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Here is the list of some important case studies from March 2021 that can be quoted/used in UPSC CSE Mains answers/essays.
Environment and Ecology
Uttarakhand IAS officer goes all-out to revive water bodies
Relevance: Case studies on district administration, conservation techniques etc.
- Mayur Dikshit, a 2012-batch IAS officer currently posted as district magistrate of Uttarkashi district, has launched 'Mission Indravati' to revive water bodies in his district.
About the mission:
- Indravati is a 12-km-long river and a primary source of irrigation for at least 5,000 people of 11 villages in the district.
- It supports the lives and livelihood of thousands. The DM has appointed nodal officers to oversee the river's revival.
- The objective of the Indravati initiative is to first identify the reasons for the decline in the water flow or in some cases, the death of the water sources.
- After that, sustainable revival plans will be laid out where most supporting ingredients are sourced locally.
- A working group of officials, experts, locals and those who hold traditional knowledge identifies the nearest possible catchment area and builds a 'Chaal-Khaal' an area where wetlands along with grasses and other flora are created and maintained.
- These Chaal-Khaal are natural catchment areas that are strengthened by plantation and native species of grass to retain groundwater.
- The catchment area is a lifeline for these natural water resources. Once the catchment area is strengthened, 80% of the work is done. The work is done under MGNREGA to provide employment to the locals.
- The rejuvenation of water bodies led to the availability of water for the cattle and agricultural land where the canal system is yet to reach.
- Uttarakhand has seen many traditional water sources dry up due to deforestation and changing rain patterns.
- A 2016 report prepared by NGOs stated that over 12,000 natural springs have dried up.
- Experts point out that water management is important not only for Uttarakhand but also for UP, Bihar, West Bengal and Delhi.
- A study conducted by the University of Cambridge, Dehradun's Centre for Ecology Development and Research (CEDAR) and South Asia Institute of Advanced Studies, Kathmandu, pointed out that springs need significant investment and efforts for rejuvenation as they are under pressure from haphazard urbanisation.
- Mr Dixit's work has been recognised by the Union Ministry of Water Resources. Before taking charge as the Uttarkashi DM last month, he was chief development officer of Udham Singh Nagar where he helped revive over 550 water bodies, including ponds, streams, springs and rivulets.
- Such initiatives go a long way in the conservation of declining resources and help sustain rural communities in the wake of aggravating climate crisis.
Will India’s National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture help us in attaining sustainable farming?
Relevance: Sustainable Agriculture
- According to a recent report by World economic forum, Agriculture has been seen as a prominent threat to our Earthly forests and thereby triggering global warming even further.
- To stop changing the face of Earth, we have to change our ways of leading life, especially agriculture. Adaptation is no longer available to us rather mitigation has been our only option.
India's steps towards sustainable agriculture:
- India has taken a considerable lead in this directing by launching and implementing National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA) under the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) since the year 2014-15.
- It involves ensuring food security and eliminating hunger, equitable access to food resources, enhancing livelihood opportunities for all and contributing to economic stability at the national level.
- It was brought in during Twelfth Five Year Plan to transform Indian agriculture into a climate-resilient as well as sustainable production system through suitable adaptation and mitigation measures across the country.
Objectives of the mission:
- Promoting agriculture/cultivation based on the location and its contents including Soil Health Management (SHM).
- Embolden integrated farming techniques involving crops, livestock & fishery, plantation and pasture-based composite farming for enhancing livelihood opportunities along with minimizing risks from crop failure through supplementary/ residual production systems.
- Spreading on-farm as well as off-farm resource conservation schemes supporting mitigation efforts during extreme climatic events or disasters like prolonged dry spells, floods etc.
- Consolidating water use efficiency with demand and supply-side management solutions like drip irrigation & sprinkler techniques, efficient water application & distribution system through better canals, secondary storage like reservoirs during surplus rain season etc.
- Work in close tandem with the ‘Per Drop More Crop (PDMC)’ component of Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY).
- A database is proposed on soil resources through comprehensive land use survey, soil profile study and soil analysis with stress on soil-specific crop management practices.
- Optimization of fertilizer-pesticide use and promotion of integrated nutrient management practices for improving soil health, enhancing crop productivity and restoring land-water quality, eg-Integrated Nutrient Management (INM).
- Cluster/village development plan along with insights from NGOs, technical and relevant experts.
- National bamboo mission
- Sub-mission on agroforestry
- Rainfed area development
Why do we need such a system?
- Economic reasons:
- Indian agriculture is predominantly rainfed (60% of the country’s net sown area) but accounts for only 40% of the total food production.
- A developing country with a significantly fertile population needs to feed its population without jeopardizing the needs of Mother nature.
