[op-ed pf the day] A matter of deliberation

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 : Nothing Much

Mains level : Need for scrutiny of bills by parliament committee


Note- Op-ed of the day is the most important editorial of the day. Aspirants should try to cover at least this editorial on a daily basis to have command over most important issues in news. It will help in enhancing and enriching the content in mains answers. Please do not miss at any cost.

CONTEXT

  • Earlier this week, the Rajya Sabha was witness to acrimonious scenes during the discussion on the RTI Amendment Bill, which amends the RTI Act of 2005. It provides that the term of office and remuneration of information commissioners (both at the Centre and states) will be prescribed by the central government.
  • The treasury benches and a few other parties were of the opinion that the Bill should be passed after debating it on the floor of the House.
  • Ultimately, the House passed the RTI Amendment after voting down the demand for sending it to a committee.
  • So far, none of the 13 bills passed by Parliament in this session have been referred to a parliamentary committee.
  • Our Parliament broadly has two forums for discussion.
  • One is on the floor of the House where the debate is televised and MPs take positions based on their parties’ stand on a subject.

Parliamentary committees

  • The other is the closed-door forum of parliamentary committees.
  • These committees are made up of MPs either from one or both Houses.
  • Their meetings are not televised and the record of the meetings does not reflect the position taken by an individual MP.
  • Both these forums have their own advantages and disadvantages.
  • A debate on the floor of the House allows for the cut and thrust of political debate and can be wrapped up in a few hours.
  • Debates in committees are more technical but the deliberations require time and stretch for a few months.

The rationale behind the committee system

1.Specialised forum for deliberation – The idea behind the establishment of the committee system in Parliament was to provide a specialised forum for deliberation on national policy issues, which was not constrained by the limited number of sitting days (less than three months a year) of Parliament.

2. Objectives –

  • In 1993, when this modern subject committee system took shape, the then the Vice President of India summed up the objectives of parliamentary committees: “…
  • The main purpose, of course, is to ensure the accountability of Government to Parliament through more detailed consideration of measures in these committees.
  • The purpose is not to weaken or criticise the administration but to strengthen it by investing it with more meaningful parliamentary support.
  • The committee, over the years, has worked well in strengthening our legislative process.

Process of a committee

  • The scrutiny of a bill by a committee usually takes a few months. If a bill is referred to a committee, its legislative journey slows down as it can only be debated after the committee has submitted its report.
  • This slow down of legislation has been been a source of continued tension between the ruling party and Opposition over the last five years.
  • A bill can usually be referred to a parliamentary committee in three ways.

1.First way – First, the minister piloting the bill can seek the permission of the House to refer the Bill to a committee.

2.Second Way

  • Second, the Chairman/Speaker has the discretion in referring the bill to a committee.
  • When ministers are trying to build political consensus on a bill, they welcome its referring to a committee.
  • However, when they are in a hurry to get their legislative proposals approved by Parliament, they impress upon the Chairman/ Speaker not to refer the bill to a committee.

3.Third Way

  • This is when the third mechanism kicks in.
  • When a bill reaches a House where the government does not have a majority, the MPs of the House can marshall the numbers to move a motion to refer the bill to a committee.
  • This leads to the government blaming the Opposition for the slowdown, which counters by accusing the government of trying to bulldoze legislation through Parliament.
  • A robust lawmaking process requires thorough scrutiny by Parliament.
  • Such scrutiny should not be impacted by either the strength of numbers in Parliament or political agreement on issues.
  • This robustness can be ensured by requiring that all Bills be referred to Parliamentary committees.
  • Exceptions to this rule should be strictly defined and the exceptions explained to Parliament.
  • In addition, the committees should be strengthened to scrutinise and present their reports in a timely fashion.
  • These mechanisms will ensure that all bills passed by Parliament, irrespective of the party in power, go through a well laid-out process of debate.
Legislative Council in States: Issues & Way Forward

Explained: Compulsory voting and associated issues

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 : Not Much

Mains level : Issues assciated with compulsory voting



News

  • The Compulsory Voting Bill, 2019, was introduced by a ruling party MP in Lok Sabha.
  • The Law Commission, in its March 2015 report on electoral reforms, had opposed the idea of compulsory voting, saying it was not practical to implement it.

Compulsory voting

  • Compulsory voting is an effect of laws which require eligible citizens to register and vote in elections, and may impose penalties on those who fail to do so.
  • In practice, this appears to produce governments with more stability, legitimacy and a genuine mandate to govern.
  • This in turn benefits all individuals even if an individual voter’s preferred candidate or party is not elected to power.

Why need it?

  • Voting is often equated in kind to similar civil responsibilities such as taxation.
  • The idea of a compulsory voting result in a higher degree of political legitimacy is based on higher voter turnout.
  • Other perceived advantages to compulsory voting are the stimulation of broader interest politics, as a sort of civil education and political stimulation, which creates a better informed population.

Argument against

  • Voting is a civic right in India rather than a civic duty.
  • Legal scholars in the US argue that compulsory voting is essentially a compelled speech act, which violates freedom of speech because the freedom to speak necessarily includes the freedom not to speak.
  • The costs of voting may normally exceed the expected benefits for weaker sections such as migrant workers.

Is India is not ready for 100 per cent voting?

  • The government relies on the 255th Law Commission Report, which says “electoral right” of the voter includes the right to “vote or refrain from voting at an election.”
  • The Representation of People Act, 1951 – the law that governs elections – too talks of “right to vote rather than a duty to vote”.
  • The idea of compulsory voting in India has been rejected time and again on the grounds of practical difficulties.
  • However, the issue of compulsory voting is bigger than being just a legal issue. The idea has political ramifications too.

Encouraging democratic dissent

  • Political scientists say democracies need to accommodate dissent and diversity of views.
  • This includes the option of disengagement, rights to abstain from participating; if people believe voting is erroneous, undesirable, unnecessary or immoral.

What evidences suggest?

  • It has often been argued that compulsory voting will improve political participation.
  • But empirical evidence and experience of countries with compulsory voting suggest otherwise.
  • The Australian experience with compulsory voting has revealed the notion of “donkey voting” – where when voters were forced to vote – they voted for the candidate whose name was on the top of the candidates’ list.

Conclusion

  • It is evident that increased participation does not necessarily guarantee quality participation or does not make a democracy with compulsory voting more vibrant.
  • There is also a real fear that compulsory voting may lead to more vote buying by candidates especially in a country like India, where we have seen instances of – cash-for-vote scams.
  • Making voting compulsory also kills the option of not voting as a protest.
  • Nobody disputes the benefits of higher and informed voter turn-out for democracy, but instead of taking the compulsory route for wider participation of people in the election process – technology can be harnessed to achieve this end.
Electoral Reforms In India

The Companies (Amendment) Bill, 2019

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

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Read the attached story


News

  • Lok Sabha has passed The Companies (Amendment) Bill, 2019.

Highlights of the Amendment bill

Issue of dematerialized shares

  • Under the 2013 Act, certain classes of public companies can issue shares only in demat form.
  • The Bill states this may be prescribed for other classes of unlisted companies as well.

Re-categorization of Offences

  • Under the 2013 Act, there are 81 compoundable offences that carry punishments of a fine and/or prison terms. These offences are heard by courts.
  • The Bill makes 16 of these offences civil defaults, where government-appointed adjudicating officers may levy penalties.
  • Some of these offences are the issuance of shares at a discount, and the failure to file annual returns. The Bill also amends penalties for some other offences.

Corporate Social Responsibility

  • As of now, companies that are required to budget for CSR must disclose in their annual reports the reasons why they were unable to fully spend these funds.
  • Now, any unspent annual CSR funds must be transferred to one of the funds under Schedule 7 of the Act (for example, the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund) within six months of the financial year.

Debarring auditors

  • Under the Act, the National Financial Reporting Authority can debar a member or firm from practicing as a Chartered Accountant for six months to 10 years in case of proven misconduct.
  • The Bill amends this punishment to provide for debarment from appointment as an auditor or internal auditor of a company, or performing a company’s valuation, for the same period.

Registration of charges

  • Under the Act, companies must register charges (mortgages, etc.) on their property within 30 days of creation of the charge, extendable up to 300 days with permission from the Registrar of Companies.
  • The Bill changes the deadline to 60 days (extendable by 60 days).

Change in approving authority

  • Under the Act, change in period of financial year for a company associated with a foreign company, has to be approved by the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT).
  • Any alteration in the incorporation document of a public company which has the effect of converting it to a private company, too, has to be approved by the NCLT.
  • Under the Bill, these powers have been transferred to the central government.

Compounding

  • Under the 2013 Act, a regional director can compound (settle) offences with a penalty of up to Rs 5 lakh.
  • This ceiling has been raised to Rs 25 lakh in the amendment.

Bar on holding office

  • Under the existing Act, the central government or certain shareholders can apply to the NCLT for relief against mismanagement of the affairs of the company.
  • The Bill states that in such a complaint, the government may also make a case against an officer of the company on the ground that he is not fit to hold office in the company, for reasons such as fraud or negligence.
  • If the NCLT passes an order against the officer, he will not be eligible to hold office in any company for five years.
Corporate Social Responsibility: Issues & Development

[op-ed snap] Uncertain again

Mains Paper 3 : Effects Of Liberalization On The Economy, Changes In Industrial Policy and their effects on Industrial Growth |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Short term gain proposals in Budget may harm long term interests


CONTEXT

The recent Economic Survey made a strong case for reducing uncertainty in economic policy.

Suggestions

  • Investors, both domestic and foreign, favour consistent and predictable policy regimes.
  • As the Survey noted, “surges in economic policy uncertainty increase the systematic risk, and thereby the cost of capital in the economy.
  • As a result, higher economic policy uncertainty lowers investment, especially because of the irreversibility of investment.”
  • The Survey also pointed out that policy uncertainty has steadily declined in India since the days when the term “policy paralysis” dominated public discourse.
  • Recent events seem to have, unfortunately, reversed the trend.

1. Income tax surcharge on super rich

  • Take, for instance, the tax proposals in the Union budget. In an attempt to raise resources, the finance minister proposed to increase the income tax surcharge on super rich individuals and association of persons (AOPs).
  • As many foreign portfolio investors are structured as AOPs, limited liability partnerships or trusts, the proposal effectively increased the tax liability of foreign investors as well.
  • Faced with a backlash, the government reportedly considered issuing a clarification on the matter.
  • But, later on, it stood its ground, instead advising FPIs to structure themselves as corporate entities.
  • Amid the confusion, foreign investors pulled out thousands of crores in the weeks thereafter.

2.Tariffs

  • Another such proposal was the decision to raise tariffs on several import items, with a view to protecting the domestic industry.
  • The decision marks a departure from the post-1991 trend of a gradual lowering of tariffs — hardly a positive signal to send, especially at a time when India aims for greater integration with global supply chains.
  • Such unpredictable tax policies, driven by short-term revenue considerations, will have long-term repercussions.

3.Borrowing through foreign currency loan

  • Another example is that of the proposal to raise a part of the government’s borrowing through foreign currency loans.
  • The domestic bond market welcomed the move, notwithstanding concerns raised by former RBI governors.
  • Bond yields fell by more than 30 basis points in the weeks following the announcement.

Conclusion

  • While there has been no official announcement on the bond issuance following the bureaucratic reshuffle, the uncertainty surrounding it has pushed bond yields by as much as 12 basis points.
  • Such uncertainty undermines the ability of investors to take informed decisions.
  • Reducing policy uncertainty is critical for maintaining the country’s attractiveness as an investment decision, else capital will simply move elsewhere.
  • The government would do well to pay heed to its chief economic adviser.
Tax Reforms

[op-ed snap] Twenty years ago

Mains Paper 1 : Modern Indian History |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Background of Kargil War


CONTEXT

India and Pakistan had fought three wars before the Kargil War 20 years ago: In 1948, 1965 and 1971.

Special about Kargil War

  • There was something different about the Kargil War.
  • The two countries had become declared nuclear weapon states in 1998, a war was never formally declared in 1999 and it ended without a ceasefire, as in 1948 or 1965, or a surrender document, as in 1971.
  • Moreover, it was limited to about a 150-km frontage of the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government by choice, contrary to what Lal Bahadur Shastri did in 1965 when he chose to open a front in Punjab.
  • Fought in the full glare of the media, it was a war which captured the Indian imagination.
  • As it occurred during the 1999 election campaign, the military victory was closely enmeshed with the political narrative of the period.
  • In late 1998, four generals in Pakistan conspired to launch intrusions on the LoC in the Kargil-Dras sector for the purpose of internationalising the Kashmir issue — remember, this was before 9/11 — and cutting the India lifeline to Siachen glacier.
  • By the first four months of 1999, Pakistani soldiers established approximately 140 posts and pickets.
  • The intrusions went undetected till early May when they were grossly underestimated by the Army, which thus pushed soldiers piecemeal, leading to heavy losses with no breakthrough in the initial stages.
  • The army eventually pushed more than 30,000 soldiers in the area, flooded it with Bofors guns and attained some initial success as the Indian Air Force was also brought in.
  • Eventually half of the Pakistani pickets and posts were captured by the Indian military.
  • Under huge global diplomatic pressure, Pakistan vacated the rest of the posts, which almost restored the status quo ante.

Result of war

  • In the final analysis, it was a humiliating military and diplomatic loss for Pakistan.
  • While it is true that Pakistan achieved initial tactical surprise, it failed abysmally when confronted by a determined Indian military.
  • Globally, Pakistan came to be seen as an irresponsible country despite possessing nuclear weapons.
  • The Kargil war also punctured the Pakistani myth that no conventional conflict was possible under a nuclear umbrella.
  • It demonstrated that there was enough space for a limited conflict, and that principle has only been buttressed since, as seen at Balakot.

