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Polity - Current Affairs, October 2016 Notes - Current Affairs

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POLITY

1.1. KRISHNA WATER DISPUTES TRIBUNAL II VERDICT
Why in news?

 The Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal II headed by Justice Brijesh Kumar has turned down the demands of AP and Telangana regarding their demand for redistribution of the Krishna river water among the four riparian states, including Karnataka and Maharashtra.

Background
 Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal (KWDT I) was set up by the Central Government in 1969 under the Interstate River Water Disputes Act, 1956 to resolve the disputes between the states of Karnataka, Maharashtra and then undivided Andhra Pradesh over sharing of Krishna river water.
 The KWDT I (Bachawat commission) in its final award in 1973, divided the share of water between the three states as Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra.
 In April 2004, KWDT II, was constituted by the Government of India following requests by all three states mainly over the issue of Alamatti dam height issue.
 The KWDT II gave its draft verdict on 31 December 2010. The KWDT II set the next review of water allocations after the year 2050.

What is the current case?
 Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in their current petition have sought fresh allocation of Krishna River water among all four riparian states.
 According to them, Section 89 in the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014 calls for redistribution of Krishna water among all the four riparian States not just between both of them.

The judgment
 The tribunal observed that the section 89 of AP reorganisation act 2014 was not applicable to Maharashtra and Karnataka.
 Allocations made on the basis of water utilisations outside the Krishna basin were valid on historic grounds.
 AP and Telangana have to share water that was allocated to the undivided AP, nothing more or nothing less.
 A claim made by Telangana that AP was bifurcated because of inequitable allocation of the Krishna river water was thrashed by the tribunal.
 The tribunal said that AP was divided not because of unequal distribution of water, but to fulfill the political aspirations of the people of TG.

Way forward
 One solution can be to bring water under concurrent list and according to Mihir shah report central water authority can be constituted to manage rivers.
 Centre can play the role of impartial arbitrator. This role cannot be done by courts as this is a political question with political consequences.
 A Parliamentary Standing Committee on Water Resources too has stated the need for bringing the subject in the Concurrent List.
 It also urged the Centre to initiate “earnest” efforts to build a national consensus for bringing water in the Concurrent List of Constitution so that a comprehensive plan can be prepared for water conservation.

1.2. RIGHT TO CHOOSE
Why in news?

 Recently, Patna High Court in the Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverage Companies v State of Bihar (2016) holds the imposition of “prohibition” in Bihar as unconstitutional.

________________________________

Right to Choose guarantees individuals the right to personal autonomy, which means that a person's decisions regarding his or her personal life are respected so long as he/she is not a nuisance to the society.

_________________________________

Background
 The Bihar government issued a notification under the Bihar Excise Act, 1915 banning the manufacture, sale, and distribution, as well as the possession and consumption of alcohol.
 It also reversed the burden of proof, requiring the accused to prove her innocence to avoid imprisonment.
 Supreme Court, however, has stayed the operation of the Patna High Court judgment, allowing the continuation of a draconian prohibition law in Bihar.

________________________________

Other judgements related to Right to Choose
Bombay High Court, in Shaikh Zahid Mukhtiar v State of Maharashtra (2016), struck down the sections of Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, 1976, on the grounds that it is a breach of Article 21, specifically the right to consume food of one’s choice in private.
Bombay High Court in High Court on Its Own Motion v State of Maharashtra (2016), read in “choice” as a ground on which a woman may lawfully seek an abortion, even though the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 only permits abortions on the ground that the pregnancy might affect the mental health of the woman.

_________________________________

Significance of Patna High Court judgement
 For the first time, a constitutional court has addressed the question of imposition of prohibition in terms of its impact on the right to life and liberty of a citizen.
 This implies that the debate was not just about the right to business and trade of manufacturers and dealers, but individual liberty as well.

