Government Schemes & Policies
- Fair treatment of a child witness
- National Security Act
Issues related to Health & Education
- Neonatal mortality in India
- Railways Corporate Train model
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- New species of urban lizard
- Madhav National Park
- Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary
- Relocating the grave of Dara Shikoh
Science & Technology
- Supergiant star Betelgeuse
- ISRO’s bucket list of satellites
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Government Schemes & Policies
Fair treatment of a child witness
The Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights has pulled up the district police for violations, including repeated questioning of the children.
What is the issue?
- A public interest petition has been filed in the Karnataka High Court seeking a departmental inquiry against the policemen who allegedly questioned the children of Shaheen School, aged between 9 and 12, without the consent of their parents or guardians, and also video-recorded them without consent.
- The PIL referred to a statement by the Shaheen Alumni Association to say that the children were questioned by policemen carrying guns, which created an “intimidating and fearful environment”.
- The PIL has asked for guidelines to be issued to police regarding interrogation of minors in criminal proceedings in accordance with the Juvenile Justice Act and United Nations resolutions.
The PIL seeks for these questions:
- How does the law in India and resolutions of the UN address the issue of questioning children?
- What are the safeguards for children being made witnesses?
What are the international conventions on children in these situations?
1. UN Convention on the Rights of the Child:
- India has been a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child since 1992, which was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1989.
The Convention states: “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”
2. United Nations: Justice in Matters involving Child Victims and Witnesses in Crime Law:
- In 2009, ‘United Nations: Justice in Matters involving Child Victims and Witnesses in Crime: Model Law’ provided a more specific set of guidelines in the context of child witnesses.
- These guidelines recommend that authorities treat children in a caring and sensitive manner, with interview techniques that “minimise distress or trauma to children”.
- They recommend specifically that an investigator specially trained in dealing with children be appointed to guide the interview of the child, using a child-sensitive approach.
- The investigator shall, to the extent possible, avoid repetition of the interview during the justice process in order to prevent secondary victimisation of the child.
What is Secondary victimisation?
- Secondary victimisation is defined as victimisation that occurs not as a direct result of a criminal act, but through the response of institutions and individuals to the victim.
- Child rights activists say that children repeatedly questioned by authorities while in police uniform, without the presence of their parents, can lead to such trauma.
How do Indian laws address the issue of child witnesses?
1. Indian Evidence Act, 1872:
- Under Section 118 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, there is no minimum age for a witness.
- Children as young as three years old have deposed before trial courts in cases of sexual abuse.
- Usually during a trial, the court, before recording the testimony of a child witness, determines his or her competency on the basis of their ability to give rational answers.
- A child is usually asked questions like their name, the school they study in, and the names of their parents to determine their competency.
- If the child is very young and does not understand the significance of taking an oath to speak the truth — which is administered to each witness before testimony — the judge or the staff explain to the child that he or she should speak the truth, thinking of whichever God they believe in.
- Trials involving children as witnesses have primarily been in cases of child sexual abuse.
- Other criminal cases where children are examined as witnesses have included those where a parent is the victim of violence at home, in the sole presence of the child.
Have courts dealt with how child witnesses are to be treated?
Guidelines by Delhi High Court:
- The Delhi High Court has come up with guidelines for recording of evidence of vulnerable witnesses in criminal matters.
- A vulnerable witness is defined as anyone who has not completed 18 years of age.
- Focusing primarily on child witnesses giving testimonies that are recorded in court, the Delhi High Court guidelines underline the importance of the criminal justice system needing to respond proactively, sensitively, and in an age-appropriate manner when dealing with children.
- The lengthy process of navigating the formal and adversarial criminal justice system can affect the vulnerable witnesses’ psychological development.
- They allow for a facilitator for a vulnerable witness to be appointed by a court for effective communication between various stakeholders including the police.
- In 2016, the Delhi High Court said that while children can be pliable, their testimony can be considered after careful scrutiny.
