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Current Affairs 16 February 2023

CONTENTS

  1. Custodial Death
  2. UN Security Council
  3. Windfall tax
  4. Mental Healthcare Act (MHA), 2017
  5. Lavani
  6. Ring around a dwarf planet

Custodial Death


Context:

According to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in the last five years, the highest number of custodial deaths have been reported in Gujarat at 80.

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About Custodial death:
  2. Reasons for Custodial Deaths
  3. What are the Provisions Available Regarding Custody?

About Custodial death:

Overview:

  • Custodial death refers to the death of a person who was in the custody of law enforcement officials or in a correctional facility.
  • This can happen due to various reasons, including the use of excessive force, neglect, or abuse by the authorities.

Definition:

  • According to the Law Commission of India, custodial violence is a crime committed by a public servant against an arrested or detained person who is in custody.

Custodial Death in India:

  • In recent years, the number of custodial deaths in India has been a cause for concern.
  • In 2017-2018, a total of 146 cases of death in police custody were reported.
  • This number decreased to 136 in 2018-2019, 112 in 2019-2020, 100 in 2020-2021 but increased again to 175 in 2021-2022.
  • The highest number of custodial deaths were reported in Gujarat, with 80 cases in the last five years. Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Bihar also had a high number of cases.

NHRC Recommendations:

  • The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has recommended monetary relief in 201 cases and disciplinary action in one case related to custodial deaths.

Reasons for Custodial Deaths

  • Absence of Strong Legislation: India does not have an anti-torture legislation and is yet to criminalise custodial violence, while action against culpable officials remains illusory.
  • Excessive force: Law enforcement officials may use excessive force against a person in custody, which can lead to severe injuries or even death.
  • Neglect: Failure to provide adequate medical care, nutrition, or hygienic conditions to the person in custody can also result in custodial deaths.
  • Abuse: Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse by law enforcement officials can cause custodial deaths.
  • Torture: Torture, whether physical or psychological, can lead to severe injuries and even death.
  • Suicide: Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and trauma can drive a person to commit suicide while in custody.
  • Medical conditions: Existing medical conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes, can become life-threatening if not adequately treated while in custody.

It’s important to note that in many cases, multiple factors may contribute to custodial deaths. It’s the responsibility of law enforcement officials and correctional facilities to ensure the safety and well-being of persons in their custody.

What are the Provisions Available Regarding Custody?

Constitutional Provisions
  • Under the Indian Constitution, Article 21 provides for the protection of the right to life and personal liberty, and it states that no person shall be deprived of their life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.
  • The right to be protected from torture is also considered a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.
  • Article 22 provides protection against arrest and detention in certain cases, and it stipulates the right to counsel as a fundamental right.
Administrative provisions
  • Role of State Government:
    • Police and public order are State subjects, and it is primarily the responsibility of the State government to ensure the protection of human rights.
  • Role of Central Government:
    • The Central Government issues advisories and has enacted the Protection of Human Rights Act (PHR), 1993.
    • This act stipulates the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and State Human Rights Commissions to look into alleged human rights violations by public servants.
Legal Provisions
  • The Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) Section 41 was amended in 2009 to include safeguards for arrests and detentions, reasonable grounds and documented procedures, transparency to family and friends, and legal representation.
  • The Indian Penal Code (IPC) provides for punishment for injury inflicted for extorting confession under sections 330 and 331.
  • The crime of custodial torture against prisoners can be brought under sections 302, 304, 304A, and 306 of the IPC.
  • The Indian Evidence Act, 1872, provides for the protection of an accused person’s confession made to the police.
    • Section 25 of the Act stipulates that a confession made to the police cannot be admitted in court.
    • Section 26 of the Act provides that a confession made to the police by a person cannot be proved against that person unless it is made before the Magistrate.
  • The Indian Police Act, 1861, provides for the dismissal, penalty, or suspension of police officers who are negligent in the discharge of their duties or unfit to perform the same under sections 7 and 29 of the Act.

-Source: Indian Express


UN Security Council


Context:

Recently, India and Bangladesh agreed to support each other’s non-permanent membership at the UN Security Council.

Relevance:

GS-III: Environment and Ecology, GS-II: International Relations

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. United Nations Security Council
  2. Membership
  3. Functions and Powers of UNSC
  4. India’s Case for obtaining the UNSC Permanent Member Status:
  5. What is the benefit to India if made a permanent member of UNSC?

United Nations Security Council

  • The Security Council is one of the six main organs of the United Nations.
  • The Permanent Residence of UNSC in the UN Headquarters New York City, USA.
  • Its primary responsibility is the maintenance of international peace and security.
  • While other organs of the United Nations make recommendations to member states, only the Security Council has the power to make decisions that member states are then obligated to implement under the Charter- Hence, it is the only body of the UN with the authority to issue binding resolutions to member states.
  • Resolutions of the Security Council are typically enforced by UN peacekeepers, military forces voluntarily provided by member states and funded independently of the main UN budget.

