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Daily Current Affairs

9-March -2024- Top News of the Day

1. ECI's Proposal to Remove Aadhaar Linkage Requirement Faces Government Rejection: Debate Over Voter Privacy Intensifies

Topic: GS2 – Governance – Government policies – Issues arising out of their design & implementation This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains as this discussion revolves around the Election Commission of India (ECI) and proposed amendments to electoral laws, which directly relate to the functioning of democratic institutions and governance in India.
Context:
  • The Election Commission of India (ECI) recently proposed amendments to The Representation of the People Act, 1950, and voter enrollment forms to remove the requirement for voters to provide reasons for not seeding their Aadhaar number with their voter ID.
  • However, the Union Law Ministry reportedly rejected this proposal, sparking a debate over the compulsory linkage of Aadhaar with voter IDs.
More about the news: Background: Attempted Aadhaar-Voter ID Linkage:
  • In February 2015, the ECI, under Chief Election Commissioner H.S. Brahma, announced plans to link Aadhaar with the electoral roll database to eliminate bogus or duplicate entries.
  • However, this initiative was halted after a Supreme Court ruling in August 2015 restricted the use of Aadhaar to government schemes only, deterring its linkage with voter IDs.
Subsequent Legal and Regulatory Developments:
  • Following the Supreme Court’s affirmation of Aadhaar’s constitutionality in 2018, the ECI renewed its proposal to link Aadhaar with the electoral roll, advocating for amendments to election laws.
  • Consequently, The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021 was introduced, enabling the voluntary linkage of Aadhaar with voter IDs.
  • The ECI recommenced the collection of Aadhaar numbers from July 2022, introducing Form 6B for existing electors and amending Form 6 for new registrations.
Recent Petition and ECI’s Proposal:
  • A petition filed in the Supreme Court by a Telangana Congress leader sought amendments to election laws to provide an option for individuals unwilling to link their Aadhaar with their voter ID.
  • The introduction of Form 6B, offering only two options – providing Aadhaar number or stating its absence – raised concerns of coercion among those reluctant to disclose their Aadhaar information.
ECI’s Proposal and Government’s Response:
  • In response to mounting concerns, the ECI proposed amendments to remove the requirement for a “sufficient cause” for not providing Aadhaar and to revise registration forms to accommodate individuals with Aadhaar who opt not to furnish it.
  • The suggested amendment aimed to replace the existing options with a single line stating “Aadhaar Number (Optional).”
  • However, the government reportedly declined the proposed amendment, arguing that clarifications from the ECI would suffice to address concerns over Aadhaar linkage.
Conclusion:
  • The debate over Aadhaar linkage with voter IDs underscores the tension between privacy concerns and electoral transparency.
  • While the ECI’s proposal aimed to accommodate individual preferences and address coercive practices, the government’s stance highlights the need for clarity and alternative mechanisms to ensure voter identity verification without compromising privacy rights.
  • As the discourse continues, striking a balance between electoral integrity and individual autonomy remains imperative for democratic governance.
PYQ: Consider the following statements: (2018) 1) Aadhaar card can be used as a proof of citizenship or domicile. 2) Once issued, Aadhaar number cannot be deactivated or omitted by the Issuing Authority. Which of the statements given above is/are correct? (a) 1 only (b) 2 only (c) Both 1 and 2 (d) Neither 1 nor 2 Ans: (d)
Practice Question:  Discuss the debate surrounding the proposed linkage of Aadhaar with voter IDs in India, focusing on the recent developments and their implications for democratic governance. Examine the broader implications of this debate for electoral reforms and democratic institutions in the country. (250 words/15 m)

