29th November 2019 : The Hindu Newspaper Editorials Notes: Mains Sure shot  

No. 1.

Question – Should convicts of life imprisonment be granted remission?

Context – The T.N. government released 13 prisoners serving life sentence for massacre of six dalit men in the village of Melavalavu in 1997.

What is remission?

  • Remission is the cancellation of a debt, charge, or penalty.
  • In case of penalty, the State government has powers of remission under Sections 432 and 433 of the Criminal Procedure Code because prison is a state subject.
  • Now since prison is a state subject, each State has its own prison rules and each State has a different way of calculating remission.
  • But the states can’t do it arbitrarily. In general there are 3 procedures of granting remission:
  1. One way you get remission is for various kinds of conduct or work that you do in prison. 
  2. You can also get remission [because of] the power of the State government under Section 432 of the CrPC, which is what the government seems to be exercising in this [case]. 
  3. The Governor, if the State is under President’s rule, and the President too can exercise this power.
  • Prisoners are released on the birth or death anniversaries of prominent popular and democratic leaders. But there is a proper procedure. There is a sentence review board.

What does serving life sentence mean?

  • There is still a lot of confusion on the meaning of life sentence. Some people think a life sentence means 14 or 20 years; others think it a sentence for life.
  • For example, when an accused is convicted of life imprisonment on conviction, then he will have to stay in a jail till death. But it is heard that even after getting life imprisonment; a prisoner was released from jail only in 14 years. 
  • The Supreme Court has clarified in its decision in 2012 that life imprisonment or life imprisonment means jail for life and nothing more than that. Life imprisonment means prison for an entire lifetime.
  • We know that the court’s work is to punish the guilty, but it is in the hands of the state government to execute it. The authority of the state government is to release the accused of life imprisonment in 14 years, in 20 years or till the time of death.
  • In order to reduce the prisoner’s duration, under the CRPC Section 432 of the Constitution, the appropriate government must pass a specific order.
  • At the same time, under the Constitution 433-A of the CRPC, the State Government has got this right that it can reduce or suspend the sentence of the prisoners. Regardless of the punishment, whether it is a few months, years or years of life, the state governments have the complete discretion to request it to be reduced.
  • The thing to note here is that life imprisonment can be for 16 years or 30 years or forever but cannot be less than 14 years.
  • It has been decided by the Constitution that the state government should ensure that the culprit convicted of life imprisonment is not released before 14 years.
  • The state can release the prisoner for many reasons after completion of 14 years depending on the conduct of the prisoner, illness, family issues or any reason which is correct or necessary.
  • So, it would be wrong to say that life imprisonment or life imprisonment is for 14 years only. In all cases, a life sentence cannot be for 14 years. Age sentence is meant only for life.
  • However, when a death sentence is commuted to life they will not be released or granted remission till 35 years of incarceration.

Should life convicts be given remission?

  • The views on this are divided and there is also a separation of power issue involved.
  • In Union of India v. V. Sriharan (2015), who is the person convicted in the Rajiv Gandhi case, the court considered the question of whether the ‘court’ can exclude the remission powers of the government under Section 432 of the CrPC. Now as explained earlier, the court gives a sentence and then the State government can choose, as per the procedure laid down, whether to exercise its remission powers or not.
  • In Sriharan the Supreme Court said in all of these cases, the appellate court, that is a High Court or the Supreme Court, can explicitly exclude the remission powers of the State government or the Central government under Section 432 of the CrPC. i.e. the courts can dismiss the remission given by the state government. That’s basically saying that courts can now ensure that accused persons can remain for the rest of their natural life in prison. 
  •  This can be seen as an infringement of the separation of powers doctrine and that judgment itself has a dissent by two judges. They said that such order by the court is like creating a new type of punishment in which the court not only gives the judgement but also doesn’t leave space for the states to grant remission in case they want to.
  • This sort of punishment — that a court can impose life imprisonment and tell the government that you will not exercise the powers that you have been given under the CrPC — is a creation of a new punishment not authorised anywhere in the law. Thinking that harsher punishments and longer sentences will somehow solve serious social problems is a grave mistake.

Does the question of remission open a larger analysis?

  • The question of remission is essentially a question of reformation. Has this person reformed in prison and is he ready to be reintegrated into society? 
  • Our prisons don’t have the infrastructure, investment or the expertise to really make this assessment meaningfully over the years.

Way forward:

  • We really need to ask the question, as a society why are we sending people to prison? If we are sending people to prison as revenge and we want to express that, then, sure, we can have that social conversation and all of these other considerations go out of the window. But Supreme Court judgment after judgment has said that the aim of our penal system is reform. And we should work upon it.


No. 2.


Question – What is hunger? Does India need to increase its food basket?