- Ecological reasons:
- The mission looks for a sustainable development pathway by adopting a gradual shift to environmentally friendly technologies, adoption of energy-efficient systems, imbibition of renewable resources, holistic conservation of natural resources, integrated farming, etc.
- Social reasons:
- These sustainable techniques may lead to the upliftment of the families involved with agriculture.
- Agriculture alone accounts for 18% of India’s GDP but provides employment to more than 50% of the country’s workforce directly and indirectly.
- Welfare schemes in agriculture can lead to emancipation and further prosperity of a greater proportion of people.
Achievements of the mission:
- 3.42 lakh ha of the area has been successfully brought under Integrated farm development.
- The Mission Document contains various strategies and programmers of actions (POA) and has got the ‘in-principle approval by Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change (PMCCC).
- Through expert assistance, the vision enshrined in the scheme has been embedded and mainstreamed into the numerous ongoing/proposed Missions/Programmes/Schemes of Dept. of Agriculture & Cooperation (DAC&FW) through restructuring, subsuming or convergence for its successful implementation through a community-based approach for all the governed resources.
Read more on India's Policy for Climate Change- Click here.
Fingerprints of global warming in Uttarakhand floods and Texas cold snap
Relevance: Disaster Management, Environmental Pollution & Degradation, Conservation, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) etc.
- Humans have come quite far in terms of development but unfortunately have left the concerns for the environment behind.
- It is quite common to hear policymakers and the public referring to natural disasters as “acts of God”.
- But concluding from events such as Chamoli Flash Floods and the flood in Kedarnath in 2013, it wasn’t actually the god but human interventions with the natural environment.
- Climate actions will continue to falter unless climate change is tagged as a primary culprit, instead of actions of god.
- UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2020 showed that the year 2020 set new records in terms of rising in extreme weather events, including wildfires and hurricanes, and in the melting of glaciers and ice at both poles.
- According to the report, despite a brief dip in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions caused by the Pandemic, the world is still heading for a temperature rise in excess of 3°C this century; far beyond the 2015 Paris Agreement goals.
The Changing Climate
- Floods in the Himalayan Region:
- The Himalayas are particularly high-energy environments characterised by geological instability, hydro-climatic variability and uncertainty.
- The Himalayan region has about 15,000 glaciers, which are retreating at a rate of 100 to 200 feet per decade.
- The recent deadly flash flood was a combination of geological activities, the effects of climate change, as well as the unsustainable infrastructure development that has accelerated the process.
- Texas Winter Storm:
- Recently, Texas, US has been hit by extremely cold weather leading to strong wind storms in the state.
- The brutal cold has engulfed vast swaths of the United States, shuttering Covid-19 inoculation centres and hindering vaccine supplies.
- The double-digit negative temperatures (temperatures have fallen as low as -14°C) are connected to Arctic-peninsula warming.
- Usually, there is a collection of winds around the Arctic keeping the cold locked far to the north, known as the Polar Vortex.
- But global warming has caused gaps in these protective winds, allowing intensely cold air to move south- the phenomenon is accelerating.
- Other Events:
- In 2003, the European heatwave killed over 70,000 people.
- The years 2015-19 have globally been the warmest years on record.
- The Amazon fire of 2019, the bush fires of 2019-20 in Australia are some of the most dangerous impacts of changing climate.
India and Climate Change
- One of the Largest Emitters:
- For India, the third-largest carbon emitter after China and the United States, a decisive switch is needed from highly polluting coal and petroleum to cleaner and renewable power sources.
- China has announced carbon neutrality by 2060, Japan and South Korea by 2050, but India is yet to announce a target.
- Global Rankings and Estimates:
- The HSBC ranks India at the top among 67 nations in climate vulnerability (2018).
- Germanwatch ranks India fifth among 181 nations in terms of climate risks (2020).
- The World Bank has warned that climate change could sharply diminish living conditions for up to 800 million people in South Asia.
- As per the Emissions Gap Report 2020, over the last decade, China, the USA, EU27+UK and India combined, have contributed to 55% of the total GHG emissions.
- No Stringent Policies:
- State and central governments have been diluting, instead of strengthening, climate safeguards for hydroelectric and road projects.
- Studies had flagged ice loss across the Himalayas has been rapidly melting thus increasing the dangers to densely populated catchments, but any hard and fast policy response has been lacking.
- Lack of Proper Training Programs:
- There were no awareness programs or training provided to the people about disaster management by the government in case of the recent Uttarakhand floods.
- Ignorance by Government:
- A 2012 expert group appointed by the government had recommended against the construction of dams in the Alaknanda-Bhagirathi basin, including on the Rishiganga and in “the periglacial zone,” but the recommendations were ignored.
- Similarly, ignorance of the Kerala government in terms of regulation of mining, quarrying and dam construction in ecologically sensitive places, led to massive floods and landslides in 2018 and 2019.
