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Daily Current Affairs

21-February-2024- Top News of the Day

1. Maharashtra clears 10% quota for all Marathas.

Topic: GS2 – Social Justice The Maratha quota approval in Maharashtra holds significance for UPSC as it reflects social and political dynamics and governance challenges.
Context
  • Maharashtra Chief Minister Shinde approved a 10% quota for the Maratha community in education and jobs, facing criticism from activists and opposition, who call it a pre-election move.
 Additional information on this news:
  • Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and his Cabinet approved a Bill for a 10% quota for the Maratha community in education and government jobs ahead of the Lok Sabha election.
  • The legislation was passed unanimously during a special session, fulfilling government’s promise within three months.
  • Activist Manoj Jarange-Patil called it a “betrayal,” seeking a Maratha quota carved from existing OBC reservation for better chances in Supreme Court scrutiny.
  • The Bill, similar to a 2018 Act, does not disturb the existing OBC quota, pushing total reservations in Maharashtra to 62%, exceeding the 50% Supreme Court limit.
  • Opposition parties denounced it as “pre-election eyewash”, with Congress accusing the government of deceiving the Maratha community.
Demands for Higher Caste Reservations
Recent Demands:
  • Maratha reservation: In 2021, the Supreme Court struck down Maharashtra’s law granting reservation to Marathas, citing violation of the 50% reservation cap.
  • Similar demands: Other communities like Jats and Gujjars have also voiced demands for inclusion in reservation categories.
Positives:
  • Addressing economic disadvantage: Proponents argue that certain sections within higher castes face economic hardship and limited opportunities, warranting affirmative action.
  • Promoting social inclusion: Reservations could potentially increase representation of these communities in government jobs and educational institutions.
Negatives:
  • Dilution of original intent: Expanding reservations beyond historically disadvantaged groups might weaken the policy’s focus on addressing historical injustices.
  • Reduced opportunities for existing beneficiaries: Increased competition due to wider reservations could harm groups already benefiting from quotas.
  • Violation of merit: Critics argue that reservation based on caste might compromise meritocracy in selection processes.
Way Forward:
  • Focus on socio-economic criteria: Implement targeted programs based on individual needs, irrespective of caste, to address economic disadvantage more effectively.
  • Review creamy layer concept: Re-evaluate the exclusion of affluent individuals within any caste from reservation benefits to ensure equitable distribution.
  • Comprehensive data collection: Gather detailed socio-economic data on various communities to inform evidence-based policy decisions.
  • Open and inclusive dialogue: Encourage constructive discussions involving all stakeholders to find solutions that promote equality and address genuine disadvantage.
Finding a balanced approach that considers both the need for affirmative action and the principles of equality and merit remains a key challenge.
Practice Question:  Critically examine the recent demands for reservation by certain sections of higher castes in India. Discuss the potential positives and negatives of such a policy, and suggest a way forward that addresses genuine disadvantage while upholding equality and merit. (150 words/10 m)

2. BJP pushes for simultaneous polls, with common voter list

Topic: GS2 – Indian Polity – Federal structure UPSC aspirants should focus on ‘one nation, one election’ as it reflects on governance, federalism, and electoral reforms – And understand advantages and challenges associated.
Context
  • The BJP advocates simultaneous elections for Lok Sabha, State Assemblies, and local bodies with a common voter list, citing governance disruptions and economic stagnation during frequent Model Code of Conduct imposition.
 Additional information on this news:
  • BJP supports simultaneous elections for Lok Sabha, State Assemblies, and local bodies, proposing a common voter list for all three.
  • High-level committee, led by former President Ram Nath Kovind, is examining the feasibility of the “one nation, one election” concept.
  • BJP suggests amending laws for simultaneous polls, emphasizing the need to avoid frequent Model Code of Conduct imposition.
  • BJP argues that current election cycles disrupt governance, citing instances of populist short-term decisions and economic stagnation during code imposition.
  • Opposition parties, including Congress and Trinamool Congress, strongly oppose the idea, considering it an assault on the federal structure.
Simultaneous Elections of Lok Sabha and State Assembly
Advantages:
  • Reduced costs: Saves public money on conducting multiple elections, benefiting political parties, candidates, and the public.
  • Improved governance: Minimizes disruptions caused by frequent elections, allowing governments to focus on policy implementation and development.
  • Increased voter turnout: Potential for higher voter participation due to a single polling day and reduced voter fatigue.
  • Streamlined administration: Reduces strain on administrative machinery and security forces deployed for election duties.
Challenges:
  • Constitutional amendments: Requires significant changes to the Constitution, making implementation complex and time-consuming.
  • Logistical hurdles: Managing simultaneous elections across diverse geographical areas poses logistical challenges.
  • Impact on regional issues: National issues might overshadow local concerns in combined elections, potentially neglecting regional priorities.
  • Threat to federalism: Critics argue it could weaken federal structure by giving national parties undue advantage over regional parties.
Way Forward:
  • Open and inclusive discussion: Encourage national discourse involving all stakeholders (political parties, civil society, experts) to address concerns and build consensus.
  • Gradual implementation: Consider a phased approach, starting with simultaneous elections in a few states before nationwide implementation.
  • Addressing logistical challenges: Develop robust infrastructure and mechanisms to ensure smooth conduct of large-scale simultaneous elections.
  • Ensuring fair representation: Explore measures to safeguard regional issues and ensure adequate representation for diverse voices in a combined election framework.
Whether simultaneous elections offer a viable solution requires careful consideration of both potential benefits and challenges, followed by a well-defined implementation strategy.
PYQ: ‘Simultaneous election to the Lok Sabha and the State Assemblies will limit the amount of time and money spent in electioneering but it will reduce the government’s accountability to the people’ Discuss. (150 words/10m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-2 2017)
Practice Question:  Analyze the potential advantages and challenges of holding simultaneous elections for Lok Sabha and State Assemblies in India. Suggest a way forward that addresses these concerns and ensures effective implementation. (150 words/10 m)

