The HINDU Notes – 11th January 2019 - VISION

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Friday, January 11, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 11th January 2019

📰 Adultery, homosexuality not acceptable in Army, says Gen. Bipin Rawat

Adultery, homosexuality not acceptable in Army, says Gen. Bipin Rawat
“We will still be dealing with them under various Sections of the Army Act”

•The Army is “conservative” and adultery and homosexuality will not be allowed to “perpetuate into the Army,” Army Chief General Bipin Rawat has said.

•Only last year, the Supreme Court decriminalised adultery and homosexuality.

•Gen. Rawat said on January 10, “It is hard to argue in these times. But the armed forces find huge resonance in the conservative actions of our society. The Army is conservative. We have neither modernised nor westernised… We can still take action against people. But we will not allow this to perpetuate into the Army. This cannot be allowed to happen. It is a very serious thing.”

•A soldier on the border could not be worried and he had to be “reasonably assured that his family is being cared for,” he said at the annual press conference ahead of the Army Day on January 15.

•The Supreme Court had asked the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) community to forgive history for their brutal suppression. However, there has been no clarity on how it would affect the Army, which punishes adultery for “stealing the affection of brother officer’s wife” and has a strict ‘no’ policy on homosexuality.

•Gen. Rawat said they (homosexuality and LGBTs) were not acceptable in the Army.“We will still be dealing with them under various Sections of the Army Act.”

•He, however, stated that the Army was “certainly are not above the country’s law.” When one joined the Army, some of the rights and privileges authorised for civilians by the Constitution were not authorised for them [the Army]. “The Supreme Court has said something and we have to see how we take a call. Let us also see how this comes into the society,” he said.

•Responding to questions on reported peace overtures made by the new government in Pakistan, Gen. Rawat said there was a lot of change, but they were yet to see results on the ground. “They talk of peace. On the ground, on the Line of Control [LoC], we don’t see it.”

Personnel related issues

•Besides a massive restructuring of the force, Gen. Rawat identified personnel related issues as priority areas for action. “Haven’t done enough for our soldiers who have been genuinely disabled in the line of duty,” he said.

•Another issue was the disparity in the disability allowance between jawans and officers, or based on kinds of disabilities which, he said, had to be addressed. For this, the Army was looking at formulating a new disability policy and it should be ready by mid-next year. After that, it would be sent to the Defence Ministry for approval.

•Asked about alleged politicisation of the armed forces, Gen. Rawat said that anything that concerned national security, one should be clear [whether] it’s politicisation or not, and added, “If Army gets involved in something that impacts internal security for which we are tasked, we are accused of being politicised.”

📰 Kerala records a rising graph of crimes against children

More reporting due to greater awareness: ADGP

•There has been a steady increase in crimes committed against children in Kerala, according to a data released by the Kerala State Crime Records Bureau (SCRB).

•Government officials are attributing this to increased reporting of crimes because of better awareness, but social workers contend that crimes against children have indeed increased.

Rise in offences

•A decadal comparison of data shows that 549 offences against children under all categories were recorded in 2008, while the number shot up to 3,278 as of October, 2018. This includes both serious and other offences. Cases of rape rose from 215 in 2008 to 1,101 in 2017, and 999 in the first 10 months of 2018. There were noticeable spurts in the number of recorded rape cases in 2011, touching 423, compared to 208 a year earlier. A similar trend of increases was noted in 2013, 2016 and 2017, over the preceding year.

•“Unlike other States, there is increased awareness in Kerala about the crimes against children and greater reporting of such crimes is reflected in the statistics,” said Tomin J. Thachankary, Additional DGP, SCRB. Cases of murder of children, however, dropped from 37 in 2008 to 18 in 2018. There have been no infanticide cases over the past three years, after four cases in 2015.

•There was a single instance of trafficking of a minor girl last year, an improvement over all other years including the base year of 2008, when there were 13 cases. But cases registered under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act rose from four in 2008 to 17 in 2017 and 15 till October 2018.

•Sheeba George, Director of Women and Child Development Department, said while increased reporting might have resulted in a higher number of cases, crimes against children had risen over the years.

•Nirish Antony, Senior Programme Coordinator of Childline, said vacations were the time when children were found to be most vulnerable. “A pre-vacation awareness class could be held for students and parents,” he said.

📰 A solution in search of a problem: on 10% reservations

Instead of addressing inequality, the 10% quota for economically weaker sections creates huge anxieties

•If the number of demands for implementing reforms is any guide, India’s reservation system is clearly in disarray. However, it is unlikely that the recently passed Constitution (124th Amendment) Bill, 2019, creating a 10% quota for the economically weaker sections (EWS), will serve as anything more than a band-aid.

•Given the deep inequalities prevalent in access to education and jobs based on caste and socio-economic status, affirmative action (or positive discrimination) makes a lot of sense. However, the system that was put in place during the early years of the Republic deserves serious re-evaluation in an era when technology has paved the way for deploying a better equipped arsenal. Here I present an evaluation of the potential implications of the EWS quota Bill, followed by some alternatives.

Excluding no one

•The Bill promises 10% reservation to individuals classified as economically backward. However, while a number of criteria were discussed in the parliamentary debate, the Bill is quite silent on this. Assuming that among the criteria discussed in Parliament, those that are currently applied to the definition of the Other Backward Classes (OBC) creamy layer are the ones to be used, it is not clear how useful they would be. While the OBC creamy layer has been created to exclude people who are clearly well off, the EWS quota, in contrast, is expected to focus on the poor. One of the criteria — the income threshold of ₹8 lakh per annum — has been mentioned. The National Sample Survey (NSS) of 2011-12 shows that the annual per capita expenditure for 99% of households falls under this threshold, even when we take inflation into account. Similarly, as per the India Human Development Survey (IHDS), the annual household incomes of 98% of households are less than ₹8 lakh. Even if we apply all the other criteria for exclusion (e.g. amount of land owned and size of home), the Bill would still cover over 95% of the households. So, who are we excluding? Almost no one.

•While the benefits of the EWS quota are likely to be minimal, the cost may be higher than one anticipates. First, it is important to remember that general category jobs are open to everyone, including Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST) and OBC individuals. Thus, by removing 10% jobs from the “open” category, it reduces the opportunities for currently reserved groups. Hence, this is by no means a win-win situation. This may be particularly problematic for OBCs since OBC reservation is limited to 27% of the seats whereas the OBC population is at least 40% of the population, possibly more. Thus, this move is almost certain to result in calls for greater OBC reservation, particularly if a constitutional amendment to increase the proportion of reserved seats from 50% to 60% is already being adopted.

Getting caste certificates

•Second, actual implementation of the EWS quota could be challenging. Few non-SC/ST/OBC individuals have a caste certificate. A large number of SC/ST/OBC households report difficulties in obtaining these certificates. How would an individual practically lay claim to this status?

•Third, in an era when skill demands are rapidly outpacing supply of candidates in specialised fields, the EWS quota increases the constraints. If a university advertises for an associate professor for quantum physics under the EWS quota and the only suitable candidate happens to be from an OBC category, she could not be hired. These challenges occur for all positions under specifically reserved categories and we have chosen to live with these difficulties in the interest of the greater good of equity. However, there is little benefit to be derived from the EWS quota.

Redesigning reservations

•Arguably, the greatest cost of this amendment lies in the foregone opportunity to develop an enhanced and more effective reservation policy so that we can genuinely see an end to the entrenched inequalities in Indian society in the medium term. We have gotten so used to business as usual that we make no effort to sharpen our focus and look for more effective solutions, solutions that would make reservations redundant in 50 years.

•If we were to redesign from scratch, what would an effective affirmative action policy look like? If the goal is to help as many people as possible, we are facing a serious challenge. On the one hand, 50% reservation looks very large; in the grand scheme of India’s population it is a blunt and at times ineffective instrument.

•The following statistics from the Union Public Service Commission provide a sobering view of ground realities. In 2014, only 0.14% applicants to the UPSC were selected. Moreover, the general category and OBCs have the highest success rate, about 0.17%, and SCs have the lowest, about 0.08%. This may be because of the perception that it is easier for SCs to be recruited via the reserved quota and this may have led to a large number of SCs taking the civil services examination. One might say that many of these candidates are not qualified for these jobs. However, if we look at the candidates who made it past the preliminary examination (providing preliminary quality assurance), the picture is equally grim. Only about 8% of the candidates who took the main examination succeeded. Here the success rate is 8.2-8.3% for SC and ST candidates, 9.9% for OBCs and 7.8% for the general category. This suggests that in spite of the grievances of upper castes, reserved category applicants are not hugely advantaged.

•The above statistics tell us that in spite of reservations, a vast proportion of reserved category applicants do not find a place via the UPSC examination. I suspect statistics from other fields may tell a similar story. This implies that if we expect reservations to cure the ills of Indian society, we may have a long wait.

Spread the benefits

•Hence, we must think about alternative strategies. One strategy may be to try and spread the benefits of reservations as widely as possible within the existing framework and ensure that individuals use their reserved category status only once in their lifetime. This would require that anyone using reservations to obtain a benefit such as college admission must register his/her Aadhaar number and she would be ineligible to use reservations for another benefit (e.g. a job) in the future. This would require no changes to the basic framework but spread the benefits more broadly within the reserved category allowing a larger number of families to seek upward mobility.

•A second strategy might be to recognise that future economic growth in India is going to come from the private sector and entrepreneurship. In order to ensure that all Indians, regardless of caste, class and religion, are able to partake in economic growth, we must focus on basic skills. We have focused on admission to prestigious colleges and government jobs, but little attention is directed to social inequality in the quality of elementary schooling. The IHDS shows that among children aged 8-11, 68% of the forward caste children can read at Class 1 level while the proportion is far lower for OBCs (56%), SCs (45%) and STs (40%). This suggests that we need to focus on reducing inequalities where they first emerge, within primary schools.

•The challenge we face is that our mindset is so driven by the reservation system that was developed in a different era that we have not had the time or the inclination to think about its success or to examine possible modifications. The tragedy of the EWC quota is that it detracts from this out-of-the-box thinking!

📰 Let the grassroots breathe

Local bodies must not be administrative vessels for implementing programmes of the Central and State governments

•One of the first decisions of the newly elected Ashok Gehlot government in Rajasthan has been to scrap the minimum educational qualification criteriafor candidates contesting local body elections. This reverses the amendments introduced by the previous government of the BJP in 2015 which required candidates contesting the zila parishad and panchayat samiti elections to have passed Class 10 and those contesting sarpanch elections to have passed Class 8. Further, it disallowed those without functional toilets in their home to contest. Following this, Haryana also introduced similar restrictions for contesting local body elections.

•The decisions by the Rajasthan and Haryana governments were widely criticised and also challenged in the courts. However, in December 2015, a two-judge Bench of the Supreme Court in Rajbala v. State of Haryana upheld the validity of the amendments to the Haryana Panchayati Raj Act. In a contentious judgment authored by Justice J. Chelameswar, the court held that prescription of educational qualification was justifiable for better administration and did not violate the right to equality enshrined in the Constitution. The latest decision of the Gehlot government has once again revived the debate on the fairness of having such restrictions.

•Prescribing educational qualifications for contesting elections is problematic in multiple ways. Fundamentally, it unduly restricts a citizen’s right to contest elections and thereby challenges the basic premise of a republican democracy. Denying the right to contest effectively restricts the right of a citizen to vote for a candidate of her choice since more than half the population is restricted from contesting. Further, it disproportionately disenfranchises the more marginal sections of society: women, Dalits and poor. In a country like India with unequal access to education, it is cruel to blame citizens for the failure of the state to fulfil its constitutional obligations. The decision by the Gehlot government is hence a necessary corrective to an unjust rule.

Rationale for restrictions

•Beyond the correctness of these decisions, it is also important to look at the underlying rationale for introducing educational qualifications specifically for local government elections. After all, such restrictions do not exist for those contesting parliamentary or Assembly elections. In fact, in the present Lok Sabha, 13% of MPs are under-matriculates, a share higher than those of women MPs.

•These restrictions reveal that State governments and courts do not value local governments for their representative character. In Rajbala, the court held that prescription of educational qualification is relevant for “better administration of the panchayats”. On the one hand, this is based on an ill-informed assumption that those with formal education will be better in running panchayats. On the other, it reveals that State governments and courts place a premium on administration over representation in case of local governments.

