Current Affairs 16th March

Bill to define Delhi L-G’s powers moved in LS #GS2 #Governance

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) moved a Bill in the Lok Sabha in which it proposed that the “government” in the National Capital Territory of Delhi means the Lieutenant-Governor of Delhi. The Bill gives discretionary powers to the L-G even in matters where the Legislative Assembly of Delhi is empowered to make laws.

The proposed legislation also seeks to ensure that the L-G is “necessarily granted an opportunity” to give her/his opinion before any decision taken by the Council of Ministers (or the Delhi Cabinet) is implemented.

Delhi is a Union Territory with a legislature and it came into being in 1991 under Article 239AA of the Constitution inserted by the Constitution (Sixty-ninth Amendment) Act, 1991. As per the existing Act, the Legislative Assembly of Delhi has the power to make laws in all matters except public order, police and land.

Administrative matters

The Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi government has on many occasions challenged the BJP-ruled Central government regarding administrative matters in the Capital.

The Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021, was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Monday by Union Minister of State for Home G. Kishan Reddy. The Bill proposes to amend Sections 21, 24, 33 and 44 of the 1991 Act.

The MHA’s statement on “objects and reasons” of the Bill stated that Section 44 of the 1991 Act deals with conduct of business and there is no structural mechanism for effective time-bound implementation of the said section. “Further, there is no clarity as to what proposal or matters are required to be submitted to Lieutenant Governor before issuing order thereon.

Section 44 of the 1991 Act says that all executive actions of the L-G, whether taken on the advice of his Ministers or otherwise, shall be expressed to be taken in the name of the L-G.

Benefit of the News– Article 239AA; National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021

‘Bee fences’ to ward off elephant attacks #GS3 #Environment

Pitting the largest animal on land against a minute insect. That is how the authorities intend to mitigate human-elephant conflict that seems to continue unabated in Kodagu and other parts of the south Karnataka region.

A pilot project launched in Kodagu entails installing bee boxes along the periphery of the forest and the villages with the belief that the elephants will not venture anywhere close to the bees and thus avoid transgressing into human landscape. This idea stems from the elephants’ proven fear of the bees.

An initiative of the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC), Project RE-HAB (Reducing Elephant-Human Attacks using Bees) intends to create “bee fences” to thwart elephant attacks in human habitations using honeybees.

These spots are located on the periphery of the Nagarahole National Park and Tiger Reserve, known conflict zone. The total cost of the project is Rs. 15 lakh and Project RE-HAB is a sub-mission of the KVIC’s National Honey Mission.

The KVIC has set up 15 to 20 interspersed bee boxes at each of the four locations. The bee boxes are set up in the passage ways of human-elephant conflict zones to block the entrance of elephants to human habitations. The boxes are connected with a string so that when elephants attempt to pass through, a tug causes the bees to swarm the elephant herds and dissuade them from progressing further.

Night vision cameras

Bee boxes have been placed on the ground as well as hung from the trees. High resolution, night vision cameras have been installed at strategic points to record the impact of bees on elephants and their behaviour.

The biggest advantage of Project RE-HAB is that it dissuades elephants without causing any harm to them. It is extremely cost-effective as compared to various other measures such as digging trenches or erecting fences.

Between 2015 and 2020, nearly 2,500 people have lost their lives in elephant attacks across India, of which 170 human fatalities have been reported in Karnataka alone. The KVIC has roped in the College of Forestry under the University of Agriculture and Horticultural Sciences, Ponnampet, for impact assessment of the project.

Benefit of the News– National Honey Mission; Project RE-HAB

SC bats for Great Indian Bustard #GS3 #Environment

The Supreme Court swooped-in to intervene on behalf of the critically endangered Great Indian Bustards over the birds falling dead after colliding with power lines running through their dwindling natural habitats in Gujarat and Rajasthan.

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde will examine on a priority basis whether overhead power cables can be replaced with underground ones to save one of the heaviest flying birds on the planet.

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, appearing for the Power Ministry, however submitted that only low voltage lines can go underground but not the high voltage ones. The court found further that an alternative mechanism — to install flight bird divertors — to guide the birds away from the power lines would be expensive.

