Editorial Simplified: Deadly Brew | GS – II

Relevance :  GS Paper II, IV [Governance]


Theme of the article

A multi-pronged plan is needed to prevent the sale and consumption of toxic alcohol.


Why has this issue cropped up?

The death of more than 100 people to toxic alcohol in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand has exposed the thriving sale of illicit liquor in the region.


Alcoholism in India

India remains among the countries with a high number of alcohol-related deaths, with poor governance, corruption and distorted policies contributing to such periodic tragedies.


Major factors responsible for alcohol poisoning

  • Lack of affordable liquor for the poor
  • High taxes and excise raise prices
  • Cheap brews are peddled by criminal organisations, often in collusion with law enforcement personnel.
  • Sale of cheap liquor in pouches that are freely distributed during social events.
  • Severe bottlenecks in consumption of liquor are proving counterproductive.

Way forward

  • An enlightened policy is needed to strike a balance, curbing illicit flows with zero tolerance, discouraging consumption through social campaigns and reviewing levies on less harmful beverages.
  • It is essential to make an example of those who participate in the sale of the lethal brew, and investigate any nexus with the authorities.
  • It is vital that the capacities of the health system be upgraded to handle victims of toxic alcohol.
  • Toxicity often comes from drinking methanol, which results in blindness, tissue damage or death. Timely treatment through haemodialysis, infusion of sodium bicarbonate and ethyl alcohol can save lives.

Editorial Simplified: Time to Raise the Bar | GS – II

Relevance: GS 2, 4[ Governance]


Theme Of The Article

The judiciary needs a mechanism to regulate post-retirement government appointments.


Why has this issue cropped up?

Justice A.K. Sikri found himself in the eye of a storm arising from accepting a post offered by the government, last year, while being a judge of the court. By later turning down, he substantially redeemed the judiciary’s and his own honour. However, this is an issue that recurs frequently.


Instances  of accepting govt post by judiciary

  • After retirement, Justice Chagla had accepted a government appointment to serve as Indian Ambassador to the U.S. (1958-61) and later as Indian High Commissioner to the U.K (1962- 1963) . Soon after this he became a minister in Nehru’s cabinet.
  • As many as 70 out of 100 Supreme Court retired judges have taken up assignments in the National Human Rights Commission of India, National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, Armed Forces Tribunal, and the Law Commission of India, etc.

Should judges accept govt posts after retirement?

  • The practice of a judge looking forward to accepting employment under the government after retirement was undesirable as it could affect the independence of the judiciary.
  • The Tribunals should not be haven for retired persons and appointment process should not result in decisions being influenced if the Government itself is a litigant and appointment authority at the same time.
  • At the same time, it is also true that the valuable experience and insights that competent and honest judges acquire during their period of service cannot be wasted after retirement.
  • Unlike abroad, a judge of the higher judiciary in India retires at a comparatively young age and is capable of many more years of productive work.
  • However, government-sponsored post-retirement appointments will continue to raise a cloud of suspicion over the judgments the best judges delivered while in service.

Way forward

  • It is true that in law justice must not only be done but also be seen to be done. Therefore, the viable option is to establish a commission made up of a majority, if not exclusively, of retired judges to make appointments of competent retired judges to tribunals and judicial bodies.
  • It is desirable the Supreme Court invokes that methodology now and puts in place a process to regulate post-retirement appointments for judges. Such a process must sufficiently insulate the judiciary from the charge of being a recipient of government largesse.

Conclusion

The attacks on the fabric of independence of the judiciary will not be through engulfing flames but through small corrosive doses. Therefore, it is in the judiciary’s own interests to resolve this issue as expeditiously as it can.


 

Essential Facts (Prelims): 13th Feb, 2019


SIG716

Category: Defence & Security

  • The Army signed a contract with U.S. for SIG716 assault rifles for front-line soldiers deployed in operational areas.
  • The broad parameters for the weapon are an effective range of 500 m and weight of less than 3 kg.
  • The new rifles will replace the Indian National Small Arms System (INSAS) rifles.
  • This is the first project to be executed through the strategic partnership policy.
  • Under this, the chosen Indian private company will team up with the Original Equipment Manufacturer to build the product in India.
  • The EoI follows the Request for Information (RFI).

India- Maldives

Category: International

  • India and Maldives exchanged an agreement to facilitate visas for travel between the two countries.
  • Under the agreement, the government will free up the visa regime for Maldives citizens who travel to India for medical reasons and for education in particular.
  • The government has also agreed to grant visas for parents and other dependants to live in India while their children attend school here.
  • The agreement will ease visas on arrival for Indian businessmen, and bring cheer to Indians applying for work in the Maldives.
  • Indians are the second largest expatriate community in the Maldives, numbering about 22,000.
  • If a child from Maldives is being educated in India, his/ her entire family will get dependent visas.
  • For Indian professionals applying for employment visa in the island country, the employers will pay the fees and will get the paperwork done within 15 days.

Lighthouse projects

Category: Social sector

  • The Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs has instituted a challenge for States/ UTs to select six sites across the country for constructing the Lighthouse projects under GHTC-India.
  • The winning six States/ UTs that score the highest marks across the prescribed criteria will be awarded lighthouse projects.
  • The States/ UTs will receive Central Assistance to construct these projects.

Tiger

Category: Environment & ecology

  • The Gujarat forest department confirmed the presence of a tiger in the state, almost 25 years after the feline was last spotted in the forests of Dangs in the southern part of the state.
  • The Gir National Park and Sanctuary, home to Asiatic lions, is located around 500 kms from Lunawad-Santrampur forest where tiger was spotted.
  • The 1992 tiger census had reported the extinction of the animal from the state.
  • The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), a statutory body under the ministry of environment and forests, included Gujarat in its tiger census in 2018 — the first time since 1992.
  • The Gujarat government is likely to start tiger safaris soon with a tag line, “One state in India to have both tigers and lions”.

PM-KISAN

Category: Agriculture

  • PM-KISAN scheme, which will enable cash transfers to small and marginal farmers, will be headed by a chief executive officer (CEO) and the programme will run on a centralized software platform with realtime monitoring.
  • an official familiar with the details of the initiative said on condition of anonymity.
  • To implement the scheme, the government will rely on a ‘management information system platform’, a software that will connect states, banks and farmers
  • The scheme will offer Rs 6,000 a year in three instalments to all farmers who own cultivable land parcels under two hectares.
  • The CEO will be a civil servant.
  • Cash will be transferred by the Centre to beneficiaries electronically through the “State Notional Account”, a mechanism similar to the one being used for paying beneficiaries of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).
  • Each inclusion of beneficiaries will need to be accompanied by a self-declaration that the prospective beneficiary doesn’t fall within the criteria of those excluded from the scheme, such as taxpayers and government employees.

NUH Project

Category: Defence & security

  • Govt is to build 111 naval utility helicopters (NUH) in the country to replace the navy’s outdated fleet of French-designed Chetak choppers.
  • Defence minister-led Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) cleared the NUH project under the government’s strategic partnership (SP) model that seeks to provide impetus to the Make in India programme.
  • The SP model envisages local manufacturing of major defence platforms by an Indian strategic partner, which will collaborate with a foreign original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to set up production facilities in India.
  • The helicopters are expected to have an indigenous content of 60%.
  • As part of the NUH project, 16 choppers would be bought in a flyaway condition from the foreign OEM, and the remaining 95 will be built in the country.
  • The SP policy stipulates that “a minimum number of platforms, not exceeding 10-15% of the units being procured, may be manufactured on the premises of the original equipment manufacturer”.
  • The navy uses such choppers for search and rescue operations, medical evacuation, communication duties, anti-piracy and antiterrorism operations, humanitarian assistance and surveillance and targeting.

Editorial Simplified: The Solution Is Universal| GS – III


Relevance: GS Paper III


Theme of the article

Strengthening the MGNREGA would be more prudent than a targeted cash transfer plan like PM-KISAN.


Why has this issue cropped up?

Rural distress has hit unprecedented levels. To allay  the distress, one of the announcements in the Budget was the cash transfer scheme called Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN).


Is PM-KISAN a reasonable solution?

  • Comparison with MGNREGA
    •  A month of MGNREGA earnings for a household is more than a year’s income support through PM-KISAN anywhere in the country.
    • PM-KISAN is a targeted cash transfer programme and MGNREGA is a universal programme.
    • Around 40% of rural households are landless and depend on manual labour. The landless can earn through the MGNREGA but are not eligible for the PM-KISAN scheme.
  • Notwithstanding the meagre amount, the PM-KISAN might be pitting the landless against a small farmer.
  • Further, it is unclear how tenant farmers, those without titles, and women farmers would be within the ambit of the scheme.
  • There is also substantial evidence to demonstrate that universal schemes are less prone to corruption than targeted schemes.