Membership

  • It has 15 Members (5 as Permanent Members and 10 as Non- Permanent Members), and each Member has one vote.
  • The Five permanent members are: China, France, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Each of the Permanent Members has Veto Power over every decision of UNSC.
  • The Ten non-permanent members are Elected for two-year terms by the General Assembly.
  • Each year, the General Assembly elects five non-permanent members (out of ten in total) for a two-year term. The ten non-permanent seats are distributed on a regional basis.
  • As per the rules of procedure, a retiring member is not eligible for immediate re-election and the election is held by secret ballot and there are no nominations.
  • The presidency of the Council rotates monthly, going alphabetically among member states.

Functions and Powers of UNSC

Under the United Nations Charter, the functions and powers of the Security Council are:

  • to maintain international peace and security in accordance with the principles and purposes of the United Nations;
  • to investigate any dispute or situation which might lead to international friction;
  • to recommend methods of adjusting such disputes or the terms of settlement;
  • to formulate plans for the establishment of a system to regulate armaments;
  • to determine the existence of a threat to the peace or act of aggression and to recommend what action should be taken;
  • to call on Members to apply economic sanctions and other measures not involving the use of force to prevent or stop aggression;
  • to take military action against an aggressor;
  • to recommend the admission of new Members;
  • to exercise the trusteeship functions of the United Nations in “strategic areas”;
  • to recommend to the General Assembly the appointment of the Secretary-General and, together with the Assembly, to elect the Judges of the International Court of Justice.

 India’s Case for obtaining the UNSC Permanent Member Status:

  • India joined the U.N. in 1945 (2 years before independence) and India has been an active participant in all initiatives undertaken by the UN like Millennium Development Goals, Sustainable development goals and various UN summits, including on climate change
  • In the past, India’s was offered to join the UNSC by both the superpowers, the US and the then Soviet Union in 1950 and in 1955 respectively, India denied the offer due to Cold war politics in that era.
  • Currently, there are more than 6,700 troops and police from India who have been deployed to UN peacekeeping missions, the fourth highest amongst troop-contributing countries (having almost twice the number of peacekeepers deployed on the ground by the Permanent 5 countries)
  • India has been elected for seven terms for a two-year non-permanent member seat till now.
  • India is the world’s fifth-largest economy by nominal GDP and third largest by purchasing power parity and maintains the world’s second-largest active armed force (after China) and is a nuclear-weapon state.
  • India’s acquired status of a Nuclear Weapons State (NWS) in May 1998 also makes India a natural claimant as a permanent member similar to the existing permanent members who are all Nuclear Weapon States.

Who Backs India for a Permanent Seat in UNSC and who Doesn’t?

  • India’s bid for permanent member of UNSC is now backed by four of the five permanent members, namely France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States.
  • On 15 April 2011, China officially expressed its support for an increased Indian role at the United Nations, without explicitly endorsing India’s Security Council ambitions.
  • A few months later, China endorsed Indian candidacy as a permanent UNSC member provided that India revokes its support for Japanese candidacy.
  • As part of the G4 nations, India is supported by Brazil, Germany, and Japan for the permanent seat.

What is the benefit to India if made a permanent member of UNSC?

  • Permanent seat in the UNSC, would provide India with the much-needed leverage to expand its geo-political and geo-economic clout globally.
  • Inclusion of India into UNSC will help in transforming its status from being a responsible stakeholder and pave the way for playing its part as one of the global rule makers.
  • Indian presence at the Security Council would ensure Indian interests are not neglected amidst the decisions of great power politics.
  • India will gain strength to act as a counterweight to China as China is growing to be a more potent rival, an emerging hegemony in Asia and an ever-increasing strategic and security concern.
  • India will gain the ability stall any possible intervention by China, a permanent member which can take action at the behest of its ally Pakistan.

-Source: The Hindu


Windfall Tax


Context:

Recently, the Union government hiked the windfall profit tax levied on domestically-produced crude oil as well as on the export of diesel and aviation turbine fuel (ATF).

Relevance:

GS III: Indian Economy

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is a windfall tax?
  2. Why are countries levying windfall taxes now?
  3. What are the issues with imposing such taxes?

What is a windfall tax?

  • Windfall taxes are designed to tax the profits a company derives from an external, sometimes unprecedented event — for instance, the energy price-rise as a result of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
  • These are profits that cannot be attributed to something the firm actively did, like an investment strategy or an expansion of business.
    • The U.S. Congressional Research Service (CRS) defines a windfall as an “unearned, unanticipated gain in income through no additional effort or expense”.
  • Governments typically levy this as a one-off tax retrospectively over and above the normal rates of tax.
  • One area where such taxes have routinely been discussed is oil markets, where price fluctuation leads to volatile or erratic profits for the industry.
  • There have been varying rationales for governments worldwide to introduce windfall taxes, from redistribution of unexpected gains when high prices benefit producers at the expense of consumers, to funding social welfare schemes, and as a supplementary revenue stream for the government.