The court discovered that the divertors, with their recurring costs, would end costing more than installing and maintaining underground lines. But the court suggested treading the middle path. “Wherever there is high voltage power lines, they can use flight bird divertors even if the recurring costs are high. Wherever there are overhead low voltage lines, these lines can be placed underground.

Senior advocate A.M. Singhvi, appearing for some power companies, objected to the court passing any sort of blanket ban which would affect over 50 lakh jobs. Mr. Singhvi said the greater threat to the birds was from their diminishing habitat, flattened for agriculture.

Benefit of the News– Great Indian Bustard conservation

Centre to expand air bubble pact with more countries #GS2 #IR

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar told the Rajya Sabha that the government wanted to expand the “air bubble” arrangement with more countries and the priority would be Saudi Arabia, Kuwait in the west and Japan, China and Singapore in the east.

“These are the countries where bubbles have not worked so well,” Mr. Jaishankar told the Rajya Sabha.

Under the air bubble scheme, commercial airlines from specific countries are allowed to travel to and from India on a limited basis — an arrangement that was solely reserved for the Air India under the Vande Bharat mission — as full scale international commercial air operations are yet to resume after COVID-19 restrictions were implemented last year.

The Minister made these remarks while informing both Houses of Parliament about the Narendra Modi government’s efforts in repatriating Indians, Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) and Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) during the corona pandemic.

Calling it as the world’s biggest repatriation exercise that saw over 4.5 million people return home under the Vande Bharat Mission, Mr. Jaishankar said the focus had now shifted to Indians going back to their usual places of work, study and domicile and restoring employment opportunities abroad with the help of partner countries. He said, so far, air transport bubble arrangements had been concluded with 27 countries.

The Minister said India was fully aware of the employment concerns of people working abroad and expects Gulf countries to facilitate the early return of those people who were compelled to return home due to the pandemic.

“From our recent interactions, we have reason to expect that partner governments in the Gulf would be helpful in facilitating the early return of many who were compelled to go back because of the pandemic.

Benefit of the News– Vande Bharat Mission; Air bubble” arrangement

‘India’s arms imports down by 33% #GS3 #Defence

Arms imports decreased by 33% between 2011–15 and 2016–20 while India continues to remain the second largest arms importer after Saudi Arabia, according to a report from Swedish think tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

“The overall drop in arms imports between 2011–15 and 2016–20 seems to be mainly due to its complex and lengthy procurement processes, combined with its attempts to reduce its dependence on Russian arms by diversifying its network of arms suppliers.

Russia largest supplier

The report said Russia was the largest arms supplier in both years. “However, Russia’s deliveries dropped by 53% between the two periods and its share of Indian arms imports fell from 70 to 49%.”

The U.S. was the second largest arms supplier to India in 2011–15 but in 2016–20 India’s arms imports from the U.S. were 46% lower than in the previous five-year period, making the U.S. the fourth largest supplier in 2016–20.

France and Israel were the second and third largest arms suppliers in 2016–20. “India’s arms imports from France increased by 709% while those from Israel rose by 82%,” the report said adding that combat aircraft and associated missiles made up more than 50% of arms imports.

The report said as India perceives increasing threats from Pakistan and China and as its ambitious plans to produce its own major arms have been significantly delayed, it is planning large-scale programmes for arms imports. “Based on its outstanding deliveries of combat aircraft, air defence systems, ships and submarines, India’s arms imports are expected to increase over the coming five years,” it said.

Pak. imports

Arms imports by Pakistan between 2011–15 and 2016–20 decreased by 23%. China accounted for 61% of its imports in 2011–15 and for 74% in 2016–20.

Like India, Pakistan too has several large outstanding orders for arms, according to the report. They are scheduled for delivery by 2028 and include 50 combat aircraft, eight submarines and four frigates from China and four frigates from Turkey, the report said.

Benefit of the News– India import in Defence

Call for fresh polls if NOTA tops count #GS2 #Governance

The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Centre and the Election Commission of India to respond to a plea that fresh elections should be conducted in constituencies where the highest number of votes polled are NOTA (None Of The Above). The petition said candidates ‘rejected’ by voters should not be fielded again in the fresh polls.