Concerns related to approach of SC vis-à-vis Right to Choose
 The Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on the scope of Right to life under Article 21 has largely been about incorporating socioeconomic rights contained in Part IV. But it has not focused on the individual’s right to determine what the “good life” itself is.
 There have been stray mentions of the right to choose by Supreme Court without fully articulating what they mean by
it.
 For instance, The Supreme Court overturned Naz Foundation in Suresh Kumar Koushal v Naz Foundation (2014), refusing to even engage with the argument that LGBTQ persons may have rights.
 This after Delhi High Court’s judgement decriminalised voluntary homosexual acts on the premise (among other things) that it was a violation of the right to privacy of the individual, which is part of the right to life of a person. The right to privacy here is framed specifically in terms of choice of sexual partners.

Way forward
 In its role as the ultimate arbiter of the rule of law and fundamental rights, it is time the Supreme Court re-examines its whole approach to Article 21.
 For instance, it can adopt a more straightforward approach to this issue, by reading a right to choose as something that is essential to leading a meaningful life.

1.3. ELECTIONS IN INDIA
1.3.1 RELIGION AND ELECTIONS
Why in news?

The seven-judge Constitution Bench of Supreme Court is re-considering its 1995 verdict and has questioned whether the practice of using the mass religious appeal by leaders to canvas votes for candidates amounts to a corrupt electoral practice.

Background
 SC is looking into the various means by which misuse of religion or faith of the masses for electoral gains can be categorised as a corrupt practice.

 It was also looking into electoral practices of political parties and candidates to rope in clerics or priests to flex their religious sway over particular religious community to swing votes.
 SC in its 1995 verdict held that canvassing votes in name of ‘Hindutva/Hinduism’ wasn’t a corrupt electoral practice under Sec 123 of RoPA, as Hinduism was not a religion but a way of life in India.
 S. 123(3) of the RPA regards ‘any appeal by a candidate or his agent to vote or refrain from voting for any person on the ground of his religion, race, caste, community or language’ as an electoral offence.

Why it should over-rule the 1995 judgment:
 Seeking votes in the name of religion could affect the secular concept of elections in our democracy, and hence such a thing could not be allowed.
 Fundamentalism of any colour or kind must be curbed with a heavy hand to preserve and promote the secular creed of the nation.
 The bench observed that the “right to contest is a statutory right. Secularism is a basic feature.” So court is obliged to give a preference to it.

 Seeking votes in name of religion may exclude some sections cause a deep feeling of insecurity among minorities, free thinkers, atheists etc.,

 According to Justice S.A. Bobde, a judge on the Bench, the voters are pushed to either identify or differentiate between their religious identity and the faith of the candidate in question
 Against Unity and Diversity: the word ‘Hindutva’ is used and understood as a synonym of ‘Indianisation’, i.e., development of uniform culture by obliterating the differences between all the cultures coexisting in the country

Why it should maintain status quo

Judicial overreach: it was for parliament to revisit provision 123 (3).
 Interpretation contrary to the earlier ruling that Hinduism is a way of life would have the unintended consequence of the court sanitising the whole poll process, which should be left to the parliament.
 Poll process is heavily interlinked with caste and religious issues. So this is a political question and parliament itself has to solve this.
Close to Reality: Democratic processes involving caste and religion are reality. Imposing this as corruption, may not be in touch with reality. This may lead to wide scale flouting. The change should be incremental and it should come from the society itself.
Many inconsistencies which need parliament legislation: For instance, Section 123 is silent about whether a Jain or an atheist can seek votes in name of any religion.

Way forward
 India is a secular country with lot of regional variations even among Hindu religion. ‘Hindutva’ should be understood in spirit rather than mis-using it for own political benefits.
 We see our neighbours and middle-east torn by religious conflicts. To avoid that the fundamental values of tolerance and peace etc., should be explicitly described as core value components of ‘Hindutva’ by SC to prevent further misuse.

1.3.2. E-POSTAL BALLOT SYSTEM FOR ARMED FORCES
 The service personnel especially the armed force members serving in the border and remote areas are not able to cast their votes in the elections in their native places. The present system of Postal ballot and proxy voting is inefficient causing delays.
 Earlier the SC had also asked the government and Election Commission to devise an effective mechanism to resolve this issue in Neela Gokhale vs. Union of India (2013)
 In light of this, the EC has come up with an e-Postal ballot system. Under this, a blank postal ballot paper would be transmitted to the service personnel electronically. They can cast their vote on it and post it to the Returning officer.
 This one-way electronic transmission will help in considerably cutting short the delay.
 Two-way electronic transmission has not been recommended by the Election Commission for security and secrecy reasons.

