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Current Affairs – 26 December 2020

Article 356 and an activist judiciary

In News

  • The Supreme Court has stayed an Andhra Pradesh (AP) High Court order intending to embark on a judicial enquiry into whether there is a ‘breakdown of constitutional machinery in the state’, requiring a declaration of President’s rule.
  • It is necessary to go deeper into this observation and look at the controversial provision of Article 356 because of which the High Court could make such an observation.
AP government AP High Court (HC) Supreme Court
High Court’s observation violated the Basic Structure doctrine of the Constitution.

Under the constitutional framework, it is not for the courts to decide as to whether there is a constitutional breakdown in a State.

 

 

Andhra Pradesh CM had earlier sparked controversy by writing to the CJI complaining about a Supreme Court judge for allegedly influencing posting of cases in the State HC.

The alleged Judge is slated to be the next Chief Justice of India (CJI), and some judges of the AP HC have opened sharp criticism over AP CM’s move.

 

It found the enquiry highly disturbing. Hence, it decided to stay the order.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta asked why the HC “should go into whether there is a constitutional breakdown in the State”.

He argued that it was not up to the HC to enquire and recommend President’s rule in a State.

Behind the inclusion

  • No liberal democratic Constitution in the world has a provision like Article 356 that gives the central government the power to dismiss a democratically elected State government except the Constitution of Pakistan. Both India and Pakistan borrowed this provision from the Government of India Act, 1935.
  • Leaders of our freedom struggle opposed this provision and forced the British government to suspend it; thus, Section 93 of the Government of India Act, 1935 was never brought into effect. But the provision was incorporated in the Constitution strangely in the name of democracy, federalism and stability.
  • On June 11, 1947, it was agreed in the Constituent Assembly that the Governor could use this emergency power. By this time, the Governor was supposed to be elected by the people of the State rather than nominated by the Centre.

Views of leaders

  • Govind Ballabh Pant did say that by mere elections, Governors will not become all wise.
  • B. Pant and Hirday Nath Kunzru opposed it and termed it as virtual reproduction of the 1935 Act.
  • N. Kunzru defied the whip and voted against it. Laxmi Kant Maitra and Tangutri Prakasam said that Indian Governors would not behave like British Governors who acted as agents of the Centre.
  • Alladi Krishnaswami justified the provision in the name of representative government at the Centre. Subsequent decades proved all of them wrong both in respect of Governors as well as the central government.

The record

  • Article 356 has been used/misused more than 125 times though B.R. Ambedkar had assured that it would remain a dead letter. Both on Article 356 and the Governor,experience has proven Ambedkar wrong.
  • In almost all cases, it was used for political considerations rather than any genuine breakdown of constitutional machinery in the States.

President’s Rule in a State

  • It is the suspension of state government and imposition of direct central government rule in a state.
  • Article 356 deals with the failure of constitutional machinery in a State.This power to impose President’s rule exclusively vests in the Central Executive.
  • Under Article 356, this move can be taken- if the President, on receipt of the report from the Governor of the State or otherwise, is satisfied that a situation has arisen…..
  • The power in this regard, like sending a report either to the President of India or to the Governor of the concerned State or to record a finding in that regard, cannot be exercised by the judiciary.
  • Bommai v. Union of India (1994) was a landmark judgment of the Supreme Court of India, where the Court discussed at length provisions of Article 356 of the Constitution of India and related issues.
  • The judgement attempted to curb blatant misuse of Article 356 of the Constitution of India, which allowed President’s rule to be imposed over state governments.

 

Chandrayaan-2

In News

  • The Indian Space Research Organisation has released the first set of data from the country’s second mission to the Moon, the Chandrayaan-2 for the wider public use through the PRADAN portal hosted by ISSDC.

About

  • Chandrayaan-2 was launched on July 22, 2019 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh.
  • The Orbiter which was injected into a lunar orbit on September 2, 2019, carries eight experiments to address many open questions on lunar science.
  • The Indian Space Science Data Centre (ISSDC) is the nodal centre of planetary data archive for the planetary missions of ISRO.
  • The Chandrayaan-2 data is required to be in the Planetary Data System-4 (PDS4) standard, and is required to be peer reviewed scientifically and technically before acceptance as PDS archives and declared ready for sharing with the global scientific community and the general public.
  • The ISRO Science Data Archive (ISDA) currently holds data sets acquired by Chandrayaan-2 payloads from September-2019 to February-2020 from seven instruments.
  • Data sets from the Imaging Infra-Red Spectrometer (IIRS) payload will be added to this shortly, it said, adding that this release has Level-0 and Level-1 basic data sets prepared using Planetary Data System (PDS) version 4 standards.
  • The Chandrayaan-2 mission was India’s first attempt to land on the lunar surface.
  • ISRO had planned the landing on the South Pole of the lunar surface. However, the lander Vikram hard-landed in September last year. Its orbiter, which is still in the lunar orbit, has a mission life of seven years.
  • The Chandrayaan-3 mission, comprising a lander and a rover, was in progress.

 

GENE BBX11

In News

  • Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) have identified a gene ‘BBX11’ that facilitates in the greening of plants by playing a crucial role in regulating the levels of protochlorophyllide — an intermediate in the biosynthesis of the green pigment chlorophyll.
    • This study was recently published in the prestigious British journal New Phytologist.

