National Current Affairs – UPSC/KAS Exams- 26th February 2020
Topic: Polity and Governance
In News: At an International Judicial Conference 2020 this weekend, the Chief Justice of India, S.A. Bobde, drew attention to the Constitution’s Fundamental Duties chapter. He also cited Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj, “real rights are a result of [the] performance of duty.”
More on the Topic:
- As citizens, there exists a wide range of duties that bind us in everyday life. These duties are owed both to the state, and to other individuals.
- We have a legal duty to pay our taxes, to refrain from committing violence against our fellow-citizens, and to follow other laws that Parliament has enacted.
- Breach of these legal duties triggers financial consequences (fines), or even time in jail. At any given time, therefore, we are already following a host of duties, which guide and constrain how we may behave.
- Our duties and the consequences we bear for failing to keep them therefore exist as a self-contained whole.
- They follow a simple logic: that peaceful co-existence requires a degree of self-sacrifice, and that if necessary, this must be enforced through the set of sanctions.
- Historical Background: At the time of the framing of the Indian Constitution and its chapter on Fundamental Rights, there were two important concerns animating the Constituent Assembly. The first was that under the colonial regime, Indians had been treated as subjects.
- Their interests did not count, their voices were unheard, and in some cases — for example, the “Criminal Tribes” they were treated as less than human.
- Apart from the long and brutal history of colonialism, the framers also had before them the recent example of the Holocaust, where the dignity of more than six million people had been stripped before their eventual genocide.
- Role of FR: The first role of the fundamental rights chapter, therefore, was to stand as a bulwark against dehumanisation.
- Every human being no matter who they were or what they did had a claim to basic dignity and equality that no state could take away, no matter what the provocation.
- One did not have to successfully perform any duty, or meet a threshold of worthiness, to qualify as a rights bearer.
- Second, the framers were also aware that they were inheriting a deeply stratified and riven society. The colonial regime had not been the only oppressor; the axes of gender, caste and religion had all served to keep masses of individuals in permanent conditions of subordination and degradation.
- The second role of rights, thus, was to stand against hierarchy. Through guarantees against forced labour, against “untouchability”, against discriminatory access to public spaces, and others, fundamental rights were meant to play an equalising and democratising role throughout society, and to protect individuals against the depredations visited on them by their fellow human-beings.
When Duty becomes a burden:
- There are traditions that invoke the language of duty (often alongside terms such as “community” or “family”) in order to subordinate or efface the individual in the face of the collective (whether state or community).
- In that context, it is always critical to remember Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s words in the Constituent Assembly (which were also cited by the CJI in his speech): that the fundamental unit of the Constitution remains the individual.
- A good example of this is a Supreme Court judgment from the early 1980s, which upheld the differential treatment of male and female flight attendants on the ground that women had a “duty” to ensure the “good upbringing of children” and to ensure the success of the “family planning program” for the country.
- The judgment is a stark reminder that without the moral compass of rights and their place in the transformative Constitutional scheme the language of duties can lead to unpleasant consequences.
- It can end up entrenching existing power structures by placing the burden of “duties” upon those that are already vulnerable and marginalised.
- “Fundamental duties” and “anti-national activities” came into the world fused at the hip. (Naming whomever goes against the power as non-dutiful citizen thus anti-national )
- “Anti-national” has become a boundlessly manipulable word, that can mean whatever those in power want it to mean.
- It is for this reason that, at the end of the day, the Constitution, a charter of liberation, is fundamentally about rights. It is only after guarantee to all the full sum of humanity, dignity, equality, and freedom promised by the Constitution, that we can ask of them to do their duty.
Topic: Polity and Governance
In News: The recently-concluded Delhi Assembly elections were the 45th Assembly polls since the inception of the none of the above (NOTA) option in 2013. Delhi has now provided data from five elections with the NOTA option: three Assembly (2013, 2015, 2020), and two Lok Sabha (2014, 2019).
