Electoral reforms in the hands of politicians is a classic example of a fox guarding the henhouse. While there are many policies that both major parties disagree with each other on, they form a remarkable tag team when it comes to electoral reforms.
- The Supreme Court’s recent decision on information disclosure paves a way for future constitutional interventions in India’s party funding regime, including the scheme of electoral bonds.
Disclosure of information:
- In 2002, the Supreme Court, in a landmark decision in Association for Democratic Reforms v. Union of India (ADR), mandated the disclosure of information.
- The disclosure relates to criminal antecedents, educational qualification, and personal assets of a candidate contesting elections.
- Sixteen years later, the court has extended the disclosure obligation to further include information relating to sources of income of candidates and their “associates”, and government contracts where candidates or their associates have direct or indirect interests.
- The principled basis of the court’s decision is that voters’ right to know about their candidate is an extension of their freedom of expression.
- If there is one piece of information that a voter is most deprived of in India, it is that about party funding.
- Representation of the People Act, 1951: Section 29C(1)(a) exempts political parties from disclosing the source of any contribution below 20,000.
- This gives political parties a convenient loophole to hide their funding sources by breaking contributions into smaller sums, even 19,999 each.
- As a result, a vast majority of donations to political parties come from sources unknown to voters.
- The new scheme of electoral bonds takes away even the facade of disclosure requirements that used to exist in earlier law.
- Parties occupy a special space in India when it comes to agenda setting.
- By virtue of a strong anti-defection law in India, all elected legislators are bound by their party agenda.
- If an elected legislator refuses to toe the party line, she can be disqualified.
The Supreme Court has asked the Union government to take a “categorical stand” on establishing an independent body to review the salaries and allowances of Members of Parliament and, possibly, scrap their post-retirement benefits and perks.
- The petition, filed by NGO Lok Prahari, argued that the pension and perks given to MPs, after they demitted office, were contrary to Article 14 (right to equality) of the Constitution.
- It said Parliament had no power to provide benefits to lawmakers without making any law.
- It also argued that there were no guidelines for granting allowances.
- The NGO has highlighted that how a one-time MP, was eligible for pension for the rest of his life, and such expenditure was a drain on the exchequer.
The Bench has observed that irrespective of the government in power, the issue is a matter of concern
The Union Cabinet has approved the setting up of a tribunal to settle a row between Odhisa and Chhattisgarh on sharing the waters of the Mahanadi River.
What will be the role of the Tribunal?
The tribunal is expected to determine water sharing among basin States on the basis of the overall availability of water in the complete Mahanadi basin, the contribution of each State, the present utilisation of water resource in each State and the potential for future development
- The Odhisa government had moved to the Supreme Court in December 2016, for an order asking Chhattisgarh to stop construction of barrages upstream of Mahanadi saying it affected the river flow in Odhisa
- The Supreme Court in January had order the Centre to set up a tribunal in response to a plea by the Odhisa government to stop the Chhattisgarh government from constructing several weirs on the river.
- The order on constituting a new tribunal has come even as the government plans to introduce a new bill that would have a single tribunal to replace all existing water tribunals.
About the Bill:
- The bill, called the Inter-State River Disputes (Amendment) Bill, was introduced in the Lok Sabha by former Water Resources Minister in March 2017
- The proposed Bill has provisions for members, even a chairperson, outside the judiciary.
- The Bill could affect the composition of the members of various tribunals.
Note: Currently, all tribunals are staffed by members of the judiciary, nominated by the Chief Justice.
Rationale behind setting up single tribunal:
- The driving motive behind such a tribunal was that tribunals had a decades-long history of being “extremely inefficient” at settling disputes quickly and fairly
- According to the provisions of the Inter-State River Water Disputes (ISRWD) Act, 1956, the tribunal is required to submit its report and decision within a period of three years, which can be extended for a period not exceeding two years. However, there have always been delays
- The delays are on account of there being no time limit for adjudication by a tribunal, no upper age limit for the Chairman or the Members, work stalling due to occurrence of vacancy and no time limit for publishing the report of the tribunal
Bangladesh has agreed to sell a large stake in its stock exchange to a Chinese consortium
What has happened?
- The Dhaka Stock Exchange on February 10th had approved the Chinese offer to buy a quarter of the bourse’s 1.8 billion shares
- Bangladesh’s financial regulator has asked it to “further scrutinise” the decision.
