The HINDU Notes – 26th July 2019 - VISION

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Friday, July 26, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 26th July 2019

📰 RTI Amendment Bill passed amid protests in Rajya Sabha

The Opposition stages a walkout during the vote on the opposition-sponsored motion to send the legislation for scrutiny by a Select Committee, accusing the government of trying to sabotage the vote.

•The Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019, was passed in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday amid high drama. The Opposition staged a walkout during the vote on its motion to send the legislation for scrutiny by a Select Committee, accusing the government of trying to sabotage the vote.

•The Bill, cleared by the Lok Sabha on Monday, seeks to bring in changes involving the salaries and tenures of Information Commissioners in the States and at the Centre.

•The Opposition motion was defeated 75 to 117 in favour of the government. This is a rare occasion in the Rajya Sabha that an Opposition motion was defeated. The BJP-led NDA is slowly inching towards a majority in the Upper House.

Procedure violated

•The ruckus began when CPI(M) member Elamaram Kareem accused BJP MP C.M. Ramesh of collecting the ballot papers from other members, instead of allowing the marshals to do so. Mr. Ramesh had recently switched to the BJP from the TDP.

•Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Kareem said he first heard Mr. Ramesh instructing TDP MP Thota Seetarama Lakshmi, who sits next to him, on how to vote.

•“Once the ballot papers were distributed, Mr. Ramesh came down to collect her ballot. He also had other ballot papers with him. It is not a member’s job to collect the ballot papers — it is for the marshals to do so. That is when I protested and drew the attention of the House to what was blatantly wrong,” Mr. Kareem said.

•The other Opposition members informed Deputy Chairman Harivansh, who was in the chair, of the wrongdoing and demanded a re-poll. The Chair, however, did not respond to the allegations. At this, Opposition members stormed into the well, raising slogans.

•Angry Opposition leaders then staged a walk out. In absence of the Opposition, Mr. Harivansh announced the result of the ballot. The Bill was then passed by a voice vote.

•“What happened today is the ultimate insult to the dignity of the Rajya Sabha. The government has acted with blatant disregard of the traditions and through this undermined the very sanctity of the vote. They may have managed the number but it’s a moral defeat,” Congress MP and Deputy Leader of Opposition Anand Sharma told The Hindu.

•He also accused the Union ministers of openly intimidating regional parties to vote for the government.

•The debate on the bill started on a sore note with Deputy Chairman Harivansh refusing to put the opposition motion to refer the legislation to a Select Committee to vote. Instead he initiated the debate on the Bill.

•Opposition members stormed into the Well of the House and raised slogans in protest. Amidst slogans, the BJP members initiated the debate.

•Though the motion to refer the Bill to a select committee was signed by Biju Janata Dal and Telangana Rashtra Samiti members, the two parties spoke in support of the Bill during the debate. When the Opposition sensed this change of stance, it decided to call off the protest and join the debate.

•Congress MP Jairam Ramesh alleged that legislation is an effort to kill the RTI Act as an act of revenge by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has been put in an embarrassing position by queries often, including the case seeking information in the educational qualifications of Mr Modi.

•Speaking at the conclusion of the debate Minister for Department of Personnel and Training Jitender Singh said the amendment was brought without any motivation and was in good faith.

•This, he said, will lead to institutionalisation of the CIC and strengthen the provision of RTI Act.

📰 ECI sets up teams to probe VVPAT mismatch in Lok Sabha election

Of 1.25 crore votes counted, 51 did not match, says panel

•After reports of mismatches between the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) slips and the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) count in eight cases during the Lok Sabha election, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has set up teams to probe seven of the cases.

•Of the 1.25 crore VVPAT slips counted, 51 or 0.0004% of the total saw a mismatch, according to facts shared by the EC on July 21.

•The ECI on Wednesday ordered the Chief Electoral Officers to analyse the mismatches. In one of the cases pertaining to Manipur, the enquiry team was not set up as an election petition has been filed, an EC official said on Thursday.

•Another EC source said the teams were given 10 days to analyse the mismatch.

•The orders cited a May 21 letter by the ECI that said thorough probes would be conducted in case of a mismatch of VVPAT slips and electronic results to ascertain the technological, procedural, systemic and human errors or lapses in compliance. These could include the possibility of returning officers not clearing the mock votes and manual errors while tallying the VVPAT slips.

•The mismatches mark the first time there were any, since VVPAT recounts were implemented in the 2017 Assembly elections.

•Under the electoral rules, if there is any discrepancy in the match, the VVPAT count prevails.

