Topic: GS –II: Constitution and Polity
The Election Commission of India passed an unprecedented order and cut short the campaign period in West Bengal by a day. It also removed the state’s Home Secretary, and a senior police officer.
- The decisions were taken under Article 324 of the Constitution, in response to street violence in Kolkata between cadres of the BJP and Trinamool Congress.
- Just a month earlier, the ECI had told the Supreme Court that its powers to discipline politicians who sought votes in the name of caste or religion were “very limited” — only to turn around and crack the whip on Yogi Adityanath, Maneka Gandhi, Mayawati, and Azam Khan after being scolded by the court, which also said it would examine the ambit of the Commission’s powers.
ECI’s freedom, responsibility
- There are just five Articles in Part XV (Elections) of the Constitution. The Constituent Assembly was concerned mainly with ensuring the independence of the Election Commission.
- R. Ambedkar introduced this Article on June 15, 1949, saying “the whole election machinery should be in the hands of a Central Election Commission, which alone would be entitled to issue directives to returning officers, polling officers and others”.
- Article 324 vests “in an Election Commission” the “superintendence, direction and control of elections”. Parliament enacted The Representation of the People Act, 1950 and The Representation of the People Act, 1951 to define and enlarge the powers of the Commission.
- The Supreme Court in Mohinder Singh Gill & Anr vs The Chief Election Commissioner, New Delhi and Ors (1977) held that Article 324 “operates in areas left unoccupied by legislation and the words ‘superintendence, direction and control’ as well as ‘conduct of all elections’ are the broadest terms”. The Constitution has not defined these terms.
- Article 324, the court said, “is a plenary provision vesting the whole responsibility for national and State elections” in the ECI “and, therefore, the necessary powers to discharge that function”.
- The framers of the Constitution, the court said, had left “scope for exercise of residuary power by the Commission, in its own right, as a creature of the Constitution, in the infinite variety of situations that may emerge from time to time…”
- Importantly, however, the court, while observing that “legislators are not prophets but pragmatists”, and that the “comprehensive provision in Art. 324 (is) to take care of surprise situations”, underlined that “that power itself has to be exercised, not mindlessly nor mala fide, nor arbitrarily nor with partiality but in keeping with the guidelines of the rule of law and not stultifying the Presidential notification nor existing legislation.”
- The court observed: “No one is an imperium in imperio in our constitutional order. It is reasonable to hold that the Commissioner cannot defy the law armed by Art. 324. Likewise, his functions are subject to the norms of fairness and he cannot act arbitrarily. Unchecked power is alien to our system.”
ECI’s role in West Bengal
- The Representation of the People (Amendment) Act, 1988 (Act 1 of 1989) introduced Section 28A in the RP Act of 1951, which said that all officers deployed for the conduct of an election “shall be deemed to be on deputation to the Election Commission” from the notification of the election to the declaration of the results, and “such officers shall, during that period, be subject to the control, superintendence and discipline of the Election Commission”.
- The situation in West Bengal — of some violence and vandalism, which was neither new nor alarming and critical — is covered by existing laws, and there was no need to invoke the residuary power granted to the ECI by Article 324. The ECI took action against officers for failing in their duties — nothing more was required, except the ordering of a probe. It does seem that the ECI did not take adequate precautions in West Bengal in spite of violence in the first six phases.
- In N P Ponnuswami (1952), the Supreme Court held that even courts do not have the power to interfere with the electoral process, a view that it reiterated in Special Reference No. 1 (2002). Last week, the court rejected a plea seeking a direction to the ECI to advance the timing of voting to 5.30 am for the last phase of the election in view of the heat and the fasting of Muslims during the month of Ramzan, saying “We cannot get into poll times. It is the Election Commission’s call.”
The ECI’s credibility
- It had no convincing logic for a seven-phase election in West Bengal or a three-phase vote in a single constituency in Jammu and Kashmir, and gave no reason for not holding simultaneous Assembly elections in J&K and by-elections in Tamil Nadu. In taking action on complaints of violations of the Model Code of Conduct, it has been selective.
- The reduction of the campaign time in West Bengal by 19 hours — to 10 pm seems clearly arbitrary. The ECI has punished candidates of the Congress, Left, and Independents — both in the constituency where the violence took place and elsewhere — for no fault of theirs.
- As the Supreme Court has underlined, absolute power is the antithesis of constitutionalism. Article 324 protects the ECI, but does not allow it to become a law unto itself.
‘Ujala Clinics’ set for revamp
Topic: GS–II: Social Justice Health
As part of a plan to revamp “Ujala Clinics” for adolescents, the Rajasthan government will appoint peer educators and “shadow educators” for counselling of youngsters and ensure better coordination with other medical and health schemes.
More in news:
- Ujala Clinics are functioning at the government health facilities in 10 districts of the State.
- A workshop of adolescent health counsellors was organised this week under the Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram. The role of Ujala Clinics and the scope for connecting them with the initiatives for promoting mental health, reproductive health and de-addiction was discussed on the occasion.
