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Today’s important articles/news in various newspapers (25th July)

Dear aspirants, following are the links of various articles taken from various newspapers. Click the link to read further. To get notification, follow the blog. Thank you

1. India needs smart urbanisationIndia needs smart urbanisation

  • Over 34% of India’s current population lives in urban areas, rising by 3% since 2011. Cities require a renewal that factors in rural-urban migration

A rising number

  • While existing large urban agglomerations (those with a population above 50 lakh) have remained mostly constant in number since 2005, smaller clusters have risen significantly (from 34 to 50 clusters with 10-50 lakh population).
  • By some estimates, India’s urban population could increase to 814 million by 2050. And yet, cities look and feel downtrodden, riven with poverty and poor infrastructure, with little semblance of urban planning.
  • With an increase in urban population will come rising demands for basic services such as clean water, public transportation, sewage treatment and housing.

Smart City front

  • while over 90 ‘Smart Cities’ have identified 2,864 projects, India lags on implementation, with about 148 projects completed and over 70% still at various stages of preparation.
  • There is still an outstanding shortage of over 10 million affordable houses despite the government taking encouraging steps to incentivise their construction.

Definition of Urban?

  • Urban development comes under State governments, with the Governor notifying an area as urban based on parameters such as population, density, revenue generated for the local administration and percentage employed in non-agricultural activities.
  • This notification leads to the creation of an urban local government or municipality, classifying the area as a “statutory town”.
  • The Central government considers a settlement as urban :
  1. If it has a urban local government, a minimum population of 5,000;
  2. Over 75% of its (male) population working in non-agricultural activities; and
  3. A population density of at least 400 per sq. km.
  • However, many States consider such “census towns” as rural, and establish governance through a rural local government or panchayat.

Urban India’s challenges

  1. Recurring instances of floods in Mumbai,
  2. Dengue in Delhi.
  3. Lakes on fire in Bengaluru paint a grim picture.
  4. While work continues slowly, on the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor project and the bullet train. etc
  • Another issue is the low level of urban infrastructure investment and capacity building. India spends about $17 per capita annually on urban infrastructure projects, against a global benchmark of $100 and China’s $116.
  • Announcing a variety of schemes, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission included, but implementation has been mostly inadequate, with exploration of financing options limited as well.

Systemic policy to deal with urban migration

  • Internal migration in India is very closely linked to urban transitions, with such migration helping reduce poverty or prevent households from slipping into it. Urban migration is not viewed positively in India, with policies often bluntly seeking to reduce rural to urban migration.
  • Preventing such migration can be counterproductive — it would be better to have policies and programmes in place to facilitate the integration of migrants into the local urban fabric, and building city plans with a regular migration forecast assumed.
  • Lowering the cost of migration, along with eliminating discrimination against migrants, while protecting their rights will help raise development across the board.

Towards a new model

  • Perhaps we need a different model of urbanisation. The announcement of a new urbanisation policy that seeks to rebuild Indian cities around clusters of human capital, instead of considering them simply as an agglomeration of land use, is a welcome transition.
  • We need to empower our cities, with a focus on land policy reforms, granting urban local bodies the freedom to raise financing and enforce local land usage norms. For an India to shine, the transformation of its cities is necessary.

2. Lok Sabha passes anti-graft amendment Bill

  • The bill seeks to punish bribe-givers and bribe-takers
  • The Bill provides for jail terms of three to seven years, besides fine, to those convicted of taking or giving bribes to public officials.
  • The Bill extends the ambit of public servants who will be protected by the provision of a prior government sanction for prosecution.
    • It proposes a ‘shield’ for government staff, including those retired, from prosecution by making it mandatory for investigating agencies like the CBI to take prior approval from competent authority before conducting any enquiry against them.
    • This has been provided to ensure that honest officers were not intimidated by false complaints.
  • Issue Area
    • The provision now to get prior permission for starting an investigation and has prompted many to say that the law has been “diluted” from its original draft.

3. Cosmetic repair: on inter-creditor agreement

  • Indian banks trying to sell their troubled assets signed an inter-creditor agreement to push for the speedy resolution of non-performing loans on their balance sheets.

Why is this agreement important?

  • The disagreement between joint lenders was the biggest problem in resolving stressed assets. To overcome this issue inter-creditor agreement was introduced.
  • So, the government now hopes that the holdout problem, where the objections of a few lenders prevent a settlement between the majority lenders, will be solved through the inter-creditor agreement.

