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Daily Current affairs 24 January 2019

UPSC - Daily Current Affair

 

N-E autonomous councils set to get more power, funds

The News

  • The cabinet approved the amendments to Article 280 and Sixth Schedule of the Constitution to increase the financial and administrative powers of the autonomous councils in the Sixth Schedule areas of the Northeast.

 

About Sixth Schedule

  • The 6th schedule to the constitution of India is for the administration of tribal areas in the following 4 states of North East:
    • Meghalaya
    • Tripura
    • Mizoram
    • Assam
  • Tribal areas in these states had been constituted as autonomous district.
  • Each autonomous district has a district council of 30 members and also contains separate regional councils.
  • There are total 10 Autonomous district councils in the sixth schedule tribal areas:
    • Assam- (1) KarbiAnglong, (2) North Kachar Hills Autonomous District Council, (3) Bodo Autonomous District Council
    • Meghalaya- (1) Khasi Hills, (2) Garo Hills, (3) Jaintia Hills
    • Mizoram- (1) Lai, (2) Chakma, (3) Mara
    • Tripura- (1) Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council

 

Background

  • These council areas were suffering the problem of irregular finances and therefore, they were worse off in taking developmental activities.
  • There was a long standing demand by these councils that they the need to be brought at par with rest of country, and under ambit of finance commission and devolution of more administrative powers was a long standing demand by these councils.
  • The commitment to fulfill these demands was also made under tripartite Memorandum of Settlements signed by Government of India, governments of Assam and Meghalaya, United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS), Dima Halam Daogah (DHD) and Achik National Volunteers’ Council (ANVC).

 

Highlights of the news

  • The cabinet approved amendments to Article 280 and sixth schedule of the constitution to increase the financial and administrative powers of autonomous district councils in the sixth schedule areas. The constitutional amendment Bill in this regard will be introduced soon.
  • Amendment to Article 280 will be done to mandate the Finance Commission to recommend devolution of financial resources to these autonomous district councils.

 

Provisions under the amendment

The provisions proposed under the amendment to the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution are:

  • Transfer of more subjects:
    • Transfer of additional 30 subjects including departments of Public Works, Forests, Public Health Engineering, Health and Family Welfare, Urban Development and Food and Civil Supply to Karbi Anglong Autonomous Territorial Council and Dima Hasao Autonomous Territorial Council in Assam.
  • Elections
    • State Election Commissions for holding elections to the autonomous councils, village and municipal councils in the areas of Assam, Mizoram and Tripura (Except in Meghalaya).
    • Provisions for anti-defection.
    • The village councils will be empowered to prepare plans for economic development and social justice including those related to agriculture, land improvement, implementation of land reforms, minor irrigation, water management, animal husbandry, rural electrification, small scale industries and social forestry.
    • One-third of the seats will be reserved for women in the village and municipal councils in the Sixth Schedule areas of Assam, Mizoram and Tripura (Except in Meghalaya).
    • Two nominated members in all autonomous councils in the North East Sixth Schedule areas.
  • Structural changes
    • Renaming of the existing autonomous councils.
    • There will also be increase in the number of the seats in these councils..

 

Significance of the move

  • Increase in Power: Significant increase in the financial resources and administrative powers of the autonomous districts councils in 4 North Eastern states.
  • Democracy: Elected village municipal councils to ensure democracy at the grassroots level.
  • Development: There will increased funds availability to these local government institutions for undertaking development works in these tribal areas.
  • Women empowerment: Reserving 1/3rd Seats for women in in the village and municipal councils will ensure women empowerment.
  • Fulfilling the commitment: It will also be the fulfillment of commitment made under tripartite Memorandum of Settlements.

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Section : Polity & Governance

 

Missile’s range does not violate INF treaty: Russia

The News

  • Amidst growing pressure from the USA over withdrawal of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, Russia has for the 1st time unveiled the details about the Novator 9M729 (called SSC-8 by NATO) missile system.

 

About Intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) Treaty

  • The intermediate-range nuclear forces Treaty is an arms control agreement between USA and Soviet Union.
  • It was signed in 1987 in Washington DC.
  • Aim:
    • The treaty required the United States and the Soviet Union to eliminate permanently all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. 
  • The weapon systems in the 500-5500 range would be designed to strike targets in Europe and Asia.
  • Inspection and Verification Protocols
    • According to the INF Treaty's inspection protocol, the states-parties can inspect and inventory each other's intermediate-range nuclear forces.
    • The INF Treaty's verification protocol certified reductions through a combination of satellite observation and on-site inspections. 
  • Beyond 5500 range missile which are mostly ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missile) are covered under New START Treaty of 2010.

 

News Summary

  • Since a long time, there have been several charges made that Russia has violated the terms of INF Treaty.
  • The USA administration had expressed its intention to withdraw from the 1987 INF treaty over Russia’s 9M729 missile system.
  • According to the US, the range of Russia’s 9M729 missile system is over 500 km which is prohibited under INF treaty. So, US is demanding the destruction of the missile system.
  • However unveiling the details of the missile system, Russia has clarified that the maximum range of the ground-based 9M729 is 480 km.
  • The prospective collapse of the INF Treaty has also raised concern in Europe, where many feared it would set the stage for a repeat of a Cold War showdown in the 1980s, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union both deployed intermediate-range missiles on the continent.

 

 

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Section : International Relation

 

Pollution, drug resistance, dengue: WHO 2019 threats list

The News

  • The WHO has listed out the top 10 global health threats for 2019 which require immediate attention in order to minimize their effect on global disease burden.

 

Highlights

  • The WHO has released the ‘Ten threats to global heath in 2019’ list that requires immediate attention. WHO has also released a 5-year strategic plan called the 13th General Programme of Work to deal with the global health threats.
  • The 13th GPW broadly focuses on a triple billion target that aims to ensure:
  • 1 billion more people benefit from access to universal health coverage
  • 1 billion more people are protected from health emergencies
  • 1 billion more people enjoy better health and well-being

 

Ten threats to global health in 2019

  1. Air pollution and climate change

Global

  • In 2016, a total of 7 million deaths occurred due to air pollution globally which were due to ambient air pollution and household air pollution.

India

  • 25% of total deaths due to air pollution occurred in India. 
  • Further India’ average life expectancy would have been 1.7 years higher if air pollution levels were lower than the minimum level.

Recent Steps

  • Recently in October 2018 the international community made commitments to improve air quality in the 1st ever Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health.
  • India has recently launched the National Clean Air Programme to combat ambient air pollution.

2. Non-communicable diseases

Global

  • Non-communicable diseases are responsible for over 70% of all deaths worldwide.
  • More than 85% of the premature deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.
  • The five major drivers of NCDs are
  • Tobacco use
  • Physical inactivity
  • Harmful use of alcohol
  • Unhealthy diets
  • Air pollution.

NCDs in India

  • According to India State-Level Disease Burden Initiative 2017, disease burden from non-communicable diseases in India increased from 30 per cent to 55 per cent.
  • Cancer, heart disorders, diabetes account for 35% of total deaths in India.

3. Global influenza pandemic

According to WHO, the world will face another influenza pandemic sooner or later.

4. Weak Primary Healthcare and Fragile areas

  • About 22% of the global population lives in places affected by drought, famine, conflict, and population displacement.
  • Recently the Kerala floods led to leptospirosis outbreak.
  • Further, more population is exposed to effects of climate change like heat waves.

5. Antimicrobial resistance

  • Anti-microbial multidrug-resistance is a global public health emergency today.
  • As a resault of growing anti-biotic resistance, it is increasingly difficult to treat infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhoea, and salmonellosis.

6. Antibiotic resistance in India

  • India is antibiotic popping capital of the world.
  • Spread of antibiotic-drug resistance in India:
    • Self-medicating by indiscriminately prescribing some irrational antibiotic.
    • OTC- Over the counter medication.
    • Over-prescribing of antibiotics by doctors and unregulated use
    • Incomplete antibiotic dosage.
    • Antibiotic use in agriculture and livestock.
    • Bad sanitation practices leading to spread of strains.
    • Lack of regulation of the discharge of antimicrobial waste into the environment.

7. Vaccine hesitancy

Vaccine Hesitancy in India

  • According to NFHS-4 (2015-16), the percentage of fully immunized children at 12-23 months is only 62% in India.
  • The reasons for hesitancy in India are due to under confidence (49%), convenience (18%), complacency (3%) and others (31%).

8. Dengue

  • WHO estimates 40% of the world is at risk of dengue, with.
  • Being a tropical country, Dengue is endemic to India.

9. HIV

According to the WHO, globally around 37 million live with HIV.

India

  • Total number of People Living with HIV in India is 21.4 lakh with about 0.22% adult population (15-49 years) suffering from the disease.

10. Fragile, vulnerable settings

  • More than 22% of the global population live in places where protracted crises through a combination of challenges such as drought, famine, conflict, and population displacement and weak health services leave them without access to basic care.

 

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Section : Social Issues

 

Cabinet gives nod to set up GST Appellate Tribunal

The News

  • Recently, the Cabinet has approved the creation of a National Bench of the Goods and Services Tax Appellate Tribunal (GSTAT) for disputes arising under goods and services tax (GST).

