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Daily Current Affairs 17.07.2020 (MMR, Postal Ballot, IIT)

Daily Current Affairs 17.07.2020 (MMR, Postal Ballot, IIT)

1. India registers a steep decline in maternal mortality ratio

Deaths drop from 130 to 113 in 2016-18

  • The Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) in India has declined to 113 in 2016-18 from 122 in 2015-17 and 130 in 2014-2016, according to the special bulletin on Maternal Mortality in India 2016-18, released by the Office of the Registrar General’s Sample Registration System (SRS).
  • One of the key indicators of maternal mortality is the MMR, defined as the number of maternal deaths per 1,00,000 live births. The target 3.1 of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) set by the United Nations aims to reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 1,00,000 live births.
  • The MMR of various States according to the bulletin includes Assam (215), Bihar (149), Madhya Pradesh (173), Chhattisgarh (159), Odisha (150), Rajasthan (164), Uttar Pradesh (197) and Uttarakhand (99). The southern States registered a lower MMR — Andhra Pradesh (65), Telangana (63), Karnataka (92), Kerala (43) and Tamil Nadu (60).
  • “Maternal mortality in a region is a measure of reproductive health of women in the area. As per the World Health Organization, maternal death is the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management,” noted the bulletin.
Maternal Mortality Rate and Maternal Mortality Ratio Maternal Mortality Rate is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and site of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management but not from accidental or incidental causes. Maternal Mortality Ratio is the annual number of female deaths per 100,000 live births from any cause related to or aggravated by pregnancy or its management (excluding accidental or incidental causes). The maternal mortality ratio is a key performance indicator for efforts to improve the health and safety of mothers before, during, and after childbirth per country worldwide
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2. Predictions, pandemics and public health

Those who did not consider an anticipated pandemic as a reason to have a good public health care system were insouciant

  • Human beings have two remarkable traits, the second of which we had little reason to suspect that we possessed until the rise of new technologies such as the Internet.
  • The first is the capacity to anticipate events and tendencies, map their future in the short, mid, and long term, and act accordingly. We can, of course, go wrong, and so there is always an element of risk in making decisions on the basis of the exercise of such anticipatory gifts that we possess. Nevertheless, to a considerable extent, such exercises are a great potential asset.
  • The second is a trait which, as I said, I did not know we possessed until a few decades ago. I’m not sure what the best word for it is. Perhaps it should be ‘cognitive generosity’. I stress cognitive deliberately to contrast with ‘material’. Someone who has never given a penny to Oxfam, say, or indeed even to a beggar, will put down every little thing he knows on the Web, for the world to read and share in the knowledge. She has found an effective way to remove ink stains from clothes. She will post it on some website. He has made a delicious biryani. He will post the recipe. The humblest of knowledges and we seem to want to share it with the world. If this really is a trait, it must be the product of evolution, but it took the technology of the last few years to trigger it in us.

