IASbaba’s Daily Current Affairs (Prelims + Mains
Focus)- 29th September 2018
All women may pray at Sabarimala
Part of Prelims and mains II – Social justice, Rights
- Supreme Court lifted the centuries’ old prohibition on women from the age of menarche to enter the famed Sabarimala temple in Kerala.
Why women were not allowed in Sabrimala?
- The prohibition was founded on the notion that menstruating women are polluted and impure;
- Women, in this “procreative stage”, would be a deviation from the vow of celibacy taken by the male devotees of Lord Ayyappa for the pilgrimage.
- Besides, the deity in Sabarimala is himself a ‘naishtika brahmachari’ or an ‘eternal celibate.’
- The prohibition was in keeping with the form of the deity and the vow of celibacy of the devotees.
- It is assumed that the presence of women would deviate the celibacy and austerity observed by the devotees.
- The main opinion said that the prohibition reduced freedom of religion to a “dead letter”, and the ban was a smear on the individual dignity of women.
- Relation with the Creator is a transcending one. Physiological and biological barriers created by rigid social dogma have no place in this.
- Chief Justice held that the ban was actually a product of hegemonic patriarchy in religion.
- The social exclusion of women, based on menstrual status is a “form of untouchability”. The notions of “purity and pollution” stigmatised individuals. To exclude women was derogatory to an equal citizenship.
- The notion that women cannot keep thevratham(vow of celibacy) is to stigmatise and stereotype them as “weak and lesser human beings”.
- Its effect is to impose the burden of a man’s celibacy on a woman and construct her as a cause for deviation from celibacy. This is then employed to deny access to spaces to which women are equally entitled.
- To treat women as the children of a lesser God was to blink at the Constitution.
- The Chief Justice agreed with the view that the “mere sight of women cannot affect one’s celibacy if one has taken oath of it. Otherwise such oath has no meaning.”
- Devotees did not go to the Sabarimala temple for taking the oath of celibacy but for seeking the blessings of Lord Ayyappa. Maintaining celibacy was only a ritual.
On freedom of religion
- The Supreme Court dismissed the argument that the prohibition was an essential part of religion.
- The Chief Justice said the inclusion of women, rather than their exclusion, is the essential part of the Hindu religion.
- By allowing women to enter Sabarimala temple for offering prayers, the nature of Hindu religion would not be fundamentally altered or changed in any manner.
- The devotees of Lord Ayyappa are exclusively Hindus and do not constitute a separate religious denomination. This temple is a public religious endowment.
- The right to practise religion, as claimed by the thanthris and worshippers, must be balanced with and yield to the fundamental right of women.
- The prohibition violated Section 3 of the Kerala Hindu Places of Public Worship (Authorisation of Entry) Act, 1965, which stated that “places of public worship” like the Sabarimala temple should be open to “all sections and classes of Hindus.”
- The law recognises an idol or deity as a “juristic person which can own property and can sue and be sued in the court of law”. But it “does not mean the deity necessarily has constitutional rights”.
- Fundamental rights are meant for individuals, not deities or idols.
- Justice Indu Malhotra, the lone woman judge on the Constitution Bench, dissented with the majority opinion.
- She held that the determination of what constituted an essential practice in a religion should not be based on the “personal views” of judges.
- She held that essentiality of a religious practice or custom had to be decided within the religion.
- It is a matter of personal faith. India is a land of diverse faiths. Constitutional morality in a pluralistic society gives freedom to practise even irrational or illogical customs and usages.
With Sabarimala verdict, ‘Ghost of Narasu’ is finally exorcised
Part of Prelims and mains II – Social justice, Rights
- The Bombay High Court in State of Bombay versus Narasu Appa Mali had held that personal law is not ‘law’ or ‘laws in force’ under Article 13. This 1951 judgment was never challenged in the Supreme Court.
- The decision in Narasu opined that personal law is immune from constitutional scrutiny.
- This detracts from the notion that no body of practices can claim supremacy over the Constitution and its vision of ensuring the sanctity of dignity, liberty and equality.
- The unchallenged 67-year reign of a Bombay High Court judgment that personal law, religious customs, usages and beliefs are outside the ambit of fundamental rights of equality, life and dignity came to an end.
Observations of SC contrary to Narasu case
- SC held that the reasoning given in the Narasu Appa Mali judgment of the Bombay High Court in 1951 was based on flawed premises.
- Immunising customs and usages, like the prohibition of women in Sabarimala, takes away the primacy of the Constitution.
- Judge observed that custom, usages and personal law have a significant impact on the civil status of individuals. Custom or usage cannot be excluded from ‘laws in force’.
- Those activities that are inherently connected with the civil status of individuals cannot be granted constitutional immunity merely because they may have some associational features which have a religious nature.
- Narasu, in restricting the definition of the term ‘laws in force’ detracts from the transformative vision of the Constitution.