Right to reject

During the hearing, Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde expressed doubts initially about the feasibility of the petition by advocate Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay to arm the electorate with the “right to reject” and nudge political parties to present voters with a better choice of candidates to pick from.

Chief Justice Bobde said if voters kept rejecting candidates, Parliament/Assembly seats would continue to remain vacant, affecting legislative functioning.

“It is a constitutional problem. If your argument is accepted and there is a certain number of NOTAs, then the constituency will go unrepresented in the Parliament… How will the Parliament function then?” Chief Justice Bobde asked senior advocate Menaka Guruswamy, who represented Mr. Upadhyay.

But Ms. Guruswamy replied that “if voters are given the power to reject, political parties will take care to field worthy candidates in the first place…” The petition noted how parties spent crores of rupees on the candidates.

The CJI also flagged during the hearing the issue whether a political party could influence voters to not vote in a particular constituency.

However, Ms. Guruswamy prevailed, which led the court to agree to examine the issue raised in the petition. “Political parties choose contesting candidates in a very undemocratic manner without consulting electors. That is why many times people are totally discontented with candidates presented before them. This problem can be solved by holding a fresh election if maximum votes are polled in favour of NOTA,” the petition said.

Benefit of the News– NOTA

Stocks slip as COVID-19 cases rise, inflation worries flare #GS3 #Economy

Indian shares ended lower, as COVID-19 cases surged again and government data showed that retail inflation rose to a three-month high in February.

The NSE Nifty 50 index closed 0.67% lower at 14,929.50, while the benchmark S&P BSE Sensex ended down 0.78% at 50,395.08. Both indices fell as much as 1.9% and 1.96%, respectively, earlier in the session.

India is grappling with a renewed surge in COVID-19 cases, led mainly by a jump in infections in Maharashtra. The country reported this year’s biggest daily rise in cases of 26,291 on Monday. India is the third-worst affected country with 11.39 million cases, behind the United States and Brazil.

Government data after-market hours on Friday showed retail inflation quickened to 5.03% in February on higher fuel prices, which could challenge the central bank’s accommodative stance. Core inflation was estimated in a range of 5.61%-5.9% by four economists.

In domestic trading, financial stocks were the biggest drag. The Nifty Bank Index and the Nifty Financial Services Index shed 0.88% and 1.24%, respectively. HDFC Bank was the top drag on the Nifty 50, falling 1.5%.

Information technology stocks provided some support to the main indices later in the session, helping them recoup some losses. The Nifty IT index gained 0.56%, with Tech Mahindra rising 2.3% and providing the biggest boost to the Nifty 50.

Benefit of the News– Stock slips down

WPI inflation surges to 27-month high of 4.17% in Feb #GS3 #Economy

Inflation based on Wholesale Price Index (WPI) has doubled in February to 4.17 per cent, data released by the Commerce & Industry Ministry revealed. WPI-based inflation was 2.03 per cent in January.

The Statistics Ministry has already reported that retail inflation based on Consumer Price Index (CPI) touched three-month high of 5.03 per cent in February. With crude prices going up, inflationary expectation is also to go up.

Though, the RBI Governor-led Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) take note of retail inflation trend in the review of policy interest rate, the surge in WPI will also be considered when the Committee meets next month to review policy interest rate. Experts feel the committee will again vote for pause in the policy rate.

As in retail inflation, commodities and food prices caused surge in the wholesale inflation. While food inflation was in negative zone in January, it jumped to 3.31 per cent in February.

According to Aditi Nayar, Principal Economist with ICRA, the doubling in the WPI inflation to a 27-month high in February was fairly broad-based, reflecting the rise in commodity prices brought on by the global risk-on sentiment, hardening of crude oil and fuel prices, as well as a fading of the favourable base effect for food items.

While the core inflation (excluding volatile items such as food and fuel from overall inflation) rose further to a series high 5.5 per cent in February, the pace of month-on-month increase tempered, benefiting from the sequential dip recorded by basic metals.

Nevertheless, the core inflation is expected to continue to chart an uptrend until May 2021. Steep month-on-month uptick in items such as fibres and oilseeds does not bode well for the CPI inflation.

