Current Affairs Analysis

5th March 2020 Current Affairs Analysis – IASToppers

Summer capital of Uttarakhand; Cabinet approves Companies (Second Amendment) Bill, 2019; National Retail Policy; LLP settlement Scheme 2020; National Retail Policy; LLP settlement Scheme 2020; Bacteria to replace chemicals in Tea plants; Endophyticactino bacteria; President rejects mercy petition of convict in Nirbhaya case; Mercy petition; Privilege Motion; President’s pardoning power; Virtual currency; MAC-binding; Privilege committee; Launch of GISAT-I delayed; Gairsain: Researchers detect new coronavirus strains; Mutation;
By IASToppers
March 05, 2020

Contents

Polity & Governance

  • President rejects mercy petition of convict in Nirbhaya case
  • MAC-binding
  • Privilege Motion
  • Gairsain: Summer capital of Uttarakhand

Government Schemes & Policies

  • Cabinet approves Companies (Second Amendment) Bill, 2019
  • LLP settlement Scheme 2020:

Issues related to Health & Education

  • Researchers detect new coronavirus strains

Economy

  • Virtual currency

Science & Technology

  • Bacteria to replace chemicals in Tea plants
  • Launch of GISAT-I delayed

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Polity & Governance

President rejects mercy petition of convict in Nirbhaya case

President Ram Nath Kovind has rejected the mercy petition of Pawan Gupta, one of the four death row convicts in the 2012 Nirbhaya gang-rape and murder case.

What is the issue?

  • Gupta was the last convict to file a mercy petition.
  • This comes after a Delhi court stayed for the third time the death sentence of four convicts in the case observing that they cannot be executed while a mercy petition is pending before the President.

What is a mercy petition?

  • There is no statutory written procedure for dealing with mercy petitions, but in practice, after extinguishing all the reliefs in the court of law, either the convict in person or his relative on his behalf may submit a written petition to the President.
  • The petitions are received by the President’s secretariat on behalf of the President, which is then forwarded to the Ministry of Home Affairs for their comments and recommendations.
  • A convict under the sentence of death is allowed to make the petition within a period of seven days after the date on which the Superintendent of jail informs him about the dismissal of the appeal or special leave to appeal by the Supreme Court.
  • The Home Ministry in consultation with the concerned State Government discusses the merits of the petition.
  • After the consultation, recommendations are made by the Home Minister and then, the petition is sent back to the President for his decision.

What happens when a convict moves a mercy petition?

  • In case, the petition is filed within seven days then it is the duty of the Jail Superintendent to stay the execution of the death sentence.
  • However, this does not mean that after the expiry of seven days a convict cannot file a mercy petition.
  • In such exceptional cases or intervening circumstances, it is the concerned state government that will decide the question of deferring the death sentence.

President’s pardoning power:

Article 72 of the Indian constitution provides:

  • The President shall have the power to grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute the sentence of any person convicted of any offence—

(a) in all cases where the punishment or sentence is by a Court Martial;

(b) in all cases where the punishment or sentence is for an offence against any law relating to a matter to which the executive power of the Union extends;

(c) in all cases where the sentence is a sentence of death.

  • Thus, Article 72 empowers the President to grant pardons, etc., and to suspend, remit or commute sentences in certain cases.

President and Mercy Petition:

  • The President can either accept or reject the mercy plea as per the advice by the council of ministers
  • However, the Constitution doesn’t provide for a specified time limit to accept/reject the mercy petition.
  • He can keep the petition in hold for an indefinite period if he wishes to.
[Ref: Economic Times, India legal]

MAC-binding

After seven months, the use of social media was allowed in Jammu and Kashmir on March 3, 2020, with an order laying down the latest rules for the use of Internet in the Union Territory. The Internet connectivity will be made available “with MAC-binding”.

What is MAC-binding?

  • Every device has a Media Access Control (MAC) address, a hardware identification number that is unique to it.
  • While accessing the Internet, every device is assigned an IP address.
  • MAC-binding essentially means binding together the MAC and IP addresses, so that all requests from that IP address are served only by the computer having that particular MAC address.
  • In effect, it means that if the IP address or the MAC address changes, the device can no longer access the Internet.
  • Also, monitoring authorities can trace the specific system from which a particular online activity was carried out.

Only 2G permitted:

  • Internet speed in Jammu and Kashmir is still restricted to 2G.
  • This means very slow services — pictures will take a long time to be sent or downloaded, videos will be nearly impossible to share, and there will be a long loading time for most websites.
  • It also means that although in theory, the “whitelist system” — where people could only access some websites pre-approved by the government — has been removed, some sites designed for a 4G Internet experience will hardly work.

