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Current Affairs 16 December 2022

CONTENTS

  1. Manual scavenging
  2. Uniform civil code
  3. Agni-V missile
  4. Kerala’s University Laws (amendment) Bills
  5. US govt’s EAGLE Act

Manual Scavenging


Context:

Recently, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MoSJ&E) told Lok Sabha that no person had died from Manual Scavenging in the last three years (2019 to 2022).

  • A total of 233 people had died “due to accidents while undertaking hazardous cleaning of sewer and septic tanks’ in this time period.

Relevance:

GS-II: Social Justice and Governance (Issues related to Poverty, Minorities, Welfare Schemes, Government Policies and Interventions)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Manual Scavenging in India
  2. Prevalence of Manual Scavenging in India
  3. Existing provisions regarding Manual Labour
  4. National Action Plan for elimination of Manual Scavenging

Manual Scavenging in India

  • Manual scavenging is defined as “the removal of human excrement from public streets and dry latrines, cleaning septic tanks, gutters and sewers”.
  • In 1993, India banned the employment of people as manual scavengers (The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993), however, the stigma and discrimination associated with it still linger on.
  • In 2013, the definition of manual scavengers was also broadened to include people employed to clean septic tanks, ditches, or railway tracks. The Act recognizes manual scavenging as a “dehumanizing practice,” and cites a need to “correct the historical injustice and indignity suffered by the manual scavengers.”

Prevalence of Manual Scavenging in India

  • As per the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK), a total of 631 people have died in the country while cleaning sewers and septic tanks in the last 10 years.
  • 2019 saw the highest number of manual scavenging deaths in the past five years. 110 workers were killed while cleaning sewers and septic tanks.
  • This is a 61% increase as compared to 2018, which saw 68 cases of such similar deaths.
  • Despite the introduction of several mechanised systems for sewage cleaning, human intervention in the process still continues.
  • As per data collected in 2018, 29,923 people are engaged in manual scavenging in Uttar Pradesh, making it the highest in any State in India.

Why is manual scavenging still a concern after so many years?

  • A number of independent surveys have talked about the continued reluctance on the part of state governments to admit that the practice prevails under their watch.
  • Many times, local bodies outsource sewer cleaning tasks to private contractors. However, many of them fly-by-night operators, do not maintain proper rolls of sanitation workers. In case after case of workers being asphyxiated to death, these contractors have denied any association with the deceased.
  • The practice is also driven by caste, class and income divides. It is linked to India’s caste system where so-called lower castes are expected to perform this job. It is linked to India’s caste system where so-called lower castes are expected to perform this job.

Existing provisions regarding Manual Labour

  • Prevention of Atrocities Act: In 1989, the Prevention of Atrocities Act became an integrated guard for sanitation workers; more than 90% people employed as manual scavengers belonged to the Scheduled Caste. This became an important landmark to free manual scavengers from designated traditional occupations.
  • The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013: Superseding the 1993 Act, the 2013 Act goes beyond prohibitions on dry latrines, and outlaws all manual excrement cleaning of insanitary latrines, open drains, or pits.
  • Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees ‘Right to Life’ and that also with dignity. This right is available to both citizens and non-citizens.

National Action Plan for elimination of Manual Scavenging

The Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry’s National Action Plan aims to modernise existing sewage system and coverage of non-sewered areas; setting up of faecal sludge and septage management system for mechanised cleaning of septic tanks, transportation and treatment of faecal sludge; equipping the municipalities, and setting up of Sanitation Response Units with help lines.