- India’s NSE had offered 15 taka ($0.18) per share during the tender process this month.
- China’s Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges made a joint higher bid of 22 taka per share, or $122 million, and offered additional technical support worth nearly $37 million.
The China Factor in Indo-Bangladesh ties
- The intervention by the Bangladesh Securities and Exchange Commission in the sale sparked allegations in local media that it was trying to favour India.
- The competing bids have exposed tensions in Bangladesh as it juggles growing interest from China against long-standing ties with its huge neighbour India.
- In recent years, India has made big investments in Bangladesh and Indian companies have won multi-billion contracts in key sectors
- But increasingly it must counter China, which has also courted India’s arch-rival Pakistan and strategic Indian Ocean nations including Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
- The Trump administration said in December 2017 that it was considering the discontinuation of work authorisation for H-4 visa holders, which may impact thousands of Indians
- By providing the possibility of employment authorisation to certain H-4 dependent spouses, the rule will reorganize certain disincentives for talented H-1B non-immigrants to permanently remain in the U.S. and continue contributing to the U.S. economy.
- This is an important goal considering the contributions such individuals make to entrepreneurship and research and development, which are highly correlated with overall economic growth and job creation.
- Since then more than 1,00,000 spouses of those who are waiting for permanent residency in the U.S. received Employment Authorisation Documents (EAD).
- The new rule allowed a pool of highly skilled workers to participate in the U.S. economy as employees, but a few people fall in a distinct category within the cohort — entrepreneurs.
- If this move to end H4 EAD goes through, many will be the worst affected.
Bangladesh’s Prime Minister has said that India should put pressure on Myanmar to take back the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh
- Bangladesh Prime Minister has said that India should be more assertive so that the Rohingya can return to Myanmar
- She also said that her government has cracked down on terrorism and insurgency and has a ‘zero-tolerance’ attitude towards terrorism.
- She added that neglecting the condition of the Rohingya may create conditions for violence.
Bangladesh and Myanmar recently signed an agreement under which Dhaka gave a list of approximately 8,000 refugees to be returned Myanmar
- When India had sent a message asking the government not to extend the state of emergency, the Maldives has set for a collision course with India, as a parliamentary committee voted to extend the state of emergency by 30 days, defying India’s expectation.
Emergency rule defying the Supreme Court order:
- Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, the president of yameen had declared emergency rule on February 5, for 15 days, after defying the Supreme Court order.
- The Opposition termed the move illegal.
Illegal Extension of state of emergency:
- The government can’t extend the state of emergency legally, because it does not have the 43 legislators in the Majlis (Parliament) that must vote in favour of it.
- The Constitution states that 43 MPs must be present during a vote on a matter of public compliance and a state of emergency is a matter of public compliance.
Implement SC ruling:
- India is yet to indicate its strategy in responding to the ongoing political and constitutional crisis in its neighbourhood.
- India has reiterated its position and urged Male to implement the SC ruling.
- It is important that Maldives quickly returns to the path of democracy and the rule of law.
According to a media report, China has been quietly holding talks with Baloch militants in Pakistan’s restive Baluchistan province for over five years to protect its $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor initiative.
What is the issue?
- The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), over which India has conveyed its protests to China.
- As CPEC will boost Chinese economy, China has stepped into some of the world’s most complex conflict zones
- Pakistan has welcomed the talks between Baloch rebels and Chinese envoys. According to Pakistan, peace in Balochistan will benefit both Pakistan and China.
About China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)
- The corridor is 3000 km long
- It is aimed at connecting China and Pakistan with rail, road, pipelines and optical cable fiber network.
- It connects China’s Xinjiang province with Pakistan’s Gwadar port, providing access to China to the Arabian Sea.
- The project, when completed, would enable China to pump its oil supplies from the Middle East through pipelines to Xinjiang cutting considerable distance for Chinese ships to travel to China.
According to a Chinese website, a Chinese naval contingent has been deployed in the East Indian Ocean
What is in news?
- According to the report, the Blue 2018A fleet of the Chinese Navy has been training in the East Indian Ocean for a ‘week or so’
- The website has linked the deployment of the warships, including an amphibious vessel that can transfer troops from sea to land, to the evolving situation in the Maldives.
