Daily Current Affairs : 3rd February 2023

Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE

 Topics Covered

  1. SC verdict on election commission
  2. India – Australia Treaty
  3. IEA Report
  4. Foreign Contribution Regulation Act
  5. Facts for Prelims

1 . Supreme court verdict on Appointment of CEC and EC

Context: A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court on March 2 directed in a landmark judgment that Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and Election Commissioners (ECs) will be appointed by the President on the advice tendered by a committee of Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition (LoP) in the Lok Sabha or the leader of the single largest party in opposition and the Chief Justice of India (CJI).

Supreme court Verdict on Election Commission

About the Petition

  • In 2015, a public interest litigation was filed by Anoop Baranwal challenging the constitutional validity of the practice of the Centre appointing members of the Election Commission.
  • In October 2018, a two-judge bench of the SC referred the case to a larger bench since it would require a close examination of Article 324 of the Constitution, which deals with the mandate of the Chief Election Commissioner.
  • In September last year, a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Justice KM Joseph began hearing the case and almost a month later, the verdict was reserved. The Bench also comprised Justices Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy and C T Ravikumar.

Main contention

  • Article 324(2) states that “The Election Commission shall consist of the Chief Election Commissioner and such number of other Election Commissioners, if any, as the President may from time-to-time fix and the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners shall, subject to the provisions of any law made in that behalf by Parliament, be made by the President.”
  • The crux of the challenge is that since there is no law made by Parliament on this issue, the Court must step in to fill the “constitutional vacuum.”
  • Two corollary issues that were also examined by the Court are whether the process of removal of the two Election Commissioners must be the same as the CEC; and regarding the funding of the EC.
  • As per the current process, the Law Minister suggests a pool of suitable candidates to the Prime Minister for consideration. The President makes the appointment on the advice of the PM.

What did the court decide?

  • The Court decide that “The appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and the Election Commissioners shall be made by the President on the advice of a Committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition of the Lok Sabha, and in case no leader of Opposition is available, the leader of the largest opposition Party in the Lok Sabha in terms of numerical strength, and the Chief Justice of India,” and the verdict states that this will be subject to any law to be made by Parliament. This means that Parliament can undo the effect of the SC verdict by bringing in a new law on the issue.
  • The ruling examined a number of provisions in the Constitution, including the ones relating to the powers of the Supreme Court and High Court; establishing the SC, ST and Backward Classes Commissions, etc. where the Constitution uses the phrase “subject to the provisions of any law made by Parliament”. The Court finds that while a legislation has been supplemented for those provisions, there is no law on appointment of the CEC even 70 years after independence

What are the other findings of the court?

  • On the issue of whether the process of removal of Election Commissioners must be the same as it is for the CEC, the Court ruled that it cannot be the same. The Constitution states that the CEC can be removed in a process similar to a judge — through a majority in both houses of Parliament on grounds of proven incapacity or misbehaviour. The court also advised to extend the protection available to the CEC under the first proviso to Article 324(5) to other Election Commissioners as well until a law is framed by the Parliament. The court said that it is desirable that the grounds of removal of the Election Commissioners shall be the same as those of the CEC and Supreme Court judges
  • On the issue of funding the EC, the Court left it to the government. The court make an appeal on the basis that there is an urgent need to provide for a permanent Secretariat and also to provide that the expenditure be charged on the Consolidated Fund of India.  

Election Commission of India

  • The Election Commission of India is an autonomous constitutional authority responsible for administering Union and State election processes in India.
  • Article 324 of the Constitution of India vests the Election Commission of India the superintendence, direction, and control of the entire process for conduct of elections to Parliament and Legislature of every State and to the offices of the President and Vice-President of India.
  • Election Commission of India is a permanent Constitutional Body. The Election Commission was established in accordance with the Constitution on 25th January 1950.
  • Originally the commission had only a Chief Election Commissioner. It currently consists of Chief Election Commissioner and two Election Commissioners.
  • For the first time two additional Commissioners were appointed on 16th October 1989 but they had a very short tenure till 1st January 1990. Later, on 1st October 1993 two additional Election Commissioners were appointed. The concept of multi-member Commission has been in operation since then, with decision making power by majority vote

How are the CEC and ECs currently appointed?

  • There are five Articles (324-329) in Part XV (Elections) of the Constitution. The President appoints Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners. They have tenure of six years, or up to the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier. They enjoy the same status and receive salary and perks as available to Judges of the Supreme Court of India. The Chief Election Commissioner can be removed from office only through impeachment by Parliament
  • The Constitution does not lay down a specific legislative process for the appointment of the CEC and ECs. The President makes the appointment on the advice of the Union Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister.
  • The Election Commission (Conditions of Service of Election Commissioners and Transaction of Business) Act, 1991 (EC Act) requires that the EC and CEC must hold the post for a period of six years. This law essentially governs the conditions of service of the CEC and ECs.

