Daily Current Affairs : 17th & 18th January 2020

Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE

Topics Covered

  1. Can courts stay laws made by the legislature
  2. U.S. & Section 230
  3. Zero Coupon Bonds & Bank investment Company
  4. 5G Technology
  5. G-7
  6. Facts for Prelims

1 . Can courts stay laws made by the legislature


Context : The Supreme Court’s recent order staying the implementation of three farm laws, while appointing a four-member committee (one member, Bhupinder Singh Mann, has recused himself), to thrash out issues between agitating farmers and the Union government, has been criticised in some quarters. In particular, many have questioned the suspension of action under the laws as such interim orders are extremely rare. The court did not accept the Attorney General’s argument that laws made by the legislature should not be ordinarily stayed, as there is a presumption of constitutionality in favour of the laws.

How did the SC justify its order on farm laws?

  • According to the judgement court do have powers to grant stay of any executive action under a statutory enactment. This means that it was apparently making a distinction between staying a law and staying its implementation or any action under it. Some may argue, however, that the effect remains the same, as the order operates as a stay on the government invoking its provisions.
  • The court also cited the case of Maratha reservation issue in which the Bench said interim orders could be passed if an enactment is ex facie unconstitutional or contrary to law laid down by the Supreme Court. It noted that the quota violated the 50% ceiling mentioned in the Indra Sawhney case (1992), and that the Maharashtra government had not shown any extraordinary situation to justify exceeding the limit.
  • Moreover, the Supreme Court observed that a stay on the farm laws’ implementation may assuage the hurt feelings of farmers and encourage them to come to the negotiating table.

What are the court’s powers in regard to staying enacted law?

  • Under the broad framework of judicial review under the Constitution, the Supreme Court and High Courts have the power to declare any law unconstitutional, either because it is ultra vires (or, contrary to any provision of the Constitution) or it violates any of the fundamental rights, or invalid because it is repugnant to a central law on the same subject or has been enacted without legislative jurisdiction.
  • However, interim orders staying or suspending laws enacted by the legislature are frowned upon by constitutional courts and legal scholars.
  • The general argument is that unless there are compelling reasons such as flagrant lack of constitutional validity, or absence of legislative competence (that is, the legislative body concerned lacks the jurisdiction to enact the law in question), a law ought not to be stayed.

Why is it considered unusual for a court to suspend a law or its operation?

  • The main principle is that suspending a law made by the legislature goes against the concept of separation of powers.
  • Courts are expected to defer to the legislature’s wisdom at the threshold of a legal challenge to the validity of a law. The validity of a law ought to be considered normally only at the time of final adjudication, and not at the initial stage.
  • The second principle is that there is a presumption that every law enacted by any legislature is constitutional and valid. The onus is on those challenging it to prove that it is not. Therefore, courts are circumspect when hearing petitions seeking suspension of a law pending a detailed adjudication.

What precedents are cited against judicial interference at an interim stage?

  • Case law suggests that in some cases, High Courts indeed stayed the operation of some laws. However, the Supreme Court took a dim view.
  • In 1984, the top court set aside an interim stay granted against the operation of a municipal tax (Siliguri Municipality & Others vs Amalendu Das & Others); in 2013, it removed the stay on some provisions of and regulations under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003 (Health for Millions Trust vs Union of India).
  • In the latter case, the court observed that “the operation of statutory provisions cannot be stultified by granting an interim order except when the Court is fully convinced that the particular enactment or the rules are ex facie unconstitutional and the factors, like, balance of convenience, irreparable injury and public interest are in favour of passing an interim order”.
  • While upholding the validity of Section 45S of the Reserve Bank of India Act, which imposed restrictions on unincorporated bodies accepting public deposits, the Supreme Court criticised interim orders by some High Courts that stayed the provision. “When considering an application for staying the operation of a piece of legislation, and that too pertaining to economic reform or change, then the courts must bear in mind that unless the provision is manifestly unjust or glaringly unconstitutional, the courts must show judicial restraint in staying the applicability of the same,” the court said in Bhavesh D. Parish & Others vs Union of India, 2000.

