22 Jan 2019: UPSC Exam Comprehensive News Analysis

TABLE OF CONTENTS

A. GS1 Related
B. GS2 Related
POLITY AND GOVERNANCE
1. Punjab Assembly notice to Khaira for disqualification
2. Arunachal Pradesh, Assam CMs defend Citizenship Bill
3. Affidavit in SC on CIC appointment
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
1. Pak. shares draft pact on Kartarpur Corridor
C. GS3 Related 
ENVIRONMENT
1. Protest against proposed bird sanctuary in Manipur
2. ‘Plastic waste imports to India go up’
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
1. Chinese doctor who gene-edited babies for ‘fame’ to face probe
D. GS4 Related 
E. Editorials
POLITY AND GOVERNANCE
1. Justice delayed is markets stymied – Importance of Judiciary in a market economy
2. Why Electronic Voting Machines must go
F. Tidbits
1. 111-year-old Siddaganga Mutt seer passes away
2. Climate ‘time bomb’ for groundwater is ticking
3. 19 amphibian species are critically endangered: ZSI list
4. Rajasthan tribal meet stresses on preserving indigenous practices
5. Steel pipes will link Godavari and Cauvery, says Gadkari
6. Quota for poor not aimed at forward castes: Centre to HC
G. Prelims Facts
1. ‘Bihar outgrew others in FY18 GDP’
H. UPSC Prelims Practice Questions
I. UPSC Mains practice Questions

A. GS1 Related

B. GS2 Related

Category: POLITY AND GOVERNANCE

 

1. Punjab Assembly notice to Khaira for disqualification

Context

  • The Punjab Assembly has issued notice to Sukhpal Singh Khaira, former rebel AAP leader and MLA from Bholath, for disqualification under the 10th Schedule of the Constitution.
  • Khaira had resigned from the party on January 6, but did not resign as legislator. Later, he floated a new political outfit..
  • The petitions from Harsimran Singh, a resident of village Metla in Bholath, and Harpal Singh Cheema, the Leader of the Opposition in the Punjab Assembly, have made references to the Speaker of the House for Mr. Khaira’s disqualification.
  • The petition says Khaira was elected as an MLA on AAP symbol and since he is no longer part of the party, he was no longer qualified to hold the office of a legislator and the seat should be declared vacant.

Anti-Defection Law

  • The 10th Schedule to the Indian Constitution popularly referred to as the ‘Anti-Defection Law’ was inserted by the 52nd Amendment (1985) to the Constitution.
  • ‘Defection’ has been defined as, “To abandon a position or association, often to join an opposing group”.
  • The anti-defection law was enacted to ensure that a party member does not violate the mandate of the party and in case he does so, he will be disqualified from participating in the election.
  • The Anti-Defection Law allows Parliament to announce those members defected who oppose or do not vote in line with party’s decision.
  • The aim of Anti-Defection Law is to prevent members of Parliament from changing parties for any personal motive.

Grounds for disqualification:

  • If an elected member voluntarily gives up his membership of a political party
  • If he votes or abstains from voting in such House, contrary to any direction issued by his political party.
  • If any independently elected member joins any political party.
  • If any nominated member joins any political party after the expiry of six months.
  • The decision on questions are to disqualification on ground of defection is referred to the chairman or the Speaker of such House, and his decision is final.
  • All proceedings in relation to disqualification under this Schedule are deemed to be proceedings in Parliament or in the Legislature of a state.
 

2. Arunachal Pradesh, Assam CMs defend Citizenship Bill

Context

  • Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu has joined his Assam counterpart Sarbananda Sonowal in defending the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016, and said “people with vested interests” have been misinterpreting it to create confusion.
  • “Some people with vested interests are opposing the Bill with misinterpretations creating confusions among the people that it will have a negative impact upon us. This is not true; rather, the Bill will help us in rebuilding balanced demography of the region,” Mr. Khandu said in Arunachal Pradesh’s East Kameng district on Sunday.
  • “I am sure it (Citizenship Bill) will not harm us as we are safe from any kind of infiltrators due to the Inner Line Permit (ILP) mechanism,” he said. Anyone entering Arunachal Pradesh from elsewhere in India requires an ILP as mandated by the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act of 1873

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016

  • The Bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha on July 15, 2016, seeks to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 to provide citizenship to illegal migrants, from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who are of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian extraction.
  • However, the Act doesn’t have a provision for Muslim sects like Shias and Ahmediyas who also face persecution in Pakistan.
  • The Bill also seeks to reduce the requirement of 11 years of continuous stay in the country to six years to obtain citizenship by naturalisation.
  • According to the Citizenship Act, 1955, an illegal immigrant is one who enters India without a valid passport or with forged documents. Or, a person who stays beyond the visa permit.