Combining the two traits

  • Now, if we combine these two traits — the remarkable capacity for decisions and actions on the basis of anticipatory knowledges and the disposition to be generous and share the knowledges we have — we should have been able to pre-empt or, at the very least, to fairly quickly contain the pandemic with which we are now faced. The striking genomic similarity of the novel coronavirus with SARS is now well known and many who had studied SARS had anticipated the inevitability of more contagious pandemics than SARS in the offing and had sounded the alarm for the whole world to know and act upon the knowledge.
  • Yet no one did. Why? The answer is quite obvious. There is no quick profit in public health issues of this preventive kind. If one tenth of the anticipatory gifts we have that seem to be exploited for immediate private gain on the part of corporations and investment bankers were put to use in the preventive domain of public health, not only would the crisis that we have been landed in be swiftly contained, it might even have been pre-empted by suitable medical safeguards.
  • It would be glib to conclude from this that the two remarkable dispositions we possess which I mentioned at the outset are no match for the human disposition to greed. The eventual resting point of analysis cannot just be to record the contest between conflicting human dispositions, but to explore the extent to which the conflicting dispositions can be enhanced or undermined by institutions. Thus, for instance, no less a site than the White House institutionalised our dispositions to act on our anticipatory knowledges by setting up an office called ‘Predict’ intended as an early warning system for pandemics, with a view partly to aiding foreign countries that are pre-conditioned to be most vulnerable. President Donald Trump shut it down just a few months before COVID-19 hit the news — yet another symptom of how much we have allowed our political economy of some four decades to institutionalise and channel almost all of our dispositions, including the capacity to act intelligently on anticipatory knowledge, for private rather than public gain.
  • So, human dispositions can be directed in all sorts of ways by the economic and political institutions we construct and entrench. But, equally, if it is we who construct and entrench these institutions, it is we who can dismantle (or re-mantle) them. Perhaps the one clear lesson of the current pandemic and our utter failure to act on the anticipatory knowledges that had been posted far and wide by knowledgeable people is that no re-mantling short of the public ownership of health care and pharmaceuticals will suffice.
  • Someone may agree with this last remark but deny the stronger thing I am claiming. Scientists and public health officials didn’t really predict the pandemic, it might be said. It was more like saying that there is bound to be an earthquake in a certain region in the coming years. That is not a prediction. A prediction surely must identify a more specific time, as, say, of a solar eclipse. And so, even though there are very good reasons for having a public health care system, the fact that it will help to control the spread of (and even perhaps prevent) a pandemic could not have been expected to be one of the reasons considered for proposing a good public health system, where it is missing (in the United States, or India, say).

An arcane distinction

  • The facts simply belie this scepticism. First of all, we do use the word ‘predict’ in far more informal ways than is being suggested here. I may, for instance, quite properly say, without doing any violence to the linguistic norms around the word ‘predict’, about someone I know very well, ‘I predict that he will return from Oxford to the job we have kept open for him in our department at Columbia University’, without giving any precise specification of when he will return. And second, I don’t deny that there is a distinction between 1) Effectively controlling the spread of a pandemic is one of the many reasons we would and should consider for proposing a good public health care system, and 2) Were there a good public health care system, it would effectively control the spread of a pandemic. You can believe in 2) without believing in 1). But given the highly detailed warnings that were given by scientists after SARS of its anticipated offshoots that would be both highly contagious and lethal (a combination of properties that was not standardly true of the influenzas and other viruses of the last many years) and the urgent need to prepare for it — again with highly detailed suggestions about the development of cluster vaccines, production and distribution of medications, hospital equipment such as respirators, accessories such as masks, etc. — the distinction between 1) and 2) is academic and arcane.
  • Those who did not consider the need to control the spread of an anticipated pandemic as one among the other good reasons to have a good public health care system where it is missing were simply insouciant.

3. The lost voice of the Indian university

The university administration has been replaced by the Education Minister and his bureaucratic apparatus

  • In the 19th and 20th centuries, Indian universities emerged as institutions where a privileged generation of colonial subjects trained to serve the colonial regime and further Western political ideals. Some graduates went on to serve the colonial state, while others contributed to the nationalist movement.

Reforming higher learning

  • In the 20th century, the growth of nationalism, liberal education and the process of de-colonialisation offered universities with an opportunity to revise the curriculum and to define new goals. Over the years, these institutions gradually discarded their elitist character and became more representative. In the initial decades after Independence, the government was conscious of various social, economic and financial challenges. It strongly supported these institutions, encouraging them to further develop an academic rigour that would shape a new generation and contribute to the nation-building process.
  • The Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management along with other distinctly envisioned institutions of academic excellence like the Indian Institute of Science, Indian Statistical Institute, and Jawaharlal Nehru University emerged as model institutions that defined the new academic ethos and the vigour of the modern Indian nation.
  • The institutional and academic autonomy offered to these institutions was central to their emerging as premier institutions of higher learning in India. Other universities in India also took the lead, revised curricula and set about the task of reforming the university as a space for healthy academic engagement. These changes were marked by the growing importance of various large representative institutional bodies like faculty committees, committees of courses, board of studies, university senates, academic councils and executive councils. These bodies oversaw the administrative and academic functioning of the university and ensured a collective decision-making based on serious academic deliberation. It was here that academicians contested each other’s claims over ideological positions, scholarly beliefs, collectively shaped curricula and defined the fertile learning space that these institutions of higher learning espouse. This healthy scholarly debate shaped the process of nation building in independent India. It inspired individuals who went on to contribute to the growth of the economy, politics and shaped various social movements that transformed the nation in the first 50 years of the republic.