2 . Section 230


Context : Soon after a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the US Capitol last week, his social media accounts were suspended by Big Tech companies like Twitter and Facebook for his alleged role in inciting violence and spreading misinformation. The incident spurred a renewed debate about Section 230 of the US’ Communications Decency Act — the controversial piece of internet legislation that permitted these tech companies to flex their powers and ban the president in the first place.

What is Section 230?

  • Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act was passed in 1996 and provides legal immunity to internet companies for content that is shared on their websites. The act was first introduced to regulate pornography online.
  • Section 230 is an amendment to the act, which holds users responsible for their comments and posts online. 
  • According to the regulation, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
  • This means that online companies, including social media platforms, are not liable for the content shared on their website by its users. So if a user posts something illegal on the website, the company is protected from lawsuits. In addition, the regulation also states that private companies have the right to remove content that violates their guidelines and values. Thus, the big tech companies were well within their rights when they decided to suspend Trump’s accounts.
  • The legislation was drafted over two decades ago to encourage up-and-coming technology companies and to protect free speech, enshrined in the first amendment of the US Constitution.

Why is Section 230 widely criticised?

  • While the regulation has far reaching consequences for social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, its critics are quick to point out that it was passed before social media existed in its present form. Political leaders and internet activists have long called for the law to be updated.
  • More conservative critics of the regulation argue that it effectively permits big tech to participate in politically partisan activity.
  • Some argue that the law permits websites like 4chan and Parler — used by many right wing extremists — to refrain from moderating hate speech and violent content, regardless of how derogatory or vile it may be.

3 . Zero Coupon Bonds & Bank investment Company


Context : With the RBI raising concerns over the issuance of zero-coupon bonds for recapitalisation of public sector banks (PSBs), the Finance Ministry is examining other avenues for affordable capital infusion, including setting up of a Bank Investment Company (BIC), sources said.

About Zero Coupon Bonds

  • Unlike conventional bonds, which pay interest at periodic intervals known as coupons, these securities do not make any payouts prior to maturity. There are, therefore, no periodic coupons, and, hence, the name ‘zero coupon’.
  • Initial principal plus accumulated interest is returned in one shot at maturity. Typically, in the case of zero-coupon bonds, we invest an odd sum today and receive a round sum at maturity.

Zero Coupon Bonds and Recapitalisation of Banks

  • Zero coupon bonds issued for recapitalisation are non-interest bearing, non-transferable special GOI securities. These bonds are special types of bonds issued by the Central government specifically to a particular institution. Only those banks, whosoever is specified, can invest in them, nobody else. It is not tradable, it is not transferable. It is limited only to a specific bank, and it is for a specified period … it is held at the held-to-maturity (HTM) category of the bank as per the RBI guidelines. Since it is held to maturity, it is accounted at the face value (and) no mark-to-market will be there. So these are special kind of bonds issued by the government after proper (due diligence)
  • Though zero coupon, these bonds are different from traditional zero coupon bonds on one account — as they are being issued at par, there is no interest; in previous cases, since they were issued at discount, they technically were interest bearing.
  • Zero coupon bonds by private companies are normally issued at discount, but since these special bonds are not tradable these can be issued at par.

Setting up Bank Investment Company

  • Setting up a BIC as a holding company or a core investment company was suggested by the P.J. Nayak Committee in its report on ‘Governance of Boards of Banks in India’.
  • After the repeal of Bank Nationalisation Act (1970, 1980), the SBI Act and the SBI Subsidiaries Act, as the acts require the government to have above 50% share in the banks, the government should set up a Bank Investment Company (BIC) as a holding company or a core investment company.
  • The report recommended transferring shares of the government in the banks to the BIC which would become the parent holding company of all these banks; as a result of this, all the PSBs would become ‘limited’ banks.
  • BIC will be autonomous and have the power to appoint the Board of Directors and make other policy decisions.

4 . 5G Technology


What is 5G technology and how is it different?

