Q1. Throw light on the setting up of the VK Aghnihotri committee to make recommendations for revising the rules of the Upper House. Comment
The Rajya Sabha has been functioning for 67 years. During this time, governance has become complicated and the subjects of laws more technical. But the rules governing the functioning of the Rajya Sabha have not kept pace with the times.
Vice President Venkaiah Naidu appointed a two-member committee to make recommendations for revising the rules of the Upper House. V K Agnihotri, former secretary general of the House, is heading the committee. Media reports suggest that the committee is mandated to submit its report in three months. The reports also indicate that the committee may give some of its recommendations before the monsoon session of Parliament.
Both Houses of Parliament have their own rules of procedure.
These rules govern every detail of how the Houses function on a daily basis. They determine MPs’ participation in parliamentary proceedings while making laws, passing budgets, questioning the government and representing us.
These rules are the bulwark of our parliamentary democracy. For Parliament to be effective in its role, these rules require regular updating and strengthening. The Constitution, through Article 118(1), gives the two Houses of Parliament the power to make rules to regulate their functioning.
The old framework of 1952 was used as a base and supplemented. In some cases, the provisions were merely carried forward and continue to exist even today. For example, the 1952 Rajya Sabha rules to discipline disorderly MPs are the same ones as now.
The Agnihotri committee has been set up at a time when the two Houses of Parliament are facing similar structural challenges. So its recommendations, while meant for the Rajya Sabha, will also influence rule-making for the Lok Sabha. Four fundamental issues would require the committee’s attention.
First, it seems that the two Houses of Parliament meet mostly for transacting government business. The committee will have to balance completion of government business with discussions raised by other political parties.
Second, the existing mechanisms (like Question Hour) for securing the government’s accountability to Parliament have lost their edge. The committee will have to suggest measures for completely overhauling these mechanisms.
Third, issues facing Parliament are now more complex and technical than ever. In such an environment, the committee’s suggestions for strengthening deliberations in the House will be crucial. Finally, the disruption of parliamentary proceedings has become a routine affair.
The committee will have the difficult task of suggesting solutions for protecting the sanctity of parliamentary proceedings.
There should be a periodic review of the rules of procedure of both Houses. The last such review for the Rajya Sabha happened in 2009, incidentally when Agnihotri was its secretary general. Nine years later, his committee again has the critical task of going beyond the symptoms of dysfunction and recommending changes to strengthen Rajya Sabha.
Q2.The fear of a threat to privacy because of the use of core biometrics (fingerprints and iris) in Aadhaar is exaggerated because biometrics are not secret information like PIN or password.Comment
The fear of a threat to privacy because of the use of core biometrics (fingerprints and iris) in Aadhaar is exaggerated because biometrics are not secret information like PIN or password. People must know that even the theft of biometrics in a rare eventuality will not put one to the same level of risk as the leakage of a password. Critics try to raise an unnecessary fear about biometrics and use it to attack Aadhaar.
They forget that we use thumbprints for many purposes such as registration of documents, passports, driving licence, affidavits, etc. Similarly, physical signatures too fall into the category of biometrics. We all widely use our physical signatures to authenticate documents and transactions. Have the critics shunned the use of physical thumb prints and signatures? We continue to use them because there are additional checks in the system. For example, when I issue a high-value cheque, my bank calls me to confirm whether I signed it. Similar due diligence needs to be followed for Aadhaar verification.
Critics also try to raise an alarm about biometric information being leaked from the Aadhaar database. As explained above, even though the biometric information is not a secret information and its leakage might have relatively limited damage potential,
UIDAI has taken and will continue to take measures to ensure that its database remains secure. During the last eight years, there has not been a single instance of a biometric data breach from the Central Identities Data Repository (CIDR).
But to say that because somebody may possibly hack the CIDR and, therefore, as a nation, we should not use biometrics is a manifestation of extreme paranoia.
Critics are under the incorrect impression that Aadhaar is a confidential number and term any publication thereof a security breach. There exists a distinction between a secret number and sensitive personal information (SPI) and, also, that SPI is not secret information.
Aadhaar, just like a bank account number or PAN, is not secret. It is a piece of SPI whose unauthorised public disclosure is prohibited under the law to protect overall privacy. However, it is also an identity number which needs to be freely shared as and when required. Bank account numbers and signatures are on every cheque. Can somebody hack into someone’s bank account just by knowing his account number or Aadhaar number alone? One would need a password, OTP, PIN, fingerprints etc.
The article also asserts that UIDAI has a weak consent clause, which it uses to freely share people’s data with service providers. Drawing a parallel with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica and referring to Aadhaar being “a drill to new oil”, demonstrates a complete lack of understanding. Critics must first know what personal data UIDAI stores and then question the so-called danger of sharing or data mining.
Contrary to the massive real-time personal data which social media companies amass, UIDAI keeps minimal data of a person — name, address, date of birth, photo (which are publicly available in telephone directories, voter lists, etc.) and biometrics. UIDAI does not collect or keep personal details such as one’s assets, bank details, call records, caste, religion, family tree, friends’ list, health information, likes and dislikes etc. Even though one links Aadhaar with telecom, banks, passport, etc,
UIDAI under the Aadhaar Act is prohibited from seeking the purpose and/or the location of any transactions. If one were to accept Dreze’s fear about data mining through such minimal data, then the first casualty will be the publication of voters’ list, which has far greater demographic details.
Critics also accuse Aadhaar of creating an unprecedented infrastructure of state surveillance. They need to ask themselves whether mandatory usage of Social Security Number (SSN) in the United States in areas such as food stamps, bank accounts, financial aid, subsidised housing, birth registrations, death certificates, healthcare benefits has turned that country into a surveillance state. One may argue that there are safeguards in the US which prevent data aggregation. Similarly, India as the world’s largest democracy has a strong legislature, independent judiciary and free press which prevent any such attempt or overreach by the executive. The Parliament brought in the Aadhaar Act in 2016 with strong safeguards to eliminate the possibility of any state surveillance.
The Aadhaar Act is based on the principle of privacy by design — minimal data, federated databases and optimal ignorance — which in turn ensure that no agency, UIDAI, government or private, is able to aggregate Aadhaar information from various sources to track or profile any individual. Bill Gates has rightly commented that Aadhaar in itself does not pose any privacy issue because it is just a bio-ID verification scheme.
Q3.Throw light on nipah virus and how it can be controlled.
Nipah Virus is an emerging infectious disease that broke out in Malaysia and Singapore in 1998 and 1999. It first appeared in domestic pigs and has been found among several species of domestic animals including dogs, cats, goats, horses and sheep. The infection is also known to affect human beings. The organism which causes Nipah Virus encephalitis is an RNA or Ribonucleic acid virus of the family Paramyxoviridae, genus Henipavirus, and is closely related to Hendra virus.
Nipah virus infection gets its name from the village in Malaysia where the person from whom the virus was first isolated succumbed to the disease. The virus has been listed in the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) Terrestrial Animal Health Code and must be reported to the OIE (OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code).
The disease spreads through fruit bats or ‘flying foxes,’ of the genus Pteropus, who are natural reservoir hosts of the Nipah and Hendra viruses. The virus is present in bat urine and potentially, bat faeces, saliva, and birthing fluids. Presumably, the first incidence of Nipah virus infection occurred when pigs in Malaysian farms came in contact with the bats who had lost their habitats due to deforestation. Furthermore, transmission between farms may be due to fomites – or carrying the virus on clothing, equipment, boots, vehicles.
Nipah Virus, which is a zoonotic disease, was known to affect humans in Malaysia and Singapore after coming in direct contact with the excretions or secretions of infected pigs. Reports from outbreaks in Bangladesh suggest transmission from bats in the process of drinking raw palm sap contaminated with bat excrement or climbing trees coated in the same.
