Daily Current Affairs : 15th September 2020

Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE

Topics Covered

  1. Supplementary Grants
  2. Finance Commission of India
  3. Review Petition
  4. Phosphine gas on Venus
  5. Issues with Agricultural Reforms Bills
  6. Facts for Prelims

1 . Supplementary Grants


Context: Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman tabled the first batch of Supplementary Demands for Grants for this financial year in the Lok Sabha on Monday.

Details about the Grants

  • The Centre has sought Parliament approval for a gross additional expenditure of ₹2.35 lakh crore, including ₹20,000 crore for recapitalisation of public sector banks, for 2020-21.
  • Out of the ₹2.35 lakh crore gross additional expenditure, the proposals involving net cash outgo add up to almost ₹1.67 lakh crore.
  • The rest of the money will come either through savings or reallocation of funds allocated to other ministries.
  • The supplementary demand for grants is needed for government expenditure over and above the amount for which Parliamentary approval was already obtained during the Budget session.

Details of Allocations

  • The supplementary demand includes additional allocations to pay for relief measures announced as part of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana in March, and the Aatmanirbhar Bharat stimulus package in May.
  • The biggest chunk will go towards the State governments, including ₹44,340 crore in post-devolution revenue deficit grants, and ₹2,262 crore as grants-in-aid for the State Disaster Response Funds, in accordance with the interim recommendations of the 15th Finance Commission
  • The other large allocation is for the ₹40,000 crore additional funding promised to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme.
  • The Department of Financial Services has included a sum of ₹20,000 crore “for meeting expenditure towards recapitalisation of public sector banks through issue of government securities.
  • The Health Ministry included demands worth ₹6,852 crore for containment of the pandemic, plus additional grants for procurement of materials and machinery, equipping government hospitals, and research.

What are Supplementary Demand for Grants?

  • Article 115 of the constitution provides for Supplementary, additional or excess grants.
  • Supplementary grants are additional grants which is required to meet the expenditure of the government
  • Supplementary Demand for Grants is presented when
    • Authorized amounts are insufficient
    • Need for additional expenditure has arisen.

Process of approval of the grants

  • If the amount authorised to be expended for a particular service for the current financial year is found to be insufficient for the purpose of that year or when a need has arisen during the current financial year for supplementary or additional expenditure upon some ‘newservice’ not contemplated in the Budget for that year, the President causes to be laid before both the Houses of Parliament another statement showing the estimated amount of that expenditure.
  • If any money has been spent on any service during a financial year in excess of the amount granted for the service for that year, the President causes to be presented to Lok Sabha a demand for such excess.
  • All cases involving such excesses are brought to the notice of Parliament by the Comptroller and Auditor General through a report on the Appropriation Accounts.
  • The excesses are then examined by the Public Accounts Committee which makes recommendations regarding their regularisation in its report to the House.
  • The Supplementary Demands for Grants are presented to and passed by the House before the end of the financial year while the demands for excess grants are made after the expenditure has actually been incurred and after the financial year to which it relates has expired.

Other grants

  • Excess Grant is the grant in excess of the approved grants for meeting the requisite expenses of the government.
  • Additional Grant is granted when a need has arisen during the current financial year for supplementary or additional expenditure upon some new service not contemplated in the Budget for that year.
  • Token Grant : When funds to meet proposed expenditure on a new service can be made available by reappropriation, a demand for the grant of a token sum may be submitted to the vote of the House and, if the House assents to the demand, funds may be so made available

2 . Finance Commission of India


Context : The Fifteenth Finance Commission (FFC) will submit its report containing recommendations on the sharing of tax revenues between the Centre and States for the period 2021-22 to 2025-26 to the President on October 31.

About Finance Commission

  • The Finance Commission is constituted by the President under article 280 of the Constitution, mainly to give its recommendations on distribution of tax revenues between the Union and the States and amongst the States themselves.
  • Two distinctive features of the Commission’s work involve redressing the vertical imbalances between the taxation powers and expenditure responsibilities of the centre and the States respectively and equalization of all public services across the States.
  • It is constituted by the President of India at an interval of five years or earlier.

