The HINDU Notes – 12th August 2019 - VISION

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Monday, August 12, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 12th August 2019

📰 A point to ponder over in the POCSO Bill

More than an emphasis on the death sentence, there needs to be an overhaul of the criminal justice administration

•There has been much development recently with respect to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012. With an objective of stopping the rampant sexual abuse of children, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in July, and later passed by both Houses of Parliament. It is all set to become the ‘law of the land’. The present bill is welcome in certain respects as it specifically defines what ‘child pornography’ is; ‘using a child for pornographic purposes’ and for ‘possessing or storing pornography involving a child’ is punishable. It has also widened the ambit of ‘Aggravated sexual assault’.

The other side

•The highlight of the Bill is the introduction of the death penalty for the rape of minors. The Bill, in its object clause, justifies this by referring to the judgments of the Supreme Court in Machhi Singh (1983) and Devender Pal Singh (2002) in which the court has held that the death penalty can be awarded only in rarest of rare cases. Thus the intention of the Bill is to have a deterrent effect; but it can be argued that the introduction of the death penalty may backfire in cases of child sexual abuse and even have a catastrophic effect. Often, the perpetrators of abuse are family members and having such penalty in the statute book may discourage the registration of the crime itself. Also, it may threaten the life of the minor as the maximum punishment for murder is also the death sentence.

•The Justice J.S. Verma Committee, which was constituted in 2013 in the aftermath of the Nirbhaya case, after due deliberations found itself against the imposition of death penalty in rape cases. The 262nd Report of the Law Commission of India, 2015, also provides for abolition of the death penalty except in terror cases.

•Today, the death penalty has become a prominent tool of symbolic legislation — a political statement indeed. Many a time, the Government, by introducing the death penalty, portrays itself to be strict and serious with regard to such offences. It largely diverts attention from the core issues of infrastructural apathy, procedural lapses and trial delays and conveniently evades the fact that ‘it is the certainty of punishment rather than its severity which has deterrence in real sense’. It is pertinent to note here that even a year-and-a-half after the passage of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2018, which introduced the death penalty for rape of a minor girl, such incidents have not been under check. The debate here is not about retaining or abolishing the death penalty but the probable ramifications of its provision in the Act.

•The deterrent effect of capital punishment appears to be on the wane. Globally, there is research to support the view that despite stringent punishments, there is no fall in the rate of commission of crimes. Robin Conley in his book, Confronting the Death Penalty, has observed that the death penalty may seem just and appropriate in abstract but once you are privy to its practicality, it becomes less appealing. Deterrence has its own limitations and it has to be supplemented by exhaustive measures that includes an overhaul of the criminal justice administration.

Court data

•The Supreme Court has recently taken cognisance of the sexual abuse of children, directing its registry to file a case as writ petition with cause title “In-re Alarming Rise in The Number of Reported Child Rape Incidents”. The court has also observed that it intends having a ‘zero tolerance policy’ toward child rape. As data on sexual crimes against children collected by the court show, 24,212 FIRs were filed across India from January to June this year. According to National Crime Records Bureau data of 2016, the conviction rate in POCSO cases is 29.6% while pendency is as high as 89%. The prescribed time period of two months for trial in such cases is hardly complied with.

•The court has also taken note of the delay in trials, in turn directing the Central Government to set up special courts within 60 days of the order in each district having more than 100 pending cases under the Act. It is to be seen how long it takes to comply with the order. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2018 introduced the death penalty for rape of girls below the age of 12. At the same time, the POCSO Act, under Section 42, provides that where the same act constitutes an offence under the said Act and any other law, then the offender will be punished under the Act or such law, whichever provides for greater punishment. This has created an issue as the effect of such an amendment was death penalty for rape of minor girls but not for assault against minor boys.

