Daily Current Affairs : 1st August

Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE

Topics Covered

  1. Constitution Bench
  2. Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019
  3. Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Act, 1956 
  4. Immuvac and VPM 1002 Vaccine Trials
  5. Facts for Prelims : Komodo Dragon, Sanchi Stupa, Equalisation Levy, Brahmos Missile, Godavari

1 . Constitution Bench

Context : A three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court led by Justice S.A. Bobde on Wednesday reserved its orders on the question of referring a batch of petitions challenging the validity of a constitutional amendment providing 10% economic quota in government jobs and educational institutions to a Constitution Bench.

About Constitution Bench

  • Constitution bench is the name given to the benches of the Supreme Court of India which consist of at least five judges of the court which sit to decide any case “involving a substantial question of law as to the interpretation” of the Constitution of India.

Constitutional & other Provisions

  • Article 145(3) in The Constitution Of India 1949 states as follows:
    • The minimum number of Judges who are to sit for the purpose of deciding any case involving a substantial question of law as to the interpretation of this Constitution or for the purpose of hearing any reference under Article 143 shall be five: Provided that, where the Court hearing an appeal under any of the provisions of this chapter other than Article 132 consists of less than five Judges and in the course of the hearing of the appeal the Court is satisfied that the appeal involves a substantial question of law as to the interpretation of this Constitution the determination of which is necessary for the disposal of the appeal, such Court shall refer the question for opinion to a Court constituted as required by this clause for the purpose of deciding any case involving such a question and shall on receipt of the opinion dispose of the appeal in conformity with such opinion.
  •  A Supreme Court handbook on procedure says the chief justice may, “from time to time”, constitute a bench of five or more judges “for the purpose of hearing any other cause, appeal or matter”. It also says: “Every petition calling in question the election of the President and Vice-President under Article 71 of the Constitution read with Part III of the Presidential and Vice-Presidential Elections Act, 1952, shall be posted before a Bench of five Judges under Order XLVI of the Rules.”

About the Issue of Reservation to Economically Weaker Section

Constitutional Provision regarding Reservation

  • Articles 330-342 under Part 16 of the Constitution outline special provisions for certain classes.
  • The Constitution identifies only four such classes — SCs, STs, Backward Classes and Anglo Indians.
  • The Constitutional promise is explicitly for social exclusion and discrimination.

About the Current Quota

  • The quota is targeted at economically weaker sections among the upper castes.
  • General category individuals, all members of whose family together earn less than Rs 8 lakh per annum, and who have less than five acres of agricultural land, will qualify.
  • Individuals whose families own or possess more agricultural land, or a residential flat of area 1,000 sq ft or larger, or a residential plot of area 100 yards or more in notified municipalities and 200 yards or more in areas other than notified municipalities, will not qualify.
  • The Bill will also cover those from the Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist and other minority communities

How the bill affects Fundamental Rights

  • The Bill, passed by both the Houses of Parliament, adds new clauses to Articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution. Both the Articles come under the part of ‘Fundamental Rights’ in the text of the Constitution. They are part of the ‘right to equality’ section of the fundamental rights envisaged in the Constitution.
  • The new clause (6) to Article 15 allows the government to carve reservation for the economically weaker sections of society in higher educational institutions, including private ones, whether they are aided or not by the State. Minority educational institutions are exempted.
  • New clause (6) to Article 16 provides for quota for economically deprived sections in the initial appointment in government services

Past verdicts

  • A nine-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in the Indira Sawhney case of 1992 specifically answered the question “whether backward classes can be identified only and exclusively with reference to the economic criterion. It categorically held that “a backward class cannot be determined only and exclusively with reference to economic criterion.”
  • Supreme Court in the Indira Sawhney case also capped reservation at 50%. The court had ruled on November 16, 1992, that “clause (4) of Article 16 of the Constitution speaks of adequate representation and not proportionate representation” and “relaxation can be done in extraordinary situations and while doing so, extreme caution has to be exercised and a special case made out.
  • The proposed 10% poor forward quota will take the reservation ceiling higher than 50%. Reservation in Tamil Nadu, which is 69% of the total, is protected from judicial review by the Ninth Schedule; however, the Supreme Court, in I R Coelho v State of Tamil Nadu (2007), has ruled that laws that violate the basic structure of the Constitution would be open to judicial review, including any law added to the Ninth Schedule after April 24, 1973.
  • The 11-judge Kesavananda Bharati : The judgment held that constitutional amendments which offended the basic structure of the Constitution would be ultra vires. Neither Parliament nor legislatures could transgress the basic feature of the Constitution, namely, the principle of equality enshrined in Article 14.
  • The government, it is reported, proposes to bring the 10% over and above the 49% quota — 7% for Scheduled Castes, 15% for Scheduled Tribes and 27% for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes, including widows and orphans of any caste, which is permitted. But a total 59% (49%+10%) quota would leave other candidates with just 41% government jobs or seats. This may amount to “sacrifice of merit” and violate Article 14.