- Ineffective Satellite Monitoring:
- Physically monitoring the entire Himalayan region (or any larger disaster-prone region) is not possible.
- However, satellite monitoring is possible and radars can help minimise loss.
- Despite possessing remarkable satellite capabilities, India still hasn’t been able to use such imagery effectively for advance warning.
- Budgetary Allocation:
- A vital step should be explicitly including policies for climate mitigation in the government budget, along with energy, roads, health and education.
- Specifically, growth targets should include timelines for switching to cleaner energy. There is also a need to launch a major campaign to mobilise climate finance.
- Climate Adaptation:
- Even if major economies speed up climate mitigation, such catastrophes will become more frequent due to the accumulated carbon emissions in the atmosphere. Climate adaptation is the way forward here.
- Disaster management strategies to be synced with the developmental plans such as infrastructure designing.
- Such as in earthquake-prone areas, building norms and guidelines can be issued or earthquake-resistant buildings to be constructed.
- India’s Central and State governments must increase allocations for risk reduction, such as agricultural innovations to withstand droughts.
- In the case of fire-prone areas, an area can be divided into pockets so as to prevent any massive spread of fire.
- Detailed Studies:
- Detailed studies should be conducted to understand which of the glacial lakes in the Himalayan region are prone to flooding.
- Such research should feed into Environmental Impact Assessment reports and guide decisions on developmental projects in the region.
- Setting up Early Warning Systems:
- Set up early warning systems that alert the downstream populations about an impending disaster.
- This has to be coupled with plans to quickly evacuate local communities to safer regions.
- Flooding events do not occur all of a sudden; there are ample indications like changes in water level, discharge in the rivers etc which if monitored earlier can help to save a significant number of lives and other damages.
- Sustainable growth depends on timely climate action and for that to happen, policymaking needs to connect the dots between carbon emissions, atmospheric warming, melting glaciers, extreme floods and storms.
- Events like Uttarakhand and Texas should be treated as lessons to change people’s minds and for the public to demand urgent action.
- Disasters can not be stopped but well-preparedness and strong climate change mitigation policies can definitely help prevent a huge amount of loss.
A new development paradigm for sustainable development: A case study of Dhun, Rajasthan
Relevance: Urban planning, environment conservation, climate change mitigation.
- The Dhun project near Jaipur can show the way forward for climate-resilient urban planning.
- As a case study in progress, perhaps this project can demonstrate the potential of reimagining urban planning and the policies we could put in place to achieve holistic developmental goals.
Development vs Environment:
- For centuries, we human beings have exploited our planet catastrophically.
- The air has become unbreathable, water undrinkable, the food inedible, and depression has become the leading cause of disability worldwide.
- Perhaps our civilisation has outgrown the systems it had put in place to secure its future- be it the “short-termism” in capitalism, centralisation of authority or information, or industrial age education and work systems.
- All are response mechanisms from a period of scarcity, bound to lose their relevance in this era of abundance.
- The woeful fragility and irrelevance of these structures were exposed by a virus 100 millionth our size; imagine then the cataclysmic consequences of something as immense as climate change!
- It is also an opportunity like never before to collaborate, and motivate societies to embrace “long-termism” and invest in socially and environmentally regenerative developmental narratives and structures that enable self-sufficiency.
About Dhun Project:
- The Dhun Project aspires to create a microcosm in a 500-acre ecological reserve, comprising of living, working, learning, recreational and research spaces, for a community that can support itself.
- Situated on the outskirts of Jaipur, India, the project started its journey on degenerated barren land, with no water source.
- It aims to build a physical and social environment that provides people with freedom, opportunities, and access to global ecosystems to realise their truest potential.
- The priority was to address basic fundamentals of life- water, food, and air, which are considered to be shared resources of the community, and therefore, the size of the settlement is determined by what the land can support in perpetuity while being off the grid.
- Over the past six years, before the commencement of any structural work, the team has planted over 270,000 local trees, used permaculture to grow to produce, and built robust water systems that harvest over 400 million litres of rainwater.
- Using hyper-local materials like lime, reclaimed stone and rammed earth, along with vernacular methodologies, skill sets, and craftsmanship, they are creating a thermodynamically efficient, “no-cement” low carbon footprint, regenerative built habitat.
- By leveraging collective human consciousness and wisdom through exponential technologies and integrating ancient knowledge systems, they are developing contextually relevant structural frameworks for education, commerce, recreation, and the workplace.
- There are modules to develop polymath thinking and learning through multidisciplinary and inter-age collaborations on real-time projects.
- Co-parent trees” and “co-create waterbodies” initiatives built on game theory offered as plug and play models to contribute to local ecology,
- community-led economic nutrition for incubation programmes,
- designing cognitive environments to enhance physical potential,
- pandemic proof supply chains and planning principles,
- the use of “carbon-credit currency.
