Daily Current Affairs : 20th May 2023

Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE

Topics Covered

  1. Withdrawal of 2000 Rs notes
  2. Right to Assembly
  3. Arsenic Exposure

1 . Withdrawal of 2000 Rs notes

Context: The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has decided to withdraw the Rs 2000 denomination banknotes from circulation. But existing notes will continue to be legal tender. The central bank has advised the public to deposit Rs 2000 banknotes, which were introduced after Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes were withdrawn during the demonetisation exercise six years ago, into their bank accounts and /or exchange them into banknotes of other denominations at any bank branch.

Why has the RBI withdrawn Rs 2000 notes?

  • The Rs 2000 note was introduced in November 2016 under Section 24(1) of The RBI Act, 1934, primarily with the objective of meeting the currency requirement of the economy expeditiously after the legal tender status of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes was withdrawn. With the fulfilment of that objective, and once notes of other denominations were available in adequate quantities, the printing of Rs 2000 notes was stopped in 2018-19.
  • The RBI issued the majority of the Rs 2000 denomination notes prior to March 2017; these notes are now at the end of their estimated lifespan of 4-5 years. This denomination is no longer commonly used for transactions; besides, there is adequate stock of banknotes in other denominations to meet currency requirements.
  • In view of the above, and in pursuance of the ‘Clean Note Policy’ of the Reserve Bank of India, it has been decided to withdraw the Rs 2000 denomination banknotes from circulation.

What is the Clean Note Policy?

  • The Clean Note Policy seeks to give the public good-quality currency notes and coins with better security features, while soiled notes are withdrawn out of circulation. The RBI had earlier decided to withdraw from circulation all banknotes issued prior to 2005 as they have fewer security features as compared to banknotes printed after 2005.
  • However, the notes issued before 2005 continue to be legal tender. They have only been withdrawn from circulation in conformity with the standard international practice of not having notes of multiple series in circulation at the same time.

Will the Rs 2000 banknotes continue to be legal tender?

  • The Rs 2000 banknote will continue to maintain its legal tender status, the RBI has said. Members of the public can continue to use Rs 2000 banknotes for their transactions and also receive them in payment. “However, they are encouraged to deposit and/ or exchange these banknotes on or before September 30, 2023

What will happen after September 30?

  • The RBI has not clarified the status of these notes after September 30. However, it has said that its instructions on the Rs 2000 notes will be effective until that date.

What is the value of Rs 2000 notes in circulation currently?

  • About 89% of the Rs 2000 denomination banknotes were issued prior to March 2017, and are at the end of their estimated 4-5-year lifespan. The total value of these banknotes in circulation has declined from Rs 6.73 lakh crore at its peak as on March 31, 2018 (37.3% of notes in circulation) to Rs 3.62 lakh crore, constituting only 10.8% of notes in circulation on March 31, 2023.

And what steps are banks supposed to take now?

  • The RBI has asked all banks to discontinue issuing Rs 2000 denomination banknotes with immediate effect, and to reconfigure ATMs and cash recyclers accordingly.
  • Banks holding currency chests (CCs) should ensure that no withdrawal of Rs 2000 denomination is allowed from the CCs. All balances held in the CCs should be classified as unfit and kept ready for dispatch to the respective RBI offices.

History of Clean Note Policy

  • The RBI adopted the policy to ensure the availability of good quality bank notes to the public.
  • RBI’s clean note policy was introduced 24 years ago, in 1999, by the then RBI Governor, Dr Bimal Jalan.
  • In 2001, Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, Vepa Kamesam, asked banks to implement the Reserve Bank’s instructions, to do away with stapling of note packets and to introduce banding the packets with paper/polythene bands so that the life of the currency notes is increased.
  • The objective of the Reserve Bank’s clean note policy is to provide good quality currency notes and coins to the citizens.
  • The policy aims to maintain the integrity of the Indian currency by removing damaged, counterfeit, or soiled notes from circulation.
  • The RBI regularly monitors the quality of currency notes in circulation and sets standards for their acceptability
  • The RBI Act 1934’s Section 27 states that “No person shall, on any premises where banknotes are kept or handled, soil, deface, disfigure or destroy any banknote.”

2 . Right to Assembly

Context: The Andhra Pradesh High Court has set aside a Government Order (GO) issued by the Andhra Pradesh government that sought to regulate public meetings, processions, and assemblies on roads, highways, and streets.

