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Current Affairs 14 December 2023

  1. Rajya Sabha Passes Bill on Election Commission Appointment
  2. Bihar Reservation Laws: Breaching the 50% Rule
  3. Anarcho-Capitalism in Spotlight: Private Governance in Argentina
  4. Indian Pharmacopoeia Commission’s Alert: Meftal’s Allergic Reactions
  5. NTPC Wins Dual Silver Awards at Brandon Hall Group’s Excellence in Technology Awards 2023
  6. Cassiopeia A
  7. Otolith Rings


Context:

The Rajya Sabha has passed a bill aimed at regulating the appointment of the Election Commission of India. The bill maintains the status of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and two Election Commissioners (ECs) on par with judges of the Supreme Court. This comes as a modification from the earlier bill, which sought to downgrade their service conditions to align with those of a Cabinet Secretary.

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Bill on Election Commissioners’ Status: Amendments and Key Highlights
  2. About Election Commission of India
  3. Supreme Court’s Stance on Election Commission Appointment

Bill on Election Commissioners’ Status: Amendments and Key Highlights

Passage in the Upper House:
  • The Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill, 2023, received approval in the Upper House of Parliament through a voice vote.
Background:
  • The bill was initially introduced in the Rajya Sabha on August 10.
  • It aimed to amend constitutional provisions equating Election Commissioners (ECs) with Supreme Court judges.
  • The proposed changes sought to align ECs’ service conditions with those of a Cabinet Secretary.
  • The bill was reintroduced on December 12, incorporating amendments to restore the status of ECs.

Key Amendments and Highlights:

Removal of CJI from Selection Panel:

  • The bill proposes replacing the Chief Justice of India with a Cabinet Minister nominated by the Prime Minister in the committee for selecting CECs and ECs.
  • Adds the Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha as a committee member.

Selection Criteria:

  • Requires members of the ECI to have held a post equivalent to the Secretary to the Government of India.
  • Emphasizes integrity, knowledge, and experience in the management and conduct of elections.

Selection Process:

  • A Search Committee, chaired by the Law Minister, proposes a panel of names to the selection committee.
  • The Selection Committee, led by the PM, includes the Leader of Opposition and a nominated Cabinet Minister.
  • The committee may consider candidates beyond the Search Committee’s panel.

Terms and Tenure:

  • CEC and ECs’ terms remain unchanged at six years or until reaching the age of 65.
  • Salaries equate to those of Supreme Court judges.

Repeal of 1991 Act:

  • The bill repeals the Election Commission (Conditions of Service of Election Commissioners and Transaction of Business) Act, 1991.

Decision Making in ECI:

  • Stipulates that ECI business should be transacted unanimously.
  • In case of differences, the majority’s opinion prevails.

Removal Process:

  • CEC’s removal mirrors that of an SC judge, while ECs can only be removed on CEC’s recommendation.

Protection for CECs and ECs:

  • New provision shields current and former CECs and ECs from civil or criminal proceedings related to official duties.

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.

Supreme Court’s Stance on Election Commission Appointment

  • Constitution Bench Hearing:
    • A five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court was addressing multiple petitions seeking a selection process similar to that of the Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
  • Comparison with CBI Director’s Selection:
    • The Director of the CBI is chosen by a committee comprising the Prime Minister, Leader of the Single Largest Opposition Party, and the Chief Justice of India.
  • Court’s Disapproval in March 2023:
    • In March 2023, the Supreme Court unanimously expressed disapproval of the existing system where the Centre appoints members of the election watchdog.
  • Reference to Constitution Article 324(2):
    • Pointing to Article 324(2) of the Constitution, the Court urged Parliament to enact a law defining the criteria for selection, conditions of service, and tenure of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and Election Commissioners (ECs).
  • Interim Measures by the Apex Court:
    • Until such legislation is in place, the Supreme Court established an interim arrangement.
    • Formed a panel consisting of the Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India, and the leader of the opposition to make appointments to the Election Commission.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

The Bihar Assembly recently passed Reservation Laws, elevating the quota for jobs and education to 75%, surpassing the 50% limit set by the Supreme Court. This development has ignited discussions on the acceptable boundaries of reservations in India, especially in light of the Supreme Court’s precedent in the Mandal Commission case (Indra Sawhney, 1992).

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Key Highlights of Bihar Reservation Laws
  2. Understanding the 50% Rule
  3. Constitutional Amendments and Reservation Policies in India: A Comprehensive Overview
  4. Way Forward

Key Highlights of Bihar Reservation Laws

Legislation Details:
  • Bihar Reservation of Vacancies in Posts and Services (for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes) Amendment Act-2023 and Bihar (in admission in educational institutions) Reservation Amendment Act, 2023.
Revised Reservation Quotas:
  • Total reservation increased to 65%, comprising 20% for Scheduled Castes, 2% for Scheduled Tribes, 18% for Backward Classes, and 25% for Extremely Backward Classes.
  • Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) approved under the Central Act to continue with 10% reservation.

Understanding the 50% Rule:

Historical Context:

  • The Supreme Court’s longstanding principle limits reservations to 50% of total seats or positions.

Evolution of Perspective:

  • Initially established in the 1963 M.R. In The Balaji case, reservations were considered an “exception” under the constitutional framework.
  • In 1976, reservations were recognized as a component of equality, but the 50% limit persisted.

Mandal Commission Case (1990):

  • A nine-judge bench reaffirmed the 50% limit, considering it a binding rule.
  • Exceptions allowed for specific circumstances, particularly for marginalized communities, regardless of geographical location.

Recent Developments:

  • The 103rd Constitutional Amendment permits an additional 10% reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS).
  • The 50% limit applies only to non-EWS reservations, allowing States to reserve a total of 60% of seats/posts.
Other States Crossing the Limit:
  • Chhattisgarh (72%), Tamil Nadu (69%, under a 1994 Act protected under the ninth Schedule of the Constitution), and northeastern States like Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Nagaland (80% each) have exceeded the 50% limit.
  • Lakshadweep has 100% reservations for Scheduled Tribes.
  • Previous attempts by Maharashtra and Rajasthan to exceed the limit were struck down by the courts.

Constitutional Amendments and Reservation Policies in India: A Comprehensive Overview

77th Constitutional Amendment Act, 1995:
  • Indra Sawhney Verdict:
    • Reserved only for initial appointments, not promotions.
  • Addition of Article 16(4A):
    • Empowered states to provide promotion reservations for SC/ST employees if underrepresented.
81st Constitutional Amendment Act, 2000:
  • Introduction of Article 16(4B):
    • Unfilled SC/ST quota carried forward treated separately from regular vacancies in the next year.
85th Constitutional Amendment Act, 2001:
  • Reservation in Promotion with ‘Consequential Seniority’:
    • Applied retrospectively from June 1995 for government servants from SCs and STs.
103rd Amendment to the Constitution (2019):
  • 10% Reservation for EWS:
    • Introduced reservation for Economically Weaker Sections.
Article 335:
  • Consideration of SC/ST Claims:
    • SCs and STs claims considered with the maintenance of administrative efficiency.

Way Forward:

  • Reevaluation of 50% Reservation Cap:
    • Courts urged to reconsider the cap, considering evolving social dynamics and equity principles.
  • Expansion of Exceptions:
    • Deliberation on extending exceptions beyond social exclusion to include broader criteria for historically disadvantaged communities, regardless of geography.
  • Comprehensive Review of Reservation Policies:
    • Detailed assessment of existing reservation policies, examining their effectiveness, impact, and alignment with current societal needs.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

The term “anarcho-capitalism” has garnered recent attention, notably following Javier Milei’s electoral triumph in Argentina. Milei, a self-proclaimed anarcho-capitalist, advocates for the abolition of the state, proposing a system where private companies manage law and order within a free market.

Relevance:

GS III: Indian Economy (Capitalism)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Anarcho-Capitalism: A Political and Economic Philosophy
  2. Concerns
  3. Anarcho-Capitalist Responses:

Anarcho-Capitalism: A Political and Economic Philosophy

Definition:

  • Anarcho-capitalism is a political philosophy and economic theory advocating for the voluntary exchange of goods and services in a society primarily regulated by the market rather than the state.

Origins:

  • Coined by Murray Rothbard, a prominent figure in the American libertarian movement from the 1950s.

Core Tenets:

  • Advocates for voluntary exchanges in a society regulated by the market.
  • Argues that private companies in a free market can efficiently provide policing and legal services.

Private Sector Efficiency:

  • Asserts that private policing and legal systems, similar to private sectors offering superior products, can outperform state-monopolized counterparts.

Operational Model:

  • In an anarcho-capitalist society, individuals pay private police and courts for protection and dispute resolution.

Accountability Through Competition:

  • Private companies, driven by customer patronage, are argued to be more accountable. Dissatisfied customers can switch to competing services.

Advocacy for Competitive Markets:

  • Anarcho-capitalists advocate for competitive markets, contending that they ensure top-tier and cost-effective police and legal services.
  • This stands in contrast to state-funded systems, providing individuals the freedom to select services aligned with their preferences and needs.

Concerns:

  • Potential for Armed Conflicts: Multiple private firms in one region may lead to armed conflicts and chaos.
  • Wealth-Based Justice: Skepticism about a system favoring the wealthy, allowing them to evade justice by paying more to private firms.
  • Marginalization of the Poor: Apprehensions that a profit-driven system could marginalize the poor, limiting their access to justice.
  • Lack of Accountability: Concerns that private firms may not be accountable to the broader public, potentially compromising justice for financial interests.
  • Risk of Vigilantism: Absence of a centralized authority may increase the risk of vigilantism.
  • Societal Inequalities: Worsening societal inequalities, providing better legal protection for those who can afford premium services.
  • Inconsistent Legal Standards: Absence of a standardized legal framework may result in varying standards of justice.

Anarcho-Capitalist Responses:

  • Market Satisfaction: Private firms aim to satisfy the larger market, not just the wealthy, ensuring fair and accessible justice for all.
  • Accountability through Patronage: In a competitive market, private firms depend on customer patronage, making them accountable to the public and responsive to their needs.
  • Access for the Poor: Private firms may strive to meet the demand at the bottom of the pyramid, potentially offering better chances of justice for the poor.
  • Agreements on Common Rules: Competitive pressures among private firms would lead to agreements on common rules, preventing conflicts and potential vigilantism.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

The Indian Pharmacopoeia Commission (IPC) has issued a drug safety alert concerning Meftal, a common painkiller. The alert warns about severe allergic reactions, including the DRESS syndrome, triggered by its constituent, mefenamic acid, which has the potential to impact internal organs.

Relevance:

GS II: Health

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. DRESS Syndrome
  2. Meftal’s Use and Side Effects
  3. Indian Pharmacopoeia Commission (IPC): Overview

DRESS Syndrome

  • DRESS syndrome, or Drug Rash with Eosinophilia and Systemic Symptoms, is a severe allergic reaction affecting approximately 10% of individuals.
  • Also known as Drug-Induced Hypersensitivity Syndrome (DIHS).
  • It can be caused by certain medications and is characterized by skin rash, high fever, swollen lymph nodes, and complications in internal organs.

Meftal’s Use and Side Effects

  • Meftal is a commonly used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID).
Associated Side Effects of Meftal:
  • Multiple Uses:
    • Meftal is widely used in India for various purposes, including relieving menstrual pains, headaches, muscle and joint pain. It is also prevalent among children for high fever.
  • Gastrointestinal Risks:
    • Prolonged use of drugs like Meftal may increase the risk of stomach ulcers, bleeding, and related complications.
  • Cardiovascular Concerns:
    • Meftal has been associated with potential adverse effects on the cardiovascular system.
  • Renal Complications:
    • Some experts have flagged renal complications as a potential side effect of Meftal.

Indian Pharmacopoeia Commission (IPC): Overview

  • Autonomous Institution:
    • IPC is an Autonomous Institution operating under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
  • Establishment and Purpose:
    • Created to set standards for drugs in India.
    • Primarily focuses on updating standards for drugs required in the treatment of prevalent diseases in the region.
  • Key Functions:
    • Regularly updates drug standards to ensure quality and efficacy.
    • Publishes official documents, such as the Indian Pharmacopoeia (IP), to enhance the quality of medicines.
    • Promotes the rational use of generic medicines by publishing the National Formulary of India.
  • Indian Pharmacopoeia (IP):
    • Serves as a reference document containing monographs that specify the standards and quality requirements for various drugs.
  • National Formulary of India:
    • A publication by IPC that encourages the rational use of generic medicines.
  • IP Reference Substances (IPRS):
    • Provides IP Reference Substances, acting as a fingerprint for identifying and assessing the purity of substances under test, as prescribed in IP.

-Source: Indian Express



Context:

The National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), a maharatna, central Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) under the Ministry of Power, has achieved a remarkable feat by becoming the sole PSU in India to win two silver awards at the prestigious Brandon Hall Group’s Excellence in Technology Awards 2023.

Relevance:

Facts for Prelims

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Achievement Overview
  2. Overview of NTPC Ltd.: A Pioneer in Energy Development

Achievement Overview:

  • The National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), a maharatna central Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) under the Ministry of Power, has accomplished a significant feat.

Recognition at Brandon Hall Group Awards:

  • NTPC is the sole PSU in India to secure two silver awards at the prestigious Brandon Hall Group’s Excellence in Technology Awards 2023.

Award Categories:

  • NTPC received dual silver awards in the categories of “Best Advance in Corporate Wellbeing Technology” and “Best Advance in Augmented and Virtual Reality.”

Noteworthy Initiatives:

  • Award-winning efforts include the establishment of an Individual-Centric Health Care Ecosystem.
  • Overcoming diversity and remoteness challenges at NTPC sites.
  • ‘iGuru’ initiative showcasing leadership in leveraging innovative technologies for workforce capacity building.

Recognition by Brandon Hall Group:

  • Brandon Hall Group, a US-based professional development company, acknowledges NTPC’s achievements through its HCM Excellence Awards program, often referred to as the “Academy Awards of Human Capital Management.”

Criteria for Recognition:

  • The awards recognize organizations that have successfully developed and deployed programs, strategies, modalities, processes, systems, and tools leading to measurable results.

Overview of NTPC Ltd.: A Pioneer in Energy Development

Nature of Organization:

  • NTPC Ltd. stands as a central Public Sector Undertaking (PSU) operating under the Ministry of Power.

Establishment and Roots:

  • Founded in 1975, NTPC has evolved into India’s largest energy conglomerate, committed to accelerating power development in the country.

Corporate Aim:

  • Dedicated to providing reliable power and comprehensive solutions in an economical, efficient, and environmentally friendly manner.
  • Driven by a commitment to innovation and agility.

Maharatna Status:

  • Achieved Maharatna status in May 2010, reflecting its strategic importance in India’s energy landscape.

Headquarters:

  • Based in New Delhi, the capital city of India.

Recent Initiatives:

Public Charging Infrastructure:

  • Commissioned the creation of public charging infrastructure in various cities.
  • Established battery charging and swapping stations for electric 3-wheelers.

Electric Buses for Public Transport:

  • Providing electric buses to state/city transport undertakings.
  • Notable example: Implementation of e-bus solutions for Andaman and Nicobar Administration.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEV) Project:

  • Launched a new project involving Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles.
  • Targeted for operation in Delhi and Leh, showcasing NTPC’s commitment to innovative and sustainable mobility solutions.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope captured a stunning new image of a star that exploded in the supernova remnant Cassiopeia A (Cas A).

Relevance:

GS III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About Cassiopeia A
  2. Supernova Explosion

Cassiopeia A:

Nature and Origin:

  • Cassiopeia A is the remnant of a massive star that experienced a spectacular explosion approximately 340 years ago.
  • It stands as the youngest known remnant of a massive star in our galaxy.

Supernova Remnant Type:

  • This celestial object belongs to the prototypical category of supernova remnants.
  • Its formation and characteristics have been extensively studied through observations from various ground-based and space-based observatories.

Spatial Dimensions:

  • The remnant spans an impressive 10 light-years in size.
  • Positioned 11,000 light-years away in the constellation Cassiopeia, it adds a cosmic dimension to our understanding of supernovae.

Scientific Insights:

  • Cassiopeia A serves as a rich source of information about the intricacies of supernovae phenomena.
  • Scientific exploration of this remnant contributes to unraveling the complexities associated with massive star explosions.

Supernova Explosion:

  • A supernova explosion marks the dramatic end of a massive star’s life cycle.
  • Triggered by profound changes in the star’s core, this celestial event unfolds in two distinct ways, both culminating in a supernova.

Binary Star System Scenario:

  • In binary star systems, where two stars orbit a common point, one star, often a carbon-oxygen white dwarf, siphons matter from its companion.
  • The accumulation of excess matter on the white dwarf leads to a critical point, resulting in a spectacular explosion— a supernova.

Single Star’s Culmination:

  • In the lifecycle finale of a single star, as it depletes its nuclear fuel, mass flows into its core.
  • The core, unable to withstand its gravitational force, undergoes collapse, culminating in a colossal explosion—the signature of a supernova.

-Source: Indian Today



Context

Recently, marine biologists at the University of Southampton have developed a technique to decode the chemistry of otoliths.

Relevance:

GS III: Species in News

Otolith Rings: Nature’s Age and Environment Tracker in Fish

Composition and Location:

  • Otoliths, often referred to as “earstones,” are calcified structures found in the ears of bony fishes. They serve as unique indicators of a fish’s age and environmental experiences.

Age Revelation Through Rings:

  • Similar to tree rings, otolith rings disclose the age of a fish. These rings form over time, creating identifiable layers.

Environmental Clues:

  • Isotopes of oxygen within otoliths indicate the temperature a fish encountered during its life. Carbon isotopes offer insights into the conversion speed of food into energy.

Fitness Tracker for Fish:

  • Otoliths act as fitness trackers for fish, providing essential data for their well-being. These stony structures are located behind the fish’s brain.

Types of Otoliths:

  • Sagitta: The largest among the three pairs, sagitta aids in sound detection and the hearing process.
  • Asteriscus: Also involved in sound detection and hearing.
  • Lapillus: This otolith type contributes to sensing gravitational force and sound.

Diversity Among Species:

  • Different fish species exhibit otoliths of distinct shapes and sizes. Cartilaginous fishes like sharks lack otoliths.

Significance in Identification:

  • Otolith features help identify fish species, determine size, age, growth rate, and even the season of death for an individual fish.

Environmental Insights:

  • Analysis of otolith oxygen isotope values provides data on the water temperature where the fish resided.
  • Concentrations of trace elements, such as barium, in otoliths offer clues about the water’s salinity levels.

-Source: The Hindu


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