Daily Current Affairs : 23rd September 2023

Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE

Topics Covered

  1. Electronic Voting Machine (EVM)
  2. Privileges Committee
  3. Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (AMASR) Act, 1958

1 . Electronic Voting Machine

Context: The Supreme Court on Friday declined to entertain a writ petition seeking an independent audit of the source code governing the entire Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) system. 

About the news

  • According to the petition source code governing the EVM was the “brain of an electronic machine”. An independent auditing public body which can view such a human-readable set of written instructions [source code] would ensure confidence that these processes would run exactly as intended and exclude the possibility of concealed [Trojan] code beyond the prescribed Software Requirement Specifications [SRS]  
  • The petitioner further argued that that independent audit should be undertaken by applying the IEEE 1028 standard. 
  • According to the judgement Supreme Court in reply said that the Election Commission of India (EC) was constitutionally entrusted with the superintendence and control of the polls and the petitioner has not provided any material to show that the EC was in breach of its constitutional mandate.   

What is IEEE 1028 standard

  • It is a well-established standard for software reviews and audits published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the world’s largest technical professional organisation. 
  • Standard provides guidelines and procedures for conducting software reviews and audits throughout the software development life cycle.
  • The primary goal of IEEE 1028 is to improve the quality and reliability of software by ensuring that it meets specified requirements, standards, and procedures.
  • It defines five types of reviews- Management reviews, Technical reviews, Inspections, Walk-throughs and Audits. 

What is EVM? 

  • Electronic Voting Machine (also known as EVM) is voting using electronic means to either aid or take care of the chores of casting and counting votes. 

How do existing EVMs work?

The structure of the current electronic voting machine (EVM)

  • EVMs started being used on a larger scale in 1992 and since 2000, have been used in all Lok Sabha and State Assembly elections.
  • There have been three iterations of the machine with improved features, the latest one being the M3 model which was manufactured from 2013 onwards.
  • Multiple political parties in 2010 approached the ECI to come up with a mechanism that could help verify that the EVM had recorded the vote correctly as intended by the voter.
  • The ECI, thus, developed along with two Public Sector Undertakings (PSU), the Voter Verified Paper Trail Audit (VVPAT) machine to have a paper trail in the voting process.
  • The use of VVPATs has become universal in elections since mid-2017.
  • The current EVM setup has a Balloting Unit (BU) which is connected to the VVPAT printer, both of which are inside the voting compartment.
  • The VVPAT is connected to the Control Unit (CU), which sits with the Presiding Officer (PO) and totals the number of votes cast, on its display board.
  •  The VVPAT, which is essentially a printing machine, prints a slip with the poll symbol and candidate name, once the voter presses the key on the BU.
  • This slip is visible to the voter on the VVPAT’s glass screen for seven seconds after which it gets dropped off in a box inside the VVPAT.
  • Once a vote is cast, the BU becomes inactive till the PO schedules the next vote by enabling it again from the CU.

What are the concerns about EVMs?

  • Concerned civil society organisations, civil servants who have overseen elections, academicians, journalists, former judges, and political figures formed the Citizens’ Commission on Elections (CCE) in 2020, which conducted analysis, recorded depositions from national and international field experts and released a report in 2021 titled, ‘Is the Indian EVM and VVPAT System Fit for Democratic Elections?’.
  • The report highlighted the widely recognised ‘democracy principles’ to be adhered to while conducting public elections. It stated that the election process should not only be free and fair but “also be seen to be free and fair”, meaning instead of being told to trust the process the general public should be provided with provable guarantees to facilitate this trust.
  • The report points out that the details of the EVM design, prototype, software, and hardware verification are not publicly available for technical and independent review, rendering it available only for a black-box analysis, where information about its inner workings is not accessible
  • However, the ECI says that unlike other countries, Indian EVMs are standalone, are not connected to the internet, and have a one-time programmable chip, making tampering through the hardware port or through a Wi-Fi connection impossible.