What is the government order and why was it issued?

  • The basis of the challenge in the present case titled ‘Kaka Ramakrishna vs. The State of Andhra Pradesh’ was GO dated January 2, by which the Andhra Pradesh government sought to regulate public meetings or “assembly on roads, roadsides and margins”. The directions under this order were issued under relevant provisions of the Police Act, 1861.
  • Reason to regulate the public assemblies- The Andhra Pradesh government contended before the court that in light of certain fatal accidents that occurred in the recent past, involving loss of life, etc., in a stampede, it had decided to “regulate” the conduct of meetings without imposing a blanket ban on the same.
  • However, the court said that a “plain language interpretation” of Section 30 clarifies that the Police Act only gives authorities the power to “regulate” the conduct of assemblies, processions, etc., on public roads or thoroughfares.
  • Further, if the officer concerned thinks that the assembly may cause a breach of peace, he can ask the organisers to apply for a licence and prescribe the conditions under which the meeting or procession can be held.
  • However, if the officer is of the opinion that there is no likelihood of a breach of peace, he cannot insist on a license or permission being obtained.
  • Adding that the power given to the police or magistrate is “only to regulate the conduct of assemblies, processions, etc., more so when they are likely to obstruct /block the roads”, the Court said that the right to assemble or protest peacefully in streets, public places, thoroughfares, etc. cannot be restricted totally by virtue of these sections of law.

What did the court say about the right to assembly?

  • In its order striking down the GO, the court held that the “right to assemble, to protest peacefully, and to express one’s opinion freely” is too precious a freedom to be taken away by an “ipse dixit” (unproven assertion) given by the officer of the state.
  • Stating that freedom of speech is the “bulwark” of democracy and is regarded as the first in the hierarchy of liberties, the court reiterated that it is too precious a freedom to be left to anyone’s unfettered discretion.
  • Adding that the power conferred by the G.O. is “arbitrary, excessive, and also fails on the test of proportionality,” the court deemed the same to be an unreasonable restriction.
  • The Court also said that the objective of the state to prevent loss of life could have been a reasonable one but the directions given in the GO ultimately conferred “arbitrary power” on the officer in relation to a fundamental right under Part 3 of the Constitution. Thus, the court held that “Any G.O. or executive order which takes away the right of a political party, a citizen, or a group of people to assemble peacefully, to protest peacefully, etc., has to be viewed strictly. This is a right, which is conferred on the citizens by the Constitution.”

What were the guidelines laid down in the 2018 SC ruling?

  • In ‘Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan v Union of India, ‘ a PIL was filed before the Supreme Court challenging the repeated imposition of police orders under Section 144 CrPC, through which a ban was imposed in Delhi prohibiting assembly and dharnas without written permission in areas such as Parliament House, North and South Block, Central Vista Lawns, and its surrounding localities and areas.
  • The court laid down guidelines for regulating such protests and demonstrations while adding that the fundamental right to peaceful assembly under Article 19(1)(b) of the Constitution of India can be reasonably restricted.
    • The guidelines included regulating the intended number of participants in such demonstrations.
    • It also prescribed the minimum distance from the Parliament House, North and South Blocks, SC, and the residences of dignitaries within which no demonstrations were allowed; imposed restrictions on certain routes where the PM, Central Ministers, and Judges pass through; and said that demonstrations would not be allowed when foreign dignitaries were visiting a place or route.
    • The court also disallowed demonstrators from carrying firearms, lathis, spears, swords, etc.

Article 19(1)(b):

  • The object of holding an assembly or a meeting is the propagation of ideas and to educate the public. Hence, the right to assemble is a necessary corollary of the right to free speech and expression. Article 19(1)(b) provides for the right to assemble peaceably and without arms. This includes the right to hold public meetings, hunger strikes, and the right to take out processions. However, the assembly must be peaceful and without arms.
  • It is pertinent to note that there is no right to hold an assembly on government premises or private property belonging to others

Reasonable restrictions on right to freedom of assembly

  • According to Clause 3 of Article 19, the right to freedom of assembly could be restricted on the following grounds:
  • In  the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, or
  • In the interests of public order.