The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bill, 2020
  • As a part of the Ministry’s National Action Plan, this bill will amend the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013.
  • The bill proposes to completely mechanise sewer cleaning and provide better protection at work and compensation in case of accidents.
  • The Bill proposes to make the law banning manual scavenging more stringent by increasing the imprisonment term and the fine amount.
  • The funds will be provided directly to the sanitation workers and not to the municipalities or contractors to purchase the machinery.
Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge
  • Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs launched Safaimitra Suraksha Challenge across 243 Cities to ensure that no life of any sewer or septic tank cleaner is ever lost again owing to the issue of ‘hazardous cleaning’.
  • The Challenge was launched on the occasion of World Toilet Day.
  • Aims to prevent ‘hazardous cleaning’ of sewers and septic tanks and promoting their mechanized cleaning.
  • Representatives from 243 cities across the country took a pledge to mechanize all sewer and septic tank cleaning operations by 30th April 2021.
  • The initiative is in line with the core of the Swachh Bharat Mission-Urban (SBM-U)
  • The actual on-ground assessment of participating cities will be conducted in May 2021 by an independent agency and results of the same will be declared on 15 August 2021.
  • Cities will be awarded in three sub-categories – with population of more than 10 lakhs, 3-10 lakhs and upto 3 lakhs, with a total prize money of ₹52 crores to be given to winning cities across all categories.

-Source: The Hindu


Uniform Civil Code


Context

Recently Law Minister informed the Rajya Sabha that the States are empowered to enact personal laws that decide issues such as succession, marriage and divorce, in their endeavour to secure a uniform civil code (UCC).

Relevance:

GS II- Polity

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is Uniform Civil Code (UCC)?
  2. Positive aspects of Uniform Civil Code include
  3. Challenges in Implementing Uniform Civil Code Include
  4. Does India not already have a UCC for civil matters?
  5. How does the idea of UCC relate to the Fundamental Right to religion?

What is Uniform Civil Code (UCC)?

  • The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in India proposes to replace the personal laws based on the scriptures and customs of each major religious community in the country with a common set governing every citizen.
  • The constitution has a provision for Uniform Civil Code in Article 44 as a Directive Principle of State Policy which states that “The State shall endeavor to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.”

Article 44 is one of the Directive Principles of State Policy. These, as defined in Article 37, are not justiciable (not enforceable by any court) but the principles laid down therein are fundamental in governance.

Fundamental Rights are enforceable in a court of law. While Article 44 uses the words “state shall endeavour”, other Articles in the ‘Directive Principles’ chapter use words such as “in particular strive”; “shall in particular direct its policy”; “shall be obligation of the state” etc.

Article 43 mentions “state shall endeavour by suitable legislation”, while the phrase “by suitable legislation” is absent in Article 44. All this implies that the duty of the state is greater in other directive principles than in Article 44.

Positive aspects of Uniform Civil Code include

  • UCC will divest religion from social relations and personal laws and will ensure equality in terms of justice to both men and women regardless of the faith they practice.
  • There will be uniform laws for all Indians with regard to marriage, inheritance, divorce etc.
  • It will help in improving the condition of women in India as Indian society is mostly patriarchal
  • Informal bodies like caste panchayats give judgements based on traditional laws. UCC will ensure that legal laws are followed rather than traditional laws.
  • It can help in reducing instances of vote bank politics. If all religions are covered under same laws, politicians will have less to offer to communities in exchange of their vote.

Challenges in Implementing Uniform Civil Code Include

  • Implementation of UCC might interfere with the principle of secularism, particularly with the provisions of Articles 25 and 26, which guarantee freedom relating to religious practices.
  • Conservatism by religious groups, which resist such changes as it interferes with their religious practices.
  • It is difficult for the government to come up with a uniform law that is accepted by all religious communities. All religious groups- whether majority or minority have to support the change in personal laws.
  • Drafting of UCC is another obstacle. There is no consensus regarding whether it should be a blend of personal laws or should be a new law adhering to the constitutional mandate.

Does India not already have a uniform code in civil matters?

  • Indian laws do follow a uniform code in most civil matters — Indian Contract Act, Civil Procedure Code, Sale of Goods Act, Transfer of Property Act, Partnership Act, Evidence Act, etc.
  • States, however, have made hundreds of amendments and, therefore, in certain matters, there is diversity even under these secular civil laws. Recently, several states refused to be governed by the uniform Motor Vehicles Act, 2019.
  • If the framers of the Constitution had intended to have a Uniform Civil Code, they would have given exclusive jurisdiction to Parliament in respect of personal laws, by including this subject in the Union List. But “personal laws” are mentioned in the Concurrent List.
  • In 2020, the Law Commission concluded that a Uniform Civil Code is neither feasible nor desirable.

