Current Affairs 29th August

India brought people and holy books from Afghanistan: Modi #GS2 #IR

Citing the teachings of Sikh gurus, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday said India had not only brought back Indians from Afghanistan but also the sacred book Sri Guru Granth Sahib.

Speaking via video-conferencing at the ceremony to dedicate the renovated Jallianwala Bagh memorial, Mr. Modi said whether it was the COVID-19 crisis or the ongoing situation in Afghanistan, India stood ready to help Indians in trouble anywhere in the world. He said there were challenges and the situation was tough, but “ gurukripa (grace of gurus) is with us”.

‘New laws’ find mention

“Keeping the gurus’ teachings of humanity at the forefront, the country has passed new laws for its own people who were troubled by such circumstances,” Mr. Modi said. Though he did not elaborate, “new laws” could be seen as a reference to the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, which seeks to fast-track citizenship for Hindu, Parsi, Buddhist, Christian and Sikh immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

Recalling the April 13, 1919, massacre at Jallianwala Bagh, Mr. Modi said it was those “10 minutes” when the British troops opened fire that became the immortal tale for the freedom movement, which became the reason that India is celebrating 75 years of Independence next year.

He spoke of the sacrifices of the people of Punjab, saying there was hardly a village or street in the State that would not have its own tale of bravery. The sons and daughters of Punjab always stood without fear against any danger facing the country, he said. He added that Punjab had always been an inspiration, and now it was important for it to progress in every way.

Mr. Modi said it was the responsibility of any nation to remember its history and not forget the horrors, like the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and Partition. He said the contribution of tribal communities in the freedom movement had not been highlighted; so the government was setting up nine museums for the same.

Rajnath commissions ICGS Vigraha #GS3 #Defence

The augmentation of India’s security capabilities has ensured that the country has not suffered any terrorist attacks by sea route since the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said here on Saturday.

Commissioning the seventh Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV), ICGS Vigraha , built indigenously by Larsen & Toubro for the Coast Guard (ICG), the Minister said the Coast Guard was continuously enhancing the capacity of the nation.

Mr. Singh said in the last two years, in cooperation with the neighbouring nations, the force had recovered goods worth more than Rs. 10,000 crore in anti-smuggling operations.

He said changes happening around the world would certainly impact the Indian Ocean region and also India, whose interests were directly linked to the Indian Ocean. “Changes happening around the world often become a matter of concern for us. We, as a nation, must keep our guard high during these times of uncertainties and upheavals around the world.”

The demand for military equipment was increasing continuously, with reports suggesting that by 2023, the expenditure on security around the world would reach around $2.1 trillion. Director-General of the ICG K. Natarajan said the force had 157 ships and 66 aircraft in its fleet. “Our endeavour is to have 200 ships and 100 aircraft by 2030,” he said.

He said all its ships were built in India and the Advanced Light Helicopter Mk-III, manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, was a testimony to the fact. Chief of the Army Staff General M.M. Naravane, Tamil Nadu Minister for Industries Thangam Thennarasu, and Chief Secretary V. Irai Anbu took part in the event.

ICGS Vigraha will be based out of Visakhapatnam and will operate on India’s Eastern Seaboard under the operational and administrative control of the Commander, Coast Guard Region (East).

Why are hydropower projects in the Himalayas risky? #GS3 #Environment

The story so far: The Environment Ministry, in an affidavit placed in the Supreme Court earlier this month, has disclosed that it has permitted seven hydroelectric power projects, which are reportedly in advanced stages of construction, to go ahead. One of them is the 512 MW Tapovan Vishnugadh project, in Joshimath, Uttarakhand that was damaged by a flood in February.

What’s the history of hydel projects in the Himalayas?

In the aftermath of the Kedarnath floods of 2013 that killed at least 5,000 people, the Supreme Court had halted the development of hydroelectric projects in Uttarakhand pending a review by the Environment Ministry on the role such projects had played in amplifying the disaster. A 17-member expert committee, led by environmentalist Ravi Chopra, was set up by the Ministry to examine the role of 24 such proposed hydroelectric projects in the Alaknanda and Bhagirathi basin, which has the Ganga and several tributaries.

The Chopra committee concluded that 23 projects would have an “irreversible impact” on the ecology of the region. Following this, six private project developers, whose projects were among those recommended to be axed, impleaded themselves in the case on the ground that since their projects had already been cleared for construction before the Kedarnath tragedy, they should be allowed to continue.