National Register of Citizens

  • It is a register containing the list of bona fide (genuine/real) Indian citizens. Those failing to enlist their names in the register would be deemed, illegal migrants.
  • The first list was made in 1951, covering the whole of India, as per the census of that year.
  • Currently, the list has been updated for the first time, and only in Assam
  • Officially, the NRC process will address the issue of illegal migrants, specifically from Bangladesh.
  • The National Register of Citizens was first published in 1951 to record citizens, their houses and holdings. Updating the NRC to root out foreigners was a demand during the Assam Agitation (1979-1985).
  • There have been several waves of migration to Assam from Bangladesh, but the biggest was in March 1971 when the Pakistan army crackdown forced many to flee to India. The Assam Accord of 1985 that ended the six-year anti-foreigners’ agitation decided upon the midnight of March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date.

Inner Line Permit

  • A British-era system, the ILP is a travel document that Indian citizens need to possess to enter the frontier States of North-Eastern India.
  • It is issued under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation, 1873, to regulate the movement of people who do not belong to these States.
  • The ILP is valid for a week but can be extended. People who frequent these States for work can opt for a special ILP renewable annually.
  • The ILP is mandatory for Indians and the Protected Area Permit for foreigners
 

3. Affidavit in SC on CIC appointment

Context:

  • RTI activists filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court on Monday alleging that the appointment of former Law Secretary Suresh Chandra as a member of the Central Information Commission was done “in complete violation of the prescribed process”, as he had not applied for the post.

Details of the issue:

  • Chandra’s name was not on the list of 280 applicants for the vacant positions, according to data made public by the Department of Personnel and Training.
  • The Supreme Court is currently hearing a petition by Anjali Bhardwaj, co-convenor of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, and others, on vacancies in State and Central Information Commissions.
  • The additional affidavit said the appointment of Mr. Chandra was in violation of the DoPT’s own affidavit to the SC on the appointment procedure to be followed. The search committee “acted beyond its mandate and undermined the selection process”, said the affidavit.

Central Information Commission (CIC)

  • CIC was established in 2005 by Central Government under provisions of Right to Information (RTI) Act (2005).
  • The Chief Information Commissioner heads the Central Information Commission.
  • The general superintendence, direction and management of affairs of Commission are vested in Chief Information Commissioner who is assisted by Information Commissioners.
  • CIC hears appeals from information-seekers who have not been satisfied by the public authority, and also addresses major issues concerning the RTI Act.
  • CIC submits annual report to Union government on the implementation of the provisions of RTI Act.
  • The central government, in turn, places this report before each house of Parliament.
  • The Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners are appointed by the President on the recommendation of a committee consisting of – The Prime Minister, who shall be the Chairperson of the committee; the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha; a Union Cabinet Minister to be nominated by the Prime Minister.

Functions and Powers of CIC

  • It can order an inquiry into any matter if there are reasonable grounds.
  • It can secure compliance of its decisions from the public authority.
  • It can recommend steps to be taken for promoting such conformity if public authority does not conform to provisions of the RTI Act.
  • It receives and inquires into a complaint from.
  • It examines any record which is under control of the public authority and which may be withheld from it on any grounds during the enquiry. While inquiring, it has powers of a civil court.

 

Category: INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

 

1. Pak. shares draft pact on Kartarpur Corridor

Context

  • Indian and Pakistani officials are expected to meet next month to discuss a “draft agreement” on the Kartarpur corridor in Punjab. The meeting follows the Pakistan government’s announcement that it had shared the draft of the agreement, to be signed by the two governments, for “facilitation of (Indian) Sikh Yatrees to visit the Gurudwara, Darbar Sahib Kartarpur, Narowal, Pakistan”.

Details of the issue

  • The Kartarpur initiative is seen as an exceptional case for the Indian government, which has refused to open talks with Pakistan on any other issue until concerns on terror are addressed. It has agreed to work with Pakistan on the plan to help Sikh pilgrims access the sacred site, which is just four kilometres across the border from India.
  • Among the issues that need to be finalised are the exact point of crossing over for the pilgrims, the identity cards required, as well as security procedures and guarantees needed by both sides.
  • In a previous draft, Pakistan had proposed a 14-point agreement, which included visa free travel for the pilgrims who would be processed at checkpoints on both the Indian and Pakistani side. The agreement included setting up a database of all pilgrims visiting, with a suggested cap of 500 pilgrims per day.
  • Earlier, the MEA had said there should be no restriction on the number of pilgrims or visiting hours. However, given security protocols, the Ministry of Home Affairs concluded that a cap would be necessary. The draft agreement from Pakistan also proposes to keep the corridor open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day.

Kartarpur Gurdwara

  • The gurdwara in Kartarpur stands on the bank of the Ravi, about 120 km northeast of Lahore.
  • It was here that Guru Nanak assembled a Sikh community and lived for 18 years until his death in 1539.
  • The shrine is visible from the Indian side, as Pakistani authorities generally trim the elephant grass that would otherwise obstruct the view.
  • Indian Sikhs gather in large numbers for darshan from the Indian side, and binoculars are installed at Gurdwara Dera Baba Nanak.
  • The gurdwara was opened to pilgrims after repairs and restoration in 1999, and Sikh jathas have been visiting the shrine regularly ever since.
  • There are no restrictions on visiting Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib once a pilgrim has entered Pakistan on a valid visa.
  • Sikh jathas from India travel to Pakistan on four occasions every year for Baisakhi, the martyrdom day of Guru Arjan Dev, the death anniversary of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and the birthday of Guru Nanak Dev. These Indian pilgrims are given access to all gurdwaras in Pakistan.

C. GS3 Related

Category: ENVIRONMENT

1. Protest against proposed bird sanctuary in Manipur

Context

  • The Manipur government’s plan to set up a bird sanctuary at the Loktak lake in Bishnupur district has met with stiff opposition from the villagers in nearby areas.
  • A large number of residents of Thingnunggei village took out a massive procession against the government’s proposal on Sunday.

Background

  • Thousands of migratory birds flock to the Loktak lake, the largest freshwater lake in north-eastern India, every year. However, in the past few years there has been a sharp decline in the number of migratory birds coming to the lake.
  • Reports indicate that bird poachers are active in the area, targeting the winged guests. Officials of the forest department’s wildlife wing say in view of the widespread bird poaching at the lake, setting up of the sanctuary is a must.
  • Birdwatchers on the other hand blame human intrusion, bird poaching and hydroelectric power project near the lake for the decline in the number of migratory birds and brow-antlered deer in the Keibul Lamjao national park in the vicinity.
  • “The villagers of Thingnunggei are poor and they have no other means of earning a livelihood except for catching fish and plucking vegetables from the lake. If fishing is banned in the lake, the villagers would starve. We are all for protection of birds, most of whom are migratory, but the new scheme should not be implemented at the cost of the poor villagers,” said one of the protesters.

Loktak Lake

  • Loktak Lake is the largest freshwater lake in North -East India. It is located in the Bishupur District of Manipur.
  • The most unique feature of the Loktak lake is the presence of a series of floating islands locally known as phumdis. These are massive heterogeneous masses of soil, vegetation and organic matter in different stages of decomposition
  • Keibul Lamjao National Park is located at the southwestern part of the lake. It is home to the endangered Manipuri brow-antlered deer, Sangai.
  • Loktak Lake was designated for the List of Wetlands of International Importance (Under Ramsar Convention) in 1990.
  • In 1993 it was inscribed in the Montreux Record of sites whose ecological character has changed, is changing, or is about to change as a result of human interference.

Threats to Loktak Lake

  • Waste products from towns and cities and sediments brought by the rivers to the lake is a major concern.
  • “floating huts” or “phumshang” built by local fishermen have disrupted the environment of the lake by polluting and shallowing the lake.
  • Introduction of new and alien species in the 1980s by Government of Manipur has led to loss of indigenous species of the Lake.
  • Detergents, soaps and other phosphates and nitrates containing chemicals, which are brought down by the rivers to this lake, cause ‘eutrophication’ of the lake.

Issues faced by local communities:

  • Due to environmental degradation, there has been a continuous decline in fish species which have impacted the livelihood of fishermen community of Loktak.
  • Another major challenge for Loktak Lake dwellers has been eviction after the enactment of Loktak Protection Act, 2006. The Act prohibits dwellings on the phumdis on the lake and the dwellers are termed “occupiers”.
 

2. ‘Plastic waste imports to India go up’

Context

  • In spite of a ban on the import of plastic waste into India, the influx of PET bottles has quadrupled from 2017 to 2018 thanks to legal loophole, says a Delhi-based environmentalist organisation, Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay Smriti Manch (PDUSM).
  • “Indian firms are importing plastic scraps from China, Italy, Japan and Malawi for recycling and the imports of PET bottle scrap & flakes have increased from 12,000 tonnes in FY 16-17 to 48,000 tonnes in FY 17-18 growing @ 290%. India has already imported 25,000 MT in the first 3 months of FY 18-19,” says a note by the organisation.

Details of the issue

  • Government and industry estimates suggest that India consumes about 13 million tonnes of plastic and recycles only about 4 million tonnes.
  • A lack of an efficient waste segregation system and inadequate collection is the root cause, according to experts, for much of the plastic not making its way to recycling centres.
  • To incentivise domestic plastic recycling units, the government had banned the import of plastic waste, particularly PET bottles in 2015. In 2016, an amendment allowed such imports as long as they were carried out by agencies situated in Special Economic Zones. It’s this loophole that’s been exploited.

Plastic Pollution

  • Plastics are non-biodegradable, synthetic polymers. They are made-up of long chain hydrocarbons with additives and can be moulded into finished products.
  • These polymers are broken into monomers such as ethylene, propylene, vinyl, styrene and benzene etc.
  • Finally, these monomers are chemically polymerized into different categories of plastics.
  • Two broad classes of plastic-related chemicals are of critical concern for human health—bisphenol-A or BPA, and additives used in the synthesis of plastics, which are known as phthalates
  • Petroleum-based plastic is not biodegradable and usually goes into a landfill where it is buried or it gets into the water and finds its way into the ocean.
  • Since plastic does not decompose into a natural substance like soil, it degrades (break down) into tiny particles after many years. In the process of breaking down, it releases toxic chemicals (additives that were used to shape and harden the plastic) which make their way into our food and water supply.
  • These toxic chemicals are now being found in our bloodstream. Causing cancer, infertility, birth defects, impaired immunity and many other ailments.