•This approach goes against the very objective of the 73rd and 74th Amendments that sought to make panchayats and municipalities representative institutions with adequate representation from Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women. Though local governments now have a definite space within India’s constitutional structure, they are still seen as administrative vessels for implementing programmes of the Central and State governments. The disqualification of candidates who don’t have toilets in their home or defecate in open is clearly an example where the implementation of a Central programme like the Swachh Bharat Mission gets precedence over the need for representative government.

Denying local democracy

•The undermining of local governments as representative institutions does not take place solely through the introduction of restrictions for contesting elections. Often it takes a more brazen form: not holding elections to local governments. Over the years, many State governments have sought to defang local governments by simply delaying elections on various grounds. Elections to panchayats and municipalities in Tamil Nadu have not been held since 2011. In Visakhapatnam, elections to its Municipal Corporation were last held in 2007. These local governments now function as bureaucratic machines without an elected council to hold them accountable.

•The continual delay in elections goes against the purpose of the 73rd and 74th Amendments which listed the “absence of regular elections” and “prolonged supersessions” as stated reasons behind their introduction. These amendments also mandated the creation of a State Election Commission (SEC) in each State for the preparation of electoral rolls and the conduct of elections to panchayats and municipalities. However, in most States, tasks like delimitation of seats are still done by the State government instead of the SEC. It is often under the guise of delimitation of seats that local government elections are delayed, especially when the party in power fears losses.

•India prides itself as a robust democracy, at least in the procedural sense, with regular elections and smooth transfer of power. However, the absence of elected councils in some local governments punches holes in this claim. The lack of alarm caused by the denial of local democracy reveals our collective bias regarding the place of local governments. Delaying elections and adding restrictions to contest prevent local governments from becoming truly representative institutions.

📰 Caution ahead: on economic growth and election spending

Election-season temptations for populist spending pose a challenge to the economy

•The first advance estimate of gross domestic product (GDP) growth for 2018-19 released by the Central Statistics Office on Monday paints a mixed picture of the economy. The GDP growth rate for the full year is projected to be at 7.2%, which is significantly higher than the growth rate of 6.7% achieved last year. Many sectors of the economy are projected to do better than they did last year in the aftermath of the twin shocks of demonetisation and the rollout of the Goods and Services Tax. Sectors such as manufacturing and construction, for instance, are projected to grow at a healthy pace of 8.3% and 8.9%, respectively, both of which are higher than the growth rate of below 6% that each sector witnessed last year. Interestingly, the CSO’s growth estimate for 2018-19 appears conservative and is lower than the estimates made by institutions such as the Reserve Bank of India and the World Bank. A worrying trend in the economic data is the recent sequential deceleration in growth over consecutive quarters. According to the CSO, growth is likely to slow down considerably from the average of 7.6% recorded during the first half of the current fiscal year to around 6.8% in the second half. This sequential slowdown is expected to get reflected in the sectoral level data as well with sectors like manufacturing expected to slow down sharply in the second half of the year compared to the first half. On the brighter side, investment spending, which has ailed the economy for long, is expected to pick up finally. Gross fixed capital formation as a percentage of GDP is expected to reach 33%, the highest in three years.

•One of the significant near-term risks to the economy is the general election that is expected to be held in May. Regime uncertainty associated with the election may put a halt to the nascent pick-up witnessed in investments as corporations might decide to hold back on big ticket investments until things clear up. A major risk in the medium to long term is the absence of meaningful structural reforms that are necessary to increase economic productivity combined with populist policies that eventually damage the economy. Another perennial risk is the over-dependence on imported oil, which makes growth heavily dependent on external events often beyond the control of the government. The projected slowdown in the second half of the fiscal despite the fall in global oil prices is a worrying sign. Ahead of the general election, the government may wish to help growth by boosting spending, but any such move would be ill-advised. With the fiscal deficit exceeding the Budget estimate by 15% in just the first eight months of the fiscal year, the government cannot crank up spending without severely affecting its finances, along with investor confidence in the economy.