The SC directed a new committee to be set up to examine their case. This committee, led by Vinod Tare of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, concluded that these projects could have a significant environmental impact.

The Environment Ministry in 2015 set up yet another committee, led by B.P. Das, who was part of the original committee, but had filed a “dissenting report”. The Das committee recommended all six projects with design modifications to some.

The Water Resources Ministry, then led by Minister Uma Bharti, has been consistently opposed to hydropower projects in the Ganga. In charge of the National Mission for Clean Ganga, the Water Ministry has maintained that the cleanliness of the river was premised on minimum levels of water flow in all seasons and the proposed projects could hinder this. By 2019, however, the renamed Jal Shakti Ministry had changed its stance to accommodate seven out of the 24 projects. Its current position is that barring these, it is “not in favour” of new projects in the Ganga river basin.

Though hearings in the Supreme Court are ongoing, this is the first time that the government has a formal uniform position on hydropower projects in the Uttarakhand region.

What are the challenges such projects face?

Following the break in the Raunthi glacier that triggered floods in the Rishiganga river in Uttarakhand on February 7, which washed away at least two hydroelectric power projects — the13.2 MW Rishiganga hydroelectric power project and the Tapovan project, environmental experts have attributed the glacial melt to global warming.

Glacier retreat and permafrost thaw are projected to decrease the stability of mountain slopes and increase the number and area of glacier lakes. Moreover, with increased instances of cloudbursts, and intense spells of rainfall and avalanches, residents of the region were also placed at increased risk of loss of lives and livelihood.

How can these conflicts be resolved?

The challenges facing development in the Himalayan region are multi-faceted. The Uttarakhand government has said that it’s paying over Rs. 1,000 crore annually to purchase electricity and therefore, the more such projects are cancelled, the harder for them to meet their development obligations. Several environmentalists and residents of the region say that the proposed projects being built by private companies allot only a limited percentage of their produced power for the State of Uttarakhand itself.

Thus the State, on its own, takes on massive environmental risk without being adequately compensated for it or its unique challenges accounted for. Though the Centre is committed to hydropower projects because it’s a renewable source of power, the ecological damage combined with the reduced cost of solar power means that it has in recent times said that it is not in favour of greenfield hydropower projects in the region. But several environmental activists say that the Centre will continue to prioritise infrastructural development in the region, even if it comes at a heavy environmental cost.

Indian pilots to return to Russia soon for stitching customised space suits #GS2 #IR #GS3 #SnT

In March this year, four Indian Air Force (IAF) officers completed a year-long training in the Russian Space Academy as part of India’s Gaganyaan human space flight programme. They will soon return to Russia for getting their space suits made as per individual specifications.

“Having completed their training, they returned home… We also expect our astronauts to return to Russia for very specific tasks. The space suits are being stitched in Russia and they will be coming here to Moscow to undertake tailoring measurements,” Ambassador of India to Russia D.B. Venkatesh Varma told The Hindu . So this will be a happy occasion when we will see our astronauts back in Moscow though for a brief time, he stated.

In addition to the training, Russia is also assisting the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in other ways. “India-Russia Cooperation in the space field, on Gaganyaan would continue in certain other aspects. Russia is helping us with the design of view ports and life support systems,” Mr. Varma said.

Stating that space and nuclear power continue to be two important pillars of our cooperation between India and Russia, the envoy said that when Indian astronauts, Gagannauts as they are called, travel into space, they will be on board an Indian spacecraft, largely using Indian technology and Indian training. “

According to the portal , space suits serve as “self-contained spaceships that protect astronauts from extreme temperatures, micrometeoroids and the nearly pure vacuum of space for hours at a time, so that they can take a stroll outside the confines of their spacecraft or enjoy a brisk walk on the Moon.”

However, space suits shouldn’t be confused with the pressure suits worn by astronauts, test pilots and others during launch and landing, it stated. The space suits are being made by Russian research, development and production enterprise Zvezda under the contract of Glavkosmos, a subsidiary of Russian space corporation Roscosmos, with the Human Spaceflight Centre (HSC) of ISRO.

‘Plasmid DNA vaccine ZyCoV-D is safe and effective for adolescents #GS3 #SnT

How is Zydus Cadila’s ZyCoV-D vaccine different from the existing COVID-19 vaccines, especially the mRNA vaccines?

ZyCoV-D is the world’s first plasmid DNA vaccine for human use. DNA, or Deoxyribonucleic Acid, contains the genetic code of various components of an organism. For the vaccine, the part of the COVID-19 virus that helps it enter the cell and causes disease is coded. When the vaccine is injected into the human body, it produces that particular part of the virus and stimulates the immune system to generate antibodies and T-cells immunity against the virus.