Permitted connections:

  • The Internet can be accessed on all post-paid devices, and those using Local Area Networks (LAN).
  • While the post-paid SIM card holders shall continue to be provided access to the Internet, these services shall not be made available on prepaid SIM cards unless verified as per the norms applicable for post-paid connections.
  • Apart from this, special access terminals provided by the government will continue to run.
  • It is further directed that the access/communication facilities provided by the government, viz. e-terminals/Internet kiosks apart from special arrangements for tourists, students, traders etc. shall continue.

Have internet curbs been lifted?

  • Not exactly. The latest order is to remain in force till March 17, unless modified earlier.
  • The government has been relaxing Internet and phone usage in the Union Territory in phases.
  • On January 18, prepaid cellular services (voice and SMS) were restored, along with 2G mobile Internet connectivity to 153 “whitelisted” sites on post-paid cell phones in all 10 districts of Jammu and two revenue districts of Kashmir — Kupwara, and Bandipora.
  • On January 31, the number of whitelisted sites went up to 481.
  • However, on February 12, mobile Internet services were temporarily suspended again due to rumours about the health of separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
  • On February 16, more than 1,000 websites were added to the whitelist, taking the number up to 1,485.
  • The easing of restrictions came after the Supreme Court on January 10 asked for a review of “all orders suspending Internet services forthwith”.

SC verdict:

  • The SC stated that “an order suspending Internet services indefinitely is impermissible”.
  • It ruled that the freedom of speech and expression and the freedom to practise any profession or carry on any trade, business or occupation over the medium of Internet enjoys constitutional protection under Article 19 of the Constitution.
[Ref: Indian Express]

Privilege Motion

A privilege motion was moved against a Shiromani Akali Dal MLA recently in the Punjab Assembly for his “unacceptable” and “condemnable” behaviour.

About Privilege motion:

  • Parliamentary privileges are certain rights and immunities enjoyed by the members of Parliament, individually and collectively, so that they can effectively discharge their functions.
  • When any of these rights and immunities are disregarded, the offence is called a breach of privilege and is punishable under the law of Parliament.
  • A notice is moved in the form of a motion by any member of either House against those being held guilty of breach of privilege.
  • Each House also claims the right to punish as contempt actions which, while not breach of any specific privilege, are offences against its authority and dignity.

What are the rules governing privilege?

  • Rule No 222 in Chapter 20 of the Lok Sabha Rule Book and correspondingly Rule 187 in Chapter 16 of the Rajya Sabha rulebook governs privilege.
  • With the consent of the Speaker or the Chairperson, a MP can raise a question involving a breach of privilege.
  • However, any notice should be relating to an incident of recent occurrence and should need the intervention of the House.
  • Notices have to be given before 10 am to the Speaker or the Chairperson.
  • While a large number of privilege motions are prone to being rejected, the very few which were accepted remain etched in the history of Indian Parliament as significant decisions.

What is the role of the Speaker/Rajya Sabha Chair?

  • The Speaker/RS chairperson is the first level of scrutiny of a privilege motion.
  • The Speaker/Chair can decide on the privilege motion himself or herself or refer it to the privileges committee of Parliament.
  • If the Speaker/Chair gives consent under Rule 222 of the Lok Sabha Rule Book, the member concerned is given an opportunity to make a short statement.

What is the privileges committee?

  • In the Lok Sabha, the Speaker nominates a committee of privileges consisting of 15 members as per respective party strengths.
  • In the Rajya Sabha, the deputy chairperson heads the committee of privileges, that consists of 10 members.
  • A report is then presented to the House for its consideration.
  • The Speaker may permit a half-hour debate while considering the report.
  • The Speaker may then pass final orders or direct that the report be tabled before the House.
  • A resolution may then be moved relating to the breach of privilege that has to be unanimously passed.
[Ref: The Hindu, TOI]

Gairsain: New summer capital of Uttarakhand

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat has recently named Gairsain as the new summer capital of the state.

What is the move?

  • Gairsain has been declared the new summer capital of the state partially fulfilling an over two-decade demand by statehood crusaders to make it the permanent capital.
  • Rawat made the announcement immediately after concluding his budget speech on the third day of the assembly session convened in Gairsain.

