Daily Current Affairs 16.03.2021 (Reservation in central universities, Bill to define Delhi L-G’s powers )

Daily Current Affairs 16.03.2021 (Reservation in central universities, Bill to define Delhi L-G’s powers )


1. Over 60% OBC, SC posts vacant in IIMs

93% of ST posts of professors at Central varsities unfilled

More than half of the faculty positions reserved for the OBCs in Central institutions of higher education are vacant while about 40% of those reserved for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes also remain unfilled, Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ told the Lok Sabha on Monday in a written response to a question from three Congress MPs.

The situation is particularly acute in the elite Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), where more than 60% of SC and OBC reserved positions are vacant, while almost 80% of positions reserved for the STs have not been filled. This means that out of 24 positions reserved for the STs, only five have been filled. For the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), data has only been provided for non-faculty positions. Both the IITs and the IIMs have been lobbying for exemption from such faculty quota requirements.

Assistant prof. posts filled

Mr. Nishank’s response to another question from Congress MP N. Uttam Kumar Reddy showed that within the Central Universities, vacancies were higher at the level of professors. Of 709 assistant professor positions reserved for the STs at the 42 universities, more than 500 have been filled. However, when it comes to professors, only nine have been filled of the 137 reserved for the ST candidates. This means that 93% of these posts remain unfilled. Less than 1% of the 1,062 professors in Central universities are from the ST communities.

Similarly, 64% of the 2,206 assistant professor positions reserved for the OBCs have been filled in the Central Universities. However, less than 5% of the 378 professor positions reserved for the OBCs have been filled.

Despite the high levels of vacancies, Mr. Nishank’s written response to the first question claimed that, “Now, after implementation of ‘The Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Teachers’ Cadre) Act, 2019’, the OBC reservation has been implemented at all levels.”

In the second response, Mr. Nishank noted that the Ministry of Education and University Grants Commission continuously monitor vacancies, but put the final blame on universities themselves.

“However, the onus of filling up the teaching posts lies on Central Universities, which are autonomous bodies created under Acts of Parliament,” he said.

In fact, in June 2019, University Grants Commission had written to all Universities, giving them a six month deadline to fill up their vacancies, and warning that grants would be withheld if its directions were violated.

According to the data presented in the Lok Sabha on Monday, there are now 6,074 vacant positions at the 42 universities, of which 75% are in reserved categories.

Reservation in India

What is meant by reservation or affirmative action?

In simple terms, reservation in India is all about reserving access to seats in the government jobs, educational institutions, and even legislatures to certain sections of the population.

Also known as affirmative action, the reservation can also be seen as positive discrimination. Reservation in India is a government policy, backed by the Indian Constitution (by means of various amendments).

The purpose of reservation in India

The two main aims to provide reservation as per the Constitution of India are:

  1. Advancement of Scheduled Castes (SC) and the Scheduled Tribes (ST) OR any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens (Eg: OBC) OR economically weaker sections (EWS) – Article 15 (4), Article 15 (5), and Article 15 (6),
  2. Adequate representation of any backward class of citizens OR economically weaker sections (EWS) in the services under the State. – Article 16 (4) and Article 16 (6)

The extent of Reservation in India

In India, reservation is provided in:

  1. Government Educational Institutions (like IITs, IIMs etc) – as per Article 15 – (4), (5), and (6)
  2. Government Jobs (like IAS, IPS etc) – as per Article 16 – (4) and (6)
  3. Legislatures (Parliament, and State Legislature) – as per Article 334

Before 2019, the reservation was provided mainly on the basis of social and educational backwardness (caste). However, after the 103rd constitutional amendment in 2019, economic backwardness is also considered.

Apart from the reservation quota, additional relaxations like upper-age relaxations, additional attempts, and lower cut-off marks are also provided for various reservation categories.

Reservation quota in India for Government Jobs

A vacancy reserved for SCs or STs or OBCs cannot be filled by a candidate other than an SC or ST or OBC candidate, as the case may be.

