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20th September 2022

The controversy over NAAC’s system for assessing higher education

Context
  • The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda and allegations of bribery in the process. This has sparked a row over the accreditation and assessment procedure of NAAC.
About

What is the controversy about?

  • NAAC had reportedly withheld the grading of the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda after receiving a complaint that the university unduly tried to influence the peer review team.
  • The process of Peer Team Visits adds substantial effort on the part of both NAAC and the HEIs.
  • NAAC academic advisory committee has recommended that the role of Peer Team visits be facilitatory in nature and not have a significant weightage in assessment and accreditation.

What is NAAC?

  • National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), an autonomous body under the University Grants Commission (UGC).
  • NAAC carries out quality checks or assessments of Indian Higher-level Educational Institutions (HEIs).
  • It certifies Indian Higher-level Educational Institutions (HEIs) with gradings as part of accreditation.
  • The ratings of institutions range from A++ to C. If an institution is graded D, it means it is not accredited.
  • Through higher education institution learns whether it meets the standards of quality set by the evaluator in terms of curriculum, faculty, infrastructure, research, and other parameters.


How is the accreditation process carried out?

  • The current approach of accreditation has been described as “input-based” and NAAC heavily on self-assessment reports of applicant institutions.
  • In the first step, the applicant institution submits a self-study report of information related to quantitative and qualitative metrics.
  • The data is then validated by NAAC expert teams, followed by peer team visits to the institutions. This last step has sparked controversy.

What are the alternatives being explored?

  • From the prevailing “input-based” approach, the NAAC plans to adopt an “outcome-based approach”.
  • It suggests that emphasis should be on finding out if students are equipped with relevant skills and academic abilities.
  • Rather than relying exclusively on the self-study reports of the HEIs, the NAAC should ask institutions to provide evidence such as samples of learning materials, continuous assessment tasks, and final examinations to show they have outcomes of learning specified in the syllabus

Can all higher educational institutes apply for accreditation?

  • Only higher education institutions that are at least six years old, or from where at least two batches of students have graduated, can apply.
  • The accreditation is valid for five years.
  • Aspiring institutes need to be recognized by the UGC and have regular students enrolled in their full-time teaching and research programs.
  • When an institution undergoes the accreditation process for the first time it is referred to as Cycle 1, and the subsequent five-year periods as Cycles 2, 3, and so on.

 

How many institutions in India are accredited?

  • There are 1,043 universities and 42,343 colleges listed on the portal of the All-India Survey on Higher Education.
  • Among the states, Maharashtra accounts for the highest number of accredited colleges at 1,869 – more than twice as many as Karnataka’s 914, the second highest.
  • Tamil Nadu has the most accredited universities at 43.

Can State impose limits on students’ fundamental rights in the classroom: Supreme Court

Context
  • The Supreme Court has raised questions over the legitimacy of states placing curbs on the rights of students in classrooms (Karnataka hijab case).
About

Religious Practices and Rights: Arguments

  • It is argued in the court that, the Fundamental right can be exercised anywhere, whether in the classroom or any other place, subject to legitimate restrictions.
  • The court has tried to seek an answer to, what actually amounts to a ‘religious practice’. Wearing a particular dress, while conducting puja, may be linked to religion. But is wearing a particular dress outside religious places within the ambit of 'religious practice”?
  • India is a "beautiful democracy" where the majority are obliged not to discriminate against minorities. The secular state in the Indian Constitution meant a state that does not discriminate on religion, a state that does not patronize nor prefer one religion over the other.

How is Religious Freedom Protected under the Constitution?

  • Article 25(1) of the Constitution guarantees the “freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion”.
  • It is a right that guarantees negative liberty, which means that the state shall ensure that there is no interference or obstacle to exercising this freedom.
  • However, like all fundamental rights, the state can restrict the right for grounds of public order, decency, morality, health, and other state interests.

The argument in Support of the Hijab Ban:

  • Hijab is not an essential religious practice and the freedom of religion can be subjected to reasonable restrictions under constitutional provisions for maintaining institutional discipline.
  • Educational institutions can impose dress codes/uniforms prohibiting religious dress to ensure secular education.
  • Public places are meant to be secular; religion has to be kept out of them.
  • The right to practice religion is subject to several restrictions and rules of public morality.
  • The spirit behind a dress code is of ensuring homogeneity in a classroom and obliterating the visible class or caste divide.

The argument against Hijab Ban

  • Constitutional Right - Wearing of hijab is their fundamental right under the right to freedom of religion under article 25, and also wearing a hijab is an expression protected under Article 19 of the Constitution which guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression.
  • Irrational restrictions - Government has the right to restrict fundamental rights to protect the sovereignty and integrity of India, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of courts.
    • But Students silently wearing a hijab/headscarf and attending class cannot in any manner be said to be a practice that disturbs “public order”.
  • India is a land of diversity, and the diversity in the classroom must reflect this social reality, as this helps students to know about different diverse groups and they learn to respect diversity.
    • If the classroom becomes homogeneous then students could feel uncomfortable in a Heterogeneous Indian Society.

Important cases:

  • Amna Bint Basheer v Central Board of Secondary Education (2016)
  • Fathima Tasneem v State of Kerala (2018)

India, Egypt to focus on defense coproduction

Context
  • India’s defense minister is on a 2-day visit to Egypt. The leadership of the two countries has agreed to develop military cooperation and focus on joint training.

Key Highlights of the visit:

  • To focus on deepening cooperation between the defense industries of the two countries.
  • To emphasize specific proposals in relation to, joint training, defense coproduction, and maintenance of equipment.
  • To exchange expertise and best practices in countering the threat of terrorism.
  • The two countries are set to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on defence cooperation.
  • India acknowledged that Egypt is among the most important trading partners of India in the region and that bilateral trade has expanded.
  • Egypt has expressed interest in acquiring military platforms from India. Among other things, Egypt is considering the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) for its fighter requirement.

India-Egypt Relations:

  • Diplomatic relations between Egypt and India were established with Egypt’s recognition of the independence of India on 18 August 1947, just three days after India’s independence.
  • Growing Egypt-India economic and commercial relations contribute to the stability and strength of a rapidly diversifying and deepening bilateral relationship

Defense partnership:

  • It is being revived with among other developments the visit of the Indian Navy ship to Egypt, a month-long Air Force exercise, and the visit of the Egyptian Air Force chief to India in recent months.

Trade & Commerce:

  • Egypt has traditionally been one of India's most important trading partners in the African continent.
  • The India-Egypt Bilateral Trade Agreement has been in operation since March 1978 and is based on the Most Favored Nation clause.
  • Major Egyptian exports to India include:
  • Raw cotton, raw and manufactured fertilizers, oil and oil products, organic and non-organic chemicals, leather and iron products.
  • Major imports into Egypt from India are:
  • Cotton yarn, sesame, coffee, herbs, tobacco, and lentils.
  • Mineral fuel; vehicle parts; Ship, boat, and floating structure; cuts of boneless bovine frozen meat; and Electrical machinery and parts are also exported from India.
  • There is a significant Indian presence in almost every field in Egypt.

Cultural Links:

  • The Maulana Azad Centre for Indian Culture (MACIC) was set up in Cairo in 1992
  • It aims to promote cultural cooperation between the two countries, through the implementation of the Cultural Exchange Programme (CEP).
  • The Centre, in addition to popularizing Indian culture through Hindi, Urdu, and Yoga classes and the screening of movies, also organizes cultural festivals.

ECI seeks restrictions on cash donations to political parties

Context
  • Chief Election Commissioner has suggested a slew of amendments to the Representation of the People (RP) Act, to increase transparency and accountability on part of the candidate.
About

Recent developments:

  • The move comes in the backdrop of the poll panel recently delisting 284 defaulting and non-compliant registered unrecognized political parties (RUPPs).
  • The Commission found that while donations reported by some political parties were nil, their audited accounts statement showed receipt of huge amounts, proving large-scale transactions in cash, below the threshold limit of ?20,000.

Proposal by the Election commission:

  • To bring reforms and transparency in donations received by political parties.
  • Reducing anonymous political donations to ?2,000 from ?20,000.
  • Capping cash donations at 20% or a maximum of ?20 crores.

Other recommendations:

  • The Election Commission (EC) has sought to make digital transactions or account payee cheque transfers mandatory for all expenses above ?2,000 to a single entity/person.
  • EC wants every candidate to open a separate bank account for election purposes, route all expenses and receipts through this account, and furnish these details in their account of election expenditure.
  • Presently, maintaining a separate bank account for poll expenditure is part of the instructions but it is not a part of the Conduct of Election Rules.
  • No foreign donations creep into the funds of the parties as stipulated under the RP Act and the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), 2010.

About Election Commission of India:

  • The Election Commission of India is an autonomous constitutional authority responsible for administering Union and State election processes in India.
  • The body administers elections to the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, and State Legislative Assemblies in India, and the offices of the President and Vice President in the country.

Related Constitutional Provisions:

  • Part XV of the Indian constitution deals with elections and establishes a commission for these matters.
  • The Election Commission was established in accordance with the Constitution on 25th January 1950.
  • Article 324 to 329 of the constitution deals with powers, function, tenure, eligibility, etc of the commission and the member.

