1.Back to paper (The Hindu and The Indian Express)

2.Global Wildlife Programme (Down to Earth and World Bank)

3.Maximum neglect (The Hindu and The Financial Express)

1.Back to paper (The Hindu and The Indian Express) 

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • The Election Commission in the recent times had received a memorandum from political parties demanding that the paper ballot system be reintroduced for greater transparency during elections. The Supreme Court of India had directed the Election Commission to introduce VVPAT in Lok Sabha Elections to improve voter confidence and ensuring transparency of voting. It was used in some phases but not in the entire polling process.
  • The Election Commission of India (EC) will use Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) gadgets with Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) in all voting booths in Gujarat, which goes to the Assembly polls at the end of this year. This is the first time an entire assembly poll will be conducted using the EVMs equipped with VVPAT. Gujarat will be the second state after Goa to use the VVPAT system for assembly elections.
  • VVPATs have been used in some elections in a bid to counter all allegation of tampering. However the Election Commission’s decision to deploy the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail system for Gujarat Assembly elections is questionable.

About VVPAT

  • Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines are used during election process to verify that the vote polled by a voter goes to the correct candidate. VVPATs are a second line of verification particularly and are particularly useful in the time when allegations around Electronic Voting Machines’ tampering crop up.
  • VVPAT system gives instant feedback to the voter showing that the vote polled has in fact been allotted against the candidate chosen.

Working procedure of VVPATs

  • After a voter presses the button on the EVM against the chosen candidate, the VVPAT prints a slip containing name of the candidate and the election symbol and drops it automatically into a sealed box.
  • The machines give the chance for the voter to verify their vote. The machine is placed in a glass case in a way that only the voter can see it. The slip is displayed to the voter for seven seconds after which the VVPAT machine cuts it and drops in into the storage box with a beep. The machines can be accessed, though, by the polling officials and not by the voter.
  • The implementation of VVPAT was to have been undertaken by the EC in a phased manner, but this year its blanket use appears to have been expedited after a series of unwarranted attacks on EVMs by some political parties. The EC had sought to allay concerns and confront allegations of voter fraud by running through the administrative and technological safeguards instituted to keep EVMs and the voting process tamper-proof.

 Assessment

  • The introduction of VVPAT and the audit process should allay some of the doubts raised by EVM naysayers, but this is a costly process and should not become the norm going forward. There is need for EC to rapidly transit to third-generation, tamper-proof machines, which must be thoroughly tested and vetted by experts before deployment.
  • The EC’s use of a standalone, non-networked machine that runs on a single programmed microchip shows that India’s simple but effective EVMs were ahead of the curve compared to the alternatives used elsewhere in the world. In developing countries such as India, electronic voting, with basic features, may be the most optimal way of increasing the number of valid votes. This, in turn, could enable greater participation of the disadvantaged and the poor.
  • This does not imply that EVMs, especially the outdated models and the ones without audit-trails, are foolproof. But in a country like India with a long history of electoral fraud and booth-capturing, basic EVMs could be much more welfare-enhancing than paper ballots.
  • Many advanced democracies used networked EVMs, which raised the question of remote manipulation through viruses and malware, compelling many of them to revert to paper ballots. The EC has so far demonstrated that the voting process is robust and its machines are continually upgraded to meet possible challenges, but there are other concerns regarding the use of technology that it must be aware of.

For example– Russian cyber-hacking, using techniques such as spear-phishing of election officials and related manipulation of voter data, has been suspected in some jurisdictions abroad

Way forward –

  • The Supreme Court bench said that EVMs with VVPAT system ensure the accuracy of the voting system. With intent to have fullest transparency in the system and to restore the confidence of the voters, it is necessary to set up EVMs with VVPAT system because vote is nothing but an act of expression which has immense importance in democratic system.
  • The case for reverting to paper ballots is based largely on fears and conspiracy theories, and on unfair comparisons with developed democracies such as the Netherlands and France. The costs of such a move should not be underestimated.

Question– It’s been a long time that the paper ballot has been replaced by electronic voting in India. But the change has come under increasing scrutiny in recent times, with several parties alleging that the electronic voting machines (EVMs) had been tampered with. Explain what VVPAT machines are and how this machines work? Critically examine its effectiveness to bring fair and transparent elections.