Why are countries levying windfall taxes now?

  • Prices of oil, gas, and coal have seen sharp increases since last year and in the first two quarters of the current year, although they have reduced recently.
  • Pandemic recovery and supply issues resulting from the Russia-Ukraine conflict shored up energy demands, which in turn have driven up global prices.
  • The rising prices meant huge and record profits for energy companies while resulting in hefty gas and electricity bills for households in major and smaller economies. Since the gains stemmed partly from external change, multiple analysts have called them windfall profits.

What are the issues with imposing such taxes?

Brew uncertainty in the market about future taxes:
  • Analysts say that companies are confident in investing in a sector if there is certainty and stability in a tax regime. Since windfall taxes are imposed retrospectively and are often influenced by unexpected events, they can brew uncertainty in the market about future taxes.
IMF’s Advice Note:
  • The International Monetary Fund (IMF), which released an advice note on how windfall taxes need to be levied also said that taxes in response to price surges may suffer from design problems—given their expedient and political nature.
    • It added that “introducing a temporary windfall profit tax reduces future investment because prospective investors will internalise the likelihood of potential taxes when making investment decisions”.
CRS report:
  • There is another argument about what exactly constitutes true windfall profits; how can it be determined and what level of profit is normal or excessive.
  •  A CRS report, for instance, argues that if rapid increases in prices lead to higher profits, in one sense it can be called true windfalls as they are unforeseeable but on the other hand, companies may argue that it is the profit they earned as a reward for the industry’s risk-taking to provide the end user with the petroleum product.
Another issue is who should be taxed:
  • Only the big companies responsible for the bulk of high-priced sales or smaller companies as well— raising the question of whether producers with revenues or profits below a certain threshold should be exempt.

-Source: The Hindu


Mental Healthcare Act (MHA), 2017


Context:

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) conducted visits to all government-run mental healthcare institutions in India to assess the implementation of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 (MHA).

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Details
  2. Mental Healthcare Act (MHA), 2017
  3. What are the challenges?

Details:

  • The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) conducted visits to all government-run mental healthcare institutions in India and found that all 46 facilities were keeping patients long after their recovery, which infringes upon the human rights of mentally ill patients.
  • The NHRC report flagged the inhuman and deplorable condition of these facilities and noted that they were illegally keeping patients.

Mental Healthcare Act (MHA), 2017

  • The Mental Healthcare Act (MHA), 2017 emphasizes the agency of individuals and their right to live as part of a community, with a focus on rehabilitation.
  • The Act requires the government to create opportunities for community living, such as halfway homes, sheltered accommodations, rehab homes, and supported accommodation.
  • The Act discourages the use of physical restraints, unmodified electro-convulsive therapy, and promotes the right to hygiene, sanitation, food, recreation, privacy, and infrastructure.
  • The Act recognizes that people have their own capacity, and under Section 5, they can make advance directives and nominate a representative for themselves to enable supported decision-making.
  • This is the first time a psychosocial approach to mental health has been adopted in India.
  • The Act also acknowledges that external factors, such as income, social status, and education, impact mental well-being, and recovery needs a psychiatric as well as a social input.

What are the challenges?

Long stays at state psychiatric facilities

  • According to a 2018 report by the Hans Foundation, around 36.25% of residential service users at state psychiatric facilities have been living in these facilities for one year or more.
  • This is despite the Mental Healthcare Act (MHA) requiring that people have the right to live in the community and access less restrictive options.

Lack of functioning State Mental Health Authorities and Mental Health Review Boards

  • Under the MHA, all states are required to establish these bodies to oversee the functioning of mental healthcare institutes and ensure compliance with the Act.
  • However, in many states, these bodies are either yet to be established or remain defunct.

Poor budgetary allocation and utilization of funds

  • A lack of adequate funding results in shelter homes being underequipped, establishments understaffed, and professionals and service providers not adequately trained to deliver proper healthcare.
  • This makes it difficult to provide quality care and rehabilitation to patients.

Lack of concrete efforts towards implementation of Section 19

  • While Section 19 of the MHA recognizes the right of people to live in the community, there have been no concrete efforts towards implementation.
  • This makes it difficult for patients to access alternative community-based services and rehabilitation.

-Source: The Hindu


Lavani Folk Art Form


Context:

NCP leader has directed members of his party to not organise raunchy public shows in the name of Lavani, a folk song-and-dance performance that is popular in Maharashtra.

