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3rd May 2023

India hands over two 'Made in India' military vessels to Maldives

Context

In a demonstration of the nations' shared commitment to peace and security in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), India’s Defence Minister handed over two 'Made in India' platforms, a Fast Patrol Vessel and a Landing Craft Assault ship, to the Maldives National Defence Forces.

Defence & Security Cooperation with Maldives

  • Neighbourhood First
  • Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR)
  • Greater Male connectivity project: In August last year, both countries started the India-funded Greater Male connectivity project, billed as the largest infrastructure initiative in the island nation.
    • Under the Greater Male Connectivity Project (GMCP) project, a 6.74 km long bridge and causeway link will be built to connect the capital city Male with adjoining islands of
      • Villingli
      • Gulhifalhu
      • Thilafushi
    • The two sides already exchange high-level visits and there are mechanisms in place to deepen this cooperation including several bilateral exercises like — Ekuverin; Dosti; Ekatha.
    • India is playing a very important role in the training and capacity building of the Maldivian National Defence Force.
    • India has helped Maldives with the Coastal Radar System with ten radars and control stations and this was inaugurated back in 2019.

Facts about the Maldives

  • The Republic of the Maldives is located in the Indian Ocean.
  • It is an archipelago comprising approximately 1,200 islands with a geographical spread over 90,000 sq. km
  • Incorporating some 26 atolls, the Maldives is one of the world’s most geographically dispersed countries and is a 99 per cent water nation.
  • Maldives is the lowest-lying country on the planet.  With the highest elevation being just 2.3 metres (7 feet 7 inches) above sea level, the archipelago has the world’s lowest naturally occurring ‘highest-point’.

Significance of the Maldives for India

  • Strategic Importance: The Maldives is geographically positioned like a ‘toll gate’ between the western Indian Ocean chokepoints of the Gulf of Aden and the Strait of Hormuz on the one hand and the eastern Indian Ocean chokepoint of the Strait of Malacca on the other. 
  • Economic Value: It is situated at the hub of commercial sea lanes running through the Indian Ocean. More than 97% of India’s international trade by volume and 75% by value passes through the region. It's the potential to allow a third nation’s naval presence in the area.
  • Political and Regional Security:
    • Since China’s naval expansion into the Indian Ocean, Maldive's significance has steadily grown and now it’s at the heart of international geopolitics.
    • Moreover, the Maldives is an important aspect of India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy.
    • ‘India First’ has been a stated policy of the Government of Maldives.
    • Maldives is a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)and the South Asia Sub-regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC).
  • Indian Community in the Maldives: There is a significant Indian diaspora in the Maldives. Innumerable Indians work across the hospitality, education, and healthcare sectors of the Maldives economy.

Centre plans panel to find alternative to death by hanging

Context

The Union Government told the Supreme Court that it is considering appointing an expert committee to examine if there can be a method less painful than hanging by neck for execution in death penalty cases in the country. 

Background
  • In 2017, a PIL was filed seeking to abolish the present practice of executing a death row convict by hanging and replace it with less painful methods such as "intravenous lethal injection, shooting, electrocution or gas chamber".

What is the death penalty in India?

  • Hanging and shooting are the two methods of the death penalty in India.
    • According to the Criminal Procedure Code, hanging is the method of execution in the civilian court system.
    • The Army Act, of 1950, however, lists hanging and shooting as official methods of execution in the military court-martial system.
  • Under the provisions of criminal procedure, the death penalty must be awarded as an alternative punishment to life imprisonment which the offenders may be sentenced to in 'rarest of rare cases'.

Rarest of rare cases ( Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab )

  • The year 1980 marked a crucial point in the debate around the death penalty. That year, a trial court in the state of Punjab sentenced to death a man named Bachan Singh for the murder of three men. 
  • Singh approached the Supreme Court of India, asking it to examine the constitutionality of capital punishment in a case that led to a landmark ruling.  
  • The Bachan Singh case led to the establishment of the "rarest of rare" doctrine, meaning that courts should only impose the death penalty in exceptional cases.
  • Rarest rare cases can be described as those when the murder is committed in an extremely brutal, ridiculous, diabolical, revolting, or reprehensible manner so as to awaken the intense and extreme indignation in the community. When total depravity and cruelty are the motives behind a murder.

