Current Affairs 9th March

SC seeks States’ views on 50% cap on quota #GS2 #Governance

The Supreme Court decided to examine whether its nearly three-decade-old judgment, which fixed reservation for the marginalised and the poor in government jobs and educational institutions at 50%, needs a relook.

In 1992, a nine-judge Bench of the court had drawn the “ Lakshman rekha ” for reservation in jobs and education at 50%, except in “extraordinary circumstances”. However, over the years, several States, such as Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, have crossed the Rubicon and passed laws which allows reservation shooting over 60%.

Maratha quota law

A five-judge Bench, led by Justice Ashok Bhushan, set up to hear the challenge to the Maratha quota law, decided not to confine the question of reservation spilling over 50% limit to just Maharashtra.

The Bench expanded the ambit of the case by making other States party and inviting them to make their stand clear on the question of whether reservation should continue to remain within the 50% boundary or not.

Justice Bhushan, leading the Constitution Bench, decided to start the hearing from March 15, giving time for the other States to prepare their arguments. The court, meanwhile, framed a series of questions, which include whether the Indira Sawhney verdict of 1992, fixing 50% limit on quota, needs to be relooked by a larger Bench of more than nine judges.

Another question is whether the Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act of 2018, which provides 12% to 13% quota benefits for the Maratha community, and thus, taking the reservation percentage in the State across the 50% mark was enacted under “extraordinary circumstances”.

The Indira Sawhney judgment had categorically said “50% shall be the rule, and only in certain exceptional and extraordinary situations for bringing far-flung and remote areas population into mainstream the said 50% rule can be relaxed”.

The court will also examine whether the Maharashtra State Backward Classes Commission, under the chairmanship of Justice M.C. Gaikwad, had made up a case of “extraordinary circumstances” of deprivation suffered by the Maratha community, requiring the helping hand of reservation even at the cost of crossing the 50% line.

In fact, the Bombay High Court had, in June 2019, reduced the quantum of reservation for Marathas from the 16% recommended by the Gaikwad Commission to 12% in education and 13% in employment.

A significant question the Bench wants to judge is whether the Constitution (One Hundred Second Amendment) Act of 2018, which introduced the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC), interferes with the authority of the State legislatures to provide benefit to the social and educationally backward communities in their own jurisdiction. 

The Constitution Amendment Act had introduced Articles 338B and 342A in the Constitution. Article 338B deals with the NCBC. Article 342A empowers the President to specify the socially and educationally backward communities in a State. It says that it is for the Parliament to include a community in the Central List for socially and BC for grant of reservation benefits.

‘Only half of govt. schools, anganwadis have tap water’ #GS2 #Governance

Only half of government schools and anganwadis have tap water supply, despite a 100-day campaign for 100% coverage being launched by the Jal Shakti Ministry in October 2020, according to information provided to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Water Resources.

Less than 8% of schools in Uttar Pradesh and 11% in West Bengal have it, while it is available in only 2-6% of anganwadis in Assam, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Bengal.

At a time when schools and anganwadis are just starting to reopen after a year-long shutdown, COVID-19 safety protocols require repeated handwashing by students and teachers. In its report on the demand for grants submitted to the Lok Sabha on Monday, the Standing Committee urged the Ministry to take up the matter with laggard States.

The campaign to provide potable piped water supply for drinking and cooking purposes and tap water for washing hands and in toilets in every school, anganwadi and ashramshala or residential tribal school was launched on October 2, Gandhi Jayanti. The 100-day period should have ended on January 10, 2021. However, as of February 15, only 48.5% of anganwadis and 53.3% of schools had tap water supply, the Ministry told the Parliamentary panel.

Seven States — Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Punjab — achieved 100% coverage. A number of other States also made significant progress in that time, and 1.82 lakh grey water management structures and 1.42 lakh rainwater harvesting structures were also constructed in schools and anganwadi centres. 

“However, some States/ UTs have indicated that they need more time to complete the task and sustain the efforts. Therefore, the campaign has been extended till March 31, 2021,” the Ministry said. The panel noted that “children are more susceptible to water-borne diseases, more so when there is also a need for repeated washing of hands as a precautionary measure during the pandemic”.

Will handle national security projects: ISRO #GS3 #SnT

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has said it will be in charge of projects linked to “national security and advanced technology”, such as the forthcoming Chandrayaan-2 missions and the Gaganyaan mission that plans to send Indian cosmonauts into space. However, the bulk of commercial activities would increasingly be handled by the newly formed New Space India Ltd (NSIL).

The comments were in response to a query by the Standing Committee on Science and Technology, led by Rajya Sabha member Jairam Ramesh on whether the NSIL would “replace” ISRO.

The NSIL recently coordinated the launch of the Amazonia satellite by Brazil on February 28, its first fully commercial mission that also saw 18 other satellites being launched.

The NSIL was incorporated in March 2019 and in June 2020, its scope was “enhanced”. Its mandate, according to a standing committee report on space laid in the Rajya Sabha on Monday, includes owning satellites for earth observation and communication applications.

Why Brent crude has crossed $70 and how it could impact fuel prices in India? #GS3 #Economy

Security concerns around Saudi Arabia’s oil fields have pushed the price of Brent crude to above the $70 per barrel mark, the first time since the pandemic broke. We take a look at how this happened and how it impacts India.

Why are crude oil prices spiking?

Saudi Arabia, one of the largest producers of crude oil, on Sunday announced that Ras Tanura, the world’s largest crude oil exporting facility, was attacked by a drone from the sea with a missile landing close to a residential complex near the storage facility. While the attack by Houthi rebels did not impact oil supplies with Saudi Arabia reporting no property damage from the attack, the price of Brent crude which has already been on an upswing since October, rose further to $70.7 per barrel on the back of concerns about the security of the country’s crude oil supplies.

How does this impact India?

If prices persist at over $70 per barrel, Indian consumers who are already facing record prices for auto fuels will likely have to face another round of hikes in the price of petrol and diesel. The retail selling price of petrol and diesel in India is determined based on the international prices of the products as well as state and central taxes.

Oil marketing companies have hiked the price of petrol and diesel by about Rs 10 per litre and Rs 11 per litre respectively since the beginning of November with the price of petrol crossing the Rs 100 per litre mark in some parts of India as a result of crude oil prices rising from about $40 per barrel to about $66 per barrel at the end of February.

While OMC’s have kept prices unchanged for nine days, the longest streak this year which has seen 26 price hikes in just over three months, OMCs will likely have to resume price hikes if crude oil prices remain elevated.

How does India compare with other countries?

While consumers around the world are facing the impact of crude oil prices recovering to pre-Covid levels, Indian consumers are also bearing the brunt of elevated taxes leading to record high prices.

The Central government had in 2020 increase taxes on petrol by Rs 13 per litre and on diesel by Rs 16 per litre to boost revenues during the Covid-19 related lockdown. Several states had also increase state sales taxes during the period pushing prices up further.

While some states including Rajasthan, West Bengal, Meghalaya and Assam have cut state taxes to reduce the burden of rising prices on consumers, the centre has not yet indicated that it will cut excise duties on the two fuels. Central and state taxes currently account for around 162 per cent of the base price of petrol and 125 per cent of the base price of diesel in the national capital.