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Current Affairs 20 December 2021 for UPSC Exam | Legacy IAS Academy

Contents

  1. Questioning the impartiality of the Election Commission
  2. India-Central Asia dialogue in New Delhi
  3. Thar desert expanding fast with land degradation
  4. Early signs of worsening air emerge in Northeast India
  5. Bill for linking electoral rolls to Aadhaar

Questioning the impartiality of the Election Commission

Context:

Recently, a letter written by the Law Ministry to the Election Commission (EC) which states that the Principal Secretary to PM ‘expects‘ the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) to be present during a discussion has come under criticism.

Relevance:

GS-II: Polity and Constitution (Constitutional Provisions, Constitutional Bodies)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About Election Commission of India
  2. Structure of the Election Commission
  3. Issues with ECI
  4. Issues with the EC meeting with the PMO
  5. Supreme Court’s views on Election Commission’s independence

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.

Issues with the EC meeting with the PMO

  • The Election Commission is a Constitutional authority whose functioning is insulated from the Executive. Attending meetings or discussions called by officers of the government compromises the independence of the commission in the public eye.
  • The tone of the letter also raises questions because as per protocol, an officer of the government, no matter how senior, cannot call the CEC for a discussion.
  • The EC’s communication with the Government on election matters is through the bureaucracy — either with its administrative ministry — the Law Ministry or the Home Ministry.
  • The Law Ministry spells the fine print on law for the country and is expected not to breach the constitutional safeguard provided to the commission to ensure its autonomy.

Supreme Court’s views on Election Commission’s independence

  • The independence of the Commission from the executive has been reiterated by the top court in its 1995 judgment in the TN Seshan v Union of India and Ors, wherein it observed that:
  • It is inherent in a democratic set-up that the agency which is entrusted the task of holding elections to the legislatures should be fully insulated from the party in power or executive of the day. This objective is achieved by the setting up of an Election Commission, a permanent body, under Article 324 (1) of the Constitution.

-Source: The Hindu


India-Central Asia dialogue in New Delhi

Context:

The third India-Central Asia dialogue, hosted by Indian External Affairs Minister saw participation from the Foreign Ministers of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (India’s Neighbors, India’s Foreign policy, Foreign Policies, Treaties and Agreements affecting India’s Interests)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Centra Asia, India-Central Asia relations
  2. Highlights of the third India-Central Asia dialogue

Click Here to read about Centra Asia, India-Central Asia relations

Highlights of the third India-Central Asia dialogue

Afghan issue

  • The six nations shared common concerns and objectives in Afghanistan.
  • The participating ministers noted the broad ‘regional consensus’ on the issues related to Afghanistan like the formation of a representative and inclusive government in Afghanistan, preserving the rights of women, children and other national ethnic groups, combating terrorism and drug trafficking from Afghanistan.
  • Notably none of the countries recognise the Taliban. While Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have reopened their missions in Kabul and also exchanged ministerial-level visits with Kabul, like Kazakhstan and the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan has taken a strong stand against the Taliban.
  • The joint statement noted the importance of providing immediate humanitarian assistance for the Afghan people

Bilateral ties

  • The dialogue involved discussions on how to increase links between Central Asian countries and India in terms of connectivity and trade relations.
  • Noting Pakistan’s block on land trade from India, the countries proposed making use of the sea route via India-run terminal at the Chabahar port in Iran and the International North South Transit Corridor that goes via the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.
  • International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), is multi-modal transportation established for the purpose of promoting transportation cooperation among the Member States. This corridor connects India Ocean and the Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea via the Islamic Republic of Iran and then is connected to St. Petersburg and North Europe via the Russian Federation.
  • The dialogue also decided to explore establishing joint working groups to address issues of free movement of goods and services between India and Central Asian countries.

-Source: The Hindu


Thar desert expanding fast with land degradation

Context:

The study on desertification of Thar region conducted by the Central University of Rajasthan as part of an assessment of the environmentally sensitive areas within the framework of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

Relevance:

GS-III: Environment and Ecology (Climate change and its impact, Environmental Pollution and Degradation)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the study on Thar desert
  2. Contributing factors for desertification of the Thar Desert
  3. Concerns

About the study on Thar desert

  • The scientists studied the climate and vegetation in Thar to understand the desertification process.
  • Desertification is land degradation in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas, collectively known as drylands, resulting from factors, including both human activities and climatic variations.
  • Desertification leads to loss of biological productivity of soils as a result of which fertile areas become increasingly arid.
  • The study notes the fast eastward expansion of the Thar desert in India.

Contributing factors for desertification of the Thar Desert

  • In general, desertification is caused by variations in climate and by unsustainable land-management practices in dryland environments.
  • The over-exploitation of resources had led to reduction in vegetation cover in the areas adjacent to the Thar desert, contributing to its expansion beyond four districts in western Rajasthan.
  • The destruction of the Aravali ranges due to unregulated and unsustainable mining operations is a major factor contributing to the desertification in the region. The Aravali hills acts as a ‘natural green wall’ between the desert and the plains.
  • Climate change also seems to be contributing to the spread of arid region. The changes in the rainfall pattern, higher temperatures is aiding the spread of sand dunes beyond their traditional regions.

Concerns

  • The degradation of land is posing a threat to the desert ecology and the flora and fauna of the region.
  • The failure to control the spread of sand dunes will have an impact on the Aravali ranges’ northern part as an ecotonal area, acting as transition zone between the ecological systems. Notably, this region supports a large population.
  • The increasing desertification will result in sandstorms from the desert travelling as far as the National Capital Region (NCR) in the years to come. The sandstorms will also become more intense with the erosion of the Aravali’s. Also, the suspended particles from the arid region are contributing to air pollution in NCR.

-Source: The Hindu


Early signs of worsening air emerge in Northeast India

Context:

According to an analysis of air quality by the Delhi-based Center for Science and Environment, air quality in India’s northeast States is worsening.

Relevance:

GS-III: Environment and Ecology (Environmental Pollution and Degradation)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Air Pollution in Northeast India
  2. India’s Air Pollution Crisis put into perspective

Air Pollution in Northeast India

  • Due to the region’s geography, which is less suited to fossil-fuel-driven industrialization and geographic isolation, the air in the northeast States is cleaner.
  • In the national debate on air pollution and public health, the present concern with high pollution concentrations in the Indo-Gangetic Plain and in northern India as a whole overshadows and ignores the early signals of the issue in our north-eastern states.
  • Poor and insufficient air quality monitoring, as well as a lack of data, prevent a meaningful risk evaluation.
  • Several cities are already vulnerable to poor air quality and winter pollution, according to the scarce data.

India’s Air Pollution Crisis put into perspective

  • India has 37 of the world’s 50 most polluted cities, despite its air quality standards being laxer.
  • India’s standards for PM2.5 and PM10 are 60 and 100 µg/m3 respectively (over 24 hours), while the WHO’s new standards are 15 and 45 µg/m3 (over 24 hours).
  • India’s air pollution-influenced mortality rates are among the worst – the Global Burden of Disease estimates that India lost 1.67 million lives (Uttar Pradesh had the biggest share followed by Maharashtra and Rajasthan) in 2019 directly as a result of breathing polluted air, or because of pre-existing conditions exacerbated by air pollution.
  • The average life expectancy in Delhi is 6.4 years lower than the national average of 69.4, and the number is starting to fall for even coastal cities like Mumbai and Chennai.

The Serious threats

  • The health impacts of PM2.5 exposure now include lung cancer, cerebrovascular disease, ischaemic heart disease and acute lower respiratory illness, besides exacerbating ailments like depression.
  • Exposure to ozone has been linked to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Prolonged exposure to air pollutants affects newborns and babies still in the womb.
  • Simply put, air pollution is a threat to generations even before they are born.

-Source: The Hindu


Bill for linking electoral rolls to Aadhaar

Context:

Recently the Election Commission (EC) has proposed the Law Ministry to link the Aadhaar card with the Election Photo Identity Card (EPIC) to prepare an error free electoral roll.

Relevance:

GS-II: Governance (Government Policies and Initiatives, e-Governance, Transparency and Accountability in Governance)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Need for linking of Aadhaar and Voter ID
  2. Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021
  3. Issues Raised Over Voter ID-Aadhaar Seeding

Need for linking of Aadhaar and Voter ID

  • This has been a demand of the Election Commission ever since 2015. The EC had launched the National Electoral Law Purification and Authentication Programme to link the Aadhaar number with the voter ID number. It said the linking will weed out multiple enrolments in the name of one person.
  • At that time, the programme was stalled as the Supreme Court ordered that the use of Aadhaar will remain optional to avail of welfare schemes.
  • Following this, the EC modified its proposal and said the linking will be optional.

Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021

  • The Election Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021 seeks to amend the Representation of the People Act to bring in key reforms including voluntary linkage of voter ID with Aadhaar.
  • It will provide registration of new voters on four qualifying dates in place of the existing January 1 of every year.
  • At present, anyone turning 18 on or before January 1 will be eligible to be registered as a voter. Anyone born after January 1 will have to get enlisted only after a year.
  • According to the bill, along with January 1, there will be three other qualifying dates – April 1, July 1 and October 1 – in every calendar year.
  • The amendments also allow the elections to become gender neutral for service voters.
  • The amendment will help replace the word ‘wife’ with the word ‘spouse’ making the statutes “gender neutral”.
  • At present, an Armyman’s wife is entitled to be enrolled as a service voter, but a woman officer’s husband is not. With ‘wife’ being replaced by the term ‘spouse’, this will change.

Issues Raised Over Voter ID-Aadhaar Seeding

  • The proposal fails to specify the extent of data sharing between the ECI and UIDAI databases, the methods through which consent will be obtained, and whether consent to link the databases can be revoked.
  • In the absence of a robust personal data protection law — a Bill in that regard is yet to clear Parliament — any move to allow sharing of data can prove to be problematic. There would be an intrusion to the privacy of the individual.

-Source: The Hindu

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