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Editorials/Opinions Analysis For UPSC 12 October 2023

CONTENTS:

  1. RTI Act: Time to Make it More Effective
  2. Spring Cleaning

RTI Act: Time to Make it More Effective


Context:

The Right to Information (RTI) Act, enacted on October 12, 2005, initially played a crucial role in unveiling scandals and promoting systemic reforms. However, there is a pressing need for significant adjustments to the RTI rules to prevent misuse and reduce challenges to decisions by the Central Information Commission (CIC) in courts.

Relevance:

GS2- Important Aspects of Governance, Transparency and Accountability

Mains Question:

There is a pressing need for significant adjustments to the RTI rules to prevent misuse and reduce challenges to decisions by the Central Information Commission (CIC) in courts.Analyse. (15 marks, 250 words).

Reforms Needed in Various Aspects:

Bringing more bodies under the act:To save the valuable time of Information Commissions and courts, the central government should issue a notification declaring all public-private partnerships, sports bodies, cooperative societies, and similar entities as well as public authorities under the RTI Act.
Land to be categorized as public authorities:The Land and Building Departments of central and state governments should examine cases of subsidized land or government accommodations and categorize them as public authorities under the RTI Act.
In the future, providing land or government accommodations at subsidized rates should be contingent on beneficiaries falling under the purview of the RTI Act.
Private Sector Banks:Given the substantial involvement of public funds in private sector banks, it is essential to bring all private sector banks under the ambit of the RTI Act.
This is especially relevant as all employees, including the highest-ranking post of CMD, are considered public servants according to the Banking Regulation Act.
Transparency is crucial, as highlighted by incidents of financial mismanagement and misuse of public funds in private banks.
RTI fees:Sections 27 and 28 of the RTI Act empower Competent Authorities and state governments to formulate their own rules, including determining RTI fees.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in 2018 capped the maximum RTI fee at fifty rupees. To ensure uniformity, India should adopt the principle of “One Nation-One Rule” for RTI fees, setting a standard fee of fifty rupees throughout the country, inclusive of the first twenty copied pages. Additionally, no fees should be levied for filing First or Second Appeals.
Accessibility boost:To streamline the payment of RTI fees, special RTI stamps in denominations of 2, 10, and 50 rupees could replace postal orders.
These stamps should be readily available at post offices and public authority counters.
Acceptance of post-free RTI applications at a larger number of post offices would enhance accessibility and efficiency.
Easy and effective Filing:Requiring ID proof to be attached to every RTI application, First Appeal, and petition filed with Information Commissions, as mandated by certain states, should be implemented nationwide.
The use of online portals for RTI applications should be improved to facilitate automatic email notifications of responses and First Appellate Authorities’ orders, reducing the need for applicants to search the portal for updates.
Streamlining the legislation:Mandating uniform websites designed by the National Informatics Centre (NIC) for central public authorities in all states would enhance consistency and efficiency. States should consider repealing acts like the Delhi Right To Information Act, 2001, as the RTI Act, 2005, now takes precedence.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, amending and enhancing the RTI rules is imperative to maintain the Act’s effectiveness, prevent misuse, and promote transparency and accountability in governance.


Spring Cleaning


Context:

The GST Council, on the last Saturday, addressed numerous ambiguities in tax treatment that have persisted since the launch of the indirect tax regime in July 2017.

Relevance:

GS3-Economy

Mains Question:

Stressing on the outcomes of the recent GST Council meeting, analyse what more can be done to address the concerns that still hamper the effective implementation of GST. (10 Marks, 150 words)

Outcome of the recent GST Council Meeting:

  • Notably, the council reduced the GST on molasses from 28% to 5%, aiming to reduce cattle feed costs and improve cash flows for sugar mills to expedite payment of farmers’ dues.
  • Beyond rate adjustments and clarifications, a significant decision was made not to impose taxes on extra neutral alcohol (ENA) used in alcoholic beverages.
  • As alcohol for human consumption remains outside the GST framework, the levy on ENA, a crucial ingredient, could not offset state levies on the final product. This issue, which has been a source of industry uncertainty, received much-needed clarity.
  • It is encouraging that the Council, after meeting only twice in 2022, convened four times this year, addressing anomalies in recent decisions.
  • The alignment of age norms for the president and members of the long-awaited GST Appellate Tribunals with other tribunals, though a previously overlooked aspect, is now resolved, potentially leading to their operationalization.

Concerns that remain:

  • However, the primary concern for consumers and producers lies in the Council’s commitment to convene exclusively for “perspective planning” on GST Compensation Cess and potential alternatives to it.
  • Originally presented as a time-bound charge atop the concept of a ‘Good and Simple Tax’ to compensate states for revenue losses during the initial five years of GST, the extension of the Cess on demerit goods like aerated drinks, tobacco products, and automobiles until March 2026 was triggered by the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on tax collections.
  • Unfortunately, the rationalization process, initiated two years ago, remains unaddressed despite strong revenue inflows in recent times.

Conclusion:

While discouraging certain goods with negative impacts may be a valid objective, introducing a new cess should not be an isolated action; instead, it should be part of a broader effort to rationalize the complex multiple-rate structure of GST. Beyond addressing frequent issues, the GST system requires a comprehensive reform plan, including a roadmap for the inclusion of previously excluded items such as electricity, petroleum, and alcohol.


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