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Daily Current affairs 22 JULY 2019

UPSC - Daily Current Affair

SL. NO.

TOPICS

THE HINDU

PAGE NO.

1

Sucking up surplus

10

2

The tremor of unwelcome amendments-RTI

10

3

NITI Aayog health index suffers from skew

13

4

An invasive and inefficient tool- Facial recognition

11

5

An ally, a partner and American unilateralism

10







 

Title

1. Sucking up surplus (The Hindu, Page 10)     

Syllabus

Mains: GS Paper III - Economy

Theme

Securities and Exchange Board of India

Highlights

Context: Central Government through the Finance Bill, 2019 has brought certain amendments to Securities and Exchange Board of India Act, 1992. The said amendment impacts financial autonomy of the SEBI. In this context, let us understand the proposed amendment in SEBI through the Finance Bill of 2019.   

Proposed Amendment 

  • The Board shall constitute a Reserve Fund and 25% of the annual surplus of the General Fund in any year shall be credited to such Reserve Fund and such fund shall not exceed the total of annual expenditure of preceding two financial years.  

  • Further, the surplus of the General Fund shall be transferred to the Consolidated Fund of India.

The Concern

  • The officials of SEBI including its Chairman had written to the central government over the impact of the amendment specially on financial autonomy of the regulatory body. 

  • However, the government has refused to lend a ear to SEBI officials. This move by the central government may lead to future conflicts of SEBI as an independent regulatory body of securities market. 

Impact

  • The editorial highlights that transfer of surplus reserve will not provide a substantial amount and will not make much of a difference to the government’s overall fiscal situation. 

  • So the amendment to the SEBI Act seems to be clearly motivated by the desire to increase control over the regulator rather than by financial considerations. 

  • This is particularly so given that the recent amendments require SEBI to seek approval from the government to go ahead with its capital expenditure plans.

  • The proposed amendment will impact SEBI’s ability to handle administrative and financial decisions and in all likelihood will have to depend upon the decisions of the central government. 

  • Lack of financial autonomy can affect SEBI’s plans to improve the quality of its operations by investing in new technologies and other requirements to upgrade market infrastructure. This may have a long term impact on the overall health and regulation of this sector. 

Independence of regulatory bodies being targeted

  • Earlier, The Reserve Bank of India and the National Sample Survey Office have come under pressure in recent months, and the latest move on SEBI adds to this worrisome trend of independent agencies being subordinated by the government.     

  • Centralization of power through Ministry of Finance may prove risky in the longer run with respect to regulating these regulatory bodies. 

  • Reducing or clipping powers of such regulatory bodies might impact not only their independence but also the credibility of the institution and the sector it represents.  

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Title

2. The tremor of unwelcome amendments-RTI (The Hindu, Page 10)     

 

Syllabus 

Mains: GS Paper II - Polity & Governance 

 

Theme

 The Right to Information

 

Highlights

CONTEXT: The government has introduced in Lok Sabha the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, 2019, which proposes to give the Centre the powers to set the salaries and service conditions of Information Commissioners at central as well as state levels.  In this context, the article highlights that the proposed amendment is a twin attack on accountability and on the idea of federalism.      

The Amendment 

  • The Bill seeks to amend Sections 13, 16, and 27 of the RTI Act which carefully links, and thereby equates, the status of the Central Information Commissioners (CICs) with the Election Commissioners and the State Information Commissioners with the Chief Secretary in the States, so that they can function in an independent and effective manner.   

  • Section 13 of the original Act sets the term of the central Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners at five years (or until the age of 65, whichever is earlier). The amendment proposes that the appointment will be “for such term as may be prescribed by the Central Government”. 

  • Again, Section 13 states that salaries, allowances and other terms of service of “the Chief Information Commissioner shall be the same as that of the Chief Election Commissioner”, and those of an Information Commissioner “shall be the same as that of an Election Commissioner”. 

  • The amendment proposes that the salaries, allowances and other terms of service of the Chief Information Commissioner and the Information Commissioners “shall be such as may be prescribed by the Central Government”.   

  • Section 16 of the original Act deals with state-level Chief Information Commissioners and Information Commissioners. It sets the term for state-level CICs and ICs at five years (or 65 years of age, whichever is earlier). 