As seen from the above table, about 60% of seats are reserved in India –  for various sections like ST, SC, OBC, and EWS – with respect to Government jobs and Higher Education Institutions. 3% of seats are also reserved for differently-abled persons across all categories.

This also means that only 40% of seats are available under merit. In the merit seats, not only the general category candidates but all other categories like SC, ST, OBC, and EWS can also compete.

SC/ST Reservation

The objective of providing reservations to the Scheduled Castes(SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) in services is not only to give jobs to some persons belonging to these communities. It basically aims at empowering them and ensuring their participation in the decision-making process of the State.

Besides, the state is also keen to end practices such as untouchability.

Scheduled Castes (SC) are given 15% quota in jobs/higher educational institutions while Schedule Tribes (ST) are given 7.5% quota in jobs/higher educational institutions.

Reservation is provided not only with respect to direct recruitment but also with respect to promotions for SC/ST category (Article 16(4A)).

There is no concept of ‘creamy layer’ with respect to SC/ST reservation. This means that irrespective of the income status or the government posts held by the parents, children of SC/ST parents will get SC/ST Reservation.

OBC Reservation

Reservation for Other Backwards Classes (OBC) was introduced based on the Mandal Commission Report (1991). The quota for OBCs is 27% in government jobs and higher educational institutions.

However, there is a concept of ‘creamy layer’ with respect to the OBC reservation. Only those from OBC who comes under Non-Creamy Layer would get OBC reservation.

The creamy layer concept brings income and social status as parameters to exclude some of the privileged members of OBC from the extent of reservation. This concept also keeps a check to ensure that the benefits of reservation do not get extended to subsequent generations.

EWS Reservation

The Central Government of India recently introduced EWS Reservation. 10% quota is provided for the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) among General Category candidates in government jobs and educational institutions. This is done by adding clauses for the same in the Indian Constitution (103rd Constitution Amendment Act, 2019).

History of Reservation System in India – Rectifying the Historical Injustice

To an extent, reservation as a policy is pursued by the State to correct the historical injustice done to certain castes by the so-called “upper castes”. The caste system prevailed in India had alienated many “lower castes” from the mainstream – hindering their development. To a great extent, the repercussions are still felt.

Original Consitution of India has provided reservation only for quota in legislatures – that too only for 10 years until 1960 (article 334). Subsequent amendments to the constitution extended the period of reservation for quota in legislatures.

Provisions of reservations in Educational Institutions and Government Jobs – article 15(4) and article 16 (4) – were too created by means of Constitutional Amendments later. No time period is given for the validity of the reservations mentioned in article 15(4) and article 16(4).

The initial reservations were only for SC and ST [article 15(4) and article 16(4)]. OBCs were included in the ambit of reservation in 1991 [article 15(5)]. In 2019, Economically Weaker Sections are also included [article 15(6) and article 16(6)].

2. Bill to define Delhi L-G’s powers moved in LS

Union Home Ministry seeks to amend 1991 Act, curb powers of elected Assembly

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) moved a Bill in the Lok Sabha on Monday where it proposed that the “government” in the National Capital Territory of Delhi meant the Lieutenant-Governor of Delhi.

The Bill gives discretionary powers to the L-G even in matters where the Legislative Assembly of Delhi is empowered to make laws.

The proposed legislation also seeks to ensure that the L-G is “necessarily granted an opportunity” to give heror his opinion before any decision taken by the Council of Ministers (or the Delhi Cabinet) is implemented.

Delhi is a Union Territory with a legislature and it came into being in 1991 under Article 239AA of the Constitution inserted by the Constitution (Sixty-ninth Amendment) Act, 1991. As per the existing Act, the Legislative Assembly has the power to make laws in all matters except public order, police and land.

Delhi govt. vs Centre

The Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi government has on many occasions challenged the BJP-ruled Centre regarding administrative matters in the National Capital.

The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021, was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Monday by Union Minister of State for Home G. Kishan Reddy.

The Bill proposes to amend Sections 21, 24, 33 and 44 of the 1991 Act.