•The proposed Bill does away with such a discrepancy. It is gender neutral and provides for the death penalty for “aggravated penetrative sexual assault of a child”, thus bringing both these pieces of legislation on a par with each other in this respect. With these amendments and with the Supreme Court considering child abuse “intolerable”, there seems to be reasonable hope now that vulnerable children could be safer. The Bill is a step forward in preventing child abuse but the consequences of providing for the death penalty need to be closely observed.

📰 India too cancels Samjhauta Express

•The Indian Railways announced on Sunday that it has cancelled the Samjhauta Express train run at its end of the international border, days after Pakistan suspended services on its side.

•The railways run the train on Sundays from Delhi to Attari and back, while Pakistan used to run the train between Lahore and Attari. Passengers used to change trains at the Attari station.

•"In consequent to Pakistan's decision to cancel Samjhaouta Exp 14607/14608 running between Lahore and Atari .......the link exp train number 14001/14002 running between Delhi and Atari also stands cancelled (sic)," said Deepak Kumar, Chief Public Relations Officer of Northern Railway.

•Two passengers had booked tickets for the Sunday's service, officials said.

•Pakistan suspended the Samjhauta Express and the Thar Express trains amid tensions between the two neighbouring countries after the government revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir and divided the state into two Union territories.

📰 J&K on top of Jaishankar’s China agenda

Kashmir, Ladakh situation likely to dominate talks with Chinese foreign ministry officials

•External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has arrived in Beijing to prepare for the second informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, apart from familiarising his hosts about New Delhi’s decision to revoke special status for Jammu and Kashmir.

•Ahead of his arrival, the Chinese Foreign Ministry had taken exception to India’s decision to create Ladakh as a separate Union Territory, saying the decision could alter the status quo along the China-India border.

•Referring to Ladakh, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said on Tuesday the Indian side had “continued to damage China’s territorial sovereignty by unilaterally modifying the form of domestic law”. She pointed out that this practice is “unacceptable” and will not have any effect.

On Article 370

•On the revocation of Article 370, the Chinese position has been shifting. On Tuesday, Ms. Hua counseled the “parties concerned” to “exercise restraint and act with caution, especially to avoid actions that unilaterally change the status quo and exacerbate the tension”.

•She stressed that China was “seriously concerned” about the situation in Kashmir, but, without making any reference to the United Nations, proposed that India and Pakistan should resolve relevant disputes through dialogue and consultation and safeguard regional peace and stability”.

•However, the Chinese stance shifted after Thursday’s “urgent” visit of Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to Beijing . Following talks, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi opened the door for UN intervention, apart from proposing that the “bilateral agreement” — a veiled reference to the 1972 Shimla accord — should be the template for resolving the Kashmir issue.

•Mr. Wang stressed that the Kashmir issue “should be properly and peacefully resolved based on the UN charter, relevant UN Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreement,” according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry readout.

•After concluding his visit to China, Mr. Qureshi told a press conference in Islamabad that he shared Pakistan’s intent to take the latest situation in Kashmir to the United Nations Security Council.

•“I want to tell the nation that they [Chinese leadership] have assured us of their complete support. Not only that, they have also issued instructions to their New York representative to remain in contact with our representative and to keep their consultations ongoing,” Mr. Qureshi quoted as saying in the Dawnnewspaper. He also said the foreign ministries of both countries had named a focal person at the director general level responsible for coordinating “a joint strategy”.

•It is unlikely that the Indian side will not raise the “internationalisation” of the Kashmir issue through the UN route during Mr. Jaishankar’s talks in Beijing.

•On Monday, Mr. Jaishnkar is expected to meet a Chinese leader, but neither the Chinese side nor the Indian embassy in Beijing has given details of this engagement. Later, the visiting Minister will participate with Mr. Wang in the second meeting of the India-China high level people-to-people exchanges mechanism.

Varanasi summit

•While the focus of this mechanism is on people-to-people exchanges and culture, all topics of India-China ties, including detailing of the Varanasi summit between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi, will be covered, except for trade and commerce, highly placed sources told The Hindu.