Counter Arguments

  • In 2016 ordinance was promulgated in Gujarat providing 10% quota to upper castes. The govt justified its action through the following arguments :-
  • Article 46 of the Constitution, which deals with the Directive Principles of the State Policy, required the State to promote weaker sections.
  • It had categorised the 10% quota as a ‘reasonable classification’ under Article 14 and not ‘reservation’. 

2 . Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019

Context : The Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, 2019 passed in Lok Sabha . It amends the Inter-State River Water Disputes Act, 1956.  The Act provides for the adjudication of disputes relating to waters of inter-state rivers and river valleys. 

Overview of the Amendment

  • The Bill seeks to replace the old mechanism i which, a state government may request the central government to refer an inter-state river dispute to a Tribunal for adjudication. If the central government is of the opinion that the dispute cannot be settled through negotiations, it is required to set up a Water Disputes Tribunal for adjudication of the dispute, within a year of receiving such a complaint. 

Details of the Amendment

  • Disputes Resolution Committee: Under the Bill, when a state puts in a request regarding any water dispute, the central government will set up a Disputes Resolution Committee (DRC), to resolve the dispute amicably.  The DRC will comprise of a Chairperson, and experts with at least 15 years of experience in relevant sectors, to be nominated by the central government.  It will also comprise one member from each state (at Joint Secretary level), who are party to the dispute, to be nominated by the concerned state government. 
  • The DRC will seek to resolve the dispute through negotiations, within one year (extendable by six months), and submit its report to the central government. If a dispute cannot be settled by the DRC, the central government will refer it to the Inter-State River Water Disputes Tribunal.  Such referral must be made within three months from the receipt of the report from the DRC.  
  • Tribunal (Single Tribunal): The central government will set up an Inter-State River Water Disputes Tribunal, for the adjudication of water disputes.  This Tribunal can have multiple benches.  All existing Tribunals will be dissolved, and the water disputes pending adjudication before such existing Tribunals will be transferred to the new Tribunal. 
  • Composition of the Tribunal: The Tribunal will consist of a Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson, three judicial members, and three expert members.  They will be appointed by the central government on the recommendation of a Selection Committee.  Each Tribunal Bench will consist of a Chairperson or Vice-Chairperson, a judicial member, and an expert member.  The central government may also appoint two experts serving in the Central Water Engineering Service as assessors to advise the Bench in its proceedings.  The assessor should not be from the state which is a party to the dispute.
  • Time frames: Under the Bill, the proposed Tribunal must give its decision on the dispute within two years, which may be extended by another year
  • Under the old Act, if the matter is again referred to the Tribunal by a state for further consideration, the Tribunal must submit its report to the central government within a period of one year. This period can be extended by the central government.  The Bill amends this to specify that such extension may be up to a maximum of six months.
  • Decision of the Tribunal: Under the Act, the decision of the Tribunal must be published by the central government in the official gazette.  This decision has the same force as that of an order of the Supreme Court.  The Bill removes the requirement of such publication.  It adds that the decision of the Bench of the Tribunal will be final and binding on the parties involved in the dispute.  The Act provided that the central government may make a scheme to give effect to the decision of the Tribunal. The Bill is making it mandatory for the central government to make such scheme.  
  • Data bank: Under the Act, the central government maintains a data bank and information system at the national level for each river basin.  The Bill provides that the central government will appoint or authorise an agency to maintain such data bank.

3 .  Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Act, 1956 

Context : Against the backdrop of rising cases in the Supreme Court, the Union Cabinet on July 31 approved increasing the number of judges in the top court from the present 31 to 34, including the Chief Justice of India, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar

About the News

  • Currently the sanctioned strength of the Supreme court is 31. Once the bill to increase the number of judges gets parliamentary nod, the number of judges would go up to 34, including the CJI
  • The Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Act, 1956 originally provided for a maximum of 10 judges (excluding the CJI). This number was increased to 13 by the Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Act, 1960, and to 17 in 1977.
  • The working strength of the Supreme court was, however, restricted to 15 judges by the Cabinet (excluding the chief Justice of India) till the end of 1979. But the restriction was withdrawn at the request of the Chief Justice of India.
  • The Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Act, 1956 was last amended in 2009 to increase the judges’ strength from 25 to 30 (excluding the CJI).

4 . Immuvac and VPM 1002 Vaccine Trials

Context : Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) launched India’s first large-scale trial for two new tuberculosis (TB) vaccines.

About Immuvac and VPM 10002

  • Immuvac and VPM 10002 are new Vaccines developed for Tuberculosis
  • The new vaccines that are being put through the trials offer a chance to contain the accelerating spread of multi-drug resistant TB.
  • Treating TB requires a multi-drug course of treatment lasting six months; longer still for treating drug-resistant TB. Treatment failure and recurrence can have devastating consequences.