This DNA piece is enclosed by a membrane called plasmid, and it disintegrates after it has completed its action. This DNA is a laboratory-made structure and is unable to interfere with the genetic composition of humans. The mRNA vaccines are also made with the same principle. These again are laboratory-made structures and not obtained from the actual virus.

Is the vaccine approved for children?

Any new vaccine is first tested on adults and then on children. This holds true for all the currently used paediatric vaccines. Similarly, the COVID-19 vaccines, for example, Covishield, Covaxin and Sputnik, have been used in adults. Covaxin is now being tested in children aged 2-18 years. The key assessment criteria are the safety of the vaccines and their immunogenic capacity in children. ZyCoV-D has also been tested in adolescents between 12 and 17 years. Now, we have the first approved, safe and effective vaccines for adolescents in India.

Is this vaccine safer than the previous one?

The Phase I, II and III trials of ZyCoV-D demonstrated its safety in all age groups. In fact, the reactogenicity of the vaccine, that is, fever, pain, feeling of illness, is much lesser than the other currently used vaccines in India.

Like vaccination for adults, will there be a prioritisation in the paediatric age group as well?

Prioritisation of adults was based on occupation, comorbidities and age. Two criteria were used for the prioritisation: exposure probability and risk of severe disease and death. In children, COVID-19 is mostly asymptomatic or mild; severe disease and death are rare. Like for adults, for children too, the priority will be given to those with comorbidities such as heart disease, chronic kidney, liver, lung diseases and other illnesses.

Secondly, there are 44 crore children in India, out of them 12 crore are in the 12-17 age group. We intend to prioritise adult immunisation and simultaneously start immunising children with comorbidities.

When will the vaccine be available for people? What is the current production capacity of this vaccine?

We are expecting to begin inoculating adults and adolescents with comorbidities by mid-October. For healthy children, COVID-19 vaccination is likely to be launched by the first quarter of 2022. The current production capacity of ZyCoV-D is 1 crore doses per month. It is expected that it will be ramped up to 2-3 crore doses a month in the coming months. We need to understand that the DNA vaccine production line is a slow process and might require technology transfer to other companies as well.

Tell us about the dosage and intervals between doses?

This is a three-dose vaccine, given with a needleless device called jet inject/Pharmajet, which is also painless. Every dose is 2 mg, split into two parts administered at two separate sites to get maximum immune response. All three doses will be given in the same manner at an interval of four weeks each. The vaccine is associated with negligible side-effects and the recipient does not feel any pain or discomfort at the injected site. Even fever or fatigue is uncommon post-vaccination.

Now that the vaccine for children will soon be available, do you think it will be a good idea to send children to school only after they get vaccinated?

As explained earlier, paediatric vaccination can wait. Based on Indian as well as global data, the risk of severe disease and death are rare in children. However, children can spread infection. Adults have almost 15 times higher risk of death and severe disease compared with children below 18 years. So, if adults around them at home or at school are vaccinated, it will form a protective ring arou- nd them. There will be limited virus and disease transmission in that condition.

I strongly feel that parents should send their kids to school without waiting for COVID-19 vaccine for two reasons: one, their risk of developing a severe disease is rare; second, going to school is important for their cognitive, physical and mental development.

Some parents are afraid of sending their children as they fear the third wave. Is the third wave for real?

Personally, I feel that based on the current virus and disease epidemiology, sero-positivity rate and the fact that 90% of the circulating virus is Delta variant, and no new variant of concern has been reported in the past four weeks, it seems we are at the tail-end of the second wave.

The risk of the third wave is there only if people show complacency in following COVID-appropriate behaviour, especially during the coming festival season.

Democracy and truth go hand in hand: Justice Chandrachud #GS2 #Governance

Supreme Court judge Justice D.Y. Chandrachud highlighted the necessity of speaking truth to power, be it even an “imperial power” or an “all-powerful State”.

“Democracy needs truth to survive. Democracy and truth go hand in hand. Speaking truth to power is a right of every citizen in a democracy. It is equally a duty,” Justice Chandrachud said in his address at the Sixth M.C. Chagla Memorial online lecture on Saturday.

He said truth was both a sword and a shield in a democracy.

Justice Chandrachud said the Supreme Court acted like a “Truth Commission” for posterity, using its ability to document the truth on whether or not due process was followed during the pandemic. He said a nation’s shared public memory should be founded on truth.

