CAO The Hindu NOTES – 12th July, 2018 (Daily News Paper Current Affairs Analysis)

Date:- 12th July 2018

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The problems with the HECI draft Bill

WHY IN NEWS:

  • The draft Higher Education Commission of India (Repeal of University Grants Commission Act) Bill, 2018(HECI), aims to replace a historical statutory body, the UGC; push for more government control; and stifle critical thinking on campuses.
  • As the education system is the most potent instrument for shaping a country’s future, and given India’s massive youth population, reframing the education system in a manner that will reflect the government’s agenda is clearly imperative for it.

IMPORTANT POINTS:

  • No time to discuss
  • That the government is in a hurry to pass this Bill in Parliament is reflected in the fact that Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar gave merely 10 days to stakeholders to submit their feedback on the Bill (the last date was July 7).
  • This is worrying and definitely not the way a massive reform such as this should be deliberated.
  • The government’s commitment to reform the regulatory mechanism to provide “more autonomy” to higher education  He believes that the HECI will cater to the changing priorities of higher education.
  • The UGC, it is argued, is preoccupied with disbursing funds and is unable to concentrate on mentoring higher education institutes, focus on research, and implement other quality measures required in the education sector.
  • So, the HECI will focus solely on academic matters while grants will be issued by the Ministry.
  • The argument is perplexing as what is expected of the higher education system as envisaged by Mr. Javadekar can very well be done by the UGC.
  • The UGC needs to be restructured in a manner that will ensure that its autonomy is strengthened without any scope for patronage politics and political interference. However, no such restructuring has been attempted, taking into account the UGC’s founding goals, achievements, shortcomings and the reasons for such shortcomings.
  • Instead, as the HECI draft Bill is already up on the Ministry’s website, it is important to dwell upon at least six of the concerns that are being expressed by the media and by academics.
  • Six concerns
  • This is clearly a case of doublespeak. The nature of the structure of the commission and its advisory council shows that they are bound to have more “government” in decision-making processes rather than academics.
  • Two, sweeping powers render the HECI more authoritative than the collective strength of campus authorities.
  • The powers and functions of the HECI trivialise the concept of autonomy, not the least because “non-compliance (of directions of the HECI) could result in fines or jail sentence.” This means that the authority of the HRD Ministry will be strengthened.
  • The draft Bill states: If any University grants affiliation in respect of any course of study to any institution in contravention of the provisions of the regulation/rule/recommendation issued by the Commission…the Commission… may impose a penalty on such University and/ or on such Institution which may include fine, or withdrawal of power to grant degrees/diplomas or direction to cease operations.” If there is a threat of academic functions being usurped through this legislation, it calls for reflection.
  • Three, with its mandate of improving academic standards with a specific focus on learning outcomes, evaluation of academic performance by institutions, and training of teachers, the HECI is likely to overregulate and micromanage universities.
  • Four, the proposal to empower the Centre to remove the HECI’s chairperson and vice-chairperson for reasons including “moral turpitude” will again curtail the regulator’s autonomy, which in turn will impact the autonomy of universities.
  • Five, instead of allowing institutions to evolve over time based on their specific needs, focussing on homogeneous, one-size-fits-all administrative models will go against the ethos of academic freedom, diversity, and knowledge production, and will help attempts to corporatise the education sector.
  • Six, the move to replace the UGC with the HECI points to the Centre’s aim to restrict the role of the States in matters relating to education.

 Access to education

  • Javadekar’s sudden decision to opt for the HECI is attributed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s lament in October 2017 that no Indian university figures among the world’s top 500. However, Mr. Modi’s worries are misplaced.
  • This is because one, the bigger concern for India is that despite being a country with a huge young population, higher education remains a privilege; many do not yet have access to it, mainly because it is not affordable.
  • The Prime Minister should concentrate his energies on improving this dismal scenario rather than lamenting about India not figuring in the world’s top universities list.
  • Even the poorest child in India should have access to the best education that will benefit and improve his or her future.
  • Education must serve as ladder for those in the lower rungs of society. In India there is no such ladder, and many children continue to lead a poor quality life with no access to education.
  • Seen from this perspective, the fact that there is no reference to expand the higher education sector such that it will reach the marginalised and the poor is what is actually a “blot”.
  • Including the excluded should be India’s goal, and reservation and affirmative action are the way forward.

