- CURRENT AFFAIRS – 07/02/2024
- What’s in the new Public Examinations Bill, aimed at stopping cheating in exams?
- Controversy over two age-old Assamese traditions
- Understanding the delimitation exercise
- With solar industry in crisis, Europe in a bind over imports from China
- India to stay alert for ‘hot money’ after bond index inclusion
CURRENT AFFAIRS – 07/02/2024
What’s in the new Public Examinations Bill, aimed at stopping cheating in exams?
(General Studies- Paper II)
Source : The Indian Express
The Lok Sabha recently passed the Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill, 2024, aiming to curb malpractices such as question paper leaks, document tampering, and manipulation of computer networks in public examinations.
- The bill imposes stringent penalties, including a jail term of up to 10 years and a fine exceeding Rs 1 crore, on officials or organizations engaging in such activities.
- The bill, outlined in Section 3, delineates at least 15 actions considered as unfair means in public examinations, particularly those undertaken for monetary or wrongful gain.
- Question Paper Leakage: Actions related to the leakage of question papers or answer keys, including colluding in such leaks, are explicitly mentioned as offenses.
- Unauthorized Access: Unauthorized possession or access to question papers, Optical Mark Recognition response sheets, or any related materials without proper authority is considered an offense.
- Answer Sheet Tampering: Tampering with answer sheets, including those utilizing Optical Mark Recognition, is explicitly listed as an illegal act.
- Unauthorized Assistance: Providing solutions to one or more questions by any unauthorized person during a public examination and direct or indirect assistance to candidates are deemed as unfair means.
- Document Tampering: Tampering with documents crucial for short-listing candidates or finalizing merit or rank is identified as an offense.
- Computer Network Tampering: Actions involving tampering with computer networks, computer resources, or computer systems are explicitly prohibited.
- Fake Websites: Creation of fake websites is mentioned as an offense under the bill.
- Fake Examinations: Conducting fake examinations, issuing fake admit cards, or offering fake letters for cheating or monetary gain is considered an illegal act.
- Union minister Jitendra Singh clarified that students or candidates will not fall under the purview of the bill; it primarily focuses on penalizing officials or organizations involved in malpractices.
- Definition of Public Examinations:
- Under Section 2(k) of the Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill, 2024, a “public examination” is defined as any examination conducted by a “public examination authority” as specified in the Schedule of the Bill.
- Additionally, the Central Government has the authority to notify other bodies as “public examination authorities.”
- Listed Public Examination Authorities: The Schedule currently lists five designated public examination authorities:
- Union Public Service Commission (UPSC): Conducts examinations such as Civil Services Examination, Combined Defence Services Examinations, Engineering Services Examination, etc.
- Staff Selection Commission (SSC): Recruits for Group C (non-technical) and Group B (non-gazetted) positions in the central government.
- Railway Recruitment Boards (RRBs): Responsible for recruiting Groups C and D staff in the Indian Railways.
- Institute of Banking Personnel Selection (IBPS): Conducts recruitment at all levels for nationalized banks and regional rural banks (RRBs).
- National Testing Agency (NTA): Organizes examinations like JEE (Main), NEET-UG, UGC-NET, Common University Entrance Test (CUET), etc.
- Inclusion of Ministries and Departments:
- The new law extends its purview beyond the listed public examination authorities.
- It covers “Ministries or Departments of the Central Government and their attached and subordinate offices for recruitment of staff.”
- This inclusion broadens the scope of the legislation to encompass various government departments involved in staff recruitment.
- The Central Government holds the power to augment the Schedule by adding new authorities through notifications as deemed necessary.
- Cognizable and Non-Bailable Offences:
- Under Section 9 of the Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill, 2024, all offenses related to the bill are categorized as cognizable, non-bailable, and non-compoundable.
- This implies that arrests can be made without a warrant, bail is not an automatic right, and the release on bail will be at the discretion of a magistrate.
- Non-compoundable offenses cannot be withdrawn by the complainant, even in the case of a compromise, necessitating a trial.
- Punishments for Individuals:
- For individuals found guilty of resorting to unfair means and offenses, the proposed law prescribes a prison term ranging from three to five years and a fine of up to Rs 10 lakh.
