Contents

  1. India gets Swiss bank details of Indian
  2. India invited to become full-time IEA member
  3. NGT needn’t wait for ‘Godot’ to save environment: SC
  4. ICs with vacancies face 2.55 lakh pending RTI pleas

India gets Swiss bank details of Indian

Context:

India received the third set of Swiss bank account details of its citizens under the automatic exchange of information pact with Switzerland in October 2021.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (Foreign Policies and Agreements affecting India’s Interests), GS-III: Indian Economy

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the Swiss-India Automatic Exchange Pact
  2. Role of Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange Information for Tax Purposes
  3. More about Indian Money in Swiss banks and Significance of the pact
  4. About the third tranche of Swiss bank details received by India
  5. About Tax haven

About the Swiss-India Automatic Exchange Pact

  • Switzerland and India signed a joint declaration on the introduction of the automatic exchange of information (AEOI) in tax matters on a reciprocal basis in 2016 – this was to come into effect from 2019.
  • According to the agreement, the Swiss Bank shares details such as account information, identification, financial information such as name, address, tax identification number and country of residence. The information obtained from the Swiss Bank will help tax authorities to verify if Indian taxpayers have declared their financial accounts correctly.
  • However, the Swiss Banks do not share quantum of assets held by Indians citing confidentiality clauses.
  • This automatic exchange of information (AEOI) is to be carried out under the Common Reporting Standard (CRS), the global reporting standard for such exchange of information, which takes care of aspects such as confidentiality rules and data safeguards.
  • The CRS has been developed by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Role of Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange Information for Tax Purposes

  • In accordance with the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange Information for Tax Purposes around 38 countries supply data to Switzerland.
  • The Automatic Exchange of Information Agreement signed by Switzerland with several other countries and its implementation is reviewed by this Global Forum.
  • Several Indians closed their accounts after global crackdown on black money. Switzerland began to share information due to international pressure.
  • India is one among 86 countries with which Switzerland exchanges information on financial accounts. In 2019, India received its first set of details from Switzerland.

More about Indian Money in Swiss banks and Significance of the pact

  • India was at 77th rank in terms money held by Indians (there is a reduction of Indian money is Swiss accounts as in 2018, india was at 74th position) with Swiss Bank by the end of 2019. UK was at the top.
  • It is believed that many Indians have closed their accounts after Swiss Government adopted the law due to international pressure. The details that are to be collected from Swiss Government includes mostly of business men who have now settled in South – East Asian, African, UK and other South American countries.
  • The Automatic Exchange of Information between Switzerland and India will shed more light on the wealth Indians have stashed away in Swiss bank accounts, for so long governed by strict local rules of secrecy.
  • The data received will help India establishing strong prosecuting cases against those who have unaccounted wealth. There are minimum of 100 cases that were closed before 2018 for which Swiss will now share details with India.

About the third tranche of Swiss bank details received by India

  • India received the third set of Swiss bank account details which also includes the amount of real estate properties owned by Indians in Switzerland.
  • This is the first time data related to real estate is being included in the set of details.
  • The information is likely to shed light on flats, apartments and condominiums owned by Indians in Switzerland attached with full information about the properties. The set of details is a milestone for the Indian government which says that it is fighting against black money allegedly stashed abroad.
  • Switzerland’s participation in the information exchange pact shows the European nation’s intent to become a key global financial centre and ward off the perception that the Swiss banking system acts as a safe haven for black money.

Recently in news: ‘Pandora Papers’ – Click Here to read more about Tax Havens

-Source: The Hindu


India invited to become full-time IEA member

Context:

International Energy Agency (IEA) has invited India, the world’s third-largest energy consumer, to become its full-time member.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (Important International Groupings and Organizations), GS-III: Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the International Energy Agency (IEA)
  2. IEA’s Role and Functions
  3. Membership of IEA

About the International Energy Agency (IEA)

  • The International Energy Agency (IEA) is an autonomous Intergovernmental Organisation established in 1974 in Paris, France.
  • IEA mainly focuses on its energy policies which include economic development, energy security and environmental protection. These policies are also known as the 3 E’s of IEA.
  • It is best known for the publication of its annual World Energy Outlook.

IEA’s Role and Functions

  • IEA’s role has expanded to cover the entire global energy system, encompassing traditional energy sources such as oil, gas, and coal as well as cleaner and faster growing ones such as solar PV, wind power and biofuels.
  • IEA acts as a policy adviser to its member states, as well as major emerging economies such as Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and South Africa to support energy security and advance the clean energy transition worldwide.
  • IEA’s mandate has broadened to focus on providing analysis, data, policy recommendations and solutions to help countries ensure secure, affordable and sustainable energy for all. In particular, it has focused on supporting global efforts to accelerate the clean energy transition and mitigate climate change.
  • The IEA has a broad role in promoting rational energy policies and multinational energy technology co-operation with a view to reaching net zero emissions.
  • IEA Clean Coal Centre is dedicated to providing independent information and analysis on how coal can become a cleaner source of energy, compatible with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Membership of IEA

  • The IEA is made up of 30 member countries. Only OECD member states can become members of the IEA.
  • IEA member countries are required to maintain total oil stock levels equivalent to at least 90 days of the previous year’s net imports.
  • In 2018, Mexico joined the IEA and became its 30th member.
  • India became an Associate member of IEA (NOT full membership) in 2017 but it was in engagement with IEA long before its association with the organization.
  • Other Association Countries of IEA apart from India are: Brazil, China, Indonesia, Morocco, Singapore, South Africa and Thailand.

More about India as a full-time member of IEA

  • If India accepts International Energy Agency (IEA)’s proposal to to become its full-time member, then it will have to raise strategic oil reserves to 90 days requirement.
  • India, in March 2017, became an associate member of the Paris-based body which advises industrialised nations on energy policies.
  • IEA states that “India is becoming increasingly influential in global energy trends”, and this could be the reason for the invite to become a full-time member.

-Source: The Hindu


NGT needn’t wait for ‘Godot’ to save environment: SC

Context:

The Supreme Court said that the NGT need not wait for the “metaphorical Godot” to knock on its portal to flex its considerable muscles to save the environment. (‘waiting for Godot’ is a phrase used to describe a situation wherein people are waiting for something to happen, but it probably never will).

Relevance:

GS-II: Polity and Constitution (Statutory Bodies, Important Judgements), GS-III: Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. National Green Tribunal (NGT)
  2. Structure of National Green Tribunal
  3. Powers of NGT
  4. Challenges related to the NGT
  5. About the recent Judgement of the SC on powers of the NGT

National Green Tribunal (NGT)

  • The NGT was established on October 18, 2010 under the National Green Tribunal Act 2010, passed by the Central Government.
  • National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 is an Act of the Parliament of India which enables creation of a special tribunal to handle the expeditious disposal of the cases pertaining to environmental issues.
  • NGT Act draws inspiration from the India’s constitutional provision of (Constitution of India/Part III) Article 21 Protection of life and personal liberty, which assures the citizens of India the right to a healthy environment.
  • The stated objective of the Central Government was to provide a specialized forum for effective and speedy disposal of cases pertaining to environment protection, conservation of forests and for seeking compensation for damages caused to people or property due to violation of environmental laws or conditions specified while granting permissions.

Structure of National Green Tribunal

  • Following the enactment of the said law, the Principal Bench of the NGT has been established in the National Capital – New Delhi, with regional benches in Pune (Western Zone Bench), Bhopal (Central Zone Bench), Chennai (Southern Bench) and Kolkata (Eastern Bench). Each Bench has a specified geographical jurisdiction covering several States in a region.
  • The Chairperson of the NGT is a retired Judge of the Supreme Court, Head Quartered in Delhi.
  • Other Judicial members are retired Judges of High Courts. Each bench of the NGT will comprise of at least one Judicial Member and one Expert Member.
  • Expert members should have a professional qualification and a minimum of 15 years’ experience in the field of environment/forest conservation and related subjects.

Powers of NGT

The NGT has the power to hear all civil cases relating to environmental issues and questions that are linked to the implementation of laws listed in Schedule I of the NGT Act. These include the following:

  • The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974;
  • The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess Act, 1977;
  • The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980;
  • The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981;
  • The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986;
  • The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991;
  • The Biological Diversity Act, 2002.
  • This means that any violations pertaining ONLY to these laws, or any order / decision taken by the Government under these laws can be challenged before the NGT.
  • Importantly, the NGT has NOT been vested with powers to hear any matter relating to the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, the Indian Forest Act, 1927 and various laws enacted by States relating to forests, tree preservation etc.

Challenges related to the NGT

  • Two important acts – Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 have been kept out of NGT’s jurisdiction. This restricts the jurisdiction area of NGT and at times hampers its functioning as crucial forest rights issue is linked directly to environment.
  • Decisions of NGT have also been criticised and challenged due to their repercussions on economic growth and development.
  • The absence of a formula-based mechanism in determining the compensation has also brought criticism to the tribunal.
  • The lack of human and financial resources has led to high pendency of cases – which undermines NGT’s very objective of disposal of appeals within 6 months.

About the recent Judgement of the SC on powers of the NGT

  • The Supreme Court has declared the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) position as a “unique” forum endowed with suo motu powers to take up environmental issues across the country.
  • The SC asserted that – The exercise of power by the NGT is not circumscribed by the receipt of applications, when substantial questions relating to the environment arise and the issue is civil in nature and those relate to the Act, the NGT even in the absence of an application, can self-ignite action either towards amelioration or towards prevention of harm.
  • The SC bench explained that the role of the NGT was not simply adjudicatory in nature as the NGT has to perform equally vital roles that were preventative, ameliorative or remedial in nature.

Other points in the SC’s judgement

  • The functional capacity of the NGT was intended to leverage wide powers to do full justice in its environmental mandate.
  • The NGT has been recognised as one of the most progressive Tribunals in the world.
  • The legislative history of the NGT traced its objective to address societal concerns. Hence, the legislature had given it a wide berth to craft its own procedure to entertain oral and documentary evidence.

-Source: The Hindu


ICs with vacancies face 2.55 lakh pending RTI pleas

Context:

Twelve State Information Commissions plus the Central Information Commission would need at least a year to dispose of their appeals, and the nationwide backlog has crossed 2.55 lakh cases, according to an analysis.

Relevance:

GS-II: Polity and Constitution (Constitutional Provisions, Fundamental Rights, Government Policies and Interventions, Right to Information Act)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the recent vacancies in ICs and Pending of RTI cases
  2. Right to Information (RTI) Act
  3. Is RTI a Fundamental Right?
  4. Enforcement of RTI
  5. Central Information Commission (CIC)
  6. Functions of CIC

About the recent vacancies in ICs and Pending of RTI cases

  • The RTI act is a tool for citizens to demand accountability in governance and an estimated 40 lakh to 60 lakh RTI requests are being filed every year.
  • When a request for information is denied by a government body, however, appeals are filed in the Central and State Information Commissions which act as transparency watchdogs under the law.
  • According to an analysis the Central Information Commission (CIC) would take a year and 11 months to dispose an appeal at the current pace of functioning. Although it has to be noted that the CIC has reduced its backlog to 33,742 since filling four of its vacancies in 2020.
  • The situation is worse in State ICs such as Jharkhand, where the commission has been completely defunct for 18 months when the last Commissioner completed his tenure.
  • The commissions of Meghalaya and Tripura have also been defunct for seven and three months respectively and at least three more commissions are headless.

Right to Information (RTI) Act

Right to Information (RTI) is an act of the Parliament of India which sets out the rules and procedures regarding citizens’ right to information.

Under the RTI Act, 2005, Public Authorities are required to make disclosures on various aspects of their structure and functioning.

This includes:

  1. disclosure on their organisation, functions, and structure,
  2. powers and duties of its officers and employees, and
  3. financial information.

Note: “Public Authorities” here includes bodies of self-government established under the Constitution, or under any law or government notification.  E.g.: Ministries, public sector undertakings, and regulators.  It also includes any entities owned, controlled or substantially financed and non-government organizations substantially financed directly or indirectly by funds provided by the government.

  • The intent of such suo moto disclosures is that the public should need minimum recourse through the Act to obtain such information.
  • If such information is not made available, citizens have the right to request for it from the Authorities.
  • This may include information in the form of documents, files, or electronic records under the control of the Public Authority.
  • The intent behind the enactment of the Act is to promote transparency and accountability in the working of Public Authorities.

Is RTI a Fundamental Right?

  • RTI is a fundamental right for every citizen of India.
  • The authorities under RTI Act 2005 are called quasi-judicial authorities.
  • This act was enacted in order to consolidate the fundamental right in the Indian constitution ‘freedom of speech’.
  • Since RTI is implicit in the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19 of Indian Constitution, it is an implied fundamental right.

Enforcement of RTI

The Act has established a three-tier structure for enforcing the right to information guaranteed under the Act.

  1. The first request for information goes to Central/State Assistant Public Information Officer and Central/State Public Information Officer, designated by the Public Authorities. These Officers are required to provide information to an RTI applicant within 30 days of the request.
  2. Appeals from their decisions go to an Appellate Authority.
  3. Appeals against the order of the Appellate Authority go to the State Information Commission or the Central Information Commission.  These Information Commissions consists of a Chief Information Commissioner, and up to 10 Information Commissioners.

Central Information Commission (CIC)

  • The Central Information Commission has been constituted with effect from 12-10-2005 under the Right to Information Act, 2005. Hence, CIC is a Statutory Body.
  • The jurisdiction of the Commission extends over all Central Public Authorities.
  • It was constituted to act upon complaints from those individuals who have not been able to submit information requests to a Central Public Information Officer or State Public Information Officer due to either the officer not have been appointed, or because the respective Central Assistant Public Information Officer or State Assistant Public Information Officer refused to receive the application for information under the Right to Information Act.

Functions of CIC

  1. Order enquiry into any matter on reasonable grounds only.
  2. Secure compliance of its decisions from any public authority.
  3. Receive and inquire into a complaint from any person:
    • Who has not received any response to his request for information within a specified time.
    • Who deems the information given to him/her incomplete, false or misleading, and any other matter related to securing the information.
    • Who has been unable to submit a request for information due to the non-appointment of an officer.
    • Who considers the fees so charged unreasonable.
    • Who was refused the information requested.
  4. The commission has the power to examine any record under the control of the public authority. All such records have to be given to the Commission during examination and nothing shall be withheld.
  5. During inquiries, the CIC has the powers of a civil court, such as the powers to:
    • Summon and enforce the attendance of persons, and compel them to give oral or written evidence on oath and produce documents or things
    • Require the discovery and inspection of documents
    • Receive evidence on affidavit
    • Requisition public records or copies from any office or court
    • Issue summons for the examination of documents or witnesses
    • Any other matter that may be prescribed
  6. The CIC also submits an annual report to the GOI on the implementations of the provisions of the Act. This report is then placed before both the Houses of Parliament.

-Source: The Hindu

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