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Current Affairs for UPSC IAS Exam – 19 May 2021

Contents

  1. Plea for independent panel to appoint EC members
  2. Adoption issues for those orphaned during COVID-19
  3. Sri Lanka’s China-backed tax haven clears final hurdle
  4. U.S. in Arctic Council: Avoid militarization of the Arctic

Plea for independent panel to appoint EC members

Context:

A petition was filed in the Supreme Court seeking the constitution of an independent collegium to appoint members of the Election Commission.

Relevance:

GS-II: Polity and Governance (Constitutional Bodies, Government Interventions for Transparency and Accountability in governance)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the Election Commission of India
  2. Structure of the Election Commission
  3. Present system of Appointment to the Election Commission
  4. Recommendations in the past for collegium to appoint EC and CEC
  5. The need for having a collegium for appointment of EC and CEC

About the 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.
  • 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.
  • Article 324 to 329 of the constitution deals with powers, function, tenure, eligibility, etc., of the commission and the member.

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.

Present system of Appointment to the Election Commission

  • The Constitution of India does NOT prescribe any procedure for appointment of the CEC and EC. However, the Parliament has the power to regulate the terms of conditions of service and tenure of ECs according to Article 324(5) in the Constitution.
  • According to this provision in Article 324 – to determine the conditions of service of the CEC and other ECs and to provide for the procedure for transaction of business by the ECI – Election Commission (Conditions of Service of Election Commissioners and Transaction of Business) Act, 1991 was passed.
  • The appointment of CEC and EC is dealt with in the Transaction of Business rules 1961 – according to which the President shall appoint the CEC and EC based on the recommendations made by the Prime Minister. (Therefore, it is the executive power of the President to appoint CEC and ECs.)
  • There is also the Article 324(2), which states that the President shall, with aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, appoint CEC and ECs, till Parliament enacts a law fixing the criteria for selection, conditions of service and tenure.

Recommendations in the past for collegium to appoint EC and CEC

  • According to the plea filed in the SC, recommendations to have a neutral collegium to fill up vacancies in the Election Commission have been given by several expert committees, commissions from 1975.
  • The recommendation to have a neutral collegium to appoint EC and CEC was also part of the Law Commission’s 255th report in March 2015.
  • In 2009, the Second Administrative Reforms Commission in its fourth report suggested a collegium system for appointment CEC and ECs.
  • In 1990, the Dinesh Goswami Committee recommended effective consultation with neutral authorities like the Chief Justice of India and the Leader of the Opposition for the appointment in the Election Commission.
  • In 1975, the Justice Tarkunde Committee recommended that the members of the Election Commission should be appointed by the President on the advice of a Committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Chief Justice of India.

The need for having a collegium for appointment of EC and CEC

  • The appointment of members of the Election Commission on the whims and fancies of the Executive violates the very foundation on which it was created, thus, making the Commission a branch of the Executive.
  • The Election Commission is not only responsible for conducting free and fair elections, but it also renders a quasi-judicial function between the various political parties including the ruling government and other parties.
  • In such circumstances, the Executive cannot be the sole participant in the appointment of members of the Election Commission as it gives unfettered discretion to the ruling party to choose someone whose loyalty to it is ensured and thereby renders the selection process vulnerable to manipulation.

Main hurdle in setting up such a collegium

For other constitutional positions, similar demands can be raised where it is the imperative of the executive to make such appointments like for Attorney General or Comptroller & Auditor-General. For the appointment of Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director and the Central Vigilance Commissioner, committees are constituted. But these are statutory positions. As of now, there is no committee for constitutional appointments.

-Source: The Hindu


Adoption issues for those orphaned during COVID-19

Context:

Cases of children losing their parents to Covid-19 are mounting as the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic rages on. Childline 1098 has recorded 51 calls between May 1 to May 12 2021 for children whose both parents succumbed to COVID-19 , but the actual number is likely to be much higher as there are several other helplines and many cases go unreported.

Minister for Women and Child Development took to Twitter to flag adoption requests as a large number of social media posts are getting circulated with details of children who have been orphaned and such posts are illegal.