How does the idea of a Uniform Civil Code relate to the fundamental right to religion?

  • Article 25 lays down an individual’s fundamental right to religion; Article 26(b) upholds the right of each religious denomination or any section thereof to “manage its own affairs in matters of religion”; Article 29 defines the right to conserve distinctive culture. An individual’s freedom of religion under Article 25 is subject to “public order, health, morality” and other provisions relating to fundamental rights, but a group’s freedom under Article 26 has not been subjected to other fundamental rights.
  • In the Constituent Assembly, there was division on the issue of putting Uniform Civil Code in the fundamental rights chapter.
  • The matter was settled by a vote. By a 5:4 majority, the fundamental rights sub-committee headed by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel held that the provision was outside the scope of Fundamental Rights and therefore the Uniform Civil Code was made less important than freedom of religion.

-Source: The Hindu


Agni-V Missile


Context:

Recently, India successfully test-fired nuclear-capable ballistic missile Agni-V that can strike targets at ranges up to 5,000 km, marking a significant boost to the country’s strategic deterrence. 

Relevance:

GS-III: Science and Technology (Achievements of Indians in Science & Technology, Defence Technology, Indigenization of Technology)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About Agni Missiles
  2. Agni-V missile

About Agni Missiles

There are 5 Agni series of missiles:

  1. Agni I: Range of 700-800 km.
  2. Agni II: Range more than 2000 km.
  3. Agni III: Range of more than 2,500 Km
  4. Agni IV: Range is more than 3,500 km and can fire from a road mobile launcher.
  5. Agni-V: The longest of the Agni series, an Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) with a range of over 5,000 km.

Agni-V missile

  • Agni-V is an Indian nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation.
  • The exact range of the Agni-V missile is classified. The missile is believed to have a range of over 5,000 km and expandable up to 8,000 km.
  • It is a three-stage solid-fuelled missile.
  • Agni-V incorporated advanced technologies involving ring laser gyroscope and accelerometer for navigation and guidance. A ring laser gyroscope based inertial navigation system (RLG-INS) is primarily responsible for guiding the Agni-V to its target. However, Agni-V is equipped with another guidance system called micro inertial navigation system (MINGS) as a backup. These are capable of interacting with Indian and non-Indian satellite navigation systems.
  • Agni-V is also expected to feature Multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) with each missile being capable of carrying 2–10 separate nuclear warheads.
  • India is the eighth country to have intercontinental ballistic missiles after the US, UK, Russia, China, France, Israel and North Korea.
  • Agni V is primarily for enhancing India’s nuclear deterrence against China.
  • The test-firing of the missile from the APJ Abdul Kalam Island off Odisha coast comes amid India’s lingering border row with China.
  •  Agni-V can bring almost the entire Asia including the northernmost part of China and regions in Europe under its striking range.

-Source: The Hindu


Kerala’s University Laws (Amendment) Bills


Context:

The Kerala government has passed the two University Laws (amendment) Bills in the State Assembly to amend laws relating to the governance of State universities and to remove Governor as the Chancellor of said universities.

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What do the Bills say?
  2. Why is the State government amending University laws?
  3. Arguments against the Bill

What do the Bills say?

  • The proposed legislations will amend the statutes of 14 universities established by legislative Acts in Kerala and remove the Governor as the Chancellor.
  • The Bills will give the government power to appoint eminent academicians as Chancellors of various universities, thus ending the Governor’s watchdog role in university administration.
  • The Bills also provide provisions to limit the term of the appointed chancellor to five years.

Why is the State government amending University laws?

