Daily Current Affairs for UPSC IAS | 25th August 2021

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1. Economic criterion not sole basis for creamy layer

UPSC Syllabus: Mains – GS Paper II – Polity & Governance
Sub Theme: Criterion for reservation | UPSC

Context: Supreme Court has quashed notification issued by Haryana Government and held that economic criterion cannot be sole basis to decide creamy layer within the backward classes.

Indra Sawhney Judgment   

  • The case decided by Nine Judge Constitution Bench. The bone of contention in this landmark judgment was the Mandal Commission Report of 1980, which was laid before Parliament on two occasions – once in 1982, and again in 1983.
  • However, no action was taken on the basis of this Report until 13.08.1990, when an Office Memorandum stated that after considering the said Report, 27% of the vacancies in civil posts and services under the Government of India shall be reserved for the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes.
  • This was followed by an Office Memorandum of 25.09.1991, by which, within the 27% of vacancies,
  • preference was to be given to candidates belonging to the poorer sections of the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes; and
  • 10% vacancies were to be reserved for Other Economically Backward Sections who were not covered by any of the existing schemes of reservation.

The majority judgments upheld the reservation of 27% in favour of backward classes, and the further subdivision of more backward within the backward classes who were to be given preference, but struck down the reservation of 10% in favour of Other Economically Backward categories. 

  • The Court contrasted Article 16(4) with Article 15(4), and stated that Article 16(4) refers to any backward class of citizens where it refers primarily to social backwardness.
Article 16 (4) – any backward class of citizens
Article 15 (4) – any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes

 

  • The Court held that the test or requirement of social and educational backwardness cannot be applied to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, who indubitably fall within the expression “backward class of citizens”. Thus, they do not have to prove their backwardness.      

 

    • The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes are the most backward among backward classes and it is, therefore, presumed that once they are contained in the Presidential List under Articles 341 and Article 342 of the Constitution of India, there is no question of showing backwardness of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes all over again.
    • The advanced sections among the OBCs (the creamy layer) should be excluded from the list of beneficiaries of reservation.
    • It further held that creamy layer principle is only confined to Other Backward Classes and has no relevance in the case of Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes.
    • There shall be no reservation in promotions and the reservation should be confined to initial appointments only.
    • The reasoning was that reservations exist to create a level-playing field, to remedy unequal starting positions, thereby removing the justification for reservation in promotion.

 

  • Article 15(4) – Nothing in this article or in clause (2) of article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.

 

  • Article 16(4) – Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State.

Welfare Policies and Quota

  • Division of poverty and backwardness introduced a nuanced distinction between government welfare policies that aimed to address economic marginalisation and quotas that aimed to address the exclusion of socially and educationally backwards groups from state power.
  • Welfare policies, as redistributive strategies, aimed to mitigate poverty. On the other hand, reservations were special policies aimed to include groups which suffered from socio-political marginalisation in the state machinery.
  • This is a distinction that has lent constitutional coherence to India’s affirmative action regime.

Present Case

    • Haryana Government issued notification (dated 17.08.2016) under Section 5(2) of Haryana Backward Classes (Reservation in Services and Admission in Educational Institutions) Act, 2016.

 

  • As per the notification:

 

  • children of those with gross annual income of up to Rs 3 lakh shall be the first to get the benefit of reservation in services and admission in educational institutions.
  • The remaining quota shall go to those from the backward classes who earn more than Rs 3 lakh but up to Rs 6 lakh per annum.
  • The sections of backward classes earning above Rs 6 lakh per annum were to be considered as creamy layer.

 

  • Reason for Notification:   

 

The state government said the sub-classification amongst the backward classes will provide them reasonable platform for overall growth and development as compared such section who are better off economically.

 

  • Supreme Court’s Judgment:

 

  • The Court pointed out that Section 5(2) of the 2016 Act “clearly provides that social, economic and other factors have to be taken into account for the purpose of determining and excluding” the creamy layer within a backward class.
  • However, according to the notification dated 17.08.2016, identification of creamy layer amongst backward classes was restricted only to the basis of economic criterion.
  • The Court held that Haryana Government’s notification was in flagrant violation of the directions issued by Supreme Court in Indra Sawhney Judgment.
  • The Supreme Court on Tuesday held that economic criterion should not be the sole basis to identify sections of backward communities as creamy layer.
  • Social advancement, higher employment in government services, etc., played an equal role in deciding whether a person belonged to the creamy layer and could be denied quota benefits.
  • Supreme Court held that exclusively “economic criteria” were unconstitutional since the category of “poor” did not reflect “social backwardness”. For the court, ‘social backwardness’ meant extreme marginalisation in terms of social status, primarily in the form of caste.

 

Who would be included within Creamy Layer?