Conclusion

  • Pakistan refused to learn the lessons but India established a review committee under K Subrahmanyam and followed up on most of the recommendations.
  • Twenty years on, undertaking reforms in the spirit of the Kargil review committee to prepare for the challenges for the future will be the best tribute to the 527 soldiers who lost their lives on the icy heights of Kargil.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pakistan

‘Trans Fat Free’ logo

Mains Paper 2 : Health & Education |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Trans Fats

Mains level : Healthcare awareness in India



News

  • Bakeries, sweet shops, restaurants besides packaged food companies will now be allowed to use “Trans Fat Free” logo at their outlets and on their products, if they comply with the norms notified by the FSSAI.

Why in news?

  • The food establishments which use trans-fat free fats/oils and do not have industrial trans-fat more than 0.2 gms per 100 gm of the food, in compliance with the regulation can display ‘Trans Fat Free’ logo in their outlets and on their food products.

Bar on trans-fat content

  • Since last year FSSAI has been pushing the industry to bring down the trans-fatty acids in Vanaspati, edible bakery shortenings, margarine in a phased manner.
  • The trans fat content in fats and oils has already been limited to 5 per cent.
  • The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) had last year notified the Advertisement and Claims regulations on Trans fats.
  • It stated that nutritional claim of trans fat free can only be made if products contain less than 0.2 gm trans fat per 100 gm or 100 ml of food.
  • The regulator is working on further reducing the content to 3 per cent by 2021 and 2 per cent by 2022.
  • According to FSSAI regulations, the maximum permissible limits for Total Polar Compounds (TPC) have been set at 25 per cent, beyond which the cooking oil is unsafe for consumption.

Assist this newscard with:

FSSAI launches awareness drive on trans fats

Food Processing Industry: Issues and Developments

[pib] Red Mud

Mains Paper 3 : Conservation, Environmental Pollution & Degradation, Eia |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Red Mud

Mains level : Not Much


News

  • In a step towards productive utilization of bauxite residue, commonly known as the ‘Red Mud’, an interactive workshop called ‘Waste To Wealth’ was organized by Ministry of Mines in New Delhi.

What is Red Mud?

  • Red mud is a side-product of the Bayer process, the principal means of refining bauxite en route to alumina.
  • This is an environmental concern due to presence of impurities such as caustic soda and others minerals.
  • Global generation of red mud is more than 150 million tons and there exists a global inventory of more than 3 billion tons.
  • It is composed of a mixture of solid and metallic oxides. The red colour arises from iron oxides, which comprise up to 60% of the mass.
  • The mud is highly basic with a pH ranging from 10 to 13. In addition to iron, the other dominant components include silica, unleached residual alumina, and titanium oxide.
Coal and Mining Sector

[pib] Muga Silk

Mains Paper 3 : Transport & Marketing Of Agricultural Produce |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Muga Silk

Mains level : Not Much



News

  • For Conservation of Muga Silk in natural habitat the Government of India has approved a project on conservation of Muga in natural habitat in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) and Meghalaya.

Muga Silk

  • Muga silk is a variety of wild silk geographically tagged to the state of Assam in India.
  • The silk is known for its extreme durability and has a natural yellowish-golden tint with a shimmering, glossy texture.
  • It was previously reserved for the use of royalty.
  • In the Brahmaputra Valley, the larvae of the Assam silkmoth feed on aromatic som (Machilus bombycina) and sualu (Litsea polyantha) leaves.
  • Muga silk can be dyed after bleaching. This silk can be hand-washed with its lustre increasing after every wash.
  • Muga silk, like other Assam silks, is used in products like saris, mekhalas and chadors.
  • Muga silk was recognized as a protected geographical indication (GI) in 2007, and was granted a GI logo for trademark purposes in 2014.

Protecting in its natural habitat

  • Under Integrated Sericulture Development Project (ISDP) of North East Region Textile Promotion Scheme (NERTPS), the Government of India has approved a project on conservation of Muga in natural habitat in Assam.
  • The scheme is being implemented in the following areas:
  1. Upper Doigrung Wild Life area, KarbiAnglong / Golaghat, Assam
  2. Kuklung Reserve Forest range for muga ex-situ conservation site in BTC
  3. Mebo Reserve Forest, Pasighat Forest Division, Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh
  4. Bagmara Reserve forest, Balpakram National Park, and Tura Peak in Meghalaya
Textile Sector – Cotton, Jute, Wool, Silk, Handloom, etc.