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Today’s important articles/news in various newspapers (2nd August)

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. Misadventures in education

  • The fundamental aim of the draft bill is to abolish the existing University Grants Commission (UGC), the country’s apex body that distributes funds to public universities based on certain criteria.
  • This job of distributing funds to universities will be directly taken over by the Union Ministry of Human Resources Development.
  • The draft bill, instead creates a new body, the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI).
  • This new commission will have unbridled powers over all colleges and universities across the country, including the authority to shut them down and at worst, jail the college or university authorities for up to three years if the commission finds that they disobeyed its orders and refuse to pay the penalty.
  • The only exceptions will be the Institutions of National Importance, which are mostly institutes like the IITs.
  • The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has attracted much attention in recent weeks for two reasons.
  • First, it put out for public consultation the draft Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) Bill, which seeks to replace the University Grants Commission.
  • In response, it received 10,200 suggestions/comments from various stakeholders.
  • Thousands of concerns have been aired by academics, policy makers, and civil society on the HECI Bill, particularly because it is silent on concrete reasons to replace the UGC.
  • However, there are some problems with the UGC.
  • Both the National Knowledge Commission Report (2006) and the Yashpal Committee on Higher Education (2009) made a solid case for bringing in a new regulator.

Concerns about the Bill

  • However, the draft HECI Bill makes the problem worse through over-centralisation and enhanced political interference.
  • The move to entrust all grant-giving powers to the Ministry can lead to politicisation of grant allocation and more interference by the bureaucracy.
  • Further, instead of preserving autonomy, the Bill allows the Chairperson of the new Commission to be a member of the Central government, something expressly prohibited in the UGC Act.
  • The bill also transgresses the autonomy of higher educational institutions by allowing micromanagement, for instance, on syllabi.
  • The new over-arching body does not involve the States sufficiently and or accommodate the diverse needs of the country.
  • Therefore, it would have been better off if the government addressed the loopholes in the UGC.

Detention policy

  • The Right to Education (RTE) Bill 2018 does away with the policy that children cannot be detained till they complete elementary education in Class VIII.
  • The amendment gives States the option of holding regular examinations either at the end of Class V or Class VIII, or both.
  • Students who fail this exam would be given a chance to re-appear after two months from the date of declaration of results.
  • In case they still cannot pass, the States will have the option of detaining them.

Consequences of Detention

  • This would potentially push out many children who are unable to meet standards because they have been deprived of quality education.
  • The no-detention policy was to be implemented together with continuous assessment, which would help identify learning deficiencies and correct them.
  • However, the education system has failed to provide continuous assessment and so the government is falling back on examinations and detention, which can lead to students becoming discouraged and higher dropout rates.
  • The larger question is whether the no-detention policy will improve the learning outcomes of children if it is brought back.

Experience with No-Detention

  • Nine years since the launch of the RTE we have achieved near universalisation of enrolment of children at the elementary level.
  • The no-detention policy is successful in that sense. However, if the aim is to improve learning outcomes, the policy alone is unhelpful.

Other changes required in RTE

  • To improve learning outcomes in children, there are other specific provisions in the RTE that need attention.
  • Besides maintaining a good pupil-teacher ratio (PTR), proper infrastructure like all-weather buildings, barrier-free access in schools, separate toilets for boys and girls are pertinent measures to improve qualitative standards enshrined in the RTE.
  • Government data show that out of 10,72,742 government schools at the elementary level, only 7.5 lakh have ramps, 6 lakh have playgrounds, and 9 lakh have libraries.

Issue of funds

  • Declining funds is another reason why the RTE has not been implemented in letter and spirit.
  • For example, an Accountability Initiative Report shows that allocations for the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the main vehicle to drive RTE implementation, have remained much below the resource estimates made by the MHRD.
  • Quality-related interventions accounted for only 9% of the total approved budgets in FY 2016-17.
  • Interestingly, States like Kerala that wish to continue with the no-detention policy spent nearly all their allocated budget on quality in 2016-17.
  • It is evident that no-detention can work only if there is improved quality, which the current amendment to RTE does not ensure.
  • These legislations are only a patchwork agenda of the government as they provide no long-term solution to the issues plaguing the system of education in India.