•According to the order, the teams have been asked to probe the cases of one less VVPAT slip being found in the Sri Renukaji Assembly Constituency of the Shimla Parliamentary Constituency in Himachal Pradesh; one slip extra found in the Kshetrigao Assembly Constituency of the Inner Manipur Parliamentary Constituency in Manipur; one slip extra each found in the Begun Assembly Constituency of the Chittoragarh Parliamentary Constituency and the Osian Assembly Constituency of the Pali Parliamentary Constituency in Rajasthan; seven extra slips found in the Kodur Assembly Constituency of the Rajampet Parliamentary Constituency in Andhra Pradesh; and four less slips and 34 less slips respectively found in the Pynursla Assembly Constituency and Nongkrem Assembly Constituency of the Shillong Parliamentary Constituency in Meghalaya.

📰 SC orders setting up of special courts in districts with over 100 pending POCSO cases

The courts will be established under a Central scheme and fully funded by the Centre

•The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the setting up of special courts in each district across the country that had over a 100 cases of child abuse and sexual assault pending trial under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.

•A Bench led by the Chief Justice of India directed the courts to be set up within 60 days. They will be established under a Central scheme and fully funded by the Centre. This means the Centre would fund everything from the payment of the presiding officers, staff and support persons to the court’s child-friendly infrastructure.

•Solicitor General Tushar Mehta has been asked to file a progress report in four weeks. The court said it would take up the matter again on September 26.

•The order came on a suo motu public interest litigation petition registered by the Supreme Court after being concerned by the “alarming rise” in child abuse cases and their long pendency in courts.

•Noting that children were the victims in such cases, the CJI said there was no excuse for a long delay in justice for them. The traumatised victims needed to be treated with compassion and kindness. In short, a completely different approach was required while investigating and trying POCSO cases.

•When told that there were two exclusive POCSO courts at the Saket court complex in the National Capital, the CJI said the Supreme Court was not talking with reference to Saket but about “those courts in certain States where privacy means drawing a curtain between the victim in a POCSO court and the accused.”

•“We are concerned about States where there is hardly any infrastructure; where the Magistrate has hardly any room; where he or she sits in a small four-by-four enclosure. These presiding officers lack basic infrastructure yet are snowed under by cases under new laws... New law means new responsibility and additional burden for them...These are the real issues which affect the judiciary and not the Supreme Court Collegium,” Chief Justice Gogoi addressed the courtroom.

•When one of the court officers sought more time to collect more data on POCSO cases, the CJI cut him short, saying “What more data is required here? Data to show that the country has more cases than judges?”

•The Chief Justice then turned to the Solicitor General and told him, “Mr. Mehta, ask your government to make the money available [for the establishment of special POCSO courts].”

•The court said the support persons in these special courts, who perform the crucial role of a bridge between the child victim and the court’s officers and investigators, should comprise dedicated people who had excellent academic qualifications and devoted to child rights.

•The court, though it deferred any orders for the establishment of exclusive forensic laboratories for POCSO cases, ordered the directors of the existing ones to deal with POCSO case evidence promptly to cause no delay in the probe or trial of such cases.

•The court had registered the PIL plea under the title ‘In-re Alarming Rise in The Number of Reported Child Rape Incidents.”

•The PIL plea was instituted on the basis of the court’s own report that showed that from January 1 to June 30 this year, 24,212 First Information Reports were filed across India.

•Of these, 11,981 were still being probed by the police and in 12,231 cases, the police had filed the charge sheets. Trial had commenced in 6,449 cases only, it said, adding that they were yet to commence in 4,871. Till now, the trial courts had decided only 911 cases, that is, about 4% of the total cases registered.

📰 The terrorist tag: on the latest amendments to the NIA Act

India needs tough laws to combat terror, but the proposed amendments could be misused

•The idea of designating an individual as a terrorist, as the latest amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act propose to do, may appear innocuous. However, designating an individual as a terrorist raises serious constitutional questions and has the potential for misuse. The practice of designating individuals under anti-terrorism laws, prevalent in several countries, is seen as being necessary because banned groups tend to change their names and continue to operate. However, there is no set procedure for designating an individual a terrorist. Parliament must consider whether an individual can be called a ‘terrorist’ prior to conviction in a court of law. The absence of a judicial determination may render the provision vulnerable to invalidation. There ought to be a distinction between an individual and an organisation, as the former enjoys the right to life and liberty. The likely adverse consequences of a terrorist tag may be worse for individuals than for organisations. Further, individuals may be subjected to arrest and detention; even after obtaining bail from the courts, they may have their travel and movements restricted, besides carrying the taint. This makes it vital that individuals have a faster means of redress than groups. Unfortunately, there is no change in the process of getting an entity removed from the list. Just as any organisation getting the tag, individuals, too, will have to apply to the Centre to get their names removed.

•A wrongful designation will cause irreparable damage to a person’s reputation, career and livelihood. Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s warning that his government would not spare terrorists or their sympathisers, and his reference to ‘urban Maoists’, are portentous about the possibility of misuse. It has been argued by some members in Parliament that the Bill contains anti-federal features. The provision to empower the head of the National Investigation Agency to approve the forfeiture of property of those involved in terrorism cases obviously overrides a function of the State government. At present, the approval has to be given by the State police head. Also, there will be a section allowing NIA Inspectors to investigate terrorism cases, as against a Deputy Superintendent of Police or an Assistant Commissioner. This significantly enhances the scope for misuse. The 2004 amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, made it a comprehensive anti-terror law that provided for punishing acts of terrorism, as well as for designating groups as ‘terrorist organisations’. Parliament further amended it in 2008 and 2013 to strengthen the legal framework to combat terror. While none will question the need for stringent laws that show ‘zero tolerance’ towards terrorism, the government should be mindful of its obligations to preserve fundamental rights while enacting legislation on the subject.

📰 Making national legislatures more gender-balanced

Quotas can ensure more number of women MPs

•The Global Gender Gap report for 2018 said that the widest gender disparity is in the field of political empowerment. To cite the Inter-Parliamentary Union 2018 report, women legislators account for barely 24% of all MPs across the world.

•However, the experience of the top-ranked countries in the IPU list does give an indication of how women’s presence in political spaces took an upward turn in those nations.

•Rwanda, a landlocked nation with a population of 11.2 million, tops the list, with 61.3% seats in the Lower House and 38.5% in the Upper House occupied by women. Since 2003, the country has implemented a legislated quota of 30% in all elected positions, which has enabled a steady inflow of women parliamentarians after successive elections. Its Constitution has also set a quota of 30% in all elected offices. However, some believe that the higher representation of women in the country cannot be attributed solely to quotas — women were thrust into the political limelight due to the huge vacuum that emerged in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide, which resulted in a large chunk of the country’s male population getting killed.

Leader in the Caribbean

•Cuba, the largest Caribbean island nation with a population of about 11.1 million, holds the second rank, with 53.2 % seats of its 605-member single House being occupied by women representatives. The Communist dispensation in Cuba did not opt for legislated gender quotas, but does follow a practice akin to voluntary quota systems. However, Cuban women are less represented at the local level, where candidates are selected by the local communities that often overlook women candidates.

•Sweden, the fifth-rank holder in the IPU, has a professedly feminist government and has maintained a women’s parliamentary representation of at least 40% since 90s. The 349-member single House, Swedish Parliament, now has 161 women with 46.1% representation. Sweden does not have any constitutional clause or electoral law earmarking representation for women in elected bodies. The issue of compulsory gender quota didn’t find favour in Sweden as it was believed that such a quota will create reverse discrimination and violate the principles of equal opportunities. Almost all political parties there have adopted measures to ensure a fair representation for women at all levels. In 1993, the Social Democratic Party adopted the ‘zipper system’, described as “a gender quota system whereby women and men are placed alternately on all party lists.” This further boosted women’s seat share.

Nepal’s example

•Closer home, Nepal occupies the 36th position in the IPU and its 275-member Lower House has 90 women, about 32.7% of the total strength. The Nepal Constitution stole a march over many others in the South Asia by earmarking 33% seats for women in all state institutions, including the legislature.

•India, at 149 among the 192 countries in the IPU list, had barely 11.8% women’s representation in the 16th Lok Sabha, which improved to 14.5% in the current Lower House. At least seven out of the 29 States have not sent a single woman MP. The 108th Constitutional Amendment Bill stipulating 33% quota for women in the Parliament and in State Assemblies remains in political cold storage. The system of voluntary party quotas, which has worked well in many countries, is not likely to cut much ice in India’s deeply embedded patriarchal society. As has happened in the case of panchayats and municipalities, only a legally mandated quota could perhaps ensure a large-scale entry of Indian women into the higher echelons of political power.

📰 PMO asks FinMin to study overseas bond issue

•The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) wants the finance ministry to reassess the idea of issuing foreign currency overseas sovereign bonds, two sources with knowledge of the development said on Thursday.

•The office has asked the finance ministry to seek wider consultation from stakeholders before proceeding with any plans, said the sources, who declined to be identified as they were not authorised to speak to the media.

•The Ministry of Finance and the PMO declined to comment on the matter.

•This month, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in her budget speech that India would look to issue overseas foreign currency sovereign bonds.

•The idea, however, has been criticised by former heads of the Reserve Bank of India, economists and allies of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party alike, as they argued it could create long-term economic risks by exposing the government's liabilities to currency fluctuations.

•The benchmark 10-year bond yield rose as much as 11 basis points to 6.55% after the news of a rethink of the proposal, as market participants fear this may boost government borrowing in the domestic market.

