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Daily Current Affairs

16-February-2024- Top News of the Day

1. Supreme Court Strikes Down Amendments Facilitating Corporate Donations Through Electoral Bonds

Topic: GS2 – Governance – Important aspects of governance: Transparency and accountability GS2 – Polity – Judiciary This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains in the context of knowing facts about amendments made to key laws, such as the Representation of the People Act, 1951, Income-tax Act, 1961, and Companies Act, 2013, highlighting their significance in the context of Indian democracy and governance.
Context:
  • Before the introduction of the Electoral Bonds Scheme in January 2018, the government had amended key laws through the Finance Act, 2017.
  • These amendments, aimed at facilitating corporate donations to political parties, included changes to the Representation of the People Act, 1951 (RP Act), the Income-tax Act, 1961, and the Companies Act, 2013.
  • However, the recent judgment by the Supreme Court has nullified these amendments, restoring the legal status quo ante Finance Act, 2017, in all these statutes.
More about the news: Representation of the People Act, 1951:
  • The RP Act, 1951, required political parties to disclose donations received above Rs 20,000, specifying whether they were from individuals or companies.
  • The Finance Act, 2017, introduced an exception to this requirement for donations received through Electoral Bonds.
  • However, the Supreme Court struck down this amendment, emphasizing the importance of balancing voters’ right to information with donors’ right to privacy, especially for donations likely to influence political decisions.
Companies Act, 2013:
  • Changes to Section 182 of the Companies Act, 2013, were also made by the Finance Act, 2017.
  • Previously, this section limited the amount a company could donate to political parties and required disclosure of such contributions, including details of the recipient party.
  • The amendment removed the donation cap and eliminated the need to specify the recipient party or the amount donated.
  • The Supreme Court deemed this amendment as granting undue influence to companies in the electoral process and reinstated the original provision aimed at curbing corruption in electoral financing.
Income-tax Act, 1961:
  • The Finance Act, 2017, amended Section 13A(b) of the Income-tax Act, 1961, exempting political parties from maintaining records of donations received through Electoral Bonds.
  • Additionally, a new Section 13A(d) was added, mandating certain methods for donations exceeding Rs 2,000, including Electoral Bonds.
  • However, the Supreme Court held that exempting political parties from recording Electoral Bond donations violated voters’ right to information.
  • Consequently, the court struck down both the amendment to Section 13A(b) and the new Section 13A(d).
Conclusion:
  • The Supreme Court’s judgment has restored transparency and accountability in political party funding by nullifying amendments that facilitated corporate donations through Electoral Bonds.
  • This reaffirms the importance of maintaining a balance between transparency in electoral financing and protecting donors’ privacy rights.
Practice Question:  Discuss the implications of the recent Supreme Court judgment nullifying amendments made to key electoral financing laws, including the Representation of the People Act, 1951, Income-tax Act, 1961, and Companies Act, 2013. Analyze the significance of the court’s decision in restoring transparency and accountability in political party funding, and assess its broader implications for Indian democracy. (250 words/15 m)

