February 1st, 2021
Your 10 minute read!
LAW, POLICY & GOVERNANCE
1. Centre likely to postpone Census to 2022
The Centre is on track to push the 2021 Census to 2022 on account of the country’s continuing preoccupation with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Census exercise was to be conducted in two phases – HouseListing and Housing Census from April to September 2020 and Population Enumeration from February 9 to February 28, 2021.
The entire process had become controversial after Parliament approved the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in December 2019 that sought to give citizenship to persecuted minorities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan who entered India on or before December 31, 2014. However, the rules required for implementing the CAA have not been framed so far – more than a year after the passage of this key legislation.
2. Information officers can’t act like post office, says HC
The Delhi High Court has ruled that Central Public Information Officers (CPIOs) cannot act like a “post office” as they are instead responsible to ensure that the information sought under the Right to Information Act is provided.
Justice Prathiba M. Singh made the remarks while dismissing the plea of two persons who used to work as CPIOs with the Union Bank of India against an order passed by the Central Information Commission imposing a cost of ₹10,000 each.
3. ‘3 language policy is not applicable to the Central govt. offices’
The Union Ministry of Home Affairs has said the three language policy is not applicable to offices of the Union government. The Ministry gave this response to a question filed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
Goutham Ganesh M.H., a student in Bengaluru, had filed an application before the Home Ministry under RTI, asking if the Ministry had noticed that the three language policy was not being followed at the programme.
The reply by the Ministry stated that “as per the provision of the Official Language Act, 1963, and the Official Language Rules, 1976, the provision of bilingual policy is applicable in the offices of the Central government.”
4. Medical board on abortion ‘unfeasible’
A panel of doctors to decide on termination of pregnancy beyond 24 weeks as proposed in the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Amendment Bill, 2020, is “unfeasible” as 82% of these posts are lying vacant in the country, finds a new study.
The Bill proposes several amendments, including the constitution of a medical Board in every State and Union Territory, which will decide on pregnancies beyond 24 weeks in cases of foetal abnormalities.
The shortfall was starker in the northeast where Sikkim, Mizoram and Manipur had a total absence of obstetricians and gynaecologists, and a near total absence of paediatricians.
NATIONAL NEWS/ INTERVENTIONS
1. Tiger cub gets hunting lessons from humans
- For the first time in the country, the Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR) in Kerala has taken up the training of a tiger cub to equip it to naturally hunt in the forest environment. The cub was found abandoned inside the forests bordering Tamil Nadu on November 21. It was in a weak condition and medical care and food supplements were given to it in a nearby temporary shelter.
2. PM's Mann ki Baat
In his ﬁrst radio broadcast, Mann Ki Baat, of 2021, Mr. Modi said his government was “committed to modernising agriculture and the eﬀorts of the government will continue in that direction in the future as well.” The Prime Minister talked about the country's ﬁght against COVID-19 and how the Made in India vaccine had not only made the country self-reliant (Atma Nirbhar) but had also become a moment of self pride (Atma Gaurav).
India’s decision to send vaccines to several countries had generated worldwide appreciation and displayed its capabilities and self-reliance in the ﬁeld of medicines. Noting that the country was approaching its 75th year of Independence, the Prime Minister urged people, especially the young, to write about freedom ﬁghters and incidents associated with their struggle.
Speaking of the recent announcement of Padma award winners, he said the practice of conferring the honour on unsung heroes that was started a few years ago had been maintained. Mr. Modi said his monthly broadcast was an opportunity to learn many new things.
3. UP leads in COVID-19 vaccination
- Uttar Pradesh accounted for the most number of persons vaccinated, followed by Rajasthan and Karnataka, the Health Ministry said in a statement. U.P. has so far inoculated 4.6 lakh healthcare workers, or about 12% of its intended beneﬁciaries, whereas Rajasthan has covered 3.2 lakh (8.8%) and Karnataka 3.1 lakh (8.4%). Eight States accounted for 63% of the vaccinations.
4. GST hits a record
GST collections hit a record high in January, with inﬂows of nearly ₹1.2 lakh crore, 8% higher than a year ago. This number, subject to further revision, marks the highest indirect tax revenues for the exchequer since the GST regime was launched.
That GST revenues had remained above ₹1 lakh crore for the last four months with a steeply ‘increasing trend over this period are clear indicators of rapid economic recovery post pandemic’, the Finance Ministry said. “Closer monitoring against fake billing, deep data analytics using data from multiple sources, including GST, Income tax and Customs IT systems, and eﬀective tax administration have also contributed to the steady increase in tax revenue over last few months,” it added.
Analysis : Growth with inequality
The Economic Survey for 2020-21 is an expansive attempt at reviewing the developments in the Indian economy during the current financial year and providing an outlook for its near-term prospects. Spread over 700 pages, the survey opts for a self-congratulatory tone while highlighting the policy achievements of the government in steering the economy through the treacherous shoals of “the most unfathomable global health emergency experienced in modern history”.
There is no denying that the country appears to have not only flattened the curve but also, crucially, so far avoided a bruising second wave of infections seen in much of Europe and the U.S.
While it may be debatable as to how much of the turn in the pandemic’s progress could be attributed wholly to proactive policy measures, the survey’s contention that India has turned the crisis into an opportunity to strengthen its long-term growth potential through ‘seminal reforms’ sounds off key, especially given the ongoing farmers’ agitation against the new farm laws as well as the plight of the struggling small and medium-scale industries and informal sectors.
The survey goes on to forecast that the economy is currently experiencing a V-shaped recovery that would enable GDP to expand, even by a ‘conservative estimate’, by 11% in real terms in 2021-22. In contending that growth should be prioritised over inequality in tackling poverty, when the pandemic has exacerbated the gap between the rich and the poor and the Finance Minister is set to present her Budget, the survey seems to privilege wealth creation over all else.
INTERNATIONAL NEWS/EVENTS/ PERSONALITIES
1. Britain opens visa scheme for millions in Hong Kong
A new visa scheme offering millions of people in Hong Kong a pathway to British citizenship went live on Sunday as the city’s former colonial master opens its doors to those wanting to escape China’s crackdown on dissent. Anyone with a British National (Overseas) passport and their dependents can now apply online for a visa allowing them to live and work in the U.K. After five years, they can apply for citizenship. The visa offer is available to a huge number of people — about 70% of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million population.
The immigration scheme is a response to Beijing’s decision last year to impose a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong to snuff out the huge and often violent democracy protests. Britain has accused China of tearing up its promise ahead of Hong Kong’s 1997 handover that the financial hub would maintain key liberties and autonomy for 50 years, and has argued it has a moral duty to protect its former subjects.
The BN(O) passport is a legacy of Hong Kong’s return to China. Many Hong Kong residents at the time wanted Britain to grant them full citizenship but China was opposed to the move. The BN(O) was a compromise, allowing Hong Kong residents born before 1997 the right to stay in Britain for six months at a time, but with no working or settling rights.
2. ‘Foreign troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond May’
International troops plan to stay in Afghanistan beyond the May deadline envisaged by Taliban’s deal with the U.S., four senior NATO officials said, a move that could escalate tensions with the Taliban demanding full withdrawal.
The administration of then President Donald Trump signed an agreement with the Taliban early last year calling for the withdrawal of all foreign troops by May in return for the insurgents fulfilling certain security guarantees. Mr. Trump hailed the accord, which did not include the Afghan government, as the end of two decades of war. He reduced U.S. troops to 2,500 by this month, the fewest since 2001.
Plans on what will happen after April are now being considered and likely to be a top issue at a key NATO meeting in February, the NATO sources said. Peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban began in September in Doha, but violence has remained high.
3. Vietnam ruling party re-elects leader Trong
- Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong was re-elected, a victory that makes him the most powerful leader in decades. Mr. Trong, a 76 year old pro-China conservative who is rumoured to be in poor health, was given the nod after a week of closed door talks at the twice-adecade Communist Party congress. It will be his third term.
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & ENVIRONMENT
The problem of ageing dams
Dams and reservoirs are believed to secure our water needs for the future. However, data and studies show that they can threaten our water security. It is not a secret anymore that India’s dams are now ageing and concomitantly, reservoir water is being replaced by soil, technically known as silt or sediment.
India is ranked third in the world in terms of building large dams. Of the over 5,200 large dams built so far, about 1,100 large dams have already reached 50 years of age and some are older than 120 years. The number of such dams will increase to 4,400 by 2050. The situation with hundreds of thousands of medium and minor dams is even more precarious as their shelf life is even lower than that of large dams.
As dams age, soil replaces the water in the reservoirs. Therefore, the storage capacity cannot be claimed to be the same. Studies also show that the design of many of our reservoirs is ﬂawed. The observed siltation rate in India’s iconic Bhakra dam is 139.86% higher than originally assumed. Similarly, the actual siltation rate observed for the Hirakud, Maithan and Ghod dams are way higher at 141.67%, 808.64% and 426.59%, respectively.
Almost every scholarly study on reservoir sedimentation shows that Indian reservoirs are designed with a poor understanding of sedimentation science. The designs underestimate the rate of siltation and overestimate live storage capacity created.
Consequences of siltation : When soil replaces the water in reservoirs, supply gets choked. The cropped area begins receiving less and less water as time progresses. The net sown water area either shrinks in size or depends on rains or groundwater, which is overexploited. Crop yield gets aﬀected severely and disrupts the farmer’s income.
1. Messi- the most expensive athlete
- Lionel Messi’s most recent contract with Barcelona is worth up to €555 million over four seasons. The report said the 33-year old player has already secured more than €510 million of the total contract. Messi has been with Barcelona for nearly two decades but asked to leave at the end of last season after saying he wasn’t happy with the direction the club was headed. He had his request denied but will be able to leave for free when this season ends.
1. Supreme Court on the Habeas Corpus https://www.barandbench.com/news/litigation/habeas-corpus-illegal-detention-proven-supreme-court-plea-release-live-in-partner-parents-custody
2. Notices to Twitter, FB, WhatsApp for spreading hate speech https://www.barandbench.com/news/litigation/supreme-court-notice-plea-facebook-twitter-whatsapp-hate-speech
4. Mahatma Gandhi and the empowerment of the other https://rb.gy/e5kjdg
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Sources referred to : The Hindu, The Indian Express, Live Law, Bar & Bench