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IASbaba’s Daily Current Affairs – 27th March, 2017

  • March 27, 2017
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IASbaba's Daily Current Affairs Analysis, IASbaba's Daily Current Affairs Mar 2017, IASbaba's Daily News Analysis, UPSC
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IASbaba’s Daily Current Affairs – 27th March 2017

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ELECTORAL FUNDING

TOPIC: General Studies 2

  • Parliament and State Legislatures ? structure, functioning, conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.
  • Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act

Lack of transparency in electoral funding

Introduction

Elections are the heart of a democracy. They are fundamental to have continued trust of people with the popular assent being reflected in a free and fair manner. Electoral funding is a crucial issue and has been debated since origins of democratic elections. Recent changes in political funding regulations are a setback to efforts to bring in transparency

Issue:

Well before financial year 2017-18 begins, the Lok Sabha has signed off on the Budget with the passage of the Finance Bill of 2017.

  • It includes multiple amendments proposed by the government that did not figure in Arun Jaitley’s speech of February 1, either in letter or in spirit.
    • For instance, while the speech devoted 420 words to proposed measures to improve transparency in electoral funding, amendments have been made to the Companies Act of 2013 that actually turn the clock back on existing disclosure standards.
    • Till now, companies could only contribute up to 7.5% of their average net profits in the past three financial years to political parties.
    • They were required to disclose in their profit and loss accounts the amount of contributions and the names of political parties to which they were made.
    • The ceiling has now been dropped, paving the way for a firm to deploy unlimited capital into political coffers irrespective of its own financial and operational health.
  • Companies would still have to reveal the extent of their financing of parties, but no longer have to name their preferred parties.
    • For the sake of argument, one could say the 7.5% limit was arbitrary and restricted willing and able corporate donors’ ability to influence political activity.
    • But doing away with the limit makes firms susceptible to funding ‘requests’ from local, regional or national political formations while taking away excuses — such as it being a loss-making unit, or breaching the funding cap.

Impact on Democratic fundamentals:

This would open up new opportunities in crony capitalism.

  • Pressure could be exerted on a company awaiting government clearances, or a loan restructuring from public or cooperative sector financiers.
  • Even a publicly listed company can set up subsidiaries just to fund parties.
    • This removes any pretence of transparency in the process as the donor will not have to disclose who he paid; the recipient has no such obligation either.
  • It is not surprising that India Inc. has remained stoically silent so far.
    • This abandonment of the 7.5% requisite comes in tandem with the proposal to float electoral bonds to give anonymity to political donors.
    • The scheme for such ‘bearer’ bonds is still being worked out with the central bank, but how this will meet the objective of transparency isn’t clear yet.
  • The push for cashless modes for political contributions sounds worthy, but reducing the ?20,000 limit on cash donations to ?2,000 does nothing to guarantee that monetary muscle power will dissipate from electoral processes.
  • Instead of, say, a lakh of such donors, a party can now share 10 lakh random names to justify cash holdings.

Transparency is not synonymous with anonymous transactions, unlimited corporate donations, relaxed disclosure norms and the persistence of cash. The Budget’s promise of “reform to bring about greater transparency and accountability in political funding, while preventing future generation of black money”, truly rings hollow.

Conclusion:

Transparency is not synonymous with anonymous transactions, unlimited corporate donations, relaxed disclosure norms and the persistence of cash. The Budget’s promise of “reform to bring about greater transparency and accountability in political funding, while preventing future generation of black money”, truly rings hollow.

Connecting the dots:

  • The need for transparency in electoral funding for a level playing field in elections is a fundamental requirement. How are the measures initiated in the recent budget influencing the same?

 

ENVIRONMENT 

TOPIC: General Studies 3

  • Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment

Rivers as a Living being

In news: The Uttarakhand high court has recognized the Ganga and the Yamuna as living entities. This gives the rivers, that have seen years of damage at the hands of humans, a legal voice.

The rationale: India seems to be following precedents in other countries where a flowing river has been granted a legal status (New Zealand for river Whanganuith). It is an extension of the philosophy of allowing a river to flow freely—as was intended in its nature.

Any interference with the river as a whole, including construction of dams, takes away from its essential and basic character. Such a move by court would involve a re-look into construction activities across the river such as sand mining and construction of dams.

