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GS: 2

International Relations:

U.S. to end work permits for H-1B spouses (The Hindu)

Context

Change in H1B rules

What has happened?

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is considering changes in the rules that allowed a certain category of H-4 visa holders — spouses of H-1B visa holders — to obtain Employment Authorisation Documents (EAD)

Impact

  • Close to 1 lakh Indian women will be affected if the above proposal comes into effect

Indian Constitution and Polity:

Death by hanging not barbaric: govt. (The Hindu)

Context

Petition challenging the constitutionality of death penalty

Public Interest Litigation

The PIL was filed by advocate Rishi Malhotra challenging the constitutionality of hanging to death as a mode of execution

  • Section 354 (5) of the Code of Criminal Procedure mandates that a person sentenced to death shall “be hanged by the neck till he is dead.”

Centre’s response

Death by hanging is not as “barbaric, inhuman and cruel” as an execution by firing squad or lethal injection

  • Rationale against death by firing squad: if the shots miss the heart, the prisoners slowly bleeds to death. Besides, it would be very difficult to find volunteers for the firing squad from the country’s civilian police force
  • The mode of execution is a matter of legislative policy
  • Death penalty only in rare cases: The government said the death penalty is awarded only in the rarest of rare cases. There have been only three execution between 2012 and 2015

Master of the next steps (The Hindu Opinion)

Context

Impeachment motion against CJI

What has happened?

The impeachment motion initiated against CJI has been rejected by chairman of the Upper House

Removal of judge of SC

A judge of the Supreme Court can be removed from his office by an order of the President. But the President can issue the removal order only after an address by Parliament supported by a special majority of each House of Parliament

  • The special majority is a majority of the total membership of that House and a majority of not less than two-thirds of the members of that House present and voting

Grounds of removal

The grounds for impeachment are:

  • proved misbehaviour
  • incapacity

The process of removal:

  1. A removal motion signed by 100 members (in the case of Lok Sabha) or 50 members (in the case of Rajya Sabha) is to be given to the Speaker/Chairman.
  2. The Speaker/Chairman may admit the motion or refuse to admit it.
  3. If it is admitted, then the Speaker/Chairman is to constitute a three-member committee to investigate into the charges.
  4. The committee should consist of (a) the chief justice or a judge of the Supreme Court, (b) a chief justice of a high court, and (c) a distinguished jurist.
  5. If the committee finds the judge to be guilty of misbehaviour or suffering from an incapacity, the House can take up the consideration of the motion.
  6. After the motion is passed by each House of Parliament by special majority, an address is presented to the president for removal of the judge.
  7. Finally, the president passes an order removing the judge.

Master of the roster: Arbitrary use of power

  • Arbitrary use of power:  On April 11, a three-judge Bench headed by the CJI had given a judgment upholding absolute power of CJI in the constitution of benches. A similar order was passed by a five-judge Bench again headed by the CJI in November 2017, when for the first time in the Supreme Court’s history, administrative powers were used within 24 hours to overrule a judicial order of a Bench, in this case headed by Justice J. Chelameswar. Another two-judge Bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan is scheduled to hear Shanti Bhushan’s petition later this week. Arbitrary use of administrative power by CJI is certainly subject to fundamental rights, including the right to equality
  • The Supreme Court Rules, 2013, framed under Article 145 of the Constitution, do state that CJI is master of rolls. But since constitution of Benches is an ‘administrative’ function, this function cannot be exercised at the CJI’s whims and wishes. Thus the cherry-picking in Bench constitution may not be violative of ‘the rule by law’ but is definitely contrary to the ideals of ‘the rule of law’.

Way forward

In the wake of the current crises, some mechanism can be evolved to ensure that one individual does not have absolute power to make or unmake Benches

Conclusion

We may disagree with a number of judicial and administrative decisions of the CJI. But none of his actions can really amount to ‘incapacity or proved misbehaviour’, i.e. grounds of impeachment, and thus the rejection of the notice by the Vice-President.

Back to the court (The Hindu Opinion)

Context

Rejection of impeachment motion by Chairman of Rajya Sabha

The controversy: Can a presiding officer reject the motion?

  • Section 3 of the Judges (Inquiry) Act, 1968, says the presiding officer may admit or refuse to admit the motion after holding consultations with such persons as he thinks fit, and considering the material before him
  • The law is open to interpretation on whether he can reject the motion on merits without sending the charges to a committee for investigation

Chairman’s view

  • Rajya Sabha Chairman said that there is little merit in any of the five charges as he has considered the implications for judicial independence if an investigation were ordered into charges that he says are based on mere suspicion and conjecture
  • Legal arguments cited: he has cited the Supreme Court ruling in  Krishna Swami v. Union of India (1992), which directed the Speaker (or Chairman) to act with utmost care, circumspection and responsibility and to keep equally in mind “the seriousness of the imputations, nature and quality of the record before him, and the indelible chilling effect on the public administration of justice and the independence of the judiciary in the estimate of the general public”.
    • He has also gone by Mehar Singh Saini (2010) to elaborate on the phrase “proved misbehaviour or incapacity”, used in Article 124(4) of the Constitution, the ground for impeachment of a Supreme Court judge

GS 3

Economy:

Centre seeks suggestions on long term capital gains clause (The Hindu)

Context

Proposed clause in Income Tax act

What has happened?

The Centre has opened for public discussion its proposed clause in the Income Tax Act that would give the government the power to specify the applicability of the long term capital gains tax and the security transaction tax

New section introduced in Finance Act 2018

The Finance Act 2018 had introduced Section 112A in the Income Tax Act, to provide that long term capital gains arising from the transfer of a long term capital asset, if it is an equity share in a company, be taxed at 10% of the value of the gains exceeding ₹1 lakh, only if securities transaction tax (STT) has been paid on the acquisition and transfer of such capital asset

Nabbing absconders (The Hindu Opinion)

Context

Approval of the promulgation of the Fugitive Economic Offenders Ordinance (FEOO), 2018 by the Union Cabinet

Who is a fugitive under the FEOO?

A fugitive is defined as someone who has left India to avoid criminal prosecution or who is already overseas and refuses to return to face the law

The need for such legislation

There have been instances of offenders fleeing the country to escape its justice system, and this legislation is an attempt to have a law to confiscate the assets of such persons till they return to face the law

Regulation of e-commerce necessary to protect consumers, spur growth: Prabhu (The Hindu)

Context

The government can regulate the e-commerce industry in a manner that safeguards the interests of the consumer and at the same time help the industry grow, Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu said on Tuesday

What are B2B & B2C businesses?

B2B is shorthand for business to business. The products and services of the business are marketed to other businesses. Examples include advertising agencies, web hosting and graphic design services, office furniture manufacturers and landlords who lease office and retail space

E-commerce is a B2C sector

Pre relevant info

B2C: The final customer is the consumer with a B2C business. Housecleaning services, restaurants and retail stores are examples of B2C companies. Websites that offer consumer products are B2C. The B2C sales cycle is shorter. The consumer is encouraged to buy the product immediately. For example, a mother is looking for educational toys. She finds the site, reviews the product and buys the toy

Industry can have both B2B & B2C

An industry may include both B2B and B2C companies. The book-publishing industry is a good example. Authors market their manuscripts to book publishers. Both the author and the book publisher are in a B2B relationship. The publisher prints and markets the books to booksellers, both online and in retail stores. This relationship is B2B as well. However, the bookstores sell to the final consumer and are in a B2C relationship.

Security and Defence:

Army set to break a glass ceiling (The Hindu) 

Context

Granting permanent commission to women officers who are in service now as Short Service Commission (SSC) officers

What has happened?

The Army is holding consultations for preparing a plan to grant permanent commission to women in its ranks as it becomes the last military arm to give up resistance to women serving until their age of retirement. Permanent commission would be granted to women officers who are in service now as Short Service Commission (SSC) officers. Those under the SSC get to serve a maximum of 14 years with multiple extensions, and have to leave service without pension in their 30s

Women officers are serving in Navy & Air Force

The Air Force and the Navy shed their opposition to granting permanent commission to women in 2010. As of now, 350 women serve both the forces as permanent commissioned officers, besides doctors and nurses who have historically served alongside male counterparts

Issues

Two issues remain now,

  • The practical challenges in deploying women in active areas such as Kashmir; and
  • The logistics requirements to accommodate them in areas that have been built exclusively for men

Environment:

New system to measure air quality (The Hindu)

Context

India is tying up with the United States and Finland to develop a pollution-forecast system that will help anticipate particulate matter (PM) levels at least two days in advance and at a greater resolution than what is possible now. The Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) will be coordinating this exercise and the plan is to have a system in place by winter, according to Madhavan Rajeevan, secretary, MoES

New system

  • It will use a different method of analysis. This could mean better resolution and more accurate forecasts
  • It will be jointly developed with expertise from the Finnish Meteorological Institute and the U.S.’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Focus area: A key focus would be to develop forecasts around the “stubble-burning season” that adds to Delhi’s pollution woes in the winter. This refers to the partially-burnt straw and chaff from fields in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, when farmers are preparing their fields for the sowing season

Present system in use

Currently, the System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research (SAFAR), run out of the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune, serves as the apex forecaster of pollution trends in Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Ahmedabad.

  • It generates a likely air quality profile, a day in advance, for these cities. IITM is an organisation under the MoES

Science and Technology:

ISRO recalls mega GSAT-11 from Kourou for re-tests (The Hindu)

Context

Recall of GSAT 11

What has happened?

Just over a fortnight after flying GSAT-11 out to Kourou for launch, the Indian Space Research Organisation has recalled the heaviest communication satellite it has built. The reason is said to be for conducting additional technical checks in Bengaluru, where it was built

GSAT-11

GSAT-11, a geostationary satellite, is aimed at providing multiple spot beam coverage in Ka and Ku bands over the Indian region and nearby islands. Its 12 gbps service is expected to be far more superior to older Indian communication satellites

Western Ghats reveal world’s smallest land fern (The Hindu)

Context

Discovery of world’s smallest land fern

What has happened?

Indian researchers have discovered the world’s smallest land fern hiding in the Ahwa forests of the Western Ghats in Gujarat’s Dang district. The fingernail-sized fern belongs to a group known as the adder’s-tongue ferns, named after their resemblance to a snake’s tongue

Species name: Ophioglossum malviae

Unique features

  • A look at the plant’s minuscule seeds (called spores) under a powerful electron microscope revealed it had a unique thick outer layer which similar species lacked
  • The plant’s DNA was also found to vary enough from its relatives to call it a new species
  • Size: 1 cm

What is a fern?

Ferns are a group of about 20,000 species of plants (of which about 10,000 are living) in the division Pteridophyta. Unlike bryophytes, ferns have xylem and phloem, which makes them vascular plants

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