Problems with  implementation of MGNREGA

  • The Centre has frequently tinkered with the wage payments system in the MGNREGA. Less than a third of the payments were made on time.
  • Repeated changes in processes result in a hurried bureaucratic reorientation on the ground, and much chaos among workers and field functionaries alike.
  • Field functionaries are pushed to meet stiff targets. Being short-staffed and inadequately trained, this results in many technical and unforeseen errors.
  • A case in point is the rushed manner in which Aadhaar has been implemented for the MGNREGA. Several MGNREGA payments have been rejected, diverted, or frozen as a consequence.
  • In the last four years alone, more than ₹1,300 crore of the MGNREGS wage payments have been rejected due to technical errors such as incorrect account numbers or faulty Aadhaar mapping. There have been no clear national guidelines to rectify these.
  • There are numerous cases of MGNREGS payments getting diverted to Airtel wallets and ICICI bank accounts.
  • In a recently concluded survey on common service centres in Jharkhand for Aadhaar-based payments, it was found that 42% of the biometric authentications failed in the first attempt, compelling them to come later.

Way forward

  • Strengthening an existing universal programme such as the MGNREGA would have been a prudent move instead of introducing a hasty targeted cash transfer programme.
  • The success of the PM-KISAN is contingent on there being reliable digital land records and reliable rural banking infrastructure.

Conclusion

At a time of such acute distress, the Central government needs to improve the existing      universal infrastructure of the MGNREGA before plunging into a programme pretending to augment farmers’ income.


Essential Facts (Prelims): 12th Feb, 2019


Hotels-50K

Category: Science & Technology

  • Scientists are hoping artificial intelligence can help identify and rescue child victims of sex trafficking via an app and more than a million crowdsourced pictures of hotel rooms.
  • Researchers launched an app in 2016 to collect photographs of 50,000 hotels around the world that could be matched up with online advertisements placed by traffickers, who often use selfies taken by their victims in hotel rooms.
  • Hotels-50K can be used to identify where trafficking victims are being held — and ultimately to rescue them.

India Wage Report

Category: International

  • This report has been released by the International Labour Organisation(ILO).
  • Real average daily wages for skilled agricultural workers increased just by 48 per cent from 1993–94 to 2011–12 while for legislators, senior officials and managers, it increased by 98 per cent over this nearly two-decade-long period, according to this report.

PMSYM

Category: Social sector

  • The proposed pension scheme for the unorganised sector workers — Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maandhan (PMSYM) — with the government as a co-contributor, has put a big question mark on the continuity and growth of the existing flagship pension scheme, Atal Pension Yojana (APY), which is also targeted at the same segment of the population.
  • It has also raised questions about duplication of the government’s pension initiatives.
  • The new scheme, promising Rs 3,000 per month pension, will benefit around 42 crore workers in the sector.
  • In APY, previously known as Swavalamban Yojana and announced in the 2015 Budget, the full contribution is by the subscriber.
  • The new pension scheme has the government as a 50 per cent co-contributor which is not there in the APY.

Skill Loan Scheme

Category: Social sector

  • Government of India has launched “Skill Loan Scheme” with a view to support youth by providing a loan facility to individuals who intend to take up skill development courses as per the Skill Loan eligibility criteria.
  • Skill Loan Scheme is applicable to all the member banks of Indian Bank Association (IBA) and any other bank and financial institution including Micro Finance Institution regulated by Reserve Bank of India (RBI).
  • Bank of India being the lead bank of Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship has been the first bank to notify and implement such a Skill Loan Scheme.
  • The Loans are available in the range of Rs.5,000/- to Rs.1,50,000/-.

PMEGP

Category: Social sector

  • MSME Ministry is implementing the Prime Minister’s Employment Generation Programme (PMEGP).
  • PMEGP is a major credit-linked subsidy scheme since 2008-09, to set up micro enterprises and to generate employment in rural and urban areas of the country.
  • The maximum cost of the project under PMEGP scheme is Rs.25.00 lakhs for manufacturing sector units and Rs.10.00 lakhs for units under service sector.
  • Under the scheme, women entrepreneurs are covered under Special Category and are entitled to 25% and 35% subsidies for the project set up in urban and rural areas respectively.
  • About 30% projects have been setup by women out of total projects set up under PMEGP.

Swachh Shakti

Category: social sector

  • Swachh Shakti-2019 is a national event which aims to bring in to focus the leadership role played by rural women in Swachh Bharat Mission.
  • Women Sarpanches and Panches from all over the country will be attending the event.
  • Govt launched the Swachh Shakti program first in 2017 at Gandhinagar, Gujarat.
  • The second Swachh Shakti event, Swachh Shakti-2018 was held at Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh.
  • Now the third edition is being inaugurated from Kurukshetra.
  • Swachh Shakti is an example of how at the grass root level, rural women champions are acting as a change agent to mobilize the community and lead from the front women taking initiatives for a Swachh Bharat.
  • The movement is a part of ongoing activities under the aegis of the Swachh Bharat Mission, launched on October 2nd, 2014, at achieving a Clean and Open Defecation Free (ODF) India by 2nd October, 2019.