Laws pertaining to the questioning of children:
1. Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015:
- The primary legislation in the country pertaining to children is The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015.
- The Act does not provide guidelines specifically relating to questioning or interviewing of children as witnesses.
- The Act’s very preamble, however, says that a “child-friendly approach in the adjudication and disposal of matters in the best interest of children” must be adhered to.
- For example: For the police to not be in their uniform while dealing with children.
- It also requires that interviews of children be done by specialised units of police who are trained to sensitively deal with them.
- The Act prescribes that a Special Juvenile Police Unit is to be constituted by the state government in each district and city, headed by a police officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police, and including two social workers, at least one of whom must be a woman, and both of whom should be experienced in the field of child welfare.
- Their work includes coordinating with the police towards sensitive treatment of children.
- The Act also provides for a Child Welfare Committee in every district to take cognisance of any violations by the authorities in their handling of children.
2. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012:
- Apart from the Juvenile Justice Act, The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 has specific guidelines regarding interviewing children as witnesses.
- While it pertains to child sexual abuse victims, child rights activists say the guidelines are a framework for all children who are being interviewed by the police as witnesses.
- The Act states that interviews should be conducted in a safe, neutral, child-friendly environment, including allowing for them to be done at homes.
- It says a child should not be made to recount the incident in question multiple times.
- The Act also allows for a support person, who could be trained in counselling, to be present with the child to reduce stress and trauma.
National Security Act
The National Security Act was promulgated on September 23, 1980, during the Indira Gandhi government and its purpose is to provide for preventive detention in certain cases and for matters connected therewith.
What is National Security Act?
- The National Security Act is a stringent law that allows preventive detention for months, if authorities are satisfied that a person is a threat to national security or law and order.
- The person does not need to be charged during this period of detention. The goal is to prevent the individual from committing a crime.
Grounds for Preventive Detention:
As per the National Security Act, the grounds for preventive detention of a person include:
- Acting in any manner prejudicial to the defence of India, the relations of India with foreign powers, or the security of India.
- Regulating the continued presence of any foreigner in India or with a view to making arrangements for his expulsion from India.
- Preventing them from acting in any manner prejudicial to the security of the State or from acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of public order or from acting in any manner prejudicial to the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the community it is necessary so to do.
Criticism of the law:
- Under the National Security Act, an individual can be detained without a charge for up to 12 months; the state government needs to be intimated that a person has been detained under the NSA.
- A person detained under the National Security Act can be held for 10 days without being told the charges against them.
- In the normal course, if a person is arrested, he or she is guaranteed certain basic rights.
- These include the right to be informed of the reason for the arrest. Section 50 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) mandates that the person arrested has to be informed of the grounds of arrest, and the right to bail.
- Sections 56 and 76 of the CrPC provide that a person has to be produced before a court within 24 hours of arrest. Additionally, Article 22(1) of the Constitution says an arrested person cannot be denied the right to consult, and to be defended by, a legal practitioner of his choice.
- But none of these rights are available to a person detained under the NSA.
- The detained person can appeal before a high court advisory board but they are not allowed a lawyer during the trial.
- The individual can be put under preventive detention for months if authorities are satisfied that he/she is a threat to national security or law and order.
Issues related to Health & Education
Neonatal mortality in India
According to the National Health Mission (NHM), Madhya Pradesh has recorded the highest percentage of new-born deaths of 11.5% against the total admissions to government-run sick new-born care units (SNCUs) in the past three years across the country, far above the country’s average of 7%.
Major Highlights of the report:
- Although admissions of neonates (under 28 days) in the Madhya Pradesh have dropped from April 2017 to December 2019 — remaining lower than West Bengal, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh but the percentage of deaths at 12.2% surpassed Bihar’s last year.
- Meanwhile, West Bengal, where 34,344 neonatal deaths occurred in the period, the most in the country, the declining percentage of deaths from 9.2% in 2017 to 8.9% in 2019 coincided with a slump in admissions.
