International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Life signature on Venus

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Phosphine, Venus

Mains level : Quest for extraterrestrial life

Scientists have detected in the harshly acidic clouds of Venus a gas called phosphine that indicates microbes may inhabit Earth’s inhospitable neighbour, a sign of potential life beyond Earth.

Try this PYQ:

Q.Which phenomenon has Venusian winds rotating 60 times faster than the planet below on the dark side?

(a) Super rotation

(b) Monrotation

(c) Dual rotation

(d) Macrrotation

Phosphine

  • Phosphine – a phosphorus atom with three hydrogen atoms attached – is highly toxic to people.
  • It is known to be produced only through a biological process, and not through any naturally occurring chemical process.
  • Phosphine was seen at 20 parts-per-billion in the Venusian atmosphere, a trace concentration.
  • Researchers examined potential non-biological sources such as volcanism, meteorites, lightning and various types of chemical reactions, but none appeared viable.
  • There are some other ways in which this chemical might be produced, for example, in the underbelly of volcanoes or meteorite activity, but that would have shown in much lower concentrations.

Why study Venus?

  • Venus is Earth’s closest planetary neighbour. Similar in structure but slightly smaller than Earth, it is the second planet from the sun. Earth is the third.
  • Venus is wrapped in a thick, toxic atmosphere that traps in heat. Surface temperatures reach a scorching 880 degrees Fahrenheit (471 degrees Celsius), hot enough to melt lead.
  • Existence of phosphine is the most credible evidence yet for the possibility of life away from Earth.

Hosting life on Venus

  • There are several things that we know about Venus that make life, as we know it, unsustainable on that planet.
  • The temperature of Venus is too high, and its atmosphere is highly acidic, just two of the things that would make life impossible.
  • It is too early to consider this as evidence for extraterrestrial life.

Paving way for future mission

  • Missions to Venus are not new. The finding can further ignite interest in space missions to Venus.
  • Spacecraft have been going near the planet since the 1960s, and some of them have even made a landing.
  • In fact, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is also planning a mission to Venus, tentatively called Shukrayaan, in the near future.
  • As of now, the plan is still on the drawing board. All future missions to Venus would now be attuned to investigating further evidence of the presence of life.

Foreign Policy Watch: United Nations

Singapore Convention on Mediation

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Singapore Convention

Mains level : Not Much

The Singapore Convention on Mediation has finally come into force.

Try this MCQ:

Q. The Singapore Convention recently seen in news is related to:

Climate change/ Arbitration and conciliation/ Foreign trade/ Marine Regulation

Singapore Convention

  • It is aimed to provide a more effective way of enforcing mediated settlements of corporate disputes involving businesses in India and other countries that are signatories to the Convention.
  • Also known as the UN Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation, this is also the first UN treaty to be named after Singapore.
  • With the Convention in force, businesses seeking enforcement of a mediated settlement agreement across borders can do so by applying directly to the courts of countries that have signed and ratified the treaty.
  • The harmonized and simplified enforcement framework under the Convention translates to savings in time and legal costs.

Its signatories

  • The Convention has 53 signatories, including India, China and the U.S.
  • Singapore had worked with the UN Commission on International Trade Law, other UN member states and non-governmental organisations for the Convention.

Significance of the convention

  • The Convention would boost India’s ‘ease of doing business’ credentials by enabling swift mediated settlements of corporate disputes.
  • Businesses in India and around the world will now have greater certainty in resolving cross-border disputes through mediation.

NGOs vs. GoI: The Conflicts and Scrutinies

What is Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, and how does it control donations?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : FCRA

Mains level : FCRA

The licences of 13 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been suspended under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), 2010, this year.

What is the FCRA?

  • The FCRA regulates foreign donations and ensures that such contributions do not adversely affect internal security.
  • First enacted in 1976, it was amended in 2010 when a slew of new measures was adopted to regulate foreign donations.
  • The FCRA is applicable to all associations, groups and NGOs which intend to receive foreign donations. It is mandatory for all such NGOs to register themselves under the FCRA.
  • The registration is initially valid for five years and it can be renewed subsequently if they comply with all norms.

What happens once registered?

  • Registered associations can receive a foreign contribution for social, educational, religious, economic and cultural purposes.
  • Filing of annual returns, on the lines of Income Tax, is compulsory.
  • In 2015, the MHA notified new rules, which required NGOs to give an undertaking that the acceptance of foreign funds.
  • It ruled that it is not likely to prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India or impact friendly relations with any foreign state and does not disrupt communal harmony.
  • It also said all such NGOs would have to operate accounts in either nationalized or private banks which have core banking facilities to allow security agencies access on a real-time basis.

Who cannot receive foreign donations?

  • Members of the legislature and political parties, government officials, judges and media persons are prohibited from receiving any foreign contribution.
  • However, in 2017 the MHA amended the 1976-repealed FCRA law paving the way for political parties to receive funds from the Indian subsidiary of a foreign company or a foreign company in which an Indian holds 50% or more shares.

How else can receive foreign funding?

  • The other way to receive foreign contributions is by applying for prior permission.
  • It is granted for receipt of a specific amount from a specific donor for carrying out specific activities or projects.
  • But the association should be registered under statutes such as the Societies Registration Act, 1860, the Indian Trusts Act, 1882, or Section 25 of the Companies Act, 1956.
  • A letter of commitment from the foreign donor specifying the amount and purpose is also required.

When is a registration suspended or cancelled?

  • The MHA on inspection of accounts and on receiving any adverse input against the functioning of an association can suspend the FCRA registration initially for 180 days.
  • Until a decision is taken, the association cannot receive any fresh donation and cannot utilise more than 25% of the amount available in the designated bank account without the permission of the MHA.
  • The MHA can cancel the registration of an organisation which will not be eligible for registration or grant of ‘prior permission’ for three years from the date of cancellation.