 

About Goods and services tax (GST)

  • GST has replaced multiple indirect taxes levied by State and Central Governments in order to simplify the indirect tax system.
  • GST has replaced almost 17 of the existing state and central indirect taxes (more to come in the future) such as central excise duty, additional customs duty, VAT, entertainment tax, service tax etc.
  • It is called as Goods and Services Tax because it is applicable on the supply of both Goods and Services.
  • GST Bill was first introduced in 2014 as The Constitution (122nd Amendment) Bill. However, it got an approval in 2016 and was renumbered in the statute by Rajya Sabha as The Constitution (101st Amendment) Act, 2016.

 

Appeal and review mechanism for dispute resolution

  • GST law provides for an appeal and review mechanism for dispute resolution under the framework.
  • A person who is aggrieved by a decision or order passed against him by an adjudicating authority, can file an appeal to the Appellate Authority.
  • CGST Act empowers the Central Government to constitute, on the recommendation of Council, an Appellate Tribunal known as the Goods and Services Tax Appellate Tribunal for hearing appeals against the orders passed by the Appellate Authority or the Revisional Authority.
  • Thus, the Tribunal is the second level of appeal where pleas can be filed against orders from appellate or revisional authorities.

 

About GST Appellate Tribunal

  • It is a quasi-judicial body that will mediate in indirect tax disputes between states and centre.
  • It is the forum of second appeal in GST laws and the first common forum of dispute resolution between Centre and States.
  • The National Bench of the appellate Tribunal shall be situated in New Delhi and three regional benches in Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai,
  • Composition:
    • Presided over by the President, who must have served as a judge of the Supreme Court or a high court for at least five years, will be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Chief Justice of India.
    • It shall consist of one technical member each from both state and centre. They are supposed to be persons of proven capacity and expertise in the field of law, economics or public affairs.

Significance:

  • It will provide a forum for the businesses for redressal of their disputes.
  • It will hear appeal against appellate authorities or orders from revisional authorities.
  • It will help bring consistency by reconciling different interpretations.
  • It will ensure that there is uniformity in redressal of disputes arising under GST, and therefore, in implementation of GST across the country.

 

 

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Section : Economics

 

IRDAI mulls enhanced regulatory setup for SIIs

The News

  • The IRDAI has set up a committee to bring out a list of systematically important insurers (SIIs).
  • The committee will be chaired by Pravin Kutumbe, member (finance and investment), Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI).

 

About Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority

  • It is an autonomous, statutory body which regulates and promotes the insurance industries in India.
  • It was constituted by the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority Act, 1999.
  • It's headquarters are in Hyderabad, Telangana
  • CompositionIRDAI is a 10-member body including the chairman, five full-time and four part-time members appointed by the government of India.
  • Functions:
    • Ensure orderly growth of the insurance industry.
    • Protect interest of Policy holder.
    • Issue customer protection guidelines to insurance companies.
    • Grant, modify and suspend licence for insurance companies.
    • Lay down procedures for accounting policies to be adopted by the insurance companies.
    • Inspect and audit of insurance companies and other related agencies.
    • Re-insurance limit monitoring.
    • Ensure the health of the industry by preventing sickness through appropriate action.
    • Publish information about industry.
    • Prescribe qualification and training needs of agents.
    • Monitor charges for various services by insurance company.
    • Monitor investment

 

Systemically important insurers (SIIs)

  • SIIs are perceived as insurers that are "too big to fail".
  • Their failure has the potential to cause significant disruption to the essential services they provide to the policyholders and, in turn, to the overall economic activity of the country.
  • As continued functioning of the SIIs is critical, the perception that they are Too big to fail creates an expectation of government support for these insurers at the time of distress.

 

Key Responsibilities of the Committee:

  • Look into the methodology for identification of SII.
  • Identity insurers within six months.
  • Recommendation of the enhanced regulatory framework for such insurers

 

 

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Section : Economics

 

An electoral intervention that has clicked Editorial 24th Jan’19 TheHindu

 

 

Protests against the use of EVMs:

  • Questions have been persistently raised about the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the Indian electoral process.

  • Political parties and various commentators are running down the EVMs and raising fears of electoral fraud saying it is possible to manipulate the technology that drives the machine.

  • They have not provided any evidence to prove their claims.

Most complaints against EVMs have been deliberate misrepresentations:

  • The Election Commission of India (ECI) has repeatedly assured of the robustness of the administrative and technical safeguards in place to prevent EVM tampering.

  • Often machine glitches or damage to the machines during transportation has also been wrongly criticized by some parties as EVM tampering.

Machine glitches used to happen:

  • Glitches and machine failures have been reported sometimes.

  • The replacement rate for machines deployed in the by-elections of Uttar Pradesh in 2018 went up to as high as 20% because of failures — primarily of the VVPAT machine.

  • Glitches mostly in the newly introduced VVPATs:

    • The introduction of the VVPAT (to allow for a paper count of the registered votes) has also added a level of complexity to the EVMs.

    • But the VVPAT’s introduction and use is also necessary to address doubts related to the possibility of EVM hacking despite the safeguards in place.

    • The VVPAT was also rushed into service because of the constant complaints about the possibility of EVM hacking by political parties.

    • The VVPAT failure rates were high early on in elections held in late 2017 and early 2018, with hardware issues occurring during transportation and exposure to extreme weather conditions.

  • Now VVPATs have also stabilized:

    • The ECI sought to correct these problems by repairing components related to the printing spool of the VVPAT machines and the deployment of many corrected machines.

    • The three Assembly elections held during the end of 2018 resulted in much reduced replacement rates (close to 2.5% in Madhya Pradesh and 1.9% in Chhattisgarh).

    • This suggests that the ECI is relatively better prepared to handle VVPAT-related glitches in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

 

EVMs designed to make them tamper proof:

    • The ECI has reassured that the simplicity of the architecture of the EVM has helped it create a reliable model.

    • Safety features include:

  • Software written onto a one-time programmable chip;

  • Standalone machines that are not networked;

  • The lack of any frequency receiver or wireless decoder that will allow for communication externally;

  • Advancements in newly deployed machines that allow for self-diagnostics to render the machines tamper-proof among other things

Administrative safeguards add another layer of security:

    • The integrity of electoral process is safeguarded by the safe EVM machines combined with administrative safeguards:

  • Rigorous checks at various levels, such as after manufacture, during deployment etc.

  • Randomisation of deployment of machines

  • Listing of candidates in alphabetical order rather than on party basis on ballot units

  • Sealing of machines by political party representatives after polling and storing in high security “strong-rooms”.

  • The ECI has asserted that all these have made tampering impossible.

 

Possibilities of misuse

1. “Insider mischief” could make some tampering possible:

  • With these safeguards in place, it would require “insider mischief” by officials of the ECI, or by employees of the EVM manufacturers (BHEL and ECIL) or the introduction of malicious software at the chip burning stage.

There are checks and balances for this also:

  • However, this tampering would be successful only if it remains undetected by the manufacturers during their “first level checks” of the firmware.

  • Also, all machines are tested in the presence of all political parties before the polls.

 

2. Manipulating votes in favour of a party:

  • Critics say that coordinated actions by agents may help in shifting vote counts in favour of their party using the manipulation that is possible with the tampered EVMs.

VVPATs made this also impossible:

  • However, implementation of the VVPAT as a device has rendered it possible to verify if any vote shifting has occured by comparing machine tallies with the hand-counted tally of the slips.

 

 

Improvements in the process of EVM usage and verification

Some informed criticism led to improvements like VVPATs:

  • Introduction of VVPAT: Informed critiques of the EVM and its handling have helped in some ways, one of them being the universal implementation of the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) that allows for a layer of verification to the electoral process.

Other possible improvements - greater tallying of EVM votes and VVPAT slips:

  • Currently, the ECI allows for the votes recorded in the VVPAT to be counted in only one randomly chosen polling booth in each Assembly segment.

  • Some statisticians have argued that this is not enough, and called for a more robust methodology where a State-wise number of the booths are to be counted, adjusted for population, voting turnout and other factors.

 

EVMs have had a positive transformational effect on India's electoral process:

  • The use of EVMs in India had led to a significant decline in election fraud such as rigging, booth capturing, ballot stuffing, etc in many States.

  • It even resulted in increased voter turnout especially of the vulnerable and poorer sections of the Indian electorate.

  • EVMs have also rendered “invalid votes” to be a complete non-factor (invalid votes had significantly affected several Assembly elections in the past).

  • EVM has served the important purpose of ensuring free and fair elections, and to ease the process of voting.

 

Conclusion:

  • Improvements to the EVM may be certainly possible, but a return to paper ballots is an untenable proposition.

  • The best possible way of improving upon our electoral process and bringing in greater trust in it is in a continuing and constructive critique of India’s EVM through a scrutiny of the election process including technical assessments of the devices used.

  • But there should be no place for an uninformed dismissal of the EVM as this will only increase distrust in our democratic process.

 

Importance:

GS Paper II: Polity & Governance

 

Relevant question:

Improvements to the EVM are certainly possible, but a return to paper ballots is an untenable proposition. Comment.

 

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Section : Editorial Analysis

 

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