India’s most important democratic institution — the Parliament
No winter session this year due to Covid 19
The budget session this year was —rightly — prorogued earlier than scheduled because the pandemic had just hit India, a lockdown was in offing, and little was known about the disease.
The monsoon session itself was truncated.
Now India will only see Parliament meet for the budget session in 2021, where the focus will, understandably, be on the budget itself.
Management of the pandemic
Centre-state relations remain fragile
Framework for vaccine distribution
China continuing its aggression in Ladakh
Economy still not out of the woods
The fact that government is functioning with offices returning to a degree of normalcy, events are being held with leaders in attendance, a full election was fought in Bihar and bypolls were held across states shows that despite the pandemic, the Indian State has not gone dormant.
Neither should Parliament.
Fine theories and good policies are often frustrated in their encounter with facts and implementation processes in the field.
India’s COVID-19 vaccine policy, recently unveiled, must take care not to head that way, and make adequate allowances for ground realities that could render naught well-laid plans.
No cure – vaccine is the best option the world has
Vaccinating people will be the only known way of slowing the march of the virus, and every country, down to each county, must prepare for this massive exercise.
U.K. and the U.S. began vaccinating their people
As per the government’s strategy, the vaccination is to be given first to health-care workers and then to people over the age of 50, with those over 60 given priority, based on the situation.
This will amount to about 30 crore people.
The voters’ list for the Lok Sabha and Assembly election polls has been set as the verifying document for the process.
A new digital platform, Co-WIN, will be used for COVID-19 vaccination delivery, and about 1.54 lakh Auxiliary Nurse Midwives working on Universal Immunisation Programmes will be roped in as vaccinators, with more such field staff to be mobilised in collaboration with the States.
Cold chain systems are to be strengthened across the country to deliver multiple doses.
As governments beef up the vaccination drive, they need to clear the fog on vaccine safety and efficacy among the people.
Vaccine hesitancy is a reality and the only way to counter that is to be open and honest about adverse effects and post-vaccination sequelae, if any, and make available relevant information in the public realm.
In the past, in some States, vaccination programmes have suffered temporarily because of misinformation about adverse events following shots.
From a digital India to a digital Bharat
The Prime Minister’s Wi-Fi Access Network Interface, or PM WANI announced on December 9 fits the ‘game changer’ tag.
This provides for “Public Wi-Fi Networks by Public Data Office Aggregators (PDOAs) to provide public Wi-Fi service through Public Data Offices (PDOs) spread across [the] length and breadth of the country to accelerate proliferation of Broadband Internet services through Public Wi-Fi network in the country”.
Recently, the NITI Aayog chief executive officer had said that India can create $1 trillion of economic value using digital technology by 2025.
However, as per the latest Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) data, about 54% of India’s population has access to the Internet.
The 75th round of the National Statistical Organisation survey shows that only 20% of the population has the ability to use the Internet.
The India Internet 2019 report shows that rural India has half the Internet penetration as urban, and twice as many users who access the Internet less than once a week.
Going back to the India Internet report, it shows that 99% of all users in India access the Internet on mobile, and about 88% are connected on the 4G network.
This leads to a situation where everyone is connected to a limited network, which is getting overloaded and resulting in bad speed and quality of Internet access.
The Public Data Office (PDO) can be anyone, and it is clear that along with Internet infrastructure, the government also sees this as a way to generate revenue for individuals and small shopkeepers.
It is important to note that PDOs will not require registration of any kind, thus easing the regulatory burden on them.
Next, is the PDOA, who is basically the aggregator who will buy bandwidth from Internet service provider (ISPs) and telecom companies and sell it to PDOs, while also accounting for data used by all PDOs.
Finally, you have the app provider, who will create an app through which users can access and discover the Wi-Fi access points.
The PM-WANI has the potential to change the fortunes of Bharat Net as well.
Bharat Net envisions broadband connectivity in all villages in India.
One of the reasons for the lack of demand is the deficit in digital literacy in India.
The other reason is simply the lack of last mile availability of the Internet.
There are some concerns, mainly with respect to security and privacy.
A large-scale study conducted at public Wi-Fi spots in 15 airports across the United States, Germany, Australia, and India discovered that two thirds of users leak private information whilst accessing the Internet.
Further, the TRAI report recommends that ‘community interest’ data be stored locally, raising questions about data protection in a scenario where the country currently does not have a data protection law in place.
With the PM-WANI, the state is expanding the reach of digital transformation to those who have been excluded till now.
It is a game-changer because it has the potential to move Digital India to Digital Bharat.
Law and disorder
In the TV series, The Crown, a dismayed Queen Elizabeth II seeks to understand from Prime Minister Harold Wilson why the public has such a negative perception of the royalty.
