Current Affairs 25th September 2018

edited October 2018 in Daily Current Affairs

Publishing poll candidate’s propaganda is paid news

Election Commission of India recently told the Supreme Court that repeated publication of propaganda lauding the achievements of a candidate in an election is nothing but “paid news”.

The EC has asked the court to declare whether it amounts to “paid news” if widely circulated daily newspapers cover statements issued by, and in the name of, a candidate.

Concerns:

Such news are not only laudatory of his or her record and achievements but also are a direct appeal to voters by the candidate. Therefore, politicians cannot say that it is part of their fundamental right to free speech to spew out “motivated propaganda”.
If such motivated propaganda is allowed in the name of free speech during the election period, candidates with a strong network of connections will exploit their sphere of influence in society. This will have the unequal advantage of encashing such silent services.

Background:

The commission has moved the court in appeal against a decision of the Delhi High Court to set aside the disqualification of a MP in Madhya Pradesh.

ECI’s National Level Committee on Paid News found that five newspapers, with a wide circulation, had published 42 news items that were biased and one-sided and aimed at furthering the prospects of the leader. Some of the reports were advertisements in favour of him. The committee concluded that the items fitted the definition of “paid news”.

Delhi HC order and why was it challenged?

The Delhi HC order had not only overturned the EC’s order on disqualification, but it also stated that the Commission’s remit is limited to election expenditure incurred by candidates and not content of speech. While the EC does not usually move court on its own, this was seen as a fit case as it was felt that the Delhi HC order had dealt a major blow to the fight against paid news. It was also felt that unless the legal position on the issue was corrected, the EC’s role and power to check paid news in elections will be irreparably undermined. Legal advice taken also weighed in favour of moving the Supreme Court.

Paid news menace:

Over 600 paid news complaints were forwarded by EC to Press Council of India with reference to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the government had informed Parliament. EC has repeatedly been asking the law ministry to treat paid news as a cognisable offence and the 2015 Law Commission reports call for amendments in laws to check the menace. The UPA government had also set up a Group of ministers to examine the issue.

Need of the hour:

The ECI has written to the Union government before, suggesting that paid news be made an electoral offence under the RPA. A Law Commission report from 2015 also recommends amending the RPA to this effect.

What to study?

For Prelims: Key facts on ECI.
For Mains: Paid news menace- concerns, challenges and solutions.

Severe acute malnutrition

The National Technical Board on Nutrition (NTBN) has approved guidelines proposed by WCD Ministry for severe acute malnutrition. The measures are part of the community-based health management of children suffering from SAM.

Guidelines:

Severely malnourished children must be fed freshly cooked food prepared from locally available cereals, pulses and vegetables. This is to be distributed by anganwadi centres, as part of the country’s first-ever guidelines for nutritional management of children suffering from severe acute malnutrition (SAM).
The guidelines outline the role of anganwadi workers and auxillary nurse midwives (ANMs) in identifying severely wasted children. According to the recommendations, anganwadi workers have to provide modified morning snacks, hot cooked meals and take home ration for SAM children.
They have to segregate those with oedema or medical complications and sending them to the nearest health facility or nutrition rehabilitation centres. The remaining children are enrolled into “community based management”. This includes provision of nutrition, continuous monitoring of growth, administration of antibiotics and micro-nutrients as well as counselling sessions and imparting of nutrition and health education.
The morning snacks and hot-cooked meals, which are served at anganwadis to children between the age of three to six years, should be “prepared freshly and served at the centralised kitchen/ anganwadi centres. Locally available cereals, pulses, green leafy vegetables and tubers, vitamin C rich fruits, as well as fresh milk and 3-4 eggs every week” have also been prescribed.
Importantly, the government has also revised the method to be used to measure wasting and advised calculating weight based on the height of children instead of the mid-upper arm circumference.

What necessitated this?

The government had, till now, only put in place guidelines for the hospitalization of severely wasted children who develop medical complications.

What is severe acute malnutrition?

Severe acute malnutrition is the most extreme and visible form of undernutrition. Its face is a child – frail and skeletal – who requires urgent treatment to survive.

Children with severe acute malnutrition have very low weight for their height and severe muscle wasting. They may also have nutritional oedema – characterized by swollen feet, face and limbs. About two thirds of these children live in Asia and almost one third live in Africa.
Severe acute malnutrition is a major cause of death in children under 5, and its prevention and treatment are critical to child survival and development.
Across the globe, an estimated 16 million children under the age of 5 are affected by severe acute malnutrition. This number is staggering – most importantly, because children with severe acute malnutrition are nine times more likely to die than well-nourished children. These deaths are the direct result of malnutrition itself, as well as the indirect result of childhood illnesses like diarrhoea and pneumonia that malnourished children are too weak to survive.
Severe acute malnutrition can increase dramatically in emergencies. But despite what we see in the headlines, the majority of cases occur in developing countries not affected by emergencies. These settings are plagued by chronic poverty, lack of education, poor hygiene, limited access to food and poor diets. The result is significant barriers to sustainable development in these nations.


Prison reforms

The Supreme Court has constituted a three-member committee to look into the problems of jails in India and suggest reform measures. The committee headed by former SC judge Justice Amitava Roy will look into the aspect of jail reforms across the country and suggest measures to deal with them.