The apex court judge said the act of speaking truth counteracts power and obviates the predisposition to tyranny.

Spaces of reason

Justice Chandrachud said speaking truth to power was absolutely essential for modern democracies to survive. Democracies are seen as “spaces of reason” where every decision taken by the people in power should be backed by adequate reasons. Any reason based on a falsehood would be no reason at all, the apex court judge said.

Noting that totalitarian governments were linked to “constant reliance on falsehoods in order to establish dominance”, Justice Chandrachud said truth in governance was important to instil a sense of public trust in democracy.

The judge said the fact that our founding fathers were aware of it was evident in our motto Sathyamev Jayate (truth shall prevail). “As citizens of a democracy, we need to commit ourselves to the search for truth as a key aspiration of our society.

Afghanistan overshadows key West Asia summit #GS2 #IR

The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan overshadowed a summit in Iraq attended by key regional leaders, with French President Emmanuel Macron warning of the threat Islamic State group jihadists pose.

The meeting comes as Iraq, long a casualty of jihadist militancy, tries to establish itself as a mediator between Arab nations and Iran.

“We all know that we must not lower our guard, because Daesh (IS) remains a threat, and I know that the fight against these terrorist groups is a priority of your government,” Mr. Macron said, after a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi. Iraq and France “are key partners in the war against terrorism,” Mr. Kadhemi replied.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah II flew in for the summit, while the Foreign Ministers of regional foes Iran and Saudi Arabia were also present. Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, as well as Kuwait’s Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sabah and Turkey’s Foreign Minister were also present.

Iraq has been caught for years in a delicate balancing act between its two main allies, Iran and the U.S. Baghdad has been brokering talks since April between U.S. ally Riyadh and Tehran on mending ties severed in 2016.

Scientists find ‘northernmost’ landmass #GS2 #IR

Scientists have discovered what is believed to be the world’s northernmost landmass — a yet-to-be-named island north of Greenland that could soon be swallowed up by seawaters.

Researchers came upon the landmass on an expedition in July, and initially thought they had reached Oodaaq, up until now the northernmost island on the planet. Oodaaq is some 700 km south of the North Pole, while the new island is 780 m north of Oodaaq. Copenhagen University said the “yet-to-be-named island is… the northernmost point of Greenland

BCG vaccine: 100 years and counting #GS3 #SnT

The centenary celebrations of the discovery of insulin have eclipsed another seminal event in the history of medicine that has had significant impact on human health – the first use of BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guerin), the vaccine against tuberculosis (TB) in humans.

TB is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis, belonging to the Mycobacteriaceae family consisting of about 200 members. Some of these cause diseases like TB and leprosy in humans and others infect a wide range of animals. Mycobacteria are also widely dispersed in the environment. In humans, TB most commonly affects the lungs (pulmonary TB), but it can also affect other organs (extra-pulmonary TB).

TB is a very ancient disease and has been documented to have existed in Egypt as early as 3000 BC. Sadly, unlike other historically dreaded diseases like smallpox, leprosy, plague and cholera that have been either eradicated or controlled to a large extent due to advances in science and technology, TB continues to be a major public health problem in the world. According to the WHO’s Global TB Report, 10 million people developed TB in 2019 with 1.4 million deaths. India accounts for 27% of these cases.

BCG was developed by two Frenchmen, Albert Calmette and Camille Guerin, by modifying a strain of Mycobacterium bovis (that causes TB in cattle) till it lost its capacity to cause disease while retaining its property to stimulate the immune system. It was first used in humans in 1921.

Sole vaccine

Currently, BCG is the only licensed vaccine available for the prevention of TB. It is the world’s most widely used vaccine with about 120 million doses every year and has an excellent safety record. In India, BCG was first introduced in a limited scale in 1948 and became a part of the National TB Control Programme in 1962.

One intriguing fact about BCG is that it works well in some geographic locations and not so well in others. Generally, the farther a country is from the equator, the higher is the efficacy. It has a high efficacy in the UK, Norway, Sweden and Denmark; and little or no efficacy in countries on or near the equator like India, Kenya and Malawi, where the burden of TB is higher. These regions also have a higher prevalence of environmental mycobacteria. It is believed that these may interfere with the protective effect against TB.

However, in children, BCG provides strong protection against severe forms of TB. This protective effect appears to wane with age and is far more variable in adolescents and adults, ranging from 0–80%. A large clinical trial between 1968-1983, by the ICMR’s National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis (then called the Tuberculosis Research Centre) in Chengalpattu district of Tamil Nadu, indicated that BCG offered no protection against pulmonary TB in adults, and a low level of protection (27%) in children.

