Daily Current Affairs : 20th and 21st February 2024

Topics Covered

  1. Article 142
  2. Planck’s law
  3. Report on Fintech Players
  4. La-nina and air quality
  5. Facts for Prelims

1 . Article 142


Context: The Supreme Court has quashed the result of the January 30 election for the Mayor of Chandigarh after finding that presiding officer Anil Masih had deliberately invalidated eight ballots cast in favour of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-Congress candidate Kuldeep Kumar ‘Tita’. 

On what grounds did the court strike down the result? 

  • The court used its power under Article 142 of the Constitution to do “complete justice” and protect the sanctity of electoral democracy. Allowing such a state of affairs would be destructive of the most valued principles on which the entire edifice of democracy in our country depends.  
  • The Bench said it was evident that “while the petitioner is reflected to have polled 12 votes, the eight votes which are treated as invalid were wrongly treated to be so, and each of those invalid votes were in fact validly cast in favour of the petitioner.  

What is Article 142 of the Constitution? 

  • Article 142 provides a unique power to the Supreme Court, to do “complete justice” between the parties, where, at times, the law or statute may not provide a remedy. 
  • In those situations, the court can extend itself to put an end to a dispute in a manner that would fit the facts of the case. 

How have courts exercised this power? 

  • While the powers under Article 142 are extraordinary in nature, the apex court has defined its scope and extent through its judgments over time. 
  • In the Prem Chand Garg case, the majority opinion demarcated the contours for the exercise of the court’s powers under Article 142(1) by saying that an order to do complete justice between the parties “must not only be consistent with the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution, but it cannot even be inconsistent with the substantive provisions of the relevant statutory laws,” referring to laws made by Parliament. 
  •  Therefore, the court said it does not think it would be possible to hold that Art. 142(1) confers upon this Court powers which can contravene the provisions of Article 32 (right to constitutional remedies). 
  • The seven-judge bench in ‘Antulay’ upheld the 1962 ruling in ‘Prem Chand Garg.’ 
  • Notably, in the Bhopal gas tragedy case (‘Union Carbide Corporation vs Union of India’), the SC in 1991 ordered UCC to pay $470 million in compensation for the victims of the tragedy. In doing so, the Bench highlighted the wide scope of Article 142 (1), adding that it found it “necessary to set at rest certain misconceptions in the arguments touching the scope of the powers of this Court under Article 142(1) of the Constitution”. 
  • Deeming the power under Article 142 to be “at an entirely different level and of a different quality”, the court clarified that “prohibitions on limitations on provisions contained in ordinary laws cannot, ipso-facto, act as prohibitions or limitations on the constitutional powers under Article 142”. Adding that it would be “wholly incorrect” to say that powers under Article 142 are subject to express statutory prohibitions, the court reasoned that doing so would convey the idea that statutory provisions override a constitutional provision. 

What is the criticism of Article 142 and how have courts countered it? 

  • The sweeping nature of these powers has invited the criticism that they are arbitrary and ambiguous. It is further argued that the court then has wide discretion, and this allows the possibility of its arbitrary exercise or misuse due to the absence of a standard definition for the term “complete justice”. Defining “complete justice” is a subjective exercise that differs in its interpretation from case to case. Thus, the court has to place checks on itself. 
  • In 1998, the apex court in ‘Supreme Court Bar Association vs Union of India’ held that the powers under Article 142 are supplementary in nature and could not be used to supplant or override a substantive law and “build a new edifice where none existed earlier”. 
  • The court said that the powers conferred by Article 142 are curative and cannot be construed as powers “which authorise the court to ignore the substantive rights of a litigant while dealing with a cause pending before it”. Adding that Article 142 cannot be used to build a new edifice, ignoring statutory provisions dealing with a subject, the court also said that the provision cannot be used “to achieve something indirectly which cannot be achieved directly”. 
  • More recently, in its 2006 ruling in ‘A. Jideranath vs Jubilee Hills Co-op House Building Society’, the Supreme Court discussed the scope of the power here, holding that in its exercise no injustice should be caused to a person not party to the case. 
  • Another criticism of the powers under Article 142 is that unlike the legislature and the executive, the judiciary cannot be held accountable for its actions. The power has been criticised on grounds of the separation of powers doctrine, which says that the judiciary should not venture into areas of lawmaking and that it would invite the possibility of judicial overreach. 
  • However, the Drafting Committee of the Indian Constitution was mindful of the wide-reaching nature of the powers and reserved it only for exceptional situations, which the existing law would have failed to anticipate. 
  • Additionally, the apex court has imposed checks on its own power under Article 142. In 2006, the apex court ruling by a five-judge Bench in ‘State of Karnataka vs Umadevi’ also clarified that “complete justice” under Article 142 means justice according to law and not sympathy, while holding that it will “not grant a relief which would amount to perpetuating an illegality encroaching into the legislative domain. 