Rivers as living entities

  • The HC order may be seen as a precedent and come across as strange but it is not any different from the status of being a legal entity as in the case of temple deities, religious books, corporations, family trusts or a company.
  • Still, it is the first time a court has recognized a non-human as a living entity in India.
  • The court also directed the central government to constitute the Ganga Management Board within eight weeks to look into the issue of cleaning and maintaining the river.
  • The bench also held that if the state government failed to fulfil its responsibility regarding the rivers, then the central government should step in.
  • Recognizing the rivers as a living entity grants them new found legal identity and all rights laid out in the Constitution of India.
  • The two rivers thus have the right to be legally protected and not be harmed/destroyed. They can also be parties to disputes. As per experts, the rights can be used to protect the interests of the rivers.
  • Additionally, all their tributaries, streams, every natural water body flowing continuously or intermittently off these rivers will enjoy this status.

Ganga

  • Ganga, often called India’s lifeline, has significant economic, environmental and cultural value attached to it.
  • Originating in the Himalayas and flowing into the Bay of Bengal in the east, it travels for more than 2,500km through the plains of northern and eastern India
  • The river flows through Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal
  • Over 1500 million litres of raw sewage is discharged into the Ganga every day. This joins 500 million litres of industrial waste dumped by more than 700 highly polluting industries located along it.

Background

  • There were two issues before the High Court:
    • removal of illegal constructions on the banks of a canal in Dehradun
    • the division of water resources between Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
  • In December 2016, the High Court directed the removal of the constructions, constitution of the Ganga Management Board (a statutory body under the U.P. Reorganisation Act 2000), and prohibited mining of the Ganga riverbed and its highest flood plain area.
  • On the issue of resource division, the court directed the Central government to notify the settlement reached by the two States in a time-bound manner.
  • Three months later, the encroachments were still there, the settlement between the States was yet to take place, and the board had not been constituted.
  • The court issues directions for time-bound action and took three logical leaps:
    1. For what was a clear breach of statutory duties under the U.P. Reorganisation Act and also inability of the State to remove encroachments, the case became concerned about the protection of the health and well-being of the two rivers.
    2. The court recorded how the rivers provide ‘physical and spiritual sustenance’ to half the Indian population. Thus, the constitution of a board was necessary for various purposes including irrigation, water supply, and power generation.
    3. The court decided to exercise the parens patriae jurisdiction to declare the rivers and all their tributaries, etc. as living persons. Parens patriae, literally ‘parent of the country’, is an inherent power of the sovereign, and not the courts, to provide protection to persons unable to take care of themselves.
  • The Director, Namami Gange, the Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand and the Advocate General of Uttarakhand have been appointed as the persons in loco parentis — persons who will act ‘in the place of parents’ for the two rivers. They are ‘bound to uphold the status’ of the rivers and also to promote their health and well-being.

They are no ‘living beings’

  • rivers aren’t actually persons, not in literal sense. It is a reminiscent of “legal fiction” involved in corporate personhood that’s meant to uphold the rights of groups and to smooth business processes.
  • If one river is a person, then all rivers are also living entities. It means that all shall be given rights of a person protected and guaranteed under constitution. How to identify roles, rights and duties of a river?
  • True legal persons deserve specific sets of freedoms and protections. The needs of rivers and trees are objectively different from the needs of actual people. Issues of bodily autonomy, or the right to vote, are completely irrelevant to a body of water.
  • Animals are yet to be identified as living beings under law. Giving such a status to comparatively different body seems to be unfair and illogical.

Will it be a game changer?

  • The law gives the legal persons such as companies, associations, deities etc. rights and duties like right to sue and be sued. This order implies that the rivers can also sue persons acting against their interests.
  • However, the reasons for the same are difficult to be categorised logically-
    • If the rivers lose the right to be a holder for tons of sewage?
    • If they can demand minimum ecological flows?
    • If it will be a right not to be dammed, dredged, or diverted? If yes, who will sue whom? Can the Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand now sue a Municipal Corporation in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar for the discharge of effluents downstream?
    • Do other riparian State governments now have less of a role in the protection of the rivers as they are not the identified ‘custodians’?
    • What will be rivers’ duties?

The judgement keeps the existing statutory and constitutional rights and duties of citizens and government agencies to counter the pollution and degradation of these rivers. Only it has identified three officers who will be the first-line defenders for the rivers. Now it remains to be a ‘wait and watch’ situation as to how the state governments and central government perform follow up actions.

Another way is to develop standards that are specific to the resources being protected. innovative, effective, enforceable, and specific to the object legislation are more effective and comprehensible than to merge them with the idea of being a person.

Connecting the dots:

  • Critically analyse if river can be accorded the status of a living entity?

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