Also read:

Registration under Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA)

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Why the Question Hour matters?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Question hour, Zero Hour

Mains level : Not Much

The decision to go without “Question Hour” during the Monsoon Session of Parliament has evoked serious concerns about the democratic functioning of the institution.

This newscard is very narrative in its form and scope. Try this question as well-

Q.Discuss the various instruments of Parliamentary Control in India.

What is Question Hour?

  • Question Hour is the liveliest hour in Parliament. It is during this one hour that MPs ask questions of ministers and hold them accountable for the functioning of their ministries.
  • Prior to Independence, the first question asked of government was in 1893. It was on the burden cast on village shopkeepers who had to provide supplies to touring government officers.
  • The questions that MPs ask are designed to elicit information and trigger suitable action by ministries.
  • Over the last 70 years, MPs have successfully used this parliamentary device to shine a light on government functioning.
  • Their questions have exposed financial irregularities and brought data and information regarding government functioning to the public domain.
  • With the broadcasting since 1991, Question Hour has become one of the most visible aspects of parliamentary functioning.

Its evolution

  • The right to question the executive has been exercised by members of the House from the colonial period.
  • The first Legislative Council in British India under the Charter Act, 1853, showed some degree of independence by giving members the power to ask questions to the executive.
  • Later, the Indian Council Act of 1861 allowed members to elicit information by means of questions.
  • However, it was the Indian Council Act, 1892, which formulated the rules for asking questions including short notice questions.
  • The next stage of the development of procedures related to questions came up with the framing of rules under the Indian Council Act, 1909, which incorporated provisions for asking supplementary questions by members.
  • The Montague-Chelmsford reforms brought forth a significant change in 1919 by incorporating a rule that the first hour of every meeting was earmarked for questions. Parliament has continued this tradition.
  • In 1921, there was another change. The question, on which a member desired to have an oral answer, was distinguished by him with an asterisk, a star. This marked the beginning of starred questions.

Its significance

  • Question Hour is not only an opportunity for the members to raise questions, but it is a parliamentary device primarily meant for exercising legislative control over executive actions.
  • The government’s actions erode the constitutional mandate of parliamentary oversight over executive actions as envisaged under Article 75 (3) of the Indian Constitution.

Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

What constitutes a breach of the legislature’s privilege?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Breach of Priviliges in Legislation

Mains level : Not Much

A motion for breach of privilege was moved in the Maharashtra Assembly against a news channel’s editor-in-chief. A similar motion was moved in the Maharashtra Legislative Council against an actor.

Try this PYQ:

Q.With reference to the Parliament of India, which of the following Parliamentary Committees scrutinizes and reports to the House whether the powers to make regulations, rules, sub-rules, by-laws etc. conferred by the constitution of delegated by the Parliament are being properly exercised by the Executive within the scope of such delegation?

(a) Committee on Government Assurances

(b) Committee on Subordinate Legislation

(c) Rules Committee

(d) Business Advisory Committee

Provisions to protect the privileges of the legislature

  • The powers, privileges and immunities of either House of the Indian Parliament and of its Members and committees are laid down in Article 105 of the Constitution.
  • Article 194 deals with the powers, privileges and immunities of the State Legislatures, their Members and their committees.
  • Parliamentary privilege refers to the right and immunity enjoyed by legislatures, in which legislators are granted protection against civil or criminal liability for actions done or statements made in the course of their legislative duties.

What constitutes a breach of this privilege?

  • While the Constitution has accorded special privileges and powers to parliamentarians and legislators to maintain the dignity and authority of the Houses, these powers and privileges are not codified.
  • Thus, there are no clear, notified rules to decide what constitutes a breach of privilege, and the punishment it attracts.
  • Any act that obstructs or impedes either House of the state legislature in performing its functions, or which obstructs or impedes any Member or Officer of such House in the discharge of his duty, or has a tendency, directly or indirectly, to produce such results is treated as a breach of privilege.
  • It is a breach of privilege and contempt to print or publish libel reflecting on the character or proceedings of the House or its Committees or on any member of the House for or relating to his character or conduct as a legislator.

Procedure followed in cases of an alleged breach

  • The Legislative Assembly Speaker or Legislative Council Chairman constitutes a Privileges Committee consisting of 15 members in the Assembly and 11 members in the Council.
  • The members to the committee which has quasi-judicial powers are nominated based on the party strength in the Houses.
  • The Speaker or Chairman first decides on the motions.
  • If the privilege and contempt are found prima facie, then the Speaker or Chairman will forward it to the Privileges Committee by following the due procedure.
  • At present, there is no Privileges Committee in either House of the state legislature.
  • The Committee will seek an explanation from all the concerned, will conduct an inquiry and will make a recommendation based on the findings to the state legislature for its consideration.

What is the punishment for this?

  • If the Committee finds the offender guilty of breach of privilege and contempt, it can recommend the punishment.
  • The punishment can include communicating the displeasure of the state legislature to the offender, summoning the offender before the House and giving a warning, and even sending the offender to jail.
  • In the case of the media, press facilities of the state legislature may be withdrawn, and a public apology may be sought.

NGOs vs. GoI: The Conflicts and Scrutinies

Registration under Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : FCRA

Mains level : Money laundering and terror financing

The Union Home Ministry has granted FCRA registration to the famous Gurdwara Harmandir Sahib, or the Golden Temple, in Amritsar, enabling it to receive foreign donations.