2. Debate Rages as Scientists Reject Proposal to Declare Anthropocene Epoch

Topic: GS1 – Geography
This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains as this discussion delves into the geological time scale (GTS) and the divisions used to measure Earth’s history, providing insights into the field of geology and its relevance to understanding the planet’s past.
Context:
  • The proposal to declare the start of the Anthropocene, or the ‘human epoch,’ within the geologic time scale has sparked considerable debate among scientists.
  • Despite widespread evidence of human activity shaping the planet, a committee of 18 scientists recently voted against this proposal, leading to discussions about the criteria for defining geological epochs.
More about the news: Understanding Earth’s Timeline: Geologic Time Scale (GTS):
  • Geoscientists utilize the geologic time scale (GTS) to measure the age of the Earth, dividing it into aeons, eras, periods, epochs, and ages.
  • Each interval of Earth time is marked by significant events that shape the planet’s conditions.
  • Currently, we reside in the Holocene epoch, but proposals for a new ‘human epoch’ challenge existing classifications.
The Proposed Anthropocene Epoch:
  • The concept of the Anthropocene gained traction in 2000 when scientists proposed it as a separate geological epoch characterized by significant human impact on Earth’s systems.
  • The Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) deliberated for years to establish a starting point for this epoch, eventually settling on the period between 1950 and 1954 due to the ‘Great Acceleration’ of human activity post-World War II.
Rejection of the Proposal:
  • Despite the AWG’s efforts, the proposal to declare the Anthropocene epoch was voted down by the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy (SQS), a body of the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS).
  • The rejection was based on the standards used to define epochs, which the proposal did not meet.
Arguments Against the Anthropocene:
  • Critics of the Anthropocene proposal argue against defining a human-dominated era millennia after significant human impacts on the planet began.
  • They point out that tying the start of the Anthropocene to recent events like nuclear fallout risks overlooking deeper historical transformations caused by human activities.
Continued Debate and Future Perspectives:
  • While the SQS vote may have rejected the AWG’s limited definition of the Anthropocene epoch, evidence of human impact on the planet is undeniable.
  • The debate continues, with some scientists suggesting that the Anthropocene should be viewed as an ‘event’ rather than a distinct epoch, allowing for greater flexibility in recognizing human influence within the geological record.
Conclusion:
  • The rejection of the proposal to declare the Anthropocene epoch highlights the complexities of defining geological epochs and the need for rigorous criteria.
  • However, the undeniable evidence of human impact on Earth underscores the importance of continuing discussions about how best to incorporate this impact into geological classifications.
  • As scientific understanding evolves, so too will our interpretations of Earth’s history and future trajectories.
What is the International Union of Geological Science?
  • The International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) is a global non-governmental organization that aims to promote and advance the Earth sciences.
  • It serves as the international coordinating body for professional geological research and education.
  • The IUGS was founded in 1961 and is a member of the International Science Council (ISC).
Practice Question:  Discuss the debate surrounding the proposal to declare the start of the Anthropocene epoch within the geological time scale, considering its implications for understanding human impact on Earth’s systems. (150 words/10 m)