Why new vaccines

  • Scientists at the Indian Council of Medical Research have felt a critical need for new TB vaccines that are more effective than the Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine.
  • The BCG vaccine is used in the routine Expanded Programme of Immunisation (EPI) in countries across the world. It is generally given at birth or in the first year.
  • The vaccine is over 100 years old and, while it has been partially effective in protecting infants and young children, particularly from the most severe forms of TB, it provides poor protection against pulmonary disease in adolescents and adults

About the Vaccine Trials

  • A vaccine trials have three phases.
    • Phase 1 : Small groups of people receive the trial vaccine.
    • Phase 2 : the clinical study is expanded and the vaccine is given to people who have characteristics (such as age and physical health) similar to those for whom the new vaccine is intended.
    • Phase 3 : the vaccine is given to several thousands of people and tested for efficacy and safety.
  • It is the first time a Phase 3 trial involved trying out two TB vaccines in one go. This is also the first time that such a large preventive TB vaccine trial has been taken up.
  • The trials in India will involve enrolling 12,000 healthy household contacts of newly diagnosed pulmonary TB patients.
  • The main aim of the trial is to evaluate the efficacy of both the vaccines by comparing the reduction in the incidence of TB over a three-year period. The candidates in this trial will be at high risk of contracting the disease, and will be vaccinated in a double-blind manner with either one of the vaccines, and compared with placebo for its efficacy.
  • Depending on the results of the trials the recommendations would be sent to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Both vaccines are being manufactured by Indian pharmaceutical companies. The price of the vaccines would be decided by the government.

5 . Facts for Prelims

Komodo Dragon

  • Komodo dragon also known as the Komodo monitor, is a species of lizard found in the Indonesian islands of Komodo, Rinca, Flores, and Gili Motang.
  • Scientists have mapped the genome of the Komodo dragon, the world’s largest lizard, discovering intriguing secrets behind the impressive speed and endurance these cold-blooded predators muster by ratcheting up their metabolism to mammal-like levels.
  • The dragon has venom glands, which are loaded with toxins that lower blood pressure, cause massive bleeding, prevent clotting, and induce shock. : One component of the Komodo dragon’s venom is an anti-coagulant compound that prevents the victim’s blood from clotting, causing it to bleed to death. The researchers found adaptations in Komodo dragon genes involved in coagulation that make these lizards immune from the venom anti-coagulant, protecting them from bleeding to death when attacked by another of their own species.
  • As cold-blooded creatures, reptiles typically lack in aerobic capacity, rapidly becoming exhausted after physical exertions, unlike warm-blooded mammals. Komodo dragons, an exception among reptiles, can achieve near-mammalian metabolism : The researchers discovered genetic adaptations involving the function of the mitochondria, the power generators of cells that are critical in governing the function of cardiac and other muscles, that may amplify the lizard’s aerobic capacity.
  • Komodo dragons reach up to about 10 feet (3 meters) long, possess curved and serrated teeth, a yellow forked tongue, strong limbs and a long tail. As a result of their size, these lizards dominate the ecosystems in which they live
  • IUCN Red list Status : Vulnerable

Sanchi Stupa

  • When was it built: Commissioned in 3rd century BCE, Expansion/ additions/restoration works/ made in different periods
  • Who built it: Commissioned by Emperor Ashoka of the Maurya Dynasty
  • Architectural Style: Buddhist Art and Architecture
  • Sanchi comprises a group of Buddhist monuments (monolithic pillars, palaces, temples and monasteries) all in different states of conservation
  • It is the oldest Buddhist sanctuary in existence and was a major Buddhist centre in India until the 12th century A.D

Equalisation Levy

  • The equalisation levy, introduced in 2016, is a direct tax on payments made by residents to non-resident companies for online advertisement, provision of digital and advertising space or any other facility or service for online advertisement.

Brahmos Missile

  • BRAHMOS is the first supersonic cruise missile known to be in service.
  • BRAHMOS is a two-stage missile with a solid propellant booster engine as its first stage which brings it to supersonic speed and then gets separated.
  • The liquid ramjet or the second stage then takes the missile closer to 3 Mach speed in cruise phase.
  • Stealth technology and guidance system with advanced embedded software provides the missile with special features.
  • The missile has flight range of up to 290-km with supersonic speed all through the flight, leading to shorter flight time, consequently ensuring lower dispersion of targets, quicker engagement time and non-interception by any known weapon system in the world.
  • It operates on ‘Fire and Forget Principle’, adopting varieties of flights on its way to the target. Its destructive power is enhanced due to large kinetic energy on impact.
  • The missile has identical configuration for land, sea and subsea platforms and uses a Transport Launch Canister (TLC) for transportation, storage and laun
  • Special Features
    • Universal for multiple platforms
    • Fire and Forget” principle of operation
    • High supersonic speed all through the flight
    • Long flight range with varieties of flight trajectories
    • Low radar signature
    • Shorter flight times leading to lower target dispersion and quicker engagement
    • Pin point accuracy with high lethal power aided by large kinetic energy on impact

Godavari River

  • Godavari is India’s second longest river after the Ganga
  • The Godavari originates in the Western Ghats of central India near Nashik in Maharashtra
  • It is also known as Dakshin Ganga

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