Foreign Contribution Regulation Act

  • The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 is an act to regulate the acceptance and utilization of foreign contribution or foreign hospitality by certain individuals or associations or companies
  • It prohibits acceptance and utilization of foreign contribution or foreign hospitality for any activities detrimental to the national interest and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto
  • The central government has the power to prohibit any persons or organizations from accepting foreign contribution or hospitality if it is determined that such acceptance would likely “affect prejudicially”

(i) the sovereignty and integrity of India,

(ii) public interest,

(iii) freedom or fairness of election to any legislature,

(iv) friendly relations with any foreign State, or

(v) harmony between religious, racial, social, linguistic or regional groups, castes or communities

Premise for the FCRA

  • Government of India enacted the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) in the year 1976 with an objective of regulating the acceptance and utilization of foreign contribution.
  • Any association, non-government organisation (NGO) or registered society requires FCRA registration to receive foreign donations for specified purposes.
  • The act was majorly modified in 2010 with several amendments because many NGOs were found using illegal use of foreign funding.

Minority Issues – SC, ST, Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

Explained: Maratha quota — the agitation, the politics

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Indra Sawhney Judgment

Mains level : Quota debate

The Supreme Court has referred to a Constitution Bench the question of whether states can exceed the 50% limit on quotas that were set by a nine-judge Bench in the landmark Indra Sawhney vs Union of India (1992) case.

Practice question for mains:

Q.The quota policy for OBCs needs an urgent revisit. Comment.

Marathas and their ‘backwardness’

  • The Marathas are a politically dominant community who make up 32% of Maharashtra’s population.
  • They have historically been identified as a ‘warrior’ caste with large landholdings. Eleven of the state’s 19 chief ministers so far have been Marathas.
  • While the division of land and agrarian problems over the years have led to a decline of prosperity among middle- and lower-middle-class Marathas, the community still plays an important role in the rural economy.
  • The discontent in the community was a spillover into protests and unrest until the quota was announced.
  • The second phase of the protest saw a spate of suicides. The backward Marathwada region was the worst affected by the protests.

What was the case?

  • A Bench of the SC heard a batch of petitions challenging reservations for Marathas in education and jobs in Maharashtra.
  • The petitions appealed a 2019 Bombay High Court decision that upheld the constitutional validity of the Maratha quota under the Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) Act, 2018.
  • The Bench also heard a petition challenging admission to postgraduate medical and dental courses under the quota in the state.

Earlier Bombay HC ruling

  • The Bombay HC ruled last year that the 16% quota granted by the state was not “justifiable”, and reduced it to 12% in education and 13% in government jobs, as recommended by the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission (MSBCC).
  • The Bench ruled that the limit of the reservation should not exceed 50%.
  • However, in exceptional circumstances and extraordinary situations, this limit can be crossed subject to availability of quantifiable and contemporaneous data reflecting backwardness, the inadequacy of representation and without affecting the efficiency in administration.
  • The court relied heavily on the findings of the 11-member MSBCC, which submitted in November 2018 that the Maratha community is socially, economically and educationally backwards.

Existing reservation

  • Following the 2001 State Reservation Act, the total reservation in Maharashtra was 52%: SCs (13%), STs (7%), OBCs (19%), Special Backward Class (2%), Vimukta Jati (3%), Nomadic Tribe B (2.5%), Nomadic Tribe C (3.5%) and Nomadic Tribe D (2%).
  • The quotas for Nomadic Tribes and Special Backward Classes have been carved out of the total OBC quota.
  • With the addition of 12-13% Maratha quota, the total reservation in the state went up to 64-65%.
  • The 10% quota for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) announced by the Centre last year is also effective in the state.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

Chushul Valley and its Significance

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Chushul Valley

Mains level : India-China border skirmishes

The Chushul sub-sector has come into focus in the standoff between the Indian and PLA troops.

Tap to read more about Himalayan River System

What is the Chushul Valley?

  • The Chushul sub-sector lies south of Pangong Tso in eastern Ladakh.
  • It comprises high, broken mountains and heights of Thatung, Black Top, Helmet Top, Gurung Hill, and Magger Hill besides passes such as Rezang La and Reqin La, the Spanggur Gap, and the Chushul valley.
  • Situated at a height of over 13,000 feet close to the LAC, the Chushul Valley has a vital airstrip that played an important role even during the 1962 War with China.

What is its strategic importance to India?

  • Chushul is one among the five Border Personnel Meeting points between the Indian Army and the People’s Liberation Army of China.
  • It enjoys tremendous strategic and tactical importance because of its location and terrain, which make it a centre for logistics deployment.
  • This sector has plains that are a couple of km wide, where mechanized forces, including tanks, can be deployed. Its airstrip and connectivity by road to Leh add to its operational advantages.
  • Indian troops have now secured the ridgeline in this sub-sector that allows them to dominate the Chushul bowl on the Indian side, and Moldo sector on the Chinese side.
  • They also have a clear sight of the almost 2-km-wide Spanggur gap, which the Chinese used in the past to launch attacks on this sector in the 1962 War.

How is Chushul important to China?

  • Simply put, Chushul is the gateway to Leh. If China enters the Chushul, it can launch its operations for Leh.
  • After the initial attacks, including on the Galwan valley by the Chinese in October 1962, the PLA troops prepared to attack Chushul airfield and the valley to get direct access to Leh.
  • However, just before the attacks were launched, the area was reinforced by the 114 Brigade in November 1962, which also had under its command two troops of armour and some artillery.

What are the challenges in this area?

  • An immediate challenge is of a flare-up as troops of the two countries are deployed within a distance of 800 to 1,000 metres of each other at Black Top and Reqin La.
  • Logistics also pose a major challenge. There is a need to carry water and food to the top which soldiers cannot do.
  • The harsh winter that lasts for eight months of the year poses a big challenge.
  • It is very difficult to dig in and make shelters on the ridgeline. The temperature falls to minus 30 degrees Celsius, and there are frequent snowstorms.

Judicial Reforms

Kesavananda Bharati: The petitioner who saved democracy

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Features of Basic structure doctrine

Mains level : Evolution of the basic structure doctrine

Kesavananda Bharati (80), the sole unwitting petitioner in the historic Fundamental Rights case which prevented the nation from slipping into a totalitarian regime has passed away.