Funding and Budget

  • The Secretariat of the Commission has an independent budget, which is finalised directly in consultation between the Commission and the Finance Ministry of the Union Government. The latter generally accepts the recommendations of the Commission for its budgets.

What are the Powers and Functions of Election Commission of India?

Administrative Functions

  • One of the most important features of the democratic policy in India is elections at regular intervals. Holding periodic, free and fair elections are essentials of a democratic system and a part of the basic structure of the Constitution.
  • The Election Commission is regarded as the guardian of elections in the country. In every election, it issues a Model Code of Conduct for political parties and candidates to conduct elections in a free and fair manner.  
  • The election commission has the right to allow symbols to the political parties. It gives recognition to the national parties, state parties and regional parties. It sets limits on poll expenses.
  • The commission prepare electoral rolls and update the voter’s list from time to time. Notifications of dates and schedules of election for filing nominations are issued by the commission.
  • Election commission cannot allot same symbol to two regional political parties even if they are not in the same state.
  • The commission is empowered with prohibiting dissemination or publication of voting trends that seek to influence voters by opinion polls or exit polls.
  • To prepare a roster for publicity of the policies of the political parties on radio and TV in times of election.
  • The Commission, as a part of its quasi-judicial jurisdiction, also settles disputes between the splinter groups of such recognised parties.

Advisory Jurisdiction & Quasi-Judicial Functions

  • Under the Constitution, the Commission also has advisory jurisdiction in the matter of post-election disqualification of sitting members of Parliament and State Legislatures. Further, the cases of persons found guilty of corrupt practices at elections which come before the Supreme Court and High Courts are also referred to the Commission for its opinion on the question as to whether such person shall be disqualified and, if so, for what period. The opinion of the Commission in all such matters is binding on the President or, as the case may be, the Governor to whom such opinion is tendered.
  • The Commission has the power to disqualify a candidate who has failed to lodge an account of his election expenses within the time and in the manner prescribed by law. The Commission has also the power for removing or reducing the period of such disqualification as also other disqualification under the law.

2 . India – Australia mutual recognition of qualifications Treaty

Context: India and Australia signed a framework mechanism for mutual recognition of qualifications that will help in easing the mobility of students and professionals between the two countries.

India- Australia treaty

  • The agreement was signed following a bilateral meeting between Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and Australian Education Minister Jason Clare.
  • Agreement is a part of the commitment by Prime Ministers of both countries at the Second India-Australia Virtual Summit held on March 21, 2022, wherein they had agreed to establish a joint taskforce for mutual recognition of qualifications.
  • It  has come up with a comprehensive mechanism  that covers both education and skill qualifications of the two countries and will help facilitate two way mobility of young people for education and employment purposes by mutually recognizing various levels of education and skill qualifications.

Key features

  • Framework mechanism recognizes each other’s school qualifications, vocational qualifications and university qualifications. It is a comprehensive mechanism that covers both the education and skill qualifications of the two countries and will help facilitate two-way mobility of young people for education and employment purposes by mutually recognizing various levels of education and skill qualifications.
  • Under this mechanism, nearly 11 institutional-level agreements were exchanged between India and Australia’s university sectors with the goal to promote research and academic collaborations between the two countries in fields ranging from bio-innovation to law to industry solutions. The Australian government will also be contributing 1.89 million dollars to run agricultural skill development programmes in India.
  • Both the sides also discussed issues like promoting student mobility and enhancing research and academic collaborations between Indian and Australian universities through the mechanism of joint, dual and twinning degrees that have been introduced recently under the NEP.

3 . IEA Report

Context: According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) annual Methane Global Tracker report, fossil fuel companies emitted 120 million metric tonnes of methane into the atmosphere in 2022, only slightly below the record highs seen in 2019. It added that these companies have done almost nothing to curb the emissions despite their pledges to find and fix leaking infrastructure.

What are the findings of the Report?

  • The energy sector accounts for around 40 per cent of the total average methane emissions from human activity, as oil and natural gas companies are known to release methane into the atmosphere when natural gas is flared or vented. The greenhouse gas is also released through leaks from valves and other equipment during the drilling, extraction and transportation process.
  • More than 260 billion cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas (mostly composed of methane) is wasted through flaring and methane leaks globally today. Although it’s impossible to avoid all of this amount, the right policies and implementation can bring 200 bcm of additional gas to markets.
  • The report said 75 per cent of methane emissions from the energy sector can be reduced with the help of cheap and readily available technology. The implementation of such measures would cost less than three per cent of the net income received by the oil and gas industry in 2022, but fossil fuel companies failed to take any substantial action regarding the issue.
  • Based on average natural gas prices from 2017 to 2021, the report estimates that around 40 percent of methane emissions from oil and gas operations could be avoided at no net cost because the outlays for the abatement measures are less than the market value of the additional gas that is captured.
  • Ultimately, reducing 75 per cent of the wastage of natural gas could lower global temperature rise by nearly 0.1 degree Celsius by mid-century. This would have the same effect on the soaring global temperatures as immediately stopping greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles such as cars, trucks, buses and two- and three-wheeler vehicles across the world. However, fossil fuel companies have done little to tackle the problem.
  • The report note that emissions remain stubbornly high. Many companies saw hefty profits last year following a turbulent period for international oil and gas markets amid the global energy crisis. Fossil fuel producers need to step up and policymakers need to step in – and both must do so quickly.