2. Scaled-up solutions for a future of water scarcity

  • There are millions of people all over the world who don’t have access to water, or, if they have access, that water is unable to be used.
  • About 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered with water and 3% of it is actually freshwater that is fit for human consumption.
  • Around two-thirds of that is tucked in frozen glaciers and unavailable for our use.
  • According to WWF, some 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to water, and a total of 2.7 billion find water scarce for at least one month of the year.
  • Water scarcity involves water crisis, water shortage, water deficit or water stress.
  • Water scarcity can be due to physical water scarcity and economic water scarcity.
  • Physical water scarcity refers to a situation where natural water resources are unable to meet a region’s demand and economic water scarcity is a result of poor water management resources.

India’s Case

  • Today, India is in the midst of a suicidal water crisis as urban and rural landscapes go thirsty.
  • Over the years, we have seen activists, scientists and experts from across India working on bottom-up schemes to revive and rejuvenate lakes, wetlands, streams and other small water bodies.
  • While these movements have brought about a significant change at the local level, the scale of our water problems is much larger.

The scale of loss

  • First, cities today are vast agglomerations that continue to spread, with bursting populations of tens of millions.
  • They are huge parasites on water, food, energy and all other resources.
  • High densities of our cities do not allow for water harvesting to fill the gap.
  • Until now, invasive schemes like dams to service these large cities and the huge needs of agriculture have caused extreme ecological devastation.
  • Second, in our global market economies, the products and services that are derived from natural infrastructure have often led to the terminal loss of the source itself.
  • The global free market, and with it the scale of human intervention, now exceeds the scale of the planet.
  • These resources (forests, mountains, floodplains and rivers) are often lost to the greed of governments, institutions, corporations and individuals.
  • This is long-term loss for short-term gain. Natural resources are living evolutionary resources that are constantly renewed by natural cycles.
  • Therefore, they provide us perennial value as long as we use them with natural wisdom and not kill them with exploitation.
  • Large-scale non-invasive schemes are scarce because they are far more challenging.
  • These are large-scale schemes that can provide a perennial supply of water to large populations in cities and towns, engage the natural landscape, sustain ecological balance and have major economic and health benefits.
  • If we were to recognise the true value of our natural infrastructure and ‘conserve and use’ our evolutionary resources with the help of science, it would secure the future for humanity and the natural world.

River floodplains

  • Our research shows that floodplains of rivers are exceptional aquifers where any withdrawal is compensated by gravity flow from a large surrounding area and can be used as a source of providing water to cities.
  • Floodplains are formed over millions of years by the flooding of rivers with deposition of sand on riverbanks.
  • Some floodplains, such as those of Himalayan rivers, contain up to 20 times more water than the virgin flow in rivers in a year.
  • Since recharge is by rainfall and during late floods, the water quality is good.
  • If we conserve and use the floodplain, it can be a self-sustaining aquifer wherein every year, the river and floodplain are preserved in the same healthy condition as the year before.
  • The Delhi Palla floodplain project on the Yamuna is an example of this. By utilising 20 sq.km of the river length and running at half its capacity, it provides water to almost a million people daily.
  • Piezometers and a control system have been installed to monitor water levels and other parameters through the year, to ensure sustainable withdrawal.
  • Besides, it provides huge revenue to the Delhi Jal Board.
  • Preserving the floodplain in a pristine condition is essential for this scheme to work.
  • Land on the floodplains can be leased from farmers in return for a fixed income from the water sold to cities.
  • The farmers can be encouraged to grow orchards/food forests to secure and restore the ecological balance of the river ecosystem.

Natural mineral water

  • Currently, mineral water is brought from faraway mountain springs, putting huge pressure on the mountains.
  • It is packaged and consumed in plastic bottles that end up in landfills. Forested hills are a result of evolution over millions of years.
  • They are not polluted and sit on a treasure of underground aquifers that contain natural mineral water comparable to that found in a mountain spring.
  • This is because the rain falls on the forest and seeps through the various layers of humus and cracked rock pathways, picking up nutrients and minerals and flows into underground mineral water aquifers.
  • Our research shows that the water in these aquifers is comparable to several international natural spring mineral waters.
  • It also shows that if a scheme of ‘conserve and use’ is applied correctly, it would allow a forest (like Asola Bhatti in Delhi) to be sustained as a mineral water sanctuary.
  • About 30 sq.km of the forest could then provide enough natural mineral water to 5 million people in the city.
  • The Aravalli forested hills can provide mineral water to all major towns of Rajasthan. This water can substantially improve the health of citizens and preserve forests at the same time.
  • The marvel is that we can provide quality natural mineral water for all from a local forest tract for 20 times less than the market price and yet reap great economic returns.
  • Such non-invasive, local, large-scale ‘conserve and use’ projects till now have not been part of our living scheme.
  • They change the relationship between nature, water and cities.
  • They differ in scale from the small, community-driven projects of check dams, water harvesting and lakes and can service large populations.
  • Unlike large-scale dams, these projects work with nature rather than against it. They can be used around the globe.
  • Finally, these evolutionary resources once lost, will be lost forever.

Solutions for Water Scarcity

  • Education: There are plenty of opportunities out there that people can use in order to learn more about the world around them. By educating those who are not dealing with water scarcity, they can be in a position to help. Those who are dealing with it can get educated on how they can prevent the problem from becoming even worse in the future.
  • Recycle Water: There are plenty of technologies out there that allow you to recycle rainwater and other water that you may be using in your home. Consider learning about how you can recycle water. Not only does it help to prevent scarcity, but it can save you some money as well.
  • Advance Technology Related to Water Conservation: There has been a lot of work in the world of water conservation, but there is also a lot that needs to be done in order to ensure that the rest of the world is able to conserve water. Putting money and effort into conservation could be life-saving.
  • Improve Practices Related to Farming: Farming and irrigation are often a huge culprit when it comes to water scarcity. Because of that, we need to improve practices so that we don’t use as much water and those who are using water are using it to its fullest potential. Technology also needs to advance in this manner.
  • Improve Sewage Systems: Clean drinking water starts with a good sewage system. Without proper sanitation, the water in an area becomes ridden with disease and any number of other problems. By improving the sewage systems in these areas, we can prevent water scarcity from becoming any worse.
  • Support Clean Water Initiatives: There are organizations located all over the world that are looking to bring clean water to areas that don’t have it.

3. Cabinet clears Bill to restore the provisions of SC/ST Act

The Centre has decided to introduce a Bill to restore the original provisions of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, which the Supreme Court had struck down in a March ruling.

Background:

  • With the objective of eradicating inherent discriminatory attitudes against the SCs and STs, the Untouchability (Offences) Act, 1955 was initially passed in Parliament in 1955.
  • In 1976 it was renamed the Protection of Civil Rights (PCR) Act.
  • Owing to the ineffectiveness of the Act, the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act came into existence in 1989
  • The 1989 Act, which was amended in 2015, punished casteist slurs and denied anticipatory bail to the accused.
  • Making the 1989 Act more stringent, the SC and ST Amendment Act, 2015, added that actions like tonsuring of head, moustache, or similar acts which are derogatory to the dignity of members of SCs and STs, will now also be treated as atrocities.
  • On the 20th of March 20, the SC issued a few guidelines to protect people against arbitrary arrest under the Act, directing that
  • Public servants could only be arrested with the written permission of their appointing authority
  • In the case of private employees, the Senior Superintendent of Police concerned should allow it.

Amendments:

The Amendment Bill to be presented in the on-going session of Parliament seeks to insert three new clauses after Section 18 of the original Act.

  • Preliminary enquiry shall not be required for registration of a First Information Report against any person.
  • The arrest of a person accused of having committed an offence under the Act would not require any approval.
  • The provisions of Section 438 of the Code of Criminal Procedure — which deals with anticipatory bail — shall not apply to a case under this Act, “notwithstanding any judgment or order of any Court.”

The decision comes after facing a severe pressure from Dalit leaders within the ruling alliance and the opposition.

2. Supreme Court begins hearing on adultery law

Context:

Referring to how the offence of adultery in the Indian Penal Code treats a woman as a “chattel” or property of her husband, the Supreme Court questioned whether adultery should be viewed as a crime at all if it amounts to violation of the right of equality of a woman. It is sought to quash the provisions on the ground that it is not gender neutral and violative of the fundamental right to privacy.

  • A 5 judge constitution is constituted to examine if adultery as an offence should be retained in the penal code to uphold family ties.
  • The petition filed wants Section 497 to be dropped as a criminal offence from the penal code.
  • 1954, a 5 judge constitution bench had examined whether a woman can be considered as abettor.
  • A disclaimer was issued by the Constitution bench that it will not touch the law to make it an offence for women too.

What is Section 497?

  • Section 497 mandates that if a man has sexual intercourse with another’s wife without the husband’s “consent or connivance,” he is guilty of the offence of adultery and shall be punished.
  • The provision does not confer any right on the wife to prosecute her husband for adultery.

What is the problem with the law?

  • The 5 judge bench is examining whether the pre-Independence provision of adultery (Section 497) treats a married woman as a commodity owned by her husband and violates the constitutional concepts of gender equality.
  • It was earlier observed that if the husband gives consent for sexual intercourse between his wife and another man, then it nullifies the offence of adultery and turns the woman into a commodity, which goes against the principle of gender justice and the constitutional mandate of right to equality.
  • When sexual intercourse takes place with the consent of both the parties, there is no good reason for excluding one party from the liability
  • Article 14 and 15 read together validate the impugned clause in section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, exempting the woman from prosecution even as an abettor

Centre’s Stand:

  • Centre had sought dismissal of the petition challenging the vires of Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, informing the Supreme Court that the issue is already being deliberated upon by the Law Commission of India.
  • The Centre’s affidavit begins with it demanding the dismissal of the petition, and asserting that Section 497 “supports, safeguards and protects the institution of marriage.

4. LS passes commercial courts Bill

The Lok Sabha passed the Commercial Courts, Commercial Division and Commercial Appellate Division of High Courts (Amendment) Bill, 2018.

Provisions of the bill:

  • It will designate some courts as commercial courts for speedy disposal of commercial disputes .
  • It allows state governments to establish commercial courts at the district level, even in territories where high courts have ordinary original civil jurisdiction.
  • In areas where high courts do not have original jurisdiction, state governments may set up commercial appellate courts at the district level to consider appeals from commercial courts below the level of a district judge.
  • The Bill seeks to amend the Commercial Courts Act, 2015 by reducing the pecuniary jurisdiction of these courts from Rs. 1 crore to Rs. 3 lakh.
  • Introduction of the Pre-Institution Mediation process in cases where no urgent, interim relief is contemplated. This will provide for an opportunity to the parties to resolve the commercial disputes outside the ambit of the courts through the authorities. This will also help in reinforcing investor’s confidence in the resolution of commercial disputes.
  • Central Government to make rules and procedures for Pre-Institution Mediation.

Details:

  • The bill replaces an ordinance issued in May 2018.
  • The bill aims at improving the ease of doing business in India.
  • The bill is a move to provide option of using commercial dispute resolution to smaller traders as well.
  • The focus is on speedy disposal of commercial disputes.

The move is appreciated as it is opined that good governance is a part of good economy and it imperative to bring about such legislations as India is becoming one of the topmost economies of the world with largest number of FDI coming to India. The measures like encouraging arbitration, empowering the commercial courts and mediation will aid India in achieving the target of breaking into top 50 club in the ease of doing business rankings.

5. Prudent increase: on RBI’s rate hike

  1. The decision by the Reserve Bank of India’s Monetary Policy Committee to raise benchmark interest rates again by 25 basis points is a prudent one
  2. This is the second successive rate increase in as many months, a response to mounting uncertainties on the inflation front

Why the increase?

  1. Continuing volatility in crude oil prices, the recent softening notwithstanding, and its vulnerability to geopolitical tensions and supply disruptions is one of the main risks to the inflation outlook
  2. Among the RBI’s other concerns are:
  • volatile global financial markets
  • possibilities of fiscal slippage at the Central and State levels
  • the likely impact of the increase in the minimum support price for Kharif crops
  • the staggering impact of upward revisions to house rent allowance paid by State Governments

Global developments & their risk

  1. Rising trade protectionism threatens to impact investment flows, disrupt global supply chains and hurt all-round productivity
  2. Depreciation in the value of most currencies against the strengthening dollar have rippled through many major advanced and emerging economies, spurring inflation across these markets

Way Forward

  1. The MPC’s primary remit is to ensure that retail inflation stays firmly within a band of 2-6%, and preferably anchored at 4% over the medium term
  2. With inflation widely accepted as a hidden tax on the poor, the containment of price gains justifiably ought to be the raison d’etre of monetary policy

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