Current Affairs December 2018

1. Issues related to Capital Punishment in India
Source: The Hindu
Why in news:

Recently, one of the judges of the Supreme Court commuted the death penalty into life imprisonment and stated that the time has come to review the need for the death penalty as a punishment. He also highlighted the frequent use of the term “rarest of the rare case”. Issues related to the capital punishment: A. Argument in favour of Capital punishment in India:

  • Constitution justifies capital punishment in Article 21 which states that no person shall be deprived of Right to life unless done except according to a procedure established by law.
  • In the Bacchan Singh vs State of Punjab 1980, the Supreme Court has also upheld the constitutionality of the death penalty, but confined its application to the ‘rarest of rare cases’, to reduce the arbitrariness of the penalty. This shows the attempt to minimize the use of capital punishment. However, this attempt is contradicted by the legislature by increasing the number of crimes for which capital punishment is awarded.
  • Law commission in its 35th report in 1967 stated that at the present juncture, India cannot experience the abolition of capital punishment.
  • Death sentence has a deterrence effect.
  • Even developed nations like United States, China, Japan etc. that have still retained the death sentence punishment which shows that we cannot ignore the harsh crimes committed in the society.
    B. Argument against Capital punishment in India:
  • Imposition of capital punishment is always irrevocable i.e. it forever deprives an individual of the opportunity to benefit from new evidence or new laws that might warrant the reversal of a conviction, or at least setting aside of a death sentence.
  • Most of the cases are termed as rarest of the rare case in an arbitrary manner and under political and public influences. It eliminates the difference between foresighted thought of judges and short sighted thinking of common public.
  • The Law Commission in its 262nd Report in 2015 has revised its 35th report and identified that arbitrariness has remained a major concern in the adjudication of death penalty cases. It has highlighted the changing International & National scenario and arbitrariness in the decision making & existence of bias as some of the reasons for recommending abolition of death penalty except in cases of terrorism related offences.
  • Earlier, maximum sentence that may be imposed usually revolved around the nature of the crime, its gravity and cruelty. In recent times, public outrage, the need for deterrence, and the widespread public clamour have dominated the discourse.
  • Theories of punishment on whether it ought to be punitive, retributive, reformative or restorative are less relevant to the public imagination and the law enforcers when the crime is grave and heinous. However it sabotages the real meaning of punishment which is to rectify the person not to take revenge forever.
  • In a country like India where most of prisons are overcrowded just because most of the undertrials cannot afford a lawyer, the idea of fair trial is always questionable. In such a condition capital punishment will be only for lower strata of the society which will eliminate the concept of right to equality enshrined in the constitution.
  • Most of the developed countries like Denmark, Australia, Finland etc have abolished capital punishment in all forms. This gives us message that the society has advanced state sponsored revenge should end.
    Way forward:
  • It is often said that “Death penalty is the symptom of a violent culture and not a solution”. It should be noted that most of the countries retaining capital punishment are non democratic and only few democratic countries have retained it and India is one of them. This calls for widespread deliberative discussion on this topic.
  • Judgments must be made free from public clamour and political pressure.
  • Since there is no principle to control the arbitrariness of the judges, the recommendation of the law commission 262nd report should be accepted.
  • There should be a check on legislations increasing the number of crimes for which capital punishment is awarded which are often made for placating the anger of the common people and saving vote banks.
  • Judgments should not ignore the ethical and moral issues associated with any case.