- Failure to pay the fine may result in additional imprisonment as per the provisions of the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023, as specified in Section 10(1) of the Bill.
- Punishments for Service Providers:
- Under Section 10(2), service providers engaged to offer support through computer resources or materials for examination conduct can face fines up to Rs 1 crore, along with other penalties.
- The Bill introduces more severe penalties for organized paper leaks, defining “organized crime” as unlawful activity by a group colluding in a conspiracy to pursue or promote shared interests for wrongful gains in public examinations.
- Section 11(1) stipulates a prison term of not less than five years, extendable up to ten years for organized crime related to paper leaks.
- A fine not less than one crore rupees is mandated for those convicted of organized crime under Section 11(1).
- Rationale Behind the Bill
- The Indian government has introduced the Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill, 2024, in response to a surge in cases of question paper leaks during recruitment exams across the country.
- Over the last five years, a comprehensive investigation by The Indian Express identified 48 instances of paper leaks in 16 states, affecting 1.51 crore applicants for approximately 1.2 lakh government job posts.
- Statement of Objects and Reasons:
- The primary objective of the Bill, as stated in its Objects and Reasons, is to address the widespread malpractices in public examinations that result in delays, cancellations, and disruptions in the hiring process for government jobs.
- The absence of a specific substantive law to tackle such unfair means prompted the need for comprehensive central legislation.
- Issues Addressed by the Bill:
- Impact on Youth: Malpractices negatively affect the prospects of millions of youth, leading to delays and cancellations in the examination process.
- Lack of Existing Legislation: The absence of specific substantive laws to address unfair means and related offenses in public examinations necessitated the introduction of this legislation.
- Transparency and Credibility: The Bill aims to bring greater transparency, fairness, and credibility to public examination systems, assuring the youth that sincere efforts will be fairly rewarded, and their future is secure.
- Objectives of the Bill:
- The Bill is designed to deter individuals, organized groups, or institutions from engaging in various unfair means that adversely impact public examination systems for monetary or wrongful gains.
- Protection for Candidates:
- The legislation explicitly clarifies that candidates, as defined in the Bill, will not be liable for actions within its purview, ensuring that they continue to be covered under existing administrative provisions of the concerned public examination authorities.
- Model Draft for States:
- Once enacted, the Bill will serve as a model draft for states to adopt at their discretion.
- This provision aims to assist states in preventing criminal elements from disrupting the conduct of their state-level public examinations.
Controversy over two age-old Assamese traditions
(General Studies- Paper I)
Source : The Indian Express
The Assamese winter harvest festival of Magh Bihu, celebrated in January, includes traditional buffalo and bulbul (songbird) fights as part of the folk culture.
- Buffalo fights are prominent in Ahatguri, Nagaon district, and bulbul fights attract participants at the Hayagriv Madhab Mandir in Hajo, approximately 30 km from Gauhati.
- Historical Significance:
- Buffalo fights, deeply rooted in folk culture, have been held for decades by the AhatguriAnchalikMoh-joojaruBhogaliUtsavUdjapanSamiti, drawing large crowds.
- Bulbul fights, associated with religion, are conducted at the Hayagriv Madhab Mandir with rituals such as lighting lamps in Lord Vishnu’s name and offering trays before the fights.
- Discontinuation of Fights:
- The fights were discontinued due to concerns about animal cruelty and ethical considerations.
- Activists and organizations like People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) advocated against the practice, leading to a cessation of these traditional events.
- Assam Government’s Revival Attempt:
- The Assam government has made efforts to revive these traditional practices during Magh Bihu, sparking a legal challenge by PETA India.
- The government’s move is rooted in the cultural and historical significance of these practices, with buffalo fights representing folk culture and bulbul fights being tied to religious rituals.
- Discontinuation Following SC Ruling:
- Traditional buffalo and bulbul fights in Assam were discontinued after the Supreme Court’s 2014 judgment, which prohibited the use of bulls as performing animals in events like jallikattu and bullock-cart races nationwide.
- In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) directed the Assam government in January 2015 to cease animal and bird fights during Bihu celebrations.