- Ujala Clinics have been established at district hospitals, community health centres and selected primary health centres in Udaipur, Rajsamand, Banswara, Dungarpur, Jaisalmer, Barmer, Jalore, Bundi, Karauli and Dholpur districts.
|Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK)
· Launched by Ministry of Health & Family Welfare in 2014 for the age group of 10-19 years.
· Target nutrition, reproductive health and substance abuse, among other issues.
· The key principle of this programme is adolescent participation and leadership, Equity and inclusion, Gender Equity and strategic partnerships with other sectors and stakeholders. The programme envisions enabling all adolescents in India to realize their full potential by making informed and responsible decisions related to their health and well-being and by accessing the services and support they need to do so.
1) Improve nutrition
· Reduce the prevalence of malnutrition among adolescent girls and boys
· Reduce the prevalence of iron-deficiency anaemia (IDA) among adolescent girls and boys
2) Improve sexual and reproductive health
· Improve knowledge, attitudes and behaviour, in relation to SRH.
· Reduce teenage pregnancies
· Improve birth preparedness, complication readiness and provide early parenting support for adolescent parents
3) Enhance mental health
· Address mental health concerns of adolescents
4) Prevent injuries and violence
· Promote favourable attitudes for preventing injuries and violence (including GBV) among adolescents
5) Prevent substance misuse
· Increase adolescents’ awareness of the adverse effects and consequences of substance misuse
6) Address NCDs
· Promote behaviour change in adolescents to prevent NCDs such as hypertension, stroke, cardio-vascular diseases and diabetes
Varanasi has only one air quality monitoring station
Topic: GS-III: Environment
Varanasi to have only one air quality monitoring station, despite being ranked as among the top 3 most polluted cities in the world three years ago, a Right to Information request has found.
Zero ‘good-air’ days
- The Central Pollution Control Board’s 2015 dataset (made public in 2016) found Varanasi’s air quality to be among the most toxic in the country and that it had only one air quality monitor capable of measuring particulate matter 2.5 and particulate matter 10 levels.
- Out of 227 days measured in 2015, the city had zero ‘good-air’ days and this was attributed to the heavy levels of industrial pollution.
- Biomass burning, vehicular emissions, brick kilns and diesel generator sets were also major contributors.
- Let Me Breathe, a portal that investigates how people cope with poor air quality, queried the city’s civic officials and the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board with Right to Information requests to check what progress the city had made in improving its air quality.
- While the average air quality for PM 2.5 from 2017-2019 had improved to 104 from 206 in 2016, the maximum PM levels breached continued to be above 200, or in the “very poor” category.
- While Varanasi’s municipal bodies had taken steps to address road dust and curb road-side burning of garbage, no data was provided on the number of violations and the steps taken to reprimand offenders, the RTI queries revealed.
- Varanasi is one of the cities that is part of the National Clean Air Campaign, an initiative by the Union Environment Ministry to improve air quality in 100 cities by 20% at least by 2024. One of the commitments under this is to improve air quality monitoring.
- In February, a study by IIT Kanpur and the Shakti Foundation showed Varanasi suffered from poor air quality for 70% of the days between October and November 2018 with PM 2.5 levels crossing 170 micrograms per cubic metre against the national average of 60 and the WHO average of 25.
Topic: GS-III: Environment
The Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board issued Masala Bonds to raise funds from the overseas market.
- While Indian companies have been raising debt from overseas markets for decades including through bond offerings, those borrowings have been denominated in dollar or other currencies.
- Masala Bonds, on the other hand, are rupee-denominated bondse the funds would be raised from overseas market in Indian rupees.
- According to RBI FAQ, any corporate, body corporate and Indian bank is eligible to issue Rupee denominated bonds overseas.
- While companies can raise funds through these bonds, there are limitations for the use of such proceeds. RBI mandates that the money raised through such bonds cannot be used for real estate activities other than for development of integrated township or affordable housing projects. It also can’t be used for investing in capital markets, purchase of land and on-lending to other entities for such activities as stated above.
Where can these bonds be issued and who can subscribe?
- It can only be issued in a country and subscribed by a resident of such country that is a member of financial action task force and whose securities market regulator is a member of International Organisation of Securities Commission. While residents of such countries can subscribe to the bonds, it can also be subscribed by multilateral and regional financial institutions where India is a member country.
What is the minimum maturity of such bonds?
- According to RBI, the minimum maturity period for Masala Bonds raised up to Rupee equivalent of USD 50 million in a financial year should be 3 years and for bonds raised above USD 50 million equivalent in INR per financial year should be 5 years.
- The conversion for such bonds will happen at the market rate on the date of settlement of transactions undertaken for issue and servicing of the bonds, including its redemption.
News in brief
In a first for Asia, Taiwan Bill legalises same-sex marriages
- Taiwan’s Parliament legalized same-sex marriage on Friday in a landmark first for Asia.
- Two years ago, Taiwan’s top court ruled that not allowing same-sex couples to marry violates the Constitution, with judges giving the government until May 24 to make the changes or see marriage equality enacted automatically.
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