- By thinking about consumption and available resources in fundamentally different ways, Dhun is re-engineering capital requirements and barriers to entry for such large scale projects.
- Given its fundamental value proposition and relevance in current times, it hopes to make the model financially sustainable and scalable
- Enterprises such as Dhun could be a new foundation to fully realise what is possible in the realm of living development practices.
- When expanded, it could create a decentralised network of regenerative futuristic settlements, that reimagine consumption and leverage untapped human potential, collective heritage, diversity, and exponential technologies to bring self-sufficiency to communities without costing them their environments or identities.
Polity and Governance
India is ‘partly free’, says U.S. thinktank
Relevance: Indian Democracy, Rights Issues, Fundamental Rights, Issues Arising Out of Design & Implementation of Policies etc.
- The Freedom in the World 2021 report has downgraded India’s status from ‘Free’ to ‘Partly Free’.
About Freedom in the World Report:
- It is Freedom House’s flagship annual report, assessing the condition of political rights and civil liberties around the world.
- It is composed of numerical ratings and supporting descriptive texts for 195 countries and 15 territories.
- The report has been published since 1973, allowing Freedom House to track global trends in freedom over more than 40 years.
- Freedom House, which is largely funded through U.S. government grants, has been tracking the course of democracy since 1941.
- Political rights- indicators such as the electoral process, political pluralism and participation and government functioning.
- Civil liberties- indicators related to freedom of expression and belief, associational and organisational rights, the rule of law and personal autonomy and individual rights.
- Countries are declared as “free”, “partly free” or “not free”.
- Pointing to a decline in global democracy over the last 15 years, the report said that nearly 75% of the world’s population lived in a country that faced deterioration over the last year.
- The freest countries in the world, with a score of 100, are Finland, Norway and Sweden, while the least free with a score of 1 is Tibet and Syria.
- India’s score was 67, a drop from 71/100 from last year, downgrading it from the free category last year (i.e., based on 2020 data).
Reasons for India’s Fall
- Freedom of Media:
- Attacks on press freedom have escalated dramatically, and reporting has become significantly less ambitious in recent years, citing the use of security, defamation, sedition and contempt of court laws to quiet critical media voices.
- Elevation of Hindu Nationalist Interests:
- India appears to have abandoned its potential to serve as a global democratic leader, elevating narrow Hindu nationalist interests at the expense of its founding values of inclusion and equal rights for all.
- Internet Freedom:
- In a year when social media censorship has been hotly seated, while the government shut down Internet connectivity in Kashmir as well as on Delhi’s borders, India’s Internet freedom score dropped to just 51.
- Covid Response:
- Response to Covid-19 included a hamfisted lockdown that resulted in the dangerous and unplanned displacement of millions of internal migrant workers.
- It added that Muslims were disproportionately blamed for the spread of the virus and faced attacks by vigilante mobs.
- Crackdown on Protesters:
- The government intensified its crackdown on protesters opposed to a discriminatory citizenship law and arrested dozens of journalists who aired criticism of the official pandemic response.
- Minorities were disproportionately blamed for the spread of the virus and faced attacks by vigilante mobs.
- Uttar Pradesh’s law prohibiting forced religious conversion through interfaith marriage was also listed as a concern.
Corrective voice: On Supreme Court and judicial patriarchy
Relevance: Executive & Judiciary
- A judgment by the Supreme Court forbidding judges from making gender-stereotypical comments came as a corrective voice from within the highest judiciary.
What is the news?
- The judgment came days after the CJI, during a virtual hearing reportedly asked an alleged rapist’s lawyer to enquire whether his client would marry the survivor. His statement coincided with International Women’s Day.
- Days later, a Bench of Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and S. Ravindra Bhat urged courts to avoid using reasoning/language which diminished a sexual offence and tended to trivialize the survivor.
Corrective voice in the past:
- Some of the notable judgments which have lashed out at sex stereotyping include:
- The framing of the Vishaka Guidelines on sexual harassment of women in working places, and
- Justice D.Y. Chandrachud’s historic judgment giving women Armed Forces officers’ equal access to Permanent Commission while debunking the establishment’s claim that women were physiologically weaker than men
- In the Anuj Garg case, the Supreme Court had rebuked “the notion of romantic paternalism”, which, “in practical effect, put women, not on a pedestal, but in a cage”
What did the Court say?
- The greatest extent of sensitivity is to be displayed in the judicial approach, language and reasoning adopted by the judge.
- Even a solitary instance of such order or utterance in court, reflects adversely on the entire judicial system of the country, undermining the guarantee to fair justice to all, and especially to victims of sexual violence.
