[op-ed snap] Trickeries of the money bill

Mains Paper 2 : Indian Constitution - historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Money Bill, Financial Bill

Mains level : Spirit of constitution should be maintained in money and financial Bill.


CONTEXT

The Supreme Court has now heard oral arguments in Revenue Bar Association (RBA) v. Union of India, in which the validity of the Finance Act of 2017, insofar as it affects the structure and functioning of various judicial tribunals, is under challenge.

Background

  • Ordinarily, the Finance Act, which is enacted at the beginning of every accounting year, seeks to give effect to the government’s fiscal policies.
  • In 2017, however, the state wielded the statute like a blunderbuss.
  • It not only set the fiscal agenda for the year ahead but it also toppled the existing regime governing the working of 26 different judicial bodies.
  • Until recently, each of these panels was governed by a separate statute, and those laws individually contained a set of principles providing for, among other things, the criteria employed to select and remove members to and from these bodies, and for salaries, allowances and other such service conditions of the members.

Concerns

  • The petitioners argued that this move runs sharply athwart judicial independence. The new law, in their belief, deputed to the executive what was really an essential legislative function.
  • Many of these tribunals, which included the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal, the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal, and the Industrial Disputes Tribunal, they pointed out, performed roles that were originally undertaken by the higher judiciary.
  • To assign to the executive’s whims the task of establishing the criteria employed in selecting members to the panels and to provide for the members’ service conditions was, therefore, pernicious to the basic principle of separation of powers.
  • Despite the Supreme Court’s previous ruling that the chairperson of a judicial tribunal ought to be equivalent to the Chief Justice of the high courts, as a result of the rules now made in furtherance of the Finance Act, in 13 different tribunals, a person who is merely qualified to be appointed as a judge of a high court can be selected as the presiding officer.

Need for reforms

  • In B.R. Ambedkar’s vision, the Constitution embodied not only a charter of rights but also a foundation for republican governance. His worries that democracy in India was “only a top-dressing on an Indian soil, which is essentially undemocratic”, saw him lay stress on a need to diffuse constitutional morality among India’s citizens.

Loopholes

  • One such clause, Article 110(1), grants to the Lok Sabha Speaker the authority to certify a draft law as a money bill so long as such legislation deals only with all or any of the matters specifically listed in the provision.
  • These include subjects such as the imposition or abolition of a tax, the declaring of any expenditure to be expenditure charged on the Consolidated Fund of India, and, significantly, also any matter otherwise incidental to the subjects specified in Article 110.
  • The ensuing clause clarifies that a draft law will not be a money bill for the reason that it also provides for the imposition or abolition of a tax.
  • In other words, substantive laws, which are not merely incidental to the subjects enlisted in Article 110(1) cannot be finagled into a bill that also happens to contain taxing rules. It is precisely such trickery that the petitioners contended the Finance Act of 2017 indulges in.
  • The Union government, for its part, argued that the Speaker of the Lok Sabha was not only correct in making the classification, but that, in any event, her decision was beyond judicial review.
  • To this end, the government relied on Article 110(3), which states that in cases where a dispute arises over whether a bill is a money bill or not, the Speaker’s decision shall be considered final.
  • But, as the Supreme Court has repeatedly held, the finality accorded to the Speaker’s decision does not altogether oust the court’s jurisdiction.
  • Ultimately, the Speaker derives her power from the Constitution. In classifying a draft law as a money bill, therefore, her decision has to be demonstrably justifiable.
  • An immunity from judicial scrutiny would effectively allow the government to elude the Rajya Sabha’s constitutional checks by simply having the Speaker classify a draft law as a money bill regardless of whether it, in fact, meets the conditions stipulated in Article 110(1) or not.

Way Forward

  • The idea behind a money bill is derived from British parliamentary custom.
  • But unlike in Britain, where judicial review of the Speaker’s opinion is unambiguously prohibited, in India, Article 110 avoids creating any such bar.
  • Money bills exist simply to ensure that the Rajya Sabha isn’t allowed to bring down a government by refusing it access to the exchequer for everyday governance.
  • To use it as a means to nullify the Upper House’s democratic role in making substantive legislation denigrates the Constitution’s form which Ambedkar and the Constituent Assembly considered inviolate.
  • The Supreme Court has already squandered at least two opportunities in recent times to provide a sense of sanctity to the Constitution’s carefully structured arrangements.
  • The dispute over the Finance Act of 2017, therefore, assumes particular significance.
  • In deciding the case, the court will do well to pay heed to Ambedkar’s warnings, by recognising that the niceties of constitutional form are not a matter of trifles.

[op-ed snap]Rafale rebuff

Mains Paper 2 : Governance, Transparency & Accountability, Citizens Charters |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Imporance of Supreme court's Judgement in maintaining freedom of expression in Rafale case


CONTEXT

The Supreme Court’s decision to consider the relevance of the documents published in the media on the Rafale deal is a firm and necessary rebuff to the Central government’s attempts to prevent judicial examination of these papers and to de-legitimise all investigative journalism on the subject.

