of age and a boy between 16 to 21 years of age need not attract the draconian provisions.
Provisions of the POCSO Act
- The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act 2012 was formulated in order to effectively address sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children through legal provisions.
- India being a party to the ‘UN Convention on the Rights of the Child’ is also under legal obligation to protect its children from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.
- The act defines a child, (irrespective of gender) as a person under the age of 18 years, which prevents the “inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity”.
- It mandates the Central and State governments to take all measures to ensure publicity to the provisions of the Act and obliges government officials to be trained in how to implement the Act.
- It also seeks to establish Special Courts for speedy trial of such offences. The Act stipulates that a case of Child Sexual Abuse must be disposed of within one year from the date the offence is reported.
- It is gender neutral law, wherein the law takes cognizance of sexual crimes committed against both girls and boys under the age of 18 years.
- The law protects children from both contact and non-contact sexual abuse.
Recently, the Supreme Court upheld the provisions in the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act of 1994, which ‘criminalises’ non-maintenance of medical records by obstetricians and gynaecologists and suspend their medical licenses indefinitely.
- The Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994 was enacted to stop female foeticides and arrest the declining sex ratio in India. It was amended in 2003, to improve the regulation of the technology used in sex selection.
- The basic requirements of the act include the registration of clinics, written consent of the pregnant women, prohibition of communicating the sex of fetus, maintenance of records and creating awareness among the public at large by placing the board of prohibition on sex determination.
SHIFT IN INDIAN DEMOGRAPHICS
Recently released statistics have shown a change in demography of India as for the first time in its history, India has reached a TFR (Total Fertility Rate) of 2.18, which is below the average world replacement rate of 2.3, as per the latest NFHS-4 data.
- The general opinion about Indian demography has been mainly about the young workforce, which is bound to give dividends to India. It implies that India is going to remain like that. However, the data from the 4th National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) 2015-16 for the survey period 2013-15 has signalled a monumental shift in modern Indian demographics, as India’s total fertility rates have seen a change.
- With the Total Fertility Rate now below the replacement rate, Indian population growth has moved past its peak. It signals that the growth of number of youth in the country is on the decline, as the population pyramid has inverted for the first time ever.
- The Total Fertility Rate (TFR) is the number of children that would be born per woman, assuming no female mortality at childbearing age and the age-specific fertility rates of a specified country and reference period.
- SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
Recently, the Interagency Coordination Group on Antimicrobial Resistance (IACG) has released a report titled, “No Time to Wait: Securing The Future From Drug Resistant Infections”, which highlights the financial fall-out of uncontrolled antimicrobial resistance.
- Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is the ability of a microorganism (like bacteria, viruses, and some parasites) to stop an antimicrobial (such as antibiotics, antivirals and antimalarials) from working against it. As a result, standard treatments become ineffective, infections persist and may spread to others.
- Antibiotic resistance occurs naturally, but misuse of antibiotics in humans and animals is accelerating the process. Poor infection prevention and control further accelerate it.
Department of Telecommunications has decided to allow mobile operators to start 5G trials from June.
- 5G is a wireless communication technology using radio waves or radio frequency (RF) energy to transmit and receive data.
- It is the next generation mobile networks technology after 4G LTE networks. 5G technologies will enter services gradually, beginning in 2019 and advance to a full range of services by 2024.
- 5G connections in India are forecasted to reach 88 million by 2025, equivalent to around 7% of the total connections base in the country.
INDIA ADOPTS NEW DEFINITION OF KILOGRAM
National Physical Laboratory recently recommended updation of definition of Kilogram in the syllabi and textbooks in India recently.
- The 26th General Conference on Weights & Measures (CGPM) last year redefined World’s standard definition of Kilogram, Ampere, Kelvin, and Mole.
- Earlier, the kilogram derived its provenance from the weight of a block of a platinum-iridium alloy housed at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures.
- All other prototypes that served as national reference standards, including the one at New Delhi’s CSIR-National Physical Laboratory (NPL), were calibrated to it.
- The NPL institute is also in the process of making its own ‘Kibble Balance’ (in which the weight of a test mass is offset by an electromagnetic force), a device that was used to measure the Planck Constant and thereby reboot the kilogram.
MANAV: HUMAN ATLAS INITIATIVE
Department of Biotechnology (DBT) recently launched MANAV: Human Atlas Initiative.
- MANAV Project aims to create an open and interactive atlas of human biology, compiling, curating and synthesizing data at the molecular, cellular, tissue and organismic level from scientific literature and public databases.
- For the first time, Indian scientists will be mapping every single tissue of the human body to have deeper understanding of the roles of tissues and cells linked to various diseases.