Gaps in the current sentencing framework

  • Law Commission: In 2015, a Law Commission report called for its abolition, except for in terrorism-related cases.
  • Supreme Court: In 2022, for the first time in 42 years, the Supreme Court acknowledged the gaps in the current sentencing frameworkand put together another constitutional bench to resolve them.
    • But as the Supreme Court seeks ways to reform death penalty sentencing, trial courts across India continue to hand down capital punishment.

Increasing death penalty

  • Released by: ‘Project 39A’, a criminal reforms advocacy group with the National Law University, Delhi.
  • Key highlights:
  • According to NCRB data, 165 death penaltieswere awarded by trial courts since 2000.
  • The corresponding figure for the last five years was;
  • 146 in 2021, 78 in 2020, 104 in 2019, 163 in 2018, and 110 in 2017.
  • Sole decision taken by trial courts: The report notes that 3% of the death penalty cases were decided by trial courts “without any materials on mitigating circumstances of the accused and without any state-led evidence on the question of reform.”

Why capital punishment should be abolished?

  • Violation of human rights: In 2015, a Law Commission report argued that the death penalty is unconstitutional and an infringement of Article 14 (right to equality before law) and Article 21 (right to life) of the Indian constitution.
  • Endless suffering: The appeals procedure for death sentences is lengthy. Due to this, persons sentenced to death are sometimes brutally made to suffer extended periods of uncertainty about their fate.
  • Economic burden: Abolishing the death penalty will ease, not enhance, the tax-payer’s burden. The annual cost of maintaining a prisoner is about ?30,000. 

Global Practice

  • Since 1976, more than 90 nations have abolished the death penalty for all crimes.
  • Apart from India, many countries including US, Japan, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq continue to impose capital punishment. 
  • Australia, Congo, France, Italy, Norway, Portugal, and U.K have completely abolished the Capital Punishment due to inconsistent with the human rights requirement. 

Conclusion

The capital sentencing framework as it stands today raises concerns about our commitment to the rule of law and poses a serious threat to the right to fair trial of the accused. Any attempts to repair the broken nature of capital sentencing in India must necessarily involve addressing the glaring normative, substantive and procedural deficiencies.

Wayanad tops Swachh Bharat Mission’s ODF Plus rankings

Context

Wayanad, Kerala has become the first district in the country to be declared ODF (open defecation-free) Plus.

ODF+ and ODF++

  • India has been running the Swachh Bharat Mission 2.0 scheme, an extension of the first phase launched in 2014, since February 2020.
  • ODF+ and ODF++ are aimed at the proper maintenance of toilet facilities and the safe collection, conveyance, treatment, or disposal of faecal sludge and sewage.
  • ODF+ focuses on toilets with water, maintenance and hygiene
  • ODF++ focuses on toilets with sludge and septage management

Other important Schemes

  • GOBARdhan Scheme: The GOBARdhan scheme aims to support villages in safely managing their cattle waste, agriculture waste and organic waste.
  • Jal Jeevan mission: It is a program that seeks to connect all rural households with clean tap water by 2024, and has been in force since August 15, 2019. These schemes aim to increase the ease of living of Indians and improve their well-being. 

Refocus on gig workers

Context

The recent strike by Zomato-owned Blinkit delivery agents has once again brought to the forefront the issues plaguing the gig economy in the country and the reforms required to stop the exploitation of such workers.

Who is a ‘gig worker’?

  • Gig workers refer to workers outside of the traditional employer-employee relationship.
  • There are two groups of gig workers—
    • Platform workers: When gig workers use online algorithmic matching platforms or apps to connect with customers, they are called platform workers
    • Non-platform workers: Those who work outside of these platforms are non-platform workers, including construction workers and non-technology-based temporary workers.

2022 report by NITI Aayog estimates that nearly 23.5 million workers will be engaged in the gig economy by 2029. 

Are gig workers ‘employees’ or ‘independent contractors’?

