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Current Affairs 04 March 2023

CONTENTS

  1. SC Verdict on ECI Appointments
  2. World Wildlife Day 2023
  3. Select Central staff can opt for Old Pension Scheme
  4. NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer

SC Verdict on ECI Appointments


Context:

Recently, A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a high-power committee consisting of the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India must pick the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and Election Commissioners (ECs).

Relevance:

GS II- Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. How are the CEC and ECs currently appointed?
  2. About Election Commission of India
  3. Structure of the Election Commission
  4. Issues with ECI
  5. Some Powers

How are the CEC and ECs currently appointed?

  • There are just five Articles (324-329) in Part XV (Elections) of the Constitution. Article 324 of the Constitution vests the “superintendence, direction and control of elections” in an Election Commission consisting “of the Chief Election Commissioner and such number of other Election Commissioners, if any, as the President may from time to time fix”.
  • The Constitution does not lay down a specific legislative process for the appointment of the CEC and ECs. The President makes the appointment on the advice of the Union Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister.

About Election Commission of India

  • The Election Commission of India is an autonomous constitutional authority responsible for administering Union and State election processes in India.
  • The body administers elections to the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, and State Legislative Assemblies in India, and the offices of the President and Vice President in the country.
  • It is the Commission that decides the election schedules for the conduct of elections, whether general elections or by-elections.
  • ECI decides on the location of polling stations, assignment of voters to the polling stations, location of counting centers, arrangements to be made in and around polling stations and counting centres and all allied matters.
  • In the performance of its functions, the Election Commission is insulated from executive interference.
  • Part XV of the Indian constitution deals with elections, and establishes a commission for these matters.
  • The Election Commission was established in accordance with the Constitution on 25th January 1950, hence it is a constitutional body. Article 324 to 329 of the constitution deals with powers, function, tenure, eligibility, etc., of the commission and the member.

Litigations against EC

  • The decisions of the Commission can be challenged in the High Court and the Supreme Court of India by appropriate petitions.
  • By long-standing convention and several judicial pronouncements, once the actual process of elections has started, the judiciary does not intervene in the actual conduct of the polls.

Structure of the Election Commission

  • Originally the commission had only one election commissioner but after the Election Commissioner Amendment Act 1989, it has been made a multi-member body.
  • The commission consists of one Chief Election Commissioner and two Election Commissioners.
  • The secretariat of the commission is located in New Delhi.
  • At the state level election commission is helped by Chief Electoral Officer who is an IAS rank Officer.
  • The President appoints Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners.
  • They have a fixed tenure of six years, or up to the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier.
  • They enjoy the same status and receive salary and perks as available to Judges of the Supreme Court of India.
  • The Chief Election Commissioner can be removed from office only through a process of removal similar to that of a Supreme Court judge for by Parliament.

Issues with ECI

  • Flaws in the composition: The Constitution doesn’t prescribe qualifications for members of the EC. They are not debarred from future appointments after retiring or resigning.
  • No security of tenure: Election commissioners aren’t constitutionally protected with security of tenure.
  • Partisan role: The EC has come under the scanner like never before, with increasing incidents of breach of the Model Code of Conduct in the 2019 general elections.
  • Political favor: The opposition alleged that the ECI was favoring the ruling party by giving clean chit to the model code of conduct violations made by the PM.
  • Non-competence: Increased violence and electoral malpractices under influence of money have resulted in political criminalization, which ECI is unable to arrest.

Some Powers:

  • The Election Commission of India is considered the guardian of free and reasonable elections.
  • It issues the Model Code of Conduct in every election for political parties and candidates so that the decorum of democracy is maintained.
  • It regulates political parties and registers them for being eligible to contest elections.
  • It publishes the allowed limits of campaign expenditure per candidate to all the political parties, and also monitors the same.
  • The political parties must submit their annual reports to the ECI for getting tax benefit on contributions.
  • It guarantees that all the political parties regularly submit their audited financial reports.
Other powers handled by the Election Commission of India are as follows:
  • The Commission can repress the results of opinion polls if it deems such an action fit for the cause of democracy.
  • The Commission can recommend for disqualification of members after the elections if it thinks they have violated certain guidelines.
  • In case, a candidate is found guilty of dishonest practices during the elections, the Supreme Court and High Courts consult the Commission.
  • The Commission can postpone candidates who fail to submit their election expense accounts timely.

-Source: The Hindu


World Wildlife Day 2023


Context:

March 3 is known as World Wildlife Day (WWD), marked annually to draw attention to issues of conservation of flora and fauna.

Relevance:

GS II- Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About World Wildlife Day
  2. What is the CITES?

About World Wildlife Day

  • The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on December 20, 2013, at its 68th session, proclaimed March 3, as World Wildlife Day.
  • This day is significant, as on this occasion, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was signed on 3 March 1973.
  • World Wildlife Day has become one of the most important global annual events dedicated to wildlife.
  • Theme 2023 – ‘Partnerships for Wildlife Conservation’. It will allow us to celebrate all conservation efforts, from intergovernmental to local scale.”
Significance of World wildlife day
  • A symbiotic relationship exists between the forest, forest-dwelling wildlife species, ecosystem services and people, especially the indigenous people.
  • The indigenous forest dwellers, people at present, manage around 28%  of the forest land.
  • Biodiversity loss is an existential threat to human beings on the planet. 
  • The continued loss of wildlife species threatens to undermine entire ecosystems and puts into peril the well-being of all who rely on them. 
  • Yet, this is not inevitable: we have the power to change course and restore threatened species and their habitats. 
  • It can inspire collective action towards conservation, reversing the fate of key species of animals and plants.
  •  It can help chart a path towards a sustainable future, to live in harmony with nature. 
  • It acknowledges the need for collective political will and global leadership to adopt a robust post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and secure the common future.

What is the CITES?

  • CITES is an international agreement between governments.
  • Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species.
  • Its website states it was agreed upon with the recognition that “The trade in wild animals and plants crosses borders between countries, the effort to regulate it requires international cooperation to safeguard certain species from over-exploitation.”
  • It accords varying degrees of protection to more than 37,000 species of animals and plants, ranging from live animals and plants to wildlife products derived from them, including food products, exotic leather goods, medicines, etc.
  • Currently, there are 184 parties to the convention, including India. The CITES Secretariat is administered by UNEP (The United Nations Environment Programme) and is located in Geneva, Switzerland.
  • The Conference of the Parties to CITES is the supreme consensus-based decision-making body of the Convention and comprises all its parties.
  • In India, apart from the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau is a statutory body under the Ministry that is especially meant to combat organised wildlife crime in the country.
  • It assists and advises the customs authorities in the inspection of the consignments of flora and fauna as per the provisions of the Wild Life Protection Act of 1972, CITES and the export and import policy governing items.
How does CITES work?
  • The species covered under CITES are listed in three Appendices, according to the degree of protection they need.
  • Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction. Trade in specimens of these species is permitted rarely, only in “exceptional circumstances”, such as gorillas, and lions from India.
  • Appendix II includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled to ensure their survival. For example, certain kinds of foxes and Hippopotamuses.
  • Appendix III contains species that are protected in at least one country, which has asked other CITES Parties for assistance in controlling the trade, like the Bengal fox or the Golden Jackal from India. Different procedures are given category-wise to engage in the trade of species in each of the lists.

-Source: Indian Express


Select Central Staff Can Opt For Old Pension Scheme


Context:

In a significant decision, the government has decided to give a one-time option to select Central government employees to migrate to the Old Pension Scheme (OPS).

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Details
  2. About Old Pension Scheme
  3. Concerns with the OPS
  4. Old Pension Scheme vs National Pension Scheme

Details:

  • The employees should have applied for jobs advertised before December 22, 2003, the day the National Pension System (NPS) was notified, but joined service in 2004, when the NPS came into effect.
  • The option is available to the Central government employees enrolled under the NPS as they joined service on or after January 1, 2004.
  • The order will also be applicable to the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) personnel.
  • The employees’ contribution to the NPS will be credited to the General Provident Fund (GPF) of the individual.

About Old Pension Scheme

  • Pension to government employees at the Centre as well as states was fixed at 50 per cent of the last drawn basic pay.
  • The attraction of the Old Pension Scheme or ‘OPS’ — called so since it existed before a new pension system came into effect for those joining government service from January 1, 2004 — lay in its promise of an assured or ‘defined’ benefit to the retiree.
  • It was hence described as a ‘Defined Benefit Scheme’.
    • To illustrate, if a government employee’s basic monthly salary at the time of retirement was Rs 10,000, she would be assured of a pension of Rs 5,000.
  • Also, like the salaries of government employees, the monthly payouts of pensioners also increased with hikes in dearness allowance or DA announced by the government for serving employees.
Dearness allowance
  • DA — calculated as a percentage of the basic salary — is a kind of adjustment the government offers its employees and pensioners to make up for the steady increase in the cost of living.
  • DA hikes are announced twice a year, generally in January and July.
  • A 4 per cent DA hike would mean that a retiree with a pension of Rs 5,000 a month would see her monthly income rise to Rs 5,200 a month.
  • As on date, the minimum pension paid by the government is Rs 9,000 a month, and the maximum is Rs 62,500 (50 per cent of the highest pay in the Central government, which is Rs 1,25,000 a month).

Concerns with the OPS

The pension liability remained unfunded:
  • There was no corpus specifically for pension, which would grow continuously and could be dipped into for payments.
  • The Government of India budget provided for pensions every year; there was no clear plan on how to pay year after year in the future.
  • The government estimated payments to retirees ahead of the Budget every year, and the present generation of taxpayers paid for all pensioners as on date.
  • The ‘pay-as-you-go’ scheme created inter-generational equity issues — meaning the present generation had to bear the continuously rising burden of pensioners.
The OPS was also unsustainable:
  • For one, pension liabilities would keep climbing since pensioners’ benefits increased every year; like salaries of existing employees, pensioners gained from indexation, or what is called ‘dearness relief’ (the same as dearness allowance for existing employees).
  • And two, better health facilities would increase life expectancy, and increased longevity would mean extended payouts.
  • Over the last three decades, pension liabilities for the Centre and states have jumped manifold.
    • In 1990-91, the Centre’s pension bill was Rs 3,272 crore, and the outgo for all states put together was Rs 3,131 crore.
    • By 2020-21, the Centre’s bill had jumped 58 times to Rs 1,90,886 crore; for states, it had shot up 125 times to Rs 3,86,001 crore.

Old Pension Scheme vs National Pension Scheme

Old Pension Scheme (OPS)
  • An old pension scheme (OPS), commonly known as the PAYG scheme, is defined as an unfunded pension scheme where current revenues fund pension benefits.
  • Under this scheme, the contribution of the current generation of workers was explicitly used to pay the pensions of existing pensioners.
  • The scheme has been discontinued in most countries before the 1990s as it creates problem of pension debt sustainability, an ageing population, an explicit burden on future generations and the incentive for early retirement as the pension is fixed at the last drawn salary.
National Pension Scheme (NPS)
  • NPS is a defined contribution pension scheme. It enables an individual to undertake retirement planning while in employment.
  • With systematic savings and investments, NPS facilitates the accumulation of a pension corpus during their working life. It is designed to deliver a sustainable solution of having adequate retirement income in old age or upon superannuation.
  • NPS is mandatory for central government employees joining services on or after January 1, 2004, and almost all state governments have adopted it for their employees. NPS is regulated by the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA).
  • Under NPS, employees contribute 10% of their salary (Basic + Dearness Allowance) and the government contributes 14% towards the employees’ NPS accounts.
  • As of December 2022, 59.78 lakh state government employees are part of NPS, with total assets under management of Rs 4.27 lakh crore.

-Source: The Hindu


NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer


Context:

Recently, researchers studied a supernova explosion that occurred over 450 years ago using NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE).

  • The explosion, called Tycho, was visible to people on Earth in 1572, and the shock wave from the blast is still propagating through the cosmos.

Relevance:

GS III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is Tycho?
  2. What is the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) and its significance?

What is Tycho?

  • Tycho, a Type Ia supernova, occurred when a white dwarf star shredded its companion star, causing a violent explosion that sent debris hurtling into space at tremendous speeds.
  • It released an enormous amount of energy, equivalent to what the Sun would emit over ten billion years, and blasted particles out into space near the speed of light.
  • Researchers used the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) to reveal the magnetic field geometry near Tycho’s shock wave to investigate how particles are accelerated there and to study polarised X-rays from the supernova remnant.

What is the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) and its significance?

  • The IXPE Space Observatory is a collaborative effort between NASA and the Italian Space Agency.
  • It is designed to study “the most extreme and mysterious objects in the universe – supernova remnants, supermassive black holes, and dozens of other high-energy objects.”
  • By observing polarised X-rays from neutron stars and supermassive black holes, it can help scientists understand the geometry and inner workings of their sources, including how black holes spin and their location in the past.
  • Measuring the polarization of X-rays can also unravel how pulsars shine so brightly in X-rays, tracing the story of where the light came from.
  • Overall, IXPE will provide valuable insights into some of the universe’s most fascinating and enigmatic phenomena.

-Source: Down to Earth


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