Uttarakhand:

  • Uttarakhand was carved out as a separate state from Uttar Pradesh in 1998.
  • Statehood activists had long contended that Gairsain, a tehsil in Chamoli district, was best suited to be the capital of the mountainous state as it was a hilly region falling on the border of Kumaon and Garhwal regions.
  • Dehradun located in the Garhwal plains, has served as the temporary capital.
  • With the fresh announcement, there is no clarity on the city’s (Dehradun) current status or a new winter capital.
  • The Chief Minister also said that infrastructural measures, such as ensuring availability of water, have been carried out in the tehsil.
  • Rawat said that the BJP in its Vision Document released before the 2017 Assembly elections had promised to equip Gairsain with top-class infrastructure and consider declaring it as a summer capital with “consensus of all”.
  • But another promise on “permanent capital” made in the document remains incomplete.
  • The state Assembly is located in Dehradun, but sessions are held in Gairsain as well.

Criticism:

  • The Opposition citing the sacrifice of women and youths for a separate Uttarakhand state said the move was not acceptable.
  • It promised if returned to power, the area surrounding Gairsain will be equipped with infrastructure and it will be made a permanent capital.
[Ref: Indian Express]

Government Schemes & Policies

Cabinet approves Companies (Second Amendment) Bill, 2019

The Union Cabinet, chaired by the Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi has approved the Companies (Second Amendment) Bill, 2019 to amend the Companies Act, 2013.

Provisions of the Bill:

  • The Bill would remove criminality under the Act in case of defaults which can be determined objectively and which, otherwise, lack the element of fraud or do not involve larger public interest.
  • This would also lead to further de-clogging of the criminal justice system in the country.
  • The Bill would also further ease of living for law abiding corporates.
  • Earlier, the Companies (Amendment) Act, 2015 amended certain provisions of the Act to remove difficulties faced in implementation of various provisions of the Act.

The major provisions of The Companies (Second Amendment) Ordinance, 2019:

Re-categorisation of certain Offences:

  • The Ordinance re-categorizes 16 of these offences as civil defaults, where adjudicating officers may now levy penalties instead.
  • These offences include: (i) issuance of shares at a discount, and, (ii) failure to file annual return.

Issue of shares at a discount:

  • It prohibits a company from issuing shares at a discount, except in certain cases.
  • The company is liable to pay a fine between one lakh rupees and five lakh rupees every officer in default may be punished with imprisonment up to six months or fine between one lakh rupees and five lakh rupees on failure.
  • Ordinance changes this to remove imprisonment for officers as a punishment. 

Commencement of business:

  • A company may not commence business, unless
    • It files a declaration within 180 days of incorporation, confirming that every subscriber to the Memorandum of the company has paid the value of shares agreed to be taken by him.
    • It files a verification of its registered office address with the Registrar of Companies within 30 days of incorporation.

Registration of charges:

  • The Ordinance changes this to permit registration of charges:
  • within 300 days if the charge is created before the Ordinance, if not then it must be completed within six months from the date of the Ordinance, if not then the Registrar may grant another 60 days for registration. 

Change in approving authority:

  • Change in period of financial year for a company associated with a foreign company, has to be approved by the have been transferred to central government. 
  • Similarly, any alteration in the incorporation document of a public company which has the effect of converting it to a private company, has to be approved by central government.

Declaration of beneficial ownership:

  • If a person holds beneficial interest of at least 25% shares in a company or exercises significant influence or control over the company, he is required to make a declaration of his interest.
  • Failure to declare this interest, a person may either be fined, or imprisoned for up to one year, or both under the Ordinance.

Compounding:

  • Under the Act, a regional director can compound (settle) offences with a penalty of up to five lakh rupees.
  • The Ordinance increases this ceiling to Rs 25 lakh.
[Ref: PRS]

LLP settlement Scheme 2020:

The LLP Settlement Scheme, 2020, allows for a one-time condonation of delay in filing statutorily required documents with the Registrar of Companies (RoC).

What is the scheme?

  • The ministry of corporate affairs (MCA) has launched a one-time amnesty scheme for Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) companies that have failed to file the requisite statutory documents such as annual statements, change in directors, etc.
  • The move is aimed at promoting ease of doing business as well as to cleanse the system.
  • It provides these companies a one-time relaxation in payment of additional fees and immunity from prosecution.
  • As part of government’s constant efforts to promote ease of doing business it has been decided to give a one-time relaxation in additional fees to defaulting LLPs to make good their default by filing pending documents and to serve as a compliant LLP in future,” MCA said in a circular.
  • The scheme, LLP Settlement Scheme, 2020, allows for a one-time condonation of delay in filing statutorily required documents with the Registrar of Companies (RoC), it added.

