Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE
- Question Hour
- Vaccine Diplomacy
- Open Radio Access Network
- India Innovation Index
- Secured Overnight Financing Rate
- Aadhaar Review Petition
- Section 32 A of IBC Act
- US President’s Clemency Powers
- Facts for Prelims
1 . Question Hour
Context : Question Hour, which had been suspended by the government during the monsoon session, will resume when Parliament meets for the budget session from January 29.
What is Question Hour, and what is its significance?
- Question Hour is the liveliest hour in Parliament. It is during this one hour that Members of Parliament ask questions of ministers and hold them accountable for the functioning of their ministries. The questions that MPs ask are designed to elicit information and trigger suitable action by ministries.
- Over the last 70 years, MPs have successfully used this parliamentary device to shine a light on government functioning. Their questions have exposed financial irregularities and brought data and information regarding government functioning to the public domain. With the broadcasting of Question Hour since 1991, Question Hour has become one the most visible aspects of parliamentary functioning.
- Asking questions of the government has a long history in our legislative bodies. Prior to Independence, the first question asked of government was in 1893. It was on the burden cast on village shopkeepers who had to provide supplies to touring government officers.
And what is Zero Hour?
- While Question Hour is strictly regulated, Zero Hour is an Indian parliamentary innovation. The phrase does not find mention in the rules of procedure.
- The concept of Zero Hour started organically in the first decade of Indian Parliament, when MPs felt the need for raising important constituency and national issues.
- During the initial days, Parliament used to break for lunch at 1 pm. Therefore, the opportunity for MPs to raise national issues without an advance notice became available at 12 pm and could last for an hour until the House adjourned for lunch. This led to the hour being popularly referred to as Zero Hour and the issues being raised during this time as Zero Hour submissions.
- Over the years, presiding officers of both Houses have given directions to streamline the working of Zero Hour to make it even more effective. Its importance can be gauged from the support it receives from citizens, media, MPs and presiding officers despite not being part of the rulebook.
How is Question Hour regulated?
- Parliament has comprehensive rules for dealing with every aspect of Question Hour. And the presiding officers of the two houses are the final authority with respect to the conduct of Question Hour.
- For example, usually Question Hour is the first hour of a parliamentary sitting. In 2014, Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari shifted Question Hour in the House from 11 am to 12 noon. The move was to prevent the disruption of Question Hour.
What kind of questions are asked?
- Parliamentary rules provide guidelines on the kind of questions that can be asked by MPs. Questions have to be limited to 150 words. They have to be precise and not too general.
- The question should also be related to an area of responsibility of the Government of India.
- Questions should not seek information about matters that are secret or are under adjudication before courts.
- It is the presiding officers of the two Houses who finally decide whether a question raised by an MP will be admitted for answering by the government.
How frequently is Question Hour held?
- The process of asking and answering questions starts with identifying the days on which Question Hour will be held.
- At the beginning of Parliament in 1952, Lok Sabha rules provided for Question Hour to be held every day. Rajya Sabha, on the other hand, had a provision for Question Hour for two days a week. A few months later, this was changed to four days a week. Then from 1964, Question Hour was taking place in Rajya Sabha on every day of the session.
- Now, Question Hour in both Houses is held on all days of the session. But there are two days when an exception is made. There is no Question Hour on the day the President addresses MPs from both Houses in the Central Hall. The President’s speech takes place at the beginning of a new Lok Sabha and on the first day of a new Parliament year. Question Hour is not scheduled either on the day the Finance Minister presents the Budget.
How does Parliament manage to get so many questions answered?
- To streamline the answering of questions raised by MPs, the ministries are put into five groups. Each group answers questions on the day allocated to it. For example, in the last session, on Thursday the Ministries of Civil Aviation, Labour, Housing, and Youth Affairs and Sports were answering questions posed by Lok Sabha MPs. This grouping of ministries is different for the two Houses so that ministers can be present in one house to answer questions, So the minister of Civil Aviation was answering questions in Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, during the Budget session.
- MPs can specify whether they want an oral or written response to their questions. They can put an asterisk against their question signifying that they want the minister to answer that question on the floor. These are referred to as starred questions.
- After the minister’s response, the MP who asked the question and other MPs can also ask a follow-up question. This is the visible part of Question Hour, where you see MPs trying to corner ministers on the functioning of their ministries on live television.
How do ministers prepare their answers?
- Ministries receive the questions 15 days in advance so that they can prepare their ministers for Question Hour. They also have to prepare for sharp follow-up questions they can expect to be asked in the House. Governments officers are close at hand in a gallery so that they can pass notes or relevant documents to support the minister in answering a question.
- When MPs are trying to gather data and information about government functioning, they prefer the responses to such queries in writing. These questions are referred to as unstarred questions. The responses to these questions are placed on the table of Parliament.