- This judgment is one among a series of interventions with which the apex court has clamped down on abuse and sex stereotyping of women.
- No institution is mightier than the modesty of a woman.
Avoid gender stereotypes such as:
- The courts should desist from expressing any stereotype opinion, in words spoken during proceedings, or in the course of a judicial order, to the effect that-
- women are physically weak and need protection;
- men are the “head” of the household and should take all the decisions relating to family;
- women should be submissive and obedient according to our culture;
- “good” women are sexually chaste;
- motherhood is the duty and role of every woman and assumptions to the effect that she wants to be a mother;
- being alone at night or wearing certain clothes make women responsible for being attacked;
- lack of evidence of physical harm in sexual offence case leads to an inference of consent by the woman.
Need for gender sensitization:
- The court mandated that a module on gender sensitization is included, as part of the foundational training of every judge.
- This module must aim at imparting techniques for judges to be more sensitive in hearing and deciding cases of sexual assault, and eliminating entrenched social bias, especially misogyny.
- Stereotyping compromises the impartiality and integrity of the justice system, which can, in turn, lead to miscarriages of justice, including the re-victimization of complainants.
- Often judges adopt rigid standards about what they consider to be appropriate behaviour for women and penalize those who do not conform to these stereotypes.
Right to counsel in custody
Relevance: Indian Constitution- historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure.
- Arrested Mumbai policeman Sachin Waze has sought his lawyer’s presence during questioning, while the NIA has argued that this insistence is hampering the probe.
Is access to a lawyer the right of an accused?
- In India, the safeguards available to a person in such circumstances are enshrined in the Constitution.
- Article 20(3) states: “No person accused of any offence shall be compelled to be a witness against himself”.
- Article 22 states that a person cannot be denied the right to consult and to be defended by a legal practitioner of his choice. This includes provisions that grant an accused the “right to consult” a lawyer.
- Section 41D of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) states that an accused is entitled to “meet an advocate of his choice during interrogation, though not throughout interrogation”.
Supreme Court judgments on counsel in custody
- In the D K Basu case of 1997:
- The Court considered the guiding principles to be followed by investigating agencies in cases of arrest or detention.
- The judgment states that “an arrestee may be permitted to meet his lawyer during interrogation, though not throughout the interrogation”.
- The Supreme Court stressed the safeguards for the accused, but also spoke of “difficulties in the detection of crimes”, especially in cases of “hardcore criminals”, and ruled that a lawyer cannot be permitted to remain present throughout the interrogation.
- In Senior Intelligence Officer vs Jugal Kishore Sharma (2011):
- It allowed the accused’s lawyer to “watch the proceedings from a distance or from beyond a glass partition”, but said, “he will not be within the hearing distance and it will not be open to the respondent to have consultations with him in course of the interrogation”.
- However, in many criminal cases, it is left to the discretion of the court that has remanded an accused to the custody of the police, to decide on whether the lawyer can be permitted to meet the person for a stipulated time in private when interrogation is not in progress.
Keep cops away from prisons
Relevance: Prison Reforms
- The Uttarakhand government recently issued a notification to post IPS officers as superintendents of Sittarganj, Haldwani, Haridwar, Dehradun and Roorkee prisons.
- This has raised questions of propriety both in legal and governance terms.
- A PIL has been filed against the government’s decision before the Uttarakhand High Court.
- The decision contradicts the provisions of the Uttar Pradesh Jail (Group A and B) Service Rules, 1982, and amounts to police custody by giving the police direct access to prisoners during “judicial custody”.
Police officers as Heads of Prisons:
- The decision to appoint police officers as heads of the prison department, a practice that goes against the philosophy of correctional administration, was started in the 1980s, on grounds of strengthening security and controlling corruption.
- Earlier, prison departments were headed by prison officers or IAS officers.
- Bihar is the only state which continues to have an IAS officer heading the prison department as Inspector General of Prisons and Correctional Services.
- Various prison reform committee reports like the Justice Mulla Committee on Prison Reforms Report (1983) and the Justice Krishna Iyer Committee on Women Prisoners Report (1987) have advocated that prisons should be houses of reformation and rehabilitation of prisoners and their families, and have recommended the creation of a specialised All India Prison Service along the lines of the IPS or IAS.
- Over time, police officers have been appointed or deputed to prisons even at the lower levels in Gujarat and Punjab, to name a couple of states.
- The logic for these appointments is the same as that used to appoint police officers as heads of the prison departments.
- But an added rationale is that prison departments have limited strength at the officer level, leading to malpractices.
- The suggested solution is to bring fresh talent from outside, who would not have any long-term stake in the system. The absence of a sufficiently large pool of officers to choose from is used as a ground to bring police officers into the system.
- To address the ills in the police system, one does not advocate the appointment of army officers, and rightly so.