Representation of the People Act, 1951: It is an act of Parliament of India that has provisions for:

  • the conduct of election of the Houses of Parliament and to the House or Houses of the Legislature of each State,
  • the qualifications and disqualifications for membership in those Houses,
  • the corrupt practices and other offenses at or in connection with such elections and
  • the decision of doubts and disputes arising out of or in connection with such elections.

Supreme Court has referred death penalty issues to a Constitution Bench

Context
  • The question of providing accused in death penalty cases a “meaningful, real and effective” hearing before a trial judge has been referred to a Constitutional bench by the Supreme Court.
About

What is the issue?

  • Sentencing after conviction is a complex problem in cases relating to capital offenses.
  • Many times, the mitigating factor for awarding the death penalty is not properly taken into consideration due to the lack of any laid norms.
  • Trial judges are called upon to make a decision on whether only a death sentence will meet the ends of justice, or a life term will be enough.

Supreme court view:

  • The Supreme Court has laid down that the death penalty can be imposed only in the “rarest of rare” cases.
  • Subsequent judgments have laid the principle by holding that the gruesome nature of the offense may not be the sole criterion to decide what brings it under the ‘rarest of rare category.
  • Offender’s socio-economic background and his state of mind must also need to be taken into account.

The Procedure is tilted against the Convict:

  • The sentencing part of the trial takes place after the court records a conviction.
  • It is only after the conviction that they are able to speak about mitigating circumstances.
  • The prosecution presents its case from the beginning on how heinous the crime was, and how much the accused deserved maximum punishment.
  • The courts must refer to the reports from the jail authorities, probation officers, and even trained psychologists to assess the mitigating factors in favor of not imposing the death penalty.

When is ‘capital punishment‘ awarded?

  • The term “Capital Punishment” stands for the most severe form of punishment.
  • It is the punishment that is to be awarded for the most heinous, grievous, and detestable crimes against humanity.
  • While the definition and extent of such crimes vary, the implication of capital punishment has always been the death sentence.

In Jagmohan Singh vs State of UP’ (1973), then in ‘Rajendra Prasad vs State of UP’ (1979), and finally in ‘Bachan Singh vs the State of Punjab’ (1980), the Supreme Court affirmed the constitutional validity of the death penalty.

Arguments in favor:

  • Forfeiture of life
  • Moral indignation of the victim
  • The highest form of Justice
  • Deterrent against crime
  • Proportional punishment
  • Prevailing lawlessness
  • Prevention of crime is non-existent

Arguments against:

  • Eye for an eye is not the cure
  • Deterrence is a myth
  • The political tool of suppression
  • Reverence for life’ principle
  • Discriminatory nature

Way Forward:

  • It is expected that the Constitution Bench may come up with new guidelines under which the trial courts themselves can hold a comprehensive investigation into factors related to the upbringing, education, and socio-economic conditions of an offender before deciding the punishment.

Editorial

Time for Global Digital Governance

Context:

  • India’s G20 presidency is a chance to propose a global governance framework that brings together common challenges of regulating Big Tech.

Need for a Policy roadmap:

  • Absence of well-placed legislation: In the past few years, policies and regulations in India have been tweaked and amended to expand their scope and bring within their ambit internet companies, especially Big Tech.
  • Need for Digital India Act: A Digital India Act that was being prepared to replace the Information Technology Act, 2000, encompassing regulatory challenges facing the digital economy including anti-trust, data governance, intermediary liabilities, consumer protection, and the ethical use of technologies.
  • Need for Future-proof regulations: Digital platforms have now become our gateway to the internet. We need regulations that are future-proofed, essentially providing a method to carry out anti-trust investigations.

The Trendsetters:

  • General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR): The European Union led the way on privacy with its General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) followed, more recently, by the Digital Services and Digital Market Acts.
  • US and Austral, also catching up: The US and Australian initiatives are still brewing, as are those in several other parts of the world. The principles of regulation are mostly aligned, reflecting their unease with the inconceivable growth and influence of Big Tech.
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ThinkQ

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QUIZ - 20th September 2022

Mains Question:

Question:1. Capital punishment has always been a point of contradiction in the Indian Judiciary. Do you think that the death penalty is an appropriate mode for society in the present era? Comment (150 words)

Question Mapping

  • Subject: Polity & Governance (GS-II)
    • Sub-Topic: The Judiciary, Fundamental Rights

Approach

  • Introduction: brief about capital punishment in India
    • important provisions
    • Crimes associated with capital punishment
  • Law Commission Report
    • Rajendra Prasad v State of U.P
    • Bachchan Singh v State of Punjab
    • Mithu v. State of Punjab
  • Principle-based on capital punishment in India - the doctrine of 'rarest of the Rare' Cases:
  • Discuss its need in today’s era
  • Need of reformative measures
  • Sum up your answer with way forward

Verifying, please be patient.

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