Are the questions only for ministers?
- MPs usually ask questions to hold ministers accountable. But the rules also provide them with a mechanism for asking their colleagues a question. Such a question should be limited to the role of an MP relating to a Bill or a resolution being piloted by them or any other matter connected with the functioning of the House for which they are responsible. Should the presiding officer so allow, MPs can also ask a question to a minister at a notice period shorter than 15 days.
Is there a limit to the number of questions that can be asked?
- Rules on the number of questions that can be asked in a day have changed over the years. In Lok Sabha, until the late 1960s, there was no limit on the number of unstarred questions that could be asked in a day. Now, Parliament rules limit the number of starred and unstarred questions an MP can ask in a day. The total number of questions asked by MPs in the starred and unstarred categories are then put in a random ballot. From the ballot in Lok Sabha, 20 starred questions are picked for answering during Question Hour and 230 are picked for written answers. Last year, a record was set when on a single day, after a gap of 47 years, all 20 starred questions were answered in Lok Sabha.
2 . Vaccine Diplomacy
Context : India will begin to ship out lakhs of doses of the novel coronavirus vaccine to neighbouring countries beginning Wednesday, with the first batches expected to reach Bhutan and the Maldives among several countries by special planes as a grant or gift.
About the News
- Vaccines will be sent to Bhutan, the Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Seychelles in the first phase, while those to Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Mauritius are awaiting “necessary regulatory clearances”.
- The release of the shipments is part of the government’s “Neighbourhood First” initiative, and will make India the first country to reach COVID-19 vaccines in South Asia, ahead of China which has promised but not so far delivered, and the World Health Organisation and GAVI’s vaccine alliance programme.
- The region’s preference for Indian vaccines, including the Covishield from the Serum Institute of India (SII) developed with Oxford University and Astra Zeneca, and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, is based on the cost, easier storage requirements and geographical proximity
- Bhutan would receive the first shipment of 1,50,000 Covishield vaccines
- Maldives is due to receive its first shipment on Wednesday at 2.30 p.m., with about 1,00,000 doses meant to reach Male
- Bangladesh’s Health and Family Welfare Ministry announced that Dhaka would also receive a batch of 20 lakh doses of Covishield, as part of a “friendly gesture
- Nepal’s Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali is expected to announce the shipment schedule, as part of the approximately one million doses requested by him during his visit to Delhi last week.
- The only exception to India’s regional vaccine diplomacy would be Pakistan, which has cleared the Astra Zeneca vaccine for use, but has neither requested nor discussed any doses from India yet.
3 . Open Radio Access Network
Context : Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) Chairman PD Vaghela said that use of Open RAN (radio access network) and software defined telecom networks will open new opportunities for Indian entities to enter into the network equipment market
- The mobile, or cellular/wireless network comprises two domains: the Radio Access Network (RAN) and the Core Network (Core).
- The RAN is the final link between the network and the phone. It is the visible piece and includes the antennae we see on towers, on top of buildings or in stadia, plus the base stations. When we make a call or connect to a remote server e.g. to watch a YouTube video, the antenna transmits and receives signals to and from our phones or other hand-held devices. The signal is then digitalized in the RAN base station and connected into the network.
- The Core has many functions. It provides access controls ensuring users are authenticated for the services they are using, it routes telephone calls over the public-switched telephone network, it enables operators to charge for calls and data use, and it connects users to the rest of the world via the Internet. It also controls the network by making handovers happen as a user moves from coverage provided by one RAN tower to the next.
- Whilst it was always possible for operators to have one vendor for their core network and a separate vendor for the RAN, interoperability between RAN equipment from different vendors was deprioritised at the expense of adding overall functional capability.
- As a result, with current solutions it is difficult to mix vendors for the radio and base band unit, and in most cases they come from the same supplier. Open RAN looks to change this and enable operators to mix and match components.
About Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN)
- As the equipment-makers enhanced the capabilities, so the industry consolidated around those with the strongest offer and often proprietry functionality. But operators today want a more diverse ecosystem of vendors and are re-defining their requirements for the network architecture, especially in the RAN.
- In an Open RAN environment, the RAN is disaggregated into three main building blocks:
- the Radio Unit (RU)
- the Distributed Unit (DU)
- the Centralised Unit (CU)
- The RU is where the radio frequency signals are transmitted, received, amplified and digitized. The RU is located near, or integrated into, the antenna. The DU and CU are the computation parts of the base station, sending the digitialized radio signal into the network. The DU is physically located at or near the RU whereas the CU can be located nearer the Core.
- The key concept of Open RAN is “opening” the protocols and interfaces between these various building blocks (radios, hardware and software) in the RAN.
- With the virtualization that OpenRAN brings, operators can run software-based network functions on standard (COTS) servers. Open interfaces allows a new freedom – the use of one supplier’s radios with another’s processors.