 

2.Global Wildlife Programme (Down to Earth and World Bank)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of Global Partnership on Wildlife Conservation and Crime Prevention for Sustainable Development program also known as the Global Wildlife Program (GWP). (GS paper II)

Overview

  • The presence of wildlife in protected areas ensures that an ecosystem can function and maintain natural capital. Due to the natural resource crime such as poaching increases, it results in environmental degradation. This adversely affects ecosystem services, which in turn affects the survival of these communities who depend upon these services for livelihoods, fuel and food.
  • To respond to the growing crisis and international call for action, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) in June 2015 launched the “Global Partnership on Wildlife Conservation and Crime Prevention for Sustainable Development” program also known as the Global Wildlife Program (GWP).
  • India will jointly host the Global Wildlife Programme (GWP) with World Bank and United Nations Development Programme. The programme was launched on October 2. The GWP will address issues related to illegal wildlife trade across 19 countries in Asia and Africa. It will act as a platform to exchange knowledge and coordinate in on-ground action.

Global Wildlife Program (GWP)

  • The GWP is a World-Bank led global partnership that promotes wildlife conservation and sustainable development by combating illicit trafficking in wildlife. By approaching the poaching crisis holistically through various country projects and a larger global project, it seeks to reduce both the supply and demand that drives the illegal wildlife trade, and protect species and habitats through integrated landscape planning.
  • GWP’s priority and immediate focus is combating wildlife poaching, trafficking, and demand.The program also focuses on improving wildlife management, providing livelihood opportunities through tourism, and improving governance throughout the supply chain for illegal wildlife products. In addition, the program will support integrated landscape management, land use zoning and natural resource management best practices.
  • India will host the GWP this year, the Indian Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change emphasised on the role of forest dwelling communities in the management of wildlife and how plans for wildlife conservation have focused on national parks and sanctuaries, however, the strategies and programmes will now be based on the landscape of the region.
  • He also highlighted the impact of global warming, climate change and disaster management on wildlife and the people living around it will also be discussed in the programme. The GWP will hold discussions on management of wildlife habitat, securing sustainable community livelihood, enhancing enforcement, monitoring, cooperation to reduce wildlife crimes such as poaching and related threats.
  • The conference will provide an opportunity for India to showcase its conservation efforts through joint forest management, vana sanrakshan samitis, and eco-development committees in and around protected areas.

Way ahead

  • There is rising crisis in illegal trade of wildlife, which is a reflection of the poor governance and value of wildlife, the lucrative benefits of illegal trade and the rise in demand of wildlife products. GWP will combat wildlife crime, engage communities in sustainable livelihood alternatives, and improve the governance of natural resources.

Question– The wildlife crime has become the fourth most lucrative illegal business after narcotics, human trafficking, and weapons and the illegal wildlife trade is now a global threat. The problem is particularly acute in Africa and Asia where iconic species are being poached to extinction. Critically analyse the government efforts and explain how Global Wildlife Program can help.

3.Maximum neglect (The Hindu and The Financial Express)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue the problems in urban transportation. (GS paper II)

Overview

  • India’s transport sector is large and diverse; it caters to the transport needs of 1.2 billion people. Mobility flows have become a key dynamic in the rapid urbanisation process of Indian cities with urban transport infrastructure constituting the skeleton of the urban form.
  • Despite the increasing levels of urban mobility in Indian cities, access to places, activities and services is becoming increasingly difficult in terms of convenience, cost and time. The present levels of urban mobility are already generating a crisis situation characterized by high levels of congestion, environmental pollution, traffic fatalities and inequity eventually leading to a situation of undesired accessibility crisis.
  • Mumbai’s ghastly suburban railway stampede, in which 23 people died after being crushed on a narrow staircase, was the inevitable consequence of prolonged neglect of urban public transport in India.