India should choose local partner if it chooses Gripen: Swedish Air Chief
Part of Prelims and mains III – Defence and security, Economy
- If India chooses the Gripen fighter jet, then the choice of the private Indian company to partner with Sweden’s SAAB to build the aircraft should be the Indian Government’s and “nobody else’s”, Swedish Air Force Chief said.
- The Gripen is powered by American GE-414 engine, a variant of which is on the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft Tejas.
- The Indian Air Force issued a Request For Information (RFI) in April to procure 114 fighter jets under the Strategic Partnership model and most of them will be built in India by an Indian private partner under technology transfer.
Govt. creates high-level group to advise on boosting trade
Part of Prelims and mains III – Economy
- Commerce Minister has approved the constitution of a high-level advisory group (HLAG) to look into the opportunities and ways to address the ongoing challenges in the global trade scenario.
The terms of reference (ToR) of the HLAG are to examine the prevailing international trade dynamics, including, but not confined to;
- The rising protectionist tendencies, especially on the part of major economies,
- The non-engagement by some countries on outstanding trade negotiation issues and commitments, including the Doha Development Agenda,
- Insistence by some countries on pursuing negotiating mandates, in many cases prematurely and without efforts,
- To build consensus and common understanding.
The HLAG would meet regularly over the next two months and make specific implementable recommendations in light of the terms of reference, including on each of the areas, to facilitate the formulation of future trade policies.
The HLAG will be chaired by, Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council Member Surjit Bhalla.
Railways to roll out smart coaches
Part of Prelims and mains III – Infrastructure
- The Indian Railways are set to launch their ‘Make in India’ smart coaches with new features like black box and artificial intelligence (AI)-powered CCTVs, matching international standards.
- Named ‘Smart Trains’, the coaches have been equipped with sensors that can detect defects on bearings, wheels, and the railway track, giving constant inputs to those in the control room to avoid accidents, carry out maintenance, and to improve efficiency of operations.
- The maiden smart coach was unveiled at the Modern Coach Factory in Rae Bareli as part of launching 100 such trains in a pilot project to improve the safety and security of commuters, and to boost efficiency.
Features of smart trains
- The black box, being introduced for the first time by Indian Railways, has a powerful multi-dimensional communication interface to provide information on passengers and coach condition on real-time basis.
- The black box will act as a coach control unit with communication interfaces for passenger announcements, GPS-based announcement triggers, emergency intercom for commuters, digital destination boards, train reservation display modules, and CCTVs with remote monitoring.
- Six cameras installed in the coach will provide live recording. The footage can be accessed from the control room, which will be advantageous for law enforcers.
- An emergency talk-back system will enable communication between passengers and the guard during a crisis. A Wi-Fi hotspot information system is another innovative feature.
- The modern infotainment system has been installed to locate the train in real time.
- AI-powered CCTVs will help those in the control room to keep a tab on untoward incidents and on the behaviour of on-board staff
- Commuters will also be able to communicate with Railways officials.
- For wheel, coach and track monitoring, Railways have come up with Internet of things-based system.
- The vibrating-energy-based sensors will monitor the wheels, bearing and hard spots on the track, and will provide data through GPS/GPRS to the remote server for diagnosis and remedial measures.
- The Passenger Information and Coach Computing Unit (PICCU), an industrial grade computer, will monitor the coach maintenance and passenger interface.
- Smart coaches are also laden with water-level indicator technology to know whether the water in the coach is sufficient and when it needs to be filled. An SMS will be sent to the next watering station when the water level falls below half the coach capacity.
Centre hikes import duty on select goods
Part of Prelims and mains III – Indian economy
The government released a list of categories of items on which it would be hiking import duties, which include white goods such as air-conditioners, refrigerators and washing machines as well as non-essential items such as gems, travel bags and aviation turbine fuel (ATF).
Significance of hikes in import duty
- The Central Government has taken tariff measures, by way of increase in the basic customs duty to curb import of certain imported items. These changes aim at narrowing the current account deficit (CAD).
- The significant increases in customs duties of selective items which the government perceives to be non-essential imports appears to be aimed at reducing the drain of currency reserves and boost domestic demand.
- Curbing imports through tariffs would help in shoring up the rupee to 68-70 levels against the U.S. dollar.
- India had the right to raise import tariffs within a band under the World Trade Organisation rules, this right can be exercised in the best interest of the country.
- The messaging seems to be clear that if you want to access the Indian market, then start manufacturing here. The move, though significant, is not surprising with what is happening globally.
- This increase in duty on imports with the already depreciating rupee would be quite a point of worry for the importers.
- However, this hike in duty may not impact importers who procure from countries with which India currently has beneficial free trade agreements.
Cabinet approves 100% govt. stake in GST Network
Part of Prelims and mains III – Indian economy, tax reforms
The Union Cabinet approved increasing the government’s ownership in the Goods and Services Tax Network (GSTN) to 100% from the existing 49% and also change the existing structure in line with a transition plan.
Do you know?
- GST network is a not for profit company incorporated in 2013, under companies act.
- The Company has been set up primarily to provide IT infrastructure and services to the Central and State Governments, tax payers and other stakeholders for implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
- The Government of India holds 24.5% equity in GSTN and all States of the Indian Union, including NCT of Delhi and Puducherry, and the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers (EC), together hold another 24.5%. Balance 51% equity is with non-Government financial institutions.
- Now it is being made 100% govt. owned.
Note: For more details on GSTN visit: https://www.gstn.org/about-us/
‘MDR reimbursement pending from banks’
Part of Prelims and mains III – Indian economy
- The Payments Council of India (PCI) has said that payment service providers and merchant aggregators are yet to be received reimbursement for merchant discount rates from banks even after nine months.
- MDR is the fee that a merchant has to pay to a bank for every transaction that is split between the bank which issued the card, the payment service providers, and payment gateways.
- Payments Council of India (PCI), the representative body of non-banking merchant aggregators and acquirers, have raised serious concerns over non-receipt of reimbursements of MDR by merchant aggregators, from the related acquiring banks since January 2018.
- This is likely to seriously impact the operating ability of merchant aggregators and dent the efforts to promote digital payments.
TOPIC: General Studies 2
- Indian Constitution and governance
- Govt. Policies and issues arising out of their design and implementation
Finding an equilibrium
A thicket of Aadhaar litigation has now ended with the decision of a five-judge Supreme Court Bench, which had reserved its order on May 10, after a marathon 38-day hearing.
The victory of the right to privacy was presaged by K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India (2017), but that nine-judge Bench had left open the question of Aadhaar: whether the “national security” perspective (the vital role of surveillance to curb terror and prevent money laundering and crime financing) and “social welfare state” perspective (Aadhaar ensured that subsidies went to the right people) provided constitutional grounds for “reasonable restrictions” (reasonable because non-arbitrary).
The Money Bill question: under Article 110(3) of the Constitution
- Whether this decision disappoints those who had high expectations or remains enigmatic on key aspects is a question which will be debated for long.
- A very expansive view suggests that any bill which involves recourse to Consolidated Fund of India is a Money Bill and the finality of the Speaker’s decision is virtually unchallengeable.
- The other view is that the Speaker, like all constitutional functionaries, is bound to exercise the discretion reasonably; purposive as well as strict pragmatic.
- The scrutiny from Article 14 and 21 must ensue when a large number of bills are tagged with Money Bills.
- This is dangerous because it removes the rationale for bicameral legislatures, because the Constitution does not foreclose the Rajya Sabha’s collective right to meaningfully deliberate legislative change.
- Institutions are crucial to democracy. Debasing them can only cause a peril to democratic structures.
- The Constitution is not a political tactic, it is not a mere ‘play thing’ of a special majority as in Sajjan Singh v. State of Rajasthan (1965), laying the foundations of what became the doctrine of basic structure and essential features.
- Justice Chandrachud fully dissents and holds the law invalid as a “fraud on the Constitution”, that is a colourable exercise of constitutional power.
- He maintains that the “notion of absolute power” is offensive to the Constitution and that there is need to “liberate its founding principles from its colonial past”.
- Its purpose cannot be to shield an excess of power from being questioned before the court, nor to clothe a high functionary with utter impunity.
The proportionality test
- Any conflict of interest requires balancing, keeping in view constitutional first principles and its vision, values, and the mission.
- This leads to many welcome invalidations and dilutions of some important sections of the Act (See IASbaba current affairs September 28, 2018).
- But on the main aspect whether the right to privacy is violated, there is now posited a conflict with privacy and dignity, which only ‘harmonious construction’ may reconcile.
- SC felt that some loss of privacy is constitutionally permissible to achieve the public good to the “marginalised sections of society” and there was a collective right to privacy which may override the individual right.
- The tasks of balancing begin only when all interests are translated as individual, social, or public.
- The sanctity of privacy lies in its functional relationship with dignity. But this relationship is “functional” only when “undue intrusion” into the “autonomy on the pretext of conferment of economic benefits” is avoided.
- The majority decision offers a harmonious construction, but the dissenting opinion shows why this is not the only or necessarily the best way.
Connecting the dots:
- The recent SC judgment on Aadhaar Act draws a line between right to privacy and national objectives such as security and welfare state. Critically comment.
TOPIC: General Studies 3
- Indian economy, macroeconomic issues
- Govt. Policies and issues arising out of their design and implementation
Think big: on import duty hike
- The government released a list of categories of items on which it would be hiking import duties.
- This includes white goods such as air-conditioners, refrigerators and washing machines as well as non-essential items such as gems, travel bags and aviation turbine fuel (ATF).
- The Centre’s decision to increase customs duty on imports of 19 “non-essential” items amounts to tinkering at the margins to address a structural macro-economic issue.
- Using tariffs to curb imports of these items will not have a significant impact on narrowing the current account deficit (CAD), which is the Centre’s stated objective.
Do you know?
Current account deficit
- The current account measures the flow of goods, services and investments into and out of the country.
- We run into a deficit if the value of the goods and services we import exceeds the value of those we export.
- The current account includes net income, including interest and dividends, and transfers, like foreign aid.
- India’s current account deficit (CAD) is pegged at $13 billion or 1.9% of the GDP in Q4 of 2017-18, which increased from $2.6 billion or 0.4% of the GDP in Q4 of 2016-17.
- However, the CAD moderated marginally from $13.7 billion (2.1% of GDP) in the preceding quarter.
- The Reserve Bank of India attributed the widening of the CAD to a higher trade deficit ($41.6 billion) brought about by a larger increase in merchandise imports related to exports.
- The central bank wants to see the current account gap within 2.5% of the GDP, which is seen as crucial for currency stability.
- For example, the CAD touched a high of 4.8% of the GDP in 2012-13 on rising gold and oil imports, which also impacted the rupee that depreciated rapidly.
Why import duties will not have sufficient impact on CAD?
- The aggregate value of these imported items was just ₹86,000 crore, constitution a little less than 3% of the country’s merchandise import bill in 2017-18.
- With the first six months of the current fiscal having elapsed, the impact of this tariff increase in paring the import bill and thus containing the CAD is at best going to be short-term and marginal.
- On the other hand, the decision to double import duties on a clutch of consumer durables to 20% could dampen consumption of these products, especially at a time when the rupee’s slide against the dollar is already likely to have made these goods costlier.
- Here, it would be interesting to see if the government’s move turns into a psychological ‘tipping point’ that ends up altering consumption behaviour towards this category of imported merchandise.
- If it does, that could have the salutary effect of fostering greater investment in the domestic production of some of these goods.
- The tariff on aviation turbine fuel — which will now attract 5% customs duty instead of nil — may add to the stress of domestic airline operators, the rupee and rising oil prices having already hurt their wafer-thin margins.
- A more robust approach in addressing the widening CAD would be to institute wide-ranging measures to boost exports and simultaneously reduce the import-intensity of the economy.
- Policymakers must renew efforts to ensure that export growth starts outpacing the expansion in merchandise imports.
- This includes expediting the refunds on GST to exporters — smaller exporters have been badly hit by working capital shortfalls.
- Also to working to woo some of the labour-intensive supply chains that are moving out of China to countries such as Vietnam and Bangladesh.
- On import substitution, it is an irony that despite the abundance of coal reserves, thermal coal is one of India’s fastest-growing imports.
- This is a consequence of under-investment in modernising the entire coal production and utilisation chain and must be addressed expeditiously.
- With global crude oil prices showing no signs of reversing their upward trajectory, and the sanctions on Iran that may force India to look for other suppliers looming, the government will need to act post-haste to address structural imbalances to keep the CAD from widening close to or even exceeding the 3% of GDP level.
Connecting the dots:
- What is Current Account Deficit (CAD)? Critically analyse the recent fall in rupee value and subsequent rise in CAD.
(TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE)
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Q.1) Saab Group is sometimes in news. It is assocaited with –
- Swedish aerospace and defence company.
- Coalition of Saudi Arabia and global “Islamic Alliance” of 34 countries to combat terrorism
- South Africa’s largest weapons manufacturer that is offering Make in India, tech transfer and partnership with local companies.
- Saudi-led intervention in Bahrain .
Q.2) To reduce the current account deficit in India, which of the below actions government can take?
- Reduction in export subsidy
- Devaluing the domestic currency
- Adopting suitable policies which attract greater FDI and more foreign funds
Select the correct answer using the codes given below
- 1 and 2
- 1 and 3
- 2 and 3
- 1,2 and 3
Q.3) Twin deficits often in news relates to
- Revenue Deficit and Budget Deficit
- Fiscal Deficit and Budget Deficit
- Fiscal Deficit and Current Account Deficit
- Capital Account Deficit and Current Account Deficit
Q.4) Consider the following statements regarding Goods and Services Tax Network (GSTN):
- It is a non-profit, non-government organization.
- It will manage the entire IT system of the GST portal.
- It will provide taxpayers with all services – from registration to filing taxes and maintaining all tax details.
Which of the above statements are correct?
- 1 and 2
- 2 and 3
- 1 and 3
- All of the above
The poor are left to themselves
Dumping an archaic law
How Gandhi was different
Reaching for the Mahatma
More Equal Than Others
Court’s lost chance