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9 PM Daily Current Affairs Brief – April 1, 2021

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Here is our 9pm current affairs brief for you today

About 9 PM Brief- With the 9 PM Daily Current affairs for UPSC brief we intend to simplify the newspaper reading experience. In 9PM briefs, we provide our reader with a summary of all the important articles and editorials from three important newspapers namely The Hindu, Indian Express, and Livemint. This will provide you with analysis, broad coverage, and factual information from a Mains examination point of view.

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Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill, 2020 – Associated Issues

Source- The Indian Express

Syllabus- GS 2 – Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

Synopsis – The Medical Termination of Pregnancy MTP (Amendment) Bill 2020 Continues to ignore Pregnant person’s rights.

Introduction-

  • Recently, The Medical Termination of Pregnancy MTP (Amendment) Bill 2020 passed in the upper house by voice vote.
  • The bill seeks to amend the MTP Act, 1971. It provides for enhancing the upper gestation limit from 20 to 24 weeks for special categories of women but does not specify the category.
  • Although the MTP Amendment Bill does expand the gestational cap in some cases, it falls well short of becoming rights-based legislation.

Medical termination of pregnancy bill 2020 – explained

Objections raised in the Upper House

  • Lack of consultation with stakeholders.
  • Lack of inclusion of transgender people within the MTP framework.
  • Moreover, there is a lack of emphasis on women’s autonomy in pregnancy.
  • Medical boards would be a breach of privacy. It would cause excessive delays in access to abortion due to a shortage of specialists.
  • The time limit for decision-making by the medical board is missing. Moreover, the women’s representation is unclear.
Issues in the proposed Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020
  1. Lack of consultation with civil society and grassroots organizations. This is an example of drafting and enacting laws without consultation with the people who are most affected. The Recent Farm Bill, 2020 is a prime example of this.
  2. The provision still restricts abortion to a heteronormative framework. Only cisgender women are considered in it, and not persons with other gender identities.
    1. Under the heteronormative framework, it is a belief that there are only 2 two sexual orientations and genders i.e. male and female.
    2. Cisgender is the person, who identifies herself with the sex at the time of birth. The person who undergoes gender change is not a cisgender.
  3. Issues with setting up of Medical Boards – The MPT bill mandates the setup of a Medical Board in every state. The Medical Boards require giving opinions based on the facts regarding the termination of pregnancies.
      • This could cause severe delays in the abortion process.
      • Pregnant women living in rural areas in large parts of the country could find these Medical Boards inaccessible.
  4. The bill retains the hetero-patriarchal population control legacy. The bill continues with the lack of control to the women, of their reproductive and sexual rights. Abortion will be subject to doctor approval. This is in direct contrast with the Supreme Court’s precedent on reproductive autonomy and bodily integrity.
  5. The Bill’s provisions continue to criminalize abortion. It will promote negative stereotypes and stigma surrounding reproduction, sexuality, and motherhood.
Way forward

Before drafting or enacting legislation, the government must ensure the following:

  • Consultation with all stakeholders – Consultations and deliberations with members from civil society and grassroots organizations should be held by the government since they all have an interest in the implementation of such laws based on their personal experiences.
  • Women can be responsible for their own choices- The decision to terminate a pregnancy should be granted to the woman, not to doctors or any medical board.
      • The paternalistic notion that women need assistance in making decisions about their sexual and reproductive rights needs to change.

Afghan Peace Process and India’s stake in it

Source: The Hindu

Syllabus: GS-2: India and Neighbourhood relations

Synopsis: India should actively involve in the Afghan Peace Process and use its influence to guarantee peace in Afghanistan.

Introduction:

India’s position in the Afghan Peace process has evolved over the years. There is a subtle shift in New Delhi’s approach towards the Afghan crisis. For example,

  • In the 1990s and 2000s, India constantly opposed any dealings with the Taliban. 
  • In 2018 during the time when Russia hosted Afghan and Taliban talks, India had sent a diplomatic delegation to Moscow.
  • During the 9th Heart of Asia Conference in Tajikistan, the External Affairs Minister said that India supports talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

How the countries participating in the Afghan peace process?

  1. Firstly, the new Afghan peace process by the Joe Biden administration of the US includes two important proposals:
    • Establishment of a single transition government between the warring parties.
    • UN-led multilateral conference of ambassadors from India, China, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, and the US. India has supported this UN-led process.  
  2. Secondly, the U.S. has signed a deal with the Taliban. Under this, the American troops are scheduled to pull back from Afghanistan by May 1.
  3. Thirdly, the Participation of Other countries in Afghan peace process:
    • China had communicated with the Taliban long ago.
    • Russia has hosted several rounds of talks with the Taliban.
    • European powers have also shown interest in funding talks.
  4. Fourthly, the participation of India: The inaugural session of Intra-Afghan peace talks occurred in Doha in September 2020. The External Affairs Minister was present at the inaugural session. This is in conformity with the long-held Indian position on the Afghan peace process. That is, any peace process should be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled.

Why India needs to improve its participation in the Afghan peace process?