Relevance:

GS I: Art and Culture

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is the Lavani folk art form?
  2. What is the basis for the criticism?

What is the Lavani folk art form?

  •  Lavani is a traditional folk art form that originated in Maharashtra, India.
History and Evolution:
  • The word “Lavani” comes from “lavanya,” which means beauty.
  • Lavani has a history going back several centuries and attained particular popularity in the Peshwa era in the 18th century.
  • Traditionally, performances were held in front of kings or lords, and for the entertainment of tired soldiers resting during breaks in fighting.
Sub-genres:
  • There are several sub-genres of Lavani, of which the most popular is the Shringarik (erotic) kind, in which the lyrics are often teasing, with sensuous dance steps and delicate gestures employed to convey erotic meaning.
Acceptance and Audience:
  • Over the years, Lavani has gained more acceptability among the people, even though certain taboos around it continue.
  • The audience has historically been all-male, but in recent years, some women too have begun to attend performances.
Popularity and Outreach:
  • Lavani became well known outside Maharashtra, throughout India and even outside the country, following its use in popular media such as cinema.
  • Over the past few years, with the explosion in the use of social media, short clips of dances have become very popular.

What is the basis for the criticism?

  • Lavani is a traditional folk art form in Maharashtra, India, which includes sensual and erotic elements.
  • In 1948, the Chief Minister of Bombay banned Lavani performances after complaints of obscenity, which led to a sanitisation of the art form.
  • Live Lavani performances still attract a large young male audience, often with risque costumes and gestures.
  • Some veterans of the art form criticise these trends as vulgar and low-brow, and call for a set of guidelines and a body to regulate the art form.
  • Ajit Pawar, a politician, called for Lavani to be performed without obscenity, and may raise the issue in the state Assembly.
  • However, a Lavani researcher and author argues that a ban is not the answer and may lead to more illegal activities in the age of social media and the Internet.

-Source: Indian Express


Ring Around a Dwarf Planet


Context:

Astronomers have found a ring around a dwarf planet, located in the Kuiper Belt at the solar system’s edge, called Quaoar, according to a new study. The ring, however, is positioned much further away from the planet than is usual and defies theoretical explanations.

Relevance:

GS III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Details
  2. How was the ring discovered?
  3. What is the Roche limit?

Details:

  • A new study published in the journal Nature reports the discovery of a dense ring around the trans-Neptunian object Quaoar.
  • The ring lies beyond the Roche limit, the mathematically determined distance beyond which planetary rings are not supposed to exist.
  • Quaoar is a dwarf planet about half the size of Pluto, with a moon of its own.
  • The researchers detected the ring using a phenomenon called stellar occultation, as the planet is too small and distant to be observed directly.
  • The findings are considered “very strange” and may require a rethinking of the laws governing planetary rings.

How was the ring discovered?

  • A stellar occultation occurs when, as seen from Earth, a bright star passes behind a planet.
  • This allows astronomers or anybody on Earth to observe the sharp silhouette of the planet for a brief period of time.
  • The phenomenon, which rarely occurs, is used by researchers to analyse a planet’s atmosphere and determine if it has a ring around it — in 1977, scientists discovered the Uranian ring system with the help of stellar occultation.
  • The team involved in the latest study examined Quaoar for around three years, between 2018 and 2021, through Earth-based and space-based telescopes.
  • During these years, the dwarf planet passed in front of four stars, helping researchers observe the shadow of the eclipses.

What is the Roche limit?

  • The most intriguing part of the findings is the distance between Quaoar and its ring.
  • Located 2,500 miles away from the dwarf planet, the ring is around 1,400 miles further away from the Roche limit, as per the calculations of the scientists.
  • They suggest that at such a distance, the particles of the ring should have come together to form a moon.
Understanding of the Roche limit
  • The Earth’s gravity pulls on the moon. However, one side of the moon is closer to the planet and hence, the pull is stronger on the side facing the Earth.
  • The result is the so-called tidal force, which either stretches or compresses the moon from all sides. What helps the moon keep it together is its own gravity. It essentially counteracts the effect of the tidal force.
  • But if you bring the moon closer to the Earth, the tidal force will overcome the satellite’s gravity and then disintegrate it, turning the moon into a ring.
  • The minimum distance at which this happens is known as the Roche limit. It is named after the French astronomer Édouard Roche, who discovered the limit in 1848.
  • The Roche limit doesn’t just exist between just the Earth and the moon. It is applicable to any planet and the celestial bodies around it. For instance, Saturn. The beautiful rings that you see around the planet are within the Roche limit and therefore, there are no moons in that area.
  • In 1992, comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 got too close to Jupiter, breaching the Roche limit, and was broken apart by the tidal force. Two years later, parts of it collided with the planet, providing the first direct observation of an extraterrestrial collision of solar system objects.

-Source: Indian Express


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