SUPERCONDUCTIVITY AT ROOM TEMPERATURE
Recently, a team from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru has come up with a material, which exhibits major properties of superconductivity at ambient temperature and pressure.
- Superconductivity is a phenomenon in which the resistance of the material to the electric current flow is zero. When current is passed through an ordinary conductor, such as copper, a part of it is lost to the surroundings in the form of heat energy generated due to the resistance offered to its flow by the material. Low resistance means more of the supplied power gets to its intended destination. With the use of superconductors, this loss can be cut down.
- Significance of the recent development – Till now, scientists have been able to make materials superconduct only at temperatures much below zero degree C and hence making practical utility very difficult, as maintaining such low temperatures are energy intensive and, thus, expensive. Superconductivity at ambient temperature has been a treasure in physics for about a century, which makes this discovery important.
The International Rice Research Institute along with its partners has successfully cultivated Golden Rice in a controlled environment on IRRI campus.
- Golden rice is the collective name of rice varieties that are genetically modified to counter vitamin A deficiency in developing countries.
- European scientists developed the first strain of Golden Rice towards the end of the 1990s.
- Golden rice differs from standard rice in that it contains extra genes one from maize and one from bacterial origin together responsible for the production of provitamin A (beta-carotene) in the rice grain.
Vitamin A deficiency
- Vitamin A deficiency generally occurs due to an imbalanced diet including limited access to fresh fruit, vegetables and animal products.
- Persistent deficiency in this vital nutrient can result in blindness, illness and even death.
- Vitamin A deficiency also compromises the immune system, which means children die from common diseases including diarrhea, respiratory tract infections and measles.
ISHWAR CHANDRA VIDYASAGAR
Recently the statue of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was vandalised during the violent clashes that broke out in Kolkata.
About Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (1820-1891)
- He, received the title Vidyasagar (ocean of knowledge) for his outstanding academic performance, was a legendary educationist, a Sanskrit scholar and a social reformer who questioned oppressive social traditions of Hindu society.
- He was invited by the Fort William College to teach Bengali to the European recruits and later he went on to become the head of the Sanskrit Department. In 1846, he joined the Sanskrit College.
- He came to the conclusion that merging of Eastern and Western culture would remove superstition and prejudice.
VINAYAK DAMODAR SAVARKAR
Recently, the 136th birth anniversary of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the renowned philosopher, was observed.
About Veer Savarkar (1883-1966)
- He was an independence activist, politician, lawyer, writer, and the formulator of the Hindutva philosophy.
- Major works: The Indian War of Independence 1857 (It was banned by British), Hindutva (written in Ratnagiri Jail), Hindu-pad paatshahi, Joseph Mazzini.
o He established an organization named ‘Mitra Mela’ later renamed as ‘Abhinav Bharat’ which influenced the members to fight for ‘absolute political independence’ of India.
o He was associated with the India House (England) for which he was arrested in 1910 and later moved to the Cellular Jail in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, (released in 1921).
Recently, a postage stamp was launched to commemorate the 750th birth anniversary of Sri Vedanta Desikan.
About Vedanta Desikan
- One of the most prominent preceptors in the Sri Vaishnava tradition, he was a multi-faceted personality.
- Celebrated as ‘Sarva-Tantra-Svatantra’ or master of all arts and crafts and awarded the title ‘Kavi TarkikaKesari’.
- Philosophy- The Srivaishnava philosophy got a much wider audience with Vedanta Desikan’s writings and preaching.
Many pieces of Pattachitra art have been damaged due to cyclone Fani in the coastal villages of Odisha.
- A traditional cloth-based scroll painting form Odisha, which derives its unique place because of its pictorial conception, technique of painting, line formation and colour scheme.
- These were traditionally drawn by the mahapatras, the original artiste caste in Odisha.
- They became an important art form with the ornamentation of Lord Jagannath in the innermost sanctum.
Recently, archaeologists have unearthed a life-size stucco sculpture from a Buddhist site in Phanigiri, Telangana making it the largest found in the country so far.
About the Sculpture
About 1.73 m in height and 35 cm in width, the figurine represents one of the Bodhisattvas belonging to the Jathaka Chakra, believed to be belonging to the Ikshavaku dynasty.
TENTATIVE LIST OF UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES
Recently, UNESCO has included the Orchha city (MP) and Indian part of Kailash Mansarovar in its tentative list of world heritage sites on the proposal sent by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
DELHI HIGH COURT RULED UN IS NOT A STATE
- The Delhi High Court has ruled that the United Nations is not a “State” within the meaning of Article 12 of the Constitution of India and is not amenable to the jurisdiction of the Court under Article 226 of the Constitution of India.