India’s economic, strategic and security ties could be disturbed if the Taliban takes over. Recently, India has improved its relations with Afghanistan in the following ways. 

  1. India has built deep ties with the Afghan people and the government by investing in multiple projects. These projects deal with education, power generation, irrigation, and other infrastructure development, etc. 
  2. India has sent Afghanistan its first batch of vaccines in February.
  3. Recently, India had signed an agreement to build the Shahtoot dam near Kabul.

So, India has to be more flexible and adapt to the new strategic reality. 

Suggestions to improve India’s participation:

  • India needs to figure out how to help Afghanistan to end the violence without total submission of power to the Taliban. 
  • India joining the peace process could strengthen the hands of the Afghan government. As the government is negotiating from a position of weakness.
  • Apart from that, India should use its regional influence to deepen ties with both the U.S. and Russia to achieve double peace. (Both inside Afghanistan and in the region.)

The New EPF Tax Rules Should be Re-examined

Source: The Hindu 

Syllabus: GS 2 – Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes

Synopsis: A limit on tax-free income under EPF(Employees Provident Fund) contributions is under the proposal. The intended objective is to prevent abuse of process by HNIs (High net individuals), however, there are some concerns that demand re-examination.

Background

  • Before the budget announcement, the EPF contributions were taxable beyond the permissible tax-free limit (1.5 lakh per annum) under Section 80C of the Income Tax Act. 
  • However, there was no tax on interest income earned on such contributions except in the case of premature withdrawals (before 5 years).

What changes have been made?

  • The finance bill 2021 was passed with 127 amendments.
  • This included a proposal to tax the interest earned on EPF contributions beyond Rs. 2.5 lakh rupees.
  • The limit is 5 lakh in cases where employers do not make contributions to the provident fund.

Rationale behind the proposal:

  • It intends to prevent abuse of process by HNIs who was getting the benefit of tax exemption at all stages — contribution, interest accumulation, and withdrawal.
    • Example: More than 20 accounts in EPF hold a balance of around 800 crores which is completely tax-free.
  • Further, the move will not harm other contributors as 90% of them contribute less than 2.5 lakh.

Concerns with new EPF rules:

  • Complexity – Earlier the process was simple and easy to understand. But now the taxation of interest makes it difficult to ascertain the retirement amount.
    • It is also unclear if the interest on such excess contributions is to be taxed once during the year of contribution or throughout the term of investment in EPF. 
    • The mechanism of tax communication from the EPFO to the member also remains uncertain. 
  • Double Taxation: Contribution above 1.5 lakh is already taxable under the Income Tax act. Taxing interest over 2.5 lakh contribution can lead to double taxation. 
  • Regressive View: The government is treating more investment by the rich as a regressive move that would do only evil. 
    • A greater contribution is helpful considering the medical cost, inflation, volatile interest rate cycles, and minimal choices for post-retirement investments.
    • Further, corporates earn from a mix of government securities and market instruments. The government gives them no subsidy towards EPF. 
  • Ignore the safety potential: The new rules ignore the safety of investment under EPF. It is the government backing that induces greater investment rather than a desire to abuse the tax concessions under the instrument. 

Way Forward:

  • Reconsideration of tax proposals is desired so that EPF remains the primary retirement saving instrument for people owing to its attractive nature and not by compulsion.
  • Further systems at EPFO will require changes as taxation of the annual interest rate is a new concept for the organization.
EPF (Employees Provident Fund):

  • EPF is a social security scheme under the Employees’ Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act,1952
  • Managed by: The scheme is managed under the aegis of Employees’ Provident Fund Organization (EPFO).
  • Coverage: EPF accounts are mandatory for employees earning up to ₹15,000 a month in firms with over 20 workers.
  • Contribution: Under the scheme, an employee has to pay a 12% contribution towards the scheme. An equal contribution is paid by the employer. The employee gets a lump sum amount including self and employer’s contribution with interest on retirement.
  • The employees can transfer contributions from one employer to another with the support of the Universal Account Regime. Withdrawal is possible only after permanent cessation of employment. 

Critical Analysis of 15th Finance Commission Recommendations for Local Bodies

Source: The Hindu

Gs2: Devolution of Powers and Finances up to Local Levels and Challenges Therein.

Synopsis: Critical analysis of the recommendation of the 15th Finance Commission on grants to the local bodies.

Background

  • The primary task of the Union Finance Commission (FC) is to rectify the vertical and horizontal imbalances between the Union, the States, and the Local bodies.
  • Part IX and Part IX-A of the Constitution mandate the FC to supplement the resources of panchayats and municipalities. It should be on the basis of the recommendations of the State Finance Commission.
  • Local governance in India consists of nearly 2.5 lakh local governments and over 3.4 million elected representatives.
  • The significance of Local governments was highlighted during the Pandemic. The Gram Sabha and other participatory institutions were instrumental in containing the crisis and delivering social protection in India.

What were the lacunas in the recommendation of 15th FC for the local government?

