NOTE: Please remember that following ‘answers’ are NOT ‘model answers’. They are NOT synopsis too if we go by definition of the term. What we are providing is content that both meets demand of the question and at the same time gives you extra points in the form of background information.
GS 2 – Full Syllabus
Q1.’ Repealing or modifying the law on sedition can positively impact the future of dissent and free speech in the country’. Do you agree? Give justification (10M)
The law on sedition is laid down in Section 124A of the IPC which states that a person will be charged with sedition if they “bring or attempt to bring into hatred or contempt, or excite or attempt to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India” through words, signs, or by visible representation. The provision has deep colonial roots and was included by Sir Thomas Macaulay in his draft proposition in 1837.
Repealing or modifying the law on sedition will positively impact the future of dissent in the country in the following ways:
- Mere criticism or dissent can’t be sedition: As per the Supreme Court verdict in Romesh Thapar vs the State of Madras, 1950, “nothing less than endangering the foundations of the state or threatening its overthrow could justify curtailment of the rights to freedom of speech and expression.” In the absence of such clarity, the law is prone to unconstitutional use.
- Greater Freedom of the press: In 2021 alone, 20 journalists have been slapped with sedition The state is empowered to restrict free speech under article 19(2) on the grounds of threat to public order, decency, morality, and the security of the state. Thus, the grounds enshrined in section 124a are vague to curtail the freedom of the press and prosecute journalists. As former Prime Minister Nehru observed, a free press with all its limitations is always better than the controlled press.
- Indication of the vibrancy of Indian democracy: In countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, New Zealand, etc., the sedition law is practically defunct or in disuse. On the contrary, sedition law is operational in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Sudan, Senegal, Iran, Uzbekistan, etc.
- Arbitrariness nullified: Sedition is used against dissenters, dissidents, critics in media, political opposition, and civil society representatives who perform the critical adversarial function so crucial for a healthy democracy. For Instance, Binayak Sen, a doctor, and activist working for the Adivasis were charged with sedition on the pretext of him owning Naxal literature.
- 548 persons arrested between 2015 and 2020, according to statistics compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).
- Abuse and misuse of power: As per the NCRB data just 12 persons arrested in seven sedition cases were convicted in this six-year period. The low conviction rates demonstrate that Section 124A is being abused and cases are being filed despite the absence of the elements required under the section.
- Reduction of harassment by the agencies of law and order restricting freedom of speech of an individual: the existence of this colonial relic, Section 124A of the IPC, has acted as a constraint on the exercise of the right to freedom of speech and governments have used sedition to suppress and quell political dissent.
Section 124A of the IPC has its utility in combating anti-national, secessionist and terrorist elements. But the definition of sedition should be narrowed down, to include only the issues pertaining to the territorial integrity of India as well as the sovereignty of the country.
Dissent and criticism of the government are essential ingredients of robust public debate in a vibrant democracy. They should not be constructed as sedition.
The changes in the law will have a major standing on whether a citizen would feel safe in raising opinions contrary to the government. One can only hope that the changes introduced to protect the citizens’ freedom of speech and the right to dissent while keeping national and security interests in mind.
Q2. ICT revolution has also led to a digital divide in the education sector in India. How can active participation of civil society, government, and corporates help fill this divide? Illustrate (15M)
Digital Divide refers to the gap between the ‘technology empowered’ and the ‘technology excluded’ communities. It arises due to the inequitable distribution of technology. Supreme Court observed that the digital divide caused by online classes will defeat the Fundamental Right 21A of every child to education.
ICT revolution has also led to a digital divide in the education sector in India:
- Lack of Internet Penetration: The report, titled ‘Internet in India’ based on an ICUBE and Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) 2021 study, found that there are only 69.2 crores( i.e. roughly 50% of population) active Internet users in India.
- Rural Vs Urban Divide: According to the Indicators of Household Social Consumption on Education in India report, less than 15% of rural Indian households have an Internet connection (as opposed to 42% urban Indian households).
- Inter-state digital divide: According to statistics, more than 75 % of the broadband connections in the country are in the top 30 cities. North-eastern states, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Assam lag behind other states in the use and development of ICTs.
- Gender divide: According to a recent UN report, only 29% of all internet users are female, which indicates that transitions to digital learning may compound the gender gap in education.
- Lack of vernacular content: Most of the content and existing lectures on the internet are in English. In India, the Ministry of HRD data shows that there are only 17% English medium schools.
- Lack of Training: teachers’ unfamiliarity with online education technology
Impact of Digital Divide in the Education Sector:
- Low female representation: Digital divide will deprive females in realizing the Fundamental Right 21A.
- Denial to information/knowledge: This lack of equal opportunities to access online services and information deprives people of higher/quality education and skill training
- Unfair Competitive Edge: Superior students who can access the internet have an unfair competitive edge over their less privileged counterparts.