- Each department is created for a purpose and involves training inputs specific to the job requirements.
- Police personnel are recruited and trained to detect crime and maintain law and order, while prison officers are recruited and trained to reform and rehabilitate offenders. If the objective is not being served, one needs to analyse the reasons for the same.
- In a few states, a prison officer who starts his career as a deputy superintendent of a central prison can end up as Additional IG or IG Prisons, whereas in most states, one can only rise to the rank of DIG Prisons.
- Prison officers are a demotivated lot, often at the receiving end of a criminal justice system and the media, which is quick to highlight their misdemeanours and violations without going into the systemic reasons for the same.
- Lastly, appointing police officers in prisons either as superintendents or as jailors amounts to a violation of the principle of separation of powers enshrined in our Constitution.
- The meaning of judicial custody is that the police investigation is over and the accused is now taken out of police custody and handed over to the prison custody under the supervision of the judiciary.
- In fact, a police officer is not allowed to enter prison without a court order, unless a crime takes place inside and the prison authorities report the matter to the police.
- In such a scenario, asking a police officer to head a prison is a gross violation of the letter and spirit of this provision.
What needs to be done?
- Invest in the prison system in terms of resources and staff.
- Appoint social workers and counsellors in sufficient numbers.
- Conduct regular training in human rights and social reintegration for prison staff.
- Fill vacancies, which are as high as 30 to 40% as per the India Justice Report 2020.
- Create sufficient scope for upward mobility for prison officers, so that good work can be rewarded with promotions.
Read more on Prison Reforms- Click here.
Aadhaar as a hurdle: On authentication failures and welfare delivery
Relevance: Issues arising out of govt. policies, issues faced by the vulnerable sections of the society.
- Recently, the Supreme Court did the right thing by terming as serious the allegation by a petitioner that three crore ration cards were cancelled for not being linked with the Aadhaar database without prior notice to the beneficiaries, and that these were connected to reported starvation deaths in some States.
About Unique Identification Authority of India:
- The unique identification scheme has been in existence for more than a decade and recent data has estimated that nearly 90% of India’s projected population has been assigned the Aadhaar number.
- These include inefficiencies in biometric authentication and updating, linking of Aadhaar with bank accounts, and the use of the Aadhaar payment bridge.
- The Parliament had passed the Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2019 which allows voluntary use of Aadhaar as proof of identity.
- The existing Aadhar act provides for the use of the Aadhaar number as proof of identity of a person, subject to authentication.
- The Bill replaces this provision to state that an individual may voluntarily use his Aadhaar number to establish his identity, by authentication or offline verification.
- The Bill states that authentication of an individual’s identity via Aadhaar, for the provision of any service, may be made mandatory only by a law of Parliament.
- The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is a statutory authority established by the Government of India under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, following the provisions of the Aadhaar Act 2016.
- The UIDAI is mandated to assign a 12-digit unique identification (UID) number (Aadhaar) to all the residents of India.
- The UIDAI was initially set up by the Government of India in January 2009, as an attached office under the aegis of the Planning Commission.
The consequences of failed Aadhaar-based biometric authentication:
- Around half a dozen people have allegedly died of starvation in Jharkhand in the last six months.
- Most of them were reportedly denied rations from the Public Distribution System shops for failing to have Aadhaar-based biometric authentication.
- Two women in different districts in Jharkhand died of alleged starvation last week, prompting Chief Minister to order a probe.
- The government reports said the women were sick; family members claimed they died of hunger.
- The insistence on Aadhar and biometric authentication had led to the cancellation of nearly four crore ration cards in the country according to the Union of India.
- The Union of India casually gives an explanation that these cancelled cards were bogus.
- The real reason is that the technological system based on iris identification, thumbprints, non-possession of Aadhaar, non-functioning of the internet in rural and remote areas, etc, led to largescale cancellation of ration cards without notice to the family concerned.
- Biometric authentication failures are but expected of a large scale and technology-intensive project such as the UID.
- Despite being designed to store finger and iris scans of most users, doubts about the success rates of authentication and the generation of “false negatives” have always persisted, more so for labourers and tribal people.
- Those engaged in manual and hard labour, for example, are susceptible to fingerprint changes over time.
- In practice, beneficiaries have tended to use Aadhaar cards as identity markers but there have been instances of people losing cards and being denied benefits.
Why the Aadhaar-PDS link?
- Though the Supreme Court has said Aadhaar linkage is voluntary, at the village and panchayat levels, little appears to have changed.
- For a person who gets foodgrains through the PDS, it is mandatory for him or her to follow the Aadhaar-Based Biometric Authentication (ABBA) system that is the practice of using an electric point of sale (PoS) machine for each transaction.