•Prime Minister Modi and President Xi are expected to meet on October 12, in tune with the 70th anniversary of the formation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

📰 ‘Uber for tractors’: Government to launch app to aid farmers

Expensive agricultural equipment can be hired through the mobile application.

•A laser-guided land leveller harnesses technology to accurately flatten a field in a fraction of the time used by a traditional oxen-powered scraper.

•The result? Farmers save precious groundwater and increase productivity by 10 to 15%.

•The hitch? Such hitech levellers cost at least ₹3 lakh, way beyond the reach of the average small farmer.

•But a new app that’s being described as “Uber for tractors” offers a solution.

•“We want farmers to have affordable access to cutting-edge technology at their doorsteps,” says a senior Agriculture Ministry official. “There are now more than 38,000 custom hiring centres (CHCs) across the country, which rent out 2.5 lakh pieces of farm equipment every year. By the end of the month, we plan to launch a new mobile app to efficiently connect farmers with these CHCs, just like Uber connects you to cabs.”

•The CHC app is already open for registrations by the farmers, societies and entrepreneurs who run these centres. So far, almost 26,800 CHCs have registered to offer more than one lakh pieces of equipment for hire.

•Once the app is officially launched, farmers who wish to hire equipment can register using their names, addresses and mobile numbers, and then punch in their requirements.

•“Say, I need a rotovator with tractor for one acre of land. The app will show me the CHCs which have the equipment available within five, 20 and 50 km of my location, with their rates,” explained the official. “I can then call the CHC or just use the app to book the equipment at a specific time and location, and it will turn up just like an Uber.”

Rating system

•Feedback from both the CHC and the farmers contributes to a rating system, allowing customers to make informed decisions.

•The Ministry’s app will also create an invaluable database for policy-makers, who can track the use and cost of equipment. The system would also help to track the usage of new technology that the government wants to promote, such as the Happy Seeder that aims to prevent stubble burning that causes air pollution, or solar dryers that can help farmers process and preserve their produce.

•“We have already done very successful demo runs in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab,” said the official.

📰 Pipe dreams for water transfer

It is time to consider out-of-the-box solutions to take water from a point of surplus to one of deficit

•Last month, the ‘Chennai water train’ made its poignant, slow arrival into the city, carrying 2.5 million litres of water for its parched residents. At the very same time, in another part of the country, unspeakable tragedy had unfolded, with Assam and Bihar getting ravaged by the monsoons. And just when it feels that the country has been through enough, rain batters Karnataka and Kerala, taking many lives and causing more misery.

•It is a cruel fact that it doesn’t rain evenly across the planet. With the havoc that rapidly-intensifying climate change is bringing, one man’s drought could well coincide with another man’s deluge.

•These climatically turbulent times beg the question of whether it would be too far-fetched to use the ‘water train’ model widely and set up infrastructure to transport water from areas with surplus to parched lands. Historically, this notion has been toyed with and abandoned, mainly owing to how expensive it is to ferry water through thousands of kilometres of pipelines and against gradients, often involving pumping stations requiring a lot of energy. Yet, it isn’t as much a technical problem as one of money, and perhaps politics.

The American, Greek examples

•In the U.S., the city of Las Vegas planned to use excess water from the Mississippi river through a multibillion-dollar project, a proposal that has remained a pipe dream. French engineers have dreamed up plans to helping water-starved African nations by hauling icebergs to their shores. Some of these plans have succeeded; for example, Greece has used the mega Spragg trash bag and its ‘world’s strongest zipper’ to haul massive amounts of water.