- The post has also highlighted that two additional naval groups, already deployed for anti-piracy escort missions of commercial ships, beef up the Navy’s overall deployment in the Indian Ocean at this time.
- These include the 27th escort convoy comprising a destroyer, frigate and a replenishment ship that may have entered the south Indian Ocean, having crossed the southern tip of Africa, after completing its mission in the Atlantic
- It partners with the Navy’s third ship contingent in the Indian Ocean — the 28th convoy escort formation in the western Indian Ocean.
- However, Indian defence sources have denied any movement of Chinese ships near Maldives
Significance of the issue:
- According to an Australian website, the entry of Chinese warships in the Indian Ocean marks a significant shift in regional power.
- It shows that China is trying to exercise influence over a small state more usually within India’s strategic view
- It is expected to intensify strategic competition and increase mistrust between China and India
- An Artificial Intelligence that can match human intelligence in all respects is unlikely because it is impossible for AI technology to replicate that which makes human intelligence what it is.
Worldwide spending on AI solutions:
- International Data Corporation, the market intelligence agency, estimates that worldwide spending on AI solutions will grow to $57.6 billion by 2021.
- The lion’s share of the investments is being made by the Big Five: Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft.
Financialization and globalization and digitization:
- Capitalism faced a crisis of profitability in the 1970s.
- Opinions differ regarding its causes, but the global elite had no doubts about the solution: financialisation and globalisation.
- Also known as the “neo-liberal turn”, it helped solve the problem of falling rates of profit.
- If financialisation and globalisation made it possible for corporates to tap into markets anywhere in the world, digitalisation gave them the means to do so.
- Uber is the perfect example of what capitalism wants to be when financialisation, globalisation, and digitalisation come together.
- Platform Capitalism is a business structured as platforms that are digital equivalent of oil rigs, ideally placed to mine the networked economy’s most valuable resource by inserting themselves between different sets of users, turning every interaction into a data point, and feeding it all into an algorithm.
- Platform businesses leverage their ability to scale-up the digitisation of a given activity to quickly build monopolies that, in turn, boost their ability to collect more data.
- The AI foregrounds two inter-related issues that citizens must consider carefully: data ownership and labour protection.
- So, contrary to neoclassical economic wisdom, AI cannot sever the link between labour and economic value, though it does substitute dead labour (capital) for living labour.
- Tuberculosis (TB) has become a national crisis in India.
- At the opening day of the 5the Global Forum on TB Vaccines in New Delhi, Health Ministry assured the TB community that eliminating the disease by 2025 had the ‘highest level of commitment from the PM office.
- Nearly 4.2 lakh Indians die of the disease every year
- Out of the 10 million cases globally, India shoulders the maximum burden with 2.8 million cases.
- According to Health Ministry data, only 63% of the patients infected with the airborne disease are currently under treatment.
- Further, 1,47,000 patients are resistant to first and second line TB medicines.
- At the current rate of progress, global targets to eliminate TB by 2030 will be missed by a 150 years.
- Globally, governments need to invest more in TB research and development to meet the global targets.
- The Enforcement Directorate, which has in the past few days carried out searches at more than 100 locations in connection with the Rs. 11,500-crore fraudulent transactions case involving the Punjab National Bank (PNB), is grappling with a severe manpower crunch.
- It is functioning with less than 50% of approved strength
- In the PNB case, the ED has conducted searches across 13 States and seized assets worth Rs. 5,726 crore.
- The agency seized properties valued at Rs. 10 crore.
- It is also initiating the process for attaching 39 immoveable assets belonging to the accused persons. Owing to staff shortage, it had to move several officials from one zone to another.
What has happened?
- Recently, PNB found that the SWIFT system had been misused by junior-level branch officials, who had fraudulently issued letters of undertaking (LoUs) on behalf of some companies for availing buyers credit from overseas branches of Indian banks.
- The alleged fraud was carried out through misuse of Letters of Undertaking or LoUs issued by Punjab National Bank
Lack of manpower
- The directorate is currently functioning with less than 50% of the approved strength of 2,064 posts.
- While there are 900 officials handling operations at various levels, there is a vacancy of more than 300 investigating officials, which has resulted in increased work pressure on the present set-up.
- The agency is empowered to conduct investigations under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA)and the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA).
- According to a report submitted by the ED to the government, the agency has brought down the pending FEMA cases from 4,700 to 1,900 since 2014.
