23 September, 2020

  • Pre-Parikshan Announcement
  • Prelims Quiz
  • SAARC - Uniting to combat COVID-19
  • Making the language of the law comprehensible
  • SAFAR
  • EPCA
  • E-learning in India, a case of bad education
  • QOD

Prelims Quiz

    Solution.

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    1. UPSC Current Affairs:Uniting to combat COVID-19– Pg7

    UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: International Relations |Mains: GS Paper II

    Sub Theme: Need for Coordinated Response by SAARC to deal with COVID-19 | UPSC      

    Context

    • With the pandemic showing no signs of abating, growth prospects for the world’s fastest-growing region, South Asia, appear grim. In April, the World Bank predicted that growth in the region would be 1.8%-2.8% this year. 

    The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is the regional intergovernmental organization and geopolitical union of states in South Asia. Its member states are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The SAARC comprises 3% of the world's area, 21% of the world's population and 4.21% (US$3.67 trillion) of the global economy, as of 2019. 

    The SAARC was founded in Dhaka on 8 December 1985. Its secretariat is based in Kathmandu, Nepal. The organization promotes development of economic and regional integration. It launched the South Asian Free Trade Area in 2006. The SAARC maintains permanent diplomatic relations at the United Nations as an observer and has developed links with multilateral entities, including the European Union.

    Low mortality

    • India has the second largest number of COVID-19 cases in the world (over 55 lakh) after the U.S. Bangladesh has around 3.5 lakh cases. Surprisingly, unlike other regions, South Asian countries are experiencing a lower mortality rate despite having a higher infection rate.
    • Many have suggested that this could be due to the region’s tropical climate, protection offered by a tuberculosis vaccine (BCG), exposure to malaria, and a weaker strain of the virus. However, epidemiological studies and the World Health Organization’s reviews have been sceptical about the hypotheses which leave out one plausible explanation — the concern over data reliability. Many have suggested that in a region that houses one-fourth of the global population and one-third of the global poor, many COVID-19 deaths might have gone unnoticed, unreported or even under-reported.

    Varied response across South Asia

    • Governments in South Asian countries have responded in varying degrees to counter the health and economic crises. India resumed its economic activities on a limited scale following a strict lockdown imposed in late March and lasting through April. Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka did the same after an extended lockdown. Bhutan and the Maldives have managed to largely contain community transmission and avoid prolonged lockdowns due to a higher testing rate. This is consistent with the hypothesis that countries that have conducted more tests have been more successful in containing the pandemic.
    • According to World meter, in South Asia, the Maldives has the highest number of tests per million population followed by Bhutan. Countries facing a surge in cases, such as India, could have flattened the curve by increasing the number of tests.
    • While India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Maldives have unveiled stimulus packages, the rest are yet to announce any concrete support for their low income and lower-middle income population still suffering from the economic fallout of the crisis. In late March, India announced a $22.5 billion relief package to ensure food security and cash transfers to save the livelihoods of an estimated 800 million people living in poverty. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) slashed the repo and reverse repo rate to create liquidity for businesses. In early April, Bangladesh announced a stimulus package worth about $8 billion in addition to an earlier $595 million incentive package for export-oriented industries. In late March, Pakistan unveiled a comprehensive fiscal stimulus package of $6.76 billion. Its central bank also slashed the interest rate. In late April, the Maldives government mobilised a $161.8 million emergency fund. It also announced a short-term financing facility for the tourism industry. Sri Lanka signed an agreement with the RBI for a currency swap worth $400 million to support domestic financial stability. In late February, the Afghan government allocated about $25 million to fight COVID-19. In addition, a $100.4 million grant was approved by the World Bank in April to Afghanistan.

    Although countries like India and Bangladesh announced financial and material stimulus packages, distribution concerns remain unaddressed. For instance, the Open Market Sale in Bangladesh appears ineffective as there is no physical distancing and, in some instances, there is political tampering and poor governance. In India, the announcement of the lockdown gave citizens less than four hours to prepare. Hoarding of supplies caused a shortage in the market. The lockdown disrupted supply chains. It was a similar situation in Nepal and Pakistan. 

    A coordinated response mechanism

    Since this crisis is likely to result in prolonged economic setbacks in South Asia, leaders of the region need to look beyond narrow geopolitical rivalry and come together to work towards a well-coordinated response mechanism. A SAARC COVID-19 fund was created following Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to South Asian leaders, but governments are yet to decide on its modus operandi. The region could leverage its existing institutional framework under the umbrella of SAARC to effectively respond to the crisis. For instance, SAARC Food Banks could be activated to tackle the imminent regional food crisis, and the SAARC Finance Forum can be activated to formulate a regional economic policy response. If leaders of the region can’t rise to the occasion even when faced with a common problem that is claiming lives, putting millions out of jobs and crippling economies, when will they?

     

    1. UPSC Current Affairs: Making the language of the law comprehensible – Article – Pg 6

    UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: Indian Polity| Mains: GS Paper-II

    Sub Theme: Official Languages in India |Politics over Language |Translations as legal right | UPSC   

    Context

    • The recent litigation over the language in which the Draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification 2020 should be published has brought much needed attention to the issue of official languages used by the central government in its functioning.
    • The trigger for this debate has been litigation by citizens, who protested against the publication of the draft EIA notification in only English and Hindi, on the grounds that such a policy excludes a large number of Indians who do not speak Hindi or English from participating in the public consultation process.
    • While two High Courts have asked the government to publish the notification in all 22 languages mentioned in Schedule VIII to the Constitution, the central government is pushing back against this order,

    Reasons offered by the government:

    • Arguing that it is not required by the law to publish these notifications in the 22 languages mentioned in Schedule VIII.
    • One of the other reasons offered by the central government to resist the translation of the notification into 22 languages is that translations may result “in the meaning of the words being obfuscated and often even lost”, thereby leading to greater legal uncertainty.
    • It is incredible for the government of the world’s largest democracy to make such a claim because there exists a central law called the Authoritative Texts (Central Laws) Act, 1973 which creates a legal mechanism to recognise authoritative translations of all central laws into languages mentioned in the Schedule VIII to the Constitution of India.
    • This law extends to rules and delegated legislation issued under central laws. The Legislative Department of the Law Ministry hosts these translations on its website.
    • Separate from the question of accuracy of translations is the larger policy question regarding the languages used by the central government for communicating with the public. The Official Languages Act, 1963 requires the publication of the law in only English and Hindi.
    • As a result, the central government, de facto, ends up excluding non-English and non-Hindi speaking citizens from the law-making process only because of their linguistic identity.

    Language politics

    • Surprisingly, this issue is yet to garner the political attention it deserves despite the fact that since Independence, language has been one of the main markers of political identity in India.
    • The reorganisation of Indian States on linguistic lines in 1956 took place because of the agitations that followed the death of Potti Sreeramulu in 1952 after his 56-day long fast demanding the creation of a State for the Telugu-speaking people of the Madras Presidency. Ever since, language has played a key role in shaping Indian politics.
    • The rise and success of several regional political parties such as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Telugu Desam Party and the Shiv Sena have been associated with linguistic pride, which sometimes can boil into language chauvinism against other linguistic minorities. Language, therefore, is a powerful marker of political identity in India.
    • Despite the importance of language to Indian politics, the key political parties which owe their existence to their politics around language, appear to be weak and inadequate in convincing Parliament or the central government in ensuring that all 22 languages recognised in the Schedule VIII to the Constitution are used by all institutions of the central government while communicating or interfacing with the public.
    • At the very least, an inclusive language policy must be integral to the law-making and enforcement process. This should include mandatorily publishing all parliamentary debates and associated records such as reports of parliamentary committees, the entire record of the Gazette of India, all legislation and delegated legislation of the central government in all 22 languages that are incorporated in the Schedule VIII. Similarly, central government offices such as the passport office, dealing with citizens across the country should give citizens the option to engage with the government in a language of their choosing.
    • So far, only the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) which runs the Aadhaar digital identity programme has an inclusive language policy allowing citizens to get identity cards in languages other than English and Hindi.

    Translations as legal right      

    • In many of the cases outlined above, especially with regard to legislative enactments, it is reasonable to argue that citizens are not bound by laws that are not made available to them in their local language.
    • The Supreme Court of India in the past (Harla v. State of Rajasthan, 1951) has ruled that citizens are not bound by laws which have not been published and publicised. The Court stated in pertinent part: “Natural justice requires that before a law can become operative it must be promulgated or published.
    • It must be broadcast in some recognisable way so that all men may know what it is; or, at the very least, there must be some special rule or regulation or customary channel by or through which such knowledge can be acquired with the exercise of due and reasonable diligence.”
    • It does not take much to extend this reasoning to argue that Indians are not bound by central laws unless Parliament makes its laws available in languages understood by all Indians.

    In the European Union

    • The demand for greater availability of laws and public records of the central government in the 22 languages in the Schedule VIII is not a big ask. In other multi-linguistic jurisdictions such as the European Union (EU), all EU-level official documents are made available in all 24 official languages of member States (https://bit.ly/33SK4Xp) because the EU has a policy in place to respect the linguistic diversity of its member nations. This policy allows all EU nationals to communicate with EU institutions in any of the 24 official languages and these institutions are required to respond in the same language.
    • It is appalling that the Government of India does not have a similar policy in place. It is not too late to put in place such a policy but this is unlikely to happen unless political parties such as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam make it a national issue like they did in 1965 when the Official Languages Act was amended to make Hindi the sole official language of the central government.

     

    1. UPSC Current Affairs: EPCA chief asks Punjab, Haryana to act against stubble burning - Page 1

    UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: Environment and Biodiversity

    Sub theme: System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR) | UPSC 

    Context:

    • According to a SAFAR (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research under the Central government) estimate, early burning of crop residue is taking place in Punjab.
    • The data is based on harmonising the INSAT-3, 3D and NASA satellite, the fire counts were around 42 on September 21, 2020.
    • The fire counts were around 20 on September 20 and nil on September 15.” 

    What is SAFAR

    • Govt. of India, has introduced a major national initiative, "System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research" known as "SAFAR" for greater metropolitan cities of India to provide location specific information on air quality in near real time and its forecast 1-3 days in advance for the first time in India. It has been combined with the early warning system on weather parameters.
    • The SAFAR system is developed by Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, along with ESSO partner institutions namely India Meteorological Department (IMD) and National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (NCMRWF). The implementation of SAFAR is made possible with an active collaboration with local municipal corporations and various local educational institutions and governmental agencies in that Metro city.
    • The ultimate objective of the project is to increase awareness among general public regarding the air quality in their city well in advance so that appropriate mitigation measures and systematic action can be taken up for betterment of air quality and related health issues. It engineers awareness drive by educating public, prompting self-mitigation and also to help develop mitigation strategies for policy makers.

    How the monitoring is done?

    • Air Quality monitoring is not an easy task, the common mistake which any one can do is representing city air quality based on single station value or single hour data.
    • To provide an AQI representative of a city, single station data is not suitable. It may even mislead as it will be biased towards a particular activity or environment.  As per international guidelines, correct way to know ONE index for a city air quality is to consider different microenvironments.
    • Based on scientific knowledge one should develop the methodology for the same. For a typical metro city Background; Commercial; Urban complex; Sub-urban; Residential; Industrial; Road side; Traffic junction etc. are the microenvironments which should be covered in the monitoring network.

    The SAFAR observational network of Air Quality Monitoring Stations (AQMS) and Automatic Weather Stations (AWS) established within city limits represents selected microenvironments of the city including industrial, residential, background/ cleaner, urban complex, agricultural zones etc. as per international guidelines which ensures the true representation of city environment.

    Air Quality indicators are monitored at about 3 m height from the ground with online sophisticated instruments. These instruments are operated round the clock and data is recorded and stored at every 5 minute interval for quality check and further analysis. 

     What is measured?

    • Pollutants monitored: PM1, PM2.5, PM10, Ozone, CO, NOx (NO, NO2), SO2, BC, Methane (CH4), Non-methane hydrocarbons (NMHC), VOC’s, Benzene, Mercury
    • Monitored Meteorological Parameters: UV Radiation, Rainfall, Temperature, Humidity, Wind speed, Wind direction, solar radiation

    This is the first of such kind of network in India which continuously monitors all these parameters and maintain up to date data base with robust quality control and quality assurance. IITM is grateful to all their partners who have extended their full cooperation and support by providing the infrastructure and other facilities.

    We have developed a technology that can lead to predicting the level of pollutants in different parts of the city well in advance based on which preventive action can be taken to protect Human health. The air quality forecasting is a highly specialized area and requires huge computational power on regular. Complex computer model which handles millions of calculations in seconds provide the required tool focusing on the city areas with high resolution.

     

    1. UPSC Current Affairs: EPCA raises red flag over Jhilmil industrial area, Anand Vihar ISBT - Pg 02

    UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: Environment & Biodiversity

    Sub theme: EPCA | Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) | UPSC  

    The EPCA was constituted with the objective of protecting and improving the quality of the environment and preventing and controlling the environmental pollution in the National Capital Region, under the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. The EPCA is also mandated to enforce Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) in the city as per the pollution levels.

    The reason why EPCA is an authority, and not just an advisory committee, is because it has powers similar to those enjoyed by the Centre. Specifically, it can issue directions in writing to any person, officer or authority, including for – but not limited to – stoppage of electricity, water and other services. If its directions are not followed, it has powers to file criminal complaints (under section 19 of the Act) before courts.

    The EPCA has been empowered to take Suo motu action as well as on the basis of complaints made by any individual, representative body or organisation functioning in the environmental issues sector. One of the EPCA’s important powers is the redressal of grievances through complaints.

    Given that the EPCA has been empowered to initiate prosecution, the presence of officials from so many departments and municipal corporations is a cause for concern. This is because most violations of environmental law in India happen thanks to the connivance of enforcement agencies, including municipal bodies.

    EPCA was reconstituted with 20 members after the expiry of its last tenure in 2018. Members include DG of TERI; CEO of Centre for Energy, Environment and Water; former professor of surgery, AIIMS.

     

    1. UPSC Current Affairs: E-learning in India, a case of bad education - Pg 06

    UPSC Syllabus: Mains: GS II – Polity & Governance   

    Sub theme: Challenges with E-learning | UPSC  

    Equality of opportunity to all is one of the basic principles of our Constitution. But The COVID-19 shutdown has affected the opportunity for the poor harder than their counterparts from well-to-do sections of society.

    In this regard it’s worth noting what John Dewey, American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer, strongly remarked -  “An environment in which some are limited will always in reaction create conditions that prevent the full development even of those who fancy they enjoy complete freedom for unhindered growth.”

    The key issues

    The COVID-19 pandemic has rendered our education system extremely biased and faulty. The main thrust of providing learning opportunities while schools are shut is online teaching.

    There are three pertinent issues in this whole effort of online education and schemes that need serious consideration –

    • Exacerbation of inequality
    • Pedagogical issues leading to bad quality education (Pedagogy - the method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept.
    • An unwarranted thrust on online education, post-COVID-19.
    • Undermining the importance of Institutional environment

    Exacerbation of inequality

    Calamities, be they natural or man-made, affect the underprivileged the hardest; COVID-19 is no exception. This is seen in the plight of millions of migrant labourers, many of who walked thousands of kilometres. A similar but less noticed deprivation is being visited to children of the same people, which may push the next generation in a direction of even greater comparative disadvantage. 

    The government began plans for students with no online access only by the end of August. These plans assume semi-literate or illiterate parents teaching children, community involvement, mobile pools, and so on. Thus, digital India may become even more unequal and divided than it already is. 

    Even if one takes it as an emergency measure (that ‘something is better than nothing’) and also accept ‘for some is better than no one’ despite it being against the principle of equal opportunity, the quality of online teaching-learning leaves much to be desired.

    Listening to lectures on the mobile phone, copying from the board where the teacher is writing, frequent disconnections and/or having blurred video/audio can hardly and organically connect the child’s present understanding with the logically organised bodies of human knowledge.

    Pedagogical issues leading to bad quality education

    As per the author the online videos emphasises  is more on ‘tricks’ to remember for success in an examination than laying the stress on conceptual understanding.

    The government of Delhi also uses videos by the “Khan Academy”, for which many American educators are concerned and have questioned the quality of teaching and have pointed out inadequate or plainly wrong concepts.

    The secondary students are in a better position still because of their relative independence in learning and possible self-discipline. The beginners in the lower primary can get nothing at all from this mode of teaching.

    NCERT’s planning in Learning Enhancement Guidelines  (LEG)says that “for a child in grade I, the learning outcome — associates words with pictures — can be easily taught with the use of resources available from or at home such as newspapers, food packets, things at home, TV programmes, nature, etc. All that will be needed is guidance to the parents.” Well, if it were all that simple, then why are our children not learning to read and write? Education does not happen in chance encounters with print.

    As Michael Joseph Oakeshott (English Philosopher, he wrote considerably on philosophy of education) say, “it requires well-connected, regular efforts that are incrementally building to help the child focus his attention and to provoke him to distinguish and to discriminate, and develop a habit of staying on task.” And this requires help from someone who knows the child as well as understands the objective of education. 

    An unwarranted thrust on online education, post-COVID-19.

    The NCERT’s LEG states that “COVID-19 has created a situation which demands transformation in school education... the transaction mechanisms in school education may go through a drastic change. Therefore, even if the pandemic will get over, its traces will be there and school education needs to remodel itself....”. It recommends that “alternative modes of education for the whole academic session including Internet-based, radio, podcast, community radio, IVRS, TV DTH Channels, etc.” should be developed. 

    All reliable studies seem to indicate that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the classroom helps in already well functioning systems, and either has no benefits or negative impact in poorly performing systems. That does not indicate much hope from IT in our education system. 

    IT can be used in a balanced manner where it can help; but it should not be seen as a silver bullet to remedy all ills in the education system.

    Undermining the importance of Institutional environment

    The importance of an institutional environment cannot be overemphasised when one thinks of online teaching. Even when the institutions function sub-optimally, students themselves create an environment that supports their growth morally, socially and intellectually in conversations and interactions with each other. The online mode of teaching completely forecloses this opportunity.

    In conclusion, our democracy and public education system have, as usual, left the neediest in the lurch and are providing bad education to those who matter.

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