- In Bhopal, one in every five children admitted to a unit died in the three years — the highest death percentage of 19.9% in the State, ten times above the NHM’s mandated key performance indicator of below 2%.
- Madhya Pradesh has also recorded an abysmal sex ratio in admissions — of 663 (number of girls admitted against 1,000 boys) in the three years against the country average of 733, though its sex ratio was 931 as per the 2011 census.
What is Neonatal mortality?
- The number of neonatal deaths per 1000 live births.
- A neonatal death is defined as a death during the first 28 days of life (0-27 days).
Factors responsible for Neonatal mortality:
- Staff crunch, low community referrals, absence of a special neonatal transport service to health centres, reliance on units in cities as last resort and the non-availability of enough units to cater to increasing institutional deliveries had contributed to the spike in the percentage of deaths.
- Other factors included shortfall of surgeons, gynaecologists, physicians and paediatricians is available at hospitals.
- The reasons for neonatal deaths are more clinical than other child deaths.
- With increasing institutional deliveries in the State (80.8% as per the National Family Health Survey-4, 2015-2016), the number of neonatal care units, being optimally utilised, had not been increased proportionally.
- The major challenge, however, remained community referrals, significantly aided by ASHA workers — only one in ten sick neonates born outside a hospital is taken to an SNCU.
- This is due to the absence of transport, inability to identify a disease by parents, and lack of awareness.
- Urban areas report a higher death percentage as they offer tertiary care, and admit several serious cases from peripheral districts.
- When the number of institutional deliveries are increasing, the child is the unit’s responsibility. Blaming everything on the community and lack of awareness is a convenient way out for the NHM.
Neonatal mortality in India:
- According to the Sample Registration System, neonatal deaths in India mainly occur owing to premature births and low birth weight (35.9%), pneumonia (16.9%), birth asphyxia and birth trauma (9.9%), other non-communicable diseases (7.9%), diarrhea (6.7%), congenital anomalies (4.6%) and infections (4.2%).
- Under the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, each country, including India, has aimed to bring down neonatal mortality to at least 12 per 1,000 live births.
- In 2018, neonatal mortality stood at 23 per 1,000 live births for India.
Railways Corporate Train model
The Kashi Mahakal Express is the country’s third ‘corporate’ train after the two Tejas Express trains between Delhi-Lucknow and Mumbai-Ahmedabad started over the past few months.
Key things about the new Indian Railways private model:
- All the decisions of running the service including food, fare, on-board facilities, housekeeping, complaints, etc., are taken by the corporation.
- The national transporter is free from these encumbrances and gets to earn a pre-decided amount from IRCTC.
- The amount comprises three components– lease, haulage, and custody.
- The amount is payable even if the occupancy of the train is below expectations and is not doing good business.
- According to the report, IRCTC insists that the coaches it receives from Indian Railways are new and not in a run-down condition, as the quality of the coaches has a direct bearing on its business.
- In the corporate train model, IRCTC has full flexibility to decide the service parameters.
- Also, the corporation has the rights to alter the parameters without going to the Railway Ministry.
3. Key decision making:
- Depending on the needs of its business model, IRCTC gets to decide the number of stoppages it wants to afford on a route.
- For instance, the Lucknow-Delhi Tejas Express has two stops, whereas Mumbai-Ahmedabad Tejas Express has six stops.
4. Pre-decided amount from IRCTC:
- For Indian Railways, the good thing is that it doesn’t have to suffer the losses that are associated with operating these trains.
- This is because there is less chance of under-recovery of cost due to low fares as well as hefty overheads.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
New species of urban lizard
A new species of lizard – the urban bent-toed gecko has been found in Guwahati, the largest city in the Northeast.