•These schemes have yielded another novel idea, which is to use water to transport water. This has been implemented with success in the Caribbean, especially during the drought of 1983-84 in Antigua. The advantages of transporting water over water include the fact that one Horsepower of energy can move 150 kg on road, 500 kg on rail and 4,000 kg on water. Similarly, one litre of fuel can move 24 tonnes per km on road, 85 tonnes on rail and 105 tonnes on inland water transport. The disadvantages are that the loading and unloading facilities are expensive to construct and, in India, most rivers don’t have the depth and breadth to accommodate large barges all through the year. It will also require the dredging of rivers, which is exorbitant and might destroy natural ecosystems. Finally, though India recently forged ahead with its inland waterways development plans by investing in the National Waterways in the Northeast, the bigger problem is that there are too few large industries located near river belts. The impetus for investment simply doesn’t exist.

•Nevertheless, exciting and path-breaking innovations in technology and enterprise still hold out much potential to solve our world’s resource problems. Desilting of lakes and rivers (concomitant with effective garbage/plastic disposal); extensive, state-mandated rainwater harvesting; desalination and, finally, recycling of water — all these can make a considerable difference.

•According to Magsaysay awardee P. Sainath, there have been five principal migrations of water in India: from agriculture to industry; rural to urban; food to cash crops; poor to rich; and livelihood to lifestyle. These are all independent of seasonal droughts and have to do with our poor water management strategies.

•But, in a country of contrasts — where animals frantically try to save themselves from floodwaters in Kaziranga National Park while, at the same time, innocent children carry back-breaking quantities of water in the blistering Chennai sun — perhaps it is time to consider out-of-the-box technological innovations.

📰 Rethinking water governance strategies

Individual States need to assume the responsibility for managing water resources in their territories

•India’s ‘water crisis’ took over social media recently. That India’s cities are running out of water, coupled with Chennai’s drinking water woes, made the ‘crisis’ viral, raising questions about the quality of the discourse and choice of water governance strategies in India. If there is a water crisis, what is the nature of the crisis? Where is the crisis prevalent? And how do we deal with it?

•Usually, a delayed monsoon or a drought, combined with compelling images of parched lands and queues for water in urban areas raise an alarm in the minds of the public. Similarly, episodes of inter-State river water disputes catch public attention. However, this time, it was somewhat different. Videos and news reports claiming that Indian cities are running out of groundwater went viral. These news items could not have gained the traction but for the fact that they relied on a 2018 report of India’s own Niti Aayog, which was titled ‘Composite Water Management Index: A tool for water management.’

Zombie statistics

•Later, thanks to yet another series of tweets by Joanna Slater of The Washington Post, the ‘crisis bogey’ lost some of its sheen. Ms. Slater investigated the “zombie statistics” in the Niti Aayog report, especially the piece of information that said: “21 major cities are expected to run out of groundwater as soon as 2020, affecting [nearly] 100 million people.” Her perseverance led to an eventual conclusion that there was no credible evidence for this assessment.

•To be fair to Niti Aayog, its projection was only a means to an end goal: leveraging some action from the Indian States. The report’s central goal was to propose a tool, an index, to monitor the States’ water resource management strategies and provide the necessary course-shift, beyond supply augmentation approaches. The report may have had a lofty goal of promoting ‘cooperative and competitive federalism’ but was, in reality, a desperate move to engage with the States, in the absence of any substantive leverage to influence their approaches to water resources management. This also underscored that the fulcrum of any course correction lies with States.

•Yet, what baffles us is the question: Just how did such ‘zombie statistics’ gain traction? This is disturbing on two counts: one, there is an absence of critical engagement or institutional accountability; two, a deeper hypocrisy surrounds the discourse on water governance in India. If there is a crisis, where is the crisis and what is the nature of the crisis?

•For instance, what does the report mean when it says that “cities [are] running out of groundwater”? Does it mean that cities will not have groundwater reserves to meet their drinking water demand? If yes, this is not news.

•Second, if the report means that the crisis lies in the depletion of groundwater levels in cities below safe rechargeable levels, then this is also not unknown. For almost two decades, the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) has been reporting on the increasing number of over-exploited blocks across India, the ‘dark’ category blocks. The recent annual book of CGWB has reported 1,034 units, out of the 6,584 units it monitors, as over-exploited. If this is the ‘crisis’, then we have had it for long. What has this not received enough attention? Is it because these zones are not in cities?