Who was Kesavananda Bharati?

  • Kesavananda Bharati was the head seer of the Edneer Mutt in Kasaragod district of Kerala since 1961.
  • He left his signature in one of the significant rulings of the Supreme Court when he challenged the Kerala land reforms legislation in 1970.

What was his case?

  • A 13-judge bench was set up by the Supreme Court, the biggest so far, and the case was heard over 68 working days spread over six months.
  • The Bench gave 11 separate judgments that agreed and disagreed on many issues but a majority judgment of seven judges were stitched together by then CJI SM Sikri on the eve of his retirement.
  • However, the basic structure doctrine, which was evolved in the majority judgment, was found in the conclusions of the opinion written by one judge — Justice H R Khanna.

What was the case about?

  • The case was primarily about the extent of Parliament’s power to amend the Constitution.
  • First, the court was reviewing a 1967 decision in Golaknath v State of Punjab which, reversing earlier verdicts, had ruled that Parliament cannot amend fundamental rights.
  • Second, the court was deciding the constitutional validity of several other amendments.
  • Notably, the right to property had been removed as a fundamental right, and Parliament had also given itself the power to amend any part of the Constitution and passed a law that it cannot be reviewed by the courts.
  • The executive vs judiciary manoeuvres displayed in the amendments ended with the Kesavananda Bharati case, in which the court had to settle these issues conclusively.
  • Politically, the case represented the fight for supremacy of Parliament led by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

What did the court decide?

  • In its majority ruling, the court held that fundamental rights cannot be taken away by amending them.
  • While the court said that Parliament had vast powers to amend the Constitution, it drew the line by observing that certain parts are so inherent and intrinsic to the Constitution that even Parliament cannot touch it.
  • However, despite the ruling that Parliament cannot breach fundamental rights, the court upheld the amendment that removed the fundamental right to property.
  • The court ruled that in spirit, the amendment would not violate the “basic structure” of the Constitution.
  • Kesavananda Bharati, in fact, lost the case. But as many legal scholars point out, the government did not win the case either.

What is the basic structure doctrine?

  • The origins of the basic structure doctrine are found in the German Constitution which, after the Nazi regime, was amended to protect some basic laws.
  • The original Weimar Constitution, which gave Parliament to amend the Constitution with a two-thirds majority, was in fact used by Hitler to his advantage to made radical changes.
  • Learning from that experience, the new German Constitution introduced substantive limits on Parliament’s powers to amend certain parts of the Constitution which it considered ‘basic law’.
  • In India, the basic structure doctrine has formed the bedrock of judicial review of all laws passed by Parliament. No law can impinge on the basic structure.
  • What the basic structure is, however, has been a continuing deliberation. While parliamentary democracy, fundamental rights, judicial review, secularism are all held by courts as the basic structure, the list is not exhaustive.

What was the fallout of the verdict?

  • Politically, as a result of the verdict, the judiciary faced its biggest litmus test against the executive.
  • Then government did not take kindly to the majority opinion and superseded three judges —J M Shelat, A N Grover and K S Hegde — who were in line to be appointed CJI after Justice Sikri.
  • The supersession resulted in a decades-long continuing battle on the independence of the judiciary and the extent of Parliament’s power to appoint judges.
  • But the ruling has cemented the rejection of majoritarian impulses to make sweeping changes or even replace the Constitution and underlined the foundations of modern democracy.

Significance of the Judgement

  • The judgment introduced the Basic Structure doctrine which limited Parliament’s power to make drastic amendments that may affect the core values enshrined in the Constitution like secularism and federalism.
  • The verdict upheld the power of the Supreme Court to judicially review laws of Parliament.
  • It evolved the concept of separation of powers among the three branches of governance — legislative, executive and the judiciary.
  • The Emergency was proclaimed shortly after the judgment was delivered on April 24, 1973.
  • It proved timely and thwarted many an attempt on democracy and dignity of an individual during those dark years.

Sri Lanka’s Constitution – Strides in the Right Direction

What is the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, and why is it contentious?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Sri Lankan constitutional issues

After the Rajapaksas’ win in the November 2019 presidential polls and the August 2020 general election, the spotlight has fallen on two key legislations in Sri Lanka’s Constitution.

Sri Lankan amendments in news

  • One, the 19th Amendment was passed in 2015 to curb powers of the Executive President, while strengthening Parliament and independent commissions.
  • The Rajapaksa government has already drafted and gazetted the 20th Amendment.
  • The other legislation under sharp focus is the 13th Amendment passed in 1987, which mandates a measure of power devolution to the provincial councils established to govern the island’s nine provinces.

What is the 13th Amendment?

  • It is an outcome of the Indo-Lanka Accord of July 1987, signed by the then PM Rajiv Gandhi and President J.R. Jayawardene, in an attempt to resolve the ethnic conflict and civil war.
  • The 13th Amendment, which led to the creation of Provincial Councils, assured a power-sharing arrangement to enable all nine provinces in the country, including Sinhala majority areas, to self-govern.
  • Subjects such as education, health, agriculture, housing, land and police are devolved to the provincial administrations.
  • But because of restrictions on financial powers and overriding powers given to the President, the provincial administrations have not made much headway.
  • In particular, the provisions relating to police and land have never been implemented.

Why is it contentious?

  • The 13th Amendment carries considerable baggage from the country’s civil war years. It was opposed vociferously by both Sinhala nationalist parties and the LTTE.
  • The opposition within Sri Lanka saw the Accord and the consequent legislation as an imprint of Indian intervention.
  • It was widely perceived as an imposition by a neighbour wielding hegemonic influence.
  • The Tamil polity, especially its dominant nationalist strain, does not find the 13th Amendment sufficient in its ambit or substance. However, some find it as an important starting point, something to build upon.

Why is it significant?