- For implementing the ABBA system, it is necessary to have Aadhaar seeding, which is to get one’s Aadhaar number linked to the ration card.
What are the hurdles due to Aadhar?
- To get benefits under the PDS, biometric authorisation is required and this calls for technological necessities that villages lack: uninterrupted power supply, a functioning PoS machine, adequate mobile and Internet connectivity and ensuring that data repository servers are running smoothly.
- So, every time a person has to get rations from a PDS shop, he/she has to pray that all these variables work.
- With benefits under the PDS, the NREGA and LPG subsidy, among other essentials, requiring individuals to have the Aadhaar number, inefficiencies and failures have led to inconvenience and suffering for the poor.
- There are reports that show failures in authentication has led to delays in the disbursal of benefits and, in many cases, in their denial due to cancellation of legitimate beneficiary names.
- The government had promised that exemption mechanisms that would allow for overriding such failures will help beneficiaries still avail subsidies and benefits despite system failures.
- The Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSPs) of the Indian Constitution mandates the government to provide various kinds of welfare measures to the people.
- These initiatives like old-age pension, scholarships, food supply at cheap prices suffered from issues of leakages in absence of proper universal identification tool.
- Given the scale of the problem, the central and state governments would do well to allow alternative identification so that genuine beneficiaries are not denied due subsidies.
- Right to food, which the ration card symbolised, cannot be curbed or cancelled because of lack of Aadhaar.
- The question of fraud can still be addressed by the use of other verification cards and by decentralised disbursal of services at the panchayat level.
Sri Lanka’s war on terror: burqa ban, draconian Act, ‘deradicalisation’
Relevance: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian Diaspora.
- From mulling burqa ban to de-radicalisation law, the Sri Lankan government has taken several steps as part of a crackdown against 'Islamic extremism in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday bombings of 2019.
Burqa, hijab & national security:
- The burqa ban has been officially linked to national security and Islamist extremism.
- If the ban goes through, as it likely will- the Mahinda Rajapaksa government has a two-thirds majority in Parliament- Sri Lanka will be among a handful of non-Muslim countries, mostly in Europe, where the garment will be outlawed.
- Earlier this year, a government rule that Muslims who died of Covid-19 could not be buried saw community leaders go to court.
- Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan also took up the issue publicly ahead of his visit. Up against international criticism at the UN Human Rights Council on the Tamil issue, the government has since allowed the burials.
- Along with the burqa ban, the government would shut down 1,000 madrasas.
- The government has also armed itself with new regulations under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act to detain for up to two years for the purpose of ”deradicalisation” of anyone suspected of harbouring extremist ideas, or for spreading religious, communal or ethnic hatred.
- The ban is likely to increase the feeling among Sri Lankan Muslims that they are being collectively punished for the actions of a few in the community.
- The Easter attacks and the “othering” of Muslims that followed have set on edge a minority community that was once seen as better integrated with the national and political mainstream than the Tamils.
- But even before the deadly attacks, the Muslim community intermittently faced targeting by extremist organisations claiming to represent the majority Buddhist such as the Bodhu Bala Sena, Sinhala Ravaya, Sinhala and Mahason Balaya.
- The BBS is the most powerful of these groups as President Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahindra Rajapaksa were seen associating with it.
- The campaigns by these groups have centred on the wearing of the hijab, burqa and niqab by Muslim women, and the halal labelling on food packaging, and have led to much tension between the two communities, especially in post-war Sri Lanka. Several riots targeting Muslims have taken place over the last decade.
Other countries which have banned Burqa:
- Sri Lanka’s burqa ban announcement came close on the heels of the March 8 Swiss ban on the garment, which came after a national referendum. In a sharply worded statement, UN Human Rights Council criticised the Swiss ban as “discriminatory” and “deeply regrettable”.
- Other countries that have banned the burqa include the Netherlands, Denmark and France.
Indian monsoon 25 million years ago resembled present-day Australia’s
Relevance: geographical features and their location- changes in critical geographical features and the effects of such changes.
- Using leaf fossils, researchers have found that the Indian monsoon 25 million years ago resembled present-day Australia’s.
- About 180 million years ago, India separated from the ancient supercontinent Gondwana and took a long northward journey of about 9,000 km to join Eurasia.
- During this journey, the subcontinent moved from the southern hemisphere, crossed the Equator to reach its current position in the northern hemisphere.
- Due to these changing latitudes, it experienced different climatic conditions, and a new study has now tried to map these climatic variations using leaf fossils.
- The evolution of the monsoonal climate in India is still debatable and not fully understood.
- Though recent data indicates that the monsoon system we experience now dates back to about 25 million years, it is still unclear how the climate was during its long voyage.
- The researchers analysed the morphological characters of fossil leaves collected from Deccan Volcanic Province, East Garo Hills of Meghalaya, Gurha mine in Rajasthan and Makum Coalfield in Assam.