Rationale:

  • On the rationale behind such a scheme, an official source said it has been noticed that many LLPs defaulted in filing various forms.
  • Presently, on non-filing of these forms, LLPs can file such documents on payment of additional fee for Rs 100 for every day of such delay.
  • The official added that it was also noted that a large number of LLPs are not filing their due statutory documents like information on LLP agreement and changes, notice of appointment of partner/ designate partner and other annual documents in a timely manner with the RoC.
  • MCA received representations from various quarters on waiver of fee or condonation of delay and relaxations in additional fee on the ground of excessive financial burden.
  • Many firms have a capital of Rs 1 lakh and have penalties amounting to Rs 2-3 lakh, which stops them from approaching for a solution due to the high penalty amount. The one-time scheme corrects this.
  • India has around 1.25 lakh active LLPs, of which a majority are in business services, followed by trading, manufacturing and real estate & renting.
  • This one-time scheme benefits around 25,000-30,000 LLPs that have a capital base of around Rs 1 lakh.

Significance:

  • The government has decided to cleanse the entire tax and regulatory structure within which businesses operate.
  • Under this initiative they have successfully launched unique resolution schemes in direct taxes as well as indirect taxes, now a similar scheme has been launched by MCA for LLP’s.
  • This one-time relaxation in payment of additional fees and immunity from prosecution would be a good impetus for all the defaulters to come forward and voluntarily accept the compliance framework.
[Ref: Financial Express]

Issues related to Health & Education

Researchers detect new coronavirus strains

Researchers in China have found that two different types of the new coronavirus that could be causing infections worldwide, indicating the virus has already mutated at least once.

Major Highlights of the study:

  • In a preliminary study published recently, the scientists at China have found that a more aggressive type of the new coronavirus had accounted for roughly 70% of analysed strains, while 30% had been linked to a less aggressive type.
  • The more aggressive type of virus was found to be prevalent in the early stages of the outbreak in Wuhan — the Chinese city where COVID-19 was first detected late last year.
  • But the frequency of this type of virus has since decreased from early January.
  • The researchers said their results indicate the development of new variations of the spike in COVID-19 cases was likely caused by mutations and natural selection besides recombination.

What is mutation?

  • A mutation is a change that occurs in our DNA sequence, either due to mistakes when the DNA is copied or as the result of environmental factors.
  • Virus Mutation:
    • The feature of viruses to cause mutation in the human genome.
    • The feature of viruses to perform viral genetic change in their own genome.

Significance:

  • These findings strongly support an urgent need for further immediate, comprehensive studies that combine genomic data, epidemiological data, and chart records of the clinical symptoms of patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
  • Researchers cautioned that data examined in the study was still “very limited,” emphasizing that follow-up studies of a larger set of data would be needed to gain a “better understanding” of the evolution and epidemiology of COVID-19.
[Ref: CNBC]

Economy

Virtual currency

The Supreme Court has set aside a ban by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on banks and financial institutions from dealing with virtual currency holders and exchanges.

Proportionality test:

  • The court held that the ban did not pass the “proportionality” test.
  • The test of proportionality of any action by the government, must pass the test of Article 19(1)(g), which states that all citizens of the country will have the right to practise any profession, or carry on any occupation or trade and business.
  • In a circular in 2018, the RBI had banned banks from dealing with virtual currency exchanges and individual holders on the grounds that these currencies had no underlying fiat and that it was necessary in the larger public interest to stop banks from providing any services related to these.

What are virtual currencies?

  • There is no globally accepted definition of what exactly is virtual currency.
  • Some agencies have called it a method of exchange of value; others have labelled it a goods item, product or commodity.
  • Satoshi Nakamoto, widely regarded as the founder of the modern virtual currency bitcoin and the underlying technology called block chain, defined bitcoins as “a new electronic cash system that’s fully peer-to-peer, with no trusted third party”.
  • This essentially meant there would be no central regulator for virtual currencies as they would be placed in a globally visible ledger, accessible to all the users of the technology.
  • All users of such virtual currencies would be able to see and keep track of the transactions taking place.

Are they different from cryptocurrencies?

  • Virtual currency is the umbrella term for all forms of non-fiat currency being traded online.
  • Virtual currencies are mostly created, distributed and accepted in local virtual networks.
  • Cryptocurrencies, have an extra layer of security, in the form of encryption algorithms.
  • Most cryptocurrencies now operate on the block-chain or distributed ledger technology, which allows everyone on the network to keep track of the transactions occurring globally.

Are cryptocurrencies dangerous?

  • Organisations across the globe have called for caution while dealing with virtual currencies, while also warning that a blanket ban of any sort could push the entire system underground, which in turn would mean no regulation.
  • In June 2013, the RBI had for the first time warned users, holders and traders of virtual currencies about the potential financial, operational, legal and customer protection and security-related risks that they were exposing themselves to.
  • The following year, the Financial Action Task Force came out with a report that highlighted both legitimate uses and potential risks associated with virtual currencies.
  • In a different report, it again said use of such virtual currencies was growing among terror financing groups.