  • Till date, the Amendment represents the only constitutional provision on the settlement of the long-pending Tamil question.
  • In addition to assuring a measure of devolution, it is considered part of the few significant gains since the 1980s, in the face of growing Sinhala-Buddhist majoritarianism.

Its criticism

  • Critics argue that in a small country, the provinces could be effectively controlled by the Centre.
  • The opposition camp also includes those fundamentally opposed to sharing any political power with the Tamil minority.
  • All the same, all political camps that vehemently oppose the system have themselves contested in provincial council elections.
  • The councils have over time also helped national parties strengthen their grassroots presence and organisational structures.

RBI Notifications

Priority Sector Lending (PSL)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : PSL

Mains level : PSL

The RBI has released a revised priority sector lending guidelines to augment funding to segments including start-ups and agriculture.

New Priority Sector Lending (PSL) guidelines

  • Bank finance of up to ₹50 crores to start-ups, loans to farmers both for installation of solar power plants for Solarization of grid-connected agriculture pumps and for setting up compressed biogas (CBG) plants have been included as fresh categories eligible for finance under the priority sector.
  • This has come to align it with emerging national priorities and bring a sharper focus on inclusive development, after having wide-ranging discussions with all stakeholders.
  • It will enable better credit penetration to credit deficient areas, increase the lending to small and marginal farmers and weaker sections, boost credit to renewable energy, and health infrastructure
  • The targets prescribed for ‘small and marginal farmers’ and ‘weaker sections’ are being increased in a phased manner.
  • Higher credit limit has been specified for farmer producer organisations (FPOs)/farmers producers companies (FPCs) undertaking farming with assured marketing of their produce at a pre-determined price.

Back2Basics: Priority Sector Lending

  • PSL is an important role given by the (RBI) to the banks for providing a specified portion of the bank lending to few specific sectors like agriculture and allied activities, micro and small enterprises, poor people for housing, students for education and other low-income groups and weaker sections.
  • This is essentially meant for an all-round development of the economy as opposed to focusing only on the financial sector.
  • The broad categories of priority sector for all scheduled commercial banks are as under:
  1. Agriculture and Allied Activities (Direct and Indirect finance)
  2. Small Scale Industries (Direct and Indirect Finance)
  3. Small Business / Service Enterprises
  4. Micro Credit
  5. Education loans
  6. Housing loans

Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

What counts as ‘Act of God’?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Act of God , Force Majeure clause

Mains level : Not Much

Amid disruptions caused by Covid-19, the Finance Minister has referred to an Act of God while businesses are looking at a legal provision, force majeure, to cut losses.

Note the key differences between the Act of God and Force Majeure.

Evoking “Act of God”

  • The force majeure or “Act of God” clause has its origins in the Napoleonic Code.
  • The finance ministry had issued an office memorandum inviting attention to the force majeure clause (FMC) in the 2017 Manual for Procurement of Goods issued by the Department of Expenditure.
  • It clarified that the pandemic should be considered a case of natural calamity and FMC may be invoked, wherever considered appropriate.

What is a force majeure clause?

  • The law of contracts is built around a fundamental norm that the parties must perform the contract.
  • When a party fails to perform its part of the contract, the loss to the other party is made good.
  • However, the law carves out exceptions when the performance of the contract becomes impossible for the parties.
  • A force majeure clause is one such exception that releases the party of its obligations to an extent when events beyond their control take place and leave them unable to perform their part of the contract.
  • FMC is a clause that is present in most commercial contracts and is a carefully drafted legal arrangement in the event of a crisis.
  • When the clause is triggered, parties can decide to break from their obligations temporarily or permanently without necessarily breaching the contract.
  • Companies in such situations use the clause as a safe exit route, sometimes in opportunistic ways, without having to incur the penalty of breaching the contract.

Difference between the two

  • Both concepts elicit the same consequences in law.
  • Generally, an “Act of God” is understood to include only natural unforeseen circumstances, whereas force majeure is wider in its ambit and includes both naturally occurring events and events that occur due to human intervention.

What situations legally qualify for use of force majeure?

  • While some contracts have clauses with standard circumstances, some contracts would have specific circumstances that are more focused.
  • For example, a shipping contract would have a force majeure clause that could cover a natural disaster like a tsunami.
  • If an event is not described, then it is interpreted in a way that it falls in the same category of events that are described.
  • An FMC is negotiated by parties, and events that could potentially hamper the performance of the contract are catalogued.
  • It is not invoked just by expressing that an unforeseen event has occurred.
  • In case a contract does not have a force majeure clause, there are some protections in common law that can be invoked by parties.
  • For example, the Indian Contract Act, 1872 provides that a contract becomes void if it becomes impossible due to an event after the contract was signed that the party could not prevent.

Global precedents dealing with COVID-19 pandemic

  • In China, where the Covid-19 outbreak originated, the Council for Promotion of International Trade is issuing force majeure certificates to businesses.
  • China’s Supreme People’s Court had recognised the 2002 SARS outbreak as a force majeure event.
  • Singapore enacted the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act in April to provide relief to businesses that could not perform their contractual obligations due to the pandemic.
  • The Paris Commercial Court in July ruled that the pandemic could be equated to a force majeure event.
  • In the UK, the Financial Conduct Authority has brought in a test case before the High Court to look into business insurance contracts and interpret the standard wordings in such contracts.
  • The International Chamber of Commerce has developed a Model Code on the force majeure clause reflecting current international practice.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

Non-War Military Tactics used by China

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NA

Mains level : India-China Relations

An annual report from the U.S. Department of Defense describes Chinese leaders’ use of tactics short of armed conflict to further the country’s objectives, citing border conflicts with India and Bhutan among the examples.

Try this question:

Q. What are Non-War Military Activities (NWMA)? Discuss how China is using NWMA as a tool for its overtly ambitious expansionist policy.