Rules

The inter-creditor agreement is aimed at the resolution of loan accounts with a size of ₹50 crore and above that are under the control of a group of lenders.

  • As per the terms of the agreement, if 66% of the lenders agree to a resolution plan it would be binding on all lenders.
  • A dissenting creditor
    • could sell its loan at a discount of 15% of the liquidation value to other lenders
    • buy the entire loan at 125% of the resolution plan agreed to by other lenders.
    • Another option with a dissenting creditor is to sell their loans to any person at a price mutually arrived between dissenting lender and the buyer.
    • However, a dissenting creditor cannot sell it to an asset reconstruction company.
  • The agreement also has a standstill clause wherein all lenders are barred from enforcing any legal action against the borrower for recovery of their dues. During the standstill period, lenders are also barred from transferring or assigning their loan to any other person except a bank or finance company.

Significance

  • This move will process and would provide the resolution to stressed assets issue much earlier than the earlier model which relied solely on the joint lenders’ forum to arrive at a consensus among creditors
  • This act would also be logical for joint lenders who want to avoid a deadlock to agree on the ground rules of debt resolution prior to lending to any borrower.

Issue Area

  • the obligation on the lead lender to come up with a time-bound resolution plan can have unintended consequences.
    • Banks may be compelled to engage in a quick-fire sale of stressed assets due to arbitrary deadlines on the resolution process.
    • This will work against the interests of lenders looking to get the best price for their stressed assets.
  • It would be in the interest of the majority of creditors to take the time to extract the most out of their assets.
  • The biggest obstacle to bad loan resolution is the absence of buyers who can purchase stressed assets from banks
  • Bank’s unwillingness to sell their loans at a deep discount to their face value

Conclusion

  • The government can solve this problem by getting all its apparatus right, if not the bad loan problem is likely to remain unresolved for some time to come. 

4. Anti-trafficking Bill may lead to censorship

  1. The govt introduced the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018, in the Lok Sabha.
  2. The intention of the Union government is to “make India a leader among South Asian countries to combat trafficking” through the passage of this Bill.
  3. Good intentions aside, there are a few problematic provisions in the proposed legislation, which may severely impact freedom of expression.

Drafting error

  1. It proposes a minimum three-year sentence for producing, publishing, broadcasting or distributing any type of material that promotes trafficking or exploitation
  2. A/c to Section 36 “any propaganda material that promotes trafficking of person or exploitation of a trafficked person in any manner” has wide amplitude as Bill does not define what constitutes “promotion”.
  3. For example, in moralistic eyes, any sexual content online could be seen as promoting prurient interests, and thus also promoting trafficking.

Fouled Censorship experiments of the past

  1. In June 2016, the Union government banned 240 escort sites for obscenity even though it cannot do that under Section 69A or Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, or Section 8 of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act.
  2. In July 2015, the government asked internet service providers (ISPs) to block 857 pornography websites sites on grounds of outraging “morality” and “decency”, but later rescinded the order after widespread criticism.
  3. If historical record is any indication, Section 36 in this present Bill will legitimize such acts of censorship.

The excessive scope of the bill

  1. Section 39 proposes a weaker standard for criminal acts by proposing that any act of publishing or advertising “which may lead to the trafficking of a person shall be punished” (emphasis added) with imprisonment for 5-10 years.
  2. In effect, the provision mandates punishment for vaguely defined actions that may not actually be connected to the trafficking of a person at all.
  3. The excessive scope of this provision is prone to severe abuse since, without any burden of showing a causal connection, it could be argued that anything “may lead” to the trafficking of a person.

Another scope of ambiguity

  1. Another by-product of passing the proposed legislation would be a dramatic shift in India’s landscape of intermediary liability laws, i.e., rules which determine the liability of platforms such as Facebook and Twitter and messaging services like WhatsApp for hosting or distributing unlawful content.
  2. Provisions in the Bill that criminalize the “publication” and “distribution” of content, ignore that modern electronic communication requires third-party intermediaries to store and distribute content.
  3. Under the proposed legislation, the fact that human traffickers used WhatsApp to communicate about their activities could be used to hold the messaging service criminally liable.

Comparing the bill with global standards

  1. The Bill is in direct conflict with the internationally recognized Manila Principles on Intermediary Liability.
  2. It is also in dissonance with existing principles of Indian law, flowing from the Information Technology Act, 2000, that identify online platforms as “safe harbours” as long as they act as mere conduits.
  3. From the perspective of intermediaries, monitoring content is unfeasible, and sometimes technologically impossible as in the case of Whatsapp, which facilitates end-to-end encrypted messaging.

Way forward

  1. The proposed changes will invariably lead to a chilling effect on speech on online platforms.
  2. Considering these problematic provisions, it will be a wise move to send the Bill to a select committee in Parliament.
  3. The relevant stakeholders can engage with the lawmakers to arrive at a revised Bill, hopefully, one which prevents human trafficking without threatening the Constitutional right of free speech.

5. Lok Sabha passes bill to end no detention policy in schools

  1. A bill to amend the Right to Education (RTE) Act to abolish the ‘no detention policy’ in schools was passed in the Lok Sabha recently as per the recommendations of the TSR Subramanian Committee.
  2. Under the current provisions of the RTE Act, no student can be detained till class 8 and all students are promoted to the next grade.
  3. This provision has resulted into a severe threat in the Accountability of our elementary education system.

Provisions in the new Amendment

  1. Now onwards, under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (second amendment) Bill, 2017, it will be at the discretion of the states whether to continue with no detention or not.
  2. This Bill provides for a regular examination in classes 5 and 8 and if the child fails, he or she shall be given an additional opportunity for re-examination in two months’ time.
  3. It aims brings accountability to our elementary education system.

What is no detention policy?

  1. The right to education act has been amended to provide the guarantee of uninterrupted schooling under sections 16 and 30(1) until Class 8.
  2. According to this, no student can be failed or expelled from school till the completion of elementary education covering classes I to VII. They shall automatically be promoted to next class till VIII standard.

Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE)

  1. The RTE Act has a provision for CCE which is aimed to assess the child’s understanding of what was being taught in class at periodic intervals.
  2. But it has certain concerns of flawed evaluation due to inadequate training of teachers and other infrastructural bottlenecks such as non-compliance of school under RTE.
  3. The Government is seeking to improve CCE as per global standards.

Why ‘no detention policy’ should be scrapped

  1. It has led to increased failure rate in classes 9th and 10th. Hence, if the ‘no detention policy’ continues, it will leave a negative impact on the standard of education and force the children to face more harsh future.
  2. This policy has led to students developing a casual attitude, with there being no risk of failing. The teachers have also become lethargic & started showing lesser interest towards academics.
  3. Reducing Institutional significance: Schools have become only schools for mid-day meal as education and learning are missing.
  4. Zero academic outcomesIf no merit is checked while giving promotion to another class, the children will never learn the importance of studying and acquiring knowledge. It will lead to poor academic outcome in classes.
  5. In some of the states like Sikkim, Kerala and Telangana, the students, who were studying in private schools, have come back to government schools to avoid detention.

Arguments in Favor of No Detention Policy

  1. Reducing dropouts from the schools due to peer pressure was the main reason the Right to Education Act included the no-detention provision if it is reversed many students would stop going to schools when they fail due to pressure from peers and family.
  2. Section 29 (2) (h) of the RTE Act makes a comprehensive and continuous evaluation (CCE) mandatory, wherein schools are expected to use test results to improve teaching and learning of the child and visualise evaluation as a diagnostic tool to improve learning.
  3. If a student is made to repeat a grade, there’s a strong chance he or she will discontinue learning thereby increasing dropout rates especially in the case of Girls.

Way Forward

  1. Shouldering the students with the responsibility of their own performance is absurd.
  2. The steps that can be taken to improve their performance outcomes can be:
  • measuring learning level outcomes of all children on a regular basis,
  • catalysing a “performance-driven culture” and rewarding high performers at every level,
  • changing stakeholders’ mindset and preparing them for new provisions, in which parents are made responsible or accountable for full attendance of their children.
  1. Schooling alone cannot improve the learning of the student. His/her family has a vital role to be played.
  2. In the UK, a student is promoted to the next grade irrespective of his level of progress. If students underperform, their assessment grades are compared with national data of progress levels and a ‘targeted intervention’ is made.
  3. Though ambitious, such a model can be taken into consideration by creating a national repository of school going children enhanced with certain performance parameters.

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