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1.Twin responsibilities of States (The Hindu)

2.Potential of Private unaided schools (Business Standard, Live Mint)

3.85% warning on tobacco packs: health revolution or flop exercise (Indian Express)

 

1.Twin responsibilities of States (The Hindu)        

Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of unreasonableness of ban on movie on the pretext of maintaining law and order. (GS paper II)

Overview

  • The Supreme Court recently, stayed the notifications and orders passed by certain States to prohibit the exhibition of the Censor Board certified movie, Padmaavat, saying the court’s “conscience is shocked” that the States have guillotined creative rights.
  • The court ordered all States to ensure that public law and order situation is maintained during the screening of the film across the country.

Protection of creative rights: a duty of states

  • The court ordered the States to protect the artistes and the people involved in the movie from threats. It further forbade the States from passing any order, notification which amounts to prohibition of the exhibition of the movie.
  • Chief Justice of India said that a film may bomb at the box office or people may choose to not watch it, but a States cannot use its machinery to prohibit the movie’s exhibition citing risk to public order.
  • The three-judge Bench led by the Chief Justice, quoting its judgment in the 2011 Prakash Jha judgment, observed in a detailed order that it was “the duty and obligation of the State to maintain law and order.
  • The court said the grant of certificate by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) under the Cinematograph Act of 1952 denudes the States of any power to exercise prohibition on the exhibition of the film.

Matter of rights

  • What troubled the court was that creative freedom could be so easily prohibited by the state citing a possible risk to public order. It needs no reiteration that summary bans on films violate the freedom of speech and expression enshrined in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. Such a right is subject to reasonable restrictions on some grounds, including public order.
  • However, the use of the threat of violence and other forms of intimidation cannot give the state an oblique reason to stifle fundamental freedoms by voicing apprehensions and invoking its powers to maintain peace.
  • In the past, the Supreme Court has made it clear that it cannot give anyone a virtual veto over a certificate issued by the Central Board of Film Certification, a statutory body, by threatening violence. The court has reiterated that the grant of a certificate by the CBFC denudes the state of the power to prevent the exhibition of a film.
  • The interim order, which paves the way for Padmaavat to be released on January 25, is in line with a series of judicial decisions. In  Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram (1989), the Supreme Court said the state cannot plead inability to handle the problem of a hostile audience as that “would be tantamount to negation of the rule of law and a surrender to blackmail and intimidation.”
  • In Prakash Jha Productions v. Union of India(2011), it reiterated that it is the state’s duty to maintain law and order. In the current controversy, the filmmakers agreed to change its name from Padmavati to Padmaavat. The new title indicates it is based on a medieval poem on a legendary Rajput queen and not any historical personality.
  • They also agreed to several cuts suggested by a special panel formed by the CBFC. If even after these concessions the protestors are allowed to obtain a ban, it would undoubtedly amount to a base surrender to blackmail and intimidation.

Way ahead

  • It would be a taint on the country’s record of protecting free speech if a film with admittedly no claim to historical accuracy is banned on the mere pretext that some people, who have not even seen it, find it offensive. The Supreme Court has indicated where the constitutional duty of State governments lies. It is now up to them to live up to that expectation.

Question: Examine the feasibility of imposition of restrictions of freedom of speech and expression on the pretext of law and order?

 

2.Potential of Private unaided schools (Business Standard, Live MInt)

Synoptic line: It throws light on why The 2017 Aser report shows the pressing need to reform our education policy. (GS paper III)

Overview

  • The rot in India’s primary education was bound to affect the quality of our workforce. There is a direct bearing of poor learning outcomes in primary schools on the students’ future, and these concerns have been verified by Pratham’s latest Annual Survey of Education Report (Aser) 2017, “Beyond Basics”, that focuses on students in the 14-18 age group.

ASER survey

  • The survey finds that while 86% of adolescents are enrolled in schools, they are under-equipped to contribute to the economy in any meaningful way. Twenty-five per cent of the students cannot read a basic text in their own language fluently.
  • Forty per cent of 18-year-olds cannot read a simple sentence in English. And they lack basic arithmetic skills; only 43% of them could perform a simple division. This translates to unacceptable performance in everyday tasks, gauged by proxy tests like measuring length, calculating time, applying the unitary method and comprehending the instructions written on a pack of oral rehydration solution.

Examining the performance

  • India has achieved universal enrolment at the elementary level. This is a great achievement, but getting students to school is only the beginning of human capital formation. Learning requires a lot more than attendance.
  • In order for students to stay in school, the school needs to create a palpable difference in the students’ abilities. The drop in the enrolment rate in secondary education (78.5%), despite the high returns to education, shows that something is wrong in our quality of instruction.

Potential of private schools

  • A research has demonstrated that private unaided schools have much better learning outcomes per unit of expenditure. Contrary to popular opinion, most private unaided schools are inexpensive; 80% of them charge a fee that is lower than the government’s per-pupil expenditure (PPE). Averaging across states, private school fee is less than 47% of the PPE of government schools.
  • In terms of learning outcomes, both private and government schools performed poorly, but private schools perform better. In the 2014 Aser report, the difference between the percentage of private and government school students in class V who were able to perform a division and read a class II text was 18.6% and 20.3%, respectively. Controlling for students’ home background, the difference falls but an achievement gap of 0.10 to 0.35 standard deviation remains. Thus, the data shows that private unaided schools are delivering the same, if not better, learning outcomes than government schools at a fraction of the cost, despite resource constraints.
  • This shows that more inputs do not translate into better outputs. Despite qualified teachers, mid-day meals and free admissions, 13 million students left government schools between 2011 and 2016, while private school enrolment increased by 17 million in that duration.

What implications does this have for India’s education policy?