2 . Planck’s law


Context: Bose discovered the correct set of equations to use to work out the behaviour of collections of photons. As physics work goes, Bose’s was as fundamental as it got. The physicist and writer Abraham Pais later listed it as one of the six foundational papers of quantum theory. This year marks 100 years of Bose’s discovery. 

About the law

  • In physics, Planck’s law (also Planck radiation law) describes the spectral density of electromagnetic radiation emitted by a black body in thermal equilibrium at a given temperature T, when there is no net flow of matter or energy between the body and its environment. 
  • At the end of the 19th century, physicists were unable to explain why the observed spectrum of black-body radiation, which by then had been accurately measured, diverged significantly at higher frequencies from that predicted by existing theories. 
  • In 1900, German physicist Max Planck heuristically derived a formula for the observed spectrum by assuming that a hypothetical electrically charged oscillator in a cavity that contained black-body radiation could only change its energy in a minimal increment, E, that was proportional to the frequency of its associated electromagnetic wave. 
  • While Planck originally regarded the hypothesis of dividing energy into increments as a mathematical artifice, introduced merely to get the correct answer, other physicists including Albert Einstein built on his work, and Planck’s insight is now recognized to be of fundamental importance to quantum theory. 
  • But even physicists who accepted Planck’s radical hypothesis about quantised energy pointed out that his derivation was incorrect. Planck’s use of statistical methods did not stand up to scrutiny. 
  • Planck’s law was correct, but its derivation was not. It had to wait until Bose. 

Bose’s derivation

  • By the time Bose took up the problem, more results on quantum theory had appeared even as the rules remained unclear. Einstein had explained the photoelectric effect using the hypothesis that light carries energies in packets. The American physicist Arthur Compton had demonstrated that light carries discrete units of momentum, too. 
  • There had also been several attempts at deriving Planck’s law in the interim. To Bose, all of them suffered from the same conceptual issue. They used results from both quantum physics and pre-quantum (or classical) physics. This was not logically consistent. 
  • Planck’s own original derivation, for example, was based on a model of the black body, specifically of the mechanism by which it produces radiation. It was through this model that classical physics had entered the story. 
  • Bose showed all of this was unnecessary. Planck’s law was independent of the mechanism that produced it. By making clever use of the results of Einstein and Compton, Bose eliminated classical physics from the picture, and stripped the problem to its essence: finding the most probable way of distributing energy among quanta of radiation. Bose showed that the most probable way translated to Planck’s formula. 
  • Planck’s law was therefore simply a statistical property of the quanta of radiation, a.k.a. photons. 
  • This was Bose’s major result. But there were crucial results implicit in his methods, some of which might not have been apparent to Bose himself. The most important is that the total number of photons is not conserved — photons could appear out of thin air and disappear into nothingness. 
  • Bose’s paper pioneered the field of quantum statistics. 
  • A few years later, when the rules of quantum theory were finally clear, the British physicist Paul Dirac obtained Bose’s statistics from them. That is, he showed that fundamental particles can be in one of two categories depending on their statistics (i.e. the set of rules to describe them properly): bosons or fermions. 
  • Despite a long career in physics, Bose published sparsely and never produced another work of similar value. He once described himself as a comet that only came once and never returned. 