2. Supreme Court Strikes Down Electoral Bonds Scheme, Upholds Proportionality Test for Fundamental Rights

Topic: GS2 – Governance – Important aspects of governance: Transparency and accountability GS2 – Polity – Judiciary This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains in the context of knowing facts about application of constitutional principles, such as the right to free speech, right to privacy, and the proportionality test, in the context of state actions.
Context:
  • The recent decision by a five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) DY Chandrachud, to unanimously strike down the Electoral Bonds Scheme underscores the importance of the proportionality test in assessing the validity of state actions encroaching upon individual rights.
  • Essentially, this judicial review involved examining whether the state’s interference with fundamental rights, such as the right to free speech, is proportional to achieving its objectives, including curbing black money and protecting donor privacy.
More about the news: Understanding the Proportionality Test:
  • A key aspect of this review process is the proportionality test, which determines whether a state action constitutes a reasonable restriction on fundamental rights, as outlined in Article 19(1) of the Constitution.
  • This test, established through judicial precedent, ensures that state actions are necessary, proportionate, and aligned with democratic principles.
Application of the Proportionality Test:
  • In previous rulings, such as the 2018 Aadhaar Act case and the 2017 Puttaswamy judgment recognizing the right to privacy, the Supreme Court emphasized the importance of the proportionality test in resolving disputes involving conflicting rights or legitimate government interests.
  • Notably, the test requires state actions to be sanctioned by law, necessary for a legitimate aim, proportionate to the need for interference, and subject to procedural safeguards against abuse.
Government’s Argument and Court’s Analysis:
  • In the case of the Electoral Bonds Scheme, the government argued that both curbing black money and protecting donor anonymity are legitimate state interests.
  • However, the Supreme Court, through its application of the proportionality test, determined that donor anonymity cannot justify the scheme’s infringement on voters’ right to know about political party funding.
  • Notably, Justice Khanna emphasized that voters’ right to information supersedes donor anonymity in political funding.
Double Proportionality Test:
  • CJI Chandrachud introduced the concept of the “double proportionality” test, recognizing the need to balance competing fundamental rights, such as the right to information and the right to privacy.
  • Under this framework, the court evaluates whether the state has adopted the least restrictive methods to realize both rights and assesses the disproportionate impact on either right.
  • The CJI highlighted the availability of less intrusive methods, such as the electoral trusts scheme, to achieve the objectives of curbing black money and protecting donor anonymity.
Conclusion:
  • The Supreme Court’s decision underscores the importance of applying rigorous judicial scrutiny, including the proportionality test, in evaluating the constitutionality of state actions affecting fundamental rights, particularly in the context of electoral transparency and accountability.
Why are Electoral Bonds Unconstitutional?
The court has held that the scheme is unconstitutional because:
  • It violates the right to information: The scheme hides the source of funding of political parties from the public, which is a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a). The scheme also enables black money, foreign funding, and corporate influence in politics, which harm the public interest and the sovereignty of the nation.
  • It violates the principle of equality: The scheme discriminates between different political parties based on their vote share, giving an unfair advantage to the ruling party and the major opposition parties, while excluding the smaller and regional parties. The scheme also creates a disparity between the donors and the voters, as the former can sway the policies and decisions of the political parties, while the latter are kept in the dark.
  • It violates the constitutional scheme of electoral reforms: The scheme goes against the constitutional aim of curbing corruption and criminalization of politics. The scheme is also contrary to the recommendations of various committees and commissions that have called for more transparency and disclosure in political funding. The scheme is also in conflict with the Representation of Peoples Act, 1951, that requires the political parties to disclose their contributions and expenditure.
Practice Question:  Discuss the significance of the proportionality test in evaluating the constitutionality of state actions, with reference to the recent Supreme Court judgment nullifying the Electoral Bonds Scheme. (250 words/15 m)