Composition of Finance Commission

  • The Finance Commission has a chairman and four members appointed by the President.
  • The government of India provides necessary support and manpower including a secretary to the commission to facilitate its work.
  • In November 2017, President of India constituted the 15th Finance Commission and appointed former Planning Commission member NK Singh as its chairman.

Qualification

  • As per the provisions contained in the Finance Commission [Miscellaneous Provisions] Act, 1951 and The Finance Commission (Salaries & Allowances) Rules, 1951, the Chairman of the Commission is selected from among persons who have had experience in public affairs,
  • The four other members are selected from among persons who–
    • are, or have been, or are qualified to be appointed as Judges of a High Court; or
    • have special knowledge of the finances and accounts of Government; or
    • have had wide experience in financial matters and in administration; or
    • have special knowledge of economics

Functions

 It is the duty of the Commission to make recommendations to the President as to—  

  • the distribution between the Union and the States of the net proceeds of taxes which are to be, or may be, divided between them and the allocation between the States of the respective shares of such proceeds; 
  • the principles which should govern the grants-in-aid of the revenues of the States out of the Consolidated Fund of India;
  • the measures needed to augment the Consolidated Fund of a State to supplement the resources of the Panchayats in the State on the basis of the recommendations made by the Finance Commission of the State;
  • the measures needed to augment the Consolidated Fund of a State to supplement the resources of the Municipalities in the State on the basis of the recommendations made by the Finance Commission of the State;
  • any other matter referred to the Commission by the President in the interests of sound finance.

How are the recommendations of Finance Commission implemented?

The recommendations of the Finance Commission are implemented  as under:-

  • Those to be implemented by an order of the President: The recommendations relating to distribution of Union Taxes and Duties and Grants-in-aid fall in this category.
  • Those to be implemented by executive orders: Other recommendations to be made by the Finance Commission, as per its Terms of Reference

Reports of Finance Commission

  • Under Article 281 of the Constitution, the President of India is required to cause laying of the Finance Commission report before each House of Parliament along with an explanatory note and the action taken by the government on the Commission’s recommendations.

State Finance Commissions

  • The 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1992 created the Panchayati Raj institutions as the third level of a three-tier democratic governance system at the village level, intermediate level and district level. It also mandated the constitution of a Finance Commission every five years by state governments to decide the division of resources (tax proceeds) between a state government and Panchayati Raj institutions at all levels.

3 . Review Petition


Context : Prashant Bhushan pays ₹1 fine, says review petition being filed

About Review Petition

  • Supreme court has the power to review its own judgement. The powers of the Supreme Court to review its own judgements are elaborated in the article 137 of the Constitution of India. This has to be read with the provisions of any law made by Parliament or any rule made under article 145 of the constitution
  • The petition or appeal goes before the same bench who had delivered the initial judgment.
  • Generally the review petition is filed under very limited grounds, such as an error apparent on the face of record.
  • Review Petition is not an appeal

Who can file a review petition?

  • It is not necessary that only parties to a case can seek a review of the judgment on it.
  • As per the Civil Procedure Code and the Supreme Court Rules, any person aggrieved by a ruling can seek a review.
  • The court exercises discretion to allow a review petition only when it shows the grounds for seeking the review.

What is the procedure the court uses to consider a review petition?

  • As per 1996 rules framed by the Supreme Court, a review petition must be filed within 30 days of the date of judgment or order.
  • While a judgment is the final decision in a case, an order is an interim ruling that is subject to its final verdict. In certain circumstances, the court can condone a delay in filing the review petition if the petitioner can establish strong reasons that justify the delay.
  • The rules state that review petitions would ordinarily be entertained without oral arguments by lawyers. It is heard “through circulation” by the judges in their chambers.
  • Review petitions are also heard, as far as practicable, by the same combination of judges who delivered the order or judgment that is sought to be reviewed. If a judge has retired or is unavailable, a replacement is made keeping in mind the seniority of judges. In exceptional cases, the court allows an oral hearing.

What if a review petition fails?

  • As the court of last resort, the Supreme Court’s verdict cannot result in a miscarriage of justice.
  • In Roopa Hurra v Ashok Hurra (2002), the court itself evolved the concept of a curative petition, which can be heard after a review is dismissed to prevent abuse of its process.
  • A curative petition is also entertained on very narrow grounds like a review petition, and is generally not granted an oral hearing.