- Disparity in Learning: people in lower socio-economic classes are disadvantaged due to a lack of access to schooling materials online
- Decreased Productivity Among the Poor: rural areas tend to produce poor quality graduates because of inadequate training due to limited research abilities and internet connectivity
Active participation of civil society, government, and corporates helps fill this divide
- Proactive role of Government: Such as
- Focus on Quality Digital Education: To achieve the policy goals of National Education Policy, 2020. NDEAR an ‘Open Digital Ecosystem’ has been launched.
- Enhance Connectivity Issue: Optical Fibre Network (NOF-N), a project aimed to ensure broadband connectivity to over two lakh (200,000) gram panchayats of India.
- Accessibility of Quality Education:
- DIKSHA (Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing) platform– a national platform for school education available for all states and the central government for grades 1 to 12.
- Diversification: Online Massive Open Online Course MOOC courses relating to NIOS (grades 9 to 12 of open schooling) are uploaded on the SWAYAM portal; around 92 courses have started and 1.5 crore students are enrolled
- DAISY by NIOS for differently-abled, e-PathShala- Radio broadcasting is being used for children in remote areas who are not online.
- Natural language processing (NLP) in Indian languages
- Focus on Cybersecurity: comprehensive cybersecurity framework for data security
- Proactive role of Corporates:
- Unnati Project – Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL) strives to bridge the digital divide in schools by giving rural students with poor economic and social backgrounds access to computer education.
- Prudence use of CSR Funds in bridging the Digital Divide: like Gender friendly technologies to reduce the gender divide in education
- Under Atmanirbhar Bharat, corporates can manufacture indigenous technologies in a cost effective manner through enhanced Research and Development to bridge the rich/poor divide in Education
- Proactive role of Civil Society:
- Smile Foundation’s ‘Shiksha Na Ruke’ initiative to provide continuous education during the pandemic.
- E-Literacy for Parents: by creating opportunities to learn and apply a set of literacy skills.
- Awareness Programmes to bridge the Gender divide
Genuine efforts are needed to ensure every child gets good quality equitable education as a fundamental right. A solution has to be devised at all levels of the Governments with the involvement of civil society and corporates, to ensure that adequate facilities are made available to children across social strata so that access to education is not denied to those who lack resources.
Q3. What do you understand by ‘Conflict of interest’? How does it manifest in Public administration? What are the principles and procedures to be followed by a civil servant to avoid such conflicts of interest? Cite example. (10M)
‘Conflict of Interest’ is said to occur when a decision taken in the official capacity of an officer might also provide some benefit to the officer concerned or his family and friends.For instance, the president of BCCI having his son-in-law as a team official of an IPL franchise.
Conflict of Interest has shaken today’s world in issues of governance and ethical practices. It has become a major ethical concern, especially for bureaucrats.
How does it manifest in Public administration?
Corruption – The bribe giver clearly intends to distort the even-handed conduct of the official, and the receiver intends to willingly comply. Thus the official, faced with personal interests, pecuniary or otherwise, in conflict with the laws, policies, and procedures for the conduct of his office, is induced to resolve the conflict in favour of himself.
Influence Peddling – Influence peddling occurs when a public employee attempts to influence a government decision so that it favours a third party in which the employee has an interest.
Information Peddling – Actual conflict of interest is present when the information is highly confidential and the official in question is responsible for maintaining the confidentiality.
Post-retirement Benefits- This can be observed in Judiciary, Given post-retirement jobs, favouring a party or person in verdicts. Ex: Verdict favouring a particular political party given future political appointments post-retirement.
Nepotism – involves using influence to gain preferential treatment for a relative in hiring, promoting, awarding contracts, or any other business practice.
Principles and procedures to be followed by a civil servant to avoid such conflicts of interest.
- Maintaining Transparency and accountability – This will act as a deterrence to misuse of power. Eg: In the Ayodhya-Ramjanmabhoomi case, Justice U U Lalit recused himself from the Constitution Bench after parties to the case brought to his attention that he had appeared as a lawyer in a criminal case relating to the case.
- Objectivity in governance – This helps public servants to take impartial decisions.
- Upholding public service values – Civil servants need to adhere to public service values like Integrity, impartiality, compassion etc.
- Balancing public and private life – Civil servants need to follow a code of conduct, and a code of ethics in their professional life, this will help to curb nepotism and favouritism.
- Declaring one’s conflict of interest to the concerned authorities is the best way to avoid conflict of interest situations. For eg: The USA has a criminal conflict of interest statute, which prohibits an executive branch employee from participating in a particular Government matter that will affect his own financial interests.
- Use of technology: in enhancing transparency. For instance, the Municipal Government of Seoul, South Korea has developed an Online Procedures system to reduce opaqueness of applications and provide details on areas most prone to corruption.
Conflict of interest situations usually arises as public servants as individuals will have an affinity towards their family, friends and comfortableness. But it is the duty and responsibility of public servants to uphold public service values and take decisions ethically and morally to avoid such situations.