The MHA’s statement on “objects and reasons” of the Bill stated that Section 44 of the 1991 Act deals with conduct of business and there is no structural mechanism for effective time-bound implementation of the said section. “Further, there is no clarity as to what proposal or matters are required to be submitted to Lieutenant-Governor before issuing order thereon,” the statement said.

Section 44 of the 1991 Act says that all executive actions of the L-G, whether taken on the advice of his Ministers or otherwise shall be expressed to be taken in the name of the L-G.

Powers of Governors and Lt. Governors:

GovernorLt. Governor
Governor is appointed under Article 153. As per Article 239, every UT in India shall be administered by the President, through an administrator to be appointed by him. It is called Lieutenant Governor in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Puducherry and Delhi. 
Governor is constitutional head of the states.Lt. Governor is an administrator and not a constitutional head.
Article 153- 167 of Indian constitution deals with state executive (Gov+CM+Council of Ministers+Advocate general of the states).Article 239 to 241 deal with UTs
States have their own government.UTs are directly governed by Union.
Governors works as per the advice of the Council of ministers.In this regard, the Supreme court in 2017 said that Lt. Governor of Delhi has more power than Governor of any state. He doesn’t have to listen to the Council of Ministers.

3. ‘India’s arms imports down by 33%’

Drop seems mainly due to complex procurement process: Swedish think tank

Arms imports decreased by 33% between 2011–15 and 2016–20 while India continues to remain the second largest arms importer after Saudi Arabia, according to a report from Swedish think tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

“The overall drop in arms imports between 2011–15 and 2016–20 seems to be mainly due to its complex and lengthy procurement processes, combined with its attempts to reduce its dependence on Russian arms by diversifying its network of arms suppliers,” the report released on Monday said.

Russia largest supplier

The report said Russia was the largest arms supplier in both years. “However, Russia’s deliveries dropped by 53% between the two periods and its share of Indian arms imports fell from 70 to 49%.”

The U.S. was the second largest arms supplier to India in 2011–15 but in 2016–20 India’s arms imports from the U.S. were 46% lower than in the previous five-year period, making the U.S. the fourth largest supplier in 2016–20.

France and Israel were the second and third largest arms suppliers in 2016–20. “India’s arms imports from France increased by 709% while those from Israel rose by 82%,” the report said adding that combat aircraft and associated missiles made up more than 50% of arms imports.

The report said as India perceives increasing threats from Pakistan and China and as its ambitious plans to produce its own major arms have been significantly delayed, it is planning large-scale programmes for arms imports. “Based on its outstanding deliveries of combat aircraft, air defence systems, ships and submarines, India’s arms imports are expected to increase over the coming five years,” it said.

Pak. imports

Arms imports by Pakistan between 2011–15 and 2016–20 decreased by 23%. China accounted for 61% of its imports in 2011–15 and for 74% in 2016–20.

Like India, Pakistan too has several large outstanding orders for arms, according to the report. They are scheduled for delivery by 2028 and include 50 combat aircraft, eight submarines and four frigates from China and four frigates from Turkey, the report said.


Based on the latest estimates released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in the period between 2009-13 and 2014-18, Indian defence imports fell even as Exports Increased.


  • Indeed, the period between 2012 and 2019 saw Indian defence exports experiencing a considerable jump sourced from Indian public and private sector enterprises.
  • In the last two fiscal years, 2017-18 and 2018-19, exports have witnessed a surge from 7,500 crore to 11,000 crore, representing a 40% increase in exports. Small naval crafts account for the bulk of India’s major defence exports. However, export of ammunition and arms remain low.
  • As a percentage of total Indian trade, defence-related exports for the fiscal years 2017-18 and 2018-19 were 0.8 and 0.73%, respectively.
  • Russia’s arms export to India fell 42?tween 2014-18 and 2009-2013. In the same period, India’s arms imports decreased 24%.
  • Although India is still the second-largest arms importer in the world over the last five years, with Pakistan ranking at 11th.
  • Broadly, Two Factors appear to be driving this shift.
  • The first is the ‘Make in India’ initiative, as part of which a number of components from Indian private and public sector enterprises have been prioritised by the government.
  • The second set of factors is extraneous to India in the form of delays in supplying equipment by vendors and the outright cancellation of contracts by the Indian government or at least a diminution of existing contracts.