She points out that the royalty is composed of normal people leading normal lives and doing normal jobs.
Wilson haltingly says that the people don’t expect the royalty to be normal, but to be “ideal”.
“But,” the Queen bleats, “nobody is ideal.”
Today, the Supreme Court finds itself in a similar predicament.
The citizens of the country expect the institution and its constituents to be ideal, and the challenge of the Supreme Court is to come to terms with that reality.
As a result of the unrelenting focus on the anguished knocks at the doors of the highest court, the other inadequacies of the system don’t get as much public attention.
Most often, the issue of spending on judiciary is equated with a call for increasing the salaries of judges and providing better court infrastructure.
India has one of the most comprehensive legal aid programmes in the world, the Legal Services Authority Act of 1987.
Under this law, all women, irrespective of their financial status, are entitled to free legal aid.
Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and children too are entitled to free legal aid.
There has been little effort on the part of successive governments to provide a task force of carefully selected, well-trained and reasonably paid advocates to provide these services.
In comparison, the system of legal aid in the U.K. identifies and funds several independent solicitor offices to provide such services.
If support is withdrawn, many solicitor offices that provide these invaluable services would collapse and with that, the rule of law.
India is yet to put in place anything similar to this.
The judge-population ratio provides one of the most important yardsticks to measure the health of the legal system.
The U.S. has about 100 judges per million population.
Canada has about 75 and the U.K. has about 50.
India, on the other hand, has only 19 judges per million population.
Of these, at any given point, at least one-fourth is always vacant.
While much is written on vacancies to the Supreme Court and the High Courts, hardly any attention is focused on this gaping inadequacy in lower courts which is where the common man first comes into contact (or at least should) with the justice delivery system.
These inadequacies are far more important to the common man than the issues relating to the apex court that are frequently highlighted in the public space.
In All India Judges Association v. Union of India (2001), the Supreme Court had directed the Government of India to increase the judge-population ratio to at least 50 per million population within five years from the date of the judgment.
This has not been implemented.
Though ‘access to justice’ has not been specifically spelt out as a fundamental right in the Constitution, it has always been treated as such by Indian courts.
In Anita Kushwaha v. Pushpa Sadan (2016), the Supreme Court held unambiguously that if “life” implies not only life in the physical sense but a bundle of rights that make life worth living, there is no justice or other basis for holding that denial of “access to justice” will not affect the quality of human life.
It was for the first time that the Supreme Court had attempted a near-exhaustive definition of what “access to justice” actually means.
Further, the court pointed out four important components of access to justice.
It pointed out the need for adjudicatory mechanisms.
It said that the mechanism must be conveniently accessible in terms of distance and that the process of adjudication must be speedy and affordable to the disputants.
It is of course a paradox that this judgment, which emphasises the concept of speedy justice, was passed in 2016 in a batch of transfer petitions that were filed between 2008 to 2014.
The state in all its glorious manifestations — the executive, judiciary and the legislature — is yet to draw out a national policy and road map for clearing backlogs and making these concepts real.
A disproportionate amount of attention that is given to the functioning of the Supreme Court, important as it is, distracts from these and similar issues.
Still, a fine mind alone is of little avail if the rest of the body lies disabled, as the justice delivery system is today.
Your old gadgets are piling up into a crisis | Ind Exp
The COVID-19 era has witnessed an exceptional degree of digital transformation in just a few months.
A serious and potent challenge of e-waste management and disposal stares us in the face.
Although half of the country’s population is online, the offline management of their discarded equipment lacks attention.
The practice of burning “e-waste” in many unauthorized units also worsened PM 10 and PM 2.5 levels.
The amount of electronics that may become obsolete due to incompatibility with the 5G network will add up to a substantial environmental cost.
While recycling is one of the sustainable solutions to manage e-waste, adequate emphasis should also be placed on “reducing” and “reusing” before recycling.
It is crucial to design electronics with a longer lifespan and be repairable in order to step towards a green recovery.
Apple recently made a commendable move of not providing earphones and charger in iPhone boxes to reduce its carbon footprint and reduce “e-waste”.
If the gadgets aren’t handled properly, they can lead to organ damage, neurological damage and severe illness not only for the waste workers but also the population residing in the vicinity.
Incineration of e-waste also discharges lethal gases into the air.
The real irony is that while “e-waste” policy doesn’t consider the activities of the informal sector as “legal”, the supply of e-waste attracts 5 per cent GST.
In contrast, there is a lack of legitimate and cost-effective formal collection mechanisms to channelise waste from consumers into the formal segment.
India treats less than 1 per cent of its e-waste formally.
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