    2. Women Reservation in Parliament
    Source: The Hindu
    Why in news:
  • Odisha chief minister has recently wrote a letter to the Prime Minister urging to initiate necessary steps for passing the bill for reservation of one-third seats in parliament and state legislatures for women.
  • Odisha Assembly had adopted a resolution to provide reservation of one-third seats for women in parliament as well as state legislatures. About Women Reservation Bill:
  • Commonly known as the Women's Reservation Bill, it was introduced in 2008 and seeks to reserve one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies.
  • It provides that one third of the total number of seats reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes shall be reserved for women of those groups.
  • Reserved seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in the state or union territory.
  • It will cease to exist 15 years after the commencement of this amendment.
    Arguments in favour of women reservation:
  • This affirmative action will improve the condition of women. Studies on panchayats have shown the positive effect of reservation on empowerment of women and on allocation of resources.
  • According to the Association for Democratic Reforms, Bihar and Rajasthan have the highest percentage of women in their State assemblies with only 14% each. Only symbolic political empowerment of women like women prime minister, women President, women LS speaker is not going to hide dismal figures of female representation constituting half of the population of the country.
  • It will synchronize with the founding fathers of the constitution who had envisaged reservations as a model of social justice for communities that have been subject to historical discrimination.
    Arguments against women reservation:
  • It would perpetuate the unequal status of women since they would not be perceived to be competing on merit.
  • It diverts attention from the larger issues of electoral reform such as criminalisation of politics and inner party democracy.
  • It restricts choice of voters to women candidates.
  • The Economic survey for 2017-18 highlighted factors such as domestic responsibilities, prevailing cultural attitudes regarding roles of women in society and lack of support from family were among main reasons that prevented them from entering politics. Hence the reservation of women in the Parliament will not benefit the women in the lower strata of the society.
  • Experts have opined that the benefits of this reservation will be sidelined by the women from elite section of the society which will perpetuate the miserable condition of women.
  • Since women are not integrated in many local political processes initially, and, unlike men, are not part of the relevant social and power networks, women leaders are prone to inefficiencies.
  • As can be seen in Panchayats/Municipalities, reservation of seats has not brought the desired of benefits as their husbands in their proxy. Way forward:
  • Need of wider debate on this issue in public domain and implemented in a way such that it does not hamper the gender equality enshrined in the constitution.
  • Some experts have suggested alternate methods such as reservation in political parties and dual member constituencies. Women should be integrated in many local political processes initially and be made part of power networks. This will make the women reservation in the legislature more meaningful.
  • The report examining the 1996 women’s reservation bill which recommended reservation for women of Other Backward Classes (OBCs) should be considered.
  • The bill should include reservation to the Rajya Sabha and the Legislative Councils also.
    3. Central Information Commission (CIC)
    Source: The Hindu
    Why in news:

    The Supreme Court has recently highlighted the vacant positions lying in Central Information Commission (CIC) and in State Information Commissions (SICs). 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 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 RTI Act.
  • It receives and inquires into a complaint.
  • 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 civil court.
    Issues related to power of CIC:
  • Government has recently proposed RTI amendment bill 2018 under which it has proposed to to frame rules on salaries and services of Chief Information Commissioner (CIC) and Information Commissioners (ICs).
  • According to the proposed amendment, the salaries, allowances and other terms and conditions of service of the CIC and ICs shall be such as may be prescribed by the central government.
  • The tenure of Information Commissioners at the centre and the states is proposed to be amended from "a term of five years" to "terms as may be prescribed by the central government.
  • Many RTI activists have strongly opposed amendments to the RTI Act saying they are aimed at lowering the stature of Information Commissions from equivalent to the Election Commission (EC) and to do away with their five years fixed tenure.
    4. Protection of Witness Scheme
    Source: The Hindu
    Why in news:

    The Supreme Court has recently approved the draft witness protection scheme prepared by the government to be implemented in all the states except for Jammu and Kashmir, which has its separate constitution, till the time the Parliament transforms the draft into law.