Characteristics of the species:
- The new species of lizard, zoologically named Cyrtodactylus urbanus, is markedly different in molecular structure, blotch and colour from the Cyrtodactylus guwahatiensis, or the Guwahati bent-toed gecko, that was discovered two years ago.
- Until now, all bent-toed geckos in Northeast India were thought to be a single species.
- Though the urban bent-toed gecko falls within the khasiensis group, it differs from other members of this group in mitochondrial sequence data as well as aspects of morphology such as the number and arrangement of certain pores in males, the number of mid-ventral scales and colour pattern.
Significance of the study:
- This study tries to establish is that some urban spaces too have life forms that are often overlooked but in danger of being wiped out because of concrete development.
- More studies need to be done before time runs out for such life forms.
- Guwahati is home to 26 species of amphibians, 57 species of reptiles, 214 species of birds and 36 species of mammals.
- The city provides that edge for urban biodiversity to thrive because it encompasses 18 hills, eight reserve forests, two wildlife sanctuaries and a Ramsar site (wetland) besides the Brahmaputra river.
Madhav National Park
39 Saharia families, a particularly vulnerable tribal group (PVTG) in Madhya Pradesh have staged a dharna at the District Collectorate, demanding land allocation in lieu of compensation.
What is the issue?
- Many tribal families in the vicinity of the Madhav National Park were displaced from their native forest land 20-years ago to make way for a tiger corridor.
- While some of the families had accepted compensation, some still dwell there and have resumed farming.
- And as part of the rehabilitation package, which promised two-hectare land and relocation to each family, when Balapur village was being relocated, authorities belatedly noticed they had mistakenly allotted 61 families protected forest land instead of revenue.
- This stalled the process for 39 families, although relocated, awaiting ownership of two-hectare agricultural land, and are now forced to work as laborers.
Madhav National Park:
- Madhav National Park is situated in the Gwalior division in northwest Madhya Pradesh, India.
- It is 355 sq. km in area, located amidst the upper Vindhya and established in 1958.
- It was named after Madho Rao Scindia, the Maharaja of Gwalior belonging to the Scindia dynasty of the Marathas.
- Located in the region of Kathiawar-Gir dry deciduous forests, this national park has a varied terrain of forested hills and flat grasslands around the lake and is thus rich in biodiversity.
- Fauna: The predominant animal species in the park is the deer, Chinkara or Indian gazelle, and the chital. Other species that have their habitat in the park are Nilgai, Sambar, four-horned antelope, blackbuck, sloth bear, Indian leopard and the common langur.
Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary
The attempts of the Kerala Forest Department to push forward the proposal for notifying the sanctuary as the third tiger reserve in the State failed as the recently held State Wildlife Advisory Board rejected the proposal.
What is the issue?
- The ‘Status of Tigers in India’ report released in 2019 estimated the tiger population of Wayanad as between 75 and 80 individuals.
- Periyar Tiger Reserve, the first one in Kerala, has an estimated population of 30 to 35 big cats, whereas Parambikulam, the second reserve, has a population of 20 to 25 tigers.
- The officials pushed for the proposal for notifying the sanctuary as the third tiger reserve in the State, as more than half of the tiger population in Kerala was found in Wayanad.
- The arguments that the notification would ensure financial aid from the Centre and the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) for better conservation and management of the tiger population and help generate more employment opportunities, failed to impress the State authorities.
- The issue of human-wildlife conflicts in the district was flagged and the move failed referring to the public protests that were staged in Wayanad earlier against the proposal.
- There were speculations that the notification would bring in stringent restrictions on development activities in the district, though the department tried to counter the campaign.
Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary:
- Wayanad wildlife sanctuary is located in Kerala.
- It is bounded by protected area network of Nagarhole and Bandipur of Karnataka in the northeast, and on the southeast by Mudumalai of Tamil Nadu.
- It is a part of Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve.
- It was from this sanctuary that Pazhassi Raja fought valiantly against the British.
- Established in 1973, it is the second largest wildlife sanctuary in Kerala State.
- It comes under the Project Elephant jurisdiction, 1992 to protect wild elephant populations.
- The flora in the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary have the typical South Indian moist deciduous forests and West Coast semi-evergreen forests and plantations of teak, eucalyptus and oak.
- It has 4 forest ranges: Muthanga, Tholpetty, Kurichyad and Sulthan Bathery.
Relocating the grave of Dara Shikoh
The Ministry of Culture recently set up a seven-member panel of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to locate the grave of the Mughal prince Dara Shikoh (1615-59).
- He is believed to be buried somewhere in the Humayun’s Tomb complex in Delhi, one of around 140 graves of the Mughal clan.
- Eldest son of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, Dara Shikoh was born on March 20, 1615.
- Dara Shikoh had three younger brothers, and Aurangzeb was one of them.
- Dara Shikoh is described as a “liberal Muslim” who tried to find commonalities between Hindu and Islamic traditions.
- He translated the Bhagavad Gita to Persian as well as 52 Upanishads.
- Dara was unsuccessful in the third campaign against Kandahar in 1653 but remained trustworthy of his father.
- According to the Shahjahannama, after Aurangzeb defeated Dara Shikoh, he brought the latter to Delhi in chains.
- When Shah Jahan fell ill in 1657, 43-year-old Dara remained with his father hoping to inherit the crown, but his three younger brothers, especially Aurangzeb, opposed him.
- He was killed after losing the war of succession against his brother Aurangzeb.
- His head was cut off and sent to Agra Fort, while his torso was buried in the Humayun’s Tomb complex.
Relocating his grave:
- The exact place of burial of Dara Shikoh is not known.
- All that is known is that it’s a small grave in the Humayun’s Tomb complex.
- Most people point to a specific small grave there.
- Italian traveller Niccolao Manucci gave a graphic description of the day in Travels of Manucci, as he was there as a witness to the whole thing, being the basis of the thesis of relocation.
Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi:
- This tomb, built in 1570, is of particular cultural significance as it was the first garden-tomb on the Indian subcontinent.
- The tomb was commissioned by Humayun’s first wife and chief consort, Empress Bega Begum (Haji Begum).
- It inspired several major architectural innovations, culminating in the construction of the Taj Mahal.
- Humayun’s garden-tomb is also called the ‘dormitory of the Mughals’ as in the cells are buried over 150 Mughal family members.
- Persian and Indian craftsmen worked together to build the garden-tomb, which is an example of the charbagh(a four quadrant garden with the four rivers of Quranic paradise represented), with pools joined by channels.
Science & Technology
Supergiant star Betelgeuse
The astronomers using the European Space Organisation’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT), have noticed the unprecedented dimming of Betelgeuse, a red supergiant star in the constellation Orion.
What is the issue?
- Betelgeuse is a giant star, over 20 times bigger than the Sun in the constellation Orion.
- Astronomers are intrigued by the fact that along with the dimming, the star’s shape has been changing as well, as per recent photographs of the star taken using the VISIR instrument on the VLT.
- Instead of appearing round, the star now appears to be “squashed into ova”.
What is happening to Betelgeuse and why is it significant?
- Betelgeuse was born as a supermassive star millions of years ago and has been “dramatically” and “mysteriously” dimming for the last six months.
- According to a report in Sky and Telescope, among the brightest night time stars, Betelgeuse ranks 10th, but by the last week of December 2019, its brightness had dimmed so low, that the star was ranked as the 21st brightest, a remarkable decline — and a historic low.
- The report suggests that while Betelgeuse’s behaviour is out of the ordinary, it doesn’t mean that an eruption is imminent since astronomers predict the star to blast sometime (supernova explosion, which is the largest explosion to take place in space) in the next 100,000 years or so.
Hypotheses to explain the change:
- As per the ESO press release, astronomers do not think that Betelgeuse is dimming because it is going to explode. They have other hypotheses that may explain the reasons for Betelgeuse’s change in shape and dimming.