 


Mercenary conservation

WHY IN NEWS:

Allowing for private forests can leadto illegal activities and change thenatural behaviour of wildlife

IMPORTANT POINTS:

  • Karnataka recently drafted Private Conservancy Rules in a bid to increase forest area through private land.
  • Under the rules, anyone who has a minimum of 100 acres of land bordering a national park can convert it to a “Wildlife Private Conservancy”.
  • Of this land, 5% can be used to construct buildings for ecotourism; the rest has to be kept for flora and fauna.
  • The move has received criticism, with activists and retired forest officers concerned that this could lead to illegal activities in private spaces.
  • Though policies are different in India and South Africa, there has been much talk about how we are going down the Africa way with this new approach.
  • In South Africa, agricultural land can be converted into wildlife reserves. The government specifies how much land is required for each animal, purchases are then made, and wildlife is introduced.
  • Private reserve owners treat wildlife in any way they deem fit. In one game reserve, an elephant recently went rogue and broke the fence. It was shot down and the carcass was left rotting inside the reserve for months.
  • This constantly challenges and changes the natural behaviour of wildlife. Some reserves have two sections: one with lions and one without. However, predators ensure survival of the fittest, and as a corollary, their absence leads to overgrazing and excess population.
  • Even though South African game reserves claim to respect wildlife, it is a business for them as their animals are bred and gunned down for money.
  • If money weren’t a motivating factor, the spaces would have continued being agricultural lands.

 


Aadhaar must for health mission cover

WHY IN NEWS:

Mission ensures health cover to 10 cr.

IMPORTANT POINTS:

  • The government has mandated the use of Aadhaar card for administering its massive Ayushman Bharat, or National Health Mission, that assures a 5 lakh health cover to 10 crore families.
  • While possessing an Aadhaar card isn’t mandatory to avail services, a proof of enrolment, or request for enrolment, is mandatory. The Ayushman Bharat is scheduled to roll out this August.
  • “…A beneficiary eligible for receiving the benefits under the Scheme shall be required to furnish proof of possession of Aadhaar number or undergo Aadhaar authentication…Any beneficiary desirous of availing the benefits under the Scheme, who is not yet enrolled for Aadhaar, shall have to apply for Aadhaar by 31st March 2019 provided she or he is entitled to obtain Aadhaar,” says a notification by the Health Ministry on July 4.
  • “…Provided that till the time Aadhaar is assigned to the individuals, benefits under the Scheme shall be given to such individuals, subject to the production of the following documents, namely:–
  • (a) (i) if he or she or has enrolled, his or her Aadhaar Enrolment ID slip; or
  • (ii) a copy of his or her request made for Aadhaar enrolment and…(one) of a Bank Passbook, Voter id, etc.,” the notification specifies.
  • Those having trouble verifying biometrics will have the option of getting “face recognition,” a technology that is yet to see the light of day. If nothing works, the patients will be required to get the QR code scanned on their enrolment letter.

Promotion quota case for 7-judge Bench?

WHY IN NEWS:

SC refuses to pass interim order

IMPORTANT POINTS:

  • The Supreme Court on Wednesday indicated that a seven-judge Bench may be constituted to examine whether a 2006 judgment by a five-judge Bench of the court interrupted the grant of quota in promotions.
  • A three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra scheduled a batch of over 40 petitions on the question of referral to a seven-judge Bench on August 3.
  • The oral observation was in reaction to submissions made by Attorney General K.K. Venugopal that lakhs of promotions across government departments have been put on hold because of the Nagaraj judgment of 2006.
  • Venugopal, while urging the court to set up the seven-judge Bench, however unsuccessfully pleaded for interim orders.
  • The Bench refused to pass interim directions contrary to the Nagaraj judgment. As of now, the freeze in reservation for promotions would continue.
  • The five-judge Bench in the Nagaraj case had held that the creamy layer concept should be excluded from reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in government jobs.
  • It had directed the upper limit of quota at 50%.
  • The Bench had also held that the State would have to justify in each case the compelling reasons – namely backwardness and inadequacy of representation — for providing reservation “keeping in mind the overall efficiency of State administration.”
  • “It is made clear that even if the State has compelling reasons, the State will have to see that its reservation provision does not lead to excessiveness so as to breach the ceiling limit of 50% or obliterate the creamy layer or extend reservation indefinitely,” the Constitution Bench had observed in the Nagaraj verdict.