India is committed to eliminate TB as a public health problem by 2025. To achieve this goal, we would not only need better diagnostics and drugs but also more effective vaccines. Over the last ten years 14 new vaccines have been developed for TB and are in clinical trials. Of particular interest is a Phase 3 clinical trial by the ICMR, of two vaccines; a recombinant BCG called VPM 1002 and Mycobacterium indicus pranii (MIP). MIP was identified and developed into a vaccine in India. Results of this trial are eagerly awaited.

In addition to its primary use as a vaccine against TB, BCG also protects against respiratory and bacterial infections of the newborns, and other mycobacterial diseases like leprosy and Buruli’s ulcer. It is also used as an immunotherapy agent in cancer of the urinary bladder and malignant melanoma.

In progress

Interestingly, it has been observed that in some countries that have had BCG vaccination as a national policy, the burden of SARS CoV-2 morbidity and mortality was significantly less compared to countries which did not. Clinical trials to know if this is indeed true, are underway, including in India.

In these distressing times of Covid-19, it is interesting to compare development of vaccines for Covid-19 and TB. For Covid-19 in about 18 months,17 vaccines have received emergency use authorization in various countries, and 97 are in clinical trials. For TB, a single vaccine has been in use for the last 100 years and 14 new vaccines are in clinical trials.

For R&D of Covid-19 vaccines, US$ 8.5 billion have been earmarked (Global Contributions to ACT- Accelerator, Vaccines category); for TB the amount is US$ 0.117 billion (Global Funding for TB Vaccine Research, 2019). If viewed in the backdrop of the deaths caused by these two diseases (Covid-19 – 1.7 million in 2020; TB – 1.4 million in 2019), one can see the stark inequity in investment in vaccine development.

While we commemorate the centenary of BCG vaccine use in humans, we need to acknowledge that more effective vaccines are needed to reach the targets of TB elimination. The experience and success of development of new vaccines for Covid-19 have shown that this is possible if TB gets similar political, financial and pharmaceutical support.

Why is there a push for asset monetisation? #GS3 #Economy

The story so far: On August 23, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced the National Monetisation Pipeline (NMP), which is expected to fetch around ₹5.96 lakh crore to the government. Following through on the Budget’s plan to monetise public assets to fund fresh capital expenditure on infrastructure, the government released a list of projects and facilities to be offered to private investors over the next four years through structured leasing and securitisation transactions.

What is the National Monetisation Pipeline?

The NMP names a list of public assets that will be leased to private investors. Only brown-field assets, which are assets that are already operational, are planned to be leased out under the NMP. So, to give an example, an airport that is already operational may be leased out to an investor. Assets that are yet to be developed, such as an undeveloped piece of land, for example, may not be leased out. Importantly, there won’t be any transfer of ownership from the government to the private sector when assets are leased out. The government only plans to cede control over its assets for a certain period of time, after which the assets must be returned to the government unless the lease is extended.

Will NMP help the economy?

The government believes that leasing out public assets to private investors will help free capital that is stuck in these assets. For example, say the government has invested thousands of crores in a road project. It may take the government decades to recover its investment through the annual toll revenues. Instead, the government can recover a good chunk of its investment by leasing out the right to collect toll for the next 30 years to a private investor.

The government can use this money, in turn, to build fresh infrastructure under the National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP). In fact, the proceeds from the NMP are expected to account for about 14% of the total outlay for infrastructure under the NIP. The government believes all this spending will boost economic activity.

Analysts also believe that the government has now through the NMP found the right model for infrastructure development. The government, they say, is best suited to tackle the ground-level challenges in building infrastructure, while the private sector can operate and offer indirect finance to these projects through the NMP.

What are the risks?

The allocation of assets owned by governments to private investors is often subject to political influence, which can lead to corruption. In fact, many in the Opposition allege that the NMP will favour a few business corporations that are close to the government. The expected boost to economic activity due to higher government spending may also need to be weighed against the opportunity costs. For one, the money that the government collects by leasing out assets comes from the pockets of the private sector. So higher government spending will come at the cost of lower private spending.

The NMP also does not address the various structural problems such as legal uncertainty and the absence of a deep bond market that hold back private investment in infrastructure. However, it is worth noting that economists generally believe that scarce assets are better managed and allocated by the private sector than by the government.

