Current Affairs, 29 September 2018
Topic: Women related issues.
Sabarimala temple opens to women of all ages
What to study?
- For Prelims: Location of Sabarimala temple.
- For Mains: Temple entry- ban, need for revival, question of FRs at stake and issues associated.
Context: Condemning the prohibition as hegemonic patriarchy, the Supreme Court has lifted the centuries-old practice of prohibiting women to enter the Lord Ayyappa temple at Sabarimala in Kerala.
What’s the issue?
The legend has it that the temple deity Ayyappa followed celibacy all through his life. Therefore, women devotees of menstruating age are considered “impure” by supporters of the ban and are prohibited from entering the temple, on the pretext that they would disturb the celibacy of the deity.
Views of the court:
- On one side we pray to goddesses; on the other, women of a certain age are considered ‘impure’. This dualistic approach is nothing but patriarchy practised in religion.
- Exclusion on grounds of biological and physiological features like menstruation was therefore unconstitutional as it is violative of the right to equality and dignity of women.
- Hence, Rule 3(b) of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Act of 1965, which mandates the prohibition in Sabarimala temple, ultra vires the Constitution. The Rule violated the fundamental right of a Hindu woman to offer worship at a place of her choice. Right to worship is equally available to men and women.
- Justice Indu Malhotra, the lone woman judge on the Constitution Bench, dissented from the majority opinion. She held that the determination of what constituted an essential practice in a religion should not be decided by judges on the basis of their personal viewpoints.
- She held that essentiality of a religious practice or custom had to be decided within the religion. It was a matter of personal faith. Constitutional morality in a pluralistic society gave freedom to practice even irrational or illogical customs and usages.
- Harmonization of fundamental rights with religion included providing freedom for diverse sects to practise their customs and beliefs. Therefore, the Judge held that there were strong, plausible reasons to show that Ayyappa devotees had attributes of a religious denomination.
- They have distinct names, properties. Besides, the Sabarimala temple was not funded out of the Consolidated Fund.
Significance of the verdict:
- The Supreme Court’s ruling establishes the legal principle that individual freedom prevails over purported group rights, even in matters of religion. Devotees of Lord Ayyappa do not constitute a separate religious denomination and that the prohibition on women is not an essential part of Hindu religion.
- Beyond the legality of the practice, the court has also sought to grapple with the stigmatisation of women devotees based on a medieval view of menstruation as symbolising impurity and pollution.
- The decision reaffirms the Constitution’s transformative character and derives strength from the centrality it accords to fundamental rights.
Devotion cannot be subjected to the stereotypes of gender. Stigma built around traditional notions of impurity has no place in the constitutional order, and exclusion based on the notion of impurity is a form of untouchability.
Any rule based on segregation of women pertaining to biological characteristics is indefensible and unconstitutional.
Sources: the hindu.
Topic: Parliament and State Legislatures – structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.
Model Code of Conduct
What to study?
- For Prelims: Features of MCC, constitutional status.
- For Mains: Significance, need for reforms of MCC, committee constituted in this regard.
Context: Election Commission (EC) has announced that Model Code of Conduct comes into force immediately in states where legislative assemblies have been dissolved prematurely.
- EC has also held that after dissolution caretaker government as well as the central government is barred from announcing new schemes in particular state from date of dissolution of legislative assembly till new House is elected.
Model Code of Conduct(MCC):
What is MCC? These are the guidelines issued by the Election Commission of India for conduct of political parties and candidates during elections mainly with respect to speeches, polling day, polling booths, election manifestos, processions and general conduct.
Aim: To ensure free and fair elections.
When it comes into force? So far, the Model Code of Conduct came into force immediately on announcement of the election schedule by the commission. The Code remains in force till the end of the electoral process.
Status: The need for such code is in the interest of free and fair elections. However, the code does not have any specific statutory basis. It has only a persuasive effect. It contains what is known as “rules of electoral morality”. But this lack of statutory backing does not prevent the Commission from enforcing it.
