IASbaba’s Daily Current Affairs (Prelims + Mains
Focus)- 9th January 2018
SC to revisit Section 377, IPC
Part of: Mains GS Paper II- Government interventions in various sectors
- The Supreme Court has decided to revisit its December 2013 order upholding the constitutional validity of Indian Penal Code section 377 which criminalises same-sex relations between consenting adults.
- The SC bench noted that “a section of people or individuals who exercise their choice should never remain in a state of fear” and “societal morality also changes from age to age”.
- “What is natural may not be natural to the other. But the said natural and sexual orientation and choice cannot be allowed to cross boundaries of law but confines of law cannot trample or curtail the inherent right embedded in an individual under Article 21 of Constitution,” the judges said.
- In December 2013, ruling on Suresh Kumar Koushal and another vs NAZ Foundation and Others, the SC bench upheld the validity of the British-era provision, upsetting a 2009 verdict of the Delhi High Court which held IPC section 377 in so far as it criminalises consensual sexual acts of adults in private as violative of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution.
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BharatNet Project: Progress
Part of: Mains GS Paper III-
- The government has completed the first phase of BharatNet project to provide broadband connectivity to 1 lakh gram panchayats.
- The Centre is expecting to preempt its original target of March 2019 for the second phase by concluding it ahead of schedule by December this year.
- The second phase of the project has been initiated for connecting the remaining 1.5 lakh gram panchayats.
- The objective of the government’s flagship project is to provide affordable broadband services in rural and remote areas, in partnership with states and the private sector.
- The project will generate massive employment opportunities, both direct and indirect, in the country in the coming days.
- The infrastructure is expected to catalyse digital delivery of services for the rural poor in crucial areas like health, education, livelihood, skills, e-agriculture and e-commerce.
Article link: Click here
TOPIC:General Studies 2:
- Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.
- Indian Constitution? historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure
Electoral Bonds: Issues
In line with its promise to clean up the political funding system, the Centre recently unveiled the contours of the ‘Electoral Bonds’ scheme, which seeks to ensure the flow of clean money to political parties, without revealing the donors’ names.
About electoral bonds:
- Electoral bonds will be a bearer instrument in the nature of a Promissory Note and an interest-free banking instrument.
- A citizen of India or a body incorporated in India will be eligible to purchase the bond from specified branches of the State Bank of India.
- The bonds can be purchased for any value in multiples of ₹1,000; ₹10,000; ₹1 lakh; ₹10 lakh; and ₹1 crore.
- The bonds will not carry the name of the payee and will be valid only for 15 days during which it can be used to make a donation only to certain political parties.
- To benefit from the electoral bonds scheme, the political parties must have been registered with the Election Commission and should have secured not less than 1 per cent of the votes polled in the most recent General Election to the Lok Sabha or a State legislative assembly.
- The bonds can be encashed by an eligible political party only through a designated bank account with an authorised bank.
How will the Bonds help?
The current system of cash donations from “anonymous or pseudonymous” sources is “wholly non-transparent”, and “the donor, the donee, the quantum of donations and the nature of expenditure are all undisclosed”.
The government says the system of Bonds will encourage political donations of “clean money” from individuals, companies, HUF, religious groups, charities, etc.
After purchasing the bonds, these entities can hand them to political parties of their choice, which must redeem them within the prescribed time.
Issue of black money in politics:
- As per the Association of Democratic Reforms, between 2004-05 and 2014-15, 69% of the total income of political parties was from unknown sources.
- The Santhanam Committee on Prevention of Corruption had raised the issue of black money in politics as far back as in 1964.
A number of committees and commissions have addressed the electoral finance issue since. Their recommendations have never been implemented.
Objectives of Electoral finance reform:
- Remove black money and under-the-table contributions from the system.
- Increase transparency so that citizens can see where the money is coming from and where it’s going.
- Ensuring transparency in political funding.
The 255th Law Commission Report on Electoral Reforms observed that opacity in political funding results in “lobbying and capture” of the government by big donors. The lower the transparency in political funding, the easier it is for the super-rich to buy the kind of government they want.
- Declaration norms are governed by four legislations: the Representation of the People Act (RPA), the IT Act, the Companies Act, and the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA).
- Under these laws, political parties have to declare the source and the amount donated for all contributions above ₹20,000.
- Companies have to declare in their profit and loss (P&L) statement the party-wise break-up of political donations.
Also, a company must be at least three years old to contribute to a party.
Its contribution cannot be more than 7.5% of its average net profit in the three preceding years.
- Parties cannot accept foreign contributions.
The Finance Act 2016, amended the FCRA to allow political parties to accept donations from foreign companies. This year, the Finance Act 2017 amended the RPA, the Companies Act and the IT Act.
- The voting public will not know which individual, company, or organisation has funded which party, and to what extent.
- At the same time, the fact that the SBI — and by implication, the government — will know who is getting what from whom can open up the possibility of arm twisting or harassment of those seen to be supporting parties or ideologies that are opposed to the government.
- Corporates and businesspersons, while availing tax benefits, were wary of political donations because they can’t remain anonymous. This concern will no more be there with electoral bonds. So, the scheme can be seen as enabling donors to donate more.
- Electoral bonds share with tax havens the two characteristics that make the latter such attractive destinations for black money: secrecy and anonymity.
- The amendment done for electoral bonds eliminates the 7.5% cap on company donations (which means even loss-making companies can make unlimited donations).
- The requirement for a company to have been in existence for three years is also gone (paving the way for fly-by-night shell companies).
- Companies no longer need to declare the names of the parties to which they have donated (so shareholders won’t know where their money has gone).
- As for political parties, they no longer need to reveal the donor’s name for contributions above ₹20,000, provided these are in the form of electoral bonds.
- In 2013, the Central Information Commission had declared the six national parties to be within the ambit of the Right to Information Act.
The parties have been united in disregarding this.
Party accounts are audited by those appointed by the parties themselves, and regulations stipulating deadlines for submitting donation statements and income-tax returns to the Election Commission are disregarded frequently.
- State funding of elections– State funding has a proven record in a number of countries that have made the transition over the decades from corporate donations.
In countries where it has worked—Germany, Japan, Canada, Sweden, to name a few—it has been accompanied by strict, well-enforced regulatory frameworks regarding auditing and disclosure of party income and expenditure.
In the absence of such frameworks, state funding in India is a non-starter, as the Law Commission Report (1999) and Venkatachaliah Committee Report (2002) have pointed out.
It would provide an additional source of party funding but without denting black money revenue streams.
National Electoral Fund- An alternative:
All donors will be able to contribute to this fund.
The funds would be allocated to political parties in proportion to the votes they get.
Not only would this protect the identity of donors, it would also weed out black money from political funding.
The government has done well to take up the issue of electoral finance. To clean up the system seriously, it must focus on increasing the accountability of political parties.
Connecting the dots:
- What are electoral bonds? What is the objective behind introducing it? How far will it help in ensuring that the objective is achieved? Discuss.
TOPIC: General Studies 2:
- Indian Constitution- historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure.
- Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions.
- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Hindi as an official language of the UN: Issues
Steps have been taken by the Union government to make Hindi an official language at the United Nations.
If the government were to succeed, Hindi would become the seventh official language of the UN after Arabic, English, Russian, French, Spanish and Chinese.
- For Hindi to be accepted as an official language of the UN, it will involve the adoption of a resolution by the General Assembly with a two-thirds majority. At first sight, it appears the government is on a weak legal basis to embark on this complex pursuit to move a resolution to change the official languages of the UN and persuade at least 129 countries to vote in favour of such a resolution.
- It is worrying that the minister says the government is ready to foot a bill of Rs 400 crore every year when there is no indication that the finance ministry has accorded the provisional sanction of funds or made any budgetary allocation in this regard over the past two years.
Hindi over other languages:
The core issue is whether and why Hindi should be promoted over other languages spoken in India. Article 343 of the Constitution of India deems English and Hindi to be official languages of the Union.
There are more than 600 million (close to 60 per cent) non-Hindi speakers in the country, according to the 2001 Census data.
There are 22 languages recognised as official languages by the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.
There have been repeated requests by non-Hindi speakers to give these languages constitutional status equal to that of English and Hindi.
It is ironic that the government is expending significant diplomatic capital trying to place Hindi along with the six official languages of the UN when they have consistently denied equal official language status to the languages in the Eighth Schedule.
- The government last year accepted the recommendation made by the Committee of Parliament on Official Language that “all dignitaries including Hon’ble President and all the ministers especially who can read and speak Hindi may be requested to give their speech/statement in Hindi only”. Public sector banks, the Railways and other Central government-run services are all tacitly being Hindi-ised.
- Parliament too is not really a multi-lingual institution.
Article 120(1) of the Constitution states the speaker “may permit any member who can not adequately express himself in Hindi or in English to address the House in his mother tongue”. Moreover, the Rajya Sabha Handbook indicates that Parliament provides simultaneous interpretation services for Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Malayalam, Marathi, Punjabi, Oriya, Tamil and Urdu only. When a member speaks in any of these nine languages, the speeches are translated into Hindi and English only. Therefore, a Malayalam-speaker will not have his speech translated to Bengali but only to Hindi and English.
Compare this with the European Union Parliament in Strasbourg where 23 languages are simultaneously translated into one another.
Without making the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha multilingual and inclusive, any efforts to make Hindi an official language of the UN will renew the fears of non-Hindi speakers.
Connecting the dots:
- The government in aiming to make Hindi an official language at the United Nations. Discuss the issues pertaining to the same.
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