Penetration of Plastic Pollution

  • A major threat to oceans according to a 2017 International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) report, micro plastics are estimated to constitute up to 30% of marine litter polluting the oceans.
  • The ingestion of microplastics is very dangerous for humans as these substances contain high concentrations of toxic chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls.
  • People living along rivers and coastlines in China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam are the most impacted by plastic pollution.
  • Low-income communities face more health impacts near plastic production sites, have greater exposure to toxins and waste, and bear the brunt of the impacts of improper plastic disposal and incineration.
  • Henderson Island in the South Pacific is the most plastic polluted of any island recorded to date.
  • Studies show, eliminating all plastic, or using alternative materials such as paper and glass, could be more harmful to the environment than plastic itself.

Proposed alternatives and their limitations

  • Compostable plastic bags – Compostable plastic cannot degrade in nature; it has to be separated from other waste and heated to 70 degrees Celsius at an industrial facility.
  • Bioplastics –May not necessarily be biodegradable and may require very specific conditions to break down. They also do not solve the litter or throwaway culture problem
  • Glass containers – Studies show that making and moving glass bottles uses nearly five times more energy than plastic.
  • Paper bags – considered greener than plastic. Analyses of both materials show plastic bag production causes significantly less air and water pollution.
  • Micro plastic – Study has not shown if consuming micro plastic is harmful or not. It’s an emerging area of research, one the World Health Organization is working to assess.
  • Incineration – Creates other pollution and does not address the overproduction problem.
  • Focusing on end of life like recycling or disposal – We can’t recycle our way out of this crisis.
  • Clean up – While cleanup efforts help reduce litter problems, they do not address the source of the problem and ignore the unseen plastic pollution – micro plastics.
  • Throwaway alternatives – Replacing one single-use item with another does not necessarily solve the problem or help to address our throwaway culture.

 

Category: SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

 

1. Chinese doctor who gene-edited babies for ‘fame’ to face probe

Context

  • A researcher who claimed to have created the world’s first genetically-edited babies will face a Chinese police investigation, state media said on Monday, as authorities confirmed that a second woman fell pregnant during the experiment.

Details of the issue

  • He Jiankui shocked the scientific community last year after announcing he had successfully altered the genes of twin girls born in November to prevent them from contracting HIV.
  • He had “privately” organised a project team that included foreign staff and used “technology of uncertain safety and effectiveness” for illegal human embryo gene-editing, investigators said.
  • Investigators revealed that the scientist was “pursuing personal fame” and used “self-raised funds” for the controversial experiment.
  • Eight volunteer couples — HIV-positive fathers and HIV-negative mothers — signed up to Mr. He’s trial, investigators found, with one couple later dropping out.
  • Speaking at the genome summit in Hong Kong in November, Mr. He said he was “proud” of altering the genes of the babies, given the stigma affecting AIDS patients in the country.
  • But such gene-editing work is banned in most countries, including China. Mr. He will be “dealt with seriously according to the law,” and his case will be “handed over to public security organs for handling,” Xinhua said.

Cutting-and-pasting DNA

  • CRISPR-CAS9 is a technology that allows scientists to essentially cut-and-paste DNA, raising hope of genetic fixes for a disease. However, there are also concerns about its safety and ethics.
  • CRISPR is a dynamic, versatile tool that allows us to target nearly any genomic location and potentially repair broken genes. It can remove, add or alter specific DNA sequences in the genome of higher organisms.
  • CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) are sections of DNA and are sections of genetic code containing short repetitions of base sequences followed by spacer DNA segments.
  • CAS-9 (CRISPR-associated protein 9) is an enzyme. It uses a synthetic guide RNA to introduce a double-strand break at a specific location within a strand of DNA. It is a system used by bacterial cells to recognize and destroy viral DNA as a form of adaptive immunity.

What are the pros of Gene editing?

  • CRISPR could be used to modify disease-causing genes in embryos brought to term, removing the faulty script from the genetic code of that person’s future descendants as well. Genome editing (Gene editing) could potentially decrease, or even eliminate, the incidence of many serious genetic diseases, reducing human suffering worldwide.
  • It might also be possible to install genes that offer lifelong protection against infection.

What are the cons of Gene editing?

  • Making irreversible changes to every cell in the bodies of future children and all their descendants would constitute extraordinarily risky human experimentation.
  • There are issues including off-target mutations (unintentional edits to the genome), persistent editing effects, genetic mechanisms in embryonic and fetal development, and longer-term health and safety consequences.
  • Some argue that they do not understand the operations of the genome enough to make long-lasting changes to it. Altering one gene could have unforeseen and widespread effects on other parts of the genome, which would then be passed down to future generations.
  • Many consider genome alterations to be unethical, advocating that nature should be let to run its own course. 
  • Few argue that after permitting human germline gene editing for any reason would likely lead to its ignorance of the regulatory limits, to the emergence of market-based eugenics that would exacerbate already existing discrimination, inequality, and conflict.
  • It will become a tool for selecting desired characteristics such as intelligence and attractiveness.