1.4. RELEVANCE AND SUITABILITY OF ‘REFERENDUM’
Why in news?

 The Brexit referendum, on whether Britain should stay in the European Union, concluded on June 23 with 52 per cent (of 72.2 per cent of the electorate that turned out) voting to “Leave”.
 Recently, the October 2 referendum called by the Colombian government to ratify the accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) resulted in a “No” vote favoured by 50.3 per cent of the less than 38 per cent of the electorate that turned out.
 Last year, in a referendum on Scottish’s stay in UK, Scotland voted to remain with Britain in a close verdict.

____________________

What is a referendum?
Referendums are instruments of direct democracy where citizens get to directly vote on specific and important issues rather than for representatives who will make a choice on their behalf on those issues.
They are perceived to be a better democratic instrument especially in modern states where people have a better say in the decision making.

____________________

Is it a right democratic tool?
In light of growing acceptance of referendums across the world, especially in western European countries, the demand to have referendums in India has also initiated.

Argument for
 It is a form of true democracy as it gives the power to the people directly.
 Referendums tend to add legitimacy to difficult legislative choices as it is more risky to take unpopular decisions without that stamp of legitimacy.
 Increasing demands for referendums (32 in 18 countries of EU) shows the growing frustration of people on various issues. Earlier this used to take the form of protests, uprising and even violence. Now, the change can be brought peacefully.

Argument Against
Tyranny of the majority: For example in a referendum on whether to build mosque minarets in Switzerland in 2009, the people voted against building those. This was mainly because the majority of people were convinced that it was an Islamic invasion even though there were just a total of 4 in the entire country.
 It reduces complex questions to simple 'yes or no' answers. Arguments without sufficient backing of evidences are enough to drive popular sentiments and demagoguery e.g. In Brexit, the popular opinion that migrants are responsible for their economic hardships made them vote. However, there wasn't evidence to support this argument.
 Many times key legislations may go against the popular opinion but the wisdom of the elected legislators could make them happen e.g. against racial discrimination, abolishing death penalty etc

Way Forward
 Decisions that profoundly affect not only the present but also succeeding generations should not be taken in a rush, or through one-time referendums.
 A mechanism can be developed that calls for referendums on select Bills and Acts based on a large quantum of public signatures seeking to vote on them. This could go a long way in not just sensitising the public towards important laws but also for a means of getting popular approval for them. E.g. a question on whether public welfare legislation like Aadhar should be made mandatory to avail social services could be put in a referendum.

1.5. UNITED GROUP IN RAJYA SABHA
Why in news?

 Recently Vice-President of India formally recognised a group of 22 MPs belonging to parties with less than four MPs and certain independents as a consolidated block — the United Group in Rajya sabha.

Background
 This is only the third time in the history of Indian Parliament that this is happening.
 In 1983, the first such consolidated group was called United Associations of Members was recognised by the then Rajya Sabha Chairman.
 In 1990, the then chairman of Rajya Sabha recognised organised group of Parliamentarians and was renamed as the United Group.

Implications of the decision
 The united group will be the third largest group of MPs in the Rajya Sabha, after the Congress and the BJP.
 The group will find a place in the Business Advisory Committee (BAC) that decides time allotment.
 Time allotted to parties to speak on debates depends entirely on their strength in the House. Earlier due to their lean status numerically members of this bloc had just three minutes of speech time. Thus, the formation of the United Group would allow for enhanced deliberation and debates in the Rajya sabha.

1.6. EK BHARAT SHRESHTHA BHARAT INITIATIVE
Why in news?

“Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat” was launched by Hon’ble Prime Minister recently.