A new intellectual regime

  • From 2005 onwards, these changes that infused a new vigour in institutional academia were undermined by government policy that displayed an eagerness to impose a new intellectual regime. The constitution of the National Knowledge Commission and a very strong emphasis on privatisation of education undermined the deliberative and independent character of these institutions of higher education. Administrative and academic decisions were imposed from above and discussions within various academic bodies were discouraged. The imposition of the semester system across India and the introduction of a four-year undergraduate programme in many public and private universities were hallmarks of this new era of bureaucratic centralisation. The government of the day undervalued the academic achievements of scholars from Indian universities, romanticised American academia and undermined all the progress, new academic traditions and culture that had shaped Indian universities since Independence. It justified governmental intervention arguing that Indian academia had stagnated. Those in positions of authority within the universities were encouraged to undermine academic bodies and limit their role in revising and regulating matters pertaining to curricula, teaching and academic life in their institutions.
  • These changes made it possible for a new wave of governmental interventions starting in 2015. The imposition of the ‘cafeteria system’ associated with the Choice Based Credit System and renewed attempts to privatise higher education linked to an emphasis on rankings were highlights of this new thrust. It became apparent that the government’s desire for intervention now included the determination of minute details pertaining to academic curricula, the teaching-learning process and the parameters that governed academic research within the university. Academicians were disenfranchised of their role in designing curricula and their own academic work was removed from the regulatory gaze of peers to that of the government bureaucracy. During this period, the university emerged as an extension of government.

Bureaucratic centralisation

  • This trend intensified with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The manner in which the Central government and the University Grants Commission have imposed themselves on the daily functioning of all higher educational institutions (Central, State and private) represents a new government-oriented bureaucratic centralisation. Decisions about the conclusion of academic term, the modalities for evaluation and the conduct of the teaching-learning process have become exclusive government prerogatives overnight. The various academic bodies that had original jurisdiction over these matters and were being subjected to decisions by higher authorities in the last few years have, in the last few weeks, been made redundant. How and whether examinations are to be conducted has become an issue of contention between State and Central governments. The general public now no longer appeals to the administrators of these institutions. The university administration has been replaced by the Education Minister and his bureaucratic apparatus.
  • In the last 15 years, the government and Central regulatory agencies have systematically transitioned from being external facilitators to becoming decision-makers within institutions of higher education. Many blame this on the growing tendency of delayed (in most instances absence of) decision-making in these institutions, but history shows that this is rooted in the aggressive interventionist policies of successive governments. At a time when global politics is undergoing a systemic transformation and being infused with new ideas, institutions of higher education, which ought to be fertile intellectual spaces that can inform and shape society, are increasingly being undermined in India. The time has come for institutions of higher education in India to recover their lost voice and restore the fertile academic space where ideas are discussed and debated rather than suppressed and dismissed.
Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are autonomous public technical and research universities located in India. They are governed by the Institutes of Technology Act, 1961, which has declared them as institutions of national importance and lays down their powers, duties, and framework for governance. The Institutes of Technology Act, 1961 lists twenty-three institutes. Each IIT is autonomous, linked to the others through a common council (IIT Council), which oversees their administration. The Minister of Human Resource Development is the ex officio Chairperson of the IIT Council. Choice Based Credit System (CBCS). The CBCS, as the UGC explains, is a ‘cafeteria-approach to education’. CBCS renders a student the freedom to choose what and at what pace they would study. In terms of the syllabus, while 80 per cent of the syllabus is uniform across all universities following CBCS, 20 per cent of the syllabus can be designed according to the needs of a particular university and course.
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4. No postal ballot facility for voters above 65: EC