D. GS4 Related

 There is nothing from here for today!!

E. Editorials

Category: POLITY AND GOVERNANCE

1. Justice delayed is markets stymied – Importance of Judiciary in a market economy

Background

  • Since the 1991 economic reforms, India has improved tremendously in almost all economic indicators, and is now one of the fastest growing nations in the world.
  • Various economic policies of the current government have enabled the economy to move faster than ever before.
  • These include tax reforms leading to the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax, reforms making India more competitive in the ‘Ease of Doing Business’ index, and implementation of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code.

Role of Government in dispute resolution:

  • Three things are crucial for the market economy to function efficiently:
    • Transparency in information,
    • Efficient dispute settlements,
    • Contract enforcement in a time-bound manner powered by an effective judiciary.
  • In a market economy, the government has little role to play in transactions among players. However, it plays an effective role by setting up efficient dispute settlement mechanisms, so that the costs of transactions are minimal.

Concerns:

  • It has now become very important to strengthen the quality of the material which makes up the engine of the economy, i.e. India’s institutions.
  • As a democracy, India has an advantage: the roots of all its institutions are strong. However, they have failed to grow with the growing population and with increasing demands.
  • The judicial system, in particular, is far from reaching the pace required for efficient functioning. In such an economy, the judiciary plays the pivotal role by enforcing contracts in the case of disputes through minimal costs.
  • Over the years, and with the advent of the Internet, India has taken a leap towards transparency of information. However, little progress has been made in the case of dispute settlement mechanisms due to an inefficient judiciary. The situation is so desperate that the Economic Survey of 2017-18 had to set aside an entire chapter on the need for ‘Timely Justice’.
  • Judicial delay hampers dispute resolution and contract enforcement, which discourages investments, stalls projects, hampers tax collections and increases legal costs

Some Statistics:

  • It noted that the current working capacity of the High Courts and the Supreme Court is only 6%. Plus, there are huge numbers of pending cases: 1.8 lakh in six of the major tribunals, and close to 3.5 million in the High Courts.
  • For economic cases, the average duration of pendency is about 3 years for the five major High Courts.
  • The Centre and the States approximately spend 0.08-0.09% of the GDP on administration of justice, which is very low.
  • Even though, it is a little punitive to compare India’s budget with that of the most powerful economy in the world, India has to set out a benchmark for itself.

Effects of Judicial inaction:

  • Judicial inaction leads to corruption. Unlike policymakers in India, those in other countries seem to have realised the importance of the judiciary in the efficient functioning of a market economy.
  • The low focus on the judiciary obviously implies that non-compliance of contracts is not at all costly in India.
  • The official dispute settlement mechanism does not deliver justice in a time-bound manner. Consequently, players are willing to bypass the system by paying rents to government officials, a system that became customary in the License Raj.
  • Officials are willing to accept quick money since there is little chance of getting caught, making bribery a norm.

Way forward:

  • On the judicial front, building capacity in lower judiciary so that lower courts can deal with economic and commercial cases, and allowing high courts to focus on streamlining and clarifying questions of law is the need of the hour.
  • Downsizing or removing original and commercial jurisdiction of high courts, and enabling the lower judiciary to deal with such cases is an option.
  • Another idea could be the formation of more subject- and stage-specific benches in the Supreme Court as it would result in specialization in combating pendency and delay.
  • Improving courts’ case management and automation systems would also lead to a reduction in judicial delays.

Having a strong institutional mechanism is important for India. The opposition must assume a major role in the solidification of institutions, including, and especially, the judiciary. Strong institutions are the key to move India up the economic ladder. Otherwise, India will remain a land of crony capitalists.

2. Why Electronic Voting Machines must go

Context:

  • The recent Assembly elections — the last major polling exercise before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls — were not free from Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) malfunctions.
  • Though the discussions at present makes no distinction between a ‘malfunction’ (which suggests a technical defect) and ‘tampering’ (manipulation aimed at fraud), there were several reports of misbehaving EVMs.
  • A discrepancy of even one vote between votes polled and votes counted is unacceptable, which is not an unreasonably high standard but one followed by democracies worldwide.

Background:

  • EVMs are electronic voting machines which enables the voter to vote, with a button for each choice. It is attached by a cable to an electronic ballot box. It comprises of two units – control unit and balloting unit. They are connected.
  • An EVM runs on a 6-volt single alkaline battery fixed in the control unit. It can even be used in areas that have no electricity.
  • The control unit is with the Election Commission selected polling officer.
  • The Balloting Unit is in the voting section into which the voter enters to cast their vote in secret by pressing the button against the name and sign of the candidate of their choice.

To understand the nitty gritties of EVMs – Watch:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCMMKHjpOV8&t=3s

Electoral first principles:

  • Transparency, verifiability, and secrecy are the three pillars of a free and fair election.
    • The reason a nation chooses to be a democracy is that it gives moral legitimacy to the government. The basis of this legitimacy is the people’s will.
    • The people’s will is expressed through the vote, anonymously (the principle of secret ballot).
    • Not only must this vote be recorded correctly and counted correctly, it must also be seen to be recorded correctly and counted correctly.
    • The recording and counting process must be accessible to, and verifiable by, the public. Regardless of whether one is for or against EVMs, there is no getting away from the fact that any polling method must pass these three tests to claim legitimacy. Paper ballots obviously do. The voter can visually confirm that her selection has been registered, the voting happens in secret, and the counting happens in front of her representative’s eyes.
  • EVMs, fail on all three, as established by a definitive judgment of the German constitutional court in 2009.
    • The court’s ruling forced the country to scrap EVMs and return to paper ballot.
    • Other technologically advanced nations such as the Netherlands and Ireland have also abandoned EVMs.

Concerns:

  • If the first two criteria are considered, EVMs are neither transparent nor verifiable. Neither can the voter see her vote being recorded, nor can it be verified later whether the vote was recorded correctly.
  • What is verifiable is the total number of votes cast, not the choice expressed in each vote.
  • The third criterion is secrecy. Here too, EVMs disappoint.
    • With the paper ballot, the EC could mix ballot papers from different booths before counting, so that voting preferences could not be connected to a given locality.
    • But with EVMs, we are back to booth-wise counting, which allows one to discern voting patterns and renders marginalised communities vulnerable to pressure.
    • Totaliser machines can remedy this, but the EC has shown no intent to adopt them.
  • So, on all three counts — transparency, verifiability and secrecy — EVMs are flawed. Paper ballots claim legitimacy by passing the three tests of a free and fair election, which EVMs don’t.

VVPAT:

  • An electronic display of the voter’s selection may not be the same as the vote stored electronically in the machine’s memory. This gap was why the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) was introduced.
    • VVPATs solve only one-half of the EVMs’ transparency/verifiability problem: the voting part.
    • The counting part remains an opaque operation. If anyone suspects a counting error, there is no recourse, for an electronic recount is, by definition, absurd.
    • Some believe the VVPATs can solve this problem too, through statistics.
  • At present, the EC’s VVPAT auditing is restricted to one randomly chosen polling booth per constituency.
    • In a recent essay, K. Ashok Vardhan Shetty, a former IAS officer, demonstrates that this sample size will fail to detect faulty EVMs 98-99% of the time.
    • It is also shown that VVPATs can be an effective deterrent to fraud only on the condition that the detection of even one faulty EVM in a constituency must entail the VVPAT hand-counting of all the EVMs in that constituency.
    • Without this provison, VVPATs would merely provide the sheen of integrity without its substance.
  • VVPATs are not the answer either, given the sheer magnitude of the logistical challenges. The recent track record of EVMs indicates that the number of malfunctions in a national election will be high.
  • For that very reason, the EC is unlikely to adopt a policy of hand-counting all EVMs in constituencies where faulty machines are reported, as this might entail hand-counting on a scale that defeats the very purpose of EVMs. And yet, this is a principle without which the use of VVPATs is meaningless.

Unjustified suspicions:

  • Despite these issues, EVMs continue to enjoy the confidence of the EC, which insists that Indian EVMs, unlike the Western ones, are tamper-proof. But this is a matter of trust.
  • Even if the software has been burnt into the microchip, neither the EC nor the voter knows for sure what software is running in a particular EVM.
  • One has to simply trust the manufacturer and the EC. But as the German court observed, the precondition of this trust is the verifiability of election events, whereas in the case of EVMs, “the calculation of the election result is based on a calculation act which cannot be examined from outside”.
  • While it is true that the results come quicker and the process is cheaper with EVMs as compared to paper ballot, both these considerations are undeniably secondary to the integrity of the election.
  • Another argument made in favour of the EVM is that it eliminates malpractices such as booth-capturing and ballot-box stuffing.
  • In the age of the smartphone, however, the opportunity costs of ballot-box-stuffing and the risk of exposure are prohibitively high.
  • In contrast, tampering with code could accomplish rigging on a scale unimaginable for booth-capturers.
  • Moreover, it is nearly impossible to detect EVM-tampering. As a result, suspicions of tampering in the tallying of votes — as opposed to malfunction in registering the votes, which alone is detectable — are destined to remain in the realm of speculation.
  • The absence of proven fraud might save the EVM for now, but its survival comes at a dangerous cost — the corrosion of people’s faith in the electoral process.

Conclusion:

  • Yet there doesn’t have to be incontrovertible evidence of EVM-tampering for a nation to return to paper ballot. Suspicion is enough, and there is enough of it already.
  • As the German court put it, “The democratic legitimacy of the election demands that the election events be controllable so that… unjustified suspicion can be refuted.”
    • The phrase “unjustified suspicion” is pertinent.
    • The EC has always maintained that suspicions against EVMs are unjustified.
  • Clearly, the solution is not to dismiss EVM-sceptics as ignorant technophobes. Rather, the EC must provide the people of India a polling process capable of refuting unjustified suspicion, as this is a basic requirement for democratic legitimacy, not an optional accessory.

 

F. Tidbits

 

1. 111-year-old Siddaganga Mutt seer passes away

  • Shivakumara Swami, the 111-year-old seer of Siddaganga Mutt, passed away on Monday morning. Popularly known as “Nadedaduva Devaru” (Walking God), the prominent Lingayat seer was known for his humanitarian work in education.
  • He was suffering from age-related complications and was on ventilator support at the mutt for nearly two weeks. He underwent a liver bypass surgery in Chennai in December 2018 and had been seriously ill since then.
  • A Padma Bhushan awardee, the seer founded over 125 institutions and was a follower of the Virakta Lingayat tradition. He had followers across caste and religious barriers, evident in the lakhs of people thronging the mutt for a last glimpse of the seer. Students at the mutt were inconsolable on hearing of his death.
  • Shivakumara Swami, who became a seer of the mutt in 1941, had a long stint of 78 years. The many institutions he started offer free schooling, hostel facilities and food. Following his wish, the mutt ensured that “Dasoha” (charity) was uninterrupted after his death. Students and devotees who came to pay their respects were served food by the mutt.
 

2. Climate ‘time bomb’ for groundwater is ticking

  • Mark Cuthbert, from Cardiff University’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, and his team found that only half of all groundwater supplies are likely to fully replenish or re-balance within the next 100 years — potentially leading to shortages in drier areas.
  • Future generations face an environmental “time bomb” as the world’s groundwater systems take decades to respond to the present day impact of climate change
  • Groundwater is the largest useable source of freshwater on the planet and more than two billion people rely on it to drink or irrigate crops.
  • It is slowly replenished through rainfall — a process known as recharge — and discharges into lakes, rivers or oceans to maintain an overall balance between water in and water out.
  • Groundwater reserves are already under pressure as the global population explodes and crop production rises in lockstep.
  • But the extreme weather events such as drought and recorded rainfall — both made worse by our heating planet — could have another long-lasting impact on how quickly reserves replenish.
 

3. 19 amphibian species are critically endangered: ZSI list

  • An updated list of Indian amphibians was released on the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) website last week, with 19 species being treated as critically endangered and 33 species as endangered.
  • Nirmal U. Kulkarni, a herpetologist and conservationist from Mhadei Reseach Centre said, “Since 2009, the scientists of the ZSI in collaboration with other institutes have been updating the Indian amphibian checklist periodically.
  • In 2009, the total number of species listed were 284. In 2010 it was 311, in 2011 it was 314, in 2012 and 2013 it was 342, in 2015 it was 384 and in 2017 it was 405 species.”
  • The list also notes if the species are in danger, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
  • Among the amphibians listed, 19 species are treated as critically endangered and 33 species as endangered, Mr. Kulkarni said, noting that the list describes 19% of amphibians as data deficient species and 39% as not assessed by the IUCN.
  • “It is high time that we assess the IUCN status for the Indian ‘not assessed’ amphibians (169 species) based on species-specific field exploration,” said the conservationist, who conducts studies along the Mahadayi of the Western Ghats.
 

4. Rajasthan tribal meet stresses on preserving indigenous practices

  • Farmers from the tribal belt of southern Rajasthan, attending a tribal colloquium in Banswara, laid emphasis on re-establishing their links with the livestock, local herbs, traditional foodgrain and indigenous agricultural practices as a safeguard for protecting their culture.
  • The conference was organised last week on the conclusion of a fortnight-long “farmers’ sovereignty march” through 190 village spread across Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, which brought all stakeholders together for development of tribal areas. The participants in the march identified the crop and food varieties that needed preservation.
  • The subjects of agriculture, health care and democracy were brought up for discussion at the meet. The tribal farmers took a pledge to preserve the fertile soil in their areas for ensuring food security.
  • Civil society group Vaagdhara, which organised the colloquium, provided a key framework of “promote, provide and protect” in each sector of tribal welfare.

5. Steel pipes will link Godavari and Cauvery, says Gadkari

  • Union Minister for Water Resources Nitin Gadkari has revealed plans to take the backwaters of the Godavari up to the Cauvery river in Tamil Nadu through Krishna and Penna using steel pipes instead of developing canals en route as suggested by a non-resident engineer from Andhra Pradesh. By doing so, wastage of water from canals could be prevented and the overall cost reduced, he said.
  • Claiming that the Central government was spending 100% of the funds for the Polavaram project and 62% physical progress had been achieved with the cooperation of the State government, he said it was his personal responsibility to ensure its completion as per schedule.
  • Gadkari said 1,100 tmcft of the backwater of Godavari river was going into the sea and there was a dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over 45 tmcft of it.
  • “To solve the crisis, the Centre has decided to link up the above rivers and once the Cabinet gives its nod, funds will be raised from the World Bank or the Asian Development Bank. It will mitigate the scarcity of water in A.P., Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu,” he said.
  • It was Atal Bihari Vajpayee who, as Prime Minister, had conceived the idea of linking rivers, he recalled.
 

6. Quota for poor not aimed at forward castes: Centre to HC

  • The Centre on Monday contended before the Madras High Court that a recent amendment to the Constitution providing 10% reservation in jobs and higher education to ‘economically weaker sections (EWS)’ in the open competition category, was “not a communal reservation” aimed at the so called “forward castes.”
  • Appearing before a Division Bench of Justices S. Manikumar and Subramonium Prasad, Additional Solicitor General G. Rajagopalan said the intent of the constitutional amendment was to provide reservations on the basis of economic criteria to all communities other than those already benefiting from reservations.
  • When the senior judge pointed out that providing reservations for people except those who were socially and educationally backward as well as those belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes would naturally refer to ‘forward caste,’ the ASG said, the right term that could be used was ‘other communities’ and not ‘forward caste.’
  • He also contended that what had been intended for the EWS was vertical and not horizontal reservation. However, insisting on written submissions, the judges ordered notices, returnable by February 18, to the Centre as well as the State government on a writ petition filed by DMK organising secretary R.S. Bharathi challenging the amendment.
  • The counsel said providing reservations based on economic criteria would amount to altering the basic structure of the Constitution. Asserting that the intention of framers of the Constitution was to provide reservations to undo historic wrongs against the oppressed and backward classes, Mr. Wilson said, unlike caste, which gets attached to a person by birth and remains until death, economic status of a person was a fluctuating factor.
 

G. Prelims Facts

 

1. ‘Bihar outgrew others in FY18 GDP’

Context

  • Bihar and Andhra Pradesh led the pack among States in terms of GDP growth in financial year 2017-18, clocking 11.3% and 11.2% growth, respectively, compared with the national GDP growth of 6.7% for the year, according to a report by Crisil.

Highlights of the Report

  • According to the report, 12 of the 17 general category States grew faster than the national growth rate. The growth was not equitable, with the gap between the per capita incomes in low-income and high-income States widening over the last five years.
  • In fiscal 2018, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, and Gujarat were top-rankers in terms of  Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) growth among the 17 non-special States considered in our analysis. Jharkhand, Kerala, and Punjab were at the bottom.
  • The analysis found that between the financial years 2012-13 and 2016-17, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka were the fastest growing states, on average.
  • While all three managed to maintain their GSDP growth higher than the all-India GDP growth in 2018, only Gujarat remained in the top three. Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka both saw their rankings slip to 9 and 4, respectively.
  • The States at the bottom, similarly, saw a reversal of fortunes. West Bengal, Jharkhand and Bihar had ranked at the bottom in the past five years. In financial year 2017-18, however, Bihar rose to the top spot and West Bengal rose to the sixth rank, with a growth of 9.1%, significantly stronger than the national GDP growth rate. Jharkhand, however, remained at the bottom.
  • In Gujarat and Karnataka, manufacturing was the main driver, while in Madhya Pradesh, agriculture and allied activities drove growth on average.
  • Among the laggards, West Bengal was dragged down by mining, Jharkhand by electricity and other utilities.
  • On the fiscal front most veered off the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act (FRBM) line of maintaining their fiscal deficits at 3% of their respective state GDPs.
  • Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh topped the tally in proportion of capex in state spending in the past three years. But most states are not spending as they ought to, in areas such as health, irrigation, and education.
  • The combined fiscal deficit of States crossed the 3% of GSDP threshold, in both fiscals 2016 and 2017. This improved in fiscal 2018 to 3.1%, but this was still higher than the FRBM limit, and also the 2.7% of GSDP budgeted for the year.
 

H. UPSC Prelims Practice Questions

Question 1. Consider the following statements about Agro Tech India – 2018 
  1. It is Confederation of Indian Industry (CII)’s flagship agri fair.
  2. Iran is partner country at the CII Agro Tech 2018.
  3. Which of the statements given above are correct?

    1. 1 only
    2. 2 only
    3. Both 1 and 2
    4. Neither 1 nor 2

See

Answer
Question 2. Consider the following statements.
  1. First-past-the post system is a method in which a member is considered elected on the basis of highest received votes.
  2. In India, the system of Proportional Representation is quite popular in State Legislative Assemblies and House of the People.
  3. Which of the above statement(s) is/are correct?

    1. Only 1
    2. Only 2
    3. Both 1 and 2
    4. None of the above

See

Answer
Question 3. Consider the following statements
  1. No DPSP is given preference over any Fundamental Right.
  2. DPSPs have been included in part IV-A of the Indian Constitution.

Which of the above statement(s) is/are correct?

  1. Only 1
  2. Only 2
  3. Both 1 and 2
  4. None of the above

See

Answer
 

I. UPSC Mains Practice Questions

  1. Rat-hole mining has to be regulated and not banned as it will impact the livelihood of many people. Critically examine. (10 Marks; 150 words)
  2. India is still a technology importing nation by large. It resisted various moves of the developed countries on the issues of patent laws. In this context write a note on the Draft Patents Rules, released by the Ministry of Commerce. (10 Marks; 150 words)

See previous CNA

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