- All the cases registered before 2001 have been disposed of.
- Under the PMLA, which came into force in 2005, the directorate had 1,300 pending cases.
- By last year, investigations were completed in over 850.
- Just after few days after news of the ₹11,500 crore fraud at Punjab National Bank broke, another different scam of a ₹3,695 crore wilful loan default has surfaced.
Why in news?
- The Central Bureau of Investigation has registered a case against three directors of a Kanpur-based company, and others including unknown bank officials, on allegations of cheating a consortium of banks by siphoning off loans disbursed to the company.
Similarity between two cases:
- The similarities lie in the breakdown in internal control mechanisms and in the supervisory failure at the banks.
- In the case of Kanpur-based Rotomac Global, it had availed credit limits from a consortium of seven public sector bank and was used for a range of seemingly unrelated transactions including the import of gems and jewellery and the export of wheat.
- It took too long for the criminal complaints to be filed against the defaulters.
- In the case of the Punjab National Bank fraud, letters of undertaking were issued bypassing the bank’s reporting system; the three-tier audit failed to detect the malfeasance.
- It is important to determine why the Reserve Bank of India, which is vested with keeping an eye on bank books, was unable to take prompt corrective action in this case.
- Improvement in the functioning of the PSBs.
- Empowering bank managements and securing their independence from political interference.
- To restore the depositor’s faith in the banking system.
- The judiciary must ensure that prompt and salutary action is taken.
- Rather than routinely reiterate the importance of strengthening corporate governance in public sector banks and promising to infuse greater professionalism, transparency and accountability, it is time the Centre, the major shareholder in these institutions, takes serious steps to translate this intent into action.
- Amarjeet Sohi, Canada’s Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, spoke of his country’s Smart City Challenge, something that has been inspired by India.
Canada’s Smart City Challenge:
- According to Amarjeet Sohi, the way the challenges work is to call municipalities to identify problems and then use technology to solve these problems.
- Further, viable projects can be funded.
- Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge aims to find the city that possesses the boldest, most experimental, inclusive, empowering, and digitally transformative ideas in the country.
- The government recently approved several railway projects, including a 130 km-long Jeypore-Malkangiri project at a cost of ₹ 2,676 crore and another 425 km-long Jhansi-Manikpur and Bhimsen-Khairar line doubling-cum-electrification projects costing ₹ 4,956 crore.
- The Jeypore-Malkangiri new line project, likely to be completed by 2021-22, will cover the left wing extremism (LWE) affected districts of Koraput and Malkangiri of Odisha.
- The Jhansi-Manikpur and Bhimsen-Khairar projects are likely to be completed by 2022-23.
- The projects will cover the districts of Jhansi, Mahoba, Banda, Chitrakut Dham in Uttar Pradesh and Chhatarpur in Madhya Pradesh.
- The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) also approved 116.95 km-long Bhatni-Aurnihar line doubling-cum-electrification at a cost of ₹1,300.9 crore.
- Likely to be completed by 2021-22, it will cover the districts of Deoria, Ballia, Mau and Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh.
- The CCEA also gave its approval to the construction of 4.5 km-long two-lane bi-directional Silkyara Bend-Barkot Tunnel as part of ‘Chardham Mahamarg Pariyojana’. The construction period of the project is four years.
Boost to Malkangiri:
- At present, Malkangiri has no rail connectivity.
- The new line will provide infrastructure support for overall development and help combat left wing extremism.
- Opening up commercial coal mining for Indian and foreign companies in the private sector, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs approved the methodology for auction of coal mines/blocks for sale of the commodity.
- The government described the move as the most ambitious reform of the sector since its nationalisation in 1973.
- Coal accounts for around 70% of the country’s power generation.
- This reform is expected to bring efficiency into the coal sector by moving from an era of monopoly to competition.
- It will increase competitiveness and allow the use of best possible technology into the sector.
- Public sector undertaking Coal India was so far the lone commercial miner in the country for over four decades.
- The company accounts for 84% of India’s coal output.
- It gives highest priority to transparency, ease of doing business and ensures that natural resources are used for national development.
- Entire revenue from the auction of coal mines for sale of coal would accrue to the coal bearing States, this methodology shall incentivise them with increased revenues which can be utilised for the growth and development of backward areas .