While there are some critical lacunae, it has several positive features too,

Positives:

  • First, the Grants to local bodies is high compared to the previous Finance Commission. For example, Finance Commission has granted Rs 4,36,361 crore from the central divisive tax pool to local governments.
  • Second, it will strengthen cooperative federalism. Out of the total grants earmarked for Panchayati raj institutions, 60 percent is earmarked for national priorities. (drinking water, rainwater harvesting, sanitation, etc.,).

Concerns:

  1. First, the 15th FC has failed to provide Performance-based grants for the Panchayati raj. While only 8000 crores (for incubation of new cities) has been allocated to Urban local bodies.
      • The performance-linked grants were thoughtfully introduced by the 13th Finance Commission.
      • It earmarked 35% of local grants specifying six conditions for panchayats and nine for urban local governments. For example, the establishment of an independent ombudsman, notifying standards for service sectors such as drinking water and solid waste management, etc.,
      • Performance-linked conditionality is vital for improving the quality of decentralised governance, especially in underperforming local bodies.
      • By neglecting the Performance-based grants, 15th FC has failed to acknowledge the transformative potential in it.
  2. Second, there are no entry-level criteria specified for Gram Panchayats to avail grants.
      • Whereas, the 14th FC, has recommended measures to standardize the accounting system and update the auditing of accounts.
      • Without reliable data on Financial performance, it will be difficult to ensure Good governance.
  3. Third, the 15th FC has missed the opportunity to ‘restructure the public finance’ for greater fiscal decentralisation in providing basic services. It will ensure comparable minimum public services to every citizen irrespective of her choice of residential location.
    • The 11th and 12th schedules demand better public services and delivery of ‘economic development and social justice at the local level.
    • To fulfill this mandate we need fiscal decentralization. Public finance is an integrated whole and there needs to be an integrated, local government-centric approach as envisioned in the Alma-Ata declaration of the World Health Organization
  4. Fourth, the 15th FC has used the criteria of the population (2011 Census) with 90% weightage and area 10% weightage for determining grant to local governments. However, it ignores equity and efficiency criteria.

We need to fiscally empower local governments to deliver territorial equity and to empower local people.


The NCT of Delhi Act, 2021 Enhances Cooperative Federalism

Source: The Hindu

Gs2: Issues and Challenges Pertaining to the Federal Structure

Synopsis: The accusation made on the Government regarding the passage of the Government of the NCT (National Capital Territory) of the Delhi Act is groundless.

Background of the NCT of Delhi Bill
  • Last week, both Houses of Parliament voted in favor of the amendments to the Government of the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi Act.
  • Many criticized the passage of the bill that the government is undermining the federal structure of the country. Some have equated the passage of the bill as the death of democracy and Federalism.
  • But the government mentioned the Bill as a necessary change vital for the following things,
    • Ensuring clear-cut roles and responsibilities.
    • To remove ambiguities in the governance of the NCT of Delhi
    • To facilitate a clear chain of command among stakeholders
 Why the accusation against the NCT of Delhi Bill is groundless?

The Evolution of The GNCT of Delhi bill has to be examined carefully to understand the issues against the accusations of the GNCT bill.

  • First, the aim of the amendments was to clear the ambiguities in the roles of various stakeholders. Since various court judgments have observed the ambiguities and lack of clarity. The government through the recent amendment brought consistency in the definition of the term “Government”.
    1. The amendment clearly stated that the term ‘government’ refers to the Lieutenant Governor. By doing this, the government has only formalised the definition of a term that the Delhi Assembly itself had already accepted.
    2. For example, in 2015 the Legislative Assembly of Delhi passed the Delhi Netaji Subhas University of Technology Bill. It was sent for the President’s assent.
    3. However, it was returned to the Delhi assembly as it had defined the term “Government” as the “Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi.
    4. Later, the Delhi assembly sent a modified version of the Bill for the President’s assent. This time the definition of “government” was described as “Lieutenant Governor of NCT Delhi appointed by the President.”
  • Second, the government has proved itself as a torch-bearer of Federalism. For example, the government provided equal opportunities for States in the following events. Such as,
      1. The creation of NITI Aayog,
      2. During the establishment of the Goods and Services Tax Council,
      3. The acceptance of the Fifteenth Finance Commission’s recommendations for greater devolution.
  • Third, the amendments will ensure that there is no encroachment in legislative matters in the union’s jurisdiction. NCT Delhi has no legislative competence in matters pertaining to the police, public order, and land. However, the current proposals for providing statehood to Delhi Legislative Assembly involve one major risk. That is the encroachment of the Delhi assembly on these subjects.
  • Fourth, Delhi is of unique importance to India. It hosts the Parliament, the seat of the Union Government, Supreme court, Foreign embassies, and other institutions of national importance. In such instances, ensuring the opinion of the Lieutenant Governor can only ensure the smooth functioning of the government.

So, the NCT of Delhi (Amendment) Bill balances the proper functioning of the Delhi Assembly and the cooperative federalism in India.

 

Factly :-News Articles For UPSC Prelims | 1 Apr, 2021

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