  • The amendment proposes that these appointments should be for “such term as may be prescribed by the Central Government”. And while the original Act prescribes salaries, allowances and other terms of service of the state Chief Information Commissioner as “the same as that of an Election Commissioner”, and the salaries and other terms of service of the State Information Commissioners as “the same as that of the Chief Secretary to the State Government”, the amendment proposes that these “shall be such as may be prescribed by the Central Government”.   

  • By amending Section 27, the Central Government will also control through rules, the terms and conditions of appointment of Commissioners in the States.    

Is guarantee of tenure so important?

  • All the provisions related to appointment were carefully examined by a parliamentary standing committee and it was unanimously acknowledged that one of the most important structural constituents of any independent oversight institution, i.e. the CVC, the Chief Election Commission (CEC), the Lokpal, and the CIC is a basic guarantee of tenure. 

  • In the case of the Information Commissioners they are appointed for five years subject to the age limit of 65 years. It was on the recommendation of the parliamentary standing committee that the Information Commissioner and CIC were made on a par with the Election Commissioner and the CEC, respectively.     

  • Thus, security of tenure insures not only independence in working of the Commissioners but also independence of the institution overall from any interference.  

Reasons for amendment

  • RTI has become a tool or sort of a mirror which constantly reflects the misuse of power by the authorities to the society. For eg. RTI helped with the cross-verification of the affidavits of powerful electoral candidates with official documents and certain Information Commissioners ruled in favour of disclosure.  

  • RTI has made rule of law possible by making the officials accountable for their work or even for their misuse of power and position. Thus, RTI has resulted in a fundamental shift in the framework of governance as it has made the power holders accountable to the power addressees thereby empowering citizen’s access to power and decision-making.  

  • Transparency in workings of the government at all levels has reduced arbitrariness, privilege, and corrupt governance. The power of RTI can be gauged from the fact that more than 80 RTI activists have died because they not only challenged the powerful but also ensured accountability on their behalf.     

  • RTI allows access to decision making process at the highest level. However, the proposed amendment may close such doors of openness one and for all till further amendment. The RTI law ensures democratic citizenship through participation of the public and this also improves public vigilance over the working mechanism of the government.  

Reason for opposition of the 2019 Bill presented in Lok Sabha

  • While introducing the Bill in Lok Sabha, the Minister of State for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions asserted that this was a benevolent and minor mechanism of rule-making rather than a basic amendment to the RTI law. 

  • However, as suggested by various RTI activists, this seems to be more of a deliberate change done in order to change the existing framework within which Information Commissioners functions. The amendments results in down gradation of Chief Information Commissioner and State Information Commissioners.

  • The deliberate change in the existing framework of RTI Act empowers the Central government to unilaterally decide the tenure, salary, allowances and other terms of service of Information Commissioners, both at the Centre and the States.    

  • The manner in which the amendments are being pushed through without any citizen consultation, bypassing examination by the standing committee demonstrates the desperation to pass the amendments without even proper parliamentary scrutiny. The mandatory pre-legislative consultative policy of the government has been ignored.   

  • The proposed changes in RTI were introduced in complete secrecy without any public disclosure and consultations on draft legislation. This move of the government also becomes questionable about their intent as such amendment will certainly increase central government’s executive control over the Information Commissioners through changes proposed in appointment process.  Amendments proposed under RTI will weaken democratic institutions.

Why do we need independent institutions?

  • Independent structures set up to regulate and monitor the government are vital to a democratic state committed to deliver justice and constitutional guarantees. The separation of powers is a concept which underscores this independence and is vital to our democratic checks and balances.    

  • However, centralisation of power not only impacts democratic norms of functioning but also threatens freedom of expression especially if an amendment propose changes under RTI Act itself. Thus, this amendment in RTI Act needs to be seen through as a deliberate architectural change to affect, in a regressive manner, power equations, the freedom of expression and democracy.  

  • The Information Commission which is vested by law with status, independence and authority, will now function like a department of the Central government, and be subject to the same hierarchy and demand for obeisance. The decision of the government to usurp the powers to set the terms and conditions of service and salaries of an independent body must be understood as an obvious attempt to weaken the independence and authority granted by the law.   