About the Initiative
 It is an innovative measure that will lead to an enhanced understanding and bonding between the States through the knowledge of the culture, traditions and practices of different States & UTs, for strengthening the unity and integrity of India.
 All States and UTs will be covered under the programme.
 According to the scheme, two states will undertake a unique partnership for one year which would be marked by cultural and student exchanges. 6 MoUs between two States each were also signed on the occasion of launch, under this initiative.
 Students of a particular state would travel to another state to learn each other's culture.
 District level pairings will also be done and it would be independent of the State level pairings.
 The activity will be very useful to link various States and Districts in annual programmes that will connect people through exchanges in areas of culture, tourism, language, education trade etc.
 Citizens will also be able to experience the cultural diversity of a much larger number of States/UTs while realising that India is one.

____________________

Objectives of Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat
To celebrate the Unity in Diversity of our Nation and to maintain and strengthen the fabric of traditionally existing emotional bonds between the people of our Country.
To promote the spirit of national integration through a deep and structured engagement between all Indian States and Union Territories through a year-long planned engagement between States.
To showcase the rich heritage and culture, customs and traditions of either State for enabling people to understand and appreciate the diversity that is India, thus fostering a sense of common identity.
To establish long-term engagements and to create an environment which promotes learning between States by sharing best practices and experiences

____________________

Significance
 The idea of Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat will help in building a better nation through by enabling people to imbibe the innate chord of binding and brotherhood.
 It will help to induce a sense of responsibility and ownership for the nation as a whole through these close cross-cultural interactions.

Conclusion
Although it is still unclear about the specific provisions of the scheme, the idea sounds highly inspiring and futuristic. The government has formed a committee to work out the modalities of the scheme in consultation with the states.

1.7. BENAMI TRANSACTIONS (PROHIBITION) AMENDMENT ACT, 2016
Why in news?

 The Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Amendment Act will come into force on November 1, 2016.
 Following this, the existing Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act will be renamed as the Prohibition of Benami Property Transactions Act (PBPT Act).

Background
 Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act 1988 had several loopholes such as lack of proper implementation machinery, absence of appellate mechanism, lack of provision with centre for vesting confiscated property etc.
 The current government had introduced Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Amendment Bill in July 2016 in parliament. This bill has been now passed in both the houses of parliament and will come into effect from 1 November 2016.

Features of the bill
 Objective: The main aim is to route the unaccounted money into the financial system and seize Benami properties and punish those who are involved in these properties.
 The Act defines benami transactions, prohibits them and further provides that violation of the PBPT Act is punishable with imprisonment up to 7 years and fine.
 It also prohibits recovery of the property held benami from benamidar by the real owner.
 Properties held benami are liable for confiscation by the Government without payment of compensation.
 An appellate mechanism has been provided under the PBPT Act in the form of Adjudicating Authority and Appellate Tribunal.
 The Adjudicating Authority and the Appellate Tribunal have been notified on similar lines from Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (PMLA).

Significance
 This law will have long term impacts on real estate industry in the country.
 It will increase the practice of including the correct name in property transactions. This in turn would bring transparency in residential market.
 The stringent law would also bring down the prices of real estate because such transactions are done by cash rich investors to park their unaccounted wealth in real estate.
 It will also boost the confidence of lenders esp banks and also private individuals.

1.8. SEXUAL HARASSMENT AT WORKPLACE
Why in news?

 A review meeting on implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 held recently.
 It was observed that there were various short comings in terms of manner and results of the implementation.

Steps proposed for better implementation
 The Ministry of WCD will set up an inter-ministerial committee headed by a senior official of the WCD Ministry.
 This committee will review the progress of disposal of complaints of sexual harassment, get a standardized training module prepared.

 The committee will also make sure that the heads of Internal Complaints Committee of all ministries/departments are given training on how to handle the complaints.
 The ministry will be establishing a secure electronic platform for any woman employee of the government to file a complaint under the Act directly to the Ministry of WCD.
 This will enable a monitorable and transparent system of grievance redressal under the Act.
 Monthly reporting to WCD ministry on the number of complaints received, disposed, pending and action taken etc.
 It was also decided that the Act, the rights of a woman official and the responsibility of the ICC must be given adequate publicity through different methods including the websites of the ministries/ departments/ attached offices.