- Some quarters resisted, continuing buffalo fights in defiance of the prohibition.
- Overturning the Ban:
- The management of the Hayagriv Madhab Temple challenged the order in the Gauhati High Court.
- In May of the previous year, the Supreme Court overturned its 2014 judgment, allowing jallikattu, kambala, and bullock cart racing with amendments to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
- In December, the Assam Cabinet approved the framing of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for buffalo and bulbul fights, provided there is no deliberate torture or cruelty to animals.
- Release of SOPs and Revival:
- SOPs were subsequently released, specifying that fights would only be permitted in places where they had been traditionally conducted for the last 25 years.
- Guidelines for buffalo fights include restrictions on human-inflicted injuries, the use of intoxicating or performance-enhancing drugs, and sharp instruments to instigate animals.
- For bulbul fights, organizers must ensure that the birds are released in perfect condition.
- Violating the stipulations results in a five-year ban for the organization.
- Magh Bihu, also known as MagharDomahi, is celebrated in Assam, North-East India.
- It marks the end of the harvesting season in the month of Magh, usually falling in January-February.
- A central ritual involves lighting a bonfire known as “Meji.”
- This ceremonial bonfire signifies the conclusion of the harvest season and serves as a prayer to the God of Fire.
- Magh Bihu is considered a regional variation of the broader festival of Makar Sankranti, which is celebrated in various forms across India.
Understanding the delimitation exercise
(General Studies- Paper II)
Source : TH
The delimitation of constituencies for the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies in India is a crucial process that involves fixing the number of seats and boundaries of territorial constituencies.
- This process is carried out after each Census and is mandated by the Constitution.
- Delimitation Process:
- Delimitation encompasses the determination of the number of seats and boundaries of territorial constituencies, including the allocation of seats reserved for Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST).
- The Delimitation Commission, established by an act of Parliament, is responsible for conducting this exercise.
- Past delimitation processes occurred after the 1951, 1961, and 1971 Censuses.
- Constitutional Requirement:
- The constitutional requirement for delimitation is rooted in the principles of democracy, where government is elected by the people.
- Article 82 and 170 of the Constitution specify that the number of seats in the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies, as well as their division into constituencies, must be readjusted after each Census.
- The average population per seat has been frozen since the 1971 Census, encouraging population control measures.
- This freeze was enacted through constitutional amendments (42nd and 84th Amendment Acts) and is set to be re-adjusted based on the first Census after 2026.
- Population Freeze and Adjustments:
- The number of seats in the Lok Sabha was determined based on the 1951, 1961, and 1971 Censuses, with corresponding populations of 36.1, 43.9, and 54.8 crore, respectively.
- The freeze on the number of seats was introduced to discourage higher population growth states from having more seats.
- This freeze, based on the 1971 Census, will be re-adjusted after the first Census post-2026.
- The 2021 Census, initially delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, holds significance for the delimitation process.
- In a normal course, the delimitation process would have occurred based on the Census of 2031 as the first Census post-2026.
- Issues Surrounding Delimitation in India
- Population Disparities:
- The population explosion has been uneven, with states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan experiencing greater increases compared to Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh.
- This disparity poses challenges in maintaining fair representation in legislative bodies.
- Two options are being discussed regarding the revised delimitation exercise based on the projected 2026 population.
- The first suggests continuing with the existing 543 seats and redistributing them among states.
- The second proposes increasing the number of seats to 848 with proportionate increases among states.
- Potential Disadvantages:
- In both scenarios, southern states, smaller northern states (Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand), and northeastern states may face disadvantages compared to the northern states with higher population growth (Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan).
- This raises concerns about going against federal principles and creating disenchantment among states losing representation.
- Philosophical and Political Implications:
- The proposed changes may contradict the philosophy of freezing seats based on the 1971 Census, as states successful in population control could lose political significance.
- This raises questions about the democratic principles and potential dissatisfaction among populations in states facing reduced representation.
- International Practices:
- In the U.S., the House of Representatives has had a capped number of 435 seats since 1913, redistributed among states after each Census using the ‘method of equal proportion.’
- This method aims to ensure minimal gains or losses for states during reapportionment.