Evolution: The Commission issued the code for the first time in 1971 (5th Election) and revised it from time to time. This set of norms has been evolved with the consensus of political parties who have consented to abide by the principles embodied in the said code and also binds them to respect and observe it in its letter and spirit.
What it contains? The salient features of the Model Code of Conduct lay down how political parties, contesting candidates and party(s) in power should conduct themselves during the process of elections i.e. on their general conduct during electioneering, holding meetings and processions, poll day activities and functioning of the party in power etc.
Sources: the hindu.
Topic: Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies.
Appointment of Lokpal
What to study?
- For Prelims: Lokpal- powers, functions and appointment, features of Lokpal and Lokayukta Act.
- For Mains: Significance and issues associated.
Context: Government has constituted eight-member search committee headed by former Supreme Court judge, Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai, to recommend names for posts of Lokpal chairperson and members. The selection process of Lokpal is underway as per guidelines of laid down in Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013.
Committee’s Terms of Reference:
The search committee will start functioning soon.It will recommend names for Lokpal chairperson and members. It can also consider names other than those recommended by the search committee.
Highlights of the Lokpal Act of 2013:
- The Act allows setting up of anti-corruption ombudsman called Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayukta at the State-level.
- The Lokpal will consist of a chairperson and a maximum of eight members.
- The Lokpal will cover all categories of public servants, including the Prime Minister. But the armed forces do not come under the ambit of Lokpal.
- The Act also incorporates provisions for attachment and confiscation of property acquired by corrupt means, even while the prosecution is pending.
- The States will have to institute Lokayukta within one year of the commencement of the Act.
- The Act also ensures that public servants who act as whistleblowers are protected.
- The Lokpal will have the power of superintendence and direction over any investigation agency including CBI for cases referred to them by the ombudsman.
- As per the Act, the Lokpal can summon or question any public servant if there exists a prima facie case against the person, even before an investigation agency (such as vigilance or CBI) has begun the probe. Any officer of the CBI investigating a case referred to it by the Lokpal, shall not be transferred without the approval of the Lokpal.
- An investigation must be completed within six months. However, the Lokpal or Lokayukta may allow extensions of six months at a time provided the reasons for the need of such extensions are given in writing.
- Special courts will be instituted to conduct trials on cases referred by Lokpal.
Topic: Development processes and the development industry the role of NGOs, SHGs, various groups and associations, donors, charities, institutional and other stakeholders.
What to study?
For Prelims and Mains: Features and significance of the campaign.
Context: The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, under the aegis of Swachh Bharat Mission – Urban has partnered with Google to launch the Loo Review campaign.
About the Loo Review campaign:
- It is aimed to encourage all local guides in India to rate and review public toilets on Google Maps.
- This campaign will allow all citizens to locate public toilets in their cities on Google Maps, Search and the Assistant and also provide feedback on the same.
- Local Guides are people who share reviews, photos, and knowledge on Google Maps to help people explore the world.
The joint campaign to be run throughout October and November 2018 is an effort to increase the awareness and ease of locating public toilets across India. 500+ cities in India with more than 30,000 toilets with the name of “SBM Toilet” are currently live on Google Maps.
- One of the objectives of the SBM- U is to provide sanitation coverage through public toilet facilities across cities in India for achieving Open Defecation Free (ODF) status. There is now a need to ensure that the ODF status is sustained through continuous usage and proper maintenance of public toilets. The ‘Public toilets near me’ feature will benefit citizens, particularly women and senior citizens, who often find it difficult to find access to clean toilets in the public space.
- The feedback provide by local guides through the Loo Review campaign will press upon the Urban Local Bodies to take proactive steps to improve public toilet facilities across the country.
Sources: the hindu.
UN Sustainable Development Framework (UNSDF)
What to study?
For Prelims and Mains: SDGs and UNSDF- key facts and significance.
Context: NITI Aayog and United Nations in India have signed Sustainable Development Framework for 2018-2022.
What is UN Sustainable Development Framework (UNSDF)?
UNSDF 2018-2022 outlines development cooperation strategy between Union Government and United Nations Country Team in India in support of achievement of India’s key national development priorities and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
- It was framed following highly participative process, in consultation with government entities, civil society representatives, academia, and private sector.
