Daily Current Affairs : 31st October 2023

Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE

Topics Covered

  1. Electoral Bonds
  2. World Bank Study on Flood Risk in India
  3. Facts for Prelims

    1 . Electoral Bonds

    Context: A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud is expected to hear a batch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the Centre’s electoral bonds scheme. 

    What are electoral bonds? 

    • Electoral bonds are interest-free “bearer instruments”, which means that they are payable to the bearer on demand, similar to a promissory note. It was first announced during the Union Budget session in 2017.
    • Electoral bonds allow Indian citizens or a body incorporated in India to purchase bonds, enabling anonymous donations to political parties. 
    • Usually sold in denominations ranging from Rs1,000 to Rs1 crore, these bonds can be bought from authorised SBI branches through accounts complying with KYC norms. Following this, the political parties can choose to encash the bonds within 15 days of receiving them and fund their electoral expenses. However, they aren’t available for purchase throughout the year and can only be purchased between 10-day windows falling in the months of January, April, July, and October. 
    • Electoral bonds can only be used to donate to political parties registered under Section 29A of the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1951, securing at least 1% of the votes polled in the last election to the House of the People or a Legislative Assembly.  

    Why were electoral bonds introduced ?

    • The Centre’s rationale behind introducing the electoral bonds scheme was to “cleanse the system of political funding in the country and bring about transparency in electoral funding in India. Consequently, the Finance Act(s) of 2016 and 2017 amended four separate legislations to make way for the electoral bonds scheme, including the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010; the RPA, 1951; the Income Tax Act, 1961; and the Companies Act, 2013. 

    What has the court ruled previously ?

    • In April 2019, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court directed political parties that received donations through electoral bonds to disclose bond details to the Election Commission of India (ECI). 
    • Later, in March 2021, a different three-judge bench, led by then Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, rejected a request to halt the sale of new electoral bonds. The court disputed the claim that bond purchasers remained completely anonymous and stated that the scheme’s operations were not impenetrable. 
    • The court noted that electoral bonds had been issued between 2018 and 2020 without impediments. The court’s April 2019 interim order had already established certain safeguards, requiring political parties to submit donation details in sealed covers to the ECI, including donor information, bond amounts, and credit details. 
    • Despite permitting the ongoing sale of electoral bonds, the court acknowledged that a broader constitutional challenge to the electoral bonds scheme, filed in 2017, remained pending. 
    • In 2022, Chief Justice NV Ramana assured the petitioners that the Supreme Court would schedule a hearing on the matter. This assurance came in response to advocate Prashant Bhushan’s request for an urgent hearing, in which he argued that a Kolkata-based news company paid Rs 40 crore to avoid a raid, which he contended was undermining democracy. 

    What remains to be decided now

    • Recently, while presiding over a three-judge bench, CJI Chandrachud referred the case to a five-judge bench. 
    • Although the petitioners had nudged the court to refer it to a Constitution Bench even earlier, the SC hadn’t shown its inclination to do the same. In fact, the CJI-led bench listed the case for a final hearing, without referring it to a larger bench. 
    • In the present case, the top court will be dealing with four petitions, filed by ADR, CPI(M), Congress leader Jaya Thakur, and a PIL by one Spandan Biswal. 
    • Besides challenging the constitutionality of the electoral bonds scheme, the petitioners have asked the court to declare all political parties as public offices to bring them under the ambit of the Right to Information Act and compel political parties to disclose their income and expenditure. 

    ECI’s stance 

    • The Election Commission of India (ECI) has consistently expressed its objections and concerns regarding the amendments made to the Representation of the People Act (RPA) in 2017. These amendments exempted political parties from disclosing donations received through electoral bonds, a move the ECI regarded as regressive. 
    •  In 2017, the ECI formally conveyed its objections to these changes in a submission to the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law, and Justice. The Commission even requested the Law Ministry to reconsider and modify the aforementioned amendment. 
    • As part of the ongoing legal challenge to electoral bonds in the Supreme Court, the ECI submitted an affidavit in 2019. In this affidavit, it raised concerns about changes in the law that permitted political parties to accept contributions from foreign companies. The ECI emphasized that this change could result in unchecked foreign funding of political parties, potentially leading to foreign companies influencing Indian policies. 

    Centre’s stance

    • Attorney General submitted written arguments to the Supreme Court, asserting that the right of citizens to access information is subject to reasonable restrictions. He emphasized that there cannot be an unrestricted or general right to access any information and that such a right must be subject to reasonable limitations.
    • The Attorney General’s response was in relation to a petitioner’s request for a declaration that citizens have the right to know, as part of their freedom of expression, and access details of contributions made to political parties. 
    • The Attorney General defended the government’s program, highlighting that it provides confidentiality to contributors and encourages the use of clean funds. He also stated that the scheme complies with tax obligations and does not violate any existing rights. 

    2 . World Bank Study on Flood Risk in India

    Context: According to a study led by the World Bank and published in Nature, flood risk in many cities is rising because they are expanding into flood-prone areas.  
    Findings of the study

    • Since 1985, human settlements in flood-prone areas have more than doubled. 
    • India’s urban areas have been flooding more and more often. These urban floods lead to life and livelihood loss, and can push governments into economic crises.
    • Urban settlement experts said the findings reiterate the risk of unsustainable urbanisation in India while highlighting the urgent need to account for flood-related risks in how urban expansion is planned and executed.
    • The study also found that middle-income countries have more urban settlement in flood-prone zones than that in low- and high-income countries. In the World Bank’s estimate, India is a low-middle-income country (or LMIC).

    How is India at risk?

    • While India is not among the top 20 countries with settlements most exposed to flood hazards, it ranks third in terms of global settlements’ contribution, following China and the U.S.  
    • Additionally, it’s the third country, after China and Vietnam, in terms of new settlements expanding into flood-prone areas, covering the period from 1985 to 2015. This indicates that India faces a significant risk of flood-related issues, which could exacerbate in the future if proper precautions are not taken. 
    • The locations where urban areas are constructed or extended play a crucial role in flood hazards. 
    • The poor consideration of local topography in urban expansion can lead to significant flood-related problems, as seen recently in Bengaluru, where population growth and expansion overlooked local geographical factors, resulting in flooding and substantial costs. 

    What is to be done? 

    • First crucial step in addressing these risks is to recognize the flood-prone areas and acknowledge that urban expansion is encroaching upon them. 
    • There is a need for adaptive measures that take into account the different needs of low-income residents and unauthorized structures belonging to the affluent. 
    • Every city should conduct comprehensive scientific mapping of flood-prone areas. 
    • Housing in these areas can be made more resilient to floods and protect low-income housing. Like the stilt houses used by communities like the Mishing and the Miyah along the Brahmaputra river, which can serve as a model for flood-resilient housing. 

    3 . Facts for Prelims

    Lambadi embroidery

    • Traditionally, Lambadis were a nomadic tribe. They came to Gujarat and Rajasthan from Afghanistan and then migrated south with the Mughal army
    •  The Lambadis are a semi-nomadic tribe who originally came from Marwar. They are also known as Banjaras. They live mostly in the states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh
    • Lambada embroidery consists of the patchwork, appliqué, beadwork and embroidery together. Elaborate mirror work and exquisite embroidery used to mark the Lambadi women’s clothes.
    • Tamil Lambadi embroidery designs are all geometrical patterns with squares, rectangles, and circles. They have also been influenced by the local forests, birds, fruits and flowers. These are not the same as those of the Banjaras in Andhra Pradesh or the Lambanis in Karnataka. Tamil Lambadi embroidery designs are more filled in, though the stitches, 42 of them, are quite similar. They don’t use mirrors as much as the others do,”

    Economic Intelligence Council

    • The Economic Intelligence Council is the apex forum overseeing government agencies responsible for economic intelligence and combating economic offences in India. 
    • The Council is also the apex of 18regional economic intelligence committees, and is part of the Ministry of Finance.  
    • It is responsible for coordination, strategy and information-sharing amongst the government agencies responsible for intelligence and control of economic offences such as smuggling, money laundering tax evasion and fraud. 
    • The chairperson of the Economic Intelligence Council is the Finance Minister of India. 
    • Its chief members include the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) and the Directors of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) and the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI). 

    Goa Maritime Conclave (GMC)

    • The GMC is the Indian Navy’s outreach Initiative providing a multinational platform to harness the collective wisdom of practitioners of maritime security and the academia towards garnering outcome-oriented maritime thought. 
    • The previous editions of the biennial event were held in 2017, 2019, and 2021.  
    • The theme for this year’s edition of GMC is ‘Maritime Security in the Indian Ocean Region: Converting Common Maritime Priorities into Collaborative Mitigating Frameworks’. 
    • The event hosted Minister/ Chiefs of Navies/ Heads of Maritime Forces from 12 IOR countries comprising Bangladesh, Comoros, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Myanmar, Seychelles, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

    Prisoner’s dilemma

    • Prisoner’s Dilemma refers to one of the most popular “games” in Game Theory, which is itself a branch of science that helps understand how people/entities behave under different circumstances. By simulating a game, Game Theory also shows how to achieve the best outcome. 
    • The concept of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, when applied in the domain of international relations, can explain and analyse various situations where countries face strategic decision-making challenges. For example, when two or more countries engage in an arms race, they often do so out of mutual fear and mistrust. 

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