3 . Report on Fintech Players


Context: In its report presented to Parliament, the Standing Committee on Communications and Information Technology has raised concerns about the dominance of fintech apps owned by foreign entities in the Indian ecosystem and recommended that local players be promoted. It mentioned that the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) commanded a 73.5% share of the total digital payments in terms of volume in FY 2022-23. However, its share in terms of value was only 6.67% in the same period. 

What does the report infer about the existing ecosystem? 

  • The Committee in its report emphasised that digital payment apps must be effectively regulated as the use of digital platforms to make payments in India is on the rise. 
  • It noted that it will be more ‘feasible’ for regulatory bodies such as the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) to control local apps, as compared with foreign apps, which operate in multiple jurisdictions. 
  • The Committee observed that fintech companies, apps and platforms that are owned by foreign entities, such as Walmart-backed PhonePe and Google Pay, dominate the Indian fintech sector. 
  • PhonePe commands the leading market share in volume terms, followed by Google Pay, at 46.91% and 36.39% respectively. This is for the period between October to November 2023. On the other hand, NCPI’s BHIM UPI’s market share (in terms of volume) stood at a mere 0.22%. NPCI’s data for December last year show that a total of 5,642.66 million transactions were initiated by customers using PhonePe, while another 4,375 million used Google Pay and only about 24.30 million used BHIM. 
  • The Committee’s recommendations are also largely in tune with the NPCI issuing a 30% volume cap on transactions facilitated using UPI,in 2020. That is, the total number of transactions initiated by any third-party app (like PhonePe and Amazon Pay) individually, could not exceed 30% of the overall transactions made using the interfaces cumulatively over three proceeding months. Apps exceeding the specified cap were given two years to comply with the directive in a phased manner. 
  • The regulator had stated that it would help address the risks and protect the UPI ecosystem as it further scales up. 
  • However, the timeline for compliance was extended in December 2022 to December 31, 2024. Elaborating on the rationale, the NPCI was of the view that the significant potential of digital payments and the need for multi-fold penetration from its current state, it is imperative that other existing and new players (banks and non-banks) scale-up their consumer outreach for the growth of UPI and achieve overall market equilibrium. 

What are the concerns about fraud? 

  • While examining the different modes used by scamsters to dupe people and park illegal money, the Committee observed that fintech companies were also being used for money laundering. It was apprised of one such example — an Abu Dhabi-based app called Pyppl. The app was being administered by Chinese investment scamsters. This made it difficult for Indian law agencies to track the trail of money collected through scams on the platform. 
  • The fraud to sales ratio, which represents the total number of fraudulent transactions in comparison to the total number of transactions in a financial year, has largely remained around 0.0015%. The trend is notwithstanding the rise in volume of the payment mode in the last five years. In the ongoing financial year (till September 2023) the figure stood at 0.0016%. The percentage of users affected by UPI frauds stood at 0.0189%. 

What does it mean for the ecosystem? 

  • local fintech players have a “natural advantage” when it comes to understanding the customer, various ecosystem participants, the digital public infrastructure and broader market infrastructure. While foreign fin-techs enjoy the same advantage with respect to new technologies, techniques and global connectivity.  
  • A suitably balanced mix to serve the Indian ecosystem needs to be allowed to evolve, and this mix may well vary across different areas such as payments, lending, wealth management, insurance, etc. 
  • In relation to this balance, it should also be noted that the regulator is stressing on the criticality of accountability and compliance with local laws.  
  • Mckinsey’s Global Payments Report (September 2023) observed that instant payments in India were only expected to contribute less than 10% of future revenue growth because no fees are charged for the interface (UPI). 
  •  It however, noted that although UPI generates minimal transaction fees, these revenues still represent an uplift from no-fee cash events, and the paperless process eliminates the hidden costs of managing cash transactions. 
  • the associated change in consumer behaviour has enhanced security and increased access to digital commerce channels. 