- Focus areas under it include poverty and urbanization, health, water, and sanitation, education, climate change, nutrition and food security, clean energy, and disaster resilience; skilling, entrepreneurship, job creation, gender equality and youth development.
- UNSDF also includes set of UN flagship programs that are aligned with major government schemes. These flagship programs will be scalable innovative, multi-sectoral solutions to some of most pressing development challenges that India faces and also serve as catalysts for increased investment of development finance.
- UNSDF programmes range from affordable housing for poor to increasing access to clean energy in rural off-grid areas, protecting all children from vaccine-preventable diseases, providing quality education for all children and skilling for young people, especially young girls and ending stunting to improving child sex ratio.
Across these outcome areas, UN will support Union Government in south-south cooperation in partnership with Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). The total planned budget outlay for implementation of UNSDF is approximately Rs. 11000 crore, of which 47% is planned to be mobilized through course of implementation from multiple sources, including private sector and government.
The programmatic work outlined in UNSDF targets seven low-income states viz. Bihar, Jharkhand, MP, Odisha, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and UP along with North-East region and aspirational districts identified by the NITI Aayog. It will work on improving lives of most marginalized, poor, and vulnerable communities and people in the country, especially women and girls.
Topic: Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights.
Fighting fake drugs through blockchain
What to study?
For Prelims and Mains: Blockchain- meaning, operation, significance, concerns and potential applications.
Context: NITI Aayog has signed an agreement with cloud services provider Oracle, hospital chain Apollo Hospitals, and pharmaceutical manufacturer Strides Pharma Sciences to curb the distribution of fake drugs using new technologies like blockchain.
Use of technology and its significance:
The partners will pilot a real drug supply chain using blockchain decentralized ledger and IoT software. By piloting a real drug supply chain using blockchain and IoT software, they can support governments and healthcare experts to quickly detect fake drugs. These will aide authorities to enforce penalties on wrong-doers with easy, proof-based data.
How it works?
Oracle’s blockchain software permanently registers a drug’s record in the manufacturer’s drug supply chain (serial number, labelling, scanning), leaving no scope for record tampering.
At every point of hand change, it records the drug’s movement — from manufacturer to logistics, from stockist to hospital, or from pharmacy to consumer. In case of a fake drug, the software will detect irregularity and notify the concerned nodal point.
The Indian pharmaceutical industry is the third largest in the world in volume, accounting for 10% of the world’s production.
However, a recent report by World Health Organisation estimates 20% of all drugs sold in India are fake. Also, as the largest producer of generic drugs in the world, India is reported to be the source of 35% of all counterfeit drugs sold worldwide.
What are Blockchains?
Blockchains are a new data structure that is secure, cryptography-based, and distributed across a network. The technology supports cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, and the transfer of any data or digital asset. Spearheaded by Bitcoin, blockchains achieve consensus among distributed nodes, allowing the transfer of digital goods without the need for centralized authorisation of transactions. The present blockchain ecosystem is like the early Internet, a permissionless innovation environment in which email, the World Wide Web, Napster, Skype, and Uber were built.
Topic: Infrastructure- energy and conservation related issues.
Sustainable Alternative Towards Affordable Transportation (SATAT) Initiative
What to study?
For Prelims and Mains: SATAT initiative- key objectives, significance and brief overview on CNG and CBG.
Context: The government has launched Sustainable Alternative Towards Affordable Transportation (SATAT) Initiative to set up Compressed Bio-Gas (CBG) production plants and make available CBG in the market for use in automotive fuels.
About the initiative:
- The initiative is aimed at providing a Sustainable Alternative Towards Affordable Transportation (SATAT) as a developmental effort that would benefit both vehicle-users as well as farmers and entrepreneurs.
- Compressed Bio-Gas plants are proposed to be set up mainly through independent entrepreneurs. CBG produced at these plants will be transported through cascades of cylinders to the fuel station networks of OMCs for marketing as a green transport fuel alternative.
