Daily Current Affairs: 8th February 2024

  1. Satellite based toll collection
  2. Appointment of EC
  3. Deep Tech and Research Funding
  4. Facts for Prelims

1 . Satellite based toll collection


Context: Satellite-based toll collection may roll out before LS polls.  

How it works ?

  • Vehicles are equipped with GPS devices that accurately determine their position on the road. 
  • While modern vehicles come with this technology, the existing ones will require the fitment of such devices. Nevertheless, the Ministry has also mentioned the possibility of ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition System) cameras which might not require GPS devices in vehicles. 
  • The system calculates the distance the vehicle travels on a tolled road by monitoring its movement using GPS. 
  •  Toll is then calculated based on the distance covered, and the amount is automatically deducted from the driver’s account. 
  • Unlike traditional toll booths, there is no need for vehicles to stop or slow down. The toll is automatically collected, making the process more efficient and reducing traffic congestion. 

Objective

  • The objective is to alleviate traffic congestion and institute a system where motorists are charged based on the precise distance covered on highways. 

2 . Appointment of EC


Context: Election Commissioner Anup Chandra Pandey is set to retire on February 14, and his successor will be picked through a consultative process being adopted for the first time. 

About the news

  • The selection of EC will be made by a committee comprising Prime Minister, Lok Sabha Leader of Opposition and a Union Minister. A similar committee, comprising the PM, Leader of Opposition and Home Minister met recently to appoint the Lokpal and the Central Vigilance Commissioner. 
  • Before this, members of the Election Commission were appointed solely at the discretion of the government.  

What prompted the change? 

  • It was the Supreme Court that forced the government’s hand. Four petitions were filed before the apex court in 2015, 2017, 2021, and 2022, which broadly called for a fair and transparent system to choose Election Commissioners. 
  • In 2018, while considering the 2015 petition, a two-judge bench felt that the matter required interpretation of Article 324 of the Constitution, which deals with the role of the Election Commission of India. This issue hadn’t been discussed before in the Supreme Court, and so it was referred to a Constitution bench. In 2022, a five-judge Constitution bench led by Justice KM Joseph started hearing the petitions. 
  • The petitioners pointed out that Article 324(2) specifies the President’s role in appointing Election Commissioners, with the caveat that this appointment is subject to any law passed by Parliament. However, successive governments had not shown any inclination to enact such a law. They criticised the current appointment system for being opaque and said it raises doubts about the institution’s independence. They called for a consultative process in which a collegium or a body of persons is tasked with the responsibility to select the Election Commissioners. 

How were Election Commissioners appointed before? 

  • The power to make appointments rested exclusively with the Executive. The government maintained a database of serving and retired officers, primarily Secretaries to the Government of India and Chief Secretaries, from which the Law Ministry would create a shortlist. The Prime Minister held the power to decide the appointment, with the President formally appointing the chosen candidate. 
  • Notably, past Election Commissioners were predominantly retired officers of the Indian Administrative Services (IAS), with very few exceptions. 

What was the Centre’s stand in the SC? 

  • The Centre opposed any intervention by the Supreme Court in the appointments. The government argued that while Article 324 (2) mentions the appointment being subject to a law by Parliament, without such a law, the President had the constitutional power to appoint them. Furthermore, the government stated that the existing procedure had been consistently relied upon by different governments, and that a “utopian model cannot be the premise” for making changes. 
  • The Centre’s legal representatives also argued that the petitioners were unable to demonstrate that the independence of the Election Commission is under threat, and hence, there’s no immediate trigger to warrant judicial interference. Essentially, the government asked the court to show judicial restraint. 

What was the Supreme Court’s ruling? 