4 . Phosphine gas on Venus


Context: Scientists have detected in the harshly acidic clouds of Venus a gas called phosphine that indicates microbes may inhabit Earth’s inhospitable neighbour, a tantalizing sign of potential life beyond Earth.

Details of the discovery

  • The researchers found the phosphine using spectroscopy, which is the study of how light interacts with molecules. When sunlight passes through Venus’s atmosphere, each molecule absorbs very specific colours of this light. Using telescopes on Earth, we can take this light and split it into a massive rainbow. Each type of molecule present in Venus’ atmosphere produces a distinctive pattern of dark absorption lines in this rainbow, like an identifying barcode.
  • Astronomers used radio telescopes James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii and confirmed it using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) radio telescope in Chile which can detect the barcode of phosphine in millimetre wavelengths.
  • The reason for Phosphine in Venus is still unknown, but noted that on Earth phosphine is produced by bacteria thriving in oxygen-starved environments.
  • The existence of extraterrestrial life long has been one of the paramount questions of science. Scientists have used probes and telescopes to seek “biosignatures” – indirect signs of life – on other planets and moons in our solar system and beyond.
  • Phosphine was seen at 20 parts-per-billion in the Venusian atmosphere, a trace concentration

About Venus

  • Venus is Earth’s closest planetary neighbour.
  • It is similar in structure but slightly smaller than Earth, it is the second planet from the sun. Earth is the third.
  • Venus is wrapped in a thick, toxic atmosphere that traps in heat. Surface temperatures reach a scorching 880 degrees Fahrenheit (471 degrees Celsius), hot enough to melt lead.
  • While the surface conditions of Venus make the hypothesis of life there implausible, the clouds of Venus are a different story altogether, despite the acid, the clouds carry the basic ingredients for life as we know it: sunlight, water, and organic molecules. And near the middle of the cloud layer, temperatures and pressures are rather Earth like

About Phosphine gas

  • Phosphine is a colorless, flammable, and explosive gas at ambient temperature that has the odor of garlic or decaying fish.
  • Small amounts occur naturally from the break down of organic matter. It is slightly soluble in water.
  • On Earth, microorganisms in “anaerobic” environments – ecosystems that do not rely on oxygen – produce phosphine. These include sewage plants, swamps, rice fields, marshlands, lake sediments and the excrements and intestinal tracts of many animals. Phosphine also arises non-biologically in certain industrial settings.
  • To produce phosphine, Earth bacteria take up phosphate from minerals or biological material and add hydrogen.
  • Earlier scientist have discovered phosphine in the atmospheres of Jupiter and Saturn, but there is no sign of life. Scientists think that it is formed in the deep atmosphere at high pressures and temperatures, then dredged into the upper atmosphere by a strong convection current. Although phosphine quickly breaks down into phosphorus and hydrogen in the top clouds of these planets, enough lingers – 4.8 parts per million – to be observable. The phosphorus may be what gives clouds on Jupiter a reddish tinge.

Formation & uses of Phosphine

  • It was used as a chemical weapon during World War I,
  • Phosphine is still manufactured as an agricultural fumigant
  • It is also used in the semiconductor industry, and is a nasty byproduct of meth labs.
  • Phosphine is also made naturally by some species of anaerobic bacteria—organisms that live in the oxygen-starved environments of which includes sewage plants, swamps, rice fields, marshlands, lake sediments and the excrements and intestinal tracts of many animals. To produce phosphine, Earth bacteria take up phosphate from minerals or biological material and add hydrogen.
  • Phosphine also arises non-biologically in certain industrial settings.

Health Issues

  • Acute (short-term) inhalation exposure to phosphine may cause headaches, dizziness, fatigue, drowsiness, burning substernal pain, nausea, vomiting, cough, labored breathing, chest tightness, pulmonary irritation, pulmonary edema, and tremors in humans.

5 . Issues with Agricultural Reforms Bills


Context: The opposition by farmer groups in Punjab and Haryana, too, is primarily to the first ordinance that allows sale and purchase of crops to take place outside state government-regulated APMC (Agricultural Produce Market Committee) mandis.