  • Whether gig workers should be categorised as ‘employees’ or as ‘independent contractors’ has been a frequent debate. 
  • However, given the unique nature of gig work, gig workers display characteristics of both employees and independent contractors and thus do not squarely fit into any rigid categorisation.
  • As a result, gig workers have limited recognition under current employment laws and thus fall outside the ambit of statutory benefits.

Benefits available to Employees and Contract Labourers

  • Employees are entitled to a host of benefits under statutes such as the
    • Minimum Wages Act, 1948
    • Employees’ Provident Fund and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952 (EPFA)
    • Payment of Bonus Act, 1965
  • Contract labourers are governed under the
    • Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970
    • They are also entitled to benefits such as provident funds in accordance with the EPFA

What is the proposed law for gig workers?

  • In keeping with the National Commission on Labour’s recommendation to consolidate central labour laws, the Ministry of Labour and Employment introduced the Code on Social Security, 2020 which brings gig workers within the ­ambit of labour laws for the first time.
  • Definition: Under Section 2(35) of the Code, a ‘gig worker’ is defined as a person who performs work or participates in a work arrangement and earns from such activities outside of a traditional employer-employee relationship’.
  • Benefits: Although the Code recognises ‘gig workers’ including platform workers, it distinguishes between such workers and employees.
    • While employees have benefits such as gratuity, employee compensation, insurance, provident fund, and maternity benefits, the Code only stipulates that Central and State Governments must frame suitable social security schemes for gig workers on matters relating to health and maternity benefits, old age security, education, provident funds, accident benefits, life insurance, disability insurance among others.
  • Compulsory registration: The Code also mandates the compulsory registration of all gig workers to avail of benefits under the social security fund for gig workers.
    • National Social Security Board: The Code also envisages the constitution of a National Social Security Board by the Central government to monitor the implementation of such schemes.

What are the major concerns?

  • Exclusion from major security codes: Out of the four new labour codes proposed, gig work finds reference only in the Code on Social Security. As a result, gig workers remain excluded from vital benefits and protections offered by other Codes such as minimum wages, occupational safety and health benefits, and overtime pay.
  • Limited rights: They cannot create legally recognised unions and access a national minimum wage that applies to all forms of employment.
  • No guarantee on minimum wages: The proposed law does not guarantee minimum wages for gig workers.
  • No remedy for grievances: Gig workers also remain excluded from accessing the specialised redressal mechanism under the Industrial Disputes Act, of 1947, thus denying them an effective remedy for grievances against their employers. 

Global Examples:

  • UK Supreme Court: In 2021, in a landmark judgment, the UK Supreme Court classified Uber drivers as ‘workers’ under the UK Employment Rights Act 1996, thus entitling them to various benefits like paid holidays and minimum wages.
  • Dutch High Court also handed down a similar ruling, stating that the legal relationship between Uber and the drivers meets all the characteristics of an employment contract, making them entitled to workers’ rights under local labour laws.
  • The Superior Court of California struck down a 2020 ballot measure known as Proposition 22 that excluded gig workers from labour laws by declaring them ‘independent contractors’.
  • Germany’s Temporary Employment Act provides for equal pay and equal treatment of gig workers.

Karnataka ranks as the most ‘innovative’ State: NMIS

Context

A survey on the degree of innovation among manufacturing firms found that Karnataka, overall, is the most “innovative” State, followed by Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu (DNH&DD), Telangana, and Tamil Nadu.

Key-highlights

  • Highest and lowest share: Telangana, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu had the highest share of innovative firms at 46.18%, 39.10% and 31.90%, respectively, with Odisha, Bihar, and Jharkhand reporting the lowest share of such firms at 12.78%, 13.47% and 13.71%, respectively.
  • No innovation: Nearly three-fourths of the 8,000-odd firms surveyed, most of them micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSME), neither made any innovative product nor business process innovation during the survey period of financial years 2017-2020.

The findings are part of the National Manufacturing Innovation Survey (NMIS) 2021-22, a joint study by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), to evaluate the innovation performance of manufacturing firms in India.

What are the barriers to innovation?