- An open environment expands the ecosystem, and with more vendors providing the building blocks, there is more innovation and more options for the Operators. They can also add new services. For example, Artificial Intelligence can be introduced via the RIC to optimize the network in the vicinity of a football stadium on a match day.
4 . India Innovation Index
Context : NITI Aayog, along with the Institute for Competitiveness, today released the second edition of the India Innovation Index in a virtual event. Karnataka retained its leadership position in the major States category in the second edition of India Innovation Index released by NITI Aayog on Wednesday.
About the Index
- The India Innovation Index aims to create an extensive framework for the continual evaluation of India’s innovation environment.
- The index aims to rank states and UTs based on their scores, recognize opportunities and challenges, and assist in tailoring government policies to foster innovation.
- The report examines the innovation capabilities and performance of the states and union territories.
- The first edition of the index was launched in October 2019.
- The innovation inputs were measured through five enabler parameters, and the output through two performance parameters.
- ‘Human Capital’, ‘Investment’, ‘Knowledge Workers’, ‘Business Environment’, ‘Safety and Legal Environment’were identified as enabler parameters
- ‘Knowledge Output’ and ‘Knowledge Diffusion’ were chosen as the performance parameters
Results of the Second Edition Report
- In the ‘Major States’ category, Karnataka continued to occupy the top position, while Maharashtra moved past Tamil Nadu to reach the second place. Telangana, Kerala, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab completed the top ten in that order.
- Karnataka’s rank is attributable to its substantive number of venture capital deals, registered geographical indicators and information and communications technology exports. Karnataka’s high Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) inflow has also enhanced the innovation capabilities of the state. Four southern states—Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Kerala—occupied the top five spots under the ‘Major States’ category this year.
- In UTs Delhi retained its first rank, while Chandigarh made a big leap since 2019 and landed in the second place this year.
- Under the ‘North-Eastern/Hill States’ category, Himachal Pradesh moved up from the second position to emerge as the top ranker this year, while 2019’s top performer (in this category), Sikkim, slipped down to the fourth position.
- The India Innovation Index is a major step towards measuring innovation outcomes of states and facilitating optimal utilization of national and state mechanisms to realize the goal of an Aatmanirbhar Bharat.’
- The India Innovation Index will create synergies between different stakeholders in the innovation ecosystem, thus enabling India to shift to competitive good governance.’
- Index is a great beginning to improve the innovation environment in the country. It is the right step towards making India the innovation leader of the world.
- The index could be of vital significance to the states in identifying their innovation performance and initiating necessary policy interventions to leverage their unique strengths.
- The index can help the Central and state governments to benchmark regional performance with respect to innovation, and provide policy insights on what needs to be done to improve and enhance it.’
5 . Secured Overnight Financing Rate
Context : State Bank of India has executed two inter-bank short term money market transactions with pricing linked to secured overnight financing rate (SOFR).
About secured overnight financing rate
- The secured overnight financing rate (SOFR) is a benchmark interest rate for dollar-denominated derivatives and loans that is replacing the London interbank offered rate (LIBOR)
- SOFR is an identified replacement for USD LIBOR (London Inter-Bank Offered Rate) which is expected to be phased out at the end of 2021.
- The sunset for LIBOR has been triggered by the decision of Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in the UK not to compel contributing banks for LIBOR calculation after December 2021.
- The transactions were executed by the bank through its Hong Kong branch, a release said.
SOFR vs. LIBOR
- Unlike the LIBOR, there’s extensive trading in the Treasury repo market—roughly 1,500 times that of interbank loans as of 2018—theoretically making it a more accurate indicator of borrowing costs.
- Moreover, the secured overnight financing rate (SOFR) is based on data from observable transactions rather than on estimated borrowing rates, as is sometimes the case with LIBOR.
6 . Aadhaar Review Petition
Context : Supreme Court, in a majority view, dismissed a series of petitions seeking a review of its 2018 judgment upholding the Lok Sabha Speaker’s certification of Aadhaar law as a Money Bill and its subsequent passage in Parliament.
- In September 2018, a 4:1 majority of the Supreme Court upheld the Aadhaar Act, 2016 as constitutional.
- The majority reasoned that the Aadhaar scheme neither violated the right to privacy nor created a surveillance State.
- On the procedural side, it concluded that the Act had been validly introduced as a Money Bill in the Lok Sabha and therefore did not require the assent of the Rajya Sabha.
- Two questions had come up for review regarding the five-judge Aadhaar Bench’s judgment in 2018.
- One, whether the Speaker’s decision to declare a proposed law as Money Bill was “final” and cannot be challenged in court.
- The second, whether the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 was correctly certified as a ‘Money Bill’ under Article 110(1) of the Constitution.
