- CURRENT AFFAIRS – 12/10/2023
- ‘Operation Ajay’ set to evacuate Indian nationals from Israel
- Spring cleaning: on GST regime reform
- Concerns about govt.’s fact check unit
- Supreme Court divided on married woman’s right to abort 26-week pregnancy
- Over 3.2 lakh pleas pending before 27 information commissions across country
- Centre to create autonomous body MeraYuva Bharat
CURRENT AFFAIRS – 12/10/2023
‘Operation Ajay’ set to evacuate Indian nationals from Israel
(General Studies- Paper II and III)
Source : TH
India is initiating a major operation, named Operation Ajay, to evacuate its citizens from conflict-hit Israel.
- This marks the second such evacuation in 2023, following Operation Kaveri for Sudan in April-May.
- Operation Ajay Announced by External Affairs Minister
- India’s External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar, announced the launch of Operation Ajay.
- Special chartered flights and arrangements are being made to facilitate the return of Indian citizens from Israel.
- Emphasis on ensuring the safety and well-being of Indian nationals abroad.
- The Indian Embassy in Tel Aviv is actively coordinating the evacuation efforts.
- The embassy has sent emails to the first group of registered Indian citizens, with the first special flight expected to depart for India on Thursday.
- Subsequent flights for registered individuals will follow.
- Context of the Conflict
- Air India suspended its Delhi-Tel Aviv route after a recent attack by Hamas on Israel, leading to a massive Israeli military response against Gaza Strip.
- The conflict escalated further with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon launching rockets at Israel, drawing Israeli retaliation.
- Due to the deteriorating situation, international flights to and from Israel have been canceled.
- Operation Ajay’s Scale and Adaptation
- The scale of Operation Ajay will depend on the demand for evacuation.
- The Indian government is prepared to expand its capacities as needed.
- Indian Citizens in Israel
- Various groups of Indian citizens are affected, including students, traders, IT professionals, domestic workers, and caregivers.
- A significant number of Indian-origin Jews living in Israel have roots in Kochi, Kolkata, and Mumbai.
- In May, India and Israel agreed to allow the recruitment of 42,000 caregivers and workers for Israel.
Spring cleaning: on GST regime reform
(General Studies- Paper III)
Source : TH
The GST Council recently addressed a range of tax-related issues, offering clarity on several long-standing ambiguities since the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in India in 2017.
- The meeting, held after a more active year compared to 2022, addressed rate changes and clarifications while highlighting some major concerns.
- Clarity on Taxation Ambiguities
- The GST Council resolved a dozen tax treatment ambiguities that had persisted since the launch of the GST regime in July 2017.
- One significant clarification was regarding the tax treatment of corporate and personal guarantees for bank loans.
- Another important move was the reduction of GST on molasses from 28% to 5%, aiming to lower cattle feed costs and improve cash flows for sugar mills to expedite farmers’ payments.
- Exclusion of Extra Neutral Alcohol (ENA) from GST
- The GST Council decided not to exercise its power to tax extra neutral alcohol (ENA), which is a key ingredient for alcoholic liquor production.
- The decision is noteworthy because alcohol for human consumption remains outside the GST purview.
- The issue surrounding the tax levy on ENA had been a subject of debate for years, and the Council’s decision offers clarity to the industry.
- Frequency of GST Council Meetings
- In contrast to the previous year, when the Council met only twice, it convened four times in the current year and three times in just four months.
- Some agenda items in these meetings involved addressing anomalies in recent decisions.
- The Council also harmonized the age norms for the president and members of the GST Appellate Tribunals, making them consistent with other tribunals.
- Future Considerations on GST Compensation Cess
- Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman indicated that the GST Council plans to convene in the future to discuss “perspective planning” related to the GST Compensation Cess.
- Originally introduced as a time-bound levy to compensate states for revenue losses during the first five years of GST, the Cess was extended until March 2026 due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on tax collections.
- While discouraging the consumption of demerit goods is a valid goal, introducing a new cess should be part of a broader initiative to rationalize the complex multiple-rate structure of the GST.
About GST Council
The Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council is a constitutional body responsible for making decisions and recommendations related to the administration and implementation of the Goods and Services Tax.