  • The Minister for Law while tabling the Bills, pointed out that the UGC guidelines, which earlier used to be considered mandatory for Central universities and “partially mandatory and partially directive” for State universities, had been made legally binding for all universities by way of recent rulings by the Supreme Court.
  • Worryingly, such precedence pointed towards a scenario in which the legislative powers of the Assembly on all subjects on the Concurrent List (of the Constitution) could be undermined through a subordinate legislation or an executive order issued by the Centre.
  • Moreover, the State government has claimed the recommendation of the Punchhi Commission on Centre-State Relations to refrain from burdening the Governor with positions and powers which are not envisaged by the Constitution and which may lead the office to controversies or public criticism as the rationale behind the Bills.

Arguments against the Bill

  • As described above, the Bills would give the State Government more leeway in appointing its own nominees as VCs of State Universities.
  • This would mean a transfer of power over university administration from the Governor and the UGC to the State Government.
  • The Opposition fears that the State Government would try to turn State universities into its fiefdom, leading to the erosion of the autonomy universities enjoy.

-Source: The Hindu


US Govt’s EAGLE Act


Context:

Recently, the White House supported the US Congress pass a legislation whose aim is to eliminate the per-country quota on issuing green cards. The House of Representatives will soon vote on the (Equal Access to Green Card for Legal Employment) EAGLE Act of 2022.

Relevance:

GS II: International Relations

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About Green card
  2. What is H.R. 3648, or the EAGLE Act of 2022?
  3. How will the legislation benefit Indian-Americans?

About Green card

  • Officially known as a Permanent Resident Card, a green card, issued to immigrants, allows them to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis.
  • The card serves as evidence that the holder has been accorded the privilege of residing permanently.
Benefits:
  • It provides a pathway to citizenship, a green card holder can sponsor immediate family members for the same card.
  • It provides easy access to US’ social security system as also education assistance.
  • Travel to and from the country becomes much easier.
  • A card holder can choose to live anywhere in the US.
  • There is more freedom in terms of career opportunities as one can apply for a wide variety of jobs.
  • A card holder can also have some amount of engagement in the political process of the country.

What is H.R. 3648, or the EAGLE Act of 2022?

  • The goal of the Act is to allow US employers to “focus on hiring immigrants based on merit, not their birthplace, by eliminating the “per country” limitation on employment-based immigrant visas (green cards).”
  • To reduce the impact of this on less-populated countries and ensure that eligible immigrants from these countries are not excluded when the Act is implemented, the legislation plans to phase out the per-country caps over the course of nine years.
  • Another goal of the EAGLE Act 2022 is to improve the H-1B specialty occupation visa program.
  • This would be done by bolstering the recruitment requirements, strengthening protections for US workers and boosting transparency, among others.
  • H.R. 3648 also includes important provisions to allow individuals who have been waiting in the immigrant visa backlog for two years to file their green card applications.
  • Although the applications could not be approved until a visa becomes available, this would allow employment based immigrants to transition off of their temporary visas and provide them with additional flexibilities in changing employers or starting a business.

How will the legislation benefit Indian-Americans?

  • There are 140,000 employment‐based green cards available, and because of the per-country cap, the backlog has touched millions.
  • According to the CATO report of 2020, in the United States, 75 per cent of the employment‐based backlog was made up by skilled Indian workers.
  • Notably, if they all could remain in the line, the backlogged Indian workers faced a wait of nine decades before they could get a green card.
  • The 2020 report also notes that over “200,000 petitions filed for Indians could expire as a result of the workers dying of old age before they receive green cards.”
  • Apart from the law that imposes limits on the number of green cards for immigrants from any single birthplace, the reason for Indians enduring much longer waits is employers filing far more petitions for Indians than the limits allow.
  • However, given the current situation, even if the per-country cap is removed, it would still leave waits of more than a decade for every employer‐sponsored immigrant.
  • Thus the per‐country limits work at a disadvantage for Indians with more recent immigrants facing lifetime waits for green cards.

-Source: Indian Express


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