IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


8th May, 2020


India needs to enact a COVID-19 law

- The lockdown has helped contain community spread of the disease, a legal and legislative audit of this exercise has evaded scrutiny so far.

- It is imperative and timely that we assess its underlying legislative soundness.

Laws governing lockdown

- The lockdown has been carried out by State governments and district authorities on the directions of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs under the Disaster Management Act of 2005, which was intended “to provide for the effective management of disasters and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”.

- Under the Act, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was set up under the leadership of the Prime Minister and the National Executive Committee (NEA) was chaired by the Home Secretary.

- It laid out guidelines illustrating which establishments would be closed and which services suspended during the lockdown period.

- The State governments and authorities exercised powers under the Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897 to issue further directions.

- District authorities such as the Commissioner of Police, Greater Chennai, have issued orders to impose Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code in public places.

- The invoking of the Disaster Management Act has allowed the Union government to communicate seamlessly with the States.

Challenges to existing laws:

- Serious questions remain whether the Act was originally intended to or is sufficiently capable of addressing the threat of a pandemic.

- The use of the archaic Epidemic Diseases Act reveals the lack of requisite diligence and responsiveness of government authorities in providing novel and innovative policy solutions to address a 21st century problem.

- Section 188 of Indian Penal Code, which is a very ineffective and broad provision dealing with disobedience of an order issued by a public servant.

- Proceedings under Section 188 can only be initiated by private complaint and not through a First Information Report.

- Offences arising out of these guidelines and orders have a weak basis in terms of criminal jurisdiction thereby weakening the objectives of the lockdown.


International Experience:

- The U.K. enacted the Coronavirus Act, 2020,

-  A comprehensive legislation dealing with all issues connected with COVID-19 including emergency registration of healthcare professionals,

- Temporary closure of educational institutions,

- Audio-visual facilities for criminal proceedings,

- Powers to restrict gatherings,

- Financial assistance to industry.

- Singapore has passed the Infectious Diseases Regulations, 2020, which provides for issuance of stay orders which can send ‘at-risk individuals’ to a government-specified accommodation facility.

- Both the U.K.’s and Singapore’s laws set out unambiguous conditions and legally binding obligations.

- Under Singaporean law, the violators may be penalized up to $10,000 or face six months imprisonment or both. In contrast, Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code has a fine amount of ₹200 to ₹1,000 or imprisonment of one to six months.

Union-State co-ordination

-  The Union government showed no inclination towards drafting or enacting a COVID-19-specific legislation that could address all the issues pre-emptively.

- There has been little clarity on a road map to economic recovery after the announcement by the Union Finance Minister last month.

- A consolidated, pro-active policy approach is absent.

- There has been ad hoc and reactive rule-making, as seen in the way migrant workers have been treated.

- This has also exposed the lack of co-ordination between the Union and State governments.

Way Forward:

These circumstances call out for legislative leadership, to assist and empower States to overcome COVID-19 and to revive their economic, education and public health sectors.

Reference: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/india-needs-to-enact-a-covid-19-law/article31529036.ece

Conducting elections during a pandemic


- The deadlock between the Governor of Maharashtra and Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray would have costed Mr. Thackeray the post of Chief Minister.

-  But thanks to the intervention of the Prime Minister and the prompt action of the Election Commission of India (EC), the impending constitutional crisis has blown over in Maharashtra.


Averting a political crisis

- Elections in Maharashtra were postponed due to pandemic by the EC, which used its powers under Article 324 of the Constitution, along with Section 153 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.

- A double application of Article 164 (4) to extend this period for another six months was out of the question as the Supreme Court, in S.R. Chaudhuri v. State of Punjab and Ors (August 17, 2001), had declared that it would tantamount to a subversion of the principle of representative government.

- Nomination route:  Article 171(3) (e) coupled with Article 171(5) empowers the Governor to nominate an individual with “special knowledge or practical experience”. The Governor, however, put the proposal in limbo for over a fortnight.

Elections during a Pandemic:

- By deciding to hold elections during a pandemic, the EC has taken up a big responsibility.

- The EC will have to ensure strict implementation of the Health Ministry’s guidelines.

- South Korea just conducted its national election with 44 million voters in the midst of the pandemic. It is a good source of inspiration for the EC.

Bigger Worry:

- But a bigger cause for concern for the EC is the upcoming Assembly elections for Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.

- Unlike the Rajya Sabha/Legislative Council elections, which can be postponed indefinitely, the EC can postpone elections to the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies for a period of only six months, the constitutionally defined limit between two sessions of the House/Assembly (Article 85(1) and Article 174(1) of the Constitution, respectively).

