09 January, 2021 - Daily Current Affairs Analysis & MCQs - The Daily News Simplified from The Hindu

  • Beyond the Central Vista verdict, key questions (EDIT) - Page 06 - (Polity and Governance)
  • SEC announces dates for local body elections in A.P. - Page 08 - (Polity and Governance)
  • Youth kill endangered dolphin in U.P. - (Page 10)
  • China holds third edition of South Asia multilateral meet - (Page 14) - (International Relations)
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    UPSC Current Affairs: Beyond the Central Vista verdict, key questions | Page 06

    UPSC Syllabus: Mains – GS Paper II – Polity & Governance

    Sub Theme: Public projects | Central Vista | UPSC

    Context:

    • The Supreme Court of India has cleared the decks for the intensely contested new Parliament and Central Vista projects in New Delhi.
    • Limiting itself strictly to ‘the procedures sanctioned by law’, the majority judgment concluded that the government had followed all processes as stipulated by the regulations and could go ahead with the construction.

    This may have put an end to the litigation but it does not necessarily mean that such disputes and bitter situations would not recur.

    The critical questions on ensuring public commitment in civic projects, improving participatory processes in city-building, and effective procurement of professional services remain unanswered. Inadequate regulations that do not incorporate best practices will remain as they are. As judicial reviews are hesitant to direct changes to the mandated regulations, enduring solutions have to be found by improving them through political persuasion and public pressure.

    Delhi as the most visible case

    • It would be erroneous and unproductive to think that redevelopment of the Central Vista is a unique case, sui generis as it was argued in the Supreme Court, and hence the issues. The Delhi project is only the most visible of instances, but the problem is widespread.
    • The imprudent planning and reckless abandonment of Amaravati, the proposed capital for Andhra Pradesh, is but an example.
      • In this project, confusion abounded: plans were erratically changed, the chosen architect was dropped when the project moved towards construction and a new one appointed. After acquiring vast areas of land through a controversial method, the project was abandoned, leaving farmers and others agitated and in difficulty.
      • Failure to effectively address such instances has cumulatively eroded the possibilities of course correction. It is not that there were no efforts to challenge them, but all attempts often hit the dead end of obsolescent regulations.

    Though many issues demand attention, immediate regulatory improvement is needed in two critical areas: public participation and architectural services procurement.

    • First, the point of the participatory process. As an elected body, the state has the mandate and authority to draft civic projects and urban policies. While there is no argument on this, citizens often challenge the claims that they are unalloyed in their public purpose. The flip flop over the Amaravati project, where two elected governments made reckless decisions, is a case in point.

    Accountability factor

    • As political scientists have explained, most governments ensure that whimsical agendas do not drive public projects by institutionalising ‘horizontal’ and ‘vertical’ accountabilities. ‘Horizontal accountability’ is about creating interrelated state organisations such as heritage committees and environmental regulators to keep a check. ‘Vertical accountability’ concerns citizen oversight, which currently is limited to elections. The government often argues that horizontal accountability is in place and works well, while citizens, who are unconvinced given the poor track record, have argued for better and expanded vertical accountability such as an improved participatory process.

    Choosing the designer

    • A second regulatory change is required for choosing designers for public projects. Design is a complex service that requires a high level of creativity to meet functional, performative and aesthetic needs. It has a significant bearing on creating public assets and judicious use of taxpayer’s money. Poor choices disastrously impact downstream construction activities, building use, city functioning, and value for money. Though the majority and dissenting judgments in the Central Vista project did not find any fault in the manner architecture consultants were appointed, some of the issues raised remind us that the processes of procuring designs services could be improved.
    • Barring a few instances of open competition, which is an ideal way to choose from a larger pool of solutions, the state follows the alternative method of closed procurement. Here, select architects who meet a set of prerequisites are invited and choices made from the designs they have provided. To execute this, the government, from the methods recommended by the Ministry of Finance, adopts the Quality- and Cost-Based Selection (QCBS). The method allows for stipulating prerequisites for consultants, placing higher weightage on their technical competency and relatively lower weightage on financial proposals. This is meant to prioritise quality and not low price. However, two sets of issues undermine its professed advantage.
      • The first set of problems arise from the range of weightages allowed between technical and financial proposals. It is observed that unless weightage on technical qualification exceeds 80%, firms that quote lower fees can outdo better design firms.
      • The second and a more critical set of issues is related to steep prerequisites and a lack of clarity in evaluative criteria and standards for design assessors.