    Details of the witness protection scheme:
  • It categorises a witness into A, B and C according to the threat perception and they are applied in according to the nature of the threat to the witness or their family members accordingly.
  • It establishes the State Witness Protection Fund to meet the expenditure for implementing this scheme.
  • It has been drafted in consultation with National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) and Bureau of Police Research and Development.
  • It protects new identity to the witness by giving new name to the witness.
  • It envisages police protection to the witness or shifting them to a safe place.
  • It aims to establish Witness deposition complexes in all district courts within a year where the witnesses could fearlessly depose against the high and mighty without coming face-to-face with the accused. Why the need of witness protection arises in the country?
  • Witnesses turning hostile due to lack of protection extended to them.
  • Little incentive for witnesses to turn up in court and testify against criminals.
  • Threats to their lives, they experience hostility and harassment while attending courts.
  • Tardy judicial process seldom takes into account the distance they have travelled or the time they have lost in attending court, only to be told they have to return another day.
  • According to the Supreme court, condition of witnesses in the Indian legal system is pathetic as it takes them for granted.
  • All the above leading to abysmally low rate of convictions in the country.
    Recommendation of various committees on witness protection:
  • 14th Report of the Law Commission (1958) had highlighted the inadequate arrangements for witnesses and recommended travel allowances and facilities for them. It stated that if the witness is not taken care of, they may develop an attitude of indifference to the question of bringing guilty to justice.
  • 4th National Police Commission (1980) report recommended for removing inconveniences and handicaps along with providing daily allowance to witnesses for appearance in the Courts.
  • Law Commission in its 178th report, 2001 recommended for preventing witnesses turning hostile and amending the criminal procedure code 1973 by inserting a new section 164-A to provide for recording of the statement of witnesses in the presence of magistrates where the offences were punishable with imprisonment of 10 years and more.
  • 198th report of Law Commission most addressed various aspects such as Witness Identity Protection vs. Rights of accused, Witness Protection Programmes on the lines of existing laws in New Zealand and Portugal.
  • Justice Malimath Committee on Reforms of Criminal Justice System advocated a law for giving protection to the witnesses and their family members on the lines of the laws in USA and other countries. Significance:
  • This scheme is the first attempt at the national-level to comprehensively provide protection of the witnesses and their family which has opened the future gate for eliminating victimization of the witnesses in India.
  • It is an step towards making our criminal justice system more effective and it will also lead to enhancement of national security.
  • It will strengthen the trust of common people on Indian justice delivery system.
    What else can be done?
  • The scheme is to be funded by budgetary support from state governments and donations which is at variance with the Law Commission’s recommendation in 2006 which advocated the Centre and the States to share the cost equally.
  • Basic features such as in camera trial, proximate physical protection and anonymity of testimony and references to witnesses in the records are not difficult to implement. Despite that they are not being implemented on a large scale.
    5. Women Empowerment through Maternity Benefits
    Source: The Hindu
    Why in news:
  • The Centre has prepared guidelines for setting up of crèches at workplaces, which prescribe trained personnel to man the facility as well as infrastructure requirements and safety norms in the wake of recently passed Maternity Benefit Amendment Act, 2017.
  • They are not mandatory but are a yardstick for organisations for setting up of creches. Details of the guidelines:
  • A crèche be either at the workplace or within 500 metres of it and must have a minimum space of 10 to 12 square feet per child to ensure that she or he can play, rest and learn.
  • There should be no unsafe places such as open drains, pits, garbage bins near the centre.
  • The facility should be open for eight to 10 hours and if the employees have a shift system, then the crèche should also be run accordingly.
  • The crèches should have at least one guard, who should have undergone police verification.
  • No outsiders such as plumbers, drivers, etc be allowed inside the crèche when children are present.
  • There should also be a grievance redressal committee for inquiring into instances of sexual abuse. About the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act 2017:
  • The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, applies to establishments employing 10 or more persons.
  • It aims to regulate the employment of women to provide maternity benefit and certain other benefits. It was amended through the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017.
  • It enhances paid maternity leave to working women from a period of 12 weeks to 26 weeks. This exceeds the International Labour Organisation’s minimum standard of 14 weeks.
  • A woman having two or more surviving children will be entitled to 12 weeks.
  • Women who legally adopt a child below the age of three months or a commissioning mother will be entitled to maternity benefit for 12 weeks from the date on which the child is handed over to her. A commissioning mother is defined as a biological mother who uses her egg to create an embryo implanted in another woman.
  • It gives discretion to employers to allow women to work from home after the period of maternity benefit on mutually agreeable conditions.
  • It requires establishments having 50 or more employees to have a crèche facility and the woman employee are allowed to visit the crèche four times a day.
    Impact of the amendment:
  • Longer paid leave will ensure greater job security for women.
  • Amendment places the entire onus of the increased maternity leave, as well as of the cost of crèches on the employer and this could discourage the employer to hire women employee.
    6. Slow progress of states on Disability Act
    Source: The Hindu
    Why in news:
    Disability Rights India Foundation (DRIF) has found that, in terms implementation of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (RPWD) Act, more than half states have not notified the state rules despite a significant lapse of time.
    current affairs december 2018
    Major highlights of the Study:
  • The act passed in December 2016, should have been notified by all states within six months.
  • The study found that nearly 80% of the states had not constituted the funds for implementation of the RPWD Act.
  • Although 62% of the States have appointed commissioners for Persons with Disabilities the progress has not been substantial. About Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016:
  • It replaced the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 and the types of disabilities have been increased from existing 7 to 21 like Acid attack victims, victims of blood related disorders like Thalassemia etc.
  • It empowers the central government to add more types of disabilities.
  • Additional benefits such as reservation in higher education, government jobs, reservation in allocation of land, poverty alleviation schemes etc. have been provided for persons with benchmark disabilities and those with high support needs.
  • Every child with benchmark disability between the age group of 6 and 18 years shall have the right to free education.
  • It ensures several rights and entitlements to disabled persons including disabled friendly access to all public buildings, hospitals, modes of transport, polling stations, etc.
  • It provides for penalties for offences committed against persons with disabilities and also violation of the provisions of the new law.
  • It has brought the Indian law in line with the United National Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), to which India is a signatory.
    Loopholes in the Act:
  • Since it is brought in to fulfill obligations under an international treaty. However, it is not good for the Parliament to impose legal and financial obligations on states and municipalities with regard to disability, which is a State List subject.
  • Since the violation of any provision in the Act will attract imprisonment and/or fine given the widespread obligations many acts of omission or commission could be interpreted as criminal offences.
  • In “extraordinary situations” district courts may appoint plenary guardians for mentally ill persons. The However, it does not lay down principles for such determination.
  • It is inconsistent with other laws in some cases like conditions for termination of pregnancy.
    7. Global Nutrition Report 2018
    Source: The Hindu
    Why in news:

    Global Nutrition Report 2018 has been recently published which highlighted major malnutrition crisis being faced by India. Highlights of the Report (Global):

  • Around 150.8 mn and 50.5 mn children under five years are stunted and wasted globally.
  • South Asia has more than half of the world's children impacted by wasting.
  • The other nations are China, Indonesia, Egypt, US, Brazil and Pakistan.
  • Around 38 million children are overweight globally. It is the highest in upper-middle income countries and the lowest in low-income countries and slightly more common among boys than girls. The problem of overweight results in four million deaths globally.
  • Around 88% of countries experience more than one form of malnutrition.
    current affairs december 2018
    Highlights of the Report (India):
  • India has the largest number of stunted children in the world and constitutes a third of the stunted children globally with 239 of 604 districts accounting for stunting levels above 40% and it is less than 20% is the condition in almost the entire south.
  • There are high and very high levels of stunting mainly in central and northern India.
  • India also tops the list with the most number of wasted children at (25.5 mn) in the world.
  • The country falls in the set of countries having more than a million overweight children.
  • In terms of gender related malnutrition, there is difference of 19% of Body mass index between lowest and high-burden districts, only 7% maternal education and 6% antenatal care at the time of marriage.
  • Only 21% of these foods in India can be categorized as healthy.
  • Regardless of wealth, school-age children, adolescents and adults are consuming too many refined grains, sugary foods and drinks, and not enough fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
    Way forward:
  • Political commitment, administrative efficiency, literacy and women’s empowerment in ensuring children’s health is the need of the hour.
  • It is important to note that food and freedom go together thus the availability of one strongly influences access to the other. Governments should acknowledge this linkage and commit themselves to improved nutritional policies. The national framework to improve nutrition already exists.
  • Rigorous review of Anganwadi Services scheme, which incorporates the Integrated Child Development Services, caters to children up to age six, and to pregnant and lactating women is required especially in the low performing areas.
  • Since mapping of malnutrition at the district level is available in the Global Nutrition Report, governments should address the factors which are still responsible for a malnutrition India.
  • Scaling up the nutrition level especially in packaged foods.
  • India should invest more of its economic prosperity in its welfare system, without binding itself in restrictive budgetary formulations.
  • Centre is required to work with the states in a targeted manner taking the intricacies of every low performing districts.
  • Innovative methods like fat tax, sugar tax needs to be taken into consideration for tackling the problem of overweight.
    8. Floating Solar Plant
    Source: The Hindu
    Why in news:
    A 50MW floating solar plant will be set up in the country’s largest reservoir Rihand dam in Sonbhadra district in UP.
  • The concept of floating solar plant involves setting up solar panels on floats placed on dams, lakes and similar water bodies. Significance:
  • Floating solar plants are considered an alternate option to tackle land availability issues.
  • Floating solar makes intuitive sense in geographies with high land costs and poor availability.
  • Floating solar is a definite reprieve for states that are a significant market for more renewable energy but with little land to spare, as is the case with Uttar Pradesh.
  • The global floating solar market is driven by Asian countries, with China and Japan being home to bulk of the existing operational capacity of 259 MW. Challenges: In India, floating solar is likely to face challenges scaling up to the level of ground-mounted plants.
  • Cost: Despite being land neutral, the cost of the floating systems including anchoring, installation, maintenance and transmission renders the overall cost of the floating solar systems are much higher than the land based systems at this initial stage of development.
  • Technical issues: Besides the two major issues of corrosion and instability, other issues like the long term impact of moist environment on modules, cables, safe transmission of power through the floats to the nearest feeder point, the environmental impact on the water body and the marine life etc needs to be addressed and – make the system cost effective. Other issues:
  • Non-availability of floats in India makes it an expensive option.
  • Project costs higher by 30%-50%than ground mounted solar.
  • Dependent on European or Chinese suppliers.
    Key facts:
  • The largest floating solar plant to date is a 2MW one in Vishakhapatnam. Another is a 500-kWh plant built by the Kerala State Electricity Board at the Banasura Sagar Dam.
    9. CCEA approves strategic sale of Rural Electrification Corporation
    Source: PIB
    What's the news?
    Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) has given its 'in principle' approval for strategic sale of Central Government’s existing 52.63% of total paid up equity shareholding in Rural Electrification Corporation (REC) to Power Finance Corporation (PFC) along with transfer of management control.
  • Both REC and PFC are Central Public Sector Enterprises under the Ministry of Power.