Traffickers, peddlers, mules or users?

WHY IN NEWS:

  • The law on drugs needs some amendments
  • At a Cabinet meeting on July 2, the Punjab government recommended to the Union government the death penalty for first time offenders convicted for drug trafficking and smuggling. But the assumption that harsher measures can help deal with the State’s drug problem is flawed.
  • Deterrence by harsh punishments has consistently failed, especially in the context of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS Act).

IMPORTANT POINTS:

  • High rate of conviction
  • The law on drugs is covered by the NDPS Act. The Act’s primary objective is to deter drug trafficking.
  • It uses every trick in the book to achieve this: strict liability offences, mandatory minimum sentences, even the death penalty for certain repeat offences, to name a few.
  • The system has responded to the law by maintaining a high rate of conviction and imprisonment. In 2015, 41.7% of all prisoners in Punjab were in jail for various offences related to this law.
  • The conviction rate recorded for NDPS cases in Patiala for the same year was 90.7%.
  • The comparative conviction rate under the Indian Penal Code was 30.7%.
  • But Punjab continues to be plagued by drug-related deaths, as recently as June when 23 persons died of drug-related causes.
  • The law also seeks deterrence through strict liability provisions. Under the law, proving possession alone is sufficient, the prosecution does not have to prove intent to lead to conviction.
  • The police in Punjab follow a template charge-sheet format, just to prove possession. They rarely, if ever, examine the intent of the criminal act.
  • The way investigation is conducted right now, it is impossible to tell whether the person is a peddler or smuggler, or an addict feeding his habit.

 Playing to the gallery

  • The Cabinet’s proposal to make the law even harsher is an attempt to play to the gallery.
  • It may alleviate people’s concerns for the time being, but it will not yield the results the state as well as its people so desperately seek.
  • Instead, the law and the state need to take the opposite approach.
  • The Act is also blatantly unforgiving of anyone found in possession of any drug. Section 27 of the Act makes consuming any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance a criminal offence.
  • Criminalising addiction stigmatises it, which automatically inhibits addicts from coming forward for treatment.
  • The law also seeks deterrence through strict liability provisions. Under the law, proving possession alone is sufficient, the prosecution does not have to prove intent to lead to conviction.
  • Since intent is harder to prove than a criminal act alone, strict liability ensures higher convictions. This has, predictably, led to another predicament.
  • The police in Punjab follow a template charge-sheet format, just to prove possession. They rarely, if ever, examine the intent of the criminal act.
  • The way investigation is conducted right now, it is impossible to tell whether the person is a peddler or smuggler, or an addict feeding his habit.

 Playing to the gallery

  • The Cabinet’s proposal to make the law even harsher is an attempt to play to the gallery.
  • It may alleviate people’s concerns for the time being, but it will not yield the results the state as well as its people so desperately seek.
  • Instead, the law and the state need to take the opposite approach.
  • To begin with, to ensure that traffickers are caught instead of users, the law must make intent an ingredient of offences under the NDPS Act.
  • The Act is also blatantly unforgiving of anyone found in possession of any drug.
  • Section 27 of the Act makes consuming any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance a criminal offence.
  • Criminalising addiction stigmatises it, which automatically inhibits addicts from coming forward for treatment.
  • The state should consider decriminalising addiction and developing an effective treatment strategy by consulting experts, partner agencies and users, and allocating adequate resources.
  • The Punjab government must assess its infrastructural needs and ensure that they are met.

 

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