“We maintain our view that inflation dynamics will rule out any further rate cuts, with a status quo expected through 2021. Looking ahead, we expect large upticks in the WPI inflation over the next three months, as the wedge between the commodity prices and their year-ago level intensifies,” Nayar said.

She expects the headline and core WPI inflation to rise to around 6 per cent each in March 2021. Subsequently, the headline WPI inflation is expected to harden further to between 9-9.5 per cent, and the core-WPI inflation to climb to 7-7.5 per cent by May 2021, before displaying a more gradual moderation to 4 per cent each by the end of 2021.

Supreme Court template for State Election Commissioners #GS2 #Governance

Last week, the Supreme Court said State Election Commissioners (SECs) across the country should be independent, and not persons holding office with the central government or a state government. The observation came in a case relating to the municipal elections in Goa; 

The Supreme Court directed the Goa government to redo the exercise of delimitation and reservation of municipal wards for women and SC/ST candidates in five municipal councils that were set to go to polls next week and appoint an independent SEC, which the government is now in the process of doing.

What is the case about?

The Goa government had moved Supreme Court against a ruling of the High Court of Bombay at Goa which had quashed an order of the Goa government determining the reservation of seats in wards of five of the 11 municipal councils set to go to polls on March 20. The High Court ruling had come on a clutch of petitions filed by Goan residents, including candidates backed by the Congress and the Goa Forward Party (GFP), urging the court to set aside a February 4 order of the Director of Municipal Administration in which, the petitioners alleged, wards were arbitrarily reserved and constitutional provisions mandating 33% seats for women and rotation of seats reserved for SC/ST candidates were not followed.

The High Court directed the Director, Municipal Administration to carry out the reservation of the wards afresh “rectifying gross illegalities”.

The Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the HC that was of the opinion that the course adopted by the state government violates the constitutional mandate of law in reserving one-third seats for women in all local body polls. It directed the state government to carry out the exercise of reservation of wards afresh and issue a fresh election schedule.

The state government had mainly contended that the courts cannot interfere in the election schedule since they were imminent.

What did the Supreme Court rule on the State Election Commissioner?

Noting that the SEC in Goa was the state Law Secretary, the Supreme Court described it as the “most disturbing feature of the case”. “The SEC has to be a person who is independent of the State Government as he is an important constitutional functionary who is to oversee the entire election process in the state qua panchayats and municipalities. They directed the Goa government to appoint an independent person as SEC at the earliest.

The court noted that the Law Secretary, an IAS officer, was appointed SEC by the Goa Governor on November 3, 2020, handing him an additional duty. Two days later, administrators were appointed to municipal councils that had completed term, and in January, the SEC postponed elections to these councils until April.

On February 4 , the Director of Municipal Administration reserved the wards, leading to the court petitions. Even while these were pending in court, the SEC announced the election schedule to 11 municipal councils on February 22.

What is the immediate fallout of the ruling?

The ruling has come as a shot in the arm for the Opposition parties that went to court. Chief Minister Pramod Sawant made a statement that mistakes made by the Directorate of the Municipal Administration will be rectified.

Elections had been announced for the Corporation of the City of Panaji (CCP) and 11 municipal councils. The ruling found reservation of wards in five councils faulty; hence, polls in these councils polls will not take place as scheduled on March 21. Elections to the other local bodies will be held on March 20.

Once delimitation and ward reservation for the five councils is done afresh, the new election dates will have to be before April 30, as directed by the SC.

Once delimitation and ward reservation for the five councils is done afresh, the new election dates will have to be before April 30, as directed by the Supreme Court.

Centre versus state in Delhi #GS2 #Governance

The Centre on Monday introduced the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill, 2021 in Lok Sabha, reviving the dispute on the distribution of powers between the elected government and the Lieutenant Governor (L-G).

The issue, which was at the heart of the ruling AAP’s frequent run-ins with the BJP-led Centre during much of its first term, was taken up by a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, which tilted the scales in favour of the elected government through its July 4, 2018 verdict.

Taking to Twitter, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the Bill, which “seeks to drastically curtail powers of the elected government”, is “against” the Supreme Court judgment.

What does the Bill say?

