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Current Affair – May 21, 2021

A critical view of Maratha judgement

The Supreme Court of India declared as unconstitutional a Maharashtra law which provided for reservation to the Maratha community in education and public employment in the State. Ruling:

  1. Maratha community did not constitute a socially and educationally backward class.
  2. Law was in breach of a rule previously set by the Court disallowing reservations made in excess of 50% of the total available positions
  3. State governments had no independent power to declare a group as a backward class.
  4. Constitution had now created a structure for determination of other backward classes identical to that in place for the preparation of the lists of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Understanding the Declaration of Other backward classes (OBCs)

  • Until now, the central government and each of the State governments produced separate lists declaring communities as socially and educationally backward.
  • Following the Supreme Court’s judgment in Indra Sawhney, the determination of backward classes was made by the National Commission for the Backward Classes, at the level of the Centre, and by regional commissions at the level of the State governments. As a result, backward communities that were kept out of the central list were entitled to reservation at least for those posts and seats under the control of the State government.
  • This division in power gave States autonomy to classify groups as backward.
  • It stood in contrast to the lists of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. In the case of those lists, the power to prepare them vested solely with the Union government.
  •  But the Supreme Court has now held that this distinction no longer holds good. The 102nd Amendment (2018) forms the basis for the Court’s ruling,

102nd Amendment of the Constitution

  • It granted constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes.
  • It introduced Article 342A, which stipulated that the President of India may, after consultation with the State government, notify groups of persons within such a State who are deemed to be socially and educationally backward. Any such “Central List”, could only be altered by Parlia- ment.
  • Article 366(26C) was also added and “socially and educationally backward classes” was defined as “such backward classes as are so deemed under Article 342A for the purposes of this Constitution”

Critical view

  • Reservations ought to be restricted to 50% does not stem from the Constitution. The text of Articles 16(4) and 15(4) which confer power on the government to make reservations contains no such limitation.
  • Indira Sawhney judgement: It ruled, on the one hand, that N.M. Thomas judgement was correct in seeing reservations as embedded in a constitutional vision of substantive equality, and, on the other hand, that reservation made in excess of 50%, barring exceptional circumstances, was harmful to that very vision. This is an incompatible position.
  • Federalism: Divesting states of a power this critical, to classify groups as backward, entitling many communities to protection under Articles 15(4) and 16(4), can be seen as against the “essence” of federalism.
  • Interpretation of Constitution: It relied on the plain meaning of Articles 342A and 366(26C). But it overlooked two essential factors: first, the term “Central List” — used in Article 342A has always been understood in contradistinction to the term “state list”, in that it refers to the categorisation of groups as backward for the purposes of reservation to posts and seats under the Union government’s control.
  • External aid: During Parliament debate, Union minster assured States that proposed changes did not take away their autonomy. The “right to include or remove in the States List…will remain as it is and it will not be violated in any manner,”. External aids, such as parliamentary debates, are useful only when the plain meaning of a provision is unclear.
  • The term “Central List” in Article 342A shows that, the Constitution recognises the power of State government to frame lists of their own.
  • If one were to concede that two interpretations to the amendments were plausible, then the interpre- tation that allows for a more equitable division of power between the central and State governments, ought to be accepted.

Way forward

Union government has already filed a petition to review the judgment insofar as it limits the power of State governments. Should the Court refuse the plea, it is imperative that Parliament amends the Constitution and grants to States an express power to determine backwardness.

Source: The Hindu

Artic Council

  • Russia assumed the rotating chairmanship of the Arctic Council. The U.S. rallied members to oppose Moscow’s plans to set maritime rules in the Northern Sea Route, which runs from Norway to Alaska, and its desire to resume military talks. Those talks were suspended in 2014 over Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
  • The effort reflects growing concerns in Washington and among some NATO allies about a surge in Russian military and commercial activity in the Arctic region.
  • These countries want to maintain its focus on peaceful cooperation on environmental issues, maritime safety and the wellbeing of indigenous people in the region.

About Artic Council

  • The Arctic Council is an international organisation founded in 1996 for the eight Arctic nations, namely Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US.
  • It is an international forum to discuss areas of collaboration. It explicitly says it can’t talk about military and security issues,.
  • All around the Arctic, all the different indigenous populations have permanent observer status— Saami Council, the Inuits circumpolar council.
  • · The Arctic Council has a rotating chair, which changes every two years.