3. ‘India to seek $26 bn private investment in nuclear power sector’

Topic: GS3 – Indian Economy – Infrastructure – Energy

Significant for UPSC as it reflects India’s strategy to leverage private investment for nuclear energy, impacting energy security and sustainability.
Context
  • India plans to attract $26 billion in private investments for its nuclear energy sector, engaging firms like Reliance, Tata, Adani, and Vedanta.
  • This move aims to increase non-carbon electricity generation, targeting 50% non-fossil fuel capacity by 2030.

Additional information on this news:

  • India plans to invite private companies to invest $26 billion in its nuclear energy sector to boost non-carbon-emitting electricity generation.
  • This marks the first time New Delhi is seeking private investment in nuclear power, aiming to achieve 50% non-fossil fuel capacity by 2030.
  • Talks with five private firms, including Reliance Industries, Tata Power, Adani Power, and Vedanta Ltd., are underway for investments of around ₹440 billion ($5.3 billion) each.
  • The government aims to add 11,000 MW of new nuclear power generation capacity by 2040.
  • The state-run Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL) currently operates the country’s nuclear power plants.
  • Private companies will invest in nuclear plants, acquire land, water, and handle construction, but NPCIL retains rights for building, running, and fuel management.
  • Private firms are expected to earn revenue from electricity sales, while NPCIL will operate the projects for a fee.
Need for Nuclear Energy in India

Need for More Production:

  • Growing energy demand: Rapid economic growth necessitates increased electricity generation to meet rising demand.
  • Climate change mitigation: Nuclear power offers a low-carbon source of baseload electricity, crucial for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Energy security: Diversifying energy sources and reducing dependence on fossil fuels enhances energy security.

Challenges:

  • Public perception: Concerns about safety and nuclear waste disposal pose challenges to public acceptance.
  • Regulatory hurdles: Streamlining regulatory processes and obtaining timely approvals are crucial for faster project execution.
  • Technological advancements: Investing in research and development of advanced reactor technologies like thorium-based systems is essential.
  • Fuel security: Dependence on imported uranium necessitates exploring domestic fuel sources and enrichment capabilities.

Way Forward:

  • Promoting public awareness: Addressing concerns through transparent communication and educational initiatives to foster public trust.
  • Expediting regulatory processes: Simplifying procedures and establishing clear timelines for clearances to ensure timely project completion.
  • Investing in R&D: Supporting research on advanced reactor designs, fuel cycle technologies, and waste management solutions.
  • Exploring domestic fuel options: Developing indigenous uranium mining and enrichment capabilities to reduce dependence on imports.
PYQ: With growing energy needs should India keep on expanding its nuclear energy programme? Discuss the facts and fears associated with nuclear energy.
(250 words/15m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-3 2018)