- According to Article 12 of the Constitution of India, the term ‘State’ denotes the union and state governments, the Parliament and state legislatures and all local or other authorities within the territory of India or under the control of the Indian government.
- An advisory group to GOI has suggested issuance of ‘Elephant Bonds’.
- Elephant Bonds would be sovereign bonds issued for a period of 25 years in which people declaring undisclosed income will be bound to invest 50 per cent, similar to an amnesty scheme. These funds will be utilised only for infrastructure projects.
- Recently, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), inaugurated its commercial arm NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), in Bengaluru.
- It was incorporated for commercially utilising research and development activities carried out by ISRO with an authorised share capital of Rs 100 crore and initial paid up capital of Rs 10 crore.
SEVEN MEGA MISSIONS BY ISRO
- ISRO plans to conduct seven mega missions over next 10 years.
- These include:
- Aditya-L1 missions
- The four other undefined missions, which are in the planning stage, are: Mangalyaan-2, Venus mission, Lunar Polar Exploration and Exoworlds.
NASA’S ARTEMIS LUNAR PROGRAM
- NASA recently unveiled the calendar for the “Artemis” program that will return astronauts to the Moon for the first time in half a century including the first woman astronaut to moon.
- Through Artemis, NASA aims to establish:
- sustainable human presence on the Moon by 2028 to uncover new scientific discoveries,
- demonstrate new technological advancements,
- lay the foundation for private companies to build a lunar economy
- DRDO successfully test fires Akash-1S surface to air defence missile.
- It is a new version of the Akash missile fitted with an indigenous seeker.
- Akash has been developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Plan along with Agni, Trishul, Prithvi and Nag.
- It is a supersonic surface-to-air missile.
- The DRDO has successfully conducted the flight test of ABHYAS – High-speed Expendable Aerial Target (HEAT) from a test range in Odisha.
- It offers a realistic threat scenario for practice of weapon systems.
- ‘Abhyas’ is designed for autonomous flying with the help of an autopilot.
Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) has distributed more than one lakh bee-boxes among farmers and unemployed youths across the country in less than two years under its ‘Honey Mission’ initiative
PRADHAN MANTRI KISAN SAMMAN NIDHI (PM-KISAN)
The Central Government notified a decision to extend the benefit of ₹6,000 per year under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi scheme to all 14.5 crore farmers in the country, irrespective of the size of their landholding.
ROOM OF THE RIVER PROJECT
One of the flagship projects of the Netherland government, “Room of the river” is to be replicated in Kerala’s Kuttanad, which remained submerged for weeks during Kerala floods. About the project
- It is a flood mitigation initiative which is aimed at protecting areas adjoining rivers from routine flooding and improving water management systems in delta regions.
ARUNACHAL ‘S GRAPHITE DEPOSITS
- Recently, the Geological Survey of India (GSI) has stated that 35 per cent the country’s Graphite deposits of the country is found in Arunachal Pradesh.
- Currently, India is importing graphite from countries like China, Japan, Germany etc.
- Other major hubs of graphite: Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu and Odisha
- Recently, India’s only orangutan died in Odisha’s Nandankanan Zoological Park.
- She was brought from Singapore to Pune’s Rajiv Gandhi Zoological Park and later shifted to Odisha.
- Orangutans are one of the world’s three surviving species of great apes and are native to Indonesia and Malaysia.
- India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C46) successfully launched RISAT-2BR1 satellite from Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota.
- It is a radar imaging earth observation satellite weighing about 615 kg (orbit of 556 km).
- The satellite is intended to provide services in the field of Agriculture, Forestry and Disaster Management.
- It has a sensor called the ‘Synthetic Aperture Radar’, which takes high-quality radar images. Globally, security agencies use the images and services of such satellites.
FOURTH SCORPENE-CLASS SUBMARINE VELA LAUNCHED
- The Scorpene-class submarine Vela, the fourth of six underwater warships being built in India with French collaboration, was launched in Mumbai recently.
- A contract was signed in 2005, between French collaborator Ms Naval Group (formerly DCNS), and Mazgaon Dock Limited under Indian Navy’s Project75 for the construction and transfer of technology for six scorpene-class submarines.
- The first submarine INS Kalvari was commissioned in December 2017 while two other submarines – INS Khanderi and INS Karanj are in the advanced stages to join the Navy fleet.
- Vagir and Vagsheer are the remaining two submarines in the country’s Scorpene Submarine programme, they are in the advanced stages of manufacturing.
- UK has become the first national government to declare an Environmental and climate emergency.
- The step followed 11 days of street protests in London by the Extinction Rebellion environmental campaign group.
- While there is no precise definition of climate emergency, this move will put the climate and the environment at the very centre of all government policy, rather than being on the fringe of political decisions.