- In the European Union (EU) Parliament, with 720 members, seats are allocated among 27 member countries based on ‘degressive proportionality,’ where the ratio of population to seats increases with population growth.
- Challenges in Delimitation:
- The delimitation exercise in India poses challenges as democratic and federal principles appear to conflict.
- Population disparities among states raise concerns about potential disadvantages and dissatisfaction.
- Proposed Ideal Solution:
- An ideal solution suggests harmonizing democratic and federal principles.
- One proposal involves capping the number of Members of Parliament (MPs) in the Lok Sabha at the existing 543, maintaining current state representation.
- To address democratic requirements, the number of Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) in each state could be increased based on the current population without altering the number of Rajya Sabha seats.
- Empowering Local Bodies:
- A crucial aspect of the proposed solution is empowering local bodies such as panchayats and municipalities.
- Strengthening democracy at the grassroots level involves significant devolution of powers and finances to these local bodies.
- This would enhance citizen engagement and address the challenges faced by the current delimitation exercise.
- Population Disparities:
About the Delimitation Commission
The Delimitation Commission of India, established under the Delimitation Commission Act, is a key governmental body tasked with the redrawing of boundaries for assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies based on recent census data.
- Composition of Delimitation Commission:
- Appointed by the President of India.
- Works collaboratively with the Election Commission of India.
- Membership includes a retired Supreme Court judge, the Chief Election Commissioner, and State Election Commissioners from respective states.
- Aims to provide equal representation to equal segments of the population.
- Ensures a fair division of geographical areas to prevent one political party from gaining an advantage over others in an election.
- Upholds the principle of “One Vote One Value,” emphasizing fairness and equality in the democratic process.
- Under Article 82, the Parliament enacts a Delimitation Act after every Census to address the changing demographic landscape.
- Under Article 170, states are also divided into territorial constituencies based on the Delimitation Act after each Census.
- Once the Delimitation Act is in force, the Union government establishes a Delimitation Commission to execute the redrawing of boundaries.
- Historical Context:
- The first delimitation exercise occurred in 1950-51 when the President, assisted by the Election Commission, carried out the process.
- The Delimitation Commission Act was enacted in 1952, formalizing the procedure.
- Delimitation Commissions have been set up four times – in 1952, 1963, 1973, and 2002, under the Acts of 1952, 1962, 1972, and 2002, respectively.
- No delimitation took place after the Censuses of 1981 and 1991.
- Functions of Delimitation Commission:
- Determining Constituency Number and Boundaries:
- The commission is empowered to establish the number and boundaries of constituencies.
- A primary goal is to ensure an equitable distribution of population among constituencies.
- Reservation of Seats:
- Identifies constituencies to be reserved for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes based on significant population presence in relevant areas.
- Legal Authority:
- The Delimitation Commission’s orders carry the force of law, and their decisions cannot be legally challenged.
- Determining Constituency Number and Boundaries:
With solar industry in crisis, Europe in a bind over imports from China
(General Studies- Paper III)
Source : TH
Europe’s transition to green energy faces a dilemma as a surge in cheap Chinese solar panel imports boosts solar energy installations but simultaneously threatens local solar manufacturers.
- The influx of imports, constituting up to 95% of solar panels and parts, has led to a crisis for European solar manufacturers, prompting warnings of potential closures and capacity reduction.
- Record Solar Capacity Installation:
- European Union countries experienced a remarkable year for green energy, witnessing a 40% increase in solar capacity installations compared to 2022.
- Majority of solar panels and components contributing to this surge originated from China, according to International Energy Agency data.
- Crisis for Local Solar Manufacturers:
- Despite the green energy boom, Europe’s local solar panel manufacturers are struggling due to the adverse impact of cheaper Chinese imports and oversupply.
- Announcements of production closures are accumulating, and the sector indicates that half of its capacity could shut down unless governments intervene.
- Policymaker Dilemma:
- Policymakers are grappling with a divided response on how to address the issue.
- German Economy Minister expressed concerns to the European Commission, cautioning against imposing trade restrictions on Chinese solar imports.
- He argued that such measures could jeopardize Europe’s rapid green energy expansion and increase costs for 90% of the photovoltaic (PV) market.