Role of Make in India and DPP:

  • Under the ‘Make in India’ initiative, the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) lays out the terms, regulations and requirements for defence acquisitions as well as the measures necessary for building India’s defence industry.
  • It created a new procurement category in the revised DPP of 2016 dubbed ‘Buy Indian Indigenously Designed, Developed and Manufactured’ (IDDM).
  • The ‘Make’ procedure has undergone simplification “earmarking projects not exceeding ten crores” that are government funded and 3 crore for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) that are industry funded.
  • In addition, the government has also introduced provisions in the DPP that encourages technology transfers.
  • Further Government dispensed with the erstwhile No Objection Certificate (NOC) under the DPP restricting exports of aerospace products, several dual-use items and did away with two-thirds of all products under these heads.

Public Sector Support:

  • According to government of India data for the financial year 2018-19, the three armed services for their combined capital and revenue expenditures sourced 54% of their defence equipment from Indian industry which in turn helped decrease imports and augment exports.
  • Among arms producers, India has four companies among the top 100 biggest arms producers of the world.
  • Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL)
  • Indian ordnance factories
  • Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL)
  • Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL)
  • It is estimated, according to SIPRI, their combined sales were $7.5 billion in 2017, representing a 6.1% jump from 2016.

Impact on Exports-Imports owing to Cancellation and Delays:

  • Indian defence acquisitions have also fallen due to the cancellation of big-ticket items.
  • Take for instance the India-Russia joint venture for the development of the advanced

Su- 57 stealth Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA).

  • India cancelled involvement in 2018 due to rising dissatisfaction in delays with the project as well as the absence of capabilities that would befit a fifth generation fighter jet.
  • In 2015, the government also reduced the size of the original acquisition of 126 Rafale Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) from Dassault to 36 aircraft, which is also responsible for significantly driving down the import bill.
  • The delays in the supplies of T-90 battle tanks, and Su-30 combat aircraft from Russia and submarines from France, in 2009-13 and 2014-18, also depressed imports.

Bottlenecks in the Defence Sector:

  • Governments, including the incumbent, have tended to privilege Defence Public Sector Units (DPSUs) over the private sector, despite ‘Make in India’.
  • This model is highly skewed, undermining the growth of private players and diminishes the strength of research and development, thereby impairing development of the sector.

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute:

  • SIPRI is an independent international institute dedicated to research into conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament.
  • Established in 1966, SIPRI provides data, analysis and recommendations, based on open sources, to policymakers, researchers, media and the interested public.
  • Based in Stockholm, SIPRI is regularly ranked among the most respected think tanks worldwide.

4. SC bats for Great Indian Bustard

It moots underground cables to prevent deaths due to collision with power lines

The Supreme Court on Monday intervened on behalf of the critically endangered Great Indian Bustards over the birds falling dead after colliding with power lines running through their dwindling natural habitats in Gujarat and Rajasthan.

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde will examine on a priority basis whether overhead power cables can be replaced with underground ones to save one of the heaviest flying birds on the planet.

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, appearing for the Power Ministry, however submitted that only low voltage lines can go underground but not the high voltage ones.

The court found further that an alternative mechanism — to install flight bird divertors — to guide the birds away from the power lines would be expensive.

The court discovered that the divertors, with their recurring costs, would end costing more than installing and maintaining underground lines. But the court suggested treading the middle path.

“Wherever there is high voltage power lines, they can use flight bird divertors even if the recurring costs are high. Wherever there are overhead low voltage lines, these lines can be placed underground,” Chief Justice Bobde remarked.