Impact of Verdict

  • The court’s unanimous verdict, rendered in two concurring orders by a three-judge Bench, means that review petitions filed against earlier orders declining an investigation into the purchase of Rafale jets will now be taken up on merits and that the petitioners are free to rely on these documents, regardless of their provenance.
  • Published Documents-  A dissenting note by members of the India Negotiating Team, and notes that disclose unease in the Defence Ministry over parallel negotiations at the PMO’s instance undermining the official parleys are among them.
  • It would have been a travesty had the government succeeded in blocking judicial scrutiny of these documents, as they disclose significant details about the decision-making process.
  • Use of OSA – The government’s desperate attempts to prevent the court from relying on these papers included a claim of privilege under the Evidence Act, a threat of invoking the Official Secrets Act (OSA) and an accusation that the published documents were “stolen” on.
  • Later, it toned down the allegation by saying the original documents had not been stolen, and what were published were unauthorised photocopies.
  • None of these claims impressed the court, which relied on the principle that how a piece of evidence is obtained is immaterial, as long as it is relevant to adjudicating an issue.

Importance for freedom of speech

  • The decision on the admissibility of the documents has significance beyond the Rafale issue: it revivifies the rights of a free press and underscores the principle that it is public interest, and not the content of a document alone, that will decide whether disclosure is needed or not in a given case.
  • Referring to the publication of the Rafale documents in The Hindu, Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi observed that “the right of such publication would seem to be in consonance with the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech”. Citing the U.S.
  • Supreme Court decision on the Pentagon Papers, he noted that neither the OSA nor any other law vests any power in the executive to stop publication of documents marked ‘secret’ or the placing of such documents before a court of law which may be called upon to adjudicate a legal issue.

Conclusion

  • It is premature to conclude, based on this development, that the court’s earlier decision to not order a criminal investigation into the purchase of 36 Rafale jets will be revisited.
  • However, it will certainly help provide clarity on several aspects of the murky deal. Had the government agreed to a parliamentary probe early on, it would not be suffering the sort of setback it has now faced in the Supreme Court.
Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Explained: Snapping of Black Hole

Mains Paper 3 : Awareness In The Fields Of It, Space, Computers, Robotics, Nano-Technology, Bio-Technology |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Black Hole

Mains level : Black-hole theory and its relevance 


News

  • NASA released the first ever photograph of a black hole and its shadow.

Foremost thing: What is a Black Hole?

  • A black hole is an object in space that is so dense and has such strong gravity that no matter or light can escape its pull. Because no light can escape, it is black and invisible.
  • They drastically warp the fabric of space-time and anything that passes too close gets sucked into it be it a wandering star or a photon of light.
  • They exist from the size of a human cell to more massive than the sun.
  • Black holes of stellar mass are formed when a massive star collapses at the end of its life cycle.
  • After a black hole forms, it continues to grow by absorbing mass from its surroundings.

Why a black hole was never photographed before?

  • By definition, a black hole is a region in space where the pulling force of gravity is so strong that neither matter nor light can ever escape.
  • For anything approaching a black hole, the point of no return is called the “event horizon”; anything that comes within the event horizon will be consumed forever.
  • Because no light can escape from it, a black hole is invisible.

Then how it became possible?

  • Advanced space telescopes can identify black holes by observing the behaviour of material and stars that are very close to black holes.
  • The hot disk of material encircling a black hole, as NASA explained, shines bright.
  • The gases in that accretion disk are heated up as they accelerate toward the black hole, causing them to glow extremely brightly.
  • The colours they glow are invisible to us, but are detectable with an X-ray telescope.
  • Scientists have also detected the gravitational waves generated when two black holes collide.

Black hole in Messier 87 (M87) galaxy

  • The first photograph, which comes from the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project, shows the black hole that is at elliptical galaxy Messier 87 or M87.
  • This black hole is 6.5 billion times the mass of the Sun. It is located some 55 million light-years from Earth.
  • Catching its shadow involved eight ground-based radio telescopes around the globe, operating together as if they were one telescope the size of our entire planet.

About EHT Project

  • The Event Horizon Telescope is a network of 10 radio telescopes on four continents that collectively operate like a single instrument nearly the size of the Earth.
  • The EHT project is an international partnership formed in 2012. Its main objective is to directly observe the immediate environment of a black hole. T
  • he findings will provide insight into the celestial object so dense that their gravitational field swallows everything including light.

What Einstein has to do with this mission?

  • Einstein’s general theory of relativity predicts how space-time is warped by the extreme mass of a black hole, which he said has a mass that’s 7 billion times that of our sun.
  • Einstein’s visions of a geometric bending of space and time first came to light in 1919.
  • Overnight, Einstein became a household name.
  • One hundred years later, Einstein’s theories were proven once again with this photograph – but instead of the sun, it was that of an elusive black hole.
  • Science News’ magazine reported that the image aligns with expectations of what a black hole should look like based on that theory.
International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

[pib] Exercise Bold Kurukshetra

Mains Paper 3 : Various Security Forces, Agencies & Their Mandates |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : About the Exercise

Mains level : Not Much


News

Exercise Bold Kurukshetra

  • The 12th edition of joint military exercise between India and Singapore culminated on 11 April 2019 after an impressive closing ceremony held at Babina Military Station (UP).
  • The Exercise is aimed at attaining a high level of interoperability between the armies of both the nations through mutual understanding and familiarization with each other’s operational procedures and equipment.
  • The troops learnt about each other’s organisations and best practices being followed in combat.
  • The exercise was a grand success and taught valuable lessons to troops of both the participating nations.
Indian Army Updates