How are methane emissions driving climate change?

  • Methane (CH4) is a hydrocarbon that is a primary component of natural gas. Methane is also a greenhouse gas (GHG), so its presence in the atmosphere affects the earth’s temperature and climate system.
  • Methane is responsible for 30 per cent of the warming since preindustrial times, second only to carbon dioxide. A report by the United Nations Environment Programme observed that over a 20-year period, methane is 80 times more potent at warming than carbon dioxide.
  • While carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for much longer than methane, methane is roughly 25 times more powerful at trapping heat in the atmosphere, and has an important short-term influence on the rate of climate change

What are the sources of methane emissions?

  • Methane is emitted from a variety of anthropogenic (human-influenced) and natural sources.
  • The natural methane comes from wetlands, termites, oceans, hydrates (CH4 trapped in water at low temperature and under high pressure), forests, wildfires, wild animals, permafrost and geological sources
  • Anthropogenic emission sources include landfills, oil and natural gas systems, agricultural activities, coal mining, stationary and mobile combustion, wastewater treatment, and certain industrial processes.

How to reduce methane emissions?

  • Energy sector– The energy sector is responsible for more than a third of global methane emissions, with oil and gas contributing around 14%. Existing cost-effective solutions can help reduce emissions, including initiating leak detection and repair programs, implementing better technologies and operating practices and capturing and utilizing methane that would otherwise be wasted.

Food Systems

  • Agriculture is the largest contributor to global methane emissions, producing about 40% of these emissions, primarily from enteric fermentation (cow burps), rice cultivation and manure management. An improved agricultural production practices — specifically focused on improving efficiency — can enhance livestock and crop yields, provide more income for farmers, while at the same time reduce methane emissions per unit output

Municipal Solid Waste

  • The waste sector accounts for around 20% of global human-caused methane emissions. Capturing landfill gas and generating energy will reduce methane emissions, displace other forms of fuels and create new streams of revenue are cost effective measure to address the methane emission

International Energy Agency

  • The International Energy Agency (IEA) is a Paris-based autonomous intergovernmental organisation, established in 1974, that provides policy recommendations, analysis and data on the entire global energy sector, with a recent focus on curbing carbon emissions and reaching global climate targets, including the Paris Agreement.

4 . Foreign Contribution Regulation Act

Context : Days after the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) registration of the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) was suspended, the think tank’s officials said its donors include over 30 organisations in India and abroad, among them the Government of India.

About FCRA

  • Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 1976 (FCRA) was enacted in the year 1976 with the prime objective of regulating the acceptance and utilization of foreign contribution and foreign hospitality by persons and associations working in the important areas of national life.
  • Foreign contribution is the donation or transfer of any currency, security or article (of beyond a specified value) by a foreign source.
  • The amendment seeks to make specific changes to the FCRA law, first introduced in 2010 and whose rules were amended in 2012, 2015 and 2019.
  • The law provides the framework under which organisations in India can receive and utilise grants from foreign sources. 

FCRA 2020 Amendments

  • The Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) 2010 regulates the acceptance and use of foreign contributions by certain individuals, associations and companies. It also aims to prohibit the acceptance and use of foreign contributions for activities that are detrimental to national interest and for matters connected thereto.
  • The FCRA predominantly regulates the activities of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that receive foreign contributions, donations or hospitality.
  • However, certain instances have been reported wherein violations of the FCRA have been found and consequently the government cancelled various NGOs’ registrations. Thus, in order to bring greater transparency and strengthen the compliance mechanism for such organisations, on 29 September 2020 the central government notified the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Act 2020 to amend certain provisions of the FCRA.
  • The amendment act aims to:
    • strengthen organisations’ compliance mechanisms;
    • enhance transparency and accountability in the use of foreign contributions; and
    • prevent the misuse of funds received from foreign contributions by certain organisations and instead promote the use of such funds by genuine NGOs which are working to improve the welfare of society.

Key changes that have been introduced under the amendment act

Transfer of foreign contributions

  • Section 7 of the FCRA allowed persons authorised to receive foreign contributions to transfer such contribution, or part thereof, to:
    • registered persons which were in receipt of a certificate under the FCRA; or
    • unregistered persons, provided that the central government’s prior approval for the transfer had been obtained.
  • However, the amendment act restricts the transfer of foreign contributions to any other person whether or not the transferee is registered under the FCRA or has obtained the central government’s approval.
  • While this amendment aims to ensure that foreign funding is not diverted and will be used only by the organisation which has received the foreign contribution, this amendment will have severe implications for smaller NGOs which mostly depend on larger NGOs for their contributions to help them fulfil their objectives.

Reduced limit for administrative expenses

  • The amendment act has reduced the limit for administrative expenses from 50% to 20% to ensure that the funds forming part of foreign contributions are used for the objective for which they are primarily received.
  • The amendment might pose a challenge for larger NGOs since they have heavy administrative expenses considering their sizable workforce and the costs associated with projects and filing reports.

Government’s power to restrict foreign contribution recipients from using or receiving funds

  • Previously, if a person was found guilty of violating the FCRA, the central government’s approval was required for them to be able use or receive the unused or unreceived foreign contribution.
  • The amendment act has given the central government the power to restrict the usage of unused foreign contribution for persons which have been granted prior permission to receive such contribution if, based on any information or report and after holding a summary inquiry, the government believes that such person has contravened the FCRA and the amendment act.

New identification requirements

  • The amendment act has inserted a new Section 12A in the FCRA, which provides that any person seeking permission, registration or renewal of registration must provide:
    • the Aadhaar cards of all its office bearers, directors or key functionaries as an identification document; or
    • a copy of a passport or an overseas citizen of India card in case of foreigners.

Suspension of registration certificates

  • Further, the amendment act has revised the number of days for which the central government may suspend a person’s registration certificate if they violate the FCRA.
  • The limit has been increased to a maximum of 360 days from the earlier cap of a maximum of 180 days.

Surrender of certificates

  • The amendment act has inserted a new Section 14A for the surrender of certificates.
  • If such a request is made, the central government may permit any person to surrender their registration certificate.
  • However, prior to granting such permission, the central government may make such inquiry as it deems fit and, if it is satisfied that such person has not contravened the FCRA and the management of their foreign contribution and assets, if any, created out of such contribution has been vested in an authority prescribed by the government, allow the surrender of certificates.

New FCRA accounts

  • To streamline the flow of receiving foreign contributions and bring more transparency, the amendment act has introduced a new Section 17 which provides that foreign contributions must be received only in an account specifically designated by a bank as an ‘FCRA account’.
  • The FCRA account must be opened with the main New Delhi branch of the State Bank of India (11 Sansad Marg, New Delhi 110001).
  • Further, other than the foreign contribution, no other funds should be received or deposited in this account.
  • It is a great move by the government to monitor the funds that flow through a centralised channel but there is also a challenge for organisations scattered in various parts of the country to open a bank account in a particular state as this will increase their overhead costs.

Prohibition to accept foreign contribution: 

  • Under the Act, certain persons are prohibited to accept any foreign contribution.  These include: election candidates, editor or publisher of a newspaper, judges, government servants, members of any legislature, and political parties, among others. 
  • The amendment adds public servants (as defined under the Indian Penal Code) to this list. 
  • Public servant includes any person who is in service or pay of the government, or remunerated by the government for the performance of any public duty.

Renewal of license

  • Under the Act, every person who has been given a certificate of registration must renew the certificate within six months of expiration.  
  • The amendment provides that the government may conduct an inquiry before renewing the certificate to ensure that the person making the application:
    • is not fictitious or benami,
    • has not been prosecuted or convicted for creating communal tension or indulging in activities aimed at religious conversion, and
    • has not been found guilty of diversion or misutilisation of funds, among others conditions.

5 . Facts for Prelims

National Bureau of Fish Genetic Resources

  • ICAR-National Bureau of Fish Genetic Resources (ICAR-NBFGR) was established in December 1983 at Allahabad under the aegis of Indian Council of Agricultural Research to undertake research related to the conservation of fish germplasm resources of the country. Now it is located in Lucknow.
  • The Institute’s vision is assessment and conservation of fish genetic resources for intellectual property protection, sustainable utilization and posterity.
  • The mandate of the Institute includes collection, classification and cataloguing of fish genetic resources of the country, maintenance and preservation of fish genetic material for conservation of endangered fish species and evaluation and valuation of indigenous and exotic fish species
  • The Institute has also established ‘Ganga Aquarium’, one of the largest and magnificent public aquariums in the country which is serving as a great source of spreading public awareness and education about fish diversity of the country.  
  • The Institute also undertakes capacity development programmes for various stakeholders including researchers, fish farmers, state fisheries department officials and students.

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