- The GST Council is a constitutional body established under Article 279A of the Indian Constitution.
- Its creation is part of the Goods and Services Tax (122nd Amendment) Bill, 2014, which was passed by the Indian Parliament.
- The GST Council is a federal body composed of members from both the central government and state governments.
- The Union Finance Minister of India serves as the chairperson of the GST Council.
- State finance ministers from each of the 28 states and 9 union territories in India are members of the council.
- The primary objective of the GST Council is to make decisions related to tax rates, tax exemptions, the threshold for taxes, and other aspects of GST.
- It also aims to ensure a harmonized and uniform tax structure across the country, promoting the idea of “One Nation, One Tax.”
- Decision-Making Authority:
- The GST Council has the authority to make important decisions by way of consensus among its members.
- Most decisions are made with a three-fourths majority.
What is Extra Neutral Alcohol (ENA)?
- Extra Neutral Alcohol (ENA) is a type of highly rectified spirit that is nearly neutral in taste and odor.
- It is a colorless, odorless, and nearly flavorless alcohol that is produced through a process of multiple distillations and purifications, resulting in a high level of purity.
- ENA is primarily used as a base alcohol in the production of various alcoholic beverages, cosmetics, perfumes, and pharmaceuticals.
- ENA is typically derived from the fermentation and distillation of agricultural products such as grains, sugarcane, grapes, or molasses.
- High Purity:
- ENA has a very high level of purity, often exceeding 95% alcohol by volume (ABV).
- This high purity makes it a preferred choice for many applications where the taste, odor, and color of the alcohol should not interfere with the final product.
- ENA is not intended for direct consumption.
- Due to its high alcohol content and lack of flavor, it can be extremely potent and is typically used as an ingredient in the production of other products.
Concerns about govt.’s fact check unit
(General Studies- Paper II)
Source : TH
The Bombay High Court recently heard a batch of petitions challenging the constitutionality of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules, 2023 (IT Rules).
- These rules enable the government’s fact-check unit to identify and demand the removal of “fake, false, or misleading” online content related to the business of the Central Government.
- The Amendment Rules
- In April 2023, the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MEiTY) promulgated the IT Rules, amending the Information Technology Rules, 2021, allowing the ministry to establish a fact-checking unit.
- Several petitioners, the Editors Guild of India, and the Association of Indian Magazines, challenged Rule 3(1)(b)(v) of the IT Rules, which permits the creation of the Fact-Check Unit (FCU).
- The petitioners argue that this provision could lead to government-led online censorship and give the government the role of “prosecutor, judge, and executioner” in determining online content’s truth.
- Government’s Defense
- The government’s stance is that the FCU will only notify intermediaries or online platforms about potentially false or misleading content, leaving the decision to remove it or add a disclaimer to the intermediaries.
- The government highlights that the FCU’s notice is advisory, and if a user disagrees with the intermediary’s decision, they can seek legal remedies, with the court being the final arbiter.
- High Court’s Observations
- The Bombay High Court expressed concerns about the amendment granting “unfettered power” to a government authority without clear guidelines and safeguards.
- The court noted that the amendment raises issues related to free speech and government censorship.
- Amendment Details
- The amendment introduces changes to Rule 3(1)(b)(v) of the IT Rules, 2021, which addresses the obligations of intermediaries.
- It obliges intermediaries to make “reasonable efforts” to prevent users from hosting, displaying, uploading, modifying, publishing, transmitting, storing, updating, or sharing information identified as fake or misleading by a Central government fact-check unit related to any business of the Central government.
- In comparison, the 2021 Rules only required intermediaries to “inform” users of their obligation not to upload or share “patently false or misleading information.”
- The amendment does not define the term “any business of the Central government.”
- The fact-check unit (FCU) likely comprises four members, including representatives from relevant government ministries, a media expert, and a legal expert.
- Risk to Safe Harbor Protection
- Failure to comply with the amendment puts intermediaries at risk of losing the safe harbor protection provided under Section 79 of the IT Act, 2000.
- Safe harbor protection exempts intermediaries from liability for third-party information hosted by them, provided they exercise “due diligence” while fulfilling their obligations under the IT Act.
- Intermediary Concerns and Safe Harbor Protection
- Legal experts and the High Court have raised concerns that intermediaries may prioritize their commercial interests over risking the loss of safe harbor protection.
- The Court noted that no intermediary company has challenged the Rules, indicating their reluctance to lose safe harbor protection.
- The concern is that intermediaries might choose to restrict user content rather than risk legal liability, potentially infringing on freedom of speech and expression.
- Concerns Raised by the High Court
- The Bombay High Court expressed reservations regarding the amendment’s lack of necessary safeguards, despite its well-intentioned objectives.
- The Court noted that the Rules might not adequately protect fair criticism of the government, including parody and satire.
- The challenge to the Rules is based on the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
- The Court noted that the terms “fake,” “false,” and “misleading” are subjective and open to various interpretations.
- The Court emphasized the need for necessary safeguards in the amended Rules, expressing concerns about their constitutional implications.
- The Court pointed out that the amendment might not adequately protect free speech, including satire and parody.
- The petitioner argued that the amendment violates Article 14 of the Constitution by discriminating between false news about the government and other false news.
- The government’s presumption that only truth requires protection was challenged, as false speech is also protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, except falsehood that can be reasonably restricted.
- Need for Fact-Checking Unit (FCU)
- The Court questioned the sudden need for the Fact-Check Unit (FCU) when the Press Information Bureau (PIB) had efficiently fact-checked for years.
- The PIB serves as a nodal agency disseminating government information to the media, functioning as an interface between the government and the media.
- Monitoring Limited to Government Business
- The Court questioned why the monitoring was confined to “government business” and not extended to all speculative online content.
- The Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) justified this by stating that it is in the public interest to ascertain authentic information as people often rely on speculative online information without waiting for official government announcements.
- The Court acknowledged the prevalence of hoaxes and misuse on the internet.
- Lack of Opportunity to Defend Content
- The Court expressed surprise at the lack of provisions in the Rules that would allow an intermediary to justify or defend the flagged content.
- It noted that the Rules do not include a show cause notice or defense mechanism, which raises concerns about violating the principles of natural justice.
- The Court referred to the idea that the Rules might be excessive, akin to using a hammer to kill an ant.
- It questioned the government’s “absolute power” to determine the falsity of content and noted that the FCU’s determinations are treated as undeniable and incontrovertible truths.
- The Court emphasized the need to understand the boundaries of the FCU’s power and how it relates to Article 19(2) of the Constitution.
- Government’s Clarification
- The Solicitor General clarified that intermediary platforms must take action against flagged content by either putting up a disclaimer or taking it down after verification.
- The government argued that the FCU cannot compel removal of “misleading” content but claimed that intermediaries do not have the option to do nothing once content is flagged by the FCU.
Supreme Court divided on married woman’s right to abort 26-week pregnancy
(General Studies- Paper II)
Source : TH
A married woman sought an abortion for her 26-week pregnancy.
- She stated that she was taking medication for her mental condition and was not in a position to take care of a third child.
- The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act of 2021 allows abortion in exceptional circumstances up to 24 weeks, primarily when necessary to save the mother’s life or in case of a fatal deformity detected in the fetus.
- The All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) medical board had initially supported the woman’s request for abortion.
- The Union government later objected, with an expert doctor emailing against the abortion, saying the child should be given a chance to survive.
- Split Decision in Supreme Court
- A Division Bench of two women judges in the Supreme Court had a split opinion on the case.
- Justice HimaKohli agreed with the government’s stance that the woman should not be permitted to terminate the pregnancy.
- Justice B.V. Nagarathna disagreed with her colleague, emphasizing that the woman’s decision should be respected.
- Justice Nagarathna argued that the woman’s mental condition, medication, and her existing responsibilities as a mother of two, including a one-year-old child, should be paramount.
- The Union government asserted that the woman’s right to reproductive autonomy should not supersede the Act’s provisions, especially once there is a viable baby.
- The case was referred to the Chief Justice of India to form a three-judge Bench for further consideration.