•The PMO was not properly apprised of the consequences of overseas dollar-denominated bonds by outgoing finance secretary Subhash Chandra Garg, who originally pushed this idea, said one of the two sources, who is an adviser to the government.

•The proposal to raise funds via overseas bonds is likely to be withdrawn, and as an alternative, the government could raise funds through rupee-denominated bonds in the overseas market, he added.

•Garg, a high-flying finance ministry bureaucrat, was in a surprise move transferred to the less high-profile power ministry late on Wednesday.

•Garg was a central figure amid the tension that arose between the government and the RBI in 2018, that culminated with the sudden departure of former RBI governor Urjit Patel in December.

•It was not immediately clear whether Garg's transfer was linked to the fallout from the overseas bond proposal, but a third source told Reuters on Thursday that Garg had applied for voluntary retirement after being handed the transfer.

•Garg told media later on Thursday that he had sought voluntary retirement, but would serve out a notice period of three months and take charge as power secretary until then.

•He declined to comment on the sovereign bond issuance.

•The finance ministry declined to comment on Garg's transfer, or voluntary retirement application.

📰 Chandrayaan-2: GSLV Mark III-M1 vehicle reduces number of orbit-raising exercises, saves fuel

•In its maiden operational flight, the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle – Mark III-M1 (GSLV Mark III-M1) vehicle used for launching Chandrayaan-2 had successfully placed the satellite in the Earth Parking Orbit (EPO) with perigee (closest distance from the earth) of 170 km and an apogee (farthest distance from the earth) of 45,475 km. The apogee of the earth parking orbit is about 6,000 km more than originally envisaged.

•As a result, the number of earth-bound steps or manoeuvres needed to take the satellite to the highest orbit of nearly 1,44,000 km apogee has been reduced from seven to six, says K. Sivan, Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The reduced number of manoeuvres will translate into fuel savings.

•After the satellite is placed in the Earth Parking orbit, the apogee is increased in steps to take it to the final earth-bound orbit of about 1,44,000 km. The satellite goes around the earth in elliptical orbits and to increase the apogee, the satellite is fired when it comes closest to the earth (perigee).

•In the first of the orbit-raising exercise that was carried out on July 24, the perigee was increased from 170 km to about 230 km, while the apogee was reduced from 45,475 km to 45,162 km. Explaining why the orbit raising was done mainly to increase the perigee and not the apogee, Mr. Sivan said to The Hindu: “At 169.7 km altitude at perigee, the satellite is still in the earth’s atmosphere and so is exposed to heat stress while travelling at very high velocity. So we had to raise the perigee.”

•The second orbit raising manoeuvre will be undertaken tonight (July 25) when the focus will be to increase the apogee in large measure, while there will be only a small increase in the perigee distance.

•“Totally there will be six earth-bound, orbit-raising manoeuvres before the trans-lunar insertion, including the one on July 24. If the satellite had not gained nearly 6,000 km while being placed in the earth parking orbit, then there would have totally been seven orbit-raising manoeuvres,” Mr. Sivan said.

•Currently, the ISRO website mentions only five orbit-raising manoeuvres and the perigee distance mentioned is 241.5 km after the first orbit raising exercise. “This will be soon revised,” he said.

📰 Earth is warming at faster pace than in last 2,000 years: study

Researchers used data compiled from nearly 700 temperature indicators

•World temperatures rose faster in the late 20th century than at any other time in the last 2,000 years, according to a study released on Wednesday.

•Climate variability — the fluctuation of surface temperatures over time — has long been the subject of debate.

•While average global temperatures are currently around 1°C hotter than pre-industrial times, there have been a number of periods of cooling and warming over the centuries. This had led sceptics of manmade global warming to suggest that human activity is not the main driver of climate change.

•Researchers used data compiled from nearly 700 temperature indicators — tree rings, sediment cores, coral reefs and modern thermometer readings — to provide a comprehensive timeline of the planet’s recent climate history.

•The findings are clear: at no point in modern human history did temperatures rise so quickly and so consistently as in the late 20th century — the period where the world’s post-war, fossil fuel-powered economy reached unprecedented heights of production and consumption.

•A paper, published in the journal Nature, examined regional temperature trends over time.

•A second paper, in Nature Geoscience, examined rates of surface warming, averaged over sub-periods each a few decades long.

•The study found that pre-industrial temperature fluctuations were largely driven by volcanic activity.

•But it also concluded that humans had never witnessed such rapid global warming as in the latter part of the 20th century.

•Commenting on the studies, Mark Maslin, Professor of Climatology at University College London, said their results “should finally stop climate change deniers claiming that the recent observed coherent global warming is part of a natural climate cycle”.

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