Context – India’s rank in the Global Hunger Index.


What is hunger?

  • Hunger is defined by caloric deprivation. There can be protein hunger, or hidden hunger caused by deficiency of micronutrients.
  • According to the World Food Programme, undernourishment occurs when people do not take in enough calories to meet minimum physiological needs. Malnutrition is when people have an inadequate intake of protein, energy and micronutrients. Starved of the right nutrition, they can die from common infections such as measles or diarrhoea. Wasting, usually the result of starvation or disease, is an indicator of acute malnutrition with substantial weight loss.
  • Hunger can manifest itself in different ways – undernourishment, malnutrition and wasting.

Facts and figures:

  • India is ranked 102 in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) out of 117 qualified countries.
  • Nearly 47 million or four out of 10 children in India do not meet their potential because of chronic undernutrition or stunting. This leads to diminished learning capacity, increased chronic diseases, low birth-weight infants from malnourished parents.
  • The global nutrition report pegs 614 million women and more than half the women in India aged 15-49 as being anaemic.

What can be done? An innovative approach:

  • Recently, the Ministry of Human Resources Development brought out school ‘nutrition garden’ guidelines encouraging eco-club students to identify fruits and vegetables best suited to topography, soil and climate. These gardens can give students lifelong social, numerical and presentation skills, care for living organisms and team work, besides being used in the noon-meal scheme. Students also learn to cultivate fruits and vegetables in their homes and this could address micronutrient deficiencies.

What is the role of agrobiodiversity in reducing malnutrition?

  • Agrobiodiversity means relating to diversity of crops and varieties — is crucial in food security, nutrition, health and essential in agricultural landscapes.
  • Out of 2,50,000 globally identified plant species, only 7,000 have historically been used in human diets. 
  • And today, only 30 crops form the basis of the world’s agriculture and just three species of maize, rice and wheat supply more than half the world’s daily calories.
  • Agrobiodiversity helps nutrition-sensitive farming and bio-fortified foods. For instance, moringa (drumstick) has micro nutrients and sweet potato is rich in Vitamin A. There are varieties of pearl millet and sorghum rich in iron and zinc.


  • Across the world, 37 sites are designated as Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS), of which three are Indian — Kashmir (saffron), Koraput (traditional agriculture) and Kuttanad (below sea-level farming). In India, over 811 cultivated plants and 902 of their wild relatives have been documented. Our promising genetic resources include rice from Tamil Nadu (Konamani), Assam (Agni bora) and Kerala (Pokkali), Bhalia Wheat and mushroom (Guchhi) from Himachal Pradesh and rich farm animal native breeds — cattle (42), buffaloes (15), goat (34), sheep (43) and chicken (19).
  • India is a centre of origin of rice, brinjal, citrus, banana, cucumber species.
  • The UN Sustainable Development Goal 2 advocates for Zero Hunger and the Aichi Biodiversity Target focuses on countries conserving genetic diversity of plants, farm livestock and wild relatives. It emphasises that countries develop strategies and action plans to halt biodiversity loss and reduce direct pressure on biodiversity.

What can be done?

  • The Centre for Biodiversity Policy and Law (CEBPOL), a policy advocacy unit of the National Biodiversity Authority, came out with recommendations to increase India’s agrobiodiversity in 2019. These include a comprehensive policy on ‘ecological agriculture’ to enhance native pest and pollinator population providing ecosystem services for the agricultural landscape.
  • It suggested promotion of the bio-village concept of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) for ecologically sensitive farming; conserving crop wild relatives of cereals, millets, oilseeds, fibres, forages, fruits and nuts, vegetables, spices etc. for crop genetic diversity healthier food; providing incentives for farmers cultivating native landrace varieties and those conserving indigenous breeds of livestock and poultry varieties.
  • The recommendations also include encouraging community seed banks in each agro-climatic zone so that regional biotic properties are saved and used by new generation farmers; preparing an agrobiodiversity index, documenting traditional practices through People’s Biodiversity Registers, identifying Biodiversity Heritage Sites under provisions of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002; and strengthening Biodiversity Management Committees to conserve agrobiodiversity and traditional knowledge.
  • Developing a national level invasive alien species policy is required to identify pathways, mapping, monitoring, managing, controlling and eradicating the invasive species and prioritising problematic species based on risk assessment studies.
  • Loss of crop genetic resources is mainly a result of adopting new crop varieties without conserving traditional varieties. Similarly, there are concerns on high output breeds for production of meat, milk and egg. The consumption pattern and culinary diversity must be enlarged to increase India’s food basket.
  • To conserve indigenous crop, livestock and poultry breeds, it is recommended to mainstream biodiversity into agricultural policies, schemes, programmes and projects to achieve India’s food and nutrition security and minimise genetic erosion.

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