3 . Arsenic exposure

Context: Though it is well known that ingesting high levels of arsenic from contaminated groundwater in India has been linked to a range of ailments, a recent peer-reviewed study suggests that even low levels of arsenic consumption may impact cognitive function in children, adolescents, and young adults.

Research Study about Arsenic Exposure

  • Impact of Arsenic Exposure- The research study, which is part of a bigger investigation into how a range of environmental and biological factors affect neurological and cognitive development in young people, also found that those exposed to arsenic had reduced grey matter (brain tissue that is vital to cognitive functions) and weaker connections within key regions of the brain that enable concentration, switching between tasks, and temporary storage of information.
  • Chronic exposure to arsenic could be creating a ‘silent pandemic’ affecting large portions of the global population.
  • Arsenic exposure, previous studies have shown, is particularly harmful to the poor. This study too, reinforced the fact that the economic and nutritionally poor face greater cognitive impairment from arsenic exposure.
  • the impact of arsenic in impairing cognition at an individual level was “limited”. The effect was more pronounced when individuals were considered as part of a collective
    • However, the authors note in their study that deficits in cognitive tasks could point to “…adverse consequences at a population level, contributing to an overall increase in school failures, diminished economic productivity, and increased risk of criminal and antisocial behaviour.
  • Food intake and Arsenic exposure- For participants in the study, exposure to arsenic was strongly linked to food intake, indicating that background inorganic and organic arsenic in foods is a major contributor to arsenic exposure in many parts of India beyond those regions where arsenic exposure from groundwater is naturally known to be high.
  • Region with high Arsenic levels- West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Assam and Manipur have long been identified as regions with high background arsenic levels.
  • Steps taken by the Government to address Arsenic poisoning– Since the 1990s, both the Central and State governments in Bihar and West Bengal have sought to address arsenic contamination.
    • A common strategy employed is to encourage piped water access rather than groundwater extraction, install arsenic removal plants and – if groundwater extraction is inevitable – encourage extraction from aquifers (water channels below the ground) that are deeper than 100 m, instead of shallower aquifers, which generally contain higher amounts of arsenic.

What is arsenic?

  • Arsenic is a naturally occurring element in the environment. Rock, soil, water, air, plants and animals all contain some level of arsenic. Arsenic combines with inorganic and organic substances to form many different compounds.
  • People are exposed to elevated levels of inorganic arsenic through drinking contaminated water, using contaminated water in food preparation and irrigation of food crops, industrial processes, eating contaminated food and smoking tobacco.
  • Long-term exposure to inorganic arsenic, mainly through drinking-water and food, can lead to chronic arsenic poisoning. Skin lesions and skin cancer are the most characteristic effects.

Sources of exposure

  • The greatest threat to public health from arsenic originates from contaminated groundwater.
  • Fish, shellfish, meat, poultry, dairy products and cereals can also be dietary sources of arsenic, although exposure from these foods is generally much lower compared to exposure through contaminated groundwater. In seafood, arsenic is mainly found in its less toxic organic form.

Industrial processes

  • Arsenic is used industrially as an alloying agent, as well as in the processing of glass, pigments, textiles, paper, metal adhesives, wood preservatives and ammunition. Arsenic is also used in the hide tanning process and, to a limited extent, in pesticides, feed additives and pharmaceuticals.
  • People who smoke tobacco can also be exposed to the natural inorganic arsenic content of tobacco because tobacco plants can take up arsenic naturally present in the soil.

Health effects

  • Inorganic arsenic is a confirmed carcinogen and is the most significant chemical contaminant in drinking-water globally. Arsenic can also occur in an organic form. Inorganic arsenic compounds (such as those found in water) are highly toxic while organic arsenic compounds (such as those found in seafood) are less harmful to health.

Acute effects

  • The immediate symptoms of acute arsenic poisoning include vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhoea. These are followed by numbness and tingling of the extremities, muscle cramping and death, in extreme cases.

Long-term effects

  • The first symptoms of long-term exposure to high levels of inorganic arsenic (for example, through drinking-water and food) are usually observed in the skin, and include pigmentation changes, skin lesions and hard patches on the palms and soles of the feet (hyperkeratosis).

Prevention and control

  • The most important action in affected communities is the prevention of further exposure to arsenic by the provision of a safe water supply for drinking, food preparation and irrigation of food crops

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