Polity & Governance
- Uddhav’s nomination to Council: Issues in Constitution
- A nifty-post COVID justice
- Why have governments failed to do better?
Government Schemes & Policies
- Dearness Allowance 2020 Frozen, No Arrears to be Paid
Issues related to Health & Education
- MGR Medical University develops vaccine candidate
- To print more money, or not to
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
- First-ever digital geological map of moon released by US Geological Survey
- NBWL nod for coal mining in Assam elephant reserve
- White Tiger
- Khudai Khidmatgar
Art & Culture
Science & Technology
- DRDO offers oxygen plants to hospitals in far-flung areas
- The curious Curies
- IIT researchers develop tool to predict spread of COVID-19
Key Facts for Prelims
- Chitra Magna
- Khongjom Day
- Deep nudes
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Polity & Governance
Uddhav’s nomination to Council: Issues in Constitution
Recently, Maharashtra Cabinet recommended to Governor that Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray should be nominated to one of the seats reserved for the Governor’s nominee in the state Legislative Council.
- A fortnight on, Governor is yet to act on the Cabinet’s recommendation even as the Chief Minister’s current term in office approaches its end.
Provisions of the Constitution
- As per Article 164(4), “a Minister who for any period of six consecutive months is not a member of the Legislature of the State shall at the expiration of that period cease to be a Minister”.
- It follows that the Chief Minister must become part of the Maharashtra legislature before May 27; however, with the pandemic raging, a by-election cannot be held.
- The only way to fulfil the requirement, therefore, is for Thackeray to be nominated to the Upper House by the Governor.
S R Chaudhuri vs State of Punjab case
- In S R Chaudhuri vs State of Punjab and Ors (2001), the Supreme Court had ruled that “it would be subverting the Constitution to permit an individual, who is not a member of the Legislature, to be appointed a Minister repeatedly for a term of ‘six consecutive months’, without him getting himself elected in the meanwhile.”
The nomination route
- The nomination route for non-member Ministers is less common — but not unconstitutional. In 1952, C Rajagopalachari was nominated as Chief Minister of Madras by Governor.
- Under Article 171(5), the Governor can nominate “persons having special knowledge or practical experience in respect of literature, science, art, co-operative movement and social service”.
- Thackeray is an ace wildlife photographer and, as per the Allahabad High Court in Har Sharan Varma vs Chandra Bhan Gupta (1961), even politics can be seen as ‘social service’.
The role of the Governor
- It has been argued that Section 151A of The Representation of the People Act, 1951, prohibits the filling of a vacancy if “the remainder of the term of a member in relation to a vacancy is less than one year”. However, this cannot be a reason for the Governor to refuse nomination because the bar is in respect of by-election to fill a vacancy, not nomination.
- Of course, the Governor could argue that he is not obligated under the Constitution to act on the advice of the Council of Ministers. But it is important to note that India is currently battling a health emergency.
What are the limits to the Governor’s discretion in nominations?
- In Biman Chandra Bose vs Dr H C Mukherjee (1952) the Calcutta High Court rejected the plea that none of the nine nominated members to the legislature fulfilled the required criteria, and held that the Governor cannot use his discretion in nominating members to the Council. He has to go by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers.
- Article 163(1) of the Constitution makes it clear that the Governor must follow the recommendations of the Council of Ministers in all situations “except in so far as he is by or under this Constitution required to exercise his functions or any of them in his discretion”.
- It can be argued that Governer is bound by the advice of the Council of Ministers only in executive matters and since the nomination of members is not an executive power, he can act in his discretion.
- However, under Article 169, while Parliament has the power to abolish or create a Legislative Council, it can pass such a law only after the state Assembly has passed a resolution to that effect. Thus, the legislative power of the Assembly can be inferred from this provision.
- Also, the Constitution specifically mentions the situations in which the Governor can act in his discretion, e.g., Article 239 (Administration of Union Territories), Article 371 (Special provision with respect to the States of Maharashtra and Gujarat) etc.
- Even the Governor’s pardoning powers are to be exercised on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers (Maru Ram vs Union of India, 1980).
- In Hargovind Pant vs Dr Raghukul Tilak & Ors (1979), the Supreme Court held that the Governor is not an employee of the central government. He is neither under its control nor accountable to it, and is an independent constitutional office.
A nifty-post COVID justice
COVID-19 pandemic is the time to bring in innovations and new paradigms in the administration of justice.
- Though what follows is Supreme Court-centric, it can be replicated with appropriate modifications at all levels of the judiciary. What is sadly missing uniform protocol at each level of the hierarchy.
- First, we cannot have vacation court-like functioning during the pandemic and switch to the pre-COVID normal after the lockdown. Since pre-COVID normalcy is many months away, we must evolve three protocols, not two — lockdown, post lockdown pre-normal and normal.
- Second, during the lockdown, there is no reason why a minimum of two-thirds, indeed all 35, of SC judges should not sit daily. Why is the best technology not operational over the last month to enable this? Instead, we have two or three benches dealing with less than 50 matters every week. Indeed, with the technology, judges should not be required to meet and endanger themselves, as is currently happening.
- Third, the two largest rooms at the new SC building should be fully equipped to enable a limited number of lawyers, who cannot afford virtual lawyering, to present their arguments from within the court — they should maintain strict social distancing.
- Fourth, the strict test of urgency currently applied must be maintained. False urgency claims clog the legal pipeline while ordinary and poor litigants have to undergo an eternal wait.
- Fifth, for the full court to function, we should have had ramped up technology. It is deplorable that the apex court is not equipped with efficient technology. This would require Rs 100-crore at most. All this should be operationalised by technicians working on government directions.
- Sixth, when full normalcy returns, we must ensure that these methods are used to conduct a significant proportion, perhaps 33 %, of all hearings.
- Seventh, as the above paradigms extend to lower court hierarchies, virtual lawyering will allow shift systems for courts and make evening and night courts routine, without egregiously enhanced strains on our infrastructure.
Why have governments failed to do better?
The novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 has proven the ultimate stress test for governance systems globally. And governments worldwide are failing, showing up for all to see how poorly prepared they were for this examination
Reason for failing:
Low international –level collaboration
- Nationalistic turn in global politics over the past two decades has reduced investment in and undermined the legitimacy of the very institutions that facilitate international partnership at the very time they are needed most.
- Prime Minister of India did well to convene the leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations in mid-March to discuss the possibility of a regional response, but that video-conference call also highlighted that there have been no summit-level meetings of SAARC since 2014, in no small part due to India-Pakistan jingoism that has victimised the regional organisation.
- Similarly, recent outburst by United States President that resulted in his demanding that the U.S. end its funding of the World Health Organization (WHO) not only endangers American lives by cutting off his own administration’s access to vital international data, but also directly affects India which receives significant funding and expertise from WHO.
Absence of political will and legitimate leadership
- Pandemic response requires a whole-of-government strategy, for which political will and legitimate leadership are vital to convene and maintain.
- However, Germany and Kerala provide two powerful different examples of this in action. In Germany, in spite of a high level of federalism that gives its States a lot of power, anility of Chancellor of Germany allowed Germany to emerge as a success story in Europe.
- In Kerala, State Chief Minister convened a State response team at the earliest possible moment and has provided the full weight of his office in support of a coordinated public health strategy.
- Yet these two examples stand out in part for how rare they are. Consider again the cautionary tale of the U.S. where some State Governors have yet to issue stay-at-home orders, and others are rushing to open the economy against the express advice of public health experts.
Starvation public health systems of necessary funds and resources.
- The comparative advantage of the private sector is efficiency.
- Watching the advanced health-care system of northern Italy buckle under the pressures to which it was exposed over the past six weeks should be a cautionary tale for all countries that thought turning health care over to private actors was responsible governance.
Government Schemes & Policies
Dearness Allowance 2020 Frozen, No Arrears to be Paid
Due to the situation arising out of the Coronavirus outbreak in India, the government has decided to freeze additional installment of Dearness Allowance 2020 to its employees and Dearness Relief to pensioners at current rates till July 2021.
- Dearness Allowance is the amount paid by Central Government to all government employees while Dearness Relief is the amount paid to Government Pensioners.
About Dearness Allowance
- It is a component of the central government employees’ compensation package.
- It is calculated as a percentage of an Indian citizen’s basic salary to mitigate the impact of inflation on people.
- While computing DA, the consumer price index is used to account for inflation
- DA component of the salary is applicable to both employees in India and Bangladesh.
- DA is different for employees in the urban sector, semi-urban sector or the rural sector.
- It is completely taxable for individuals who are salaried employees.
There re two types of DA: Industrial dearness allowance (allowance applicable to employees of the public sector enterprises.) ii) Variable Dearness Allowance (allowance that comes as a result of revision every six months for central government employees).[Ref: The Hindu]
Issues related to Health & Education
MGR Medical University develops vaccine candidate
Researchers from Tamil Nadu have developed a vaccine candidate against SARS-CoV-2 through ‘reverse vaccinology’.
- Previously, Reverse vaccinology has been used for developing vaccinations for meningococcal and staphylococcal infections.
About reverse vaccinology
- It is the process of antigen discovery starting from genome information. This is done with the aid of computers without culturing microorganism.
- The process includes comparative in silico analyses of multiple genome sequences in order to identify conserved antigens within a heterogeneous pathogen population and identification of antigens that are unique to pathogenic isolates but not present in commensal strains.
- In addition, transcriptomic and proteomic data sets are integrated into a selection process that yields a short list of candidate antigens to be tested in animal models, thus reducing the costs and time of downstream analyses.
- Pros: Finding vaccine targets quickly and efficiently.
- Cons: Only proteins can be targeted using this process. Whereas, conventional vaccinology approaches can find other biomolecular targets such as polysaccharides.
To print more money, or not to
Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has been trying to boost the liquidity in the financial system. It has bought government bonds from the financial system and left it with money amid COVID 19.
Need for government to borrow
- Under normal circumstances, just because the economy has stalled and the government will not be getting its revenues, the government fiscal deficit is expected to shoot up to around 15% of GDP when the permissible limit is only 6%.
- Also, if the government was to provide some kind of a bailout or relief package, it would have to borrow a huge amount. The fiscal deficit will go through the roof.
- Moreover, for the government to borrow the money, the market should have it as savings. Data show that savings of domestic households are barely enough to fund the government’s existing borrowing needs. So there isn’t enough money in the market for the government to borrow.
What is the solution?
Direct monetisation of deficit
- In this, government deals with the RBI directly and asks it to print new currency.
- In lieu of printing this cash, which is a liability for the RBI, it gets government bonds, which are an asset for the RBI since such bonds carry the government’s promise to pay back the designated sum at a specified date.
- This is different from the indirect monetising that RBI does when it conducts the so-called Open Market Operations (OMOs) and/ or purchases bonds in the secondary market.
Has India ever done this in the past?
- Yes, until 1997, the RBI “automatically” monetised the government’s deficit. However, direct monetisation of government deficit has its downsides. In 1994 then RBI Governor decided to end this facility by 1997.
Main problems with direct monetisation of government deficit
- Government expenditure using this new money boosts incomes and raises private demand in the economy. Thus, it fuels inflation. A little increase in inflation is healthy as it encourages business activity. But if the government doesn’t stop in time, it creates high inflation.
- Since inflation is revealed with a lag, it is often too late before governments realise they have over-borrowed. Higher inflation and higher government debt provide grounds for macroeconomic instability.
- While no ideal level of debt is set in stone, most economists believe developing economies like India should not have debt higher than 80%-90% of the GDP. At present, it is around 70% of GDP in India.
- The other argument against direct monetising is that governments are considered inefficient and corrupt in their spending choices — for example, whom to bail out and to what extent.
Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management
First-ever digital geological map of moon released by US Geological Survey
The first ever digital geological map of the moon was released virtually by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) and the Lunar Planetary Institute.
About the new map
- Called the ‘Unified Geologic Map of the Moon’, the map consists of 43 geologic units across the entire lunar surface, broken down into groups based on characteristics like materials of craters, basins, terra, plains and volcanic units.
- The map is a globally consistent, 1:5,000,000-scale geologic map.
- Serve as a blueprint for future human missions and
- A source of research and analysis for the educators and the general public interested in lunar geology.
NBWL nod for coal mining in Assam elephant reserve
Amid the countrywide lockdown, the National Board for Wild Life (NBWL) has recommended coal mining in a part of an elephant reserve in Assam.
- The NBWL’s Standing Committee discussed a proposal for use of land from the Saleki proposed reserve forest land for a coal mining project by North-Easter Coal Field (NECF), a unit of Coal India Limited.
- Saleki is a part of the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve.
About Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary
- It is located in the Dibrugarh and Tinsukia Districts of Assam.
- It belongs to Assam’s wet tropical evergreen forest category.
- It includes the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary (declared in 2004) and several reserve forests in Sivasagar, Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts
- It has three parts: Dirok rainforest, upper Dihing River, and Jeypore.
- It is a deciduous rainforest interspersed with semi-evergreen and lush green flora, the only patch of virgin rainforest in Assam.
- Part of Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary falls under another elephant reserve named Dibru-Deomali.
- Some of the mammals found here are pig-tailed macaque, hoolock gibbon, capped langur, Asiatic elephant, black panther, tiger, black bear, leopard, clouded leopard, squirrel, and gaur to name only a few.
- The white tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) or bleached tiger is a pigmentation variant of the Bengal tiger, which is reported in the wild from time to time in Madhya Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal, Bihar and Odisha in the Sunderbans region.
- They are not sub-species of tiger but actually are Bengal tigers with a genetic defect that expresses a different color.
- Such a tiger has the black stripes typical of the Bengal tiger, but carries a white or near-white coat.
- The white fur is caused by a lack of the pigment pheomelanin, which is found in Bengal tigers with orange color fur.
- They are very popular in captivity and entertainment because of their distinctive color.
Its 90 years for Peshawar’s Qissa Khwani Bazaar massacre which was perpetrated by British soldiers against non-violent protesters of the Khudai Khidmatgar movement on April 23, 1930.
About Khudai Khidmatgar
- The Khudai Khidmatgar was a non-violent movement against British occupation of the Indian subcontinent.
- It was led by Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a Pashtun freedom fighter, in the North-West Frontier Province.
- Over time, the movement acquired a more political colour, leading to the British taking notice of its growing prominence in the region.
- Following the arrest of Khan and other leaders in 1929, the movement formally joined the Indian National Congress after they failed to receive support from the All-India Muslim League.
- Members of the Khudai Khidmatgar were stood out because of the bright red shirts they wore as uniforms, while the women wore black garments.
Why did the Qissa Khwani Bazaar massacre happen?
- Abdul Ghaffar Khan and other leaders of the Khudai Khidmatgar were arrested on April 23, 1930 by British police after he gave a speech at a gathering in the town of Utmanzai in the North-West Frontier Province.
- Protests spilled into the Qissa Khwani Bazaar in Peshawar on the day of Khan’s arrest.
What was the aftermath of the Qissa Khwani Bazaar massacre?
- The British ramped up the crackdown on Khudai Khidmatgar leaders and members following the Qissa Khwani Bazaar massacre.
- In response, the movement began involving young women in its struggle against the British, a decision in line with tactics adopted by revolutionaries across the undivided India.
- British subjected members of the movement to harassment, abuse and coercive tactics adopted elsewhere in the subcontinent. Following the recruitment of women in the movement, the British also engaged in violence, brutality and abuse of women members.
- In August 1931, the Khudai Khidmatgar aligned themselves with the Congress party, forcing the British to reduce the violence they were perpetrated on the movement.
- The Khudai Khidmatgar opposed Partition.
- Post 1947, the Khudai Khidmatgar slowly found their political influence decreasing to such an extent that the movement has been wiped out.
Art & Culture
The Prime Minister of Indiahas greeted the people on the beginning of holy month of Ramzan.
- According to Islamic tradition, Ramzan is the holiest month of the entire year.
- It lasts for 28 to 30 days depending on the sighting of the moon.
- The day starts at the crack of dawn by eating a meal referred to as ‘Suhoor’ or ‘Sehri’ before the Fajr or Fard (obligatory) prayer, and rounds off by breaking the fast after sunset, followed by an elaborate ‘Iftar’ meal eaten right before the Magrib prayer.
- During the month of Ramzan, Muslims all over the world abstain from consuming food or water during the day.
- Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. Other pillars Shahada, Salat, Zakat and Hajj.
- If a person dies during Ramadan fast, whoever is in charge of their affairs is required to fast on their behalf once they complete their own fast.
Science & Technology
DRDO offers oxygen plants to hospitals in far-flung areas
Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has stepped forward to provide medical oxygen plants to hospitals in far-flung areas to generate their own oxygen supply.
About the new oxygen system
- The oxygen generating system is an offshoot of a critical system on board the homegrown Tejas light combat aircraft.
- It utilises “the pressure swing adsorption technique and molecular sieve technology” to generate oxygen directly from atmospheric air.
- The technology has been approved by Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification, a regulatory body under DRDO.
The curious Curies
On April 20, 1902, Marie and Pierre Curie successfully isolated radioactive radium salts from pitchblende, a mineral, in a laboratory in Paris, France.
- Inspired by phosphorescence (phenomenon that allows certain objects to glow in the dark) the Curries were able to find traces of two radioactive elements: polonium (Element 84) and radium (Element 88).
- In 1903, Marie Curie received the Nobel Prize in Physics making her the world’s first woman to win the prize. Curie shared the 1903 Nobel with her fellow researcher Pierre Currie and Becquerel for their combined work on radioactivity.
- In 1911, she created history again by becoming the first woman to have won two Nobel awards. She received Nobel Prize in Chemistry for producing radium as a pure metal.
- The 1935 Nobel in Chemistry went to Irène Curie and her husband and co-researcher for their joint work on the artificial creation of new radioactive elements.
- The Curies have received a total of four of Nobel prizes, the highest won by a single family. They also have the unique distinction of having three Nobel-prize winning members in the family.
IIT researchers develop tool to predict spread of COVID-19
Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi have developed a web-based dashboard – PRACRITI for predicting the spread of COVID-19 in India.
- PRACRITI (PRediction and Assessment of CoRona Infections and Transmission in India) is a mobile-friendly dashboard that gives detailed State-wise and district-wise predictions of COVID-19 cases in India for a three-week period, which is updated on a weekly basis.
- PRACRITI provides the reproduction number (R0) values of each district and State based on data available from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, National Disaster Management Authority, and the World Health Organization.
- R0 refers to the number of people to whom the disease spreads from a single infected person.
Key Facts for Prelims
- Chitra Magna, an innovative RNA extraction kit, has been developed by Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology as an innovative technology for isolating RNA from swabs for COVID 19 tests.
- It is celebrated in Manipur every year on April 23 to pay tribute to the war heroes of Anglo-Manipuri War 1891 who had sacrificed their lives fighting against the British to protect freedom of Manipur.
- Deep nudes are computer-generated images and videos.
- Cybercriminals use Artificial Intelligence (AI) software to superimpose a digital composite (assembling multiple media files to make a final one) on to an existing video, photo or audio.
- Because of how realistic deepfake images, audio and videos can be, the technology is vulnerable for use by cybercriminals who could spread misinformation to intimidate or blackmail people.
- It is known as the Gateway of Haryana.
- It is the hub of India’s non-leather footwear manufacturers.