3. India Set to Finalize Trade Deal with EFTA, Investment Commitment of $100 Billion Expected

Topic: GS2 – International Relations – Agreements involving India or affecting India’s interests. This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains as the analysis discusses India’s trade negotiations with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries, reflecting India’s engagement with the international community.
Context:
  • India and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) comprising Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland are set to finalize a trade agreement on March 10, according to a source familiar with the matter.
  • This agreement, known as the Trade and Economic Partnership Agreement (TEPA), is one of three free trade agreements (FTAs) India aims to conclude before the implementation of the Model Code of Conduct ahead of general elections.
More about the news: Status of Other FTAs:
  • Apart from the India-EFTA deal, India is also advancing on FTAs with Oman and the UK.
  • While the Oman deal is progressing with legal scrutiny underway, the India-UK FTA, though possible before the Indian elections, is not being constrained by any specific deadline, as expressed by UK Secretary of State for Business and Trade, Kemi Badenoch.
 Ongoing Negotiations:
  • India is concurrently negotiating comprehensive agreements with Australia and the European Union (EU).
  • These negotiations, however, may extend beyond the general election period, with agriculture emerging as a contentious issue amid ongoing farmer protests.
Investment Commitment by EFTA:
  • The impending India-EFTA deal includes a noteworthy investment commitment of $100 billion over 15 years from the European bloc.
  • This commitment, primarily sourced from provident funds in EFTA countries, such as Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, aims to boost sectors like pharma, food processing, engineering, and chemicals in India.
Implications and Challenges:
  • While the investment commitment is significant, it may not be legally binding, and the trade balance favors the EFTA group due to India’s high trade deficit with Switzerland.
  • With the removal of duties under the deal, India seeks to attract investments and gain better market access for its service sector.
Potential Gains for India:
  • The India-EFTA deal is expected to facilitate joint ventures in various sectors, including pharma, chemicals, food processing, and engineering.
  • Moreover, it could lead to increased imports of machinery, pharmaceuticals, and medical instruments due to reduced Indian tariffs, which are among the highest globally.
  • India also aims to diversify its imports away from China, particularly in crucial sectors like healthcare.
What is the European Free Trade Association?
About:
  • The EFTA is the intergovernmental organisation of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland (all four are not a part of the EU).
  • It was founded by the Stockholm Convention in 1960.
  • It aims to promote free trade and economic integration to the benefit of its four Member States and their trading partners around the globe.
India and EFTA:
  • The total value of commercial trade between the EFTA members and India exceeded USD 6.1 billion in 2022.
  • The biggest exports to India were pharmaceutical items (11.4%) and machinery (17.5%), while organic chemicals (27.5%) made up the majority of EFTA imports.
PYQ: Consider the following countries: (2018) 1) Australia 2) Canada 3) China 4) India 5) Japan 6) USA Which of the above are among the ‘free-trade partners’ of ASEAN? (a) 1, 2, 4 and 5 (b) 3, 4, 5 and 6 (c) 1, 3, 4 and 5 (d) 2, 3, 4 and 6 Ans: (c)
Practice Question:  Discuss the significance and implications of India’s upcoming trade agreement with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). Evaluate the potential benefits and challenges associated with the Trade and Economic Partnership Agreement (TEPA) between India and EFTA countries (250 words/15 m)

4. Meghalaya’s Byrnihat most polluted ‘city’ in India

Topic: GS3 – Environment – Environmental pollution and degradation UPSC candidates must grasp environmental challenges, focusing on regional pollution issues like Byrnihat’s, for comprehensive understanding and effective governance preparation.
Context
  • The news highlights Byrnihat, Meghalaya, as India’s most polluted city in February, with alarming PM2.5 levels, emphasizing the worsening air quality in northeastern urban centers.
 Additional information on this news:
  • Meghalaya’s Byrnihat, on the Assam border, emerged as India’s most polluted city in February, according to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).
  • Byrnihat’s monthly average PM2.5 concentration was 183 µg/m3, surpassing Bihar’s Araria, the second-most polluted city, by around 60 µg/m3.
  • Other northeastern cities, including Nalbari, Agartala, Guwahati, and Nagaon, featured among the 30 most polluted cities in India.
  • Six out of 11 cities with air quality monitoring stations in the northeast exceeded the prescribed daily National Ambient Air Quality Standard.
  • Sivasagar, Silchar, Aizawl, and Imphal were the cleanest northeastern cities, with concentrations below the NAAQS, while Sivasagar ranked as the second cleanest city in India.
  • The data underscore the urgent need for enhanced air quality monitoring in the northeast due to rising pollution attributed to unregulated industrial activities and insufficient pollution control measures.
Issue of air pollution in India
●     Reasons:
  • ○     Vehicle Emissions: Growing number of vehicles, especially older models, release pollutants like NOx and PM2.5.
  • ○     Industrial Activity: Industries, particularly coal-fired power plants, contribute significantly to sulfur oxides and particulate matter.
  • ○     Crop Burning: Stubble burning by farmers after harvest releases large amounts of smoke and ash.
  • ○     Construction Dust: Uncontrolled dust from construction sites adds to particulate matter in the air.
  • ○     Waste Burning: Open burning of municipal and agricultural waste releases harmful toxins.
●     Way Forward:
  • ○     Stricter Emission Norms: Implement and enforce stricter emission standards for vehicles and industries.
  • ○     Public Transport Boost: Promote public transport systems and electric vehicles to reduce dependence on private vehicles.
  • ○     Sustainable Farming Practices: Encourage farmers to adopt stubble mulching or composting practices to avoid burning.
  • ○     Dust Control Measures: Implement effective dust control measures at construction sites.
  • ○     Waste Management: Promote waste segregation, composting, and recycling to reduce open burning.
  • ○     Air Quality Monitoring: Expand air quality monitoring networks and provide real-time data for public awareness.
PYQ: In the context of WHO Air Quality Guidelines, consider the following statements: (2022) 1.    The 24-hour mean of PM2.5 should not exceed 15 µg/m3 and annual mean of PM2.5 should not exceed 5 µg/m3. 2.    In a year, the highest levels of ozone pollution occur during the periods of inclement weather. 3.    PM10 can penetrate the lung barrier and enter the bloodstream. 4.    Excessive ozone in the air can trigger asthma. Which of the statements given above are correct? a) 1, 3 and 4 b) 1 and 4 only c) 2, 3 and 4 d) 1 and 2 only   Ans: (b)     
Practice Question:  Elaborate on the major causes of air pollution in India.  Analyze the challenges and suggest a multi-pronged approach for effective air pollution control strategies (150 Words /10 marks)