Senior advocate A.M. Singhvi, appearing for some power companies, objected to the court passing any sort of blanket ban which would affect over 50 lakh jobs.

Mr. Singhvi said the greater threat to the birds was from their diminishing habitat, flattened for agriculture.

The court agreed to further hear the case next week.

Great Indian Bustard

Since June last year, nine GIB eggs collected from the Desert National Park in Jaisalmer where a conservation centre has been set up, have hatched, and the chicks are reported to be doing well.

Great Indian Bustard

  • The Great Indian Bustard, one of the heaviest flying birds, can weigh up to 15 kg and grow up to one metre in height.
  • It is considered the flagship grassland species, representing the health of the grassland ecology.
  • For long, conservationists have been demanding to secure this population, warning that the bird might get extinct in the coming decades.
  • It would become the first mega species to disappear from India after Cheetah in recent times.
  • Till 1980s, about 1,500-2,000 Great Indian Bustards were spread throughout the western half of India, spanning eleven states.
  • However, with rampant hunting and declining grasslands, their population dwindled.
  • In July 2011, the bird was categorised as “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Various threats to GIBs

I. General threats to GIB

  • Habitat loss & fragmentation, change of land use pattern, desertification, ill-thought plantation of exotic & invasive species in grassland ecosystems are some of the generic causes.
  • Neglect of state institutions due to classification of ‘grasslands’ as ‘wastelands’, conversion of grasslands to agriculture lands due to increasing irrigation potential and decline of nature/GIB-friendly agrarian practices, are all commonly and correctly blamed for the steady decline in India’s GIB population.

II. Role of Noise Pollution

  • Noise pollution affects the mating and courtship practices of the GIB.
  • The male GIB inflates his ‘gular’ pouch (near the neck) which almost touches the ground, in order to produce a large booming sound which reverberates across the grassland.
  • The male GIB does this to attract GIB females and to inform them of his exact location in the vast expanse of the grassland.
  • Thus, the sound of the male GIB should be loud enough to transcend the walls of the sanctuary and be audible to female GIBs in the fields nearby.
  • The noise generated by human activities, whether be it by vehicles, tractors, music during processions, firecrackers, may interfere with the GIB’s mating call and drown it out.

III. Other threats

  • The rate of reproduction amongst GIBs is very low; the female GIB lays only one egg per year.
  • This solitary egg is under threat from natural predators of the grasslands such as jackals, hyenas or foxes or invasive species such as crows or feral dogs.
  • In such a scenario, every opportunity the GIBs lose to mate pushes the species closer to extinction.

Protection Measures

  • Birdlife International uplisted this species from Endangered to Critically Endangered (2011)
  • Protection under CITES Appendix I
  • Protection under Schedule I Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act 2002
  • Project Great Indian Bustard (Rajasthan):  aims at identifying and fencing off bustard breeding grounds in existing protected areas as well as provide secure breeding enclosures in areas outside protected areas.

Protected areas

  1. Desert National Park Sanctuary — Rajasthan
  2. Rollapadu Wildlife Sanctuary – Andhra Pradesh
  3. Karera Wildlife Sanctuary– Madhya Pradesh

5. Editorial-1: The limits of POCSO

A recent judgment highlights the need to reconsider POCSO’s absolutist approach to adolescent sexuality needs

A single bench of the Madras High Court recently allowed a petition seeking to quash a case of kidnap, aggravated penetrative sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault of a minor. Aggravated penetrative sexual assault under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012 is the equivalent provision for aggravated rape. A person can be charged with this offence in certain aggravating circumstances, such as if the rape occurs within a relationship of trust or authority, or if it leads to pregnancy, among others. Under POCSO, the consent of a person under the age of 18 is irrelevant, regardless of the nature and circumstance of the sexual interaction, or the particulars of the person with whom it takes place. This means that any sex with a minor is rape.