- On the first question, the majority judgment in 2018 said the Speaker’s decision could be challenged in court only under “certain circumstances”.
- On the second, it concluded that the Aadhaar Act was rightly called a Money Bill. Justice Chandrachud, who was on the Bench, had dissented on the second conclusion in 2018.
Decision on Review Petition
- Dismissing the review pleas, the majority of four judges on the Bench hastened to add that a “change in the law or subsequent decision/judgment of a coordinate or larger Bench by itself cannot be regarded as a ground for review”.
7 . Section 32 A
Context : The Supreme Court on Tuesday held that the successful bidders for a corporate debtor under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) would be immune from any investigations being conducted either by any investigating agencies such as the Enforcement Directorate (ED) or other statutory bodies such as Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI).
About Section 32 A of IBC
- Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Second Amendment) Bill, 2019, introduced Section 32A IBC to provide Resolution Applicant, a fair chance to revive Corporate Debtor without imposing additional liabilities on Resolution Applicant arising from malafide acts of prsma
- Section 32A provides that Corporate Debtor shall not be prosecuted for an offence committed prior to commencement of Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process (CIRP) once Resolution Plan has been approved by Adjudicating Authority (AA).
- The section further provides that no action shall be taken against property of Corporate Debtor covered under such a Resolution Plan.
- However, 32A continues to hold liable every person who was a ‘designated partner’ or an ‘officer who is in default’ or was in any manner in-charge of, or responsible to Corporate Debtor for conduct of its business or associated in any manner and who was directly or indirectly involved in commission of such offence.
What did the Supreme Court say in its judgment?
- In its judgment, the apex court, while upholding the validity of Section 32 A of IBC, said it was important for the IBC to attract bidders who would offer reasonable and fair value for the corporate debtor to ensure the timely completion of corporate insolvency resolution process (CIRP). Such bidders, however, must also be granted protection from any misdeeds of the past since they had nothing to do with it.
- Such protection, the court said, must also extend to the assets of a corporate debtor, which form a crucial attraction for potential bidders and helps them in assessing and placing a fair bid for the company, which, in turn, will help banks clean up their books of bad loans.
- The protection to successful bidders and the assets of a corporate debtor are provided by the rules under Section 32A of the IBC. The apex court has, however, also said that such immunity would be applicable only if there is an approved resolution plan, and a change in the management control of the corporate debtor.
- “The new management cannot be the disguised avatar of the old management. It cannot even be the related party of the corporate debtor. The new management cannot be the subject matter of an investigation which has resulted in material showing abetment or conspiracy for the commission of the offence and the report or complaint filed thereto,” the apex court held.
8 . US President’s Clemency Powers
Context : In the dying hours of his presidency, Donald Trump exercised his power under the US Constitution to pardon or commute sentences of 143 individuals, including his one-time chief strategist Steve Bannon.
About President’s clemency powers
- The US President has the constitutional right to pardon or commute sentences related to federal crimes. The Supreme Court has held that this power is “granted without limit” and cannot be restricted by Congress.
- Clemency is a broad executive power that is discretionary — meaning the President is not answerable for his pardons, and does not have to provide a reason for issuing one. But there are a few limitations.
- For instance, the President cannot issue a pardon in cases of impeachment of officials. Art II, Sec 2 of the Constitution says Presidents “shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment”.
- Also, as stated above, the power is not available for state crimes. This means that those who have been pardoned by the President can still be tried under laws of individual states
8 . Facts for Prelims
- The Union Culture Ministry announced that January 23, birth anniversary of Subhas Chandra Bose, would be celebrated as “Parakram Diwas” — day of courage — every year.
- It will be celebrated to inspire people of this country, especially the youth, to act with fortitude in the face of adversity as Netaji did, and to infuse in them a spirit of patriotic fervour. It would be celebrated abroad too
Dragon Fruit / Kamalam
- Dragon fruit is the fruit of a species of wild cactus indigenous to South and Central America, where it is called pitaya or pitahaya. The fruit’s flesh is usually white or red — although there is a less common yellow pitaya too — and is studded with tiny seeds rather like the kiwifruit.
- The world’s largest producer and exporter of dragon fruit is Vietnam, where the plant was brought by the French in the 19th century. The Vietnamese call it thanh long, which translates to “dragon’s eyes”, believed to be the origin of its common English name.
- Dragon fruit is also cultivated in — apart from its native Latin America — Thailand, Taiwan, China, Australia, Israel, and Sri Lanka. It was brought to India in the 1990s, and is grown in Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Odisha, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, and Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It grows in all kinds of soil, and does not require much water.
- Recently additional principal chief conservator of forests (social forestry) in the Gujarat forest department, forwarded to the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) a proposal on renaming the fruit Kamalam as this may “boost awareness and expansion”, “and contribute to reducing our import dependence in line with ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’”.