More on the Topic:
- Delhi’s preference to NOTA is less than the national average. From 0.63% in 2013, Delhi polled 0.39% of those favouring NOTA in 2015, a statistically significant reduction indeed. It now increased to 0.46% in 2020; again statistically significant. While 96% of the constituencies had a reduced percentage of NOTA votes in 2015 than 2013, the NOTA percentage has increased in 71% constituencies this year. In the Lok Sabha elections, Delhi polled 0.47% and 0.52% of those favouring NOTA, in 2014 and 2019, respectively. Thus, roughly one in 200 voters of Delhi opted for NOTA in the last six to seven years, with relatively larger support for NOTA in reserved constituencies.
What does NOTA Meant in India?
- In 2013, India became the 14th country to institute negative voting through NOTA. However, it is not a “right to reject”. NOTA in India is a toothless option.
- NOTA enfeebles the electorate as it does not empower to “select” either. Certainly NOTA provides democratic means to express resentment anonymously rather than boycotting the polls outright.
- While introducing NOTA, the Supreme Court anticipated of a systemic change and the political parties will be forced to accept the will of the people and field candidates who are known for their integrity.
- Thus, its percentage should either increase to enforce the political parties to field candidates with “integrity”, or NOTA percentage should consistently decrease if the electorates feel that the system has achieved the desired level of cleansing.
- In contrast, the share of NOTA votes in India remained around a meagre level of 1% on an average; 1.11% in the 2014 Lok Sabha, and 1.08% in 2019, if we consider constituency-wise averages.
- This perhaps represents a confused state of mind of the electorate.
What more can be done? Examples from Different States:
- In June 2018, the Maharashtra State Election Commission (SEC) issued an order that said: “If it is noticed while counting that NOTA has received the highest number of valid votes, the said election for that particular seat shall be countermanded and a fresh election shall be held for such a post.”
- In November 2018, the SEC of Haryana went a step further and issued an order where NOTA is treated like a “fictional candidate” in municipal polls from December 2018.
- If NOTA gets maximum vote, none of the “real” candidates will be declared elected, and the elections will be cancelled and held afresh. What is more, the candidates securing votes less than NOTA would be barred from contesting in that re-election.
- These practices can be made nationwide to give teeth to NOTA option and having an obligation from the political parties to have worthy individuals to contest in elections.
Topic: International Affairs
In News: With US President Donald Trump on his maiden visit to India, the two countries are expected to have discussed the Blue Dot Network, a proposal that will certify infrastructure and development projects.
More on the topic:
- Led by the US’s International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), the Blue Dot network was jointly launched by the US, Japan (Japanese Bank for International Cooperation) and Australia (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) in November 2019 on the sidelines of the 35th ASEAN Summit in Thailand.
- It is meant to be a multi-stakeholder initiative that aims to bring governments, the private sector and civil society together to promote “high quality, trusted standards for global infrastructure development”.
- The projects that are approved by the network will get a “Blue Dot”, thereby setting universal standards of excellence, which will attract private capital to projects in developing and emerging economies.
Can it become alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative?
- The proposal for the Blue Dot network is part of the US’s Indo-Pacific strategy, which is aimed at countering Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious BRI.
- While Blue Dot may be seen as a counter to BRI, it will need a lot of work for two reasons.
- First, there is a fundamental difference between BRI and Blue Dot, while the former involves direct financing, giving countries in need immediate short-term relief, the latter is not a direct financing initiative and therefore may not be what some developing countries need.
- Secondly, Blue Dot will require coordination among multiple stakeholders when it comes to grading projects.
- Given the past experience of Quad, the countries involved in it are still struggling to put a viable bloc. Therefore, it remains to be seen how Blue Dot fares in the long run.” (Quad is an informal strategic dialogue between the US, Japan, Australia and India)
Topic: Reports and Indices
In News: According to MICS, the child malnutrition rate in Bangladesh has declined sharply over the last six years.