  • In 2023, the five-judge bench ruled on the matter. 
  • The Supreme Court delved into the legislative history of Article 324, including the discussions in the Constituent Assembly regarding the role of the Election Commission and the appointment of its members. 
  • The Court observed that it was evident that the founding fathers of the Constitution did not want the Executive to have exclusive authority in appointing Election Commission members. Therefore, the inclusion of the words “subject to any law to be made by Parliament” in Article 324 (2) was representative of the need for Parliament to legislate on this matter. 
  • The absence of such a law, as per the court, left a vacuum. Taking note of the “devastating effect of continuing to leave appointments in the sole hands of the Executive’’, the court deemed it appropriate to lay down a process for the appointment of election commissioners. 
  • it ruled 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 the 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.” 
  • However, the Court was careful to specify that these norms were “subject to any law to be made by Parliament’. In other words, Parliament was free to enact a law on the appointment process in the future. 

Was this the first time a consultative process was considered? 

  • The consultative process ordered by the Supreme Court wasn’t unprecedented. It echoed a similar proposal from the 1990 committee chaired by the then Law Minister Dinesh Goswami. This committee recommended that the President consult the Chief Justice of India and the Leader of the Opposition, or the leader of the largest Opposition group, for appointing the Chief Election Commissioner. For the other two Election Commissioners, the consultation was to involve the Chief Justice of India, the Leader of the Opposition, and the Chief Election Commissioner. 
  • In 2015, the 20th Law Commission’s 255th report also emphasised the need for a consultative process. It suggested the President make appointments after consulting a three-member collegium or selection committee, comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition or the leader of the largest Opposition party in the Lok Sabha, and the Chief Justice of India. 

What happened after the SC judgment? 

  • The Centre introduced a Bill in Parliament in August last year, outlining a procedure for appointing Election Commissioners. Since the Court had specified that its appointment norms are “subject to any law to be made by Parliament,” the government was well within its right to bring a Bill. However, the appointment process proposed in the Bill raised concerns regarding its potential to undermine the reforms sought by the Court. 
  • The Bill, passed by Parliament in December 2023, establishes a committee comprising the Prime Minister, the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and a Cabinet Minister nominated by the PM. The selection will be made from five names shortlisted by a screening panel headed by the Law Minister and comprising two Union secretaries. 
  • The composition of the committee was criticised by the Opposition. This is because, as per the intent of the Constitution’s framers, the Election Commission should be an independent body. The proposed committee’s composition effectively sidelines the Leader of Opposition, who could be consistently outvoted by the Prime Minister and the Union minister. 
  • This Bill was passed by Parliament in 2023 and the President gave her assent within a week. 

3 . Deep Tech and Research Funding


Context: In her Interim Budget speech, Finance Minister announced a Rs 1 lakh crore fund to provide long-term, low-cost or zero-interest loans for research and development. She also promised to launch a new scheme to strengthen deep-tech capabilities in the defence sector — an announcement that is likely to be followed up later in the year with a larger policy to promote deep tech startups across all sectors, not just defence. 

About Deep Tech

  • Deep tech refers to advanced and disruptive technologies, many of which are still under development, that have the potential to trigger transformative change, and provide solutions for the future. 
  • The term is used to describe cutting-edge research in nanotechnology, biotechnology, material sciences, quantum technologies, semiconductors, artificial intelligence, data sciences, robotics, 3D printing, etc. These technologies are expected to play a key role to address complex global challenges like climate change, hunger, epidemics, energy access, mobility, physical and digital infrastructure, and cyber security. 
  • Advanced capabilities in deep tech are also likely to enhance productivity and drive economic growth and create jobs in coming years, and offer competitive advantage to countries with strong foundations in these areas. 
  • With its large base of relatively high-quality science and engineering manpower and a fairly well-established technology culture, India feels it is well placed to be one of the frontrunners in these areas. 
  • There is scope to contribute to the development of these technologies, which can ensure early adoption, shares in intellectual property, indigenous know-how, and self-reliance. Major associated benefits in terms of spin-off technologies, trained manpower, entrepreneurship and technology exports can accrue as well. 