    Reducing the entry barrier

    • Many public projects insist on steep turnover conditions for architecture firms to qualify. The assumption is that the more considerable the turnover, the better it is in terms of expertise. Those familiar with the design profession know that creative outcomes are not a function of the firm’s scale. Steep entry requirements eliminate medium and small size firms and enable only a handful of large firms to qualify. This detrimentally reduces the pool of choice.
    • Going forward, where open competitions are not possible, the next best alternative is to mandate a method that reduces the entry barrier.
      • In this regard, one could take cues from the suggestions made by the Architects’ Council of Europe when it faced a similar situation. It advocated dropping turnover requirements and laid an emphasis on qualitative selection criteria.
      • Second, professional services could be disaggregated into design services and project development and management, thereby enabling better design focus.
      • Third, weightage placed on design value has to be unambiguously clear and fixed. Given that more than 65% of the registered architects in India are below 35 years and many firms are medium sized, such procurement changes are all the more necessary.

    On state capacity

    • Whenever a case for adopting better practices is made, policymakers argue that developing countries such as India have a relatively low state capacity. Hence, higher standards set in the matured economy and sustained by governments with higher capacity cannot be hastily implanted. The prevalent argument is that practices will improve as economic growth happens and as the country builds capabilities. On the face of it, such an incremental approach appears to make sense. However, it needs to be moderated in light of two facts. A comparison of responses to the novel coronavirus pandemic by India and the United States has shown that state capacity is not always directly proportional to wealth but more connected to will. Two, state capacity does not grow on its own as wealth increases. It improves only when the state is committed to doing better.

     

    UPSC Current Affairs: SEC announces dates for local body elections in A.P. | Page 08

    UPSC Syllabus: Mains – GS Paper II– Polity & Governance  

    Sub Theme: State Election Commission |73rd and 74th Amendments | UPSC

    Context:

    The State Election Commission (SEC) has opted to hold panchayat elections in Andhra Pradesh after “weighing the pros and cons”. The Commission has decided to conduct the polls, wherever necessary, for local bodies in four phases — February 5, 9, 13, and 17 — and announce the results from February 5 to 17 (four phases).

    Salient Features of the Constitution 73rd and 74th Amendments

    • These amendments added two new parts to the Constitution,namely, added Part IX titled “The Panchayats” (added by 73rd Amendment) and Part IXA titled “The Municipalities” (added by 74th Amendment).
    • Basic units of democratic system-Gram Sabhas (villages) and Ward Committees (Municipalities)comprising all the adult members registered as voters.
    • Three-tier systemof panchayats at village, intermediate block/taluk/mandal and district levels except in States with population is below 20 lakhs (Article 243B).
    • Seats at all levels to be filled by direct elections Article 243C (2).
    • Seats reserved for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) and the chairpersons of the Panchayats at all levels also shall be reserved for SCs and STs in proportion to their population.
    • One-third of the total number of seats to be reserved for women.
    • One third of the seats reserved for SCs and STs also reserved for women.
    • One-third offices of chairpersons at all levels reserved for women (Article 243D).
    • Uniform five year termand elections to constitute new bodies to be completed before the expiry of the term.
    • In the event of dissolution, elections compulsorily within six months (Article 243E).
    • Independent Election Commission in each Statefor superintendence, direction and control of the electoral rolls (Article 243K).
    • Panchayats to prepare plans for economic developmentand social justice in respect of subjects as devolved by law to the various levels of Panchayats including the subjects as illustrated in Eleventh Schedule (Article 243G).
    • 74th Amendment provides for a District Planning Committeeto consolidate the plans prepared by Panchayats and Municipalities (Article 243ZD).
    • Budgetary allocation from State Governments, share of revenue of certain taxes, collection and retention of the revenue it raises, Central Government programmes and grants, Union Finance Commission grants (Article 243H).
    • Establish a Finance Commission in each Stateto determine the principles on the basis of which adequate financial resources would be ensured for panchayats and municipalities (Article 243I).
    • The Eleventh Scheduled of the Constitution places as many as 29 functions within the purview of the Panchayati Raj bodies.

     

    UPSC Current Affairs: Youth kill endangered dolphin in U.P.| Page 10

    UPSC Syllabus: Prelims – Environment & Ecology

    Sub Theme:  Endangered Species | Gangetic river dolphin | UPSC

    Context:

    • A video of a group of men and boys in Uttar Pradesh’s Pratapgarh district beating to death a Gangetic river dolphin surfaced on social media.
    • An endangered species, the Gangetic River Dolphin is recognised as the National Aquatic Animal.
    • In the video of the incident, which took place on December 31, 2020, in the shallow waters of the Sharda canal near a village, a group of men and boys can be seen mauling the dolphin with axes and sticks.
    • The group first trapped the dolphin with a net, following which one of them slammed the hapless creature with an axe. Others joined in with axes and thick sticks and held down the dolphin by its fin, while some locals punctured the dolphin with sharp objects leading to bleeding.

    Dolphins are one of the oldest creatures in the world along with some species of turtles, crocodiles and sharks. The Ganges river dolphin was officially discovered in 1801. Ganges river dolphins once lived in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli-Sangu river systems of Nepal, India, and Bangladesh. But the species is extinct from most of its early distribution ranges.

    The Ganges river dolphin can only live in freshwater and is essentially blind. They hunt by emitting ultrasonic sounds, which bounces off of fish and other prey, enabling them to “see” an image in their mind. They are frequently found alone or in small groups, and generally a mother and calf travel together. Calves are chocolate brown at birth and then have grey-brown smooth, hairless skin as adults. Females are larger than males and give birth once every two to three years to only one calf.

    BYCATCH

    The habitat of the Ganges river dolphin is within one of the most densely populated areas of the world. Ganges river dolphins and people both favor areas of the river where fish are plentiful and the water current is slower. This has led to fewer fish for people and more dolphins dying as a result of accidentally being caught in fishing nets, also known as bycatch. The Ganges river dolphin is still hunted for meat and oil, which are both used medicinally. The oil is also used to attract catfish in net fishery.

    POLLUTION

    Industrial, agricultural, and human pollution is another serious cause of habitat degradation. Each year, 9,000 tons of pesticides and 6 million tons of fertilizers are used in the vicinity of the river. High levels of pollution can directly kill prey species and dolphins, and completely destroy their habitat. As the top predator, river dolphins have been known to have high levels of persistent toxic chemicals in their bodies, which is likely to adversely affect their health.

    INFRASTRUCTURE

    Ganges river dolphins are divided into isolated groups because of the construction of more than 50 dams and other irrigation-related projects. This makes them susceptible to inbreeding and more vulnerable to other threats because they cannot move to new areas. Dolphins trapped above a dam are exposed to poaching, especially during dry summer months. Dolphins below a dam are threatened by heavy pollution, increased fishing activities and vessel traffic. They also have less food because dams disturb the migration, breeding cycles and habitat of fish and other prey.

     

    UPSC Current Affairs:China holds third edition of South Asia multilateral meet | Page 14

    UPSC Syllabus: Mains – GS Paper II – International Relations

    Sub Theme: China’s South Asia multilateral meet | CPEC extension |UPSC

    Context:

    China has held its third multilateral dialogue with countries from South Asia to take forward closer cooperation on fighting COVID-19 and coordinating their economic agendas, reflecting a new approach in Beijing’s outreach to the region.

    The third dialogue, held virtually on January 6, brought together every country in the region barring India, Bhutan and the Maldives, and was aimed at “anti-epidemic cooperation and poverty reduction cooperation”, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said.

    All three dialogues have been attended by Pakistan and Nepal, which are emerging as two lynchpins in China’s regional strategy. The first such meeting was convened by China in July, and was attended by Pakistan, Nepal and Afghanistan. This was followed by a grouping in November attended by China, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

    The January 6 meeting was attended by all five countries that have taken part in these dialogues — Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh — and was a follow-up to the two earlier meetings, Ms. Hua said.

    The Agenda

    • Dealing with the impact of the pandemic,
    • resuming economic and trade cooperation,
    • dealing with non-traditional security challenges
    • advancing sustainable development, and reached an initial consensus.

    It shows our strong will and confidence in dealing with challenges together and achieving cooperation. China would like to work with all sides in implementing our consensus and to make greater contribution to building a regional community with shared future for health.”

    In the previous two rounds, the countries also discussed how to work more closely together under China’s Belt and Road Initiative to boost their post-COVID-19 economic recovery and agreed that countries linked by land ports should establish joint response mechanisms in border areas, apart from committing to greater information sharing and international cooperation.

    CPEC extension

    • At the July quadrilateral dialogue with Afghanistan, Nepal and Pakistan, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi proposed extending the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan, as well as taking forward an economic corridor plan with Nepal, called the Trans-Himalayan Multi-dimensional Connectivity Network.
    • Wang told the conference the four countries were “connected by mountains and rivers”, and also offered to share China’s expertise and capacities on COVID-19 vaccines. The Foreign Minister also hit out at countries that had “politicised” the pandemic and “undermined cooperation for their own political needs”, saying they would be “nailed to history’s pillar of shame forever”.
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