Conclusion – The proposed amendment violates the constitutional principles of federalism, undermine the independence of Information Commissions and thereby significantly dilute the widely used framework for transparency in India.   

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Title

3. NITI Aayog health index suffers from skew (The Hindu Page 13)   

Syllabus 

Mains: GS Paper II –Social issues

Theme

Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health,

Highlights

Context: 

  • The reported and estimated figures related to health indicators for 2015-16 is available in the Health Management Information System (HMIS), a statistical arm of the Union Health and Family Welfare Ministry. 

  • However the usage of estimated figures in place of reported numbers, by the NITI Aayog in its report to calculate certain health indicators, has adversely impacted the final index score of certain States while boosting that of others.

Analysis:

  • The report had used an estimated number of births and deliveries to calculate two key health outcome indicators — “full immunization coverage” and “proportion of institutional deliveries” — which carried high weightage in the calculation of the final index score. The use of estimated numbers instead of the reported figures resulted in a skew. 

  • Calculation of the weighted score for the base year 2015-16 using reported figures from the HMIS instead of the estimated figures used by the NITI Aayog report increases the final index score of certain States and decreases the numbers for others. 

Examples:

  • In the case of Tamil Nadu, which had secured a composite index score of 63.38 for the base year 2015-16, using reported number of deliveries and births instead of estimated figures, would have resulted in an increase of 2.17 points for that year.

  • On the other hand, using reported numbers would have resulted in a decrease of 2.99 points and 3.34 points from the final index scores of Gujarat and West Bengal.

  • In Tamil Nadu, according to the NITI Aayog report, institutional deliveries were pegged at 81.82% in 2015-16, whereas in the HMIS database, it is 100% — a difference of more than 18% points. However, in the case of Gujarat, the indicator was almost similar in both datasets (98% in HMIS, 97.78% in NITI Aayog).

 

Conclusion:

  • When the final index was recalculated using the HMIS’ reported figures, Madhya Pradesh’s score increased by 2.78 points and Tamil Nadu’s by 2.17 points while West Bengal’s and Gujarat’s decreased by close to 3 points each.

 

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Title

4. An invasive and inefficient tool- Facial recognition (The Hindu Page 11 )   

Syllabus 

Mains: GS III – Science and Technology

Theme

Applications and effects of Science and Technology in everyday life

Highlights

Context:

  • The Automated Facial Recognition System (AFRS) recently proposed by the Ministry of Home Affairs is geared towards modernizing the police force, identifying criminals, and enhancing information sharing between police units across the country. It has clarified that this will not violate privacy, as it will only track criminals and be accessed only by law enforcement.

About AFRS:

  • AFRS works by maintaining a large database with photos and videos of peoples’ faces. Then, a new image of an unidentified person is compared to the existing database to find a match and identify the person.

  • It will use images from sources like CCTV cameras, newspapers, and raids to identify criminals against existing records in the Crime and Criminal Tracking Networks and System (CCTNS) database.

Issues involved:

  • A closer look at facial recognition systems and India’s legal framework reveals that a system like the AFRS will not only create a biometric map of our faces, but also track, classify, and possibly anticipate our every move.

  • It is impossible for the AFRS to be truly used only to identify, track and verify criminals, despite the best of intentions. Recording, classifying and querying every individual is a prerequisite for the system to work.

  • The evidence suggests In August 2018, a facial recognition system used by the Delhi police was reported to have an accuracy rate of only 2%.

  • The system will treat each person captured in images from CCTV cameras and other sources as a potential criminal, creating a map of their face, with measurements and biometrics, and match the features against the CCTNS database. 

  • This means that we are all treated as potential criminals when we walk past a CCTV camera — turning the assumption of “innocent until proven guilty” on its head.

  • Accuracy rates of facial recognition algorithms are particularly low in the case of minorities, women and children, as demonstrated in multiple studies across the world. 

  • Use of such technology in a criminal justice system where vulnerable groups are over-represented makes them susceptible to being subjected to false positives (being wrongly identified as a criminal). 

Fears of mass surveillance

  • Facial recognition makes data protection close to impossible as it is predicated on collecting publicly available information and analyzing it to the point of intimacy. 

  • It can also potentially trigger a seamless system of mass surveillance

  • India does not have a data protection law. In the absence of safeguards, law enforcement agencies will have a high degree of discretion. 

  • The Personal Data Protection Bill 2018 is yet to come into force, and even if it does, the exceptions contemplated for state agencies are extremely wide.

International scenario:

  • Police departments in London are under pressure to put a complete end to use of facial recognition systems following evidence of discrimination and inefficiency. 

  • San Francisco recently implemented a complete ban on police use of facial recognition.

  •  India should learn from their mistakes.

Way forward:

  • The notion that sophisticated technology means greater efficiency needs to be critically analyzed. 

  • A deliberative approach will benefit Indian law enforcement, as police departments around the world are currently learning that the technology is not as useful in practice as it seems in theory. 

 

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Title

5. An ally, a partner and American unilateralism (The Hindu Page 10)   

Syllabus 

Mains: GS II –International relations 

Theme

Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests

Highlights

Both India and Turkey intend to purchase S-400 missile system from U.S. 
However, U.S. has opposed this purchase and has threatened to impose sanctions against Turkey & India under CAATSA law. 

 

Associated dimension

 
  • Initially, U.S. was willing to provide a waiver from sanction to India for purchasing S-400 missile system from Russia. However because of Turkish purchase, U.S. has said it cannot provide waiver to India for the same purpose that it will sanction Turkey for.

  • According to the author, U.S. should make a distinction between Turkey and India and not consider the purchase of S-400 missile system by them as equal threats to U.S. security.

  • The opposition of U.S. against Turkey has merit, since Turkey is a NATO member and already has majority defence equipments and technology from U.S. 

  • Therefore if Turkey buys S-400 missile system from Russia then it would need to be integrated with already available U.S. defence tech. and equipment in Turkey. This would compromise U.S. defence capabilities in Turkey and potentially leak U.S. tech to Russia.

  • However, India has majority of its defence equipment and technology from Russia. Also, India is not a partner of U.S. in any form of defence alliance. Therefore, U.S. sanctions on S-400 missile system against India has no strong merit, wherein it would not compromise U.S. security against Russia.

    News in transition let us wait and see on how India and U.S. move forward.

 

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Relevant articles from PIB:

GS Paper 2:

Topics Covered:

  1. Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.

 

Electronically transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS)

 

What to study?

For Prelims and Mains: Who is a Service Voter, how can he cast vote, significance and challenges associated, Key features of ETPBS.

 

Context: In the seven phases Lok Sabha polls, a record 18,02,646 eligible personnel were enrolled and 10,84,266 voted through the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) or e-postal ballots.

 

Electronically transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS):

  • ETPBS is developed by Election Commission of India with the help of Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC)for the use of the Service Voters.
  • It is a fully secured system, having two layers of security. Secrecy is maintained through the use of OTP and PIN and no duplication of casted Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot (ETPB) is possible due to the unique QR Code.
  • Persons working in paramilitary forces and the military and government officials deployed in diplomatic missions outside India are classified as Service Voters.

 

Significance and benefits:

  • This system enables the entitled service voters to cast their vote using an electronically received postal ballot from anywhere outside their constituency.
  • The voters who make such a choice will be entitled for Postal Ballot delivered through Electronic Media for a particular election.
  • The developed System is implemented inline with the existing Postal Ballot System. Postal Ballot will be transmitted through Electronic Means to the voters.
  • It enables the voters to cast their vote on an electronically received postal ballot from their preferred location, which is outside their originally assigned voting constituency.
  • This system would be an easier option of facilitating voting by the electors as the time constraint for dispatch of postal ballot has been addressed using this system.

 

Class of Electors who are eligible for ETPBS:

  1. Service Voters, other than those who opt for proxy voting (Classified Service Voters).
  2. The wife of a Service Voter who ordinarily resides with him.
  3. Overseas Voters.

 

Features:

  • Service voters can avail this service from anywhere outside their constituency.
  • System facilitates creation of service voter electoral roll data.
  • Easy, Efficient and Hassle free.
  • It is a secure system, having two layer security.
  • OTP is required to download encrypted Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot file.
  • Secrecy is maintained and no duplicate of casted ETPB is possible due to QR code.
  • PIN is required to decrypt, print and deliver ETPB.

GS Paper 2:

Topics Covered:

  1. Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

 

Regional Air Connectivity- UDAN

 

What to study?

For Prelims: Key features of RCS.

For Mains: Significance, challenges and potential of RCS.

 

Context: Giving further fillip to Regional Connectivity in the country, 8 more routes (including 2 DoNER Routes) became functional Under Regional Connectivity Scheme/UdeDeshKaAamNagrik- UDAN scheme of the Ministry of Civil Aviation.

 

About UDAN:

UDAN, launched in April 2017, is a flagship scheme of the Union Government to enable air operations on unserved routes, connecting regional areas, to promote balanced regional growth and to make flying affordable for masses.

The UDAN Scheme is a key component of the National Civil Aviation Policy (NCAP)which was launched in June 2016.

 

Objectives of the scheme:

  • The primary objective of RCS is to facilitate / stimulate regional air connectivity by making it cheap and affordable.
  • Promoting affordability of regional air connectivity is envisioned under RCS by supporting airline operators through: Concessions and Financial (viability gap funding or VGF) support.

 

Significance:

The scheme gives India’s aviation sector a boost by giving a chance to small and first-time operators to be a part of the rapid growth in passenger traffic.


 

Relevant articles from various news sources:

GS Paper 2:

Topics covered:

  1. Parliament and State Legislatures – structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.

 

Why are parliamentary standing committees necessary?

 

What to study?

For prelims and mains: Parliamentary standing committees- roles, need, functions and significance.

 

Context: Eleven of the 22 Bills introduced in the ongoing session of Parliament have been passed, which makes it a highly productive session after many years. But these Bills have been passed without scrutiny by parliamentary standing committees, their purpose being to enable detailed consideration of a piece of legislation.

 

What’s the issue?

After the formation of the 17th Lok Sabha, parliamentary standing committees have not been constituted as consultations among parties are still under way. Partly as a result of this, the Bills were passed without committee scrutiny. They were discussed in Parliament over durations ranging between two and five hours.

 

Why have parliamentary committees?

  1. Parliament is the embodiment of the people’s will. Committees are an instrument of Parliament for its own effective functioning
  2. Committees are platforms for threadbare discussion on a proposed law.
  3. The smaller cohort of lawmakers, assembled on the basis of the proportional strength of individual parties and interests and expertise of individual lawmakers, could have more open, intensive and better-informed discussions.
  4. Committee meetings are ‘closed door’ and members are not bound by party whips, which allows them the latitude for a more meaningful exchange of views as against discussions in full and open Houses where grandstanding and party positions invariably take precedence.
  5. Members of Parliament may have great acumen but they would require the assistance of experts in dealing with such situations. It is through committees that such expertise is drawn into lawmaking. 
  6. Executive accountability to the legislature is enforced through questions in Parliament also, which are answered by ministers. However, department standing committees go one step further and hear from senior officials of the government in a closed setting, allowing for more detailed discussions.
  7. This mechanism also enables parliamentarians to understand the executive processes closely

 

What are the types of committees?

  1. Most committees are ‘standing’ as their existence is uninterrupted and usually reconstituted on an annual basis; some are ‘select’ committees formed for a specific purpose, for instance, to deliberate on a particular bill. Once the Bill is disposed of, that select committee ceases to exist. Some standing committees are departmentally related.
  2. Financial control is a critical tool for Parliament’s authority over the executive; hence finance committees are considered to be particularly powerful. The three financial committees are the Public Accounts Committee, the Estimates Committee and the Committee on Public Undertakings.

 

Powers:

Parliamentary committees draw their authority from Article 105 (on privileges of Parliament members) and Article 118 (on Parliament’s authority to make rules for regulating its procedure and conduct of business).

 

Significance:

Committee reports are usually exhaustive and provide authentic information on matters related to governance. Bills that are referred to committees are returned to the House with significant value addition. Parliament is not bound by the recommendations of committees. 

 

What these committees do?

  • Support Parliament’s work.
  • Examine ministerial budgets, consider Demands for Grants, analyse legislation and scrutinise the government’s working.
  • Examine Bills referred to by the Chairman, Rajya Sabha or the Speaker, Lok Sabha.
  • Consideration of Annual Reports.
  • Consideration of national basic long term policy documents presented to the House and referred to the Committee by the Chairman, Rajya Sabha or the Speaker, Lok Sabha.

 

Advantages of having such committees:

  • The deliberations and scrutiny by committees ensure that Parliament is able to fulfil some of its constitutional obligations in a politically charged environment.
  • They also help in obtaining public feedback and building political consensus on contentious issues.
  • They help develop expertise in subjects, and enable consultation with independent experts and stakeholders.
  • The committees perform their functions without the cloud of political positioning and populist opinion.
  • These committees allow the views of diverse stakeholders.
  • They function through the year.
  • They also offer an opportunity for detailed scrutiny of bills being piloted by the government.
  • They increase the efficiency and expertise of Parliament.
  • Their reports allow for informed debate in Parliament.

 

How can these committees be made more effective?

  1. Parliamentary committees don’t have dedicated subject-wise research support available. The knowledge gap is partially bridged by expert testimony from government and other stakeholders. Their work could be made more effective if the committees had full-time, sector-specific research staff.
  2. The national commission to review the working of the Constitution has recommended that in order to strengthen the committee system, research support should be made available to them.
  3. Currently, the rules of Parliament don’t require every bill to be referred to a parliamentary committee for scrutiny. While this allows the government greater flexibility and the ability to speed up legislative business, it comes at the cost of ineffective scrutiny by the highest law-making body. Mandatory scrutiny of all bills by parliamentary committees would ensure better planning of legislative business.

 

Sources: the Hindu.


GS Paper 3:

Topics Covered:

  1. Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology.

 

Block Chain Technology

 

What to study?

For Prelims and Mains: Blockchain technology- what is it? How it operates? Concerns and potential.

 

What are Blockchains?

Blockchains are a new data structure that is secure, cryptography-based, and distributed across a network.

The technology supports cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, and the transfer of any data or digital asset.

Spearheaded by Bitcoin, blockchains achieve consensus among distributed nodes, allowing the transfer of digital goods without the need for centralized authorisation of transactions.

 

How it operates?

  1. The technology allows transactions to be simultaneously anonymous and secure, peer-to-peer, instant and frictionless.
  2. It does this by distributing trust from powerful intermediaries to a large global network, which through mass collaboration, clever code and cryptography, enables a tamper-proof public ledger of every transaction that’s ever happened on the network.
  3. A block is the “current” part of a blockchain which records some or all of the recent transactions, and once completed, goes into the blockchain as permanent database. Each time a block gets completed, a new block is generated. Blocks are linked to each other (like a chain) in proper linear, chronological order with every block containing a hash of the previous block.

 

Benefits of blockchain technology:

  • As a public ledger system, blockchain records and validate each and every transaction made, which makes it secure and reliable.
  • All the transactions made are authorized by miners, which makes the transactions immutable and prevent it from the threat of hacking.
  • Blockchain technology discards the need of any third-party or central authority for peer-to-peer transactions.
  • It allows decentralization of the technology.

 

What real world problem does blockchain solve?

  • As of today nothing, but blockchain backers say it solves the problem of ‘trust’. Because the major cost of any transaction or exchange of services or goods is the act of verification — VISA charges fees to ensure that your card swipe is connected to your account or a property charges you for the effort of ensuring that you are entering into a genuine transaction — blockchain asks you to trust the energy-intensive nature of mathematical problems and have them masquerade them as ‘locks’ to secure your money, confidential documents or any kind of information.
  • While blockchain has the aura of transparency — anybody supposedly can check the history of a ‘block’ — it is at its core impervious to common sense. However, just as the inability to grasp in a visceral sense how letters typed on a mobile phone transform and make their way into another phone instantaneously a continent away does not stop people from using WhatsApp, blockchain technology has created enough hype and drama to have drawn the world’s wealthiest to invest in it and inveigle it into ordinary lives.

 

How blockchain can be used in public administration?

Blockchain has the potential to optimize the delivery of public services, further India’s fight against corruption, and create considerable value for its citizens.