  • The court had illustrated that ‘creamy layer’ would include “persons from backward classes who occupied posts in higher services like IAS, IPS and All India Services had reached a higher level of social advancement and economic status, and therefore, were not entitled to be treated as backward”.
  • Likewise, people with sufficient income who were in a position to provide employment to others, should also be taken to have reached a higher social status and therefore, should be treated as outside the backward class.
  • Similarly, persons from backward classes who had higher agricultural holdings or were receiving income from properties, beyond a prescribed limit, do not deserve the benefit of reservation.

The Supreme Court quashed Haryana Government’s notification and has directed the State to issue fresh notifications in three months after taking into account the principles laid down in Indra Sawhney-I and the criteria mentioned in Section 5(2) of the 2016 Act for determining creamy layer.     

2. Implementation of AFRS lacks safeguards

UPSC Syllabus: Mains: GS-II: Polity & Governance
Sub Theme: National Automated Facial Recognition System | Challenges of unregulated use of AFRS | UPSC

Context:  National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has approved implementation of the National Automated Facial Recognition System (NAFRS) to “facilitate investigation of crime and detection of criminals” in a quick and timely manner. However, deployment of facial recognition system by the government without any regulatory check in place poses a huge threat to privacy rights and freedom of speech and expression.

AFRS – Role 

  • AFRS will function as a national-level search platform that will use facial recognition technology to facilitate investigation of crime or for identifying a person of interest (e.g., a criminal) regardless of face mask, makeup, plastic surgery, beard or hair extension.
  • AFRS will use police records and will be accessible only to Law Enforcement Agencies. This will facilitate better identification of criminals, unidentified dead bodies and missing/found children and persons.

AFRS – Functioning

  • Computer Algorithms map unique facial-landmarks (biometric data) such as shape of the cheekbones, contours of the lips, distance from forehead to chin, and convert these into a numerical code termed a faceprint. For the purposes of ‘verification’ or ‘identification’, the system compares the faceprint generated with a large existing database of faceprints.
  • AFRS will recognize, record and match faces against various government databases from photos and videos taken from public and private sources.

What are the different databases which AFRS will have access to?

  • As per NCRB, AFRS will have access to various government databases such as Passports, Aadhaar, Immigration, Visa and Foreigners’ Registration Tracking database, Ministry of women and child development’s Khoya-Paya and the National Automated Fingerprint Identification System.
  • It can match a photo against many and compare one photo with another. The more the data, the better is the output.
  • A centralized web application will be hosted in the crime record bureau’s data centre in Delhi which will be made available to all police stations in India.

Factors important in Facial Recognition

  • Unlike fingerprints and DNA, which do not change during a person’s life, facial recognition has to take into account different factors, such as:
  • Ageing
  • Plastic surgery
  • Cosmetics
  • Effects of drug abuse or smoking
  • Pose of the subject
    • Facial Recognition does not provide a definitive result in terms of verification and the answer is based percentage of mapping. For eg: any photograph run through the software will show in terms of percentage of mapping – say 60% or 75% etc.

 

  • Thus, using good quality images is crucial and low or medium quality images may be not searchable in the IFRS system. Even if they are searched, the accuracy of the search and the results themselves can be significantly affected.      

 

Challenges of unregulated use of AFRS

  • Violation of fundamental right to privacy by retaining sensitive personal information on citizens through surveillance – so far there is no law to regulate privacy in India.
An invasion of life or personal liberty must meet the three-fold requirement of:

  1. Legality, which postulates the existence of law;
  2. Need, defined in terms of a legitimate state aim; and
  3. Proportionality which ensures a rational nexus between the objects and the means adopted to achieve them
  • Benefits of AFRS far outweigh the harm in terms of unauthorised mass surveillance and hence using AFRS can be termed as disproportionate.
  • Leads to profiling of citizens based on criterias fixed by state.
  • Automates discriminatory policing
  • Targeting protestors against any government through identification.
  • Dis-incentivise independent journalism or the right to assemble peaceably without arms, or any other form of civic society activism. Overall impacts fundamental right to liberty including freedom of speech & expression
  • Problem of FALSE POSITIVE – Inaccurate result can lead to falsely implicating someone else
  • Problem of FALSE NEGATIVE – system does not recognise the person
  • False Negative can lead to exclusion of people from government schemes or policies

Conclusion & Way Forward

In the interest of civil liberties and to save democracy from turning authoritarian, it is important to impose a moratorium on the use of facial recognition technology till we enact a strong and meaningful data protection law, in addition to statutory authorisation of NAFRS and guidelines for deployment.

3. Climate change, a catalyst for Arctic cooperation

UPSC Syllabus: Mains: GS-II: International Relations + GS-III: Environment & Ecology
Sub Theme: Climate change & conservation of Arctic resources | UPSC

Context: Growing tensions between North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies and Russia also poses significant challenge of climate change. There are eight countries that have direct access to the Arctic resources, i.e., Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States. All these countries have made competing claims on the resources of the Arctic.