Further Extension:

Two Possibilities:

- The first is proviso to Article 172(1) whereby during a state of Emergency, an election can be postponed for one year in addition to a period of six months after Emergency is lifted. The rider, however, is that a state of Emergency can be declared only if there is a threat to the security and sovereignty of the nation, not if there is an epidemic or a pandemic.

- The second option is to declare President’s rule in the State, enabled by Article 356(1) of the Constitution. However, the Supreme Court has repeatedly defined its limits.

Lessons from South Korea

- Some experts say that the COVID-19 pandemic could last for two years.

-  Deferring elections for such a long time would be against the spirit of democracy and federalism, which are the basic components of the Constitution.

- It is noteworthy that India will not be the only country to hold elections during this pandemic. - According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, nine countries have already held national elections and referendums during this public health crisis.

- Among them is South Korea, which, under strict guidelines, managed to pull off a near-perfect national election recording the highest voter turnout of 66.2% in 28 years.

South Korea Model:

- South Korea disinfected polling centers,

- Mandated that voters practice physical distancing, wear gloves and masks and use hand sanitiser.

- Voters had their temperatures checked on arrival at the booths.

- Those who had a temperature above 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit were sent to booths in secluded areas.

- The interests of infected voters and the interests of those suspected of having the virus were not ignored: COVID-19-positive voters were allowed to mail their ballots, while self-quarantined voters were allowed to vote after 6 p.m.

Challenges in elections:

- The population of States like Bihar (9.9 crores) is huge compared to South Korea’s population (5.16 crores).

- It should not turn it into itself a public health nightmare.

Way Forward:

- Options like proxy voting under a well-established legal framework, postal voting, and mobile ballot boxes can be explored.

- The EC has a difficult task of sticking to its goal of ‘No Voter Left Behind’ while also ensuring that the elections do not turn into a public health nightmare.

- How India, a large and well-established democracy, responds to this crisis is the biggest challenge before it.


Reference: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/conducting-elections-during-a-pandemic/article31529091.ece


Water wisdom during a pandemic


- World Water Day was observed more online than in-person this year on March 22

- Its broader aim: to raise awareness on the importance of freshwater and advocate for its sustainable management.

- There was recognition of the importance of water in hand washing and personal hygiene practices.

- The choice of theme for the event this year, “Water and Climate Change” reflected the desire of policymakers to address the impact of climate change on the water sector.

Water and Climate change:

- Climate change and water are inextricably linked.

- Growing populations and their demand for water increases the need for energy-intensive water pumping, transportation and treatment.

- It contributes to the degradation of critical water-dependent carbon sinks such as peat lands.

- Due to climate change, water cycles experience significant change, which reflects in water availability and quality.

- A warmer climate causes more water to evaporate from both land and oceans; in turn, a warmer atmosphere can hold more water, roughly, 4% more water for every 1ºF rise in temperature.

Extreme weather events

- Increased precipitation and run-off (flooding) in certain areas and less precipitation and longer and more severe scarcity of water (droughts) in other areas. Hence, wet areas are expected to become wetter and dry areas drier.

- This influences almost all aspects of the economy including drinking water, sanitation, health, food production, energy generation, industrial manufacturing, and environmental sustainability and ultimately the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

- In coastal areas when more freshwater is removed from rivers and aquifers, saltwater will move farther upstream into the river mouth and the aquifer

- It will put pressure on the limited freshwater available on the coast, forcing water managers to seek costly alternatives like desalination plants.

Role of Water and Mitigation strategies:

- Water is a common pool natural resource that sustains ecosystems, biodiversity, food security, economies, and society;

- Its judicious use with balancing multiple water needs is significant.

- In developing countries like India, a large population depends on climate-sensitive sectors like agriculture, fisheries and forestry for its livelihoods.

Mitigation strategies

- The government is implementing the ‘National Action Plan on Climate Change’ through eight National Missions, including the Water Mission.

- Effective policies need the support of the local governments, corporates and NGOs.

- Water resources planning must be given due consideration while dealing with climate impacts.

- Tanks and ponds can store and recharge the excess rainwater to the aquifer, their rejuvenation (desilting) facilitates flood and drought management.

- We need to revisit our rich tradition and culture of water wisdom in water resources management.

- More public awareness on the need for climate-resilient actions, including protecting carbon sinks like oceans, wetlands, peat lands, and mangroves,

- Adopting climate-smart agricultural techniques, rainwater harvesting, waste-water reuse, and judicious use of water, should be generated and inculcated in each citizen.

Reference: https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/water-wisdom-during-a-pandemic/article31530591.ece



‘Vande Bharat Mission’ begins, first batch of evacuees arrives

Vande Bharat Mission:

-  It is aimed at bringing the stranded Non-Resident Keralites back home in the wake of a global lockdown following the COVID-19.