  • The government needs to acknowledge the fact that “unrecognized” private unaided schools play an important role. The Right to Education Act stipulates that private schools cannot be established or continue to function without obtaining a “certificate of recognition” from the state government, i.e. until they meet stipulated norms such as the maximum pupil-teacher-ratio and infrastructure.
  • This has made many schools economically unviable and forced them to shut down. Given that millions of students have left government schools for private ones, the government should support their education by giving school vouchers to all underprivileged students. The students can choose to spend the voucher in their government school, or give it to a private school.
  • This will increase the purchasing power of all parents and allow them to send their child to school for more years, or send them to a better school. Better managed schools will attract more students and expand, while poorly performing schools will shrink. The increasing number of government schools that are emptying-out, but continue to drain resources, will have to improve their performance or they might cease to exist.
  • The Aser report points to another important problem: more girls than boys drop out of school between ages 14-18. While boys drop out to work, girls usually stay at home and help with domestic chores. The societal conception of gender roles is an important factor, but perceived threat to safety and distant senior secondary schools (especially girls-only schools) might also be a factor.
  • Policies such as free bicycles to girls in Bihar have been successful in increasing enrolment by improving mobility. Building gender-specific toilets in schools is another measure that helps in improving girls’ enrolment.

Way ahead

  • As a welcome move, the upcoming New Education Policy is likely to focus more on outcomes than inputs. An educated citizenry is vital for a democracy. If our education system does not enable people to comprehend the written word, keep stable jobs and participate in reasonable debates, it is a problem that needs immediate redressal.
  • While the Aser report does not paint a favourable picture of the quality of the present workforce, education reforms can change the situation for the next generation.

Question: For students to stay in school, the school needs to create a palpable difference in the students’ abilities. Comment.

 

3.85% warning on tobacco packs: health revolution or flop exercise (Indian Express)

Synoptic line: It throws light on the journey of tobacco warning rules and implications associated with it. (GS paper II)

Overview

  • The Supreme Court recently, stayed an order of the Karnataka High Court, which had in December 2017 struck down central Rules based on which 85% of the area of tobacco packs has been covered by health warnings since April 2016.
  • According to apex court, Health of a citizen has primacy and he or she should be aware of that which can affect or deteriorate the condition of health. Deterioration may be a milder word and, therefore, in all possibility the expression ‘destruction of health’ is apposite.

Role of warnings

  • Health advocates have long argued that prominently displayed pictures of what consumption of tobacco can do to humans including some grotesque depictions of tumours help drive home the message more powerfully and effectively than smaller pictures or written warnings. India currently has some of the world’s most stringent rules on pictorial warnings on tobacco packets.
  • In 2014, the Ministry of Health notified amendments to The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Rules, 2008. It was mandated that “the specified health warning shall cover at least eighty-five per cent (85%) of the principal display area of the package of which sixty per cent (60%) shall cover pictorial health warning and twenty-five per cent (25%) shall cover textual health warning and shall be positioned on the top edge of the package and in the same direction as the information on the principal display area.
  • The Rules were to come into effect from April 1, 2015. There were cries of outrage from the tobacco industry, and less than a month later, Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan was moved out of the Ministry. Soon afterward, the Lok Sabha Committee on Subordinate Legislation (CoSL) started to examine the government’s October 2014 notification on the 85% warnings.

How did the notification finally come into effect?

  • As the matter dragged on, a group of activists approached the Rajasthan High Court, which, in July 2015, asked the Centre and the state government to immediately implement the 2014 Rules. “After hearing the learned counsel appearing for the petitioner and considering the research as well as orders passed by various High Courts and the Supreme Court, we find it imperative, and in larger public interest, to stay the operation of the corrigendum.
  • The Rules of 2014 will come into force immediately, and will be enforced by the Centre and the Government of Rajasthan,” the order, passed by a two-judge Bench of the High Court on July 3, 2015, said.
  • The Health Ministry filed an affidavit asking for six months’ time for the tobacco industry to prepare. Thus was reached the new date of implementation of the warnings April 1, 2016. The notification came into effect on that date, exactly a year after it was originally supposed to. In the interim, the CoSL tabled its final report in the Budget Session of Parliament in 2016, recommending 50% warnings. But the die had already been cast.

Impact of warnings

  • Even though the impact of the pictorial warnings appeared to be clear very soon. The Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) 2016-17, released by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare showed that 62% of cigarette smokers and 54% of bidi smokers had thought of quitting because of the 85% warnings on the packets. And 46% of smokeless tobacco users had thought of quitting because of the warnings on smokeless tobacco products. Such tobacco control efforts have saved 81 lakh lives in India, as per GATS-2.
  • According to a study supported by the Health Ministry and the World Health Organisation, Economic Burden of Tobacco-Related Diseases in India, the estimated total costs attributable to tobacco use was a staggering Rs 1,04,500 crore in 2011 12% more than the combined state and central government expenditure on healthcare in that year, and 1.16% of India’s GDP.
  • However, the tobacco industry approached the Karnataka High Court, where it argued that no correlation had been established between tobacco and the diseases depicted on the packs, and that the industry’s right to conduct business was being unfairly affected because of the warnings. The court found merit in the contention, and ruled that India should go back to the 40% warnings that existed before the notification of the 85% Rules.

Conclusion

  • The government had made a powerful case many times in favour of larger warnings. Attorney General also cited reports from the World Health Organisation to describe tobacco as the “most dangerous thing in the world”.
  • Moreover, the three-judge Bench led by the Chief Justice of India said: “Though a submission has been advanced that it will affect their business, we have remained unimpressed as we are inclined to think that health of a citizen has primacy and he or she should be aware of that which can affect or deteriorate the condition of health.

Question: Activists, students and government agencies have long been campaigning to educate people about the harmful effects of tobacco products. What is the role of increased warnings in this regard?