A Deep Tech Ecosystem

  • Over the past few years, the government has tried to incentivise research in some of these areas by setting up a National Mission on Transformative Mobility and Battery Storage and, more recently, a National Quantum Mission. 
  • Last year, a policy framework to create an enabling environment for companies working in these technology areas was finalised. The National Deep Tech Startup Policy (NDTSP), piloted by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade and the Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser, is currently awaiting government approval. 
  • The policy seeks to address specific challenges faced by technology startups, and to provide them with a platform to compete and collaborate with the best in the world. The idea is to create a deep tech startup ecosystem by offering the right incentives to companies that invest time and money in innovation and research. More than 10,000 startups working in these technology domains were identified as part of the effort. 
  • The NDTSP talks about some of the things that need to be done in this regard: create opportunities for long-term funding; a simplified but stronger intellectual property rights regime; tax incentives; a conducive regulatory framework; development of standards and certifications; nurturing of talent; and linkages between industry, research centres, and educational institutions. 

Issue of funding

  • One of the key policy recommendations in the NDTSP is to open up opportunities for long-term funding of research projects. It acknowledges that most deep tech projects are time- and money-intensive, with relatively high funding requirements. 
  • Lack of adequate research funding has been a major complaint of the scientific community. India’s expenditure on research is far below the global average, and significantly lower than the scientifically advanced countries with which India competes. 
  • For more than two decades now, the Indian government’s stated objective has been to allocate at least 2% of GDP for research and development. Absolute spending has increased, but expenditure on research as a share of GDP has come down in the last few years. 
  • India currently spends just about 0.65% of its national GDP on research and development activities. The global average is about 1.8%. 
  • the thinking in the government seems to be that R&D spends cannot rise substantially without partnering with the private sector. Efforts are being made to create better synergies between industry, research labs, and educational institutions in order to broad-base both research activity and the funds to support it. 
  • The National Research Foundation (NRF), which became operational recently ,seeks to do this — about 70% of the Rs 50,000 allocation for NRF over the next five years is supposed to come from private industry. 

4 . Facts for Prelims


French diamond trader Tavernier

  • Jean-Baptiste Tavernier was born in Paris in 1605. 
  • His father, a map merchant from Antwerp, took refuge in France from a family of Protestants who were persecuted there. His father’s engravings gave him an early taste for travel. 
  • Between 1618 and 1623, he was apprenticed to a librarian and became a master bookseller in 1623.  
  • In 1675, Tavernier, at the behest of his patron Louis XIV published Les Six Voyages de Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (Six Voyages, 1676). 
  • Tavernier is best known for his 1666 discovery or purchase of the 116-carat Tavernier Blue diamond that he subsequently sold to Louis XIV of France in 1668 for 120,000 livres, the equivalent of 172,000 ounces of pure gold, and a letter of ennoblement.  
  • Tavernier began a second journey. This journey lasted until 1643; during this expedition, he traveled via Aleppo to Persia, thence to India as far as Agra, and from there to the Kingdom of Golconda.He visited the court of the Mughal—Emperor Shah Jahan —and made his first trip to the diamond mines.  

Chalukya dynasty

  • The Chalukya dynasty was a Classical Indian dynasty that ruled large parts of southern and central India between the 6th and the 12th centuries. 
  • During this period, they ruled as three related yet individual dynasties. 
  • The earliest dynasty, known as the “Badami Chalukyas”, ruled from Vatapi (modern Badami) from the middle of the 6th century. The Badami Chalukyas began to assert their independence at the decline of the Kadamba kingdom of Banavasi and rapidly rose to prominence during the reign of Pulakeshin II.  
  • After the death of Pulakeshin II, the Eastern Chalukyas became an independent kingdom in the eastern Deccan.  
  • They ruled from Vengi until about the 11th century. 
  •  In the western Deccan, the rise of the Rashtrakutas in the middle of the 8th century eclipsed the Chalukyas of Badami before being revived by their descendants, the Western Chalukyas, in the late 10th century.  
  • These Western Chalukyas ruled from Kalyani (modern Basavakalyan) until the end of the 12th century. 

Article 100

  • Article 100 of the Indian Constitution deals with the Voting in Houses, power of Houses to act notwithstanding vacancies and quorum. 
  •  Article 100 of the Indian Constitution provides that the Speaker shall have and exercise a casting vote in the case of an equality of votes. 

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