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Insights Daily Current Events, December 11, 2013


December 11, 2013


Critical view over the ‘Role of Media in a Democratic country like India’

  • Despite the proliferation of media houses in India, what is actually missing is the ‘diversity of opinion.’
  • The media is not living upto it’s guiding principles of journalism- “comment is free, but facts are sacred” (as told by Scott, Editor of ‘The Guardian’).
  • Over the news being aired these days, there are concerns over commercialisation and sensationalisation, besides the growing absence of objectivity in reportage; also there was a rise of fanaticism and intolerance. However, the social media has provided some relief from the ‘stark uniformity of print and television media.’
  • While freedom of the press is crucial, it should be used responsibly. ‘Quality Self-regulation’ is what is required for media to act as the fourth pillar of Democracy.

Speaker mentions notice for no-confidence motion

  • For the second consecutive, both Houses of Parliament could not conduct proceedings as Opposition parties continued their protests on a variety of issues, even as LokSabha Speaker Meira Kumar mentioned about the notice for a “no-confidence motion” received by her.
  • The Speaker was referring to the notices given separately by four Seemandhra Congress MPs, two MPs from the Telugu Desam Party and three from the YSR Congress for moving a “no-confidence motion” against the UPA government for its decision to carve a separate Telangana State out of Andhra Pradesh.
  • Earlier, question hour too could not be taken up due to the disruptions.
  • Unlike other motions which the Speaker decides whether to admit or not, it is the House which will have to approve the admissibility of a no-confidence/trust motion with at least 50 members (less than one-tenth of the total strength of the House) standing up to support it
  • A political party leader alleged that his dissent note had been altered. Quoting Article 105 of the Constitution, he had the right to administer a note of dissent as a member of the panel.

(This news is related to ‘Polity’ – Read about Article 105, No-Confidence Motion, Powers of the Speaker & Parliamentary proceedings for better understanding)

Women’s reservation Bill

  • The long-pending Bill, which seeks to provide 33% reservation for women in Parliament and the State Assemblies has been listed on the LokSabha agenda for the ongoing session. It has already been passed by the RajyaSabha. The women’s organisations feel this is a golden opportunity to remedy the injustice meted out to women.
  • The Bill was first introduced in 1996. Though it had been introduced in Parliament several times since then, the Bill could not be passed due to a so-called lack of political consensus.

Facts & Figures:

  • Recent elections show women’s entry into legislature is difficult without affirmative action. In Delhi, only 3 out of 70 elected members are women; situations were grim in other States too.
  • 33.3 per cent seats in panchayat elections have already been reserved for women.
  • In the gender-related development index (GDI) – India ranks 113th among 177countries.
  • The average percentage of women’s representation in the Parliament, Assemblies and Council of Ministers taken together has been around 10%. (UNIFEM:2000)

Hornbill fete ends on a colourful note

  • Hornbill Festival, the biggest indigenous festival and the annual tourism promotional event of the Nagaland government, came to a colourful end with 17 Naga tribes performing the “Unity Dance”.
  • The 10-day-long festival at the Naga Heritage Village, around 12 km south of the State capital, saw about two lakh visitors, including foreign, domestic and local tourists witnessing the performances of the tribes.

Significance of the Hornbill Festival:

  • The Hornbill Festival is held in the first week of December every year, to encourage inter-tribal interaction and to promote the cultural richness of Nagaland.
  • It is the coming together of all the elements that make up the total Nagaland. The Hornbill festival is a collaborative celebration of all Naga tribes at one venue and has been coined as “Festival of Festivals”.
  • The Festival is a tribute to the great “Hornbill” which is the most admired and revered bird for the Nagas, for its qualities of alertness and grandeur. The Majestic bird is closely identified with the social and cultural life of the Nagas, as reflected in various tribal folklores, dances and songs. The awe and admiration for the bird is symbolically displayed on almost all tribal traditional headgears worn during the festival and is indicative of the commonness of the Nagas.
  • The Hornbill Festival of Nagaland is a cultural extravaganza to revive,  protect and preserve the richness and uniqueness of the Naga heritage, while for the visitors to this event, its is a means for comprehensive understanding of the Naga People, their land and culture.
  • Since 2007, International cultural troupes have been taking part in it and it is slowly turning out to be an international event.



Leading authors call for bill of digital rights

  • Over 500 leading authors across the world, including five Nobel laureates, signed an open letter challenging the global mass surveillance of Internet and telephone communications by the U.S. National Security Agency, describing the Agency’s snooping as a “theft” of data and a force undermining democratic principles.
  • Hailing from 81 different nations the authors, including Margaret Atwood, J.M. Coetzee, OrhanPamuk, and Günter Grass called on the U.N. to create an international “bill of digital rights” that would enshrine the protection of civil rights in the Internet age.
  • They argued that the capacity of intelligence agencies to spy on millions of people’s digital communications is turning everyone into potential suspects, with worrying implications for the way societies work.
  • They further demanded the right for people to determine “to what extent their personal data may be legally collected, stored and processed, and by whom; to obtain information on where their data is stored and how it is being used; to obtain the deletion of their data if it has been illegally collected and stored.”

(The signatories comprised 22 Indian authors including AmitavGhosh, Arundhati Roy, GirishKarnad, JeetThayil, MukulKesavan, RamchandraGuha, TishaniDoshi, SalilTripathi and Suketu Mehta.)

  • Just recently had the chief executives of ‘leading tech firms’ such as Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft urged for sweeping changes to surveillance programmes to stop the erosion of public trust.

Relevance to India:

  • A principle likely to be relevant to India’s concerns about the NSA’s surveillance is the alliance’s (leading tech firms) argument that ‘Governments should not require service providers to locate infrastructure within a country’s borders or operate locally.’
  • India was also keen on having e-mail service providers located within its territory and under its control.