Various non-war military tactics

The report describes Non-War Military Activities (NWMA) as one of two kinds of military operations (the other is war) used by the PLA. NWMA can be conducted internationally or domestically and encompass activities in multiple domains.

(1) Provoking armed conflict

  • China calibrates its coercive activities to fall below the threshold of provoking conflict with the United States, its allies and partners, or others in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • It can notably include operations in which the PLA uses coercive threats and/or violence below the level of armed conflict against states and other actors to safeguard its expansionism.
  • These tactics are particularly evident in China’s pursuit of its territorial and maritime claims in the South and East China Seas as well as along its border with India and Bhutan.

(2) Neo-imperialist tools

  • China also employs non-military tools coercively, including economic tools during periods of political tensions with countries that China accuses of harming its national interests.
  • The Belt and Road Initiative is leading to a greater overseas military presence for China in the guise to protect its economic interests.

(3) Multilateralism as a strategic messaging tool

  • The report says that China uses multilateral forums and international organisations to generate new opportunities to expand its influence, strengthen its political influence.
  • It promotes strategic messaging that portrays China as a responsible global actor, advances its development interests, and limit outside interference in and criticism of its initiatives.
  • The Brazil Russia India China South Africa (BRICS) grouping and Shanghai Cooperation Organization are among those cited as examples of this alleged phenomenon.

Minority Issues – SC, ST, Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

OBC categorization: findings, progress by a panel so far

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : OBC categorization

While the ongoing legal debate on sub-categorisation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for reservations is undergoing, a Commission has been examining sub-categorisation of Other Backward Classes (OBC) for almost three years now.

Practice question for mains:

Q.The quota policy for OBCs needs an urgent revisit. Comment.

What is the sub-categorisation of OBCs?

  • OBCs are granted 27% reservation in jobs and education under the central government.
  • The question of sub-categorisation arises out of the perception that only a few affluent communities among the over 2,600 included in the Central List of OBCs have secured a major part of this 27% reservation.
  • The argument for sub-categorisation — or creating categories within OBCs for reservation — is that it would ensure “equitable distribution” of representation among all OBC communities.

Who is examining sub-categorisation?

  • The Commission to Examine Sub-categorisation of Other Backward Classes took charge on October 11, 2017.
  • It is headed by retired Delhi High Court Chief Justice G Rohini.
  • Initially constituted with tenure of 12 weeks ending January 3, 2018, it was granted an extension recently.

What are its terms of references?

It was originally set up with three terms of reference:

  1. To examine the extent of inequitable distribution of benefits of reservation among the castes or communities included in the broad category of OBCs with reference to such classes included in the Central List;
  2. To work out the mechanism, criteria, norms and parameters in a scientific approach for sub-categorisation within such OBCs;
  3. To take up the exercise of identifying the respective castes or communities or sub-castes or synonyms in the Central List of OBCs and classifying them into their respective sub-categories.

A fourth was added on January 22, 2020, when the Cabinet granted it an extension:

  1. To study the various entries in the Central List of OBCs and recommend correction of any repetitions, ambiguities, inconsistencies and errors of spelling or transcription.

What progress has it made so far?

  • In its letter to the government on July 30, 2019, the Commission wrote that it is ready with the draft report. This could have huge political consequences and is likely to face a judicial review.
  • The current tenure of the Commission ends on January 31, 2021.
  • Its budget is being drawn from the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) which was given constitutional status by the government in 2018.

What progress has it made so far?

  • The Commission is ready with the draft report. This could have huge political consequences and is likely to face a judicial review.
  • The current tenure of the Commission ends on January 31, 2021.
  • Its budget is being drawn from the National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) which was given constitutional status by the government in 2018.

How do these data compare with OBCs’ share in the population?

  • A hurdle for the Commission has been the absence of data for the population of various communities to compare with their representation in jobs and admissions.
  • Sources said the data of Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) were not considered reliable.
  • The Commission has requested for an appropriate Budget provision for a proposed all-India survey for an estimate of the caste-wise population of OBCs.

Telecom and Postal Sector – Spectrum Allocation, Call Drops, Predatory Pricing, etc

AGR dues issue in Telecom Sector

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : AGR issue

Mains level : AGR disputes of Telecom companies

The Supreme Court has held that telecom firms will get 10 years to clear their adjusted gross revenue or AGR dues and that the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) should decide whether or not spectrum can be sold under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code.

Try this PYQ:

Q. In India, which of the following review the independent regulators in sectors like telecommunications, insurance, electricity, etc.?

  1. Ad Hoc Committees set up by the Parliament
  2. Parliamentary Department Related Standing Committees
  3. Finance Commission
  4. Financial Sector Legislative Reforms Commission
  5. NITI Aayog

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a) 1 and 2

(b) 1, 3 and 4

(c) 3, 4 and 5

(d) 2 and 5

Supreme Court rule on AGR dues

  • In its judgment, the SC gave all telcos a 10-year timeline to complete the payments of AGR dues, instead of the old 20-year schedule suggested by the DoT.
  • It also directed telcos to pay 10 per cent of the total AGR dues by March 31, 2020, following which they can make payments in annual instalments between 2021 and 2031.
  • The non-payment of dues in any year would lead to the accrual of interest and invite contempt of court proceedings against such companies.
  • A crucial issue of whether the spectrum could be sold under IBC will now be decided by the National Company Law Tribunal.

What is AGR?

  • Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) is the usage and licensing fee that telecom operators are charged by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).
  • It is divided into spectrum usage charges and licensing fees, pegged between 3-5 per cent and 8 per cent respectively.

What is the issue about?