In Bangladesh and India, there have been reports of possible human-to-human transmission of the disease. Therefore, precautions are necessary for hospital workers in charge of taking care of the infected patients. Precautions should also be taken when submitting and handling laboratory samples, as well as in slaughterhouses.
Symptoms of the Nipah infection
Typically, the human infection presents as an encephalitic syndrome marked by fever, headache, drowsiness, disorientation, mental confusion, coma, and potentially death.
During the outbreak in Malaysia, up to 50 per cent of clinically apparent human cases died. There is no specific treatment for Nipah Virus. The primary treatment for human cases is intensive supportive care.
Prevention of the Nipah infection
While there is no vaccine available for the infection, preventive measures can be a key to control the spread. With fruits bats being the primary cause of infection, the farm animals should be prevented from eating fruit contaminated by bats.
Consumption of contaminated date palm sap including toddy should also be avoided. Physical barriers can be put in place in order to prevent bats from accessing and contaminating palm sap.
Medical officials who are looking after the patients with suspected or confirmed NiV should take basic precautions like washing hands, using a gown, cap mask and wearing gloves. For laboratory personnel, Nipah virus is classified internationally as a biosecurity level (BSL) 4 agent. BSL 2 facilities are sufficient if the virus can be first inactivated during specimen collection.
In case of animals, wire screens can help prevent contact with bats when pigs are raised in open-sided pig sheds. Run-off from the roof should be prevented from entering pig pens. practice. Early recognition of infected pigs can help protect other animals and humans. Due to the highly contagious nature of the virus in swine populations, mass culling of seropositive animals may be necessary.
Q4. Given that other NCLT cases may face a tougher road, the rules must be tweaked to ensure that the widest possible range of bidders participate
After innumerable twists, turns and dead-ends, India’s new Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code may have yielded its first significant success, with the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) approving Tata Steel’s winning bid to acquire the distressed Bhushan Steel for ₹36,400 crore.
The denouement in its case has been better than expected because the deal entails a less than 30 per cent haircut for financial creditors and allows them to recover many times the liquidation value. Public sector banks (PSBs) will get a much-needed breather from this deal, with a ₹35,000-crore reduction in non-performing assets (NPAs) and ₹7,500 crore in write-backs to shore up their bottom-lines. One therefore hopes that the deal manages to navigate the pending hearings before the Appellate Tribunal from Bhushan Steel’s promoter and L&T, an operational creditor.
But the Bhushan Steel case offers no grounds for complacency about the scores of other cases before the NCLT. Bhushan Steel attracted enthusiastic bidding because its value-added steel capacities are particularly sought-after, amid the global upswing in the steel cycle.
It is unlikely that bidders will similarly throng to the smaller steelmakers or beleaguered firms in sectors such as infrastructure/EPC, power generation or ship-building, which account for a third of the NCLT cases.
These sectors are plagued by over-capacity and there aren’t too many viable domestic players to bid for distressed assets.
In a recent analysis, CLSA pointed out that the haircuts on some of these non-steel assets could be as high as 75-80 per cent.
This would mean further blood-letting for PSBs, whose financials are already in a parlous state. This puts the Centre in a quandary because, after its ₹2.11 lakh-crore recapitalisation largesse, it can ill-afford to spend further taxpayer money on shoring up PSBs’ perpetually short capital adequacy ratios.
So policymakers must ensure that the remaining cases at NCLT attract the widest possible range of bidders. Going by the experience so far, this may call for at least a couple of tweaks to the current bidding process.
One, while the IBC is quite right to bar promoters or wilful defaulters from bidding, the qualification criteria must not be set so tight that it rules out other healthy players. On this count, perhaps the code can take a more liberal view on ‘connected persons’ bidding for assets.
Two, in the Essar Steel and Bhushan Power cases, lucrative bidders have submitted their offers after the expiry of the initial deadlines leading to legal tangles.
A shift from closed bidding to a competitive open auction system may not just obviate the need for multiple rounds of bidding, but also ensure fierce competition among bidders, thus maximising gain for lenders.