What are the problems with VVPAT?

  • Dr. Subhashis Banerjee, the head of IIT-Delhi’s computer science department and a member of the CCE, told The Hindu that for the voting process to be verifiable and correct, it should be machine-independent, or software and hardware independent, meaning, the establishment of its veracity should not depend solely on the assumption that the EVM is correct.
  • Dr. Banerjee contends that the current VVPAT system is not voter verified in its full sense, meaning, while the voter sees their vote slip behind the VVPAT’s glass for seven seconds, it does not mean they have verified it.
  •  Former IAS officer Kannan Gopinathan, who has overseen both Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, notes in his 2021 paper, that the “voter should have full agency to cancel a vote if not satisfied; and that the process to cancel must be simple and should not require the voter to interact with anybody”.
  • Under the current system, if the voter disputes what they have seen behind the screen, they are allowed a test vote in the presence of an election officer, and if the outcome of the test vote is correct, the voter can be penalised or even prosecuted. Mr. Gopinathan and the CCE report argue that this penalisation is discouraging.
  • Additionally, the assurance given by the ECI that the EVM-VVPAT system is not connected to any external device has been questioned by former civil servants and multiple studies.
  • For the VVPAT to be able to generate voting slips, the symbols, names and the sequence of the candidates need to be uploaded on it which is done by connecting it to a laptop.

What are institutional safeguards?

  • The ECI has said time and again that EVMs and their systems are “robust, secure, and tamper-proof”, owing to the technical and institutional safeguards in place.
  •  The ECI claims that the safeguards, such as the sealing of machines with signatures of polling agents, first-level checks, randomisation of machines, and a series of mock polls before the actual voting, cannot be circumvented.
  •  However, domain experts and former observers have shown that vulnerabilities can arise.

Significance of EVMs:  

  • Accuracy and Transparency: EVMs have greatly improved the accuracy and transparency of the voting process. They reduce the chances of errors in vote counting and minimize the possibility of tampering with ballot papers. 
  • Time and Cost Efficiency: EVMs simplify the voting and counting process, reducing the time required for results and the cost associated with manual counting and paper ballots. 
  • Reduced Booth Capturing: EVMs have helped in reducing incidents of booth capturing and election fraud because they do not involve paper ballots that can be easily manipulated. 
  • Accessibility: EVMs are designed to be accessible to all voters, including those with disabilities. They have features like Braille labels making voting more inclusive. – Reconfirm it 
  • Environmental Impact: EVMs reduce the use of paper and contribute to environmental conservation by minimizing the production and disposal of paper ballots. 
  • Quick Results: EVMs provide quick and efficient election results, allowing for faster decision-making and government formation after elections. 
  • Reduced Spoilage: EVMs reduce the chances of invalid votes due to incorrect marking on paper ballots, which can be a common issue with manual voting systems. 
  • Easy Maintenance: EVMs are relatively easy to maintain and store, reducing logistical challenges compared to storing and transporting large quantities of paper ballots. 
  • Reduced Storage Space: Storing electronic data from EVMs takes up significantly less space compared to storing paper ballots, making the post-election process more manageable. 
  • Deterrence to Electoral Fraud: The use of EVMs acts as a deterrent to electoral fraud and manipulation due to their technology and encryption features. 

2 . Privileges Committee

Context: Exercising pressure on Speaker Om Birla to take action against BJP member Ramesh Bidhuri who used abusive language against BSP member Danish Ali on the floor of the Lok Sabha on Thursday night, at least four Opposition parties have urged him to refer the matter to the Privileges Committee.  

About Parliamentary privileges

  • Parliamentary privilege is the total of specific rights enjoyed by each House collectively and by members of each House individually, which outweigh those owned by other groups or persons and without which they could not execute their tasks. 
  • Some privileges are based purely on Parliamentary law and custom, while others are governed by statute. 