- The two scenarios possible are: a cooling of the surface due to exceptional stellar activity or dust ejection towards us.
- Of course, our knowledge of red supergiants remains incomplete, and this is still a work in progress, so a surprise can still happen.
Very Large Telescope (VLT):
- The Very Large Telescope is a telescope facility operated by the European Southern Observatory on Cerro Paranal in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile.
- At the Very Large Telescope (VLT), the telescopes work together, in groups of two or three, to form a giant ‘interferometer’, the ESO Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI).
- This allows astronomers to see details up to 25 times finer than with the individual telescopes.
Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is preparing to launch GISAT-1, a new earth observation satellite, in the first week of March 2020.
- GISAT-1 — Geo Imaging Satellite — will be the first of two planned Indian EO spacecraft to be placed in a geostationary orbit of around 36,000 km.
- It will apparently be in a fixed spot looking over the Indian continent at all times.
- It will be launched from Sriharikota satellite launch centre.
- All Indian EOs have been placed so far in a 600-odd-km orbits and circle the earth pole to pole.
- The satellite has high-resolution cameras to keep a constant watch on our borders, monitor any changes in the geographical condition of the country.
Other projects of ISRO:
- The government has already approved the Chandrayaan-3 project. ISRO is planning to re-launch the project within a year and is hopeful to be successful to land near the lunar southern pole where no rover has landed so far.
- ISRO is expected to develop its own space station within a decade. Hopefully, in the next ten years, India will have its own space station like the U.S. and China.
- ISRO has planned to first send two unmanned spacecraft within a couple of years, and later a crewed mission in the third phase.
- Indian astronauts are already undergoing training in Russia. After the completion of their training, they will be part of the first manned mission Gaganyaan.
[Ref: The Hindu]
ISRO’s bucket list of satellites
According to the latest annual report of the Indian Space Research Organisation for 2019-20, ISRO is planning to send up an unusually large number of 10 Earth Observation (EO) satellites during 2020-21.
Plans of ISRO:
- ISRO’s list includes new categories such as the first Geo Imaging Satellite, GISAT-1.
- Three communication satellites — major category in space infrastructure — and two navigation satellites are planned for the coming financial year starting from April.
- The annual plan mentions 36 missions, another high for a year: these includes both satellites and their launchers.
- For the ongoing fiscal, ISRO had proposed launching six EO satellites, of which two are due to go.
- For 2021-22, the plan is to add eight EO satellites.
- In the ongoing fiscal 2019-20, 17 missions have been planned to be launched and up to six of them are due to be completed by March 31.
- ISRO was recently given a budget of nearly ₹13,480 crores for the next fiscal.
- Apart from GISAT-1 that is apparently fixed over the subcontinent at an orbit 36,000 km high, the space agency plans to launch a new series of high resolution HRSATs as a threesome on a single PSLV launcher.
- The upcoming EO satellites include radar imaging satellites RISAT-2BR2, RISAT- 1A and 2A; Oceansat-3 and Resourcesat-3/3S.
- The RISAT-2BR2 will form a triad fleet with its predecessors RISAT-2B and RISAT-2B1, all going around 120 degrees apart.
- They will increase the frequency of observation in the areas of interest to provide all-weather, day/night imaging services from space.
- The EO satellites are ostensibly sourced for benign uses such as land and agriculture watch.
- But their images also have a very important use for the military, for keeping an eye on the borders.
- The satellites such as RISATs, which carry a synthetic aperture radar on them, provide all-weather, 24-hour information to security agencies.
- ISRO says 19 national EO satellites, 18 communication satellites and eight navigation satellites are in service currently, driving uses from broadcasting, telephony, Internet services, weather and agriculture-related forecasting, security, disaster-time rescue and relief and location-based services.
- Three of the communication satellites are dedicated for military communication and networking.
[Ref: The Hindu]