Problems with Mumbai

  • The financial capital depends mainly on the suburban system, which has some of the highest passenger densities for any city railway in the world. Yet, it has no single accountable manager. It is unthinkable for a modern railway system to continue with business as usual when about 3,500 people die on its tracks in a year. But Mumbai goes on.
  • Over the past two decades, policy attention has tilted towards road projects, with just token appreciation of the challenges faced by public transport users. The Elphinstone Road station stampede should lead to a course correction and re-ordering of mass transport in all cities.
  • Augmenting the creaking and broken infrastructure at suburban stations should be a high priority, and with good management practices, creating canopies to shield passengers, such as those crowding the staircase to escape the rain in Mumbai, putting in escalators and lifts and providing exits on both sides of train coaches towards the street level wherever feasible, will facilitate movement. These are inexpensive, off-the-shelf solutions.
  • A sound transport demand management strategy would consider mapping travel patterns, and shifting some institutions to areas in the wider Mumbai Metropolitan Region where infrastructure, including housing, and amenities can be planned in advance.
  • Railway Minister has called for a quick survey of the suburban stations to identify areas of concern, but this is something that should have been done without waiting for a disaster, and it must now be extended to all cities.

Severity of urban transport problems

  • With over a quarter of India’s urban population below the poverty line, the mobility problems of the poor are of special concern. The unaffordability of private transport or the lack of public transit options forces this segment of the urban population to walk or cycle increasingly long distances, and, consequently, suffer severe pollution.
  • As Indian cities continue to spread outward, those residents too poor to afford motorised transport will be increasingly put at a disadvantage, and further cut off from employment, recreational, educational, medical and other activity sites they need to access in the city.
  • Reforming archaic transport planning and management for urban India remains the still bigger challenge. Mumbai’s geography produces a distinct north-south commuting pattern from the periphery, since the business district is located at the peninsular southern end.
  • Urban transport systems require several functions to be performed in a well-coordinated manner for seamless and comfortable travel experience for commuters. Unfortunately, these are performed by multiple agencies under the central, state and city governments which do not necessarily work together.
  • According to the Seventh Schedule (Article 246) of the Indian Constitution, urban development, which includes urban transport, is in the State List. While, in some states, the transport department undertakes urban transport planning, in others, it is the urban development or municipal administration at the urban level that does it.
  • There is a severe lack of horizontal and vertical coordination among these agencies at central, state and local levels, making accountability very difficult. Apparently, there is an absence of any effective coordinating agency where urban transport and land use plans can be formulated and integrated keeping an overall goal in mind. Another weakness is the limited authority delegated at the local city level.
  • Generally, city administrations are inadequate to undertake efficient city management either because of the lack of technical capacity in city administrations or because of the weak revenue base and dependence on state and central governments for most of its financial needs.

The National Urban Transport Policy

  • The central government, under the Ministry of Urban Development (MOUD), issued the National Urban Transport Policy in 2006 with specific policy objectives of achieving safe, affordable, quick, comfortable, reliable and sustainable access to jobs, education, shopping and recreation and other such needs to an increasing number of urban residents within our cities.
  • The policy acknowledged problems of road congestion and associated air pollution. To address these issues, the NUTP proposed four strategies primarily focusing on increasing efficiency of road space by favouring public transport, using traffic management instruments to improve traffic performance, restraining growth of private vehicular traffic and technological improvements in vehicles and fuels to reduce vehicle emissions.
  • The NUTP recognized the states as the main facilitators in the process of policy implementation and the central government’s role was confined to supporting the states with the necessary financial support and technical expertise.

Way ahead

  • There is immediate requirement to remove physical and policy bottlenecks i.e. clear pathways inside and adjoining railway stations of obstacles, install escalators, create multiple entry and exit points, and put in place an organised feeder transport network to stations and bus terminals.
  • Urban mobility is multi-dimensional in terms of policy and operational implications. Therefore, coherence in policy interventions and linkages among processes are essential. Improved accessibility is neither achieved by adding more roads, rail or vehicles, nor through ad hoc spatial interventions such as traffic management techniques in isolation to achieve delocalization and decongestion.

Question– The rapidly increasing levels of motor vehicle ownership and use has resulted in an alarming increase of negative externalities such as road congestion, air pollution, road fatalities, and social issues of equity and security, Explain the factors that contribute to the severity of urban transport problems. Also suggest measures to address the problem.