3. India Resumes Venezuelan Oil Imports, Emerges as Top Buyer After Three-Year Hiatus

Topic: GS3 – Indian Economy – Issues relating to mobilization of resources. GS2- International relations- Bilateral Relations This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains in the context of knowing facts about the import of Venezuelan crude oil by India which has significant economic implications, considering India’s heavy reliance on oil imports to meet its energy needs.
Context:
  • After a hiatus of over three years, India has emerged as the top buyer of Venezuelan crude oil in December and January, as indicated by shipping fixtures and ship tracking data.
  • This marks a significant shift since Indian refiners halted oil imports from Venezuela in 2020 following US sanctions on Caracas.
More about the news: Easing of Restrictions:
  • With the United States temporarily easing restrictions on Venezuela’s oil sector in October, Indian refiners, primarily Reliance Industries (RIL), have reentered the market for Venezuelan oil, which is likely available at a discounted price.
Increased Imports:
  • In December, crude oil dispatches from Venezuela to India averaged almost 191,600 barrels per day (bpd), increasing to over 254,000 bpd in January.
  • These figures represent over 45% of Venezuela’s oil exports for the respective months.
Historical Import Relationship:
  • Prior to the imposition of US sanctions in 2019, India, particularly private sector refiners like RIL and Nayara Energy (NEL), was a regular buyer of Venezuelan crude oil.
  • Venezuela was one of India’s top five oil suppliers in 2019, providing nearly 16 million tonnes of crude to Indian refiners.
Economic Considerations:
  • Petroleum Minister Hardeep Singh Puri has expressed India’s willingness to buy Venezuelan oil if the economic conditions are favorable.
  • As the world’s third-largest consumer of crude oil, India heavily depends on imports to meet over 85% of its requirements.
Impact on Global Market:
  • The increase in Venezuelan oil exports to India has come at the expense of Chinese refiners.
  • Venezuelan oil exports to China significantly declined following the easing of US sanctions, with Indian refiners now emerging as key buyers.
Destination Ports and Volumes:
  • Venezuelan oil dispatches to Indian refiners, particularly RIL, IOC, and HPCL-Mittal Energy, have increased, with December and January loading data showing substantial volumes.
  • The destination ports for the remaining volumes are yet to be confirmed, but indications suggest a significant portion may be headed for RIL’s refineries.
Market Dynamics and Future Outlook:
  • Market analysts suggest that India’s interest in Venezuelan oil remains strong, especially with the uncertainty surrounding US sanctions waivers.
  • The possibility of Indian refiners waiting for potential waivers extension from the Biden administration before further purchases remains a topic of discussion.
Conclusion:
  • The resumption of Venezuelan oil imports by India underscores the complex interplay of geopolitical factors, economic considerations, and market dynamics in the global oil trade.
  • As India navigates its energy requirements, its decisions have implications not only for its own economy but also for the broader dynamics of global oil markets.
What can be Done to Reduce India’s Oil Import Dependence?
  • Encouraging Domestic Production: India will remain an oil economy for many years to come, and while we strive for a 10% GDP growth, our country’s need for oil will only increase.
  • Expanding India’s exploration and production holdings abroad is the only way the country can lessen its reliance on imports. China has acted in this manner.
    • The massive public oil company Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) is also developing new and marginal fields in addition to redeveloping mature sites to boost production.
  • Alternative Green Sources: Growing its portfolio and emphasising green energy is another option for India. The economy is picking up steam, which is driving rising demand for power. Since the CoP26 pledges have been made, there is an unprecedented demand for renewable energy, necessitating a significant increase in capacity.
  • The wind industry grew as a result of government programmes, private investments, and regulatory backing.
    • However, solar power outperformed wind power due to favourable policies and a worldwide supply of solar cells and modules.
PYQ: The question of India’s Energy Security constitutes the most important part of India’s economic progress. Analyze India’s energy policy cooperation with West Asian Countries. (250 words/15m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-2 2017)
Practice Question:  Discuss the significance of India’s decision to resume Venezuelan oil imports and its emergence as the top buyer after a three-year hiatus. Analyze the economic, geopolitical, and environmental implications of this development. (250 words/15 m)

4. Cost of Kaleshwaram project may exceed ₹1.47 lakh cr.: CAG

Topic: GS3 – Indian Economy – Infrastructure UPSC Significance: Kaleshwaram project audit reveals fiscal mismanagement, emphasizing the need for transparent and accurate infrastructure planning.
Context
  • Comptroller and Auditor General: Kaleshwaram project cost in Telangana may surpass ₹1.47 lakh crore, due to understated estimates and modifications.
 Additional information on this news:
  • The Comptroller and Auditor General of India revealed concerns about the Kaleshwaram lift irrigation project in Telangana.
  • Project cost likely to surpass ₹1.47 lakh crore, exceeding the initially stated amount.
  • Understated cost attributed to outdated price levels in the Detailed Project Report and omission of provisions for price escalation.
  • Subsequent modifications in project works further contributed to cost escalation.
  • The report, presented in the State Assembly, highlights the need for accurate estimates and transparent reporting to avoid such discrepancies in major infrastructure projects.
Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Project
  • Location: Telangana, India
  • Objective: Harness Godavari River water for irrigation and drinking water needs.
○     Components:

○     Medigadda Barrage: Diverts water from Godavari River.

○     Kaleshwaram Pump House: Lifts water to higher elevations.

○     Package-wise Canals: Distribute water to specific regions.

○     Water Treatment Plants: Ensure water quality for drinking.