- The entrepreneurs would be able to separately market the other by-products from these plants, including bio-manure, carbon-dioxide, etc., to enhance returns on investment.
- It is planned to roll out 5,000 Compressed Bio-Gas plants across India in a phased manner, with 250 plants by the year 2020, 1,000 plants by 2022 and 5,000 plants by 2025. These plants are expected to produce 15 million tonnes of CBG per annum, which is about 40% of current CNG consumption of 44 million tonnes per annum in the country.
- At an investment of approx. Rs. 1.7 lakh crore, this initiative is expected to generate direct employment for 75,000 people and produce 50 million tonnes of bio-manure for crops.
There are multiple benefits from converting agricultural residue, cattle dung and municipal solid waste into CBG on a commercial scale:
- Responsible waste management, reduction in carbon emissions and pollution.
- Additional revenue source for farmers.
- Boost to entrepreneurship, rural economy and employment.
- Support to national commitments in achieving climate change goals.
- Reduction in import of natural gas and crude oil.
- Buffer against crude oil/gas price fluctuations.
This move has the potential to boost availability of more affordable transport fuels, better use of agricultural residue, cattle dung and municipal solid waste, as well as to provide an additional revenue source to farmers.
The initiative holds great promise for efficient municipal solid waste management and in tackling the problem of polluted urban air due to farm stubble-burning and carbon emissions. Use of CBG will also help bring down dependency on crude oil imports.
Bio-gas is produced naturally through a process of anaerobic decomposition from waste / bio-mass sources like agriculture residue, cattle dung, sugarcane press mud, municipal solid waste, sewage treatment plant waste, etc. After purification, it is compressed and called CBG, which has pure methane content of over 95%.
What is CBG?
Compressed Bio-Gas is exactly similar to the commercially available natural gas in its composition and energy potential. With calorific value (~52,000 KJ/kg) and other properties similar to CNG, Compressed Bio-Gas can be used as an alternative, renewable automotive fuel. Given the abundance of biomass in the country, Compressed Bio-Gas has the potential to replace CNG in automotive, industrial and commercial uses in the coming years.
Compressed Bio-Gas can be produced from various bio-mass/waste sources, including agricultural residue, municipal solid waste, sugarcane press mud, distillery spent wash, cattle dung and sewage treatment plant waste. The other waste streams, i.e, rotten potatoes from cold storages, rotten vegetables, dairy plants, chicken/poultry litter, food waste, horticulture waste, forestry residues and treated organic waste from industrial effluent treatment plants (ETPs) can be used to generate biogas.
The potential for Compressed Bio-Gas production from various sources in India is estimated at about 62 million tonnes per annum. Going forward, Compressed Bio-Gas networks can be integrated with city gas distribution (CGD) networks to boost supplies to domestic and retail users in existing and upcoming markets. Besides retailing from OMC fuel stations, Compressed Bio-Gas can at a later date be injected into CGD pipelines too for efficient distribution and optimised access of a cleaner and more affordable fuel.
Facts for Prelims:
What is it? To showcase the courage, valour and sacrifice of Armed Forces during Surgical Strikes conducted in 2016, ‘Parakram Parv’ is being observed from 28-30 September 2018.
Indian Army conducted surgical strikes in 2016 which had strategic ramifications and were aimed to dissuade inimical adversary from adopting the path of violence and to ensure an environment of peace for the Nation.
Editorial: Aadhaar programme reduces a person to 12 digits, says Supreme Court Judge
Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, Supreme court Judge, who wrote the lone dissenting opinion declaring Aadhaar unconstitutional, held that the unique identity scheme reduces a person to a 12-digit number.
Justice Chandrachud observed, “If the requirement of Aadhaar is made mandatory for every benefit or service which the government provides, it is impossible to live in contemporary India without Aadhaar.”
Today, Aadhaar is the world’s largest biometric and identity database with 122.56 Cr numbers issued to Indian citizens or persons living in India for more than 180 days. These have been used for around 2,322 Cr authentications.
Background: Origin of Aadhaar:
Following the report of the Kargil Review Committee, a Group of Ministers recommended a multipurpose National Identity Card.
Government announced in its National Common Minimum Programme that for sharp targeting of Government subsidies, a detailed roadmap would be unveiled.
In March 2006, the Government unveiled a plan for a “unique ID” (UID) for Below Poverty Line (BPL) families, to be implemented by the Ministry of Information Technology.
UIDAI was notified on January 22, 2009, in June, Nandan Nilekani, co-founder of Infosys, was appointed its first Chairman. The first 12-digit Aadhaar number was issued on September 29, 2010.
Finally, the Government passed a law in 2016, giving Aadhaar a legislative sanction.
Concern regarding the usage of Aadhaar:
When Aadhaar was seeded into every database, it becomes a bridge across discrete data silos, which allowed anyone with access to this information to re-construct a profile of an individual’s life.
The Judgement panel ruled the programme had merits, but struck down provisions in the act that made its use mandatory in applications for services ranging from bank accounts to mobile telephone connections and school admissions.
The court also ruled unconstitutional the use of Aadhaar by companies to establish an individual’s identity.
Supreme Court Judge pointed out that “Neither the Central government nor UIDAI have the source code for the deduplication technology which is at the heart of the programme. The source code belongs to a foreign corporation. UIDAI is merely a licensee”.
Sections of the Aadhaar Act that the Supreme Court struck down: (Sections 33(1), 33(2), 47, 57):
Section 33(1) which allows disclosure of information, including identity and authentication records, if ordered by a court not inferior to that of a District Judge. Individuals should be given the opportunity of a hearing.
Section 33(2) which allowed identity and authentication data to be disclosed in the interest of national security on direction of an officer not below the rank of Joint Secretary to the Government of India.
A Judicial Officer (preferably a sitting High Court Judge) should be associated with it and that the government should bring in legislation to this effect.
Section 47 which referred to cognizance of offences. Under this Section, no individual was allowed to file a complaint if he/she felt their data was leaked or misused.
The law only allowed the court to take cognizance of a complaint filed by UIDAI or anyone authorised by it.
Any individual will now be allowed to file a complaint if he/she feels their data has been compromised.
Section 57 refers to the use of Aadhaar data by any “body corporate or person” to establish the identity of an individual. It gives statutory support to mobile companies, private service providers to seek individuals’ Aadhaars for identification purposes.
Justice Sikri, in his judgment, found this section to be unconstitutional. It was under this provision that private companies like Paytm and Airtel Payments Bank sought Aadhaar details from customers.
Supreme Court: Majority Judgement Conclusions:
Supreme Court felt that the technology has become a vital tool for ensuring good governance in a welfare state.
Schemes such as PDS, scholarships, Mid-day Meals and LPG subsidies involve huge amount of money and Aadhaar helped welfare reach of the poor as a fool-proof mechanism.
Aadhaar upholds Aadhaar as a reasonable restriction on privacy. It fulfils Government’s aim to provide dignityto the marginalised.
Aadhaar unique ID cannot be duplicated, whereas, PAN, Ration Card can be duplicated. It upheld the passage of the Aadhaar Act as a Money Bill.
The authentication records should not be retained for more than 6 months. Archiving of records for five years is bad in law.
SC struck down Section 33 (2), which allowed the disclosure of Aadhaar information for national security reasonson the orders of an officer not below a Joint Secretary level.
Efficiency in governance could not steamroll fundamental freedoms.
If so, there was a danger of a society crossing the line which divided democracy from authoritarian cultures.
However, the other side of argument that, it does not violate the Right to Privacy of the citizens, instead it empowers marginalized sections and procures dignity for them along with services, benefits and subsidies by leveraging the power of technology.
The Supreme Court restored the original intent of the Programme to plug leakages in subsidy schemes and to have better targeting of welfare benefits.
The judgment narrows the scope of Aadhaar, but provides a framework within which it can work.
The majority judgment also says Aadhaar Act passes the “triple test” laid down by the ‘Privacy’ judgment,under which there ought to be a law, a legitimate state interest and an element of proportionality in any law that seeks to abridge the Right to Privacy.