Warming of the Arctic Region

  • Despite climatic challenges, the region provides a platform for scientific research that can help to get to the bottom of natural calamities around the world. according to IPCC Report, The Arctic is warming at a rate of almost twice the global average. It will result in rising sea levels, changes in precipitation patterns, increasing severe weather events, and loss of fish stocks, birds and marine mammals.
  • According to The World Climate and Security Report 2020 the Arctic is warming nearly twice as fast as the rest of the planet with consecutive record-breaking warm years since 2014. The Arctic is likely to begin experiencing ice-free summers within the next decade, with summers likely to be completely free of sea ice by mid-century, opening up new territory for shipping lanes and resource extraction.

Impact of Warming of Arctic

  • Fires have occurred across the Arctic Circle – Siberia, Alaska and Scandinavia, affecting permafrost that holds vast amounts of greenhouse gases, both methane and CO2. Many scientists have long seen the Arctic and Antarctic as the most likely source of cascading tipping points for accelerated, catastrophic climate consequences. Continued melting of the ice cape may weaken the jet stream.
  • Opportunity for New Players – The environmental transformation and rapid ice melting have also opened up new opportunities in the region, which includes trans-Arctic shipping routes. These opportunities have inevitably attracted all stakeholders in the region, both the Arctic and non-Arctic states. China, for example, with its self-proclaimed status of a ‘near Arctic state’, has been actively engaged in various projects across the region. Recently China unveiled its “Polar silk Road” plan. China has already ensured its presence in the Arctic through the Russian Yamal Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) project. Transport routes from China to Europe through the Arctic are not only much shorter but also free from the challenges associated with the Malacca Strait and South China Sea.

India’s Interests in Arctic region:

  • Climate: Changes in Arctic climate due to global warming can have an impact on Indian Monsoon pattern, water security and coastal erosion. So, research in arctic region is crucial for India. Ex: We already have a research base in the region- Himadri. IndARC is India’s under water observatory. IndARC-II was redeployed for another one year at the same location at Kongsfjorden on 19 July 2015 with a couple of newly added sensors (as shown below) to measure fluorescence, photosynthetically active radiation, nitrate and ambient noise.
  • Resources: Rich natural resources and minerals in the arctic region not only benefits our Manufacturing sector but also ensures energy security.

Ex: ONGC videsh limited acquired stakes in Russia’s Rosneft new Arctic Oil Project

  • Navigation: India plans to explore connectivity corridor between resource rich Arctic Region and International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC). Ex: India and Russia agreed to develop Chennai-vladivostok maritime corridor.

 

India’s Draft Arctic Policy

  • India’s New Arctic policy seeks to enhance the country’s level of engagement with the region. It envisages India’s engagement in the Arctic region for climate research, environmental monitoring, maritime cooperation and energy security.
  • According to the draft policy, India could be particularly impacted as changes in the Arctic have an effect on water security and sustainability, weather conditions and monsoon patterns, coastal erosion and glacial melting, economic security and critical aspects of national development.
  • India’s Arctic Policy Roadmap For Sustainable Engagement draft rides on five pillars: science and research activities, economic and human development cooperation, transportation and connectivity, governance and international cooperation, and national capacity building.
  • The draft spells out goals in India’s Arctic Mission such as to better understand the scientific and climate-related linkages between the Arctic and the Indian monsoons; to harmonise polar research with the third pole (the Himalayas) and to advance the study and understanding of the Arctic within India.

Conclusion:

  • Keeping in mind the existential threats, the environmental challenges should be an absolute priority for all players in the Arctic region.
  • These considerations should outweigh military and economic issues and unite countries for the sake of eliminating the potential (and real) dangers attributed to climate change.
  • Competing countries should refrain from mutual provocations, excessive militarisation, and quid pro quo tactics.
  • All the Arctic actors should have a long-term vision and strategic goals as compared to immediate short-term gains. Climate change and its dramatic consequences must be a catalyst for Arctic cooperation.

 

4. S-400 air defence deal on track: Rostec

UPSC Syllabus: Mains: GS-II: International Relations + GS-III: security
Sub Theme: S-400 Triumf | UPSC

  • In the last three years, since 2018, the defence trade between India and Russia was $15 billion because of some big ticket defence deals as per the Head of International Cooperation and Regional Policy of Rostec state corporation.
  • The S-400 air defence systems deal, for which deliveries are scheduled to begin in a few months is on schedule.
  • However, the threat of U.S. sanctions under CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) still remains for India.

Missile Systems

  • The S-400 Triumf is a mobile, surface-to-air missile system (SAM) designed by Russia
  • Chinook is an American twin-engined, tandem rotor, heavy-lift helicopter. It is among the heaviest lifting Western helicopters.
  • Barak 8 also known as LR-SAM or as MR-SAM, is an Indo-Israeli surface-to-air missile (SAM), designed to defend against any type of airborne threat including aircraft, helicopters, anti-ship missiles, and UAVs as well as ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and combat jets
  • The Dassault Rafale Jet is a multirole fighter jet designed and built by Dassault  Aviation, a French aircraft manufacturer
  • THAAD, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, an American transportable, ground-based missile defence system.
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