•Just to be sure how critical the ‘crisis’ is, CGWB’s 2013 estimates say that the groundwater development in India is just about 62% of the utilisable groundwater reserves. Similarly, a recent report by the Central Water Commission, prepared in collaboration with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), asserted that India is not yet in “water scarcity condition”. But it is certainly in a “water-stressed condition”, with reducing per capita water availability.

•Here, we certainly don’t mean to say that India can continue with the present ways of water management. We also cannot remain in a state of denial that a crisis is not in the making. However, certain steps need to be taken to ensure a more useful and productive discourse about water governance challenges.

•First, India needs to reconsider the institutional processes for dissemination of knowledge about water resource management. There is a certain amount of danger inherent in the casual manner in which knowledge about water resources is legitimised and consumed, particularly in these days of ‘viral’ information.

•Second, we need to recognise the the crisis is not as much of scarcity as of delivery. The challenge is to ensure an adequate access to quality water, more so in urban areas where inequities over space and time are acute. We need to also realise that with the country’s rapid urbanisation, demand cannot be met by groundwater reserves alone. For instance, according to the Delhi Jal Board estimates, groundwater meets just 10% of Delhi’s drinking water needs. The rest is met by surface water sources, most of it transported from outside Delhi. The urban needs, which underpin much reporting on ‘water crises’, need to be met by robust long-term planning and preparation for droughts and other contingencies.

Responsibility lies with States

•Finally, we need to reconsider our approaches to water governance. We must recognise that the fulcrum of change and action is with the States. For long, water resource departments in States have continued to follow the conventional approaches of supply augmentation. The challenge is that of reorienting themselves towards deploying strategies of demand management, conservation and regulation.

•The Centre has to work with States towards an institutional change for the necessary course-shift. The Finance Minister, in her budget, repeatedly stated that the government will work with States to address India’s national water security challenges. Let us hope that the government intends to strengthen federal governance of water resources towards long-term water security.

📰 DRDO focus on stealth weapons, drones

Laser-based directed energy weapons can disable missiles without debris

•Directed energy weapons or DEWs are among the next bunch of military technologies that the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is working on, Organisation Chairman G. Satheesh Reddy said on Sunday.

•Laser-based or microwave-based high-power DEWs can quietly disable enemy drones or missiles temporarily or permanently without leaving physical debris. In contrast, the ASAT or anti-satellite missile that the DRDO tested on March 27, killed an orbiting Indian target satellite and left hundreds of small pieces as debris for a few months.

•Dr. Reddy, who is Secretary, Department of Defence R&D, said DEWs would play a major role in future warfare. “DEWs are extremely important today. The world is moving towards them. In the country too, we are doing a lot of experiments. We have been working in this area for the past three to four years to develop 10-kW and 20-kW [weapons],” he said.

Hyderabad hub

•The DRDO's Hyderabad-based lab, Centre for High Energy Systems and Sciences (CHESS) is the node for all related activities.

•Dr. Reddy said technology planning for the military should start at least 10-20 years in advance. “If we also have to be a technology leader we need to lay our futuristic technologies roadmap clearly, put a good amount of resources into it and also work towards those technologies. Otherwise we will remain just technology followers,” he said, delivering the 12th annual Air Chief Marshal L.M. Katre memorial lecture.

•The talk was organised by the Air Force Association Karnataka in honour of the former air chief who also was the chairman of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).

•Apart from its current fighter plane projects — the LCA and advanced medium combat aircraft or AMCA — India would look at pilotless hardware such combat drones or UCAVs (unmanned combat air vehicles), as well as swarm drones that fly in tandem for surveillance, attack or intelligence gathering. Any UCAV programme could also use the Kaveri as its engine.

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