More on the Topic:
- The Global MICS Programme was developed by UNICEF in the 1990s.
- It collects internationally comparable data on a wide range of indicators on the situation of children and women for use in policies, programmes, and national development plans.
- MICS is designed to collect statistically sound, internationally comparable estimates of about 130 indicators to assess the situation of children, women and men in the areas of health, education, and child protection.
- MICS is a rich source of data on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), collecting about 33 SDG indicators.
- MICS covers topics and indicators related to children’s well-being, women, and households, ranging from health and education to child protection and water and sanitation.
- In the most recent rounds of MICS, additional data are also collected on men.
- Data can be disaggregated for young people age 15-24 and by gender.
Source: The Hindu
Topic: Science and Technology
In News: In order to quantify the forecast uncertainty, leading Weather forecasting centres of the world including India have developed ‘Ensemble Prediction System’ (EPS) which provides probabilistic forecasting of weather.
More on the Topic:
- Ensemble Prediction Systems (EPS) are Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP) systems that allow one to estimate the uncertainty in a weather forecast as well as the most likely outcome.
- It requires high computational resources.
- The resultant forecasts help the end users in making decisions and plan their actions suitably.
- The forecasts from high resolution global and regional EPS provide more accurate probabilistic forecasts of extreme weather events and help the planners and administrators in taking timely actions.
- India has recently operationally implemented two global EPS which have highest resolution in the world and also a regional EPS of horizontal resolution 4km which covers the Indian region.
- A well-coordinated collaborative research and development work between national and international centres are further required for progressively improving the skill of EPS.
Topic: Reports and Indices
In News: ‘A Future for the World’s Children’ report was released by The World Health Organization (WHO), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and The Lancet medical journal.
More on the Topic:
- Norway leads the table for survival, health, education and nutrition rates – followed by the Republic of Korea and the Netherlands.
- The Central African Republic, Chad and Somalia rank at the bottom.
- It also mentioned that the world’s survival depended on children being able to flourish, but no country is doing enough to give them a sustainable future.
- The Index has linked an aspect of harmful marketing of junk food and sugary beverages with the alarming rise in childhood obesity.
- Thus to protect children, it has called for a new global movement driven by and for children.
India Specific Findings:
- The report calculates the Flourishing Index and Sustainability Index of 180 countries.
- India secures 131st rank on a flourishing index that measures the best chance at survival and well-being for children.
- Further, India ranked 77th on a sustainability index that takes into account per capita carbon emissions and the ability of children in a nation to live healthy lives.
- The report suggests the elimination of CO2 emissions with the utmost urgency and requests to place children and adolescents at the centre of global efforts to achieve sustainable development.
- New policies and investment in all sectors to work towards child health and rights with the incorporation of children’s voices into policy decisions.
In News: A nearly 4,000-year-old urban settlement has been unearthed by a team of surveyors from the Banaras Hindu University. The primary survey say it could be one of the craft villages mentioned in ancient texts.
More on the Topic:
- The location is in Babhaniyav village, 13 km from Varanasi.
- The findings look like remnants of one of the settlements mentioned in ancient literature about the holy city.
- The discoveries include a temple dating back to the 5th century through 8th century, potteries which are 4,000-year-old and walls which are 2,000-year-old.
- The site at Babhaniyav could be a small sub-centre of Varanasi which grew as an urban town.
- While such crafts villages have been earlier unearthed in Sarnath, Tilmapur, Ramnagar and other areas, Babhaniyav is an addition.
· Varanasi is in southeastern Uttar Pradesh state. It is located on the left bank of the Ganges (Ganga) River and is one of the seven sacred cities of Hinduism.
· Varanasi was the capital of the kingdom of Kashi during the time of the Buddha (6th century BCE), who gave his first sermon nearby at Sarnath.
· The city remained a centre of religious, educational, and artistic activities as attested by the celebrated Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang, who visited it in about 635 CE.