  1. By maintaining an immutable and chronologically ordered record of all actions and files (“blocks”) linked together (“chain”) in a distributed and decentralized database, Blockchain creates an efficient and cost-effective database that is virtually tamper-proof. By doing so, blockchain promises to create more transparent, accountable, and efficient governments.
  2. In addition to creating a more efficient government, blockchain can also help create a more honest government. A public blockchain, like the one Bitcoin uses, records all information and transactions on the decentralized database permanently, publicly, and most importantly, securely. By allowing governments to track the movement of government funds, blockchain can hold state and local actors accountable for any misappropriations.
  3. Blockchain not only deters corruption through accountability, but it can also do so by bypassing the middleman entirely. Earlier this year, the World Food Programme began testing blockchain-based food and cash transactions in Pakistan’s Sindh province. Refugees in Jordan’s Azraq camp are now using the same technology, in conjunction with biometric registration data for authentication, to pay for food.
  4. With Aadhaar cards becoming nearly ubiquitous in India, adopting blockchain could be the next logical step in India’s pursuit of becoming a digital economy. Blockchain can play an important role in storing individuals’ data, helping conduct secure transactions, maintaining a permanent and private identity record, and turning India into a digital society.

 

Way ahead:

Technology has always proved to be disruptive, creating new opportunities and jobs and destroying old ones. If blockchain’s appeal lies in its appeal to destroy intermediaries — banks, courts, lawyers — it is unlikely to be smooth sailing. Moreover, there is already serious theorising by economists that shows how blockchain has its own vulnerabilities and susceptibility to creating new hegemons, power networks, cartels and challenges to global energy consumption.

 

Sources: the Hindu.

 

Mains Question: What do you understand by blockchain technology? Evaluate its prospects and challenges.


GS Paper 2:

Topics covered:

  1. Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights.

 

Automated Facial Recognition System (AFRS)

 

What to study?

For prelims and mains: AFRS- features, need, concerns and significance.

 

Context: On June 28, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) released a Request for Proposal for an Automated Facial Recognition System (AFRS) to be used by police officers across the country.

 

What is automated facial recognition?

AFRS works by maintaining a large database with photos and videos of peoples’ faces. Then, a new image of an unidentified person — often taken from CCTV footage — is compared to the existing database to find a match and identify the person. The artificial intelligence technology used for pattern-finding and matching is called “neural networks”.

 

What does the NCRB request call for?

  1. The NCRB, which manages crime data for police, would like to use automated facial recognition to identify criminals, missing people, and unidentified dead bodies, as well as for “crime prevention”.
  2. Its Request for Proposal calls for gathering CCTV footage, as well as photos from newspapers, raids, and sketches.
  3. The project is aimed at being compatible with other biometrics such as iris and fingerprints.
  4. It will be a mobile and web application hosted in NCRB’s Data Centre in Delhi, but used by all police stations in the country. “Automated Facial Recognition System can play a very vital role in improving outcomes in the area of Criminal identification and verification by facilitating easy recording, analysis, retrieval and sharing of Information between different organisations.”

 

How will the new database fit in what already exists?

NCRB has proposed integrating this facial recognition system with multiple existing databases. The most prominent is the NCRB-managed Crime and Criminal Tracking Network & Systems (CCTNS). Facial recognition has been proposed in the CCTNS program since its origin.

  • The idea is that integration of fingerprint database, face recognition software and iris scans will massively boost the police department’s crime investigation capabilities. It will also help civilian verification when needed. No one will be able to get away with a fake ID.
  • It also plans to offer citizen services, such as passport verification, crime reporting, online tracking of case progress, grievance reporting against police officers, and more.
  • The new facial recognition system will also be integrated with Integrated Criminal Justice System (ICJS), as well as state-specific systems, the Immigration, Visa and Foreigners Registration & Tracking (IVFRT), and the Koya Paya portal on missing children.

 

Concerns:

  • Cyber experts across the world have cautioned against government abuse of facial recognition technology, as it can be used as tool of control and risks inaccurate results.
  • Amid NCRB’s controversial step to install an automated facial recognition system, India should take note of the ongoing privacy debate in the US.
  • In the absence of data protection law, Indian citizens are more vulnerable to privacy abuses.
  • Use of surveillance cameras and facial recognition constrict the rights of particular class of people.
  • In the US, the FBI and Department of State operate one of the largest facial recognition systems.
  • International organisations have also condemned the Chinese government on its use of surveillance cameras and facial recognition to constrict the rights of Uighurs, a mostly Muslim minority.
  • The AFRS is being contemplated at a time when India does not have a data protection law. In the absence of safeguards, law enforcement agencies will have a high degree of discretion. This can lead to a mission creep. The Personal Data Protection Bill 2018 is yet to come into force, and even if it does, the exceptions contemplated for state agencies are extremely wide.

