Polity & Governance
- Supreme Court for open air jails, better treatment for prisoners
- Assam forms ‘State Capital Region’ around Guwahati
Government Schemes & Policies
- Assam Assembly adopts resolution for Population Policy
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- Snow leopard no longer ‘endangered’
Bilateral & International Relations
- India Signs Deal with JICA to Upgrade Alang-Sosiya Shipyards
- Japan teams up with India for Northeast
Defence & Security Issues
- Successful Development Trials of Astra Missile
Key Facts for Prelims
- Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon elected as Chair of the IOC Ethics Commission
- 16 September: International Day for Preservation of Ozone Layer
For IASToppers Current Affairs Analysis Archive, Click Here
Polity & Governance
Supreme Court for open air jails, better treatment for prisoners
While hearing a 2013 PIL on prevailing inhuman conditions prevailing in 1,382 prisons across the country, the Supreme Court of India has passed a slew of directions on prison reforms.
Important directions made by the court:
- All high courts have to register a suo motu petition to identify kin of prisoners who admittedly died an unnatural death after 2012 and award suitable compensation to them.
- All state governments should appoint counsellors and support persons for counselling prisoners, particularly first-time offenders.
- States should also study the availability of medical assistance to prisoners and take remedial steps wherever necessary.
- The Ministry of Woman and Child Development has been asked to discuss with the official concerned of the state governments “and formulate procedures for tabulating the number of children (if any) who suffer an unnatural death in child care institutions where they are kept in custody either because they are in conflict with law or because they need care and protection”.
- The Centre has to ensure circulation of its model prison manual, a monograph prepared by the National Human Rights Commission on suicides in prisons, and the Nelson Mandela Rules and guidelines on investigating deaths in custody issued by the International Committee of the Red Cross within one month to prison incharges of every states.
- The states should conduct training and sensitisation programmes for senior police officers of all prisons on their functions, duties and responsibilities and the rights and duties of prisoners.
- The government may consider extending the time or frequency of meetings by the family of a prisoner and explore the possibility of using phones and video conferencing for communication, also with their counsel.
Need for prison reforms:
- NHRC figures show that prisoners cut off from family and friends had a 50% more chance of committing suicide than those outside. The average suicide rate among the general public for this period is 11 (per 100,000) whereas the average suicide rate in prison is 16.9 (per 100,000). In other words, the average suicide rate in prisons is over 50% more than in normal conditions.
- Indian prisons face three long-standing structural constraints: overcrowding, thanks to a high percentage of undertrials in the prison population, understaffing and underfunding. The inevitable outcome is sub-human living conditions, poor hygiene, and violent clashes between the inmates and jail authorities.
- Besides, while 33% of the total requirement of prison officials still lies vacant, almost 36% of vacancy for supervising officers is still unfulfilled. In the absence of adequate prison staff, overcrowding of prisons leads to rampant violence and other criminal activities inside the jails.
- Indian jails have often been dubbed as a university for grooming criminals due to pathetic and inhumane conditions.
- In the absence of a robust Whistleblower Protection Act and structural changes to address the issues of overcrowding and understaffing, India’s prisons will continue to be heaven for politically connected criminals and hell for socio-economically disadvantaged undertrials, some regular media uproars notwithstanding.
- Fundamental rights of prisoners cannot be placed in the back-burner and the Centre and the states need to be more pro-active in sensitising staff about the need to treat prisoners as humanely as possible.
- As per the seventh schedule of the constitution, the management of prisons falls exclusively under the domain of the state government.
- In every state, the prison administrative machinery works under the chief of prisons who is a senior ranking IPS officer.
Assam forms ‘State Capital Region’ around Guwahati
In line with the National Capital Region, Assam will have a State Capital Region encompassing Guwahati and its peripheral areas with the passing of a bill in the state Assembly.
Rationale behind the move:
- The authority and guidelines of existing Guwahati Municipal Corporation Development Authority (GMDA), Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) and other urban authorities were not sufficient for desired development and growth of SCR.
- The Assembly recently passed Assam State Capital Region Development Authority (ASCRDA) Bill 2017 to set up the regional authority for preparation of a plan for rapid development of the SCR.
- The SCR shall comprise the districts of Kamrup Metropolitan, Kamrup, Nalbari, Darrang and Morrigaon, fully or partly. Capital Guwahati is in Kamrup Metropolitan district.
- ASCRDA will be the overall authority to direct, implement and monitor the development of SCR.
- ASCRDA will be headed by the State Chief Minister. It will prepare a regional plan for the area and coordinate the preparation of functional plans, regional plans, development schemes and project plans by the authority itself as well as by the municipal corporations, local bodies, panchayats and different government departments.
- The body will be entrusted to organise and oversee the financing of selected development projects in the State Capital Region through government funding as well as other sources of revenue.
Government Schemes & Policies
Assam Assembly adopts resolution for Population Policy
Asserting that the limited resources cannot afford the rapid population growth and raising an alarm over the fast changing demography of the State, the Assam legislative assembly has passed a new ‘Population and Women Empowerment Policy of Assam’.
Highlights of the policy:
- The policy has a strict two-child policy for government servants and elected/nominated representatives of panchayat, municipal and statutory bodies, with stress on women empowerment and awareness.
- The Policy seeks to empower women for making learned choice regarding motherhood as it would lead to better living conditions for the communities.
- The policy has provisions to bar people with more than two children from contesting election for panchayat, municipal and other statutory bodies and committees at the state level.
Assam’s Demography and its impact on economy:
- Assam’s average family size is 5.5 which is above the national average that has pushed the state’s population by almost one crore to 3.12 cr between 2001 and 2011 census while the population density is 398 as per 2011 census as against 340 in 2001.
- The population pressure has had a profound impact on the economy as Assam was among the lowest five States in terms of GDP growth (less than 6%) between 2005 and 2014.
- Also, the 37.9% of the population fall in the category of “poverty headcount ratio” of UNDP. At 61, the unemployment rate in the State is also high, compared to the national average of 50.
The policy has received flak from state’s minority outfits for being ‘against the marginalised’.
- Some argued that Muslims are not even 1% of the government workforce, and the policy intends to shut them out of the limited job opportunities in the future.
- There is a perception that Muslims have more children, but the world knows illiteracy and poverty add to the numbers.
- Some other argued that the population policy infringed upon the reproductive rights of women who could be forced into unsafe abortions.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
Snow leopard no longer ‘endangered’
The conservation status of snow leopard has been improved from “endangered” to “vulnerable”.
- The decision was announced by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – the global standard for assessing extinction risk.
- The status change followed a three-year assessment process by five international experts.
- However, experts have warned that the new classification did not mean the elusive creatures were safe.
- The animals still face serious challenges, including poaching and loss of prey in their high Himalayan habitat.
Difference between Endangered and Vulnerable:
- To be considered ‘endangered,’ there must be fewer than 2,500 mature snow leopards and they must be experiencing a high rate of decline.
- Being classed as “vulnerable” means a species has under 10,000 breeding animals left, with a population decline of at least 10% over three generations.
About Snow leopards:
- Snow leopards live in the mountainous regions of central and southern Asia.
- In India, their geographical range encompasses a large part of the western Himalayas including the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh in the eastern Himalayas.
- Snow leopards inhabit alpine and subalpine zones at elevations from 3,000 to 4,500 m or higher in the Himalayas.
- Snow leopards prefer steep, rugged terrains with rocky outcrops and ravines. This type of habitat provides good cover and clear view to help them sneak up on their prey.
- Their spotted coats change with the seasons – from a thick, white fur to keep them warm and camouflaged in winter, to a fine yellow-grey coat in summer.
- Previously, the snow leopard is listed as Endangered on the IUCN-World Conservation Union’s Red List of the Threatened Species. Now, it is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It was first placed on the endangered list in 1972.
- In addition, the snow leopard, like all big cats, is listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), which makes trading of animal body parts (i.e., fur, bones and meat) illegal in signatory countries.
- The snow leopard is the National Heritage Animal of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Bilateral & International Relations
India Signs Deal with JICA to Upgrade Alang-Sosiya Shipyards
The Union Government signed $76 million loan deal with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) for starting upgradation project related to environment management plan at Alang-Sosiya ship recycling shipyards in Gujarat.
- The project will be executed by Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) and is likely to be completed by 2022.
- The total cost of project is $111 million out of which $76 million will be provided by JICA as soft loan.
- Out of remaining amount, $25 million will be borne by Gujarat Government as taxes and fees and balance $10 million will be shared by Ministry of Shipping.
Benefits of the project
- This project will help Alang-Sosia ship-recycling yards to comply with international safety & environmental regulations. This will attract more business at recycling facilities at Alang, thereby further consolidate India’s share in global ship-recycling industry.
- It will also help in safeguarding marine and coastal environment. The use of advanced decontamination technology will rule out possibility of fire accidents in oil and chemical tankers, thereby ensuring workers safety.
- The project is expected to increase in direct employment from 50,000 to 92,000 people and in-direct employment from 1.5 lakhs to 3 lakh people.
About Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)
- The JICA is governmental agency that coordinates official development assistance (ODA) for government of Japan.
- Its mandate is assisting economic and social growth in developing countries, and promotion of international cooperation.
Japan teams up with India for Northeast
India and Japan have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to set up India Japan Act East Forum to enhance connectivity and promote developmental projects in Northeast India.
- It was one of the 15 major agreements signed between both countries during Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to India for the 12th Indo-Japan annual summit.
About the India Japan Act East Forum:
- The purpose of forum is to converge India’s Act East Policy with Japan’s Free and Open Asia-Pacific strategy in the backdrop of China’s One Belt One Road initiative.
- It will enhance connectivity and promote developmental projects in India’s Northeast region in an efficient and effective manner.
- It can complement India’s connectivity initiatives in Bangladesh, Myanmar and beyond, besides BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal) and BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) Motor Vehicle Agreements.
- Japan has historic connection with India’s northeast and is among few countries that India has allowed a presence in eight landlocked northeastern states which are India’s gateway to ASEAN members countries.
- India and Japan agree that improving connectivity between Asia and Africa is vital for achieving prosperity of the entire region.
Japanese Contribution to North East
- Japan has cooperated with variety of development projects in Northeast, ranging from connectivity infrastructure such as roads and electricity, water supply and sewage and environmental conservation such as forest resource management and biodiversity.
- India and Japan have signed document on Japanese loan and aid for highway development in Northeast which can complement India’s connectivity initiatives in Bangladesh, Myanmar and beyond.
- Japan is also extending loan of Rs.2,239 crore to India for ‘North East Road Network Connectivity Improvement Project’ to improve National Highway 40 (NH-40) and construct a bypass on NH-54 in Northeast. These projects are expected to improve intra-regional and international connectivity through regional economic development.
- China has expressed dissatisfaction over proposed Japanese investments in India’s North-East states. China warned that third-party should not meddle in border disputes between India and China.
- It held that negotiations are still on to settle eastern section of China-India border, so it is oppoing involvement of any third party in region in whatsoever form.
Defence & Security Issues
Successful Development Trials of Astra Missile
The Indian Air Force (IAF) successfully conducted developmental trials of indigenously developed Astra beyond visual range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) over the Bay of Bengal, off the coast of Chandipur in Odisha.
- They were final development flight trials of the missile, paving way for its early induction into IAF.
About Astra Missile:
- Astra is air to air beyond visual range air-to-air indigenously developed by DRDO.
- It is one of the smallest weapon system developed by DRDO, having length of 3.8-metre and weighing 154kg.
- It is single stage solid fuelled missile and has payload capacity of 15 kg conventional explosives.
- It possesses high Single Shot Kill Probability (SSKP) making it highly reliable.
- It is all-weather missile with active radar terminal guidance, excellent electronic counter-counter measure (ECCM) features, smokeless propulsion and process improved effectiveness in multi-target scenario.
- It has advance on-board electronic counter-measures that jam radar signals from enemy radar, making tracking of the missile difficult.
- It is fitted with terminal active radar-seeker and an updated mid-course internal guidance system that helps missile to locate and track targets.
- It can be launched from different altitudes and is capable of engaging targets at varying range and altitudes at both short-range targets (up to 20 km) in tail-chase mode and long-range targets (up to 80 km) in head-on mode.
- It is radar homing supersonic missile having maximum speed of Mach 4 (four times speed of sound).
- The missile can be integrated with all fighter aircraft of IAF including Sukhoi-30 MKI, Mirage-2000, MiG-29, Jaguar and the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA).
Key Facts for Prelims
Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon elected as Chair of the IOC Ethics Commission
- Former United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was elected as Chair of Ethics Commission of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for a four-year term.
- Ban was the eighth Secretary-General of the United Nations from January 2007 to December 2016.
- He has had a close relationship with the IOC as in 2009, IOC was granted Permanent Observer Status at the UN. He has also been the Olympic torch bearer.
- Ban’s first action as the Secretary General was to introduce a code of ethics to the organisation, which applies to all employees.
- He constituted an Ethics Committee to devise a unified set of standards and policies for the entire UN system.
- The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is the supreme authority of the worldwide Olympic movement.
- It is an international, non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Lausanne, Switzerland.
- Its mission is to develop, promote and protect the Olympic Movement in their respective countries.
- The NOCs are the only organisations that can select and designate the city which may apply to organise Olympic Games in their respective countries. In addition, they alone can send athletes to the Games.
16 September: International Day for Preservation of Ozone Layer
- The International Day for Preservation of Ozone Layer (or World Ozone Day) is observed every year on September 16 for the preservation of the Ozone Layer.
- This year, the theme for the Day is ‘Caring for all life under the sun’.
- The day was designated by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on December 19, 1994.
- Its observance commemorates the date in 1987 on which the Montreal Protocol was signed on substances that deplete the ozone layer.
- It also is intended to spread awareness of the depletion of the Ozone Layer and search for solutions to preserve it.