Polity & Governance
- CJI is the ‘Master of Roster’, upholds Supreme Court
- Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel appointed NGT chairperson
- Uttarakhand High Court declares the animal kingdom a legal entity
- deploys 800 IAS officers for village outreach
Issues related to Health & Education
- NITI proposes ‘National Health Stack’ to facilitate healthcare schemes
- AAI to set up Civil Aviation Research Organisation
Bilateral & International Relations
- India to gain control of Sri Lanka’s Mattala airport
- UN member states approve USD 6.69 billion for 13 peacekeeping operations in 2018-19
Science & Technology
- ‘Alternative cereals can save water’: Study
- NASSCOM unveils centre for data, AI
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Polity & Governance
CJI is the ‘Master of Roster’, upholds Supreme Court
The Supreme Court in latest ruling once again has upheld Chief Justice of India (CJI) as ‘Master of Roster’.
- According to this ruling, CJI is an individual judge and not the powerful collective of five senior-most judges of Supreme Court called the ‘Collegium’.
- CJI has exclusive authority to allocate cases to fellow judges and is spokesperson of the court.
What is the meaning of term – ‘master of the roster’?
- The term – ‘Master of the Roster’ refers to the privilege of the Chief Justice to constitute Benches to hear cases.
- This privilege was emphasised in November last year, when a Constitution Bench, led by the Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, declared that “the Chief Justice is the master of the roster and he alone has the prerogative to constitute the Benches of the Court and allocate cases to the Benches so constituted.”
- It further said that “no Judge can take up the matter on this own, unless allocated by the Chief Justice of India, as he is the master of the roster.”
- The immediate trigger for this was a direction by a two-judge Bench that a petition regarding a medical college corruption case, involving an alleged conspiracy to bribe Supreme Court judges, be heard by a Bench fo the five senior-most judges of the Supreme Court.
Key observations made by the SC:
- CJI is the master of roster in allocating cases to different benches and his power cannot be delegated to collegium comprising of CJI and four senior most judges. Although the constitution is silent on the CJI’s role as the master of the roster, his power is based on a healthy practice and “convention aimed at maintaining discipline and decorum.” He is described as “first among equals.”
- SC highlighted that the CJI owes a moral responsibility to his colleagues and the public at large while flexing his powers as ‘Master of Roster’ to allocate cases. “Absolute discretion” cannot be confined in just one man, the CJI.
- The court listed some of the qualities a CJI should possess as the Master of Roster, including balance, fortitude, moral courage and independence of mind. Also, as the court’s spokesperson, it is the CJI’s duty to usher in and administer reform as a continuous process.
- Undoubtedly, the chief justices enjoy a special status and they alone can assign work to a judge sitting alone and to the judges sitting in division bench or full bench. They have the jurisdiction to decide which case will be heard by which bench.
Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel appointed NGT chairperson
The Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) has appointed Justice AK Goel as new Chairperson of National Green Tribunal (NGT).
About National Green Tribunal (NGT):
The NGT was established in 2010 under the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 for effective and expeditious disposal of cases relating to environmental protection and conservation of forests and other natural resources.
- It is a specialized body equipped with the necessary expertise to handle environmental disputes involving multi-disciplinary issues.
- It also includes enforcement of any legal right relating to environment and giving relief and compensation for damages to persons and property and for matters connected therewith.
- It adjudicates matters relating to Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974; Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974; Environment (Protection) Act, 1986; Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991; Forest Conservation Act and Biological Diversity Act.
- The NGT is guided by principles of natural justice and not bound by the procedure laid down under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.
- It is mandated to make and endeavour for disposal of applications or appeals finally within 6 months of filing.
- New Delhi is the Principal Place of Sitting NGT. Bhopal, Pune, Kolkata and Chennai are other regional sitting of the Tribunal.
Members of the NGT:
- The tribunal shall consist of a full time chairperson, judicial members and expert members.
- The minimum number of judicial and expert member prescribed is ten in each category and maximum number is twenty in each category.
- Another important provision included in the law is that the chairperson, if find necessary, may invite any person or more person having specialized knowledge and experience in a particular case before the tribunal to assist the same in that case.
- A judge of the Supreme Court of India or Chief Justice of High Court are eligible to be Chairperson or judicial member of the Tribunal. Even existing or retired judge of High Court is qualified to be appointed as a Judicial Member.
Uttarakhand High Court declares the animal kingdom a legal entity
The Uttarakhand high court has declared the entire animal kingdom, including birds and aquatic animals, as a legal entity having rights of a “living person”.
- The move aims to ensure “greater welfare” of animals.
- The entire animal kingdom, including avian and aquatic ones, are declared as legal entities having a distinct persona with corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a living person.
Previous living entities:
- Uttarakhand high court in March last year accorded the status of “living entity” to the Ganga and Yamuna rivers, a decision subsequently stayed by the Supreme Court.
What is Legal entity?
- A legal entity means an entity which acts like a natural person but only through a designated person, whose acts are processed within the ambit of law. This means the animal kingdom could be represented by a custodian.
Natural Vs. legal person:
- In common law jurisprudence, there are two types of persons, natural persons or human beings and artificial person, which are also known as juristic persons, juridical entity or legal person other than natural person.
- Legal or juristic persons are created by law and recognised as legal entity, having distinct identity, legal personality and besides duties and rights. They include private business firm or entity, non-governmental or government organisations, trusts and societies, besides others.
Article 21 and animal life:
- Invoking Article 21 of the Constitution, the court said: “Article 21 of the Constitution, while safeguarding the rights of humans, protects life and the word ‘life’ means animal world”.
- The court cited a 2014 Supreme Court judgment to say any disturbance from the “basic environment which includes all forms of life, including animals life, which are necessary for human life, fall within the meaning of Article 21 of the Constitution”.
Highlights of the judgement:
- The court gave directions to create an animal welfare committee in every district of the state.
- All citizens of Uttarakhand shall be “persons in loco parentis” (in the place of a parent). This gives them the responsibility to protect animals and ensure their welfare.
- The court also gave directions ranging from the amount of load allowed to be pulled by various animals in accordance with the kind of carriage being pulled to the amount of riders per carriage.
- Further banning the use of spike or other sharp tackle or equipment on the animal, the court also directed the state government to ensure that if temperature exceeds 37 degree Celsius or drops below 5 degree Celsius, no person be permitted to keep in harness any animal used for the purpose of drawing vehicles.
- The court also went into the aspect of animal safety, highlighting the need for fluorescent reflectors in carriages and animals, certificates of unladen weight of vehicles, compulsory shelter of suitable size for horses, bullocks and stray cattle and a direction to the veterinary doctors of Uttarakhand to treat any stray animals brought to them or by visiting them.
- The court said as the carts driven by animals have no mechanical devices, animal-drawn carriages have to be given Right of Way over other vehicles.
- The order came in response to a public interest litigation seeking directions to restrict the movement of horse carts/tongas between Nepal and India through Champawat district and highlighted that ailing, infirm and old horses were being abandoned by the owners in the Indian territory.
- This order will go a long way in building a compassionate society as it was illogical to treat sentient creatures as inanimate objects.
Govt. deploys 800 IAS officers for village outreach
A battalion of Central Govt IAS officers has been drafted to ensure on the ground implementation as the Centre races to saturate 117 “aspirational districts” with seven flagship social welfare schemes by Independence Day.
- PM himself has been monitoring the implementation of these schemes by meeting various beneficiaries and has pointed to this campaign as a model for future of welfare delivery.
Details of the deployment:
- At least 800 Deputy Secretaries, Under-Secretaries and Director-level officers, drawn from Ministries as diverse as Defence and Urban Affairs, have been assigned about 75 villages to visit, as part of the Extended Gram Swaraj Abhiyan (EGSA) from June 1 to August 15.
- In total, 49,178 villages — most with a majority SC/ST population — are being targeted.
- Senior officials from the Ministries of Rural Development, Panchayati Raj, and the Department of Personnel and Training are jointly coordinating the drive.
- Central officials are being absorbed into EGSA duty for at least 15 working days.
What do they do?
- In each village, the Central team convenes a meeting of villagers and beneficiaries along with a State government or district official, a lead bank representative and local officials from the agencies responsible for enrolling people into the schemes.
- They monitor the scheme, get feedback…If there are any hurdles, they can sort it out on the spot. Ex. central officers could direct the local representatives to give immediate sanction for gas cylinders, bank accounts or electricity connections.
- The teams can also directly input the day’s progress into a data system that can be tracked live on the EGSA dashboard “egsa.nic.in”.
- Senior Ministry officials also make direct daily calls to a section of District Collectors to monitor progress, while third-party observers for each district —mostly from NGOs or academia — who do random checks of villages and report back to the Ministry.
Concerns related to such deployment:
- The large-scale involvement of Central officers raises questions about the viability of such drives, and about roles in a federal democracy.
- Dissent of the state officials due to central interference and sidelined pending workload was the most common concern raised.
- This is a deeply problematic way of going about welfare delivery as sought by some states.
- Constitutionally, while the Centre has higher powers of taxation, the bulk of the expenditure on welfare is to be done by the States.
- The centralizing trend in flagship welfare schemes allows the ruling party at the Centre to draw political mileage and build vote banks.
- Direct connections to the district administration tend to bypass State administrations, while sending out large Central teams to do the work of local officials fails to empower local human resources.
- The new approach is not just centralized, but also personalized.
- It may create a veneer of efficiency and a high-quality publicity campaign, but it undermines the logic of federalism.
About Gram Swaraj Abhiyan:
- The Gram Swaraj Abhiyan was launched on the lines of rural development schemes like Antyodaya based on principle of convergence and saturation.
- The campaign, undertaken under the name of “Sabka Sath, Sabka Gaon, Sabka Vikas”, is to promote social harmony, spread awareness about pro-poor initiatives of government, reach out to poor households to enroll them as also to obtain their feedback on various welfare programmes.
- As a special endeavour during the Gram Swaraj Abhiyan, saturation of eligible households/persons would be made under seven flagship pro-poor programmes in 21,058 identified villages.
- The programmes covered are Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, Saubhagya, Ujala scheme, Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana and Mission Indradhanush.
Issues related to Health & Education
NITI proposes ‘National Health Stack’ to facilitate healthcare schemes
In order to streamline the health information and facilitate effective management of the same, NITI Aayog has proposed creation of National Health Stack (NHS), a centralized health record for all citizens of the country.
- The NHS is proposed to be the country’s first futuristic nationally shared digital healthcare infrastructure usable by both the Centre and states across public and private sectors.
- The National Health Policy 2017 had also envisaged creation of a digital health technology ecosystem aimed at developing an integrated health information system that serves the needs of all stakeholders.
Why we need such database?
- India today is witnessing significant trends in health: increasing prevalence of non-communicable diseases for instance, as well as marked demographic shifts. Climbing out-of-pocket costs is becoming difficult for most households.
- The proposed NHS is an approach to address the challenge and seeks to employ latest technology including Big Data Analytics and Machine Learning Artificial Intelligence, a state of the art Policy Mark-up Language and create a unified health identity of citizens – as they navigate across services across levels of care, i.e. Primary, Secondary and Tertiary and also across Public and Private.
AAI to set up Civil Aviation Research Organisation
State-run Airports Authority of India (AAI) will set up a Civil Aviation Research Organisation (CARO) aimed at “finding indigenous solutions” to meet the challenges posed by the growing air traffic.
- According to AAI, CARO will be set up at Begumpet Airport, Hyderabad.
About Civil Aviation Research Organization (CARO):
- CARO will be spread over 27 acres and cater needs of growing needs air navigation services and airport and engineering research. It is expected to be built in three years.
- CARO will find indigenous solutions to meet the challenges posed by growing air traffic and for enhancing safety, capacity and efficiency of aircraft operations in the country.
Airports Authority of India (AAI) was constituted by an Act of Parliament and came into being on 1st April 1995 by merging erstwhile National Airports Authority and International Airports Authority of India.
- The merger brought into existence a single Organization entrusted with the responsibility of creating, upgrading, maintaining and managing civil aviation infrastructure both on the ground and air space in the country.
- AAI manages 125 airports, which include 18 International Airport, 07 Customs Airports, 78 Domestic Airports and 26 Civil Enclaves at Defense airfields.
Bilateral & International Relations
India to gain control of Sri Lanka’s Mattala airport
India has agreed to form a joint venture with Sri Lanka to operate the country’s loss-making Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in Hambantota.
- The joint venture would see India gain a major stake of the airport.
- It is dubbed as the “world’s emptiest airport” due to a lack of flights.
- The airport infrastructure was funded through high interest Chinese commercial loans. The airport was officially opened in March 2013.
- The only international flight operating from there was halted in May due to recurrent losses and flight safety issues.
- The Sri Lankan government in 2017 invited investors to turn the airport into a profit-sharing joint venture. However no proposals were received to operate, manage and maintain it.
UN member states approve USD 6.69 billion for 13 peacekeeping operations in 2018-19
The UN member states have approved a 6.69 billion US Dollar budget for 13 peacekeeping operations for the year 2018-19.
- The Committee also approved significant management reforms including creation of two new departments focused on political and peace building affairs and four stand-alone divisions for Africa.
Budget approved for missions include:
- MINUJUSTH (UN Mission for Justice Support in Haiti),
- MINUSCA (Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Central African Republic),
- MINURSO (Mission for Referendum in Western Sahara),
- MONUSCO (Stabilisation Mission in Democratic Republic of the Congo) and
- UNIFIL (Interim Force in Lebanon).
Significance of these reforms:
- The major reforms approved by the member states, the first in more than 40 years, will make the UN a more accountable, transparent, and efficient organisation.
- The United States is the biggest contributor to the United Nations followed by China and Japan.
Science & Technology
‘Alternative cereals can save water’: Study
According to recent study, if Indian farmers make big switch from growing rice and wheat to alternative cereals such as maize, sorghum and millet, it could reduce demand for irrigation water by 33%.
- This could also improve nutritional availability to consumers.
- The study was conducted by researchers from US based Earth Institute, Columbia University and Indian School of Business, Hyderabad.
How the study was conducted?
- For their analysis, the scientists had considered water as well as cereal-production data from 1996-2009 (period when cereal production grew by 230%). They had used proxy — Crop Water Requirement (CWR), which is product of water required by crop and harvested area to calculate water consumption in every district in this period, as actual water consumption data was not available.
Key Findings of the study:
- The combined production of alternative cereals was larger than that of wheat in the 1960s, but their relative contribution to cereal supply has steadily dwindled. These alternative cereals also disproportionately account for supply of protein, iron, and zinc among kharif crops.
- The rice is the least water-efficient cereal when it came to producing nutrients, and was the main driver in increasing irrigation stresses. Replacing rice with alternative cereal production with maize, finger millet, pearl millet, or sorghum could save irrigation and improve production of nutrients such as iron by 27% and zinc by 13%. It can help distribute nutrient production across the country and reduce impact of single local climate shock to national grain production.
NASSCOM unveils centre for data, AI
The National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM), India’s premier software lobby, has opened a Center of Excellence (CoE) for Data Science and Artificial Intelligence in Bangalore.
- NASSCOM also signed a MoU with NITI Aayog to collaboratively foster applied research, accelerating adoption and ethics, privacy and security.
About Centre of excellence (CoE):
- The CoE initiative is a nationwide programme on innovation, focusing on solutions in smart manufacturing, automotive, healthcare, agriculture, energy, IoT, banking and financial services, retail, telecom, and host of emerging technologies.
- The centre was set up in collaboration with Karnataka Government with an aim to nurture innovation in emerging disruptive technologies such as AI and to leverage the power of data science.
- The center aims to “support SMBs, by fast-tracking their product development, provide market access to enterprises and assist them by co-creating programs along with other industry partners and start-ups to solve complex and real-world business problems.”
Significance of both these initiatives:
- With the aim to strengthen the country’s AI ecosystem, the CoE and MoU, both aim to serve as a platform for intelligence-sharing and technology collaboration between stakeholders to build collective capabilities for the industry and country in the cutting-edge areas artificial intelligence.
- NASSCOM is global non-profit trade association (organisation) of Indian Information Technology (IT) and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry.
- It facilitates business and trade in software and services and encourages the advancement of research in software technology.
- It is registered under the Indian Societies Act, 1860.
- It has over 2000 members, of which over 250 are companies from China, EU, Japan, the U.S. and the UK.