  • All the telecom companies that operate in India pay a part of their revenues as licence fee and spectrum charges to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) for using the spectrum owned by the government.
  • In its definition of AGR, the DoT had said that telcos must cover all the revenue earned by them, including from non-telecom sources such as deposit interests and sale of assets.
  • The telecom companies were opposed to this and had challenged this definition of AGR in several forums, including the Supreme Court.
  • On October 24, 2019, the SC had upheld the DoT’s definition of AGR.
  • Though the telcos sought a review of the judgment, it was dismissed by the top court which had then insisted that telcos clear all the dues by January 23, 2020.

Electoral Reforms In India

Need for a Common Electoral Roll

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Common Electoral Roll

Mains level : One Nation One Election Idea

The Prime Minister’s Office earlier this month held a meeting with representatives of the Election Commission and the Law Ministry to discuss the possibility of having a common electoral roll for elections to the panchayat, municipality, state assembly and the Lok Sabha.

Try this question:

Q.Discuss how a common electoral roll and simultaneous elections are ways to save the enormous amount of effort and expenditure on Elections in India.

Electoral Rolls in India

  • In many states, the voters’ list for the panchayat and municipality elections is different from the one used for Parliament and Assembly elections.
  • The distinction stems from the fact that the supervision and conduct of elections in our country are entrusted with two constitutional authorities — the Election Commission (EC) of India and the State ECs.
  • Set up in 1950, the EC is charged with the responsibility of conducting polls to the offices of the President and Vice-President of India, and to Parliament, the state assemblies and the legislative councils.
  • The SECs, on the other hand, supervise municipal and panchayat elections. They are free to prepare their own electoral rolls for local body elections, and this exercise does not have to be coordinated with the EC.

So do all states have a separate voters list for their local body elections?

  • Each SEC is governed by a separate state Act. Some state laws allow the SEC to borrow and use the EC’s voter’s rolls in toto for the local body elections.
  • In others, the state commission uses the EC’s voters list as the basis for the preparation and revision of rolls for municipality and panchayat elections.
  • Currently, all states, except UP, Uttarakhand, Odisha, Assam, MP, Kerala, Odisha, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and the UT of Jammu and Kashmir, adopt EC’s rolls for local body polls.

Why need a common electoral roll?

  • First, the common electoral roll is among the promises made by the govt. in its manifesto for the Lok Sabha elections last year.
  • It ties in with the party’s commitment to hold elections simultaneously to the Lok Sabha, state assemblies and local bodies, which is also mentioned in the manifesto.
  • The incumbent government has pitched a common electoral roll and simultaneous elections as a way to save an enormous amount of effort and expenditure.
  • It has argued that the preparation of a separate voters list causes duplication of essentially the same task between two different agencies, thereby duplicating the effort and the expenditure.
  • The pitch for a single voters list is not new. The Law Commission recommended it in its 255th report in 2015. The EC too adopted a similar stance in 1999 and 2004.

How it can be implemented?

  • In the meeting called by the PMO, two options were discussed.
  • First, a constitutional amendment to Articles 243K and 243ZA that gives the power of superintendence, direction and control of preparation of electoral rolls and the conduct of local body elections to the SECs.
  • The amendment would make it mandatory to have a single electoral roll for all elections in the country.
  • Second, to persuade the state governments to tweak their respective laws and adopt the Election Commission’s (EC) voters list for municipal and panchayat polls.

J&K – The issues around the state

New rules for Transaction of Business of the Govt. of UT of J&K Rules, 2019

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Art. 370

Mains level : Administrative changes in J and K

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has notified new rules for administration in the UT of Jammu and Kashmir that specify the functions of the Lieutenant Governor (LG) and the Council of Ministers.

Tap to read more about: Reorganization of J&K

New Rules for J&K

  • The new rules have been defined under Section 55 of the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Act, 2019.

What are they?

(1)Executive functions of the L-G

  • According to the rules the “police, public order, All India Services and anti-corruption” will fall under the executive functions of the L-G.
  • Chief Minister or the Council of Ministers will have no say in their functioning.

(2)Minority Community interests

  • The proposals or matters which affect or are likely to affect peace and tranquillity or the interest of any minority community, the SCs, the STs and the Backward Classes shall essentially be submitted to the LG through the Chief Secretary, under intimation to the CM, before issuing any orders.

(3)Service Matters

  • The Council of Ministers, led by the CM, will decide service matters of non-All India Services officers, proposal to impose a new tax, land revenue, sale grant or lease of government property, reconstituting departments or offices and draft legislation.

(4)Difference of Opinion

  • In case of difference of opinion between the L-G and a Minister when no agreement could be reached even after a month, the “decision of the Lieutenant Governor shall be deemed to have been accepted by the Council of Ministers”.

(5)Relation with the Centre

  • According to the rules, “any matter which is likely to bring the Government of the UT into controversy with the Central Government or with any State Government” shall be brought to the notice of the L-G and the CM by the Secretary concerned through the Chief Secretary.
  • All communications received from the Centre, including those from the PM and other Ministers, shall be submitted by the Secretary to the Chief Secretary, the Minister in charge, the CM and the L-G for information after their receipt.

(6)Various departments

  • Under the rules, there will be 39 departments in the UT, such as school education, agriculture, higher education, horticulture, election, general administration, home, mining, power, Public Works Department, tribal affairs and transport.

Goods and Services Tax (GST)

What is Compensation of GST?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GST Compensation

Mains level : Changes in taxation after GST regime

With Centre-State friction over pending compensation payments under the Goods and Services Tax (GST) taking a new turn in the 41st GST Council to meet, the strain on the finances of states is likely to continue in the near term.

Try this question from CSP 2018:

Q.Consider the following items:

  1. Cereal grains hulled
  2. Chicken eggs cooked
  3. Fish processed and canned
  4. Newspapers containing advertising material

Which of the above items is/are exempt under GST (Goods and Services Tax)?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 and 3 only

(c) 1, 2 and 4 only

(d) 1, 2, 3 and 4

What is GST?