  • lack of internal funds
  • high innovation costs
  • lack of financing from external sources
  • low demand for innovations in the market
  • organisational rigidities within the firms 
  • insufficient innovation potential and lack of qualified personnel 

Short News Article

History (GS-I)

Rang ghar

A laser show as part of the celebration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 100th Man Ki Baat episode at the Ahom era amphitheatre Rang Ghar in Assam’s Sivasagar district has drawn criticism after “religious symbols” were shown in projections.

About Rang ghar

  • Rang ghar is known as first Ampitheatre or first Pavilion of Asia.
  • Built by: Swargadeo Promotta Singha in the year 1744 A.D.
  • Its shape is octagonal at base. The building has two storeys.
    • At the roof of the structure is shaped like an inverted royal Ahom long boat where there are the projecting heads of two small MAKARAS or JALAHASTIS facing reverse towards north and south.
  • The Rang Ghar was built specially for enjoyment of recreational/sports activities by the royal families and public of the Ahom dynasty.

Sukhrungphaa also known as Swargadeo Rudra Singha, (c. 1665- 27 August 1714) was a Tungkhungia Ahom king and 30th king of the Ahom kingdom who reigned from 1696 to 1714.

Polity & Governance (GS-II)

Fabry Disease

Despite the availability of financial support for treatment of all rare disease patients, none of the six patients with Fabry Disease, have been given the treatment.

About Fabry disease

  • Fabry Disease is a rare yet treatable disease.
  • April was observed as Fabry Disease Awareness Month. 
  • The diseaseis a rare disease classified under the National Policy for Rare Diseases 2021.
  • It is caused by enzyme deficiencies, affecting the functioning of the heart and kidneys.

 

Science & Technology (GS-III)

StarBerrySense

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launched a low-cost star sensor called StarBerrySense on board its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) C-55 rocket recently. 

About

  • Developed by: Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA).
  • Objective: StarBerrySense’s primary objective is to image the field of view, identify stars, and calculate the spacecraft’s pointing direction.
  • The StarBerrySense sensor calculates the pointing direction by identifying the stars in its field of view.
  • The sensor captures images of the stars and uses them to determine the spacecraft’s attitude and orientation.
  • This information is crucial for controlling the spacecraft’s movement and keeping it on the right path.

Environment (GS-III)

Painted storks nesting in two A.P. villages

One of the largest flock of painted storks ( Mycteria leucocephala), approximately 4,000 birds, have made tall trees in Veepapuram and Venkatapuram villages in Chilamathur mandal of Sri Sathya Sai district their breeding ground.

  • Scientific name: Mycteria leucocephala
  • The painted stork belongs to the family, Ciconiidae.
  • The painted stork is a large wading bird of stork family.
  • Distribution: They are found in Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.
  • Breeding: They mostly inhabit wetlands in the plains breed closer to undisturbed/protected trees
  • IUCN Status: International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) had categorized and evaluated these stork species and had listed them as 'Near Threatened'.
    • The population in India is considered secure, however the species is near threatened in other countries due to poaching.

Kokrebellur village in Mandya district of Karnataka is the largest breeding ground for these birds.

Editorial

Outlawing India’s tech tariffs

Context:

WTO dispute settlement panels have found India’s tariffs on certain information and communication technology (ICT) products such as mobile phones inconsistent with India’s WTO obligations. 

India’s arguments

  • Binding tariff commitments on ICT products: India argued that its binding tariff commitments on ICT products are contained in the WTO Ministerial Declaration on Trade in Information Technology Products (ITA Agreement), which India joined in 1997.
  • Static commitment: India’s contention that its commitments under the ITA are ‘static’. India argued that its commitments under the Goods Schedule do not include products that emerged due to technological innovations after the conclusion of the ITA.
  • Error commission: India argued that an error was committed during the transposition of its Goods Schedule from the HSN 2002 edition to the HSN 2007 edition.

Reasoning of the Panel

  • Violation of GATT norms: panels concluded that India has violated Article II of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) because India’s tariffs breach its Goods Schedule. 
  • ITA cannot override the tariff commitments: the panels held that the ITA cannot override the tariff commitments given in India’s Goods Schedule.
  • India failed to show that this assumption: the panels held that India failed to show that this assumption formed a necessary basis for India’s consent for the Goods Schedule.
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