In the “statement of objects and reasons” section, the Centre claims that the amendment Bill seeks to give effect to the Supreme Court’s interpretation and that it “further defines” the responsibilities of the elected government and the Lt Governor in line with the Constitutional scheme. Among the major proposed amendments, one makes it explicitly clear that the term “government” in any law made by the Legislative Assembly shall mean the L-G.

This, essentially, gives effect to former L-G Najeeb Jung’s 2015 assertion that “Government means the Lieutenant Governor of the NCT of Delhi appointed by the President under Article 239 and designated as such under Article 239 AA of the Constitution”. The Bill adds that the L-G’s opinion shall be obtained before the government takes any executive action based on decisions taken by the Cabinet or any individual minister.

What purpose does the 1991 Act serve?

Delhi’s current status as a Union Territory with a Legislative Assembly is an outcome of the 69th Amendment Act through which Articles 239AA and 239BB were introduced in the Constitution. The GNCTD Act was passed simultaneously to supplement the constitutional provisions relating to the Assembly and the Council of Ministers in the national capital. For all practical purposes, the GNCTD Act outlines the powers of the Assembly, the discretionary powers enjoyed by the L-G, and the duties of the Chief Minister with respect to the need to furnish information to the L-G.

What did the Constitution Bench say?

In its 2018 verdict, the five-judge Bench had held that the L-G’s concurrence is not required on issues other than police, public order and land. It had added that decisions of the Council of Ministers will, however, have to be communicated to the L-G. “

It has to be clearly stated that requiring prior concurrence of the Lieutenant Governor would absolutely negate the ideals of representative governance and democracy conceived for the NCT of Delhi by Article 239AA of the Constitution,” the court had ruled. The L-G was bound by the aid and advice if the council of ministers, it had said.

The Bench of then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justices A K Sikri, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and Ashok Bhushan, in three separate yet concurring orders, had said: “The status of the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi is not that of a Governor of a State, rather he remains an Administrator, in a limited sense, working with the designation of Lieutenant Governor”. It had also pointed out that the elected government must keep in mind that Delhi is not a state.

What will change if the amendments are cleared by Parliament?

Encouraged by the Supreme Court verdict, the elected government had stopped sending files on executive matters to the L-G before the implementation of any decision. It has been keeping the L-G abreast of all administrative developments, but not necessarily before implementing or executing any decision. But the amendment, if cleared, will force the elected government to take the L-G’s advice before taking any action on any cabinet decision.

The Bill seeks to add a provision in the original GNCTD Act, 1991, barring the Assembly or its committees from making rules to take up matters concerning day-to-day administration, or to conduct inquiries in relation to administrative decisions. This assumes significance as the 70-member Assembly, where the AAP has as many as 62 MLAs, has multiple committees examining matters ranging from riots to environment.

Does the L-G enjoy no discretionary power under the current arrangement?

The L-G does have the power to refer any matter, over which there is a disagreement with the elected government, to the President under Article 239AA(4). The Delhi Law Secretary had in 2019 written in an internal memo that the elected government cannot use the Supreme Court verdict to keep the L-G in the dark about its decisions as that would prevent him from taking informed decisions on whether to invoke Article 239AA(4) or not. But the SC had also categorically pointed out that the L-G “should not act in a mechanical manner without due application of mind so as to refer every decision of the Council of Ministers to the President”.

What are the state government’s fears?

For 2015 to 2018, the AAP government was engaged in a constant battle with the Centre over policy decisions and the powers of the L-G vis-à-vis the elected government. The Supreme Court judgment gave it a freer hand in terms of policy decisions.

Government insiders have maintained that it was because of the judgment that the government was able to clear policy decisions like giving free power to those using under 200 units, free bus riders for women and doorstep delivery of ration.

The amendments will have far-reaching implications — beyond just the AAP-vs-BJP tussle. By making it mandatory for the elected government to route all its files through the L-G, the amendments will essentially take away the government’s autonomy and the dream for full statehood for the state, which each political party — BJP, Congress and AAP have promised the electorate at various times. In 1993, BJP’s then Chief Minister Madan Lal Khurana too had raised the issue with how few powers the elected government in Delhi had.