Parliamentary Privileges

  • Article 105 and Article 194 grant privileges or advantages to the members of the parliament so that they can perform their duties or can function properly without any hindrances.  

Types of Privileges 

  • These “rights” can be divided into two categories: those extended to Members individually, and those extended to the House collectively. Each category can be further divided.  
  • The rights and immunities accorded to Members individually are generally categorized under the following headings:
    •  freedom of speech; 
    • freedom from arrest in civil actions; 
    • exemption from jury duty; 
    • exemption from being subpoenaed to attend court as a witness; and 
    • freedom from obstruction, interference, intimidation and molestation. 
  • The rights and powers of the House as a collectivity may be categorized as follows:
    •  the exclusive right to regulate its own internal affairs (including its debates, proceedings and facilities); 
    • the power to discipline; that is, the right to punish persons guilty of breaches of privilege or contempt, and the power to expel Members guilty of disgraceful conduct; 
    • the right to provide for its proper constitution, including the authority to maintain the attendance and service of its members; 
    • the right to inquiries and to call witnesses and demand papers; 
    • the right to administer oaths to witnesses appearing before it; and 
    • the right to publish papers without recourse to the courts relating to the content. 

Details of the Privileges

  • Freedom of speech and publication under parliamentary authority
    • This is defined under Article 105(1) and clause (2).  
    • It gives the members of parliament freedom of speech and provides under Article 105(2) that no member of parliament will be liable in any proceedings before any Court for anything said or any vote given by him in the Parliament or any committee thereof.  
    • Also, no person will be held liable for any publication of any report, paper, votes or proceedings if the publication is made by the parliament or any authority under it. 
    • The same provisions are stated under Article 194, in that members of the legislature of a state are referred to instead of members of parliament. 
    • Article 105 is an absolute privilege given to the members of the parliament, but this privilege can be used in the premises of the parliament and not outside the parliament. 
  • Freedom from being arrested
    • In civil cases, member of parliament cannot be arrested 40 days before and 40 days after the session of the house.   If in any case a member of Parliament is arrested within this period, the person concerned should be released in order to attend the session freely.  This privilege is already incorporated under Section 135A of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908. 
    • In criminal matters, Members of Parliament are not on a different footing than a common citizen.  It means that a Member of Parliament does not enjoy any immunity from being arrested in a criminal case, during the session or otherwise. 
  • Right to exclude strangers from its proceedings and hold secret sessions 
    • The object of including this right was to exclude any chances of daunting or threatening any of the members. The strangers may attempt to interrupt the sessions. 
  • Right to prohibit the publication of its reporters and proceedings 
    • The right has been granted to remove or delete any part of the proceedings that took place in the house. 
  • Right to regulate internal proceedings
    • The House has the right to regulate its own internal proceedings and also has the right to call for the session of the Legislative assembly.  
    • But it does not have any authority in interrupting the proceedings by directing the speaker of the assembly.  
  • Right to punish members or outsiders for contempt
    • This right has been given to every house of Parliament. If any of its members or maybe non-members commit contempt or breach any of the privileges given to him/her, the houses may punish the person. 
    • The houses have the right to punish any person for any contempt made against the houses in the present or in the past. 

Breach Privilege Motion

  • All Members of Parliament (MPs) enjoy rights and immunities, individually and collectively, so that they can discharge their duties and functions effectively. Any instance when these rights and immunities are disregarded by any member of Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha is an offence, called ‘breach of privilege’, which is punishable under the Laws of Parliament. 
  • Any member from either house can move a notice in the form of a motion against the member who he/she thinks is guilty of the breach of privilege. Both Houses of the Parliament reserve the right to punish any action of contempt (not necessarily breach of privilege) which is against its authority and dignity, as per the laws. 

What are the rules governing Privilege Motion? 

  • The rules governing the privilege are mentioned in the Rule No 222 in Chapter 20 of the Lok Sabha Rule Book and Rule 187 in Chapter 16 of the Rajya Sabha rulebook. The rules explain that any member of the House may, with the consent of the Speaker or the Chairperson, raise a question involving an incident that he or she considers a breach of privilege either of a member or of the House or of a committee. The notice, however, has to be about a recent incident and should need the intervention of the House. These notices have to be submitted before 10 am to the Speaker or the Chairperson of the House. 

What is the role of the Lok Sabha Speaker and Rajya Sabha Chairperson? 

  • The speaker of Lok Sabha and the Chairperson of Rajya Sabha are the first level of scrutiny of a privilege motion in the two Houses of Parliament. They can either take a decision on the privilege motion or can also refer it to the privileges committee of Parliament. Once the Speaker or the House Chairperson gives consent under Rule 222, the concerned member is allowed to explain himself or herself. 

What is the Privileges Committee? 

  • The Speaker of Lok Sabha nominates a committee of privileges consisting of 15 members of parliament from each party. The report prepared by the committee is submitted to the House for its consideration.
  • The Speaker may also allow a half-hour debate on the report by the committee before passing orders or directing that the report be tabled before the House.
  • A resolution is passed. In the Rajya Sabha, the deputy chairperson heads the committee of privileges, which consists of 10 members. 
  • When a question of privilege is referred to the Committee by the House, the report of the Committee is presented to the House by the Chairman or, in his absence, by any member of the Committee.  
  • Where a question of privilege is referred to the Committee by the Speaker under Rule 227, the report of the Committee is presented to the Speaker who may pass final orders thereon or direct that it be laid on the Table of the House.  

Have Privilege Motions been passed in Parliament in the past?

  • Most of the privilege motions passed in the Parliament in the past have been rejected. Penal actions have been recommended only in a few, so far.
  • Among the most significant privilege motions passed so far was in 1978 against Indira Gandhi. The then Home Minister Charan Singh had moved a resolution of breach of privilege against her on the basis of observations made by Justice Shah Commission, which investigated the excesses during the Emergency. Indira Gandhi, who had just won the Lok Sabha elections from Chikmagalur, was expelled from the House.
  • In 1976, BJP MP Subramanian Swamy was expelled from Rajya Sabha for bringing disgrace to Parliament through his interviews to foreign publications.

3 . Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (AMASR) Act, 1958

Context: A parliamentary panel has observed that the provision of 100-metre prohibited area and 300-metre regulated area around all monuments protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has pitted the local community against these heritage structures in many places as they find it difficult to carry out necessary repair work of their residential spaces. 

Key Recommendation

  • The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport Tourism and Culture has asked the government to revise the rules under AMASR (Amendment) Act, 2010 to make them realistic. To make what realistic 
  • It has also recommended rationalising the application of such rules based on the historical significance of the monuments. 
  • It stated that at present, the same set of rules apply to both significant and insignificant monuments. 
  • It further recommended that the list of all 3,691 ASI-protected monuments be rationalised and categorised based on their national significance, unique architectural value and specific heritage content. 

About AMASR Act, 1958

  • It aims to provide for the preservation of ancient and historical monuments and archaeological sites and remains of national importance, for the regulation of archaeological excavations and for the protection of sculptures, carvings and other like objects. 
  • The Act empowers the central government to identify and declare ancient monuments, archaeological sites, and remains as “protected” or “regulated” areas based on their historical or archaeological significance. 
  • It outlines measures for the conservation, maintenance, and restoration of protected monuments and sites. Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is the primary agency responsible for implementing these measures. 
  • The Act prohibits various activities within protected areas that could potentially harm or damage the historical and archaeological significance of the sites. These activities include construction, mining, and excavation without proper authorization. 
  • The AMASR Act includes provisions for penalties and fines for offenses related to the unlawful excavation, construction, or damage to protected monuments or sites. 
  • The Act provides for the regulation and control of archaeological excavations and research within protected areas. 
  •  It allows for the creation of heritage bylaws to guide and regulate activities within protected and regulated areas. 

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