Terms of reference:

The committee’s duties will include looking into the problems of jails across the country including overcrowding in prisons, issue of human rights of prisoners and issues concerning women prisoners languishing in cells for years.
After studying the problems, the committee would be required to suggest measures to deal with them.
Background:

The Supreme Court had said on August 8, 2018 that it would constitute a committee under the chairmanship of its retired judge to look into the problems in jails, on a day-to-day basis and suggest measures to tackle the problems. The SC had expressed its displeasure saying that the government had collected a huge amount under the orders of the apex court but the funds were not being utilised properly.

Need for reforms:

NHRC figures show that prisoners cut off from family and friends had a 50% more chance of committing suicide than those outside. The average suicide rate among the general public for this period is 11 (per 100,000) whereas the average suicide rate in prison is 16.9 (per 100,000). In other words, the average suicide rate in prisons is over 50% more than in normal conditions.
Indian prisons face three long-standing structural constraints: overcrowding, thanks to a high percentage of undertrials in the prison population, understaffing and underfunding. The inevitable outcome is sub-human living conditions, poor hygiene, and violent clashes between the inmates and jail authorities.
Besides, while 33% of the total requirement of prison officials still lies vacant, almost 36% of vacancy for supervising officers is still unfulfilled. In the absence of adequate prison staff, overcrowding of prisons leads to rampant violence and other criminal activities inside the jails.

Way ahead:

Indian jails have often been dubbed as a university for grooming criminals due to pathetic and inhumane conditions. In the absence of a robust Whistleblower Protection Act and structural changes to address the issues of overcrowding and understaffing, India’s prisons will continue to be heaven for politically connected criminals and hell for socio-economically disadvantaged undertrials, some regular media uproars notwithstanding.

Fundamental rights of prisoners cannot be placed in the back-burner and the Centre and the states need to be more pro-active in sensitising staff about the need to treat prisoners as humanely as possible.

What to study?

For Prelims: Committee constituted for the purpose.
For Mains: Prison reforms- need, concerns, challenges and reforms suggested.

Decriminalisation of politics

The Supreme Court has asked the Parliament to make a law to prevent persons with serious criminal cases pending against them from entering legislature and be part of law making.

Background:

A bunch of pleas had been filed raising questions whether lawmakers, who face criminal trial, can be disqualified from fighting elections at the stage of framing of charges against them.

What did the court say?

The court observed that it cannot enter the legislative arena to provide disqualification of candidates, who are facing serious criminal cases against them. However, it asked the candidates to put in bold letter her/his criminal antecedents in the required affidavit.
The SC said each political party will put on its website the criminal antecedents of each of its candidates so as to allow the voters to make an informed choice.

What does the RPA say?

Currently, under the Representation of Peoples (RP) Act, lawmakers cannot contest elections only after their conviction in a criminal case.

Section 8 of the Representation of the People (RP) Act, 1951 disqualifies a person convicted with a sentence of two years or more from contesting elections. But those under trial continued to be eligible to contest elections. The Lily Thomas case (2013), however, ended this unfair advantage.

Criminals in Politics:

Protecting the parliamentary system from criminalisation has been the intention of the law from the beginning.

Efforts by SC in this regard:

The SC has repeatedly expressed concern about the purity of legislatures.
In 2002, it made it obligatory for all candidates to file an affidavit before the returning officer, disclosing criminal cases pending against them.
The famous order to introduce NOTA was intended to make political parties think before giving tickets to the tainted.
In its landmark judgment of March 2014, the SC accepted the urgent need for cleansing politics of criminalisation and directed all subordinate courts to decide on cases involving legislators within a year, or give reasons for not doing so to the chief justice of the high court.

The trend:

According to the ADR’s analysis of EC data, 187 MPs in the current Lok Sabha face criminal charges (that is, 34.4 per cent). Of them, 113 face serious criminal charges. The number has gone up from 162 (76 serious) charges in 2009 and 128 (58 serious) in 2004.

Main reasons for Criminalization:

Corruption
Vote bank.
Lack of governance.

What is the way out?

There are three possible options.

One, political parties should themselves refuse tickets to the tainted.
Two, the RP Act should be amended to debar persons against whom cases of a heinous nature are pending from contesting elections.
Three, fast-track courts should decide the cases of tainted legislators quickly.

Suggested measure to curb criminalization of politics:

Bringing greater transparency in campaign financing is going to make it less attractive for political parties to involve gangsters.
The Election Commission of India (ECI) should have the power to audit the financial accounts of political parties, or political parties’ finances should be brought under the right to information (RTI) law.
Broader governance will have to improve for voters to reduce the reliance on criminal politicians.
Fast-track courts are necessary because politicians are able to delay the judicial process and serve for decades before prosecution.
The Election Commission must take adequate measures to break the nexus between the criminals and the politicians.
The forms prescribed by the Election Commission for candidates disclosing their convictions, cases pending in courts and so on in their nomination papers is a step in the right direction if it applied properly.

Way ahead:

Corruption and criminalisation of politics is hitting at the roots of democracy. Therefore, Parliament must take steps urgently to curb this menace. Candidates and political parties must give wide publicity to criminal cases pending against her/him in the local media, both print and electronic, after s/he files nomination to contest elections.
What to study?

For Prelims: Salient features of RPA.
For Mains: Criminalisation of politics- concerns, challenges and solutions.



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