📰 Centre aims for 20% cut in air pollution by 2024

Launches NCAP, a five-year scheme that covers 102 cities at a cost of ₹300 crore

•The Centre has launched a programme to reduce particulate matter (PM) pollution by 20-30% in at least 102 cities by 2024.

•The National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), which was formally unveiled on Thursday, is envisaged as a scheme to provide the States and the Centre with a framework to combat air pollution. “This is our war against pollution across the length and breadth of the country,” said A.K. Jain, a senior official in the Union Environment Ministry.

Long-term process

•Pointing out that curbing PM pollution would be a long-term process, officials said the ₹300-crore programme will bring pollution concerns to the heart of a State’s development plans. “The NCAP will be a mid-term, five-year action plan with 2019 as the first year. This is not a pan-India, but a city-specific programme,” said C.K. Mishra, Secretary, Union Environment Ministry, at a press conference. After five years, there will be a review of the progress.

•In the past year, the 102 cities, identified as hotspots of pollution, were asked to submit a plan for how they would address the problem. Broadly, the plans include increasing the number of monitoring stations, providing technology support, conducting source apportionment studies, and strengthening enforcement. For achieving the NCAP targets, the cities will have to calculate the reduction in pollution keeping 2017’s average annual PM levels as the base year.

•The World Health Organisation’s database on air pollution over the years has listed Tier I and Tier II Indian cities as some of the most polluted places in the world. In 2018, 14 of the world’s 15 most polluted cities were in India. A study in the journal Lancet ranked India as No.1 on premature mortality and deaths from air pollution.

•As part of the NCAP, cities have been given a specified number of days to implement specific measures such as “ensuring roads are pothole-free to improve traffic flow and thereby reduce dust” (within 60 days) or “ensuring strict action against unauthorised brick kilns” (within 30 days). It doesn’t specify an exact date for when these obligations kick in.

•Experts rue the lack of mandatory targets and the challenge of inadequate enforcement by cities. “While the NCAP is welcome, the government must strengthen compliance. We have seen enough plans, and the basic right to clean air can’t be left hanging in the balance due to lack of strong enforcement,” said Aarti Khosla, Director, Climate Trends, in a written statement.

•It isn't clear how the government arrived at a number to determine the PM reduction that cities must strive for. According to a report by the environment ministry, Bejing achieved a 40% reduction in 5 years, Mexico city a 73% reduction over 25 years, and Santiago, Chile, a 61% decline over 22 years. “In Delhi, we have seen an 8% reduction in annual PM levels from 2016,” said an official in the ministry who didn't want to be identified, “However this is Delhi. I'm not sure if this will be treated with the same urgency in other cities.” Of the 102 cities, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh account for nearly a third.

📰 Cabinet approves 3 new AIIMS in J&K, Gujarat

Institutes will be set up under PMSSY

•The Union Cabinet on Thursday approved the setting up of three All India Institutes of Medical Sciences in Jammu and Kashmir and Gujarat. These will be in Samba in Jammu at a cost of Rs. 1,661 crore, in Pulwama in Kashmir at a cost of Rs. 1,828 crore, and in Rajkot, Gujarat, at a cost of Rs. 1,195 crore.

•The institutes will be set up under the Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana, the government said.

•The Cabinet approval also involves the creation of a post of director with a basic pay of Rs. 2,25,000 for each of the three AIIMS. The cost of construction, operation and maintenance of the three AIIMS will be fully borne by the Central government.

•“The objective is to establish the new AIIMS as Institutions of National Importance for providing quality tertiary healthcare, medical education, nursing education and research in the region,” the government said.

•Each AIIMS will add 100 undergraduate (MBBS) seats and 60 B.Sc. (nursing) seats and will have 15-20 super-speciality departments. Each AIIMS will also add 750 hospital beds which will include emergency/trauma beds, AYUSH beds, private beds, and ICU speciality and super-speciality beds.

•“It is expected that each AIIMS would cater to around 1,500 OPD patients per day and around 1,000 IPD patients per month,” the government said. “Setting up new AIIMS in Jammu and Kashmir and Gujarat will lead to employment generation for nearly 3,000 people in various faculty and non-faculty posts in each of the AIIMS.”