  • GST, being a consumption-based tax, would result in loss of revenue for manufacturing-heavy states.
  • GST launched in India on 1 July 2017 is a comprehensive indirect tax for the entire country.
  • It is charged at the time of supply and depends on the destination of consumption.
  • For instance, if a good is manufactured in state A but consumed in state B, then the revenue generated through GST collection is credited to the state of consumption (state B) and not to the state of production (state A).

Compensation under GST regime

  • Due to the consumption-based nature of GST, manufacturing states like Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu feared a revenue loss.
  • Thus, GST Compensation Cess or GST Cess was introduced by the government to compensate for the possible revenue losses suffered by such manufacturing states.
  • However, under existing rules, this compensation cess will be levied only for the first 5 years of the GST regime – from July 1st, 2017 to July 1st, 2022.
  • Compensation cess is levied on five products considered to be ‘sin’ or luxury as mentioned in the GST (Compensation to States) Act, 2017 and includes items such as- Pan Masala, Tobacco, and Automobiles etc.

Alternatives to prevent losses

  • The input tax credit can help a producer by partially reducing GST liability by only paying the difference between the tax already paid on the raw materials of a particular good and that on the final product.
  • In other words, the taxes paid on purchase (input tax) can be subtracted from the taxes paid on the final product (output tax) to reduce the final GST liability.

Distributing GST compensation

  • The compensation cess payable to states is calculated based on the methodology specified in the GST (Compensation to States) Act, 2017.
  • The compensation fund so collected is released to the states every 2 months.
  • Any unused money from the compensation fund at the end of the transition period shall be distributed between the states and the centre as per any applicable formula.

Significance of GST compensation

  • States no longer possess taxation rights after most taxes, barring those on petroleum, alcohol, and stamp duty were subsumed under GST.
  • GST accounts for almost 42% of states’ own tax revenues, and tax revenues account for around 60% of states’ total revenues.
  • Finances of over a dozen states are under severe strain, resulting in delays in salary payments and sharp cuts in capital expenditure outlay amid the pandemic-induced lockdowns and the need to spend on healthcare.

Back2Basics:

Goods and Services Tax

Digital India Initiatives

GIS-enabled Land Bank System

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Land Bank System

Mains level : Digital land records

A prototype of the National GIS-enabled Land Bank System was e-launched by Commerce and Industry Ministry for six States based on which land can be identified for setting up industries.

Try to answer this question in short:

Q.Discuss the benefits of digitizing land records in India.

Land Bank System

  • The system has been developed by the Integration of Industrial Information System (IIS) with state GIS (Geographic Information System).
  • IIS portal is a GIS-enabled database of industrial clusters/areas across the states.
  • On the system, more than 3,300 industrial parks across 31 states/UTs covering about 4,75,000 hectares of land have also been mapped out on the system.
  • The information available on the system will include drainage, forest; raw material heat maps (horticulture, agricultural, mineral layers); multilayer of connectivity.
  • IIS has adopted a committed approach towards industrial upgrading, resource optimization, and sustainability.

Various stakeholders

  • The initiative has been supported by the National e-Governance Division (NeGD), National Centre of Geo-Informatics (NCoG), Invest India, Bhaskaracharya Institute for Space Applications and Geo-Informatics (BISAG), and Ministry of Electronics and Informational Technology.

Global Geological And Climatic Events

What is the Hangenberg Crisis?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Hangenberg Crisis

Mains level : Mass Extinction

The explosion of a nearby star — occurred at between Devonian and Carboniferous periods — could have caused a mass extinction event that took place 359 million years ago.

Try this question from CSP 2018:

Q.The term “sixth mass extinction/sixth extinction” is often mentioned in the news in the context of the discussion of

(a) Widespread monoculture Practices agriculture and large-scale commercial farming with indiscriminate use of chemicals in many parts of the world that may result in the loss of good native ecosystems.

(b) Fears of a possible collision of a meteorite with the Earth in the near future in the manner it happened 65million years ago that caused the mass extinction of many species including those of dinosaurs.

(c) Large scale cultivation of genetically modified crops in many parts of the world and promoting their cultivationin other Parts of the world which may cause the disappearance of good native crop plants and the loss offood biodiversity.

(d) Mankind’s over-exploitation/misuse of natural resources, fragmentation/loss, natural habitats, destructionof ecosystems, pollution and global climate change.

Hangenberg crisis

  • The Earth suffered an intense loss of species diversity that lasted for at least 300,000 years.
  • The event is thought to have been caused by long-lasting ozone depletion, which would have allowed much more of the Sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation to reach and harm life on Earth.
  • It was called the Hangenberg crisis.

What did researchers find?

  • Extensive volcanism and global warming can also rupture the ozone layer but shreds of evidence for these are indefinite as far as the time period is concerned.
  • So, they up that one or more supernovae explosions, at a distance of 65 light-years away from the Earth, may have caused a prolonged loss of ozone.
  • Betelgeuse, a supernova, around 600 light-years away and present outside the kill distance of 25 light-years poses a danger today.
  • Events like gamma-ray bursts, solar eruptions and meteorite collisions end up very soon. As such, they cannot pave the way for gradual ozone depletion that took place at the close of the Devonian aeon.
  • A supernova event can be powerful enough to bathe its galaxy in light for days and months alike. It can be spotted across the universe as well.

Why Supernovae are considered dangerous?

  • Supernovae (SNe) are quick sources of ionizing photons that include fatal X-rays, UV and gamma rays.
  • Over a longer period of time, the bang clashes with the nearby gas, resulting in a shockwave that causes particle acceleration.
  • As such, cosmic rays are generated by SNe. These charged particles with high energies get magnetically confined on the inside of SN remains.
  • The fossil evidence shows a 300,000-year shrink in biodiversity leading the way to Devonian-Carboniferous Boundary (DCB) mass extinction.
  • This puts forward the possibility of multiple catastrophes or multiple supernovae explosions.