Relevance:

GS-II: Social Justice (Issues related to Children, Government Policies and Interventions)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015
  2. Social Media posts regarding Adoption requests
  3. Provisions for Protection of Orphan Children
  4. Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill, 2021
  5. Changes to the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) proposed in the 2021 bill

Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015

  • The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 replaced the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 to comprehensively address children in conflict with law and children in need of care and protection.
  • The Act changes the nomenclature from ‘juvenile’ to ‘child’ or ‘child in conflict with law’.
  • Also, it removes the negative connotation associated with the word “juvenile”.
  • It also includes several new and clear definitions such as orphaned, abandoned and surrendered children; and petty, serious and heinous offences committed by children.
  • The 2015 law also included special provisions to tackle child offenders committing heinous offences in the age group of 16-18 years.
  • It mandates setting up Juvenile Justice Boards and Child Welfare Committees in every district. Both must have at least one-woman member each.
  • A separate new chapter on Adoption to streamline adoption procedures for an orphan, abandoned and surrendered children,
  • Also, the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) was granted the status of a statutory body to enable it to perform its function more effectively.
  • All Child Care Institutions, whether run by State Government or by voluntary or non-governmental organisations are to be mandatorily registered under the Act within 6 months from the date of commencement of the Act.

Social Media posts regarding Adoption requests

  • Various social media posts are getting circulated with details of children who have lost either both their parents or the only living parent to the disease and pleading for them to be adopted.
  • Sharing such posts are illegal under Section 80 and 81 of the Juvenile Justice (JJ) Act, 2015, which prohibit offering or receiving children outside the processes laid down under the Act as well as their sale and purchase. Such acts are punishable with three to five years in jail or Rs. 1 lakh in fine.

Provisions for Protection of Orphan Children

  • There is a process as per the JJ Act which needs to be followed with children who have been orphaned.
  • If someone has information about a child in need of care, then they must contact one of the four agencies: Childline 1098, or the district Child Welfare Committee (CWC), District Child Protection Officer (DCPO) or the helpline of the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
  • Following this, the CWC will assess the child and place him or her in the immediate care of a Specialised Adoption Agency. The State thus takes care of all such children who are in need of care and protection, till they turn 18 years.
  • Once a child is declared legally free for adoption by the CWC, adoption can be done either by Indian prospective adoptive parents or non-resident Indians or foreigners, in that order.
  • The Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA), a statutory body of the Ministry of Women and Child Development, is the nodal agency for adoption.
  • It regulates the adoption of orphaned, abandoned and surrendered children through its associated or recognised agencies.

Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill, 2021

  • Now, “Serious offences” will also include offences for which maximum punishment is imprisonment of more than seven years, and minimum punishment is not prescribed or is of less than seven years. [Serious offences are those for which the punishment under the Indian Penal Code or any other law for the time being is imprisonment between three and seven years.]
  • The Juvenile Justice Board inquiries about a child who is accused of a serious offence.
  • The Bill amends the present act to provide that an offence which is punishable with imprisonment between three to seven years to be non-cognizable (non-cognizable where arrest is allowed without warrant).
  • Presently, the adoption order issued by the court establishes that the child belongs to the adoptive parents. The Bill provides that instead of the court, the District Magistrate (including Additional District Magistrate) will issue such adoption orders.
  • The Bill provides that any person aggrieved by an adoption order passed by the District Magistrate may file an appeal before the Divisional Commissioner, within 30 days from the date of passage of such order.

Changes to the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) proposed in the 2021 bill

  • The amendment provides Additional Functions of the District Magistrate as the supervising the District Child Protection Unit, and also mandates the District Magistrate to conduct a quarterly review of the functioning of the Child Welfare Committee.
  • The amendments include authorizing District Magistrate including Additional District Magistrate to issue adoption orders under Section 61 of the JJ Act, in order to ensure speedy disposal of cases and enhance accountability.It provides that a person will not eligible to be a member of the CWC if he/she:
    1. has any record of violation of human rights or child rights,
    2. has been convicted of an offence involving moral turpitude,
    3. has been removed or dismissed from service of the central government, or any state government, or a government undertaking,
    4. is part of the management of a child care institution in a district.

-Source: The Hindu


Sri Lanka’s China-backed tax haven clears final hurdle

Context:

A Chinese-funded tax-free enclave cleared the final legal hurdle in Sri Lanka as the Supreme Court in Colombo ruled it could go ahead with only minor tweaks.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (India’s neighbors, Economic relations and Landmark agreements affecting India’s Interests)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the Colombo Port City
  2. About Sri Lanka’s recent decision regarding ECT at Colombo Port
  3. Geopolitical Significance of Sri Lanka

About the Colombo Port City

  • Colombo International Financial City (CIFC) is a special financial zone and International Financial Centre currently under construction in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The project is part of China’s Belt and Road initiative.
  • After the former planned ‘Port City’ was rejected by the new incoming government, a tripartite agreement was signed repackaging the project as the Colombo International Financial City (CIFC).
  • The modern Port City is an unsolicited proposal submitted by China Harbour Engineering Company based on previous proposals.
  • Construction of the Colombo Port City project was launched on 17 September 2014 by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Chinese President Xi Jinping. The port city was suspended after the fall of the Rajapaksa government due to issues related to sovereignty of Sri Lanka and adverse environmental impacts. In 2017, it was predicted that the city would be completed by 2041.
  • Named the “Colombo Port City” because of its proximity to Colombo’s main harbour, the sea reclamation — carried out with considerable Chinese labour — completed in 2019 has doubled the size of Colombo’s financial district by adding 269 hectares.
  • In December 2020, Sri Lankan conglomerate LOLC Group signed an agreement with China Harbour Engineering for a mixed development project, with the investment value totalling $1 billion.
  • The project includes residential, commercial and retail assets set to break ground in mid-2021. This is the first major investment in Colombo Port City.

About Sri Lanka’s recent decision regarding ECT at Colombo Port

  • The Sri Lankan government offers the West Container Terminal (WCT) to India for possible investments, however, does not want any foreign involvement in the development of the East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo Port.
  • This decision comes amid mounting pressure from Port union workers against any foreign role or investment in the ECT project, where nearly 70% of the transshipment business is linked to India.
  • Even though Sri Lankan government has announced the decision, there is a tripartite agreement on it between India, Sri Lanka and Japan, so any action upon the development would be considered unilateral.

India’s role in development of ECT

  • For New Delhi, the strategic ECT project in Colombo has been high on priority.
  • The Adani Group – Government of India’s nominee – was set to invest in the terminal which would not be “sold or leased” to any foreign entity.
  • The Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) was to hold 51 % stake in the operations, while India and Japan together would hold 49 %, as per the 2019 Memorandum of Cooperation (MOC).

About the New Offer for WCT at Colombo port

  • The Rajapaksa government has offered India and Japan the WCT as an alternative, allowing higher stakes.
  • In the WCT proposal, India and Japan will be accorded 85% stake – this is similar to the 85% stake given to China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited in the nearby Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT).
  • As opposed to the ECT, the WCT West Container Terminal, however, has to be built from scratch, requiring a much higher investment.
  • Colombo’s alternative offer also comes at a time when Sri Lanka is seeking support at the ongoing UN Human Right Council session, where a resolution on the country’s rights record will soon be put to vote.

Geopolitical Significance of Sri Lanka

  • Sri Lanka’s location in the Indian Ocean region as an island State has been of strategic geopolitical relevance to several major powers.
  • Some examples that highlight Western interests in Sri Lanka’s strategic location are the British Defence and External Affairs Agreement of 1948, and the Maritime Agreement with USSR of 1962.
  • Even during the J.R Jayewardene (1978-1989) and Ranasinghe Premadasa (1989-1993) tenures, Sri Lanka was chosen to build the Voice of America transmitting station (suspected of being used for intelligence gathering purposes and electronic surveillance of the Indian Ocean).
  • It was the massive Chinese involvement during the Rajapaksa tenure that garnered the deepest controversy in recent years.
  • China is building state of the art gigantic modern ports all along the Indian Ocean to the south of it, in Gwadar (Pakistan), Chittagong (Bangladesh, Kyauk Phru (Myanmar) and Hambantota (Sri Lanka).
  • China’s string of pearl’s strategy is aimed at encircling India to establish dominance in the Indian Ocean.
  • Post 2015, Sri Lanka still relies heavily on China for Port city project and for continuation of Chinese funded infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka.
  • Although the Hambantota harbour is reportedly making losses, it too has potential for development due to its strategic location.
  • Sri Lanka has a list of highly strategic ports located among busiest sea lanes of communication.
  • Sri Lanka’s Colombo Port is the 25th busiest container port in the world and the natural deep-water harbor at Trincomalee is the fifth largest natural harbour in the world.
  • Port city of Trincomalee was the main base for Eastern Fleet and British Royal Navy during the Second World War.
  • Sri Lanka’s location can thus serve both commercial and industrial purposes and be used as a military base.

-Source: The Hindu


U.S. in Arctic Council: Avoid militarization of the Arctic

Context:

U.S. Secretary of State said that Washington wanted to avoid a military build-up in the Arctic after Russia defended its military activities in the strategic region, on the eve of an Arctic Council meeting of Foreign Ministers.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (Important International Groupings)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the Arctic
  2. Arctic Council
  3. Highlights of India’s ‘Arctic’ policy
  4. India in The Arctic

About the Arctic

  • The Arctic is a polar region located at the northernmost part of Earth.
  • The Arctic consists of the Arctic Ocean, adjacent seas, and parts of Alaska (United States), Canada, Finland, Greenland (Denmark), Iceland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden.
  • Land within the Arctic region has seasonally varying snow and ice cover, with predominantly treeless permafrost (permanently frozen underground ice) containing tundra. Arctic seas contain seasonal sea ice in many places.

Importance of the Resources in the Arctic region

  • The Arctic holds large quantities of minerals, including phosphate, bauxite, iron ore, copper, nickel, and diamond.
  • The United States Geological Survey estimates that 22 percent of the world’s oil and natural gas could be located beneath the Arctic.
  • Large Arctic mines include Red Dog mine (zinc) in Alaska, Diavik Diamond Mine in Northwest Territories, Canada, and Sveagruva in Svalbard.

Arctic Council

  • The Arctic Council is a high-level intergovernmental forum that addresses issues faced by the Arctic governments and the indigenous people of the Arctic.
  • The Arctic Council is a forum for promoting cooperation, coordination, and interaction among the Arctic states, with the involvement of the Arctic Indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on issues such as sustainable development and environmental protection.
  • The Arctic Council has conducted studies on climate change, oil and gas, and Arctic shipping.

Member States and Observer States of the Arctic Council

  • The eight countries with sovereignty over the lands within the Arctic Circle constitute the members of the council: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States.
  • Observer status is open to non-Arctic states approved by the Council at the Ministerial Meetings that occur once every two years.
  • The Observer States are: Germany, Netherlands, Poland, United Kingdom, France, Spain, China, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Switzerland.

Highlights of India’s ‘Arctic’ policy

  • India expects the Goa-based National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research to lead scientific research and act as a nodal body to coordinate among various scientific bodies to promote domestic scientific research capacities.
  • India aims to promote scientific research in the Arctic by expanding “earth sciences, biological sciences, geosciences, climate change and space related programmes, dove-tailed with Arctic imperatives in Indian Universities.”
  • Other objectives of the policy include putting in place Arctic related programmes for mineral/oil and gas exploration in petroleum research institutes.
  • India’s Arctic policy also aims at encouraging tourism and hospitality sectors in building specialised capacities and awareness to engage with Arctic enterprises.

India in The Arctic

  • India launched its first scientific expedition to the Arctic in 2007 and set up a research station ‘Himadri’ in the international Arctic research base at Ny-Ålesund in Spitsbergen, Svalbard, Norway.
  • India has two other observatories in Kongsforden and Gruvebadet.
  • India has sent 13 expeditions to the Arctic since 2007 and runs 23 active projects.

Himadri (research station)

  • Himadri is India’s first permanent Arctic research station located at Spitsbergen, Svalbard, Norway.
  • It was set up during India’s second Arctic expedition in 2008 by the Ministry of Earth Sciences.
  • Himadri’s functions include long term monitoring of the fjord (Kongsfjorden) dynamics, and atmospheric research.
  • The primary goals of India’s research include research on aerosol radiation, space weather, food-web dynamics, microbial communities, glaciers, sedimentology, and carbon recycling.

National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research

  • The National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research, (NCPOR) formerly known as the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCAOR) is an Indian research and development institution, situated in Vasco da Gama, Goa.
  • It is an autonomous Institution of the Department of Ocean Development (DOD), Ministry of Earth Sciences, which is responsible for administering the Indian Antarctic Programme and maintains the Indian government’s Antarctic research stations, Bharati and Maitri.
  • NCPOR complex is a home to a special low-temperature laboratory and is setting up a National Antarctic Data Centre and a Polar Museum.
  • The NCPOR operates in different fields or tasks:
    1. storing ice core samples, from Antarctica and the Himalayas.
    2. operating the Himadri and IndARC Arctic research stations in Svalbard, Norway.
    3. managing the oceanic research vessel ORV Sagar Kanya, the flagship of India’s fleet of oceanographic study vessels.

-Source: The Hindu

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