In conjunction: On evolution of democratic society

The evolution of a democratic society is centred around the expansion of rights — civil, political, economic and cultural, leading to the empowerment of people. Democratic nations respect individual and group rights for moral and instrumental reasons. Duties, both legal and moral, are cherished in order to reinforce those rights. The obligations of the individual to the collective must be understood in that context; rights and duties complement each other, just as responsibility comes with freedom. Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to suggest a dichotomy between the rights and duties of citizens when he said last week that the country had wasted a lot of time “fighting for rights” and “neglecting one’s duties”. His speech was not the first time that he or other Hindutva protagonists have called for a foregrounding of duties over rights. Service and the sacrifices of nameless and faceless nation-builders have formed the bedrock of the modern Indian Republic, but their sacrifices
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Not mild for all: On community transmission of Omicron

Even at the peak of the second wave in India last year, when no contact tracing was done or was possible, not a word was said about the Delta variant being in community transmission — where the source of infection cannot be traced. But with extremely transmissible Omicron becoming the dominant variant across major cities, INSACOG, the consortium meant to monitor the genomic variations in the SARS-CoV-2 virus, has for the first time officially mentioned that India has entered community transmission; daily fresh cases have been over 0.3 million since January 19. Even as on June 15 last year, when the second wave had peaked here, India claimed to have only a ‘cluster of cases’ as reflected in WHO’s last epidemiological report (weekly) mentioning the stage of transmission in member-States. In contrast, the U.S. declared community transmission in February 2020 when the source of infection was untraceable in one instance; only 15 cases were detected then. The closest India came to
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False dichotomy: On merit versus reservation

The Supreme Court has once again addressed the ‘merit versus reservation’ debate, a misleading binary that has engaged public and judicial discourse for years. While ruling in favour of extending reservation to OBCs in the all-India quota (AIQ) of seats in admission to under-graduate and post-graduate medical and dental courses, the Court has concluded that the binary has become superfluous. The courts have now come to recognise the idea of ‘substantive equality’, which sees affirmative action not as an exception to the equality rule, but as a facet of the equality norm. ‘Formal equality’, or the principle that everyone competes on an equal footing, is inadequate to address social inequalities and the inherent disadvantages of the less advanced sections, necessitating provisions that help them compete with the advanced classes. The competitive examination may be necessary for distribution of educational opportunities, but it does not enable equal opportunity for those competing without


A stellar fallacy: On hasty assessment of environmental costs

A move by the Union Environment Ministry to implement a ‘star-rating system’ has sparked controversy after one of its official communiqués became public. Under this scheme, State-level environment committees that appraise industrial projects on their potential environmental risk would be incentivised with points for “transparency, efficiency and accountability”. This idea followed a Union Cabinet meeting this month to facilitate the Government’s broader commitment to ‘Ease of Doing Business’. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is one of the cornerstones of ensuring that the ecological costs of infrastructure development are minimal. Prospective projects above a certain size and with a potential to significantly alter the natural environment must be first approved by the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) comprising State officers and independent experts. Projects that are even bigger or involve forest land — category A — must be cleared by an expert committee


Wrong remedy: On IAS, IPS deputation rule changes

That the wrong remedy could exacerbate an ailment and not cure it is a well understood adage. This holds true for the Union government’s (Department of Personnel & Training – DoPT) proposals to amend Rule 6 related to deputation of cadre officers of the IAS (Cadre) Rules 1954. Reports have shown that the deputation from States to the Union government has been uneven. Some States have not nominated officers for deputation adequately to work with the Union government; in this, West Bengal (11 out of the 280 officers are on central deputation), Rajasthan (13 out of 247) and Telangana (7 out of an authorised strength of 208) stand out. This has led to vacancies across Union government ministries. Numbers accessed by The Hindu show that actual deputation as a percentage of the mandated reserves fell from 69% (2014) to 30% (2021), suggesting that there is merit in the DoPT’s identification of shortages in deputation being an issue. But does this necessitate the rule changes proposed by

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