5. Centre tweaks PM solar ‘free electricity’ scheme

Topic: GS2 – Governance – Government policies Critical for UPSC as it addresses government initiatives in renewable energy, showcasing policy modifications in a key solar scheme.
Context
  • The Indian government amends the ₹75,000-crore rooftop solar scheme, now offering up to 60% subsidies for 1-3 kW systems.
  • Beneficiaries to cover the balance, potentially through loans, promoting solar adoption.
 Additional information on this news:
  • The Union government has modified the ₹75,000-crore PM Surya Ghar Muft Bijli Yojana (rooftop solar: free electricity scheme).
  • Initially, the plan aimed for full subsidies on 1 kW-3 kW solar systems in one crore households; now, the scheme covers up to 60% of the installation costs.
  • Beneficiaries must contribute the remaining amount, with a minimum payment of ₹20,000, potentially covered by a low-interest, collateral-free loan.
  • Eligibility includes suitable roofs, grid connections, and consumers pay for net power supplied and consumed via the grid.
  • Net-metering allows unused solar power to flow back into the grid, reducing electricity bills and offering a payback period of 3-7 years.
  • The scheme focuses on consumers taking loans for installations, with 12 public sector banks providing collateral-free loans.
PM Surya Ghar Muft Bijli Yojana
  • PM Surya Ghar Muft Bijli Yojana: Solar Power for Free Electricity
  • Launched in Feb 2024, aims to provide free electricity to 1 crore Indian households.
  • Focus: Low and middle-income families (annual income between ₹1 lakh – ₹1.5 lakh). Excludes families with govt. jobs/taxpayers.
  • Benefit: Up to 300 units of free electricity per month generated through rooftop solar panels.
  • Government Support:
    • ₹75,000 crore investment to subsidize solar panel installations.
    • Subsidy covers up to 60% of the cost (exact amount may vary by KW capacity).
  • Environmental Benefit: Promotes renewable energy and reduces dependence on traditional grids.
  • Potential Challenges:
    • Ensuring efficient program implementation and avoiding delays.
    • Long-term maintenance of solar panels for sustained electricity generation.
PYQ: India has immense potential of solar energy though there are regional variations in its development. Elaborate. (250 words/15m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-1 2020)
Practice Question:  Critically evaluate the ‘PM Surya Ghar Muft Bijli Yojana’ as a strategy to promote renewable energy and improve energy access in India.  Discuss the potential challenges and suggest measures for its successful implementation. (250 Words /15 marks)

6. Expanding settlements in Palestine a ‘war crime’: UN

Topic: GS2 – International Relations – Important International institutions, agencies and fora
Critical for UPSC as it involves international law, human rights, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, highlighting geopolitical complexities.
Context
  • The UN human rights office asserts that the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem amounts to a war crime, threatening a viable Palestinian state.
 Additional information on this news:
  • UN human rights office declares Israeli settlements in West Bank and east Jerusalem a war crime.
  • Report covers Nov 2022 to Oct 2023, noting a record 24,300 housing units advanced in West Bank settlements.
  • Settler violence and new settlement constructions intensify, posing a threat to a viable Palestinian state.
  • UN human rights chief states that settlement creation and expansion constitute a war crime under international law.
  • International consensus deems these settlements illegal, with recent plans for 3,500 new settler homes facing criticism.
  • No immediate comment from the Israeli diplomatic mission in Geneva.

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