 

Need of the hour:

The notion that sophisticated technology means greater efficiency needs to be critically analysed. A deliberative approach will benefit Indian law enforcement, as police departments around the world are currently learning that the technology is not as useful in practice as it seems in theory. Police departments in London are under pressure to put a complete end to use of facial recognition systems following evidence of discrimination and inefficiency. San Francisco recently implemented a complete ban on police use of facial recognition. India would do well to learn from their mistakes.

 

Sources: the Hindu.


GS Paper 2 and 3:

Topics covered:

  1. Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
  2. Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.

 

Indian Forest Act amendment

 

What to study?

For Prelims: Key features of the Indian Forest Act and amendments.

For Mains: Need for review and the expected outcomes.

 

Context: Across India, activists for tribal rights have said the proposed IFA amendments will divest tribals and other forest-dwelling communities of their rights over forest land and resources.

 

 

Highlights of the draft amendments:

  • The amendment defines community as “a group of persons specified on the basis of government records living in a specific locality and in joint possession and enjoyment of common property resources, without regard to race, religion, caste, language and culture”.
  • Forest is defined to include “any government or private or institutional land recorded or notified as forest/forest land in any government record and the lands managed by government/community as forest and mangroves, and also any land which the central or state government may by notification declare to be forest for the purpose of this Act.”
  • While the preamble of IFA, 1927, said the Act was focused on laws related to transport of forest produce and the tax on it, the amendment has increased the focus to “conservation, enrichment and sustainable management of forest resources and matters connected therewith to safeguard ecological stability to ensure provision of ecosystem services in perpetuity and to address the concerns related to climate change and international commitments”.
  • Increased role of states:The amendments say if the state government, after consultation with the central government, feels that the rights under FRA will hamper conservation efforts, then the state “may commute such rights by paying such persons a sum of money in lieu thereof, or grant of land, or in such other manner as it thinks fit, to maintain the social organisation of the forest dwelling communities or alternatively set out some other forest tract of sufficient extent, and in a locality reasonably convenient, for the purpose of such forest dwellers”.
  • The amendment also introduces a new category of forests — production forest. These will be forests with specific objectives for production of timber, pulp, pulpwood, firewood, non-timber forest produce, medicinal plants or any forest species to increase production in the country for a specified period.

 

Indian Forest Act, 1927:

  • The Indian Forest Act, 1927 was largely based on previous Indian Forest Acts implemented under the British. The most famous one was the Indian Forest Act of 1878.
  • Both the 1878 act and the 1927 one sought to consolidate and reserve the areas having forest cover, or significant wildlife, to regulate movement and transit of forest produce, and duty leviable on timber and other forest produce.
  • It also defines the procedure to be followed for declaring an area to be a Reserved Forest, a Protected Forest or a Village Forest.
  • It defines what a forest offence is, what are the acts prohibited inside a Reserved Forest, and penalties leviable on violation of the provisions of the Act.

 

Concerns with regard to the present Draft Bill:

  1. The draft Bill reinforces the idea of bureaucratic control of forests, providing immunity for actions such as use of firearms by personnel to prevent an offence.
  2. The hard-line policing approach is reflected in the emphasis on creating infrastructure to detain and transport the accused.
  3. To penalise entire communities through denial of access to forests for offences by individuals. Such provisions invariably affect poor inhabitants, and run counter to the empowering and egalitarian goals that produced the Forest Rights Act.
  4. For decades now, the Forest Department has resisted independent scientific evaluation of forest health and biodiversity conservation outcomes. In parallel, environmental policy has weakened public scrutiny of decisions on diversion of forests for destructive activities such as mining and large dam construction.
  5. Impact assessment reports have mostly been reduced to a farce, and the public hearings process has been
  6. The exclusion of ‘village forestry’ from the preview of Forest Right Act (forest official supersedes Gram Sabha) is legally contradictory and would add confusion on the ground.
  7. The draft mentions that the state governments could take away the rights of the forest dwe

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