About

  • The synthesis of chlorophyll in plants is a lengthy, multi-step process. When a seedling emerges from under the soil it must quickly synthesise chlorophyll to start supporting its own growth.
  • In order to facilitate quick synthesis of chlorophyll, plants make a precursor of chlorophyll called ‘protochlorophyllide’ in the dark, which glows red when blue light is shone on the plant. As soon as the plant comes out into the light from under the soil, light-dependent enzymes convert protochlorophyllide to chlorophyll.
  • Using genetic, molecular and biochemical techniques, the duo found a mechanism where two proteins oppositely regulate the ‘BBX11’ gene to maintain optimum levels of ‘BBX11’.
  • The amount of protochlorophyllide synthesised needed to be proportional to the number of enzymes available to convert them to chlorophyll.
  • If there is excess of free protochlorophyllide, then exposure to light converts it into molecules that cause ‘photobleaching’. Thus, it is very important to regulate the amount of protochlorophyllide synthesized by the plant and here comes the vital plant played by the ‘BBX11’ gene. If it is less, plants are unable to efficiently ‘green’ in order to harvest sunlight. If the amount of protochlorophyllide is more, then plants bleach under the light.

Implications of study

  • In the agriculture sector, in tropical countries like India, this study can help provide leads to optimise plant growth under stressful and rapidly changing climatic conditions.
  • Due to the rapidly changing climatic conditions, farmers in several states in India, especially in Maharashtra, are suffering huge losses in crop yields.
  • This often leads to severe distress among the farming community as indicated by the high number of farmer suicides in Maharashtra for the past several years.
  • Severe drought, high temperature and high light are some of the major reasons for crop failure. Young seedlings emerging out of the soil are extremely sensitive to high irradiance of light.
  • This study can provide leads to optimise plant growth under these stressful conditions.

 

National Family Health Survey (NFHS) data

In News

  • Recently, the first-phase data of the National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5) 2019-20 has been released by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

About

  • These preliminary results have been released for 2019-20 along with comparable data for the 2015-16 survey.
  • The latest data pertains to 17 states — including Maharashtra, Bihar, and West Bengal — and five UTs (including J&K) and, crucially, captures the state of health in these states before the COVID-19
  • Phase 2 of the survey, which will cover other states such as Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh, was delayed due to the COVID-19 and its results are expected to be made available in May 2021.
  • The data show that there has been considerable improvement in many of these 131 indicators of social welfare; and that in very few there has been stagnation rather than a decline.

Findings

  • Leaving aside two or three countries like Niger and Yemen, India has the highest proportion of underweight children in the world and this proportion is much higher than in neighbouring countries like Bangladesh (22 %) and Nepal (27 %).
  • There have been several indicators of the slowing down of economic growth and employment distress, which are bound to have an effect on hunger and nutrition.
  • After years of progress on health, nutrition, and child welfare, things have really worsened in the last four years — 2015/16 to 2019/20.
  • Bangladesh underweight percentage in 2015 was 22 %; World Bank (WB) data states it to be 30.1 per cent — some 4.7 percentage point (ppt) lower than India, but not 12.8 ppt lower.
  • WB figures for all developing countries with data on stunting (63 countries, population 2.5 billion): In 2000, the stunting average excluding India was 29.3 %; in 2010 23.8 %; and in 2015, 28.7 %. In contrast, the stunting average in India was 46 % in 2000, 10 ppt lower in 2015, and still lower in 2019.
  • In 2005, teenage pregnancies in India were 19.9 %; in 2015, 8.7 %, and 1 ppt lower in 2019. Net improvement — about 12 ppt in 15 years.
  • India had the 10th lowest level in 2015, with Nepal nine positions lower (16.7 per cent) and Bangladesh (30.8 per cent in 2014) with the ninth highest magnitude of teen pregnancies (women 15-19 years of age).
  • The wasting percentage in India was 17.5 % in 2000, and 3.3 ppt higher in 2015, and did not deteriorate further in 2019. In contrast, in the same time-period, wastage in the developing world improved by 1.6 ppt.
  • Child Mortality: Data on three indicators (neo-natal, infant and under-five) show an improvement between 3 and 4 ppt.
  • Immunizations: Hepatitis B vaccine percentage (for children 12-23 months) increased from 64.8% in 2015 to 83.6 % in 2019. Breast-feeding and diet of children 6-23 months: Average gain of 4 ppt for four indicators.
  • Negative trend in 26 children indicators: Only two show a worsening. Children with fever taken to a health facility (71.3 % in 2019, as compared with 72.6 % in 2015); and children under five years who are severely wasted — increase to 8.6 % from 7.6 % in 2015.
  • Negative trend in seven young women indicators: Zero. Modern birth control methods, age at marriage, teenage pregnancies, and sexual violence all show improvement. The average improvement in these seven indicators — 3.9 % points.
  • Households with electricity (9.2 ppt), improved sanitation facilities (17.3 ppt), clean fuel for cooking (18 ppt) and women having a bank account that they use (29.8 ppt increase to a level of 77.2 % in 2019).

Conclusion

  • None of the data presented above shows India’s performance to have worsened post-2015. In other words, the pessimistic conclusion of “many” (or some) of a deterioration is false. Further, according to a very large number of NFHS indicators, welfare improved “big-time” between 2015 and 2019.
  • All data are for change (difference in percentages) as revealed by NFHS on an aggregate population-weighted basis, rather than on an elevator economics basis as presented in many data analyses on the subject, for example, for X, Y states showed an improvement and Z states showed a decline.
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