4. Supreme Court Invalidates Chandigarh Mayoral Election Result Due to Electoral Malpractice

Topic: GS2 – Polity – Judiciary
This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains in the context of knowing facts about the role of the judiciary in upholding electoral integrity and ensuring accountability.
Context:
  • The Supreme Court, comprising Chief Justice of India (CJI) D Y Chandrachud and Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, invalidated the result of the January 30 mayoral election in Chandigarh due to deliberate invalidation of eight ballots in favor of AAP-Congress candidate Kuldeep Kumar ‘Tita’ by presiding officer Anil Masih.
  • While setting aside the result, the court declared Kuldeep Kumar as the validly elected candidate, utilizing its power under Article 142 of the Constitution to ensure electoral democracy’s sanctity and uphold democratic principles.
More about the news: Basis of Supreme Court’s Decision:
  • The court found that the invalidation of eight ballots cast in favor of Kuldeep Kumar was unjustified, effectively altering the election outcome.
  • It emphasized the importance of safeguarding democratic principles and ensuring the integrity of the electoral process, citing Masih’s wrongful treatment of valid votes as invalid and the need to rectify the situation.
Political Significance of the Election:
  • The mayoral election held political significance as it witnessed an alliance between AAP and Congress against BJP for the first time, potentially influencing future alliances for the Lok Sabha elections.
  • The outcome was crucial amid ongoing discussions between the parties for seat-sharing agreements, particularly in Delhi and Punjab.
Pre-Election Circumstances and Voting Day Incidents:
  • Originally scheduled for January 18, the election was postponed to January 30 after presiding officer Masih fell ill.
  • AAP and Congress councillors challenged the postponement in court, leading to the eventual election.
  • On voting day, Masih rejected eight AAP-Congress votes as invalid, resulting in BJP’s candidate, Manoj Sonkar, being declared the winner.
Legal Proceedings and Supreme Court’s Reaction:
  • After videos surfaced showing Masih tampering with ballot papers, Kuldeep Kumar approached the High Court and subsequently the Supreme Court.
  • The court condemned Masih’s actions, summoning him and highlighting the severity of his misconduct.
  • Masih’s attempt to justify his actions was dismissed by the court, which directed a show cause notice to be served on him.
Potential Ramifications and Political Maneuvering:
  • If a fresh election had been ordered, AAP-Congress’s tally would have reduced, with BJP potentially gaining a majority.
  • The lack of anti-defection laws in municipal elections underscores the potential for political maneuvering and shifting allegiances.
Conclusion:
  • The Supreme Court’s intervention in quashing the election result underscores its commitment to upholding the integrity of electoral processes.
  • By rectifying injustices and ensuring fair elections, the court reaffirms the fundamental principles of democracy and accountability in governance.
Practice Question:  Discuss the significance of the Supreme Court’s intervention in quashing the result of the mayoral election in Chandigarh, highlighting the broader implications for electoral integrity and democratic principles in India. (250 words/15 m)

5. Supreme Court Upholds Comprehensive Forest Definition, Temporarily Halts 2023 Amendments

Topic: GS2 – Governance
This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains in the context of understanding the intricacies of legislation related to environmental conservation, such as the Forest (Conservation) Act.
Context:
  • The Supreme Court has issued a directive for governments to adhere to the comprehensive definition of forest established in its 1996 judgment in the T N Godavarman case until a consolidated record of all forest types across the country is prepared.
  • This directive comes in response to petitions challenging the 2023 amendments to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 (FCA), which were argued to have diluted the definition of forests and narrowed the scope of the Act.
More about the news: Reasons behind the 2023 Amendments:
  • The Forest (Conservation) Amendment Bill, 2023, aimed to address perceived ambiguities arising from the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the FCA in the T N Godavarman case.
  • The government expressed concerns that the widened applicability of the FCA following the 1996 judgment hindered development activities by imposing restrictions on land use in areas resembling forests.
Supreme Court’s Definition of Forest:
  • In reaffirming its stance, the Supreme Court reiterated that the FCA should apply to all land parcels designated as forests in government records or those resembling the dictionary definition of forests.
  • This interpretation aligns with the Court’s previous ruling and Parliament’s intent behind enacting the FCA in 1980.
Impact of the 1996 Judgment and Subsequent Amendments:
  • Despite the government’s rationale for the 2023 amendments, legal analyses suggest that the FCA’s scope was already broadened by the 1996 judgment.
  • Subsequent amendments sought to clarify rather than alter the law significantly.
  • However, concerns remained about potential exclusions of certain forest areas from the FCA’s purview, prompting legal challenges from retired Indian Forest Service officers and NGOs.
Challenges to the Amendments and Court’s Response:
  • The petitioners contested the 2023 amendments, arguing that pending the finalization of a consolidated record of forests, parcels previously considered forests under the 1996 judgment could now be exploited for non-forest purposes without FCA clearance.
  • The Supreme Court, in response, directed adherence to its 1996 definition until the consolidated forest record is completed.
Future Steps and Legal Proceedings:
  • States and Union Territories have been given until March 31 to submit comprehensive records of forests, with the Ministry mandated to publish this data by April 15.
  • The Supreme Court will hear the matter for final disposal in July, emphasizing the importance of reconciling development needs with environmental conservation.
Practice Question:  Discuss the significance of the Supreme Court’s directive on forest definition and the subsequent amendments to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, in the context of environmental conservation, legal interpretation, and sustainable development in India. (250 words/15 m)

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