- The four fossil assemblages were found to be from four different geological ages.
- It has been observed from across the globe that plant leaf morphological characters such as apex, base and shape are ecologically tuned with the prevailing climatic conditions.
- The research applied this model to characterize the past monsoon from fossil leaves.
Findings of the research
- The results indicated that the fossil leaves from India were adapted to an Australian type of monsoon and not the current Indian monsoon system during its voyage.
- The reconstructed temperature data show that the climate was warm (tropical to subtropical) at all the studied fossil sites with temperatures varying from 16.3–21.3 degrees C.
- All the fossil sites experienced high rainfall, which varied from 191.6 cm to 232 cm.
Procurement and payment: Here’s how and why Maharashtra’s online system works
Relevance: Transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints, e-technology in the aid of farmers, issues of buffer stocks and food security; Technology missions.
- Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh described as “another provocation” to agitating farmers the move by the Food Corporation of India (FCI) to ask for land records in order to make direct e-payments for procurement of paddy and wheat.
- The sharing of land records and making online payments directly into farmers’ bank accounts is not new- sugarcane farmers in Maharashtra accepted payments in this way even when the penetration of banks was much lower in the country.
How does the system work in Maharashtra?
- Unlike in Punjab or Haryana, the FCI’s role in government-led procurement operations at Minimum Support Price (MSP) is minimal in Maharashtra.
- Given the state’s crop profile, the major players in MSP operations in Maharashtra are the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation (NAFED) and Cotton Corporation of India (CCI).
- NAFED operates through sub-agencies like the Maharashtra State Cooperative Marketing Federation and Vidarbha Cooperative Marketing Federation.
- CCI appoints the Maharashtra State Cooperative Cotton Growers’ Marketing Federation as its sub-agent mainly for procurement in the districts of Vidarbha.
- Both these central agencies wade in to procure only when the average traded prices of commodities like toor, chana, kapaas (raw unginned seed cotton), soybean, etc. in the wholesale markets fall below their government declared MSP.
- Active procurement stops once wholesale prices cross the MSP.
- For example, for the current season, NAFED had started procurement of soybean, but the operation ended as soon as mandi prices crossed the MSP.
- Once the target for procurement (this is generally 25% of the final yield) is declared, the sub-agencies are asked to activate ground operations.
- In the case of NAFED, the actual procurement is done through village-level cooperative marketing unions; CCI itself buys from farmers at designated centres.
- Farmers who want to sell their produce at the centres have to register using their land documents, sowing certificates issued by the village-level revenue officer, Aadhaar, PAN, and bank details. Once the registration is complete, the farmer gets an SMS giving the probable date of procurement.
- The farmer is expected to bring his produce to the designated centre on the designated day. Payment is usually transferred to the farmer’s bank account within a few days.
APMCs, arhtiyas, traders:
- Before MahaFPC, the apex body of Farmer Producer Companies (FPCs) in the state, came into the picture in 2014, procurement for pulses and oilseeds happened in the mandis. MahaFPC took procurement to the village level, acting through member FPCs.
- In the case of CCI, the Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs) certify the farmer’s credentials, and the actual delivery takes place at the designated processing units, which are mostly located near the APMCs.
- In both cases, the role of APMCs is limited, and arhtiyas/traders have no involvement in the official procurement process.
- Ground-level agencies like the cooperative unions or FPCs who actually carry out procurement levy a very small service charge, but APMCs do not impose any levy on government procurement.
- Thus, the financial stakes for mandis, arhtiyas, or traders in the process are virtually non-existent. In fact, government procurement is more the exception than the norm for the majority of the farmers in the state.
Potential for glitches:
- Land records and revenue documents are critical to validate the farmer’s claim on the crop, and bank details help track the movement of funds.
- In the case of NAFED-led procurement, NAFED pays the sub-agents, who transfer the money to ground-level agencies who, in turn, give it to farmers in their accounts.
- Procurement involves stages of registration, delivery, and payment, and takes some time.
- While CCI’s centres open after October for procurement of kapaas, procurement for oilseeds is often delayed- this is for reasons ranging from delays in decision-making to the absence of ground-level infrastructure to implement the procurement.
- There have been discussions about the need for MahaFPC to step in where the intervention of cooperative bodies has not been effective.
- A few years ago, when back-to-back bumper crops of toor crashed the markets, many farmers suffered because they did not get the SMS asking them to bring their produce to the markets.
- The best example by far of another mostly online procurement system is sugar.
- Farmers register their cane with mills well in advance, which allows the mills to draw up a programme for harvesting.
- Given the size of the payments involved, mills in Maharashtra have long relied on bank transfers using NEFT, RTGS, etc. modes.