Sexual tendencies of adolescents

The judgment echoes the arguments that child rights activists have been making for years: by ignoring the natural sexual tendencies of adolescents, POCSO can and does become a tool for the persecution of young people in consenting sexual relations. The court reasoned that adolescence and young adulthood form a continuum because of the physical, biological, neurological, and social changes that occur during this time. The implication is that people within this age group may be clubbed together notwithstanding the legal line drawn at 18. This informed the court’s view of the relationship of the minor ‘victim’ with the accused respondent as being a loving, rather than an abusive, one.

The judgment concluded that the case could be quashed because it was purely individual in nature and doing so would not affect any overriding public interest. However, in doing this, it ignored the established precedent against quashing cases of rape, a heinous and serious offence, held by the Supreme Court to be a public concern, and not a private matter. Perhaps the court was persuaded in taking this course because of its observation that POCSO could not have been intended to bring such cases within its scope. In making this observation, the court relied on the Statement of Objects and Reasons of POCSO, which states that the law was enacted pursuant to Article 15 of the Constitution, which allows the state to make special provisions for women and children, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to protect children from sexual assault, sexual harassment, and pornography.

However, neither the founding documents nor the listed categories of offences give a sense of what the limits of POCSO were meant to be. The Parliamentary Committee (Rajya Sabha) which considered the POCSO Bill, 2011 had, in fact, criticised the clause providing for the possibility of consent in cases of sexual intercourse with minors between the ages of 16 and 18. It believed that a uniform age of 18 would ensure that trials of child rape would focus on the conduct of the accused and the circumstances of the offence, instead of putting victims on trial as is often the case when the consent of the victim is in question. This would indicate that adolescent sexuality was not meant to be an exception to POCSO’s bright-line approach.

The five State studies on the functioning of Special Courts under the POCSO Act, conducted by the Centre for Child and the Law, National Law School of India University, Bengaluru, have demonstrated that these de facto consensual cases are complicated. While adolescents can and do choose to have sex, it is a fact that they are still children, and their nascent sexual autonomy is susceptible to abuse. This contradiction created by the very nature of adolescence has led to inconsistent and unprincipled adjudication. The absolute age line of POCSO has not prevented the insensitive assessment of minors’ consent. At the same time, it has forced courts to choose between applying the law and doing justice, especially in cases where the minor victim has willingly eloped with or married the accused or is carrying his child, for imprisoning him would only do her harm.

A just verdict

Therefore, the judgment was intuitively just, even though it was not in line with precedent. It highlighted the urgent need for a reconsideration of the absolutist approach of POCSO when it comes to the sexual interactions of adolescents with other young people. Courts need to be able to strike a balance between the limited but developing capacity of adolescents to consent to sexual interaction and their vulnerability to being groomed, abused, and exploited. For this to be possible, the legislature must provide clarity on the core wrongs that POCSO is meant to address, so that valid conclusions may be drawn about what is the intent of the law, and what is clearly outside its purpose.

6. Editorial-2: Global leader in the post-Covid era

During the pandemic, India has initiated education reforms and become the pharmacy of the world

By virtue of extensive immunity due to oral vaccination, the last polio case was reported in India in January 2011. Subsequently, India was declared polio-free in 2014. The Government of India observes National Vaccination Day every year on March 16 to convey the importance of vaccination to its people. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the significance of this day becomes even more pertinent. The firm conviction of Prime Minister Narendra Modi ensured that Aatmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India) has its own COVID-19 vaccine. I also congratulate my colleague Dr Harsh Vardhan and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for their perseverance and hard work. Indians will finally become healthier than before. This will help India emerge as a global leader in the post-COVID-19 era.

Medicines are global goods

The Prime Minister realised early on that the challenges being posed by the pandemic would require a global solution. As most developed nations ramped up their efforts to vaccinate their respective populations, the developing countries ran dangerously behind, which could have meant another year of humanitarian and economic crisis for them. While developed countries engaged in vaccine nationalism, it became imperative that a universal, equitable, and affordable supply of vaccines was ensured for developing countries. I am proud that our initiative of making vaccines widely available for other developing countries firmly established India as the ‘pharmacy of the world’ and sent out the message that medical products must be dealt with as global public goods. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been leading global efforts to mitigate the challenges by supplying medicines and generic drugs to other countries. This shows that while becoming aatma nirbhar, we are proving our mettle at the global level. As of March, we have supplied vaccines to over 70 countries while ensuring that our domestic demand is met.

I am proud that our educational institutions took the lead and transformed the challenges into opportunities. The IITs came up with incredible innovations like low-cost portable ventilators, affordable AI-powered COVID-19 test kits, drones for sanitisation, and cheap and effective PPE kits and masks. With the help of these innovations, we were able to provide healthcare facilities to our people. We even exported this equipment to different countries, which reflects our long adage philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.

Research and innovation

As we now step into a post-COVID era, it becomes more imperative to strengthen research and innovation. Through the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, we have already taken a step forward in this direction. The NEP aims at improving the research and innovation landscape in India. It proposes that higher education institutions (HEIs) should focus on research and innovation by establishing start-up incubation centres, technology development centres and interdisciplinary research. The HEIs should also focus on developing mechanisms and organising competitions to promote innovation among student communities. To attain the highest global standards in education, the NEP also recommends setting up Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities, which will be on a par with IITs and IIMs.

Before the commencement of the next academic session 2021-22, the National Research Foundation (NRF) will be established under the Principal Scientific Adviser, which will transform India’s research culture. I am glad that an outlay of ₹50,000 crore for the next five years has been allocated for NRF in the Budget.

The world will remember us for initiating the largest education reforms and emerging from the pandemic as a global leader. By taking the COVID-19 vaccine, the Prime Minister has given a solid boost to our vaccination drive and instilled confidence in the nation. I appeal to my dear citizens to come forward and be a part of the vaccine drive because it is only together that we can build a ‘Swarnim Bharat (A Golden India)’.

7. Editorial-3: Poll position

Supreme Court has boosted independence of SECs in holding local body elections

Even though more than a quarter century has elapsed since the Constitution was amended to make urban and rural local bodies a self-contained third tier of governance, it is often agreed by experts that there is inadequate devolution of powers to them. This may somewhat explain their relative lack of autonomy. However, an entirely different facet of the way these local bodies function is that the manner in which their representatives are elected is often beset by controversies. Local polls are often marred by violence, and charges of arbitrary delimitation and reservation of wards. A key factor in any local body polls being conducted in a free and fair manner is the extent to which the State Election Commissioner, the authority that supervises the elections, is independent and autonomous. Unfortunately, most regimes in the States appoint senior bureaucrats from among their favourites to this office. In practice, SECs frequently face charges of being partisan. Routine exercises such as delimiting wards, rotating the wards reserved for women and Scheduled Castes and fixing dates for the elections become mired in controversy as a result, as the Opposition tends to believe that the exercise is being done with the ruling party’s interest in mind. Even though this cannot be generalised in respect of all States and all those manning the position, it is undeniable that SECs do not seem to enjoy the confidence of political parties and the public to the same extent as the Election Commission of India as far as their independence is concerned.

It is in this backdrop that the Supreme Court’s judgment declaring that a State Election Commissioner should be someone completely independent of the State government acquires salience. It has described the Goa government’s action in asking its Law Secretary to hold additional charge as SEC as a “mockery of the Constitutional mandate”. By invoking its extraordinary power under Article 142 of the Constitution, the Court has asked all SECs who are under the direct control of the respective State governments to step down from their posts. In practice, most States appoint retired bureaucrats as SECs. Whether the apex court’s decision would have a bearing on those who are no more serving State governments remains to be seen. However, it is clear that these governments will now have to find a way to appoint to the office only those who are truly independent and not beholden to it in any manner. The verdict will help secure the independence of SECs in the future. More significantly, the Court has boosted the power of the election watchdog by holding that it is open to the SECs to countermand any infractions of the law made by the State government in the course of preparing for local body polls. Regimes in the States would have to wake up to the reality that they cannot always control the local body polls as in the past.

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