So to the extent that the NMP frees assets from government control, it can help the economy. There are also concerns that the leasing of airports, railways, roads and other public utilities to private investors could lead to higher prices for consumers. If the government merely cedes control of public utilities to private companies without taking steps to foster greater competition, it can indeed lead to poor outcomes for consumers.

What lies ahead?

The success of the NMP will depend on the demand for brown-field government assets among private investors. The government’s past disinvestment projects such as the sale of Air India did not catch the fancy of investors owing to the stringent conditions set by the government. In the case of Air India’s sale, the buyers were supposed to possess a certain minimum net worth and stay invested in the airline for at least three years.

Many analysts also believed that the government was expecting buyers to pay too much for a debt-ridden airline. The pricing of assets and the terms of sale will thus determine the level of interest that private investors show for assets leased under the NMP. In the past, doubts have been raised about the allocation of airports and other assets to certain private business groups. So the process that the government adopts this time to allocate assets may come under scrutiny. There is likely to be the demand for an open, competitive auction of assets.

How was the backward classes policy restored? #GS2 #Governance

The story so far: The 105th Constitution Amendment was notified on August 19 after it received the assent of President Ramnath Kovind. It is aimed at restoring to the States their power to identify socially and educationally backward classes. The Opposition set aside its differences with the government and supported the Amendment, which was passed during the stormy monsoon session with the required special majority. The Amendment became necessary to undo the effect of a Supreme Court verdict that States had lost their power to include or exclude communities in the ‘Backward Classes’ list after Parliament enacted the 102nd Constitution Amendment.

Why was the Amendment required?

Through the 102nd Constitution Amendment, Parliament created a National Backward Classes Commission, vesting it with the power to be consulted by the Centre as well as the States in all matters concerning the ‘socially and educationally backward classes’ (SEBCs). In a bid to clothe the Commission with the same powers as the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Commission, Parliament used wording identical to the existing provisions relating to the SC/ST Commission.

Thus, under Article 342A, it was laid down that the President shall notify a list of SEBCs in relation to each State and Union Territory in consultation with the Governors. This was called the ‘Central List’, and once it is notified, only Parliament alone could make changes to it. Based on this, the Supreme Court, while considering a challenge to the Maratha reservation in Maharashtra on various grounds, concluded that after this Amendment came into force, States can no more notify or identify backward classes, and only the President could do so, and further changes could be made by Parliament.

What was the reaction of political parties?

The Union government had argued vociferously in court that neither the Centre nor Parliament intended to take away the State’s power to identify SEBCs. The use of the term, ‘Central List’, meant that what the President notified was a list of backward classes for the purpose of the Central government and its instrumentalities, and did not affect the lists maintained by the various States.

Political parties in the Opposition blamed the Centre for enacting a flawed law that led to the court coming to such a conclusion. As there was a political consensus that the Supreme Court’s interpretation required to be undone by law, it was decided to amend the Constitution once again to clarify the State’s role in identifying SEBCs. It was introduced as the Constitution (127th Amendment) Bill, 2021. After its passage and on receiving presidential assent, it was notified as the Constitution (105th Amendment) Act, 2021.

What does the 105th Amendment do?

Parliament adopted fresh legislation to undo the effects of the Supreme Court’s interpretation. Therefore, it contains specific clauses that seek to restore the original intention of having a ‘Central List’ for the purposes of the Union and letting States retain their respective lists. It first adds a proviso to the effect that the requirement that the National Backward Classes Commission should be consulted on policy matters will not apply to the State lists of SEBCs.

It specifies that the list of SEBCs notified by the President shall be only for the purposes of the Central government alone, and that the ‘Central List’ means only the list “prepared and maintained by and for the Central Government”. Further, the 105th Amendment clarifies that every State or Union Territory may, by law, prepare and maintain for its own purposes a list of SEBCs and this may be different from the Central List.

These changes are aimed at undoing the conclusion of three judges on the five-Judge Bench in the Maratha reservation case that the term ‘Central List’ applied to all SEBCs notified by the President and that it was the only List “for the purposes of the Constitution”. Finally, to end all debate on how SEBCs are defined, the latest Amendment also changed the definition given in the 102nd Amendment.

Originally, “socially and educationally backward classes” were described as “such backward classes as are so deemed under Article 342A for the purposes of this Constitution”, that is, those found in the List notified by the President under Article 342A. This has now been changed to the effect that SEBCs are those so deemed under the same Article for the purposes of the Central government, or the State or the Union Territory.