Poll body cites logistical challenges amid pandemic

  • The Election Commission on Thursday said the postal ballot facility for electors above the age of 65 in the Bihar Assembly elections, which would have been the first time it would have been used since the Centre had notified it on June 19, would not be implemented.
  • In a statement, the EC said the decision was taken for the Assembly elections and bypolls due soon due to logistical challenges. It had instructed Bihar authorities to limit the number of electors to 1,000 per polling station due to the pandemic, for which 34,000 additional stations are being set up.
  • The EC said the additional polling stations “would entail formidable logistical challenges of mobilising 1.8 lakh more polling personnel and other additional resources including requirement of much larger number of vehicles in Bihar. Similar challenges would be there for the coming by-elections.”
  • The poll body said the option of postal ballots would be available to electors over 80 years of age, persons with disabilities, essential service workers and those infected with COVID-19 or suspected to be.
  • After the Law Ministry notified the extension of postal ballots to electors over 65, several political parties had raised concerns over the decision.
Postal Ballots System Ballot papers are distributed electronically to electors and are returned to the election officers via post. Currently, only the following voters are allowed to cast their votes through postal ballot: Service voters (armed forces, the armed police force of a state and government servants posted abroad),Voters on election duty, andVoters under preventive detention. The exception to the above-mentioned category of voters is provided under Section 60 of the RP Act, 1951.

5. ‘Judicial review can’t be done prior to Speaker’s decision’

SC verdict in Kihoto Hollohan case key in Sachin Pilot plea

  • Constitutional courts cannot judicially review disqualification proceedings under the Tenth Schedule (anti-defection law) of the Constitution until the Speaker or Chairman makes a final decision on merits.
  • A 28-year-old judgment of the Supreme Court in Kihoto Hollohan versus Zachillu and Others has said that “judicial review cannot be available at a stage prior to the making of a decision by the Speaker/Chairman and a quia timet action would not be permissible. Nor would interference be permissible at an interlocutory stage of the proceedings.”
  • “The only exception for any interlocutory interference being cases of interlocutory disqualifications or suspensions which may have grave, immediate and irreversible repercussions and consequence,” the Bench had held. The judgment is significant in the case of ousted Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot and the 18 MLAs, who were issued notice under the anti-defection law after the ruling Congress sought their disqualification. They have approached the Rajasthan High Court challenging the constitutionality of Paragraph 2(1)(a) of the Tenth Schedule which makes “voluntarily giving up membership of a political party” liable for disqualification.

6. ‘Is India a hub for drug peddling?’

Madras HC asks Centre to explain

  • Observing that Punjab is serving as the transit point for the smuggling of narcotic drugs which make their way as far as Kerala, the Madras High Court has directed the Centre to spell out whether India is being used as a hub by international drug cartels. It also asked if the money involved was being used to fund terrorists and anti-national activities.
  • A Bench of Justices N. Kirubakaran and V. M. Velumani said: “We have a bad experience in the State of Punjab where youngsters and students are mostly addicted to drugs and the same situation should not be allowed to spread to other States. It is known that Punjab is the transit point on the drug route and the State has become a major consumer base.”
  • The judges said the High Court of Kerala, too, had taken a suo motu public interest litigation petition recently on the basis of a letter written by retired IPS officer N. Ramachandran, highlighting the increase in drug abuse cases and related crimes. The Kerala police filed an affidavit conceding that educational institutions had become a hotbed of drug peddlers.
  • Further, the Bench referred to a recent survey by the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in association with the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), which revealed that 3.1 crore Indians use cannabis, bhang, ganja, charas, heroin and opium. However, the Bench said, only one in 20 drug addicts gets treatment at a hospital.
  • “The problem of drug addiction of children is more prevalent in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Haryana. It is a fact that many youngsters, especially students, are getting addicted due to easy availability of narcotic drugs,” the judges said.

‘Explain the steps taken’

  • They directed the Centre to explain by June 28 the steps it had taken so far to curb the menace.
  • The court also wanted to know about the involvement of international drug mafias in crime, the approximate value of drugs transacted in the country, and the remedial measures undertaken by the Centre.
  • The queries were posed in interim orders passed on a habeas corpus petition which had challenged the preventive detention of a drug peddler under the Goondas Act.
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