- Germany’s own support for the sector is disrupted by a government budget crisis.
- Spain is considering tariffs on solar panel materials, the Netherlands aims to utilize the EU’s carbon border tax for solar PV imports, and Italy announced a €90 million ($97 million) investment in a PV panel factory in Sicily.
- EU Commissioner’s Response:
- EU Financial Services Commissionerdid not announce new support measures.
- She highlighted existing EU initiatives, including a forthcoming law fast-tracking permits for local manufacturing and favoring EU-made products in clean tech tenders.
- Commissioner McGuinness expressed caution on imposing trade restrictions, emphasizing the EU’s reliance on imports to meet solar deployment targets.
- She suggested evaluating potential measures against energy transition objectives.
- Industry Division on Solutions:
- Solar manufacturers advocate for government intervention to purchase excess solar module inventories, easing oversupply.
- If not feasible, they propose considering trade barriers.
- The broader green energy industry opposes import curbs, citing the need to avoid hindering project development and reducing dependency on China in the short term.
- Challenges and Industry Outlook:
- The European solar industry faces challenges as it grapples with the impact of cheap Chinese imports, leading to oversupply and pricing pressures.
- Divergent opinions within the industry, with manufacturers seeking protective measures and others opposing trade barriers, reflect the complexities in finding a balanced solution.
- The outcome of the policy responses and potential trade restrictions on Chinese imports will significantly impact the trajectory of Europe’s green energy sector.
- The delicate balance between fostering renewable energy growth and safeguarding local industries poses a complex dilemma for European governments and industry stakeholders.
India to stay alert for ‘hot money’ after bond index inclusion
(General Studies- Paper III)
Source : TH
India plans to closely monitor the inflows of foreign funds following its inclusion in JPMorgan’s emerging market debt index.
- The government aims to take preventive measures against “hot money” that could potentially induce volatility in currency and bond markets.
- V. Somanathan, a senior Finance Ministry official, stated that the monitoring goal is to prevent volatility or unstable inflows without imposing restrictions on outflows.
- Measures will be taken when deemed necessary, with a focus on maintaining stability in currency and bond markets.
- Background and Potential Inflows:
- JPMorgan announced last year that it would include some Indian bonds in the Government Bond Index-Emerging Markets, potentially leading to incremental inflows of around $23 billion.
- Over the last three months, foreign investment in Indian government bonds has surged, with investors acquiring securities worth ₹446 billion ($5.37 billion).
- Concerns About Index Investors:
- The government is particularly concerned about longer-term index investors who may enter and exit passively, potentially not reflecting economic conditions accurately.
- Monitoring will ensure that inflows and outflows are in line with economic realities rather than being driven solely by passive index investment behavior.
What is ‘hot money’?
- ‘Hot money’ refers to short-term capital flows that are quickly transferred between financial markets in search of the highest short-term returns.
- This type of investment is characterized by its high liquidity and can move rapidly in and out of different assets, countries, or regions.
- The term is often used to describe speculative funds that are attracted to opportunities with high interest rates or short-term market fluctuations.
- Key characteristics of ‘hot money’ include:
- Short-Term Nature:
- Hot money is typically invested for a short duration, ranging from days to a few months.
- Investors seek to capitalize on short-term interest rate differentials, currency fluctuations, or other market inefficiencies.
- High Liquidity:
- Hot money can be quickly withdrawn from one market and moved to another due to its high liquidity.
- This swift movement distinguishes it from more stable, long-term investments.
- Risk Sensitivity:
- Investors in hot money are often risk-sensitive and respond quickly to changes in market conditions.
- Economic or political uncertainties, interest rate differentials, and other factors can trigger rapid shifts in hot money flows.
- Global Movement:
- Hot money is often cross-border, flowing in and out of different countries or regions in search of the most favorable conditions.
- This movement can be influenced by changes in global economic trends, market sentiments, or interest rate differentials.
- Impact on Markets:
- While hot money can provide liquidity to markets, its rapid movements can also lead to market volatility.
- Sudden inflows or outflows of hot money can impact exchange rates, interest rates, and asset prices.
- Short-Term Nature: