19th and 20th July 2021 Daily Current Affairs

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Questions :-

Which of the following cities is formerly known as Bhelsa or Besnagar in ancient times?

a.   Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

b.   Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh

c.   Nasik, Maharashtra 

d.   Jaisalmer, Rajasthan

2)Milindapanha is in the form of a dialogue between the King Menander and which of the following Buddhist monk:

 a) Nagarjuna

 b) Nagabhatta

 c) Nagasena

 d) None of the above

3)Lai Haraoba, a ritualistic festival is celebrated by

 a) Hajong communities of Meghalaya

 b) Angami Naga of Nagaland

 c) Lusei communities of Mizoram

 d) Meitei communities of Manipuri

In the Gupta empire, Paramabhattaraka was a

 a) Minister for foreign affairs

 b) In charge of granaries

 c) Council of Peace and conflict

 d) Title adopted by Gupta Kings

2)In the context of Ancient India, masattuvan were

 a) Bonded labourers who are admonished by the society

 b) Closest relatives of the Kings who could be offered the Royal Throne

 c) Successful merchants of south India

 d) Messengers of peace sent by Indian kingdoms abroad

3)What is the correct chronological order in which the following appeared in India?

1) Gold coins

2) Punch marked silver coins

3) Iron plough

4) Urban culture

Select the correct answer code:

 a) 3, 4, 2, 1

 b) 4, 3, 1, 2

 c) 3, 4, 1, 2

 d) 4, 3, 2, 1

Prelims Specific News Items

1) FASTER :- Exasperated over reports on delay in implementation of bail orders, the Supreme Court Friday said it would implement a “secure, credible and authentic channel” for transmission of the orders for execution, saying in the digital age, “we are still looking at the skies for the pigeons to communicate the orders”.

Christened as FASTER (Fast and Secure Transmission of Electronic Records), the innovative scheme is conceived for delivery of orders to concerned prisons, District Courts, High Courts, as the case may be, for instantaneous delivery of orders passed by apex court through a secure communication channel, the sources said about the system which would be implemented.

“This will save time and effort and will ensure that there are no delays in implementation of the orders passed by the Supreme Court,” they said.

2)According to Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, Saudi Arabia, women can now register for annual Hajj pilgrimage without male guardian (mehram). 

Key Points:- 

In registration guidelines of Hajj for domestic pilgrims, ministry highlights  women do not need require a male guardian to register, and could do registration along with other women.

3)Climate change, deforestation turned Amazon forest into major CO2 emitter :- Climate change and deforestation have flipped a large swathe of the Amazon basin from absorbing to emitting planet-warming CO2.

Hundreds of high-altitude air samples collected over the last decade showed that southeastern Amazon, in particular, has shifted from a “sink” to a source of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.

The Amazon basin contains about half of the world’s tropical rainforests, which are more effective at soaking up and storing carbon than other vegetation.

If Amazonia — with 450 billion tonnes of CO2 locked in its trees and soil — were to become a consistent source rather than a “sink” of CO2, tackling the climate crisis would be vastly more challenging.

Several factors have driven the transition in the eastern Amazon, according to the study.

“Deforestation and forest degradation both reduce Amazonia’s capacity to act as a carbon sink,” the authors noted.

Since 1970, the region’s tropical forests have declined by 17 percent, mostly to accommodate pasture for raising cattle and the crops that feed them.

4)Lokpal yet to get director of inquiry:- More than two years after the Lokpal came into being, the Centre is yet to appoint a director of inquiry for conducting a preliminary inquiry into graft complaints sent by the anti-corruption ombudsman.

Who is ‘Director of Inquiry’?

According to the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013, there shall be a director of inquiry, not below the rank of Joint Secretary to the GoI.

He/ She shall be appointed by the Central government for conducting preliminary inquiries referred to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) by the Lokpal.

About the Lokpal:-

The Lokpal, the apex body to inquire and investigate graft complaints against public functionaries, came into being with the appointment of its chairperson and members in March 2019.

In March 2019, former SC judge Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose was selected as the first head of the Lokpal.

The salary and allowances of the chairman of the Lokpal will be same as that of the Chief Justice of India. The members will be paid salary and allowances same as that of a judge of the Supreme Court.

Lokpal is a multi-member body, that consists of one chairperson and a maximum of 8 members.

Chairperson of the Lokpal should be either the former Chief Justice of India or the former Judge of Supreme Court or an eminent person with impeccable integrity and outstanding ability, having special knowledge and expertise of minimum 25 years in the matters relating to anti-corruption policy, public administration, vigilance, finance including insurance and banking, law and management.

Out of the maximum eight members, half will be judicial members and minimum 50% of the Members will be from SC/ ST/ OBC/ Minorities and women.

The judicial member of the Lokpal either a former Judge of the Supreme Court or a former Chief Justice of a High Court.

The non-judicial member should be an eminent person with impeccable integrity and outstanding ability, having special knowledge and expertise of minimum 25 years in the matters relating to anti-corruption policy, public administration, vigilance, finance including insurance and banking, law and management.

The term of office for Lokpal Chairman and Members is 5 years or till the age of 70 years.

The members are appointed by the president on the recommendation of a Selection Committee.

The selection committee is composed of the Prime Minister who is the Chairperson; Speaker of Lok Sabha, Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha,  Chief Justice of India or a Judge nominated by him/her and One eminent jurist.

5) MIDDAY MEALS LEAVE A LONG-LASTING IMPACT: STUDY :-

Mid-Day-Meal (MDM) Scheme

  • The Mid-day Meal Scheme is a school meal programme of the Government of India designed to better the nutritional standing of school-age children nationwide.
  • Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which India is a party, India has committed to yielding “adequate nutritious food” for children.
  • The Midday Meal Scheme is covered by the National Food Security Act, 2013.
  • The programme supplies free lunches on working days for children in primary and upper primary classes.
  • The students of:
    1. Government schools,
    2. Government aided schools,
    3. Local body Education Centres,
    4. Education Guarantee Scheme, and alternate innovative education centres,
    5. Madarsa and Maqtabs supported under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan,
    6. National Child Labour Project schools run by the Ministry of labour.

How the Mid-Day-Meal Scheme came to be-

  • Post-Independence, Tamil Nadu was the first state to introduce the MDM scheme in the 1960s.
  • The Central scheme to provide meals to school children began in 1995, however, most states just limited themselves to providing dry rations.

Supreme Court Order: The Game Changer

  • A Supreme Court order of 2001 provided for all states to introduce cooked meals.
  • The Supreme Court order specified the states to provide “at least 300 calories and 8-12 grams of protein each day of school for a minimum of 200 days in a year”.

Supreme Court on MDM during Pandemic

  • The SC alerted state governments “Non-supply of nutritional food to the children as well as lactating and nursing mothers may lead to large-scale malnourishment, particularly in rural and tribal areas.”
  • Taking suo motu cognisance of the matter the Court asked states to ensure that “schemes for nutritional food for children are not adversely affected”.

Has the Mid-Day-Meal Scheme helped?

  • Research has shown how hot, cooked food attracted students to schools and improved their nutritional status.
  • MDM has been proven to attract children from disadvantaged sections (especially girls, Dalits and Adivasis) to school.
  • Along with Improvement of regularity, educational and nutritional benefits, socialisation benefits and benefits to women are also highlighted.
  • Hence, the main positives of this scheme are:
    1. Avoiding classroom hunger.
    2. Increased school enrolment and attendance.
    3. Improved socialisation among castes.
    4. Reducing malnutrition.
    5. Empowering women through employment.

About the recent study on long term impact of MDM scheme

  • Girls who had access to the free lunches provided at government schools, had children with a higher height-to-age ratio than those who did not.
  • The prevalence of stunting was significantly lower in areas where the mid scheme was implemented in 2005.
  • The linkages between midday meals and lower stunting in the next generation were stronger in lower socio-economic strata and likely work through women’s education, fertility, and use of health services.

Criticism of MDM scheme and Implementation

  • Despite the success of the program, child hunger as a problem persists in India, 42.5% of the children under 5 are underweight.
  • Some simple health measures such as using iodised salt and getting vaccinations are uncommon in India.
  • Many children don’t get enough to eat, which has far-reaching implications for the performance of the country as a whole.
  • A 2005 study found that Caste based discrimination continued to occur in the serving of food.
  • Media reports have also highlighted several implementation issues, including irregularity, corruption, hygiene, caste discrimination, etc.
  • Poor food quality is a major concern, affecting the health of children (as many media reports show students falling sick dur to lapses in quality checking and control). There are provisions for regular social audit, field visits and inspections but these are seldom carried out.
  • The schools do not function during holidays and vacations which deprives children of their one daily meal.

6) SUPREME COURT MULLS LIMIT TO ROLE AS POLICY WATCHDOG :-

About the recent judgement on intervention by Courts

  • In July 2021, a Supreme Court Bench said that courts should not undermine the executive at a time when a “collective effort” was required to overcome the public health crisis.
  • According to the latest judgement, the Executive has the benefit of experts with their expert knowledge and there are certain norms based on which every institution should function, hence, the courts intervention into matters pertaining to the executive should not be overpowering.

May 2021 Judgement on Separation of Powers

  • In May 2021, the SC bench while hearing the suo motu case “Distribution of Essential Supplies and Services During the Pandemic” enunciated that our Constitution does not envisage courts to be silent spectators when constitutional rights of citizens are infringed by executive policies. Judicial review and soliciting constitutional justification for policies formulated by the executive is an essential function, which the courts are entrusted to perform.
  • Responding to the government’s argument that it should have “room for free play in the joints” while dealing with the pandemic, the SC bench said that the court has no intention to “second-guess the wisdom of the executive”. However, it continues to exercise jurisdiction to determine if the chosen policy measure conforms to the standards of reasonableness, militates against manifest arbitrariness and protects the right to life of all persons.
  • The judgment highlighted that courts across the globe have responded to constitutional challenges to executive policies which violate rights and liberties of citizens.

What is the separation of power?

  • The separation of power is part of governing of a state in which the components of state like legislative, executive and judiciary remain independent with each other so that the powers of one branch are not in conflict with those of the other branches. It is also a part of independent of judiciary.
  • Separation of powers, therefore, refers to the division of government responsibilities into distinct branches to limit any one branch from exercising the core functions of another.  The intent is to prevent the concentration of power and provide for checks and balances.

Although the Constitution of India does not provide strictly for the separation of powers, these articles provide a general guideline:

  1. Article 50: This states that the State or the Government concerned will take appropriate steps to ensure that the judicial branch is separated from the functioning and working of the executive branch.
  2. Article 121 & 211: It, in a way, provides for the separation of the legislature and the judiciary. This article states that the conduct of justice or the way a judge discharges his duties of any Court cannot be discussed in the legislature (state or union).
  3. Article 122 & 212: This article is aimed at keeping the judiciary (the law interpreting body) and the legislature (the law-making body) separated. It does so by stripping the judiciary of any power to review and question the validity of proceedings that take in a legislature or the Parliament.
  4. Article 361: This article separates the judiciary and the executive. It states that the President or any governor of any state is not answerable to any court in the country for actions and activities are taken in performance/exercise of the powers and duties of their office.

What is check and balance?

Checks and balances, principle of government under which separate branches are empowered to prevent actions by other branches and are induced to share power. Checks and balances are applied primarily in constitutional governments.

Functional Overlapping amongst the organs of Government

  • While separation of powers is key to the workings of Indian Government, no democratic system exists with an absolute separation of powers or an absolute lack of separation of powers.
  • Every organ is, in a way, overlapped in its practical functioning with the other two organs of the Government. This overlapping enables the organs to act as a check on each other without too much interference.

Overlapping Powers of Legislature:

With JudiciaryWith Executive
Impeachment and the removal of the judges. Power to amend laws declared ultra vires by the Court and revalidating it. In case of breach of its privilege and it can punish the person concerned.  The heads of each governmental ministries are members of the legislature. Through a no-confidence vote, it can dissolve the Government. Power to assess the works of the executive. Impeachment of the President. The council of ministers on whose advice the President and the Governor acts are elected members of the legislature. 

Overlapping Powers of The Executive:

With JudiciaryWith Legislature
Making appointments to the office of Chief Justice and other judges. Powers to grant pardons, reprieve, respite or remission of punishments or sentence of any person convicted of any offence. The tribunals and other quasi-judicial bodies which are a part of the executive also discharge judicial functions.Power to promulgate ordinance which has the same force of the Act made by the Parliament or the State legislature. Authority to make rules for regulating their respective procedure and conduct of business subject to the provisions of this Constitution. Powers under delegated legislation.

Overlapping Powers of The Judiciary:

With ExecutiveWith Legislative
Under Article 142, the Supreme Court functions as an Executive in order to bring about the complete justice.Judicial review, i.e., the power to review executive action to determine if it violates the Constitution. Rigidity / Non-Amendability of the Constitution under basic structure.

Hence, we can see that although the Constitution mentions a certain amount of separation of powers, it does not do so strictly to keep every organ in check and ensure that it is not entirely free in exercising powers vested in it without any restraint or ulterior motive that will not be in the public interest. In addition to functional overlapping, there is a lack of administrative distinction between the three divisions of the Indian system.

Concerns regarding overlapping of powers

  1. The biggest issue of overlap might be that a particular organ cannot be held accountable for its decision, for example, Judicial Decision in 2G case, Coal Block case. (Unaccountability)
  2. The faith of the public in the institutions of the Government plays a very crucial role in such a complex and vest democracy. The organs repeated interventions into others’ decisions leads to the diminishing of the faith of the people in the quality, efficiency and integrity of them. (Erosion of faith)
  3. It undermines the spirit of democracy as too much accumulation of powers in organs of Government undermines the principle of check and balance. (Accumulation of power)
  4. Excessive infringement on each other jurisdiction may impede the smooth functioning of Government and hinder public service and overall development (Adverse effect on development)

When is overlapping of powers beneficial?

  1. Rule of Law: The accountability and equality in governance are enhanced by enabling power-sharing laws.
  2. Check and Balance: The overlap prevents arbitrary actions by the other two organs of the Government; an example is the power of judicial review of the Apex Court of India.
  3. Check arbitrariness: Constitutional demarcations of overriding powers decrease the scope of conflict among the government organs.
  4. Cooperation: The overlapping functions induce power-sharing and also provides power decentralisation, thus ensuring that the three organs can work hand-in-hand to solve problems faster.

7) Julia Ducournau’s Titane wins Palme d’or at Cannes 2021: Julia Ducournau, the 37-year-old French director of “Titane”, a freaky and provocative body-horror drama has become the first female director in 28 years to win the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’or. For the first time in history, women outnumbered men five to four in the Cannes Film Festival’s main international competition jury.

8) What is AGR :-Telecom operators are required to pay licence fee and spectrum charges in the form of ‘revenue share’ to the Centre. The revenue amount used to calculate this revenue share is termed as the AGR. According to the DoT, the calculations should incorporate all revenues earned by a telecom company – including from non-telecom sources such as deposit interests and sale of assets. The companies, however, have been of the view that AGR should comprise the revenues generated from telecom services only and non-telecom revenues should be kept out of it.

Editorials of the Day

Calculating the benefits of lockdowns – Editorial 01 ( 19th )

Relevance – Lockdowns due to Covid pandemic incurred a huge cost on the economy. This article highlights the same.

Synopsis: The article questions the practicability or even desirability of protecting lives with the aid of lockdowns.

Background
  • Data show that as of now 26.2% of the world population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Of them, only 1% live in low-income countries. By contrast, the richer nations, such as the U.S., Canada, Germany and Britain, registered above 50% vaccination by July 17.
  • For India, the percentage of the adult population that has received at least one dose stands at 34.1% as of July 18.
  • How long it will take to eliminate the inequality in the administration of vaccines is not known.
  • Till that happens, long or short lockdowns from time to time will remain the only defence against the virus.
  • Several researchers have studied the effectiveness of the lockdowns in economic terms. It is important, therefore, to take note of the issues that have significance in this context.
The cost of a lockdown
  • The trade-off between lives and livelihoods: Lockdowns help you to keep on living, but they prevent you from earning a living. With incomes drying up, essential expenditures such as those on food, health and education cannot be sustained. Extreme lockdown policies imply that you cannot live a meaningful life.
  • Loss of GDP: Some researchers believe that the cost of a lockdown can be measured by the value of lost GDP. The Economist quotes the case of two European countries (France and Italy). Both imposed heavy lockdowns and suffered 3% shrinkage in GDP.
  • The cost of saving COVID-19-infected lives: Research has established that for every infected person cured in poorer countries, 1.76 children die on account of a fall in the quality of life.
  • Miseries faced by the vulnerable population: There are other costs too that should not be overlooked. For example, Reverse migration of migrant labourers in India. Children are held back from school leading to emergence of child labour.
  • Not a permanent solution to control disease: Lockdowns (severe or mild) prevent the spread of the disease so long as they last. But resurfaces once the lockdown is lifted. A U.S researcher has concluded that there is no lifesaving impact of lockdowns at all.
How to calculate the value of a human life?

There are many different ways in which the value of a human life may be calculated.

  • A direct method is to study the life insurance premiums people are willing to pay to ensure proper treatment if afflicted by fatal diseases.
  • In rich societies, large amounts will be paid. This can be used to compute the social benefits of lockdowns, which will probably have higher values in rich societies than in poor societies where few are covered by life insurance.
Way forward

Though lockdowns are unavoidable for now, but they need to be carefully designed, guided by trade-offs between harsh and mild policies. Or else, the damaged economies of the world will not revive too soon.

Editorial 02 : The crisis ahead, from learning loss to resumption :-

Synopsis:

If school education revert to business as usual, India has to be prepared to confront a disaster in educational outcomes

Introduction

Schools have been closed for 16 months now, with no clarity on or a timeline for their resumption as yet. The country has promoted online classes and e-connectivity as the solution.

  • The majority of the states focus on secondary and higher secondary education. However, due to a lack of connectivity as well as a lack of access to e-devices, only a fraction of children in this age group have had online education of any kind.
  • When it comes to children in the primary and upper primary classes, even such access has been limited to a minuscule fraction.
Challenges in education during and after the pandemic:
  • Challenges in online education:
    • The quality of online education — it is largely abysmal. As most studies show, the percentage of teachers in the country capable of handling digital platforms for pedagogic purposes is very small.
    • The educational material provided by them has also been mere reproduction of what is used in a physical classroom. Hence, the teaching-learning processes have by and large been poor.
  • When schools reopen, Indian schools revert to business as usual, this will create certain challenges. Such as,
    • With a reduced syllabus, and no change whatsoever in the overall curriculum or pedagogy, and racing through the syllabus to “catch up”. Children who cannot keep up would simply be left behind.
    • Children from the poorest sections will be the ones who are affected the most, by having to race in accelerated learning programmes with no support at home. This will create an alienation of already marginalised students.
Various studies on education during the pandemic:
  • A study in the Netherlands has found that most learning losses occurred “among students from disadvantaged homes”. Researchers have also termed this as nutrition loss and learning loss.
  • A large multi-State study in the United States records that the pandemic “has also prompted some students to leave the public school system altogether”.
  • According to a study by the Azim Premji Foundation in India, 92% of children on average have lost at least one specific language ability from the previous year across all classes; the figure is 82% when it comes to mathematical ability.
Suggestions to improve education and global examples:
  • ‘One way of addressing the learning crisis might be to repeat the entire academic year. For instance, The government in Kenya has recently decided to do just this. Some countries, such as the Philippines, allow extended time for classes on resumption, both in the duration of school hours and more calendar days of interaction.
  • To reduce and synthesize the curriculum so that students are able to focus on a few subjects and learn them well’. For example, this is followed, for instance, by the State of Ontario in Canada.
  • Introducing the concept of One-to-one tutoring for the most disadvantaged learners. For example, the National Tutoring Programme of the UK and a similar programme in Ghana were done this.
    • In Italy, university students are volunteering to conduct one-on-one classes for middle school children from poor immigrant backgrounds

Editorial 03 :- Surveillance reform is the need of the hour :-

Context

The ‘Pegasus Project’ report says that over “300 verified Indian mobile telephone numbers, including those used by ministers, opposition leaders, journalists, the legal community, businessmen, government officials, scientists, rights activists and others”, were targeted using spyware made by the Israeli firm, NSO Group.

Threat to press freedom

  • Revelations highlight a disturbing trend with regard to the use of hacking software against dissidents and adversaries.
  • A significant number of Indians reportedly affected by Pegasus are journalists.
  • This is not surprising since the World Press Freedom Index produced by Reporters Without Borders has ranked India 142 out of 180 countries in 2021. 
  • The press requires (and in democracies is afforded) greater protections on speech and privacy.
  • Privacy and free speech are what enable good reporting.
  • This has been recognised in Supreme Court decisions.
  • In the absence of privacy, the safety of journalists, especially those whose work criticises the government, and the personal safety of their sources is jeopardised.
  • Such a lack of privacy, therefore, creates an aura of distrust around these journalists and effectively buries their credibility.

Issues with the legal provision

  • Provisions of law under the Indian Telegraph Act of 1885 and the Information Technology (IT) Act of 2000 are used by the government for its interception and monitoring activities. 
  • While the provisions of the Telegraph Act relate to telephone conversations, the IT Act relates to all communications undertaken using a computer resource.
  • Both provisions are problematic and offer the government total opacity in respect of its interception and monitoring activities.
  • Section 69 of the IT Act and the Interception Rules of 2009 are even more opaque than the Telegraph Act, and offer even weaker protections to the surveilled.
  • No provision, however, allows the government to hack the phones of any individual since the hacking of computer resources, including mobile phones and apps, is a criminal offence under the IT Act.

Issues with surveillance system

  • Surveillance itself, whether under a provision of law or without it, is a gross violation of the fundamental rights of citizens.
  • Violation of freedom of speech: The very existence of a surveillance system impacts the right to privacy and the exercise of freedom of speech and personal liberty under Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution, respectively.
  • It prevents people from reading and exchanging unorthodox, controversial or provocative ideas.
  • No scope for judicial scrutiny: There is also no scope for an individual subjected to surveillance to approach a court of law prior to or during or subsequent to acts of surveillance since the system itself is covert.
  • No oversight: In the absence of parliamentary or judicial oversight, electronic surveillance gives the executive the power to influence both the subject of surveillance and all classes of individuals, resulting in a chilling effect on free speech.
  • Against separation of power: Constitutional functionaries such as a sitting judge of the Supreme Court have reportedly been surveilled under Pegasus.
  • Vesting such disproportionate power with one wing of the government threatens the separation of powers of the government.
  • The existing provisions are insufficient to protect against the spread of authoritarianism since they allow the executive to exercise a disproportionate amount of power.

Way forward

  • There needs to be oversight from another branch of the government.
  • Judicial oversight: Only the judiciary can be competent to decide whether specific instances of surveillance are proportionate, whether less onerous alternatives are available, and to balance the necessity of the government’s objectives with the rights of the impacted individuals.
  • Surveillance reforms: Not only are existing protections weak but the proposed legislation related to the personal data protection of Indian citizens fails to consider surveillance while also providing wide exemptions to government authorities.
  • Surveillance reform is the need of the hour in India.

Consider the question “Discuss the threats posed by the use of surveillance systems by the government. Suggest the measures to deal with these threats.”

Conclusion

The only solution to the problem of spyware is immediate and far-reaching surveillance reform.

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