Significance of Artic

  • The Arctic is believed to hold up to one-fourth of the Earth’s undiscovered oil and gas. With the impact of climate change, melting ice offers new opportunities for resources and shipping routes.
  • The region has thus become an area of intense competition over natural resources for Russia on the one hand, the United States, Canada, Denmark and Norway on the other. China too has shown increasing interest in the Arctic.
  • The leadership also share common interests in the Arctic Circle, which has historically been an area of cooperation over environment and sustainability.
  • Previously because of the harsh conditions and the ice, no humans really spent much time in the Arctic. And that started changing about 15 years ago as the Arctic sea ice started to melt. And so all of a sudden there’s more accessibility for oil, natural gas minerals
Source: The Hindu

Ice-berg A76

  • A huge ice block has broken off from western Antarctica into the Weddell Sea, becoming the largest iceberg in the world and earning the name A76.
  • It is the latest in a series of large ice blocks to dislodge in a region acutely vulnerable to climate change, although scientists said in this case it appeared to be part of a natural polar cycle.
  • Icebergs form when hunks of ice break off from ice shelves or glaciers and begin to float in open water.

About A76

  • A76 is slightly larger than the Spanish island of Majorca.
  • It had been monitored by scientists since May 13 when it began to separate from the Ronne Ice Shelf.
  • It measures around 170 km long and 25km wide, with an area of 4,320 sq km.
  •  The iceberg is now floating in the Weddell Sea.

It joins previous world’s largest title holder A23A which has remained in the same area since 1986.

  • A76 was originally spotted by the British Antarctic Survey and the calving was confirmed using images from the Copernicus satellite.
Calving is the term used when an iceberg breaks off.  
Source: The Hindu

China complete Tibetan Highway

  • China has completed the construction of a highway through the world’s deepest canyon in Tibet along the Brahmaputra River. It is a strategically significant highway as it will enable greater access to remote areas along the disputed border with Arunachal Pradesh in India.
  • The highway took seven years to complete and passes through the Grand Canyon of the Yarlung Zangbo River, as the Brahmaputra is called in Tibet.
  • This is the “second significant passageway” to Medog county that borders Arunachal, directly connecting the Pad township in Nyingchi to Baibung in Medog county.
  • The highway will reduce the distance between Nyingchi city and Medog and will cut the travel time by 8 hours.

China’s infrastructure push

  • The project is part of a wider infrastructure push in border areas in Tibet.
  • China began work on a strategically important railway line — its second major rail link to Tibet after the QinghaiTibet rail way that opened in 2006 — that will link Sichuan province with Nyingchi.
  • Another part of the border infrastructure push is the construction of new civilian settlements, along with the expansion of existing smaller hamlets, along border areas, some of which lie in disputed territories claimed by India and Bhutan, to strengthen China’s control over the land.
Source: The Hindu

Di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) subsidy

Central government has announced a 140% increase in the subsidy on di-ammonium phosphate (DAP), from Rs 511 to Rs 1,200 per 50-kg bag. It will cost the exchequer an additional Rs 14,775 crore in the coming kharif season alone.

What is DAP and why is it important for farmers?

  • DAP is the second most commonly used fertiliser in India after urea.
  • Farmers normally apply this fertiliser just before or at the beginning of sowing, as it is high in phosphorus that stimulates root development. Without well-developed roots, plants will not grow to their normal size, or will take too long to mature.
  • While there are other phosphatic fertilisers as well — for instance, single super phosphate that contains 16% P and 11% sulphur (S) — DAP is the preferred source of P for farmers. This is similar to urea, which is their preferred nitrogenous fertiliser containing 46% N.

What is the subsidy scheme is in DAP, and how is it different from other fertilisers?

  • The maximum retail price (MRP) of urea is currently fixed at Rs 5,378 per tonne or Rs 242 for a 45-kg bag. Since companies are required to sell at this rate, the subsidy (the difference between the cost of manufacturing or import and the fixed MRP) is variable.
  • The MRPs of all other fertilisers are decontrolled. Technically, companies can sell these at the rates that they and government does not decide. The government only gives a fixed per-tonne subsidy. In other words, the subsidy is fixed, but MRP is variable.

Do all non-urea fertilisers attract the same subsidy?

  • No, they are governed by nutrient-based subsidy or NBS. For 2020-21, the Centre fixed the NBS rates at Rs 18.789/kg for N, Rs 14.888/kg for P, Rs 10.116/kg for potassium (K) and Rs 2.374/kg for S.
  • Therefore, depending on the nutrient content for different fertilisers, the per-tonne subsidy also varies. Since one tonne of DAP contains 460 kg (46%) of P and 180 kg (18%) of N, the subsidy comes to Rs 6,848.48 plus 3,382.02, or Rs 10,231. Likewise, the subsidy on muriate of potash (60% K) is Rs 6,070 per tonne, while it is Rs 2,643/tonne for SSP and Rs 8,380/tonne for the popular ‘10:26:26’ NPK fertiliser.
Source: Indian Express