  • The acquisition intends to achieve integration across Power Chain, create economies of scale, obtain better synergies and have enhanced capability to support energy access and energy efficiency by improved capability to finance power sector.
  • It may also allow for cheaper fund raising with increase in bargaining power for combined entity.
    Rural Electrification Corporation (REC):
  • It is public Infrastructure finance company in India’s power sector.
  • It was founded in July 1969 and is headquartered in New Delhi.
  • It finances and promotes rural electrification projects across India.
  • It provides loans to Central/ State Sector Power Utilities, State Electricity Boards, Rural Electric Cooperatives, NGOs and Private Power Developers.
    10. Union Cabinet approves Agriculture Export Policy, 2018
    Source: PIB
    Why in news:

    Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved Agriculture Export Policy.

  • The Cabinet has also approved the proposal for establishment of Monitoring Framework at Centre with Commerce as the nodal Department with representation from various line Ministries/ Departments and Agencies and representatives of concerned State Governments, to oversee the implementation of Agriculture Export Policy. Agriculture Export Policy:
  • It is aimed at doubling agricultural exports and integrating Indian farmers and agricultural products with the global value chains.
  • Its vision is to harness export potential of Indian agriculture, through suitable policy instruments and to make India global power in agriculture and raise farmers’ income. Objectives of the Agriculture Export Policy are as under:
  • To double agricultural exports from present ~US$ 30+ Billion to ~US$ 60+ Billion by 2022 and reach US$ 100 Billion in the next few years thereafter, with a stable trade policy regime.
  • To diversify our export basket, destinations and boost high value and value added agricultural exports including focus on perishables.
  • To promote novel, indigenous, organic, ethnic, traditional and non-traditional Agri products exports.
  • To provide an institutional mechanism for pursuing market access, tackling barriers and deal with sanitary and phyto-sanitary issues.
  • To strive to double India’s share in world agri exports by integrating with global value chain at the earliest.
  • Enable farmers to get benefit of export opportunities in overseas market.
    Elements of Agriculture Export Policy:
  • Policy measures
  • Holistic approach to boost exports
  • Infrastructure and logistics support
  • Focus on Clusters
  • Promoting value-added exports
  • Marketing and promotion of Brand India
  • Greater involvement of State Governments in agri exports Operational
  • Attract private investments into production and processing
  • Research & Development
  • Establishment of strong quality regimen
  • Miscellaneous
    11. Kandhamal Haldi
    Source: The Hindu
    Why in news:

    Odisha’s Kandhamal Haldi (turmeric), famous for its healing properties, is all set to receive GI tag.

  • Kandhamal Apex Spices Association for Marketing, based at the district headquarter town of Phulbani, had moved for registration ‘Kandhamal Haldi’ which was accepted under sub-section (1) of Section 13 of the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999. Key facts:
  • The yellow spice, named after the district where it is produced, has been cultivated since time immemorial and is known for its medicinal value.
  • Turmeric is the main cash crop of tribal people in Kandhamal.
  • Apart from domestic use, turmeric is also used for cosmetic and medicinal purposes.
  • More than 60,000 families (nearly 50% of Kandhamal population) are engaged in growing the variety. The crop is sustainable in adverse climatic conditions.
    12. WIPO’s World Intellectual Property Indicators 2018
    Source: The Hindu
    Why in news:

    World Intellectual Property Indicators 2018 report was recently released in Geneva by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Highlights of the report- India related key facts:

  • The number of patents granted by India shot up by 50% in 2017, keeping up a trend of steep increases. The patents granted by India increased from 8,248 in 2016 to 12,387 last year.
  • Globally, 1.4 million patents were granted in 2017. China’s patent authority led the world in the number of patents granted with 420,144 and was followed by the US with 318,829, according to the WIPO.
  • Of the patents granted last year, 1,712 went to entities and individuals based in India, and 10,675 to foreigners.
  • While India ranked 10th in the number of patents given last year, no Indian company or university figures in last year’s global list of the top 50 patent applicants.
  • Pharmaceuticals accounted for 15.7 % of the Indian domestic applications for patents last year, the report said.
    About WIPO:
  • The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is one of the 17 specialized agencies of the United Nations.
  • It is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.
  • It was created in 1967 “to encourage creative activity, to promote the protection of intellectual property throughout the world.” Next Page
  • Month: