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Although this article primarily deal with the issue of the rights of sweepers and scavengers, it is important to briefly go through important terms such as Manual Scavenging and Government interventions in this area.
- Scavenging has been an occupation imposed upon certain citizens of the country by the society, which later on continued as a traditional occupation where a section of people among Scheduled Castes was ordained to clean the night soil and carry it manually on their heads. This class of citizens of India is known as Manual Scavengers.
- Manual scavenging exists primarily because of absence of water borne latrines. Using a broom, a tin plate and a drum, they clear and carry human excreta from toilets, more often on their heads, to dumping grounds and disposal sites.
- They are exposed to the most virulent forms of viral and bacterial infections that affect their skin, eyes, limbs, respiratory and gastrointestinal systems.Their children are also caught up in this quagmire. Under these circumstances, it is almost impossible for their children to become educated. Mostly, the women of the families of the scavengers are engaged in scavenging. Even though, in modern times these people desire to leave the profession, their social, economic, educational and cultural aspects have made it difficult for them to find an alternate profession. The social stigma of untouchability continues to stick, in one form or the other largely because of the unclean nature of their occupation.
A Note on the ‘Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013’:
- The Parliament passed the ‘Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013’
- This Act came into effect from 6th December, 2013.
This Act intends to, inter alia, achieve its objectives to:-
- i) Eliminate the insanitary latrines.
- ii) Prohibit:-
a) Employment as Manual Scavengers
b) Hazardous manual cleaning of sewer and septic tanks.
iii) Survey of Manual Scavengers and their rehabilitation, within a time bound manner.
Main features of the Act:
(i) Definitions of manual scavengers and insanitary latrines widened to cover not only dry latrines but other insanitary latrines as well.
(ii) Offences under the Act are cognizable and non-bailable and attract stringent penalties.
(iii) Vigilance/Monitoring Committee at sub-Division, District, State and Central Govt. levels.
(iv) National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK) would, inter alia, monitor implementation of the Act and enquire into complaints regarding contravention of the provisions of the Act.
(v) Provision of construction of adequate number of sanitary community latrines in urban areas, within three years from the date of commencement of this Act to eliminate the practice of open defecation.
- It is important to note that the abolition of untouchability in all its forms, including scavenging, remains an unrealized constitutional right.
- Critics have remarked that the issue of the rights of sweepers and scavengers has never entered the mainstream legal consciousness in the country.
- Unfortunately today, there has been a steady rise in deaths of conservancy workers, and a risk to life they bear on a daily basis.
A Note on Article 17 of the Constitution of India:
- It states that “Untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of Untouchability shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law.”
- It is important to note that this is a fundamental right (under Part III of the Constitution) and is therefore justiciable and enforceable by courts, which shall call governments to account.
- In 2009, the Delhi High Court, in Naz Foundation v. NCT of Delhi, invoked Babasaheb Ambedkar’s delineation of constitutional morality.
- The Delhi High Court asserted the urgency of decriminalising consensual sexual relations proscribed by Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.
- Further, the Court cited a second provision as well.
- The Court cited Article 15(2) which prohibits any form of horizontal discrimination drawing again from the experience of untouchability that obstructed the universal use of public places, restaurants, water sources, etc.
- Last month, we witnessed a triumphal return of constitutional morality as a guiding principle for constitutional interpretation. The Supreme Court of India read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.
- A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India, in Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India, deployed this framework to reaffirm the rights of LGBTQ and all gender non-conforming people to their dignity, life, liberty, and identity.
- It is vital to consider the importance of judicial empathy.
- Unfortunately in our country today, we have people, largely from India’s oppressed castes living a life without dignity, losing their lives in the sewers of cities.
- The time for the expression of judicial empathy is now.
- Currently, despite constitutional and statutory protections, people are losing their lives. Thus, it is important to right these historical wrongs, or at least set the course for the future.
- It is important to note that outgoing Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra had set out four cardinal corners of the Constitution.
- These are a) Individual autonomy and liberty;
- b) equality sans discrimination;
- c) recognition of identity with dignity; and
- d) right to privacy.
He also underscored the centrality of fraternity to the constitutional value system. These signposts require us to think and act on the meanings and expressions of “intrinsic dignity” for conservancy workers and safai karamcharis.
In conclusion, there is recognition by the court that majoritarian governments/sections work hard to keep oppressive structures in place, and that it is the duty of the court to place questions of liberty, equality, and dignity out of the reach of majoritarian impulses.
- There are certain expectations on any verdict on public policy by a constitution bench of the Supreme Court.
- Firstly, it must hold whether the underlying principle(s) is/are consistent with the Constitution of India.
- Secondly, such a verdict must end governance paralysis.
- Critics believe that unfortunately, the court didn’t accomplish this objective in its recent verdict in Jarnail Singh v. Lachhmi Narain Gupta case.
- In this case, the court held that the government need not collect quantifiable data to demonstrate backwardness of public employees belonging to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (SC/STs) to provide reservations for them in promotions.
Crux of the Issue:
- The crux of the issue here is whether or not the ‘creamy layer’ among SC/STs should be barred from obtaining promotions through reservations.
- In its verdict in 2006 in the M. Nagaraj v. Union of India case, the Court had observed the need to collect quantifiable data.
- However, in the recent judgement, the court set aside the requirement to collect quantifiable data that was stipulated by its 2006 verdict in M. Nagaraj v. Union of India as it ignored the reasoning of a nine-judge bench in Indra Sawhney (1992) that any discussion on creamy layer “has no relevance” in the context of SC/STs.
- Critics allege that since the court has taken more than a decade to correct an anomaly in the Nagaraj case which brought in a creamy layer filter for promotions for SC/ST employees, this resulted in thousands of employees being denied their due promotions.
- Unfortunately, the matter cannot be treated as settled even today. This is because, a two-judge bench of the top court is considering a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by the Samta Andolan Samiti that seeks the removal of creamy layer among the SC/STs in job reservations.
- This is being done in spite of the fact that a nine-judge Constitution Bench had settled the matter long ago and also this matter has just been settled by a five-judge Constitution Bench.
- The court merely removed the government’s responsibility to collect quantifiable data on backwardness. However, the Court reasoned that the creamy layer test would be consistent with the equality principle.
- The court did not question reservations in promotions for SC/ST employees, but grappled with a different question: Which section or class among the SC/STs is more entitled?
- When one does a close reading of relevant constitutional provisions and the verdict in Indra Sawhney case, one finds that it is clear that the SC/STs are given job reservations not because they are poor but because they are excluded.
A Note on Article 335:
- The first part of Article 335 stipulates job reservations for SC/STs as a right of representation, not as a welfare measure.
- However, the creamy layer among SC/ST employees helps fulfil the second part of Article 335 that requires maintaining the “efficiency of administration”.
Current Practices that need a relook:
- Currently, an SC/ST candidate does not have the right to reject reservations.
- Thus, he/she is merely required to state whether she belongs to the SC or the ST category and a response in affirmation automatically puts him/her in the queue for reservations.
- Further, it is also a punishable offence to withhold one’s caste status while seeking government employment.
- Some experts believe that a simple administrative decision to allow SC/ST candidates to compete in the general category would have helped thousands to leave the space for the less privileged among them.
- Some have observed that the presence of the creamy layer works as a safety valve.
They assert that the rationale behind the demand to prohibit elite or privileged sections from accessing quota posts is that these sections are as well qualified as general candidates, if not more, and numerous enough to warrant their removal.
- However, there exists a catch here. A well-qualified and large SC/ST group having to compete as non-reserved candidates would corner a substantial number of open posts. At the same time, their less privileged cousins would fill the quota.
- Thus, in theory, SC/STs would end up getting more posts than their proportion in population. This begs the question on the rationale behind the litigation.
- Blended finance is in fashion in the development finance world
- It refers to the merging of public and private funds to maximize development impact
- t can be termed as a mechanism to reduce investment risks associated with things such as basic healthcare, energy access and livelihood for the poorest
- It is most often called upon in reference to meeting the sustainable development goals (SDGs) that countries valiantly agreed to in 2015
How can blended finance help?
- Blended finance can reduce investment risk
- It can enhance returns
- It can increase financial flows
Issues in the management of public and private capital
- The way money is managed
- Most aid agencies need to spend their commitments in a given calendar/fiscal year as internal accounting systems disallow payables over time
- This means that any contract that entails future payments is prohibited
- Many agencies are thus unable to enter into forward contracts
- In reality, projects get delayed and cost overruns happen—particularly in the typically challenging markets that SDGs are relevant to
- By focusing only on spending fast, measuring impact and outcomes become secondary leading to the low development
- The way money is monitored
- Public agencies, aid, in particular, focus on monitoring every dollar spent, whereas private funds monitor outcomes over a pre-agreed period of time and rely on audited financial reports as the benchmark for healthy financial management
- This perceived micromanagement distracts from focusing on the real outcomes of the investment and redirects often significant human resources into the production of micro-level financial reporting
- Rather than control the process, public agencies should set their ‘public benefits’ criteria upfront, and private entities should make those integral to normal financial reporting
- The pricing of risk
- In commercial finance, the higher the risk, the higher the cost of capital
- In an ideally blended structure designed to cater to risky markets or make investments economical, public capital should bear a higher share of the risk—but at lower costs of capital
- However, in reality, public capital tends to be risk-averse
- Handling failures
- While every private agency works to minimize failures, some degree of failure is inevitable when investing in new technologies, business models or untested markets
- Public monies are intrinsically risk-averse, to the point of zero tolerance when it comes to ‘failure’
- Unless some level of failure is permitted, innovative business models of types needed to meet the global goals are unlikely to emerge
- Ideological difference between governments and businesses
- While the landscape is changing, many aid agencies still cannot fathom the idea that public monies will be used to enable private entities to make profits
- The longer this ideological difference remains, the harder it will be to develop large-scale solutions where public monies will be needed to mitigate the risk that private entities will not otherwise take
- The larger goal of blending is a noble one
- It is time that a common understanding was achieved among the blenders of capital so that both sides know what to expect
- The Gujarat government got stunned by the deaths of 23 lions since September.
- It initially considered that the lions had died due to infighting for territorial domination.
- It has now launched rescue efforts and also called experts from outside, including London, and imported a vaccine from the United States.
Under treatment against Deadly Virus
- More than 500 lions had already been screened to detect viral infections in the big cats in the Gir forests and revenue areas.
- Many are battling for their lives as a deadly outbreak of Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) and tick-borne Babesiosis is killing the cats.
- According to the State Forest Department, of the 23 deaths, four lions died of CDV, and 17 were killed by a tick-borne infection.
- According to experts, the Gujarat government was warned in 2011, when experts analysed tissues from a 2007 Gir lion carcass.
- It found the presence of highly contagious Peste Des Petits Ruminants Virus (PPRV), which carries an 80%-100% chance of mortality.
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