Way forward
 It was often observed that harassment of women continues over a period of time and it is only after it becomes unbearable that a woman comes out to complain. This should be stopped.
 Women should be encouraged to report the matters of sexual harassment as soon as possible. This can be achieved through better work culture, better awareness about issue and availability of redressal forums.
 The Internal Complaints Committee should decide on the complaint in the shortest possible time.
 It is often seen that aggressor is transferred and the matter get hushed. This culture should be curbed and fair investigation should take place.
 There should be harsher punishments when the complaint is found to be true.
 The e-platform is a welcome step for enhancing transparency and better mode of registering grievance in short time.

1.9. WESTERN ZONAL COUNCIL MEETING
Why in news?

 The 22nd meeting of the Western Zonal Council was held in October, 2016 under the Chairmanship of Union Home Minister.
 The Zonal Councils are mandated to discuss and make recommendations on economy and social planning, border disputes, inter-State transport and linguistic minorities related issues.

Significance
 Zonal councils help to develop the habit of cooperative working among these States. Various aspects and agenda discussed in the meeting will enhance the comity between the states.
 The zonal councils also facilitate to create healthy inter-State and Centre-State environment with a view to solving inter-State problems and fostering balanced socio economic development of the respective zones.

About Zonal Council
 The idea of zonal councils emerged during the course of debate on the report of the States Re-organisation Commission 1956.
 In the light of the vision of Pandit Nehru, five Zonal Councils were set up under the States Re-organisation Act, 1956. (Zonal councils are not constitutional bodies, they are statutory bodies)
 The Northern Zonal Council
 The Central Zonal Council
 The Eastern Zonal Council
 The Western Zonal Council
 The Southern Zonal Council
 The North Eastern States i.e. (i) Assam (ii) Arunachal Pradesh (iii) Manipur (iv) Tripura (v) Mizoram (vi) Meghalaya and (vii) Nagaland (viii) Sikkim are not included in the Zonal Councils and their special problems are looked after by the North Eastern Council, set up under the North Eastern Council Act, 1972.

1.10. PARITY ISSUES RELATED TO ARMY
About the issue: There are two kinds of inequalities around army:
 Between combat and non-combat officers
 Between military and civilian officers

Combat vs Non-Combat officers
 The promotion of officers from combat support arms like engineers, logistics, signals etc are not at par with the promotions in combat services.
 In an unprecedented move, recently the Supreme Court ordered the army to pay financial compensation of Rs 20,000 to each of 141 officers from combat support arms, who continue being denied promotion despite a verdict from the apex court.
 The case relates to a discriminatory promotion policy instituted by the army in 2009, which the SC found biased in favour of officers from two arms — infantry and artillery — whose officers dominated decision-making during that period.

Way forward
 There is a need to avoid a situation where officers refuse to serve in logistics due to low promotions there.
 Further, a less meritorious officer should not get precedence over other only for the reason that he is from combat arm. This is against meritocracy.

Military vs Civilian Officers
 There is widespread disparity in the pay and allowances of officers. For example, the difference in the status and salary of an Army Brigadier and DIG of police has continuously reduced since third Central Pay Commission. Now, the Seventh CPC recommendation has placed a brigadier’s allowances below those of the DIG. This is despite the fact that only 5% of army officers become brigadiers and that too after 26 years of service, whereas more than 90% of IPS officers become DIGs after 14 years.
 There are similar issues with respect to disability pension, non-functional upgrade etc.
 A lowered pay status compared to civilian counterparts with much less period of service leads to operational problems for the armed forces working in a multi-cadre environment as the civil authorities refuse to listen to them. This affects the morale of the forces and needs to be rectified.

Suggestions
 Including the representatives of armed forces in Central Pay Commission or to constitute a separate Armed Forces Pay Commission
 An expert committee should be formed to inquire into the change in status and command and control issues of the armed forces, vis-a-vis the bureaucracy, and recommend course corrections in a time-bound manner. This is necessary to honour the military and give it what is rightfully theirs.
 In a latest move, the defence ministry has decided to have re-look over this matter.

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