  • Scale: One of the world’s largest lift irrigation projects.
  • Irrigation Coverage: Aims to irrigate around 18 lakh acres of land.
  • Significance: Addresses water scarcity, promotes agricultural development in the region.
  • Social Impact: Expected to benefit farmers and communities in drought-prone areas of Telangana.
PYQ: In what way can flood be converted into a sustainable source of irrigation and all-weather inland navigation in India? (250 words/15m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-1 2017)

5. Special officer to mitigate human-wildlife conflict

Topic: GS3 – Environment and Ecology – Conservation UPSC candidates need to grasp wildlife conservation challenges, governance strategies, and conflict resolution for comprehensive preparation.
Context
  • A meeting chaired by Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan in Wayanad addresses the surging human-wildlife conflict, appointing a Chief Conservator of Forest and implementing measures for public safety and compensation.
 Additional information on this news:
  • A meeting in Wayanad chaired by Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan addresses the increasing human-wildlife conflict in the district.
  • Decision to appoint a special officer (Chief Conservator of Forest) to address the issue.
  • Review of decisions from an online meeting involving forest officials from Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu.
  • Emphasis on regular meetings and strengthening the command control center for Revenue, Forest, and Police Departments.
  • Establishment of a war room with officials from the three departments and a coordination committee with civic body members’ support.
  • Strengthening of rapid response teams and utilization of modern communication systems like community radio, wireless, and WhatsApp for public alerts.
Man- Animal Conflict
Reasons:
  • Habitat loss & fragmentation: Expanding human settlements, agriculture, and infrastructure shrink and isolate animal habitats, forcing them into contact with humans.
  • Resource competition: Humans and animals compete for limited resources like water, food, and space, leading to conflicts when competition intensifies.
  • Human encroachment: Encroachment on animal corridors and protected areas increases interactions and disrupts animal behavior.
  • Climate change: Altered weather patterns and resource availability due to climate change can displace animals and push them into human-dominated areas.
  • Poaching and illegal wildlife trade: This disrupts animal populations and creates power imbalances, leading to increased aggression and conflict.
Implications:
  • Loss of life and livelihood: Both humans and animals suffer injuries, fatalities, and economic losses due to direct conflict.
  • Property damage: Crops, livestock, and homes can be destroyed, causing economic hardship for communities.
  • Disease transmission: Increased contact fosters the spread of diseases between humans and animals, posing health risks to both.
  • Biodiversity loss: Conflict can harm populations of vulnerable species, accelerating biodiversity decline and ecosystem disruption.
  • Social and economic tension: Man-animal conflict can create fear, anger, and distrust between communities, impacting social cohesion and development.
Way Forward:
  • Habitat conservation: Protecting and restoring animal habitats, creating corridors, and promoting sustainable land use are crucial.
  • Conflict mitigation strategies: Implementing fences, deterrents like beehives and chili fences, and early warning systems can minimize interactions and protect resources.
  • Community education and awareness: Raising awareness about animal behavior, the causes of conflict, and coexistence strategies empowers communities to manage risks.
  • Sustainable resource management: Practices like water conservation and responsible waste management reduce competition and minimize resource pressures.
  • Cooperation between stakeholders: Collaboration between governments, communities, conservationists, and private sector is essential for long-term solutions.
  • Research and monitoring: Understanding the drivers and dynamics of conflict through research helps develop targeted interventions and adapt strategies.
Practice Question:  Examine the root causes of human-wildlife conflict in India, its environmental, social, and economic consequences, and suggest a multi-pronged approach for sustainable mitigation.(150 words/10 m)