Why did the RBI ban virtual currencies?

  • Owing to the lack of any underlying fiat, excessive volatility in their value, and their anonymous nature which goes against global money-laundering rules, the RBI initially flagged its concerns on trade and use of the currency.
  • Risks and concerns about data security and consumer protection on the one hand, and far-reaching potential impact on the effectiveness of monetary policy itself on the other hand, also had the RBI worried about virtual currencies.
  • In its arguments in the Supreme Court, the RBI said it did not want these virtual currencies spreading like contagion, and therefore, in the larger public interest, asked banks not to deal with people or exchanges dealing in these non-fiat currencies.

What did the petitioners say?

  • The petitioners told the SC that the RBI action was outside its purview as the non-fiat currency was not a currency as such.
  • They argued that the action was too harsh and there had been no studies conducted either by the RBI or by the central government.
  • Arguing that the ban was solely on “moral grounds”, the petitioners said the RBI should have adopted a wait-and-watch approach, as taken by other regulators such as the Directorate of Enforcement or the Securities and Exchange Board of India.

What did the Supreme Court rule?

  • SC held that the RBI directive came up short on the five-prong test to check proportionality — direct and immediate impact upon fundamental rights; the larger public interest sought to be ensured; necessity to restrict citizens’ freedom; inherent pernicious nature of the act prohibited or its capacity or tendency to be harmful to the general public; the possibility of achieving the same object by imposing a less drastic restraint.

What happens now?

  • The SC’s judgment could lead to the RBI rethinking its policies surrounding virtual currencies.
  • It is expected that the RBI will reconsider its approach to cryptocurrency and come up with a new, calibrated framework or regulation that deals with the reality of these technological advancements.
  • The decision will help those investors who had used legitimate money through banking channels.

 [Ref: Indian Express]

Science & Technology

Bacteria to replace chemicals in Tea plants

Researchers at Institute of Advanced Study in Science and Technology (IASST) Guwahati, an autonomous institute under Department of Science & Technology have found a bacterium that can replace fertilizers & fungicides in tea plants.

Pathbreaking discovery:

  • The researchers have found significant plant-growth-promoting and antifungal activities of Endophyticactino bacteria associated with Tea plant and related genera, Eurya to find potent plant growth-promoting strains
  •  Application of endophytic Actinobacteria could reduce chemical inputs in Tea plantation.
  • The team led by Dr. Debajit Thakur from IASST isolated 46 endophyticactino bacteria (predominantly free-living microorganisms) found in diverse environments.
  • Out of 46 isolates, 21 isolates inhibited the growth of at least one test fungal phytopathogens and strains SA25 and SA29 exhibited broad-spectrum antifungal activity.

Endophyticactino bacteria:

  • This research finding confirms that endophyticactino bacteria have the potential to exhibit multiple growth-promoting traits such as IAA production, phosphate solubilisation, siderophore production that can positively influence tea growth and production and can hence be used in the management and sustainability of Tea crop.
  • The above mentioned work is publicised in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Frontiers in Microbiology.

Significance:

  • Tea plays an important role in the Indian economy as a major portion of the tea produced is exported.
  • However, in the recent years, due to higher demand of chemical residue-free made tea by the importing countries has led to a decline in the export of tea.
  • The present study attempts the use of endophyticactino bacteria having plant beneficial characteristics to reduce and replace the use of chemical inputs in the tea industry.
[Ref: PIB]

Launch of GISAT-I delayed

The launch of Indian Space Research Organisation’s GISAT-1, scheduled for 5 March, 2020 has been postponed due to technical reasons. The new launch date for Gisat-1 will be announced in the due course.

Geo Imaging Satellite:

  • GISAT-1 — Geo Imaging Satellite — will be the first of two planned Indian EO spacecraft to be placed in a geostationary orbit of around 36,000 km.
  • It will apparently be in a fixed spot looking over the Indian continent at all times.
  • The launch of Gisat-1 was scheduled for March 5 from the second Launchpad of Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota.
  • All Indian EOs have been placed so far in a 600-odd-km orbits and circle the earth pole to pole.

Utility:

  • The satellite has high-resolution cameras to keep a constant watch on our borders, monitor any changes in the geographical condition of the country.
  • Operating from geostationary orbit, Gisat-1 will facilitate near real time observation of the Indian subcontinent, under cloud free condition, at frequent intervals.
[Ref: India Today]

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