Mains Marathon

Answered: Mains Marathon – UPSC Mains Current Affairs Questions – December 21

1.“Government’s proposal to have a permanent tribunal for water disputes that will subsume existing tribunals is expected to provide for speedier adjudication. But whether this will resolve the problem of protracted proceedings is doubtful”.Discuss. (GS 2)

Suggested Answer:

In India, disputes over sharing of river water between the riparian states are adjudicated under Inter state River water Dispute Act 1956. Under this Act, adhoc tribunals are established by the Central Government to adjudicate the water disputes as and when they arise. Recently, the government has brought a proposal to replace the numerous adhoc tribunals with a permanent tribunal. This would have positive effects like-

  • A single permanent body would help in speedier adjudication as-
    • It will establish uniform procedures for the adjudication process.
    • All the judgements of the tribunal will be notified automatically with no separate notification required to be made by the Central Government.
    • The tribunal has to adjudicate the cases in a time bound manner. A time limit of 3 years to solve a dispute is being planned.
  • There will be an expert agency to collect data on rainfall, irrigation and surface water flows. A permanent forum with reliable data is an ideal mechanism for bringing uniformity and transparency. Also, this would reduce the chances of parties contesting the data (which is quite common today).
  • A Dispute Resolution Committee, an expert body that will seek to resolve inter-State differences before a tribunal is approached, will help prevent needless litigations.

However, whether this step would actually help reduce the time taken for solving the disputes is doubtful. This is because-

  • Given the vast number of ongoing inter-State disputes and those likely to arise in future, it will be difficult for a single institution to give its ruling within three years.
  • The judgements given by the existing tribunals are usually challenged by the losing parties in Supreme Court under Art 136. And now due to a recent verdict of the court, Supreme Court has received an unfettered power to hear an appeal arising from a river water dispute tribunal under Article 136. This would further lead to delays due to appeals and counter-appeals.
  • As per the proposal, separate benches of the permanent body would be created to look into cases as and when they arise. This would in effect be similar to the current scenario of adhoc tribunals being set up to look into new disputes.
  • The biggest challenge to speedy resolution of disputes has been the reluctance of states to implement the award. The decisions in a few current cases like Cauvery water dispute, Krishna water dispute etc have faced fierce resistance from the citizens living in the associated states. The political will to implement these decisions has been found lacking. There is a need to instill a sense of responsibility in the respective State governments.
  • Other issues like lack of experts, delays in appointment of judges/benches to hear the petitions etc can also cause a delay in the proceedings.

Creating a permanent tribunal is a step forward in speedier adjudication of river disputes. However, certain issues, many of which are beyond the control of the tribunal, might act as a road block in this process. There’s a need to act on all fronts- social and political- to help resolve such critical issues.

2.Discuss why banning the sale and consumption of alcohol has, in India’s experience, not been an effective check against its use. Also, explain the constitutional and social causes behind putting a ban on liquor.

Suggested Answer:

In India, alcohol consumption has been looked down upon since ancient times. At that time it was primarily because of religion with the religious scriptures of many religions including Hinduism and Islam forbidding its consumption and terming the consumer as an evil doer. In modern times, many other reasons have been put forward for a ban on liquor consumption-

Constitutional reasons-

  • Art 47 (under Directive Principles of State Policy) puts onus on the state to “endeavor to bring about a prohibition on consumption of alcohol”. These principles in general and this article in particular, act as a guiding light for the state towards banning liquor consumption.

Social causes-

  • Alcohol consumption has been directly linked to an increase in crime and violence, including domestic violence. It was the increasing domestic violence (and ruin of family life) that led to Bihar government formulating a law on prohibition.
  • Alcohol consumption poses serious threat to the life of the consumer as it can lead to liver and kidney damage. Also, spurious liquor has resulted in numerous deaths due to poisoning.
  • Alcohol consumption ruins lives of families as-
    • o It is an addiction. And addicts lead a troubled life.
    • o It ruins childhoods when children get addicted to it. Also, children are exposed to the violence in the family which can lead to psychological issues in them.
    • o Excessive spending on alcohol (as the consumer becomes an addict) eats into family income and so there is less money available to spend on essential items. It also results in poverty for the family. This has a disproportionate impact on the families who are already poor.
  • Alcohol consumption also leads to accidents and road rage.

Despite having a plethora of valid reasons for banning alcohol, and a few states like Gujarat, Kerala and Bihar even formulating laws against consumption, bans on sale and consumption of alcohol hasn’t worked as-

  • Alcohol sale brings revenue to the state. For instance, in Tamil Nadu nearly Rs.30,000 crore, or over a quarter of its revenue in 2015-16, came from taxes on the sale of alcohol and excise on manufacturing spirits. This revenue could in turn be used for social schemes and subsidies.
  • A ban sends the entire setup of production, sale and consumption, underground. And then it becomes quite hard to keep a check on such activities. Not only this, as per government data, states that have a complete or partial ban on liquor, record maximum deaths due to spurious liquor.
  • A ban leads to an increase in illegal sales of liquor. It also leads to an increase in smuggling activities.
  • Even if one state bans liquor sale/consumption, the easy availability of liquor in neighbouring states provides an avenue for its citizens for consuming alcohol.
  • Ban or even curbs on liquor has also been challenged by citizens, for example, as violation of their fundamental right under Art 21.

There are many valid reasons for banning or at least curbing the sale of alcohol. And there are reasons for not banning it too. However, what is required are not forced measures and laws but to act on a social front by implementing measures like raising awareness about ill effects, social condemnation, providing support to the affected families and de-addiction centres for rehabilitation of addicts etc.

3.Examine the amendments proposed to the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014.Will the amended law help eliminate discrimination against persons with disabilities?

Suggested Answer:

Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2014 was drafted in 2014 to replace the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995. Recently, the government has brought in 119 amendments to the original bill. These amendments could help in eliminating discrimination against persons with disabilities, as-

  • The amendments will make the Bill in compliance with the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to which India became a signatory in 2007, thereby bringing it at par with international standards.
  • The 2014 Bill expanded the definition of disability to cover 19 conditions (from the original 7). The recent amendments add 2 more conditions to it, making the count 21. This expanded definition helps in official recognition of more disabilities.
  • The amended bill makes a special mention of the needs of women and children with disabilities, and lays down specific provisions on the guardianship of mentally ill persons.
  • It also expands the definition of ‘establishments’ (which previously referred to only government bodies) adding private firms in it. All such establishments have to ensure that persons with disabilities are provided with barrier-free access in buildings, transport systems and all kinds of public infrastructure, and are not discriminated against in matters of employment.

Though the bill takes many positive steps towards elimination discrimination, it’s impact can be limited due to the following reasons-

  • The 2014 Bill raised the ceiling of reservation for the disabled in higher education institutions and government jobs to 5% (from 3% originally). The proposed amendments cut the quota to 4%. Activists believe that with an increase in recognition of disabilities, the reservation should’ve increased proportionately.
  • The 2014 Bill provided for strong National and State Commissions for Persons with Disabilities, with powers on a par with a civil court. The recent amendments however, continue with the status quo of having only a Chief Commissioner with far fewer powers. A major problem with this is that many courts have quashed favourable judgements by Chief Commissioners, stating that the Commissioner has no power and is only a quasi-judicial body.
  • While the proposed amendments rightly recognise a wider range of disabilities, they fail to specify the degree of disability for thalassaemia, learning disabilities or autism. Also, neither the original bill nor the amendments provide for any tools for measuring learning disabilities.
  • Although the amendments expand the definition of ‘establishments’, they give no time frame to them for implementing appropriate measures.
  • The 2014 version made violation of any provision of the Act punishable with a jail term and/or fines with subsequent violations attracting heavier penalties. However, the recent amendments provide just for a fine and not a jail term.
  • The amended law condones discrimination against persons with disabilities if it can be shown that the act was done for achieving legitimate aims. This rider gives space for discretion to the authorities/institutions.
  • Above all, this law does nothing to change the mindset of the people towards the disabled. The apathy of not just the state but also the citizens towards the disabled is one of the major reasons for their suffering.

Way forward-

  • It’s important that the government raises awareness about the plight of the disabled. Disability cannot be shrugged off as an “Act of God”. It is important that the citizens be sensitized towards the disabled.
  • Harsher punishment should be proposed for those discriminating against the disabled.
  • The institutions need to be given a time frame to implement disable-friendly measures be it building infrastructure for their easy access/travel or to simplify procedures for enabling their greater participation.
  • There should be a blanket ban on discrimination. Discrimination cannot be allowed under the guise of achieving “legitimate aim”.

Our constitution makers built this country on the promise of equal rights to all. It’s time that we fulfill that promise. After all, the disables don’t demand any doles, they demand their rights.

4.With reference to the recent Supreme Court judgment of Ms. Sandhu’s case, do you agree that gender discrimination exists in armed forces? (GS 1)

Suggested Answer:
SC in a recent judgement in case: UOI And Others vs Lt. Gen. M.S. Sandhu, Pvsm (Retd.) asked IAF to consider re-commissioning of a woman pilot. The case was brought to the Supreme Court by the government, challenging a similar judgement of Armed Forces Tribunal.
This case is just an example that reflects the discrimination faced by women in armed forces. There are many other examples too, like-

  • Even today women are considered a liability in armed forces and their combat roles are under question.
  • Until recently, women were not granted permanent commission (since April 2016, all three forces have granted permanent commission to women). They were recruited through Short Service Commission (SSC) and were not treated at par with male peers with respect to pay structure and social security (like pension).
  • Provision of basic infrastructure like separate toilets for men and women also remains missing at certain places of postings. Gender sensitive and responsive infrastructure is primordial to effective participation of women.
  • Women are conspicuously absent from the decision making roles in the armed forces.
  • High suicide rates, especially in army, with many victims blaming their superior/peers for the act, reflect the extreme pressure and discrimination women face in the forces.

However this should not be seen just through the prism of gender equality but also with respect to functioning and operability of armed forces.

  • Majority of the militaries around the world do not allow women in combat roles. Even the USA allowed entry of women in such roles in 2013.
  • The major challenge has been safety of women. The most common threats include sexual harassment at workplace and torture and possibly rape if caught by enemy.
  • Women require additional infrastructure for health and hygiene reasons (like women are more susceptible to low hemoglobin and pelvic fractures, they require separate toilets etc) which is not possible in all conditions.
  • The social upbringing of men, especially in rural areas, doesn’t allow them to accept women in leadership roles. They consider women inferior to themselves physically and mentally.

Despite the prevalent bias and stiff opposition especially from the army, many steps have been taken recently to encourage women’s participation in armed forces-

  • They have been accorded permanent commission in all three forces- army, air force and navy
  • Government has taken steps to allow women in combat roles. It approved air force’s plans for female pilots to fly warplanes from June 2017 on a three-year experimental basis.
  • The President of India, in his address to Parliament has assured that women would be allowed in combat roles in all three forces in future.
  • Various courts have given favourable judgement to women, giving a shot in the arm to those fighting for equal rights to women.

Women have faced discrimination in armed forces all over the world. And only recently have the governments realized that their participation in the forces can be an advantage. It is imperative that we take steps on all fronts- political and social- so as to provide equal rights to women.


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