- The primary disagreement revolved around whether the woman’s choice to terminate the pregnancy should be upheld or not, with one judge supporting her autonomy and the other upholding the interests of the unborn child.
- Key Legal and Ethical Questions
- The case raises important questions about reproductive rights, the rights of the unborn child, and the role of the state in determining abortion decisions.
- It also underscores the complexity of balancing a woman’s autonomy and the potential interests of the fetus, particularly when a pregnancy has progressed significantly.
- The role of medical opinions, especially when they change over time, is also a crucial aspect of the case.
- Next Steps
- The case will be further considered by a three-judge Bench, which will aim to provide a more definitive ruling on the matter.
- The decision of this Bench could have significant implications for similar cases and the interpretation of abortion laws in India.
About the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act of 2021
- The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act of 2021 is a legislation that amends the existing Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971.
- The key provisions of this amendment are:
- Extension of Pregnancy Termination Deadline:
- The amendment extends the permissible period for the termination of a pregnancy from 20 weeks to 24 weeks.
- This extension is allowed in specific cases, particularly if the continuation of the pregnancy poses a risk to the life of the mother or could result in physical or mental abnormalities in the fetus.
- Approval of Medical Practitioners:
- For pregnancies up to 20 weeks, the opinion of one registered medical practitioner is required for the termination.
- In cases between 20 and 24 weeks, the approval of two registered medical practitioners is needed.
- Termination for Minors:
- For pregnancies involving minors (girls under 18 years of age), their consent is required for the abortion, but the approval of at least one guardian is necessary.
- Establishment of State-Level Medical Boards:
- The amendment allows for the establishment of State-Level Medical Boards to assess cases where pregnancies have exceeded 24 weeks.
- These boards play a crucial role in evaluating whether an abortion is necessary to protect the life or health of the mother or if there are significant fetal abnormalities.
- Extension of Pregnancy Termination Deadline:
Over 3.2 lakh pleas pending before 27 information commissions across country
(General Studies- Paper II)
Source : TH
A report card on the performance of information commissions (IC) reveals a rising backlog of appeals and complaints under the Right to Information Act.
- As of June 30, 2023, there were over 3.2 lakh pending appeals and complaints in 27 ICs across India.
- Vacant Leadership Positions:
- The report highlights that six commissions, including the Central Information Commission (CIC), are without a chief.
- The states affected include Manipur, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Bihar, and Punjab.
- The CIC is working with only four commissioners, while seven posts remain vacant.
- Additionally, commissions in Jharkhand, Telangana, Mizoram, and Tripura have become defunct due to the absence of new appointments after incumbents demitted office.
- Report by SatarkNagrikSangathan (SNS):
- The report was compiled by the voluntary organization SatarkNagrikSangathan (SNS) based on information accessed through Right to Information (RTI) requests.
- It marks the 18th anniversary of the RTI law, which came into force on October 12, 2005.
- Cases Registered and Disposed:
- Between July 1, 2022, and June 30, 2023, more than 2.2 lakh appeals and complaints were registered by 28 ICs.
- During the same period, over 2.14 lakh cases were disposed of by 29 information commissions.
- The Uttar Pradesh State Information Commission (SIC) disposed of the highest number of cases (48,607), followed by the CIC (27,452) and Karnataka (21,516).
- State-wise Backlog:
- Maharashtra SIC had the highest number of pending appeals/complaints in the country, with a backlog of over 1.1 lakh as of December 31, 2022.
- This was followed by the Karnataka SIC with more than 41,000 cases, Uttar Pradesh with 27,163, and the CIC with 20,078.
- West Bengal SIC would take an estimated 24 years and 1 month to dispose of a matter filed on July 1, 2023.
- Several commissions have estimated disposal times ranging from 9 months (CIC) to more than 4 years (Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra SICs).
- Causes of Delay:
- The report attributes the delays in disposal of cases to vacancies in commissions and the slow rate of case disposal by commissioners.
- While the CIC has set a norm of 3,200 cases per commissioner annually for disposal, other information commissions have not established such norms.
- Penalties Imposed:
- The RTI Act empowers ICs to impose penalties of up to Rs 25,000 on public information officers.
- The report indicates that penalties were imposed in just 5% of the cases disposed by the ICs.
- A total penalty of around Rs 15.3 crore was imposed in 8,074 cases, with Uttar Pradesh having the highest amount of penalty at Rs 10.39 crore, followed by Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, and Odisha.
- Annual Reports Not Published:
- Section 25 of the RTI Act mandates each commission to prepare an annual report on the implementation of the Act. These reports should be laid before Parliament or state legislatures.
- The report card reveals that 19 out of 29 ICs (66%) have not published their annual reports for 2021-22.
- Ineffectiveness of the RTI Law:
- The report concludes that, after 18 years of the RTI Act, the functioning of information commissions remains a major bottleneck in its effective implementation.
- The backlog of appeals and complaints across many commissions in India has led to significant delays in case disposal, rendering the law ineffective.
- The report cites the failure of central and state governments to appoint information commissioners promptly as one of the primary reasons for these backlogs.
About Central Information Commission (CIC)
- The Central Information Commission (CIC) is an independent statutory body established under the Right to Information Act, 2005.
- The primary purpose of the CIC is to ensure transparency and accountability in the functioning of the government by facilitating access to information for citizens.
- The CIC specifically deals with matters related to the right to information, including hearing complaints and appeals.
- The CIC was established in accordance with the provisions of the Right to Information Act, 2005.
- It was officially set up on October 12, 2005, to coincide with the date the RTI Act came into force.
- The CIC consists of a Chief Information Commissioner and up to ten Information Commissioners.
- These are appointed by the President of India on the recommendation of a selection committee that includes, among others, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, and a Union Cabinet Minister nominated by the Prime Minister.
- Powers and Functions: The CIC has the following primary responsibilities:
- Adjudicating on complaints and appeals filed under the Right to Information Act.
- Ensuring compliance with the provisions of the RTI Act by public authorities.
- Imposing penalties on officials who violate the Act.
- Promoting transparency and accountability in government operations.
- Hearing cases and rendering decisions on the disclosure of information held by public authorities.
- Case Disposal:
- The CIC is responsible for hearing and disposing of appeals and complaints filed by individuals or organizations regarding the denial of information or grievances related to the implementation of the RTI Act.
- It has the authority to order the release of information and penalize officials who have violated the Act.
- The CIC prepares an annual report on its activities and submits it to the President, who subsequently places it before Parliament.
Centre to create autonomous body MeraYuva Bharat
(General Studies- Paper II)
Source : The Indian Express
The Indian government has launched an initiative, MeraYuva Bharat (MY Bharat), aimed at the country’s vast youth population, just after the passage of the women’s reservation Bill.
- MY Bharat is established as an autonomous body, designed to promote youth-led development and equitable access to opportunities for India’s 40-crore strong youth population, aged 15-29 years.
- MY Bharat Portal Launch:
- The MY Bharat platform’s official website will be launched on October 31, coinciding with the birth anniversary of SardarVallabhbhai Patel.
- The platform intends to provide young people with suitable opportunities for voluntary work and engagement in areas of their choice across India.
- Youth Demographic Dividend:
- India has a demographic dividend with approximately 40 crore youths in the 15-29 age group, and MY Bharat seeks to leverage their potential and promote their contribution to nation-building.
- MY Bharat aims to serve as an all-encompassing platform for youth development.
- It will act as a central hub connecting young individuals with opportunities from various central government ministries.
- MY Bharat will also create a centralized database of youth information.
- It intends to foster community change and nation-building by making youth agents of development and bridge the gap between the government and its citizens.
- MY Bharat will not provide financial remuneration.
- Target Beneficiaries:
- The autonomous body will primarily cater to the youth in the 15-29 age bracket, aligning with the National Youth Policy’s definition of youth.
- Adolescents aged 10-19 years will also benefit from program components.
- Skill Development and Leadership:
- The youth affairs and sports ministry, in a statement, highlighted that MY Bharat would enhance leadership skills in young people through experiential learning.
- The initiative will focus on investing in the youth to develop them as social innovators and leaders.
- It aims to shift the government’s focus towards youth-led development, transforming them from passive recipients into active drivers of development who can bridge the gap between their aspirations and community needs.