Israel allows transfer of materials for U.N. projects

  • Under pressure from the United Nations (UN) amid a mounting economic and humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, Israel has agreed to restart the transfer of construction materials to Gaza on after an eight-week hiatus.
  • The transfers would resume with a new “supervision and control mechanism” to ensure the materials would be used only for United Nations building projects. The building supplies will be allowed in only for U.N. projects, which employ a fraction of the thousands of construction workers who have been idled, and negotiations to resolve Gaza’s fuel shortage have not yielded significant results.
  • Gaza, home to 1.7 million Palestinians, has been struggling since the summer to cope with the current Egyptian government’s closing of hundreds of smuggling tunnels through which the strip received steel, gravel and cheap diesel fuel, as well as consumer products.
  • The situation worsened in November, 2013 when Hamas shut down Gaza’s lone power plant because of a shortage of electricity and cheap fuel from Egypt, stretching blackouts up to 18 hours a day and causing raw sewage to flood some streets because pumping stations could not operate.
  • Israel suspended delivery of construction materials in mid-October after discovering a 1.5-mile tunnel from Gaza into its territory that it feared would be used to kidnap or attack Israelis.
  • Gisha, an Israeli organisation that promotes access to Gaza, said Israel began allowing some construction materials in three years ago for international projects.
  • The international community is appropriately worried about Gaza’s humanitarian situation, but Gaza’s dependence on foreign aid stems in large part from Israeli restrictions on economic development. So it is said that, if people in Gaza were permitted to maintain and grow their economy, then they would need far less humanitarian assistance.


CERC draft sets tougher norms for producers

  • The Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC),has announced draft tariff criteria for the power sector for 2014-19, which is likely to impact companies such as NTPC, Sutlej JalVidyut Nigam and NHPC.

Draft Tariff criteria for the power sector for 2014-19:

  • According to this draft, power tariffs will fall as the CERC has proposed to remove the tax arbitrage, which existed when companies such as NTPC charged a higher tax rate from its customers.
  • The CERC has also changed the norms for operating and maintenance (O&M) expenses marginally, which, according to analysts, is set to increase, bringing in relief for power generation companies.
  • Another highlight of the draft is the proposed tightening of operating norms for power producing and transmission companies by shifting incentives to their plant load factor (PLF) from the plant available factor (PAF). This will link incentives to actual power generated and the PLF, that is, the capacity at which the plant is operating. While private companies have been given permission to raise tariffs, the proposed change would affect state-run producers such as NTPC, whose existing incentives are linked to their available capacity for the State electricity boards (SEBs).
  • Thus, even if the NTPC’s plants could not generate the required power for lack of coal, it is still able to avail itself of the benefits. PLFs of most power generators have fallen below 70% in recent times owing to coal availability issues. The final regulations will be prepared in early 2014, after getting the relevant industry feedback.
  • With regard to the above guidelines, NTPC has asserted that, it generates 27% of electricity in the country with 18% of the installed capacity. The company has been rated as number one company in the world in terms of capacity utilisation, and the revenue that it earns is because of the efficiency, experience, strength of specialised manpower and corporate and financial management. Very stringent regulatory norms will further deteriorate the financial health of the state sector generators.


Genetically modified (GM) foods:

  • Genetically modified (GM) foods are foods derived from organisms whose genetic material (DNA) has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally, e.g. through the introduction of a gene from a different organism.
  • Currently available GM foods stem mostly from plants, but in the future foods derived from GM microorganisms or GM animals are likely to be introduced on the market.
  • Most existing genetically modified crops have been developed to improve yield, through the introduction of resistance to plant diseases or of increased tolerance of herbicides.
  • In the future, genetic modification could be aimed at altering the nutrient content of food, reducing its allergenic potential, or improving the efficiency of food production systems. All GM foods should be assessed before being allowed on the market. FAO/WHO Codex guidelines exist for risk analysis of GM food.

Potential benefits of GM plants:

  • Higher crop yields
  • Reduced farm costs
  • Increased farm profit
  • Improvement in health and the environment

These “first generation” crops have proven their ability to lower farm-level production costs. Now, research is focused on “second-generation” GM crops that will feature increased nutritional and/or industrial traits.  These crops will have more direct benefits to consumers.  Examples include:

  • Rice enriched with iron, vitamin A and E, and lysine
  • Potatoes with higher starch content, and inulin
  • Edible vaccines in maize, banana and potatoes
  • Maize varieties with low phytic acid and increased essential amino acids
  • Healthier oils from soybean and canola
  • Allergen-free nuts

Potential risks of GM plants:

  • The danger of unintentionally introducing allergens and other anti-nutrition factors in foods
  • The likelihood of transgenes escaping from cultivated crops into wild relatives
  • The potential for pests to evolve resistance to the toxins produced by GM crops. The risk of these toxins affecting non-target organisms.
  • There are also those risks that are neither caused nor preventable by the technology itself.
  • An example of this type of risk is the further widening of the economic gap between developed countries (technology users) versus developing countries (nonusers). These risks, however, can be managed by developing technologies tailor made for the needs of the poor and by instituting measures so that the poor will have access to the new technologies.

Are GM crops appropriate for developing countries?

  • Although the potential benefits of GM crops are large in developing countries, they would require some investments.
  • Most developing countries lack the scientific capacity to assess the biosafety of GM crops, the economic expertise to evaluate their worth, the regulatory capacity to implement guidelines for safe deployment, and the legal systems to enforce and punish transgressions in law.
  • Fortunately, several organizations are working to build local capacity to manage the acquisition, deployment, and monitoring of GM crops.