- Passengers underwent an initial temperature test using thermal gun as they disembarked. After this, they underwent a thermal screening.

Reference: https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-andhrapradesh/vande-bharat-mission-begins-first-batch-of-evacuees-arrives/article31530679.ece



IMD includes PoK in weather forecasts


- The India Meteorological Department’s Regional Meteorological Centre has started including cities in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) in its forecasts, a departure from its previous format.

- The IMD has started including Gilgit-Baltistan and Muzaffarabad, which are parts of PoK, under the Jammu and Kashmir meteorological sub-division.

- The development assumes significance as India has maintained that the area under PoK belongs to India. 

About PoK and Gilgit Baltistan:

- Pakistan Occupied Kashmir is an area of 13,297 sq km, which was under the control of the Pakistani forces when the ceasefire line came into effect on January 1, 1949.

- PoK is divided into 10 districts: Neelum, Muzaffarabad, Hattian Bala, Bagh, and Haveli bordering areas in Kashmir, and Rawlakot, Kotli, Mirpur, and Bhimber bordering areas in Jammu.

-  The capital of PoK is Muzaffarabad, a town located in the valley of the Jhelum river.

- In 1963, through an agreement, Pakistan ceded to China over 5,000 sq km of J&K land under its control, in the Shaksgam area.

- Gilgit Baltistan (GB) is spread over 72,871 sq km, and is five-and-a-half times the size of PoK. 

- GB is divided into three administrative divisions and 10 districts. Gilgit, Hunza, Ghizer and Nagar are in the Gilgit administrative division.

Reference: https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/imd-includes-pok-in-weather-forecasts/article31530614.ece


Vizag gas leak claims 11 lives; over 350 hospitalised



- Eleven people, including a six-year-old girl, died and over 350 were admitted to hospitals after styrene monomer gas leaked from a chemical plant.

- The gas leak began around 3.30 a.m. in the plant, which is situated in the midst of a densely populated area.

Government rules to prevent Industrial disasters:

- National Disaster Management Act envisages National and State Disaster Response Forces to act and respond to disaster immediately.

- Follow up steps like evacuation of people, local level feedback to administrative authorities, damage report, rehabilitation, emergency supplies, inter-departmental coordination, involvement of NGOs and civil society etc., are part of management.

- As a preventive step, our Industrial policy mandates certain safety procedures, installations and hazard management methods. Industrial licence requires mandatory follow up of these procedures. Fire safety standards as prescribed by Fire Department are compulsory for industrial clearances.

- Disaster mitigation setups like fire safety alarm, fog and smoke detectors, radioactive waste monitoring, regulating effluent drains, and banning construction of industries near residential areas are some steps.

Reference: https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/vizag-gas-leak-claims-11-lives-over-350-hospitalised/article31530699.ece



Tiger population in Sunder bans rises to 96


- According to the West Bengal Forest Department, the tiger count for the year 2019-20 rose to 96, from 88 in 2018-19.

- While 23 tigers were found in 24 Parganas (South) Division, 73 big cats’ tigers were recorded inside the four divisions of the Sunderban Tiger Reserve.

Sunderban Delta:

- The Sunder bans delta, spread over India and Bangladesh, is the only mangrove forest in the world inhabited by tigers.

- The Sunder ban mangrove forest is spread over 2,585 sq. km and includes the Sundarban Tiger Reserve and the 24 Parganas (South) Division.

- Sunderbans is a world heritage as well as a Ramsar site.

- It is home to many rare and globally threatened wildlife species such as the estuarine crocodile, royal Bengal tiger, Water monitor lizard, Gangetic dolphin and olive ridley turtle.

Reference: https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-life/tiger-population-in-sunderbans-rises-to-96/article31530726.ece


Band-like clouds seen over Sun’s neighbour


- A group of international astrophysicists has identified cloud bands on the surface of Luhman 16A, one of a pair of binary brown dwarfs in the Vela constellation

- Luhman 16 is a binary star system, the third closest system to the Sun after Alpha Centauri and Barnard’s star.

Binary Star System:

- A binary system is simply one in which two stars orbit around a common centre of mass that is they are gravitationally bound to each other.

- Actually most stars are in binary systems.

Brown Dwarf:

- Brown dwarfs are also called failed stars, because their masses are intermediate to the largest planets and the smallest main sequence stars.

- Their masses being too small, they are unable to sustain fusion of their hydrogen to produce energy. 

Reference: https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-life/band-like-clouds-seen-over-suns-neighbour/article31530728.ece