Background

  • The Centre introduced three Bills on food and agriculture reform in the Lok Sabha .The proposed legislations will replace the ordinances promulgated during the lockdown and will bring about changes to the marketing and storage of farm produce and agri commodities outside registered markets, as well as the facilitation of contract farming.
  • The bills are
    • The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill,
    • The Farmers Empowerment and Protection Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill
    • The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020
  • Farmer organisations are protesting against these legislations

Background of the issue

  • The opposition by farmer groups in Punjab and Haryana is primarily to the first ordinance that allows sale and purchase of crops to take place outside state government-regulated APMC (Agricultural Produce Market Committee) mandis.
  • They probably have no real issues with the other two ordinances — which basically do away with the imposition of stockholding limits on foodstuffs (except under “extraordinary circumstances” such as war and natural calamities of grave nature) and facilitate contraction cultivation (wherein farmers can enter into agreements with buyers before any planting season).

So, what’s fuelling the protests?

  • The first is the farmers, who view the dismantling of the monopoly of APMCs as a precursor to ending the existing system of government grain procurement at assured minimum support prices (MSP). In 2019-20 alone, government agencies in Punjab and Haryana purchased 226.56 lakh tonnes (lt) of paddy and 201.14 lt of wheat , whose value – at their respective MSPs of Rs 1,835 and Rs 1,925 per quintal – would have been Rs 80,293.21 crore.
  • The ordinance itself does not mention anything, directly or indirectly, to suggest an end or phasing out of MSP-based government procurement. But farmer leaders contend that the true intent of the latest reforms is to implement the recommendations of the Shanta Kumar-headed High Level Committee on Restructuring of Food Corporation of India (FCI). This panel, which submitted its report in 2015, had called for FCI handing over all procurement operations in Punjab, Haryana, MP, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh to state government agencies.
  • “The committee wanted that the Centre exit procurement and leave everything to the states.

What is the second driver for the protests?

  • That’s coming from the state governments and arhatiyas (commission agents) in mandis. The arhatiyas (Punjab alone has some 28,000 of them) provide platforms outside their shops, where the produce of farmers is unloaded, cleaned, auctioned, weighed and bagged, before being loaded and moved out. They receive a 2.5% commission over and above the MSP. These payments aggregated over Rs 2,000 crore in Punjab and Haryana last year.
  • States also earn substantial money from the various levies on the value of produce transacted in APMCs. Punjab’s annual revenues from mandi fees and a ‘rural development’ cess — which add up to 6% on paddy and wheat, 4% on basmati, and 2% on cotton and maize — are estimated at Rs 3,500-3,600 crore.
  • All that would obviously get hit if trades were to move away from the mandis.
  • The opposition parties and farmers groups are opposing the move to enact amendments to the Essential Commodities Act, new laws to bypass the State APMC Acts and to facilitate contract farming.
  • The opposition partied have stated that enacting any law on agriculture is beyond the legislative competence of centre as it is a domain of the State governments.

6 . Facts for Prelims


Truth Fund

  • The Satyamev Jayate or Truth Fund has been set up to use the money to help others fighting for free speech as hundreds of people are comin forward to support advocate Prashant Bhushan by symbolically contributing Re.1 — or more — towards his fine in the contempt of court case in the Supreme Court.
  • The Satyamev Jayate or Truth Fund is a fund to provide legal support and amplify the voices of those facing criminal charges for standing by their conscience and speaking truth
  • A group of reputed citizens will lay down guidelines for the use of The Truth Fund.

Bilateral Netting of Qualified Financial Contracts Bill

  • Bilateral Netting of Qualified Financial Contracts Bill seeks to provide for enforceability of netting of a qualified financial contract.

Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill

  • Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill proposes to regulate assisted reproductive technology services.

Factoring Regulation (Amendment) Bill

  • Factoring Regulation (Amendment) Bill seeks to amend Section 3 to widen the scope of financiers and permit other NBFCs to also undertake factoring business and participate on Trade Receivables Discounting System platform for discounting invoices of MSMEs.
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