  • 5G or fifth generation is the latest upgrade in the long-term evolution (LTE) mobile broadband networks. 5G mainly works in 3 bands, namely low, mid and high frequency spectrum — all of which have their own uses as well as limitations.
  • While the low band spectrum has shown great promise in terms of coverage and speed of internet and data exchange, the maximum speed is limited to 100 Mbps (Megabits per second). This means that while telcos can use and install it for commercial cellphone users who may not have specific demands for very high speed internet, the low band spectrum may not be optimal for specialised needs of the industry.
  • The mid-band spectrum, on the other hand, offers higher speeds compared to the low band, but has limitations in terms of coverage area and penetration of signals. Telcos and companies, which have taken the lead on 5G, have indicated that this band may be used by industries and specialised factory units for building captive networks that can be moulded into the needs of that particular industry.
  • The high-band spectrum offers the highest speed of all the three bands, but has extremely limited coverage and signal penetration strength. Internet speeds in the high-band spectrum of 5G has been tested to be as high as 20 Gbps (giga bits per second), while, in most cases, the maximum internet data speed in 4G has been recorded at 1 Gbps.

Where does India stand in the 5G technology race?

  • On par with the global players, India had, in 2018, planned to start 5G services as soon as possible, with an aim to capitalise on the better network speeds and strength that the technology promised.
  • All the three private telecom players, Reliance Jio Infocomm, Bharti Airtel and Vi, have been urging the DoT to lay out a clear road map of spectrum allocation and 5G frequency bands, so that they would be able to plan the roll out of their services accordingly. One big hurdle, however, is the lack of flow of cash and adequate capital with at least two of the three players, namely Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea.
  • On the other hand, Reliance Jio plans to launch an indigenously built 5G network for the country as early as the second half of this year. The company is said to have a complete end-to-end 5G solution prepared by the company itself that is ready for deployment once the networks are in place. This solution can also be deployed by other telecom operators as a complete managed service.

What is the global progress on 5G?

  • More than governments, global telecom companies have started building 5G networks and rolling it out to their customers on a trial basis. In countries like the US, companies such as AT&T, T-mobile, and Verizon have taken the lead when it comes to rolling out commercial 5G for their users.
  • While some such as AT&T had started testing and deploying the technology as early as 2018, other companies such as Verizon have followed suit, expanding their 5G ultra-wide broadband services to as many as 60 cities by the end of 2020. In other countries such as China, some of the telcos such as China Unicom had started 5G trials as early as 2018, and have since rolled out the commercial services for users.
  • South Korean company Samsung, which had started researching on 5G technology way back in 2011, has, on the other hand, taken the lead when it comes to building the hardware for 5G networks for several companies.

5 . G – 7


Context : The United Kingdom has invited Prime Minister Narendra Modi to attend the G7 summit that is scheduled to be held in June. Apart from India, Australia and South Korea are also invited to participate in the proceedings of the summit as “guest countries”.

About G 7

  • The G-7 or ‘Group of Seven’ are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States
  • It is an intergovernmental organisation that was formed in 1975 by the top economies of the time as an informal forum to discuss pressing world issues. 
  • Canada joined the group in 1976, and the European Union began attending in 1977.
  • The G-7 does not have a formal constitution or a fixed headquarters. 
  • The decisions taken by leaders during annual summits are non-binding.
  • Initially formed as an effort by the US and its allies to discuss economic issues, the G-7 forum has deliberated about several challenges over the decades, such as the oil crashes of the 1970s, the economic changeover of ex-Soviet bloc nations, and many pressing issues such as financial crises, terrorism, arms control, and drug trafficking.
  • The G-7 was known as the ‘G-8’ for several years after the original seven were joined by Russia in 1997. The Group returned to being called G-7 after Russia was expelled as a member in 2014 following the latter’s annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine.
  •  The rise of India, China, and Brazil over the past few decades has reduced the G-7’s relevance, whose share in global GDP has now fallen to around 40%.

6 . Facts for Prelims


Harike Wetland

  • Harike Wetland also known as “Hari-ke-Pattan”, with the Harike Lake in the deeper part of it, is the largest wetland in northern India in the border of Tarn Taran Sahib district and Ferozepur district of the Punjab state in India.
  • The wetland and the lake were formed by constructing the headworks across the Sutlej river in 1953.
  • In 1990, Harike wetland was designated as a Ramsar site (Ramsar Convention 2008). At the State level it was declared a bird sanctuary (Harike Wetland Bird Sanctuary) by the State government of Punjab in 1992, though fishing was allowed.

REPLACE

In 2018, the WHO called for elimination of industrially produced TFAs by 2023, and brought out a step-by-step guide called ‘REPLACE’ to help countries frame policies. 

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