6. Indian martial arts training for Army post Galwan clash

Topic: GS1 – Indian Art And Culture Understanding traditional Indian martial arts aids in comprehending cultural heritage and military strategies for UPSC aspirants.
Context
  • Post-Galwan clash with China, Indian Army introduces martial arts like Gatka, Khukri dance, and Kalaripayattu into routine training to enhance troops’ physical and mental preparedness for challenging terrains.
 Additional information on this news:
  • Indian Army incorporates martial arts into routine training post Galwan clash with China.
  • Examples include Gatka in Punjab regiment, Khukri dance in Gorkha Regiment, and Kalaripayattu in Madras regiment.
  • A unit in eastern Arunachal Pradesh demonstrates martial arts training to cope with challenging terrains during patrolling.
  • Major Kartikey Jaiswal emphasizes training’s role in facing challenges like fast-flowing rivers and changing weather conditions.
Traditional Martial Arts In India
  • Kalaripayattu: Originating in Kerala, Kalaripayattu is one of the oldest martial arts in the world. It incorporates strikes, kicks, grappling, and weaponry, emphasizing physical fitness and flexibility.
  • Gatka: A traditional martial art of the Sikh community, Gatka focuses on armed and unarmed combat. It prominently features the use of the stick (lathi) and the sword, promoting agility and swift movements.
  • Silambam: Hailing from Tamil Nadu, Silambam revolves around the use of a long bamboo staff. Practitioners engage in intricate stick-fighting techniques, promoting concentration, coordination, and reflexes.
  • Thang-Ta: Originating from Manipur, Thang-Ta combines armed and unarmed combat with the use of swords and spears. It is deeply rooted in the cultural and religious practices of the region.
  • Kuttu Varisai: Predominant in the Tamil martial arts tradition, Kuttu Varisai emphasizes hand-to-hand combat techniques, joint locks, and strikes. It also incorporates animal-inspired movements.
  • 1Mardani Khel: This martial art form is practiced in Maharashtra and involves armed and unarmed combat, focusing on the use of traditional weapons such as the spear and the Bhala (a type of trident).
  • Lathi Khela: Popular in Bengal, Lathi Khela involves the use of a bamboo stick (lathi) for self-defense and combat. It is often performed as a traditional martial dance during festivals.
Practice Question:  Examine the significance of incorporating traditional Indian martial arts, such as Kalaripayattu and Gatka, into the routine training of military regiments, considering their historical, cultural, and practical aspects. (150 words/10 m)

7. The diversity blindspot in health policy

Topic: GS2 – Social Justice – Health
UPSC aspirants must grasp gender and diversity issues in health governance for a holistic understanding of social dynamics and policies.
Context
  • The article highlights gender and diversity gaps in India’s health committees, revealing an over-concentration of men, doctors, and bureaucrats, impacting policymaking and healthcare outcomes.
  • Introduction:
    • Women constitute nearly half of India’s health workers.
    • Despite this, only 18% reach leadership positions, creating a significant gender disparity.
  • Analysis of National Health Committees:
    • New analysis (1943-2020) reveals an “over-concentration” of men, doctors, Delhi-NCR individuals, and bureaucrats at the top.
    • Privileged actors’ over-representation suggests a “centralization” of health policy.
  • Impact of Lack of Diversity:
    • Skewed health systems result from concentration of power based on gender, geography, and socio-economic markers.
    • Decision-makers lack understanding of the diverse lives of 70% affected by policies.
  • Gender Disparities:
    • Only 11% women in 23 health committees, with 36% having no women members.
    • Gender diversity improves marginally post-2000 but remains low.
  • Women in Healthcare Workforce:
    • Women in lower-paid positions face limited career opportunities.
    • Medicine’s demanding nature seen as untenable for primary caretakers, contributing to the gender pay gap.
  • Global Context:
    • Globally, women occupy only 25% of senior positions and 5% of leadership roles in healthcare despite being 70% of the workforce.
  • Recommendations:
    • Affirmative policies, including reserved seats for women and marginalized groups on health committees, suggested.
    • Emphasizes the importance of a “bottom-up approach” for inclusive health policies.
  • Leadership Competency Gap:
    • National Health Policy promotes diversity but faces a competency gap, with Delhi-NCR concentration and dominance of doctors noted.
  • Balance of Power and Conflicts:
    • Bureaucracy holds significant power; concerns about conflicts of interest and dissenting views.
  • Redefining Policy-Making:
    • Calls for a shift from clinical medicine-centric views to incorporate preventive care and people’s perspectives.
    • Advocates for inclusive policymaking involving the 80 crore people affected by government schemes.
  • Conclusion:
    • In conclusion, the article underscores the critical need for inclusive policymaking in India’s health sector, exposing gender and diversity disparities.
    • Addressing these gaps is imperative for fostering equitable healthcare outcomes and a representative decision-making process.
PYQ: In order to enhance the prospects of social development, sound and adequate health care policies are needed particularly in the fields of geriatric and maternal health care. Discuss. (150 words/10m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-2 2020)
Practice Question:  How do gender and diversity gaps in India’s health committees impact policymaking and healthcare outcomes? Discuss with relevant examples.  (250 words/15 m)

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