4 . Lanina and air quality


Context: The study by researchers at the Bengaluru-based National Institute of Advanced Studies and Pune-based Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology has argued that the unusual air quality in some Indian cities in the winter of 2022 could be attributed to the record-breaking spell of La Nina prevailing at that time. 

What is the link between pollution and winter months in India? 

  • During October to January, northern Indian cities, particularly Delhi, experience very high concentrations of PM2.5. A variety of meteorological factors like temperature, moisture, heaviness in air, wind speed and direction play a role in trapping pollutants in the lower levels of the atmosphere. These factors are also responsible for transporting pollutants from other regions, particularly those generated by agriculture waste burning in Punjab and Haryana, to Delhi and adjoining areas. 
  • The western and southern parts of the country have always had relatively lower levels of pollution, because of their proximity to oceans. 
  • The winter of 2022, however, showed a significant deviation from this normal. Northern Indian cities, including Delhi, were cleaner than usual, while cities in the west and the south, like Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai, experienced worse-than-usual air quality. 
  • The study said PM2.5 concentrations in Ghaziabad that winter saw a reduction of about 33% from normal, while in Noida, the concentration was 28% below normal. Delhi saw a reduction of about 10%. Simultaneously, the concentrations in Mumbai rose by 30%, while Bengaluru registered a 20% rise. It was this anomalous behaviour that the researchers had set out to study when they found themselves led to the possible effects of La Nina. 

Cause of the Anomaly

  • The most crucial factor in explaining the anomaly of winter 2022 was a change in the normal wind direction. During this time, wind usually blows in the northwesterly direction: for example, from Punjab towards Delhi and further into the Gangetic plains. This is one of the main reasons why agricultural waste pollutants in Punjab and Haryana flow into Delhi. 
  • In the winter of 2022, however, the wind circulation was in the north-south direction. The pollutants being carried from Punjab and Haryana bypassed Delhi and surrounding areas and flew over Rajasthan and Gujarat to southern regions. 
  • There was no change in the local sources of emissions in Delhi and Mumbai. But the additional pollutant load from the northern states, which usually lands in Delhi and surrounding areas, moved in a different trajectory and reached peninsular India, some landing in Mumbai as well. 
  • The local circulation of wind near Mumbai also had an anomalous behaviour that year. Wind currents alternate between blowing from the land to the sea every few days. When blowing from the land towards the sea, the winds carry pollutants out of the city. In 2022, however, instead of changing direction every four to five days, the winds persisted in one direction for more than a week or 10 days, leading to greater accumulation of pollutants in Mumbai. 

La Nina and climate change:  

  • the wind behaviour in both cases had something to do with the extended La Nina which, by the winter of 2022, had been persisting for an unusually long three years. 
  • The study found out that when a strong La Nina was not present, these anomalous wind patterns disappeared. It showed a strong sensitivity to La Nina conditions. 
  • not all La Nina events might produce noticeable changes in wind circulation over India. This one was a particularly strong event. The impact on air circulation became evident only in the third year of La Nina. So, there may be an accumulative effect.  
  • He said it was not yet entirely clear whether El Nino would produce an opposite effect for air quality over India. 
  • The study did add that changes in wind patterns were not the only reasons for the unusual trends in air quality that year. It mentioned local meteorological conditions, unrelated to La Nina, that could also have resulted in the reduction of pollutant concentrations over northern India. 

5 . Facts for Prelims


Forest

  • The Supreme Court in a significant order, directed that the expression ‘forest’ will continue to have a “broad and all-encompassing” meaning for the time being, and include 1.97 lakh square km of undeclared forest lands 
  • the court directed the government to revert to the “dictionary meaning” of ‘forest’ as upheld by it in a 1996 decision in the T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad case. 
  • The term ‘forest’ had been given a broad meaning by the court then to preserve these green expanses, irrespective of their nature, classification or ownership. It is clarified that the expression ‘forest’ will cover but not be confined to lands recorded as forests in the government records

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