Category: POLITY AND GOVERNANCE
- PM CARES exempted form FCRA
The issue in news
The PM CARES Fund has received an exemption from all provisions of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act.
- PM CARES Fund has received an exemption from FCRA although it does not seem to meet the precondition of being a body established and owned by the government whose accounts are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG).
- In January 2020, the Home Ministry had issued a fresh order to exempt organisations (not being a political party), constituted or established by or under a Central Act or a State Act or by any administrative or executive order of the Central Government or any State Government and wholly owned by the respective Government and required to have their accounts compulsorily audited by the CAG or any of the agencies of the CAG.
- It also invoked the clause that allows information to be denied if it is held as part of a fiduciary relationship.
- When a query was raised under the Right to Information (RTI) Act asking for details and documents on the exemption, the Home Ministry said it had to seek the consent of PM CARES before giving out the information, as it would be considered a “third party” under the RTI Act.
- Virtual courts stay: law panel
The issue in news
Parliamentary Panel on Law and Justice has presented its report, “Functioning of the Virtual Courts/Courts Proceedings through Video-Conferencing”.
- It has recommended the continuation of virtual courts even in a post-COVID scenario.
- However, it has suggested that infrastructure needs to be upgraded especially in district courts to implement this.
- The panel has argued that the transfer of certain categories of cases, like cases pertaining to traffic challans or other petty offences, from regular court establishments to virtual courts will reduce the pendency of cases.
- Currently, there are 30 million pending cases.
- The Committee recommended the Ministry of Law and Justice and Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to address data privacy and data security concerns while developing a new platform for India’s judicial system.
- Virtual court hearings, especially during peak hours when many people log into the video-conferencing system, is subject to frequent crashes of the system.
- This can lead to the entire proceedings being vitiated by one glitch.
- There are also concerns that virtual courts will compromise the privacy of data as well as the confidentiality of discussions and court proceedings.
- Software programs and applications are prone to hacking and manipulation.
- Currently, third-party software applications such as Vidyo, Cisco and Jitsi are being used in India for conducting hearings through video-conferencing.
- Another concern is that almost 50% of lawyers, particularly in district courts, do not have any laptop or computer facility.
During the pre-COVID period, the video-conference (VC) set up was primarily used for conducting remand matters to prevent the movement of prisoners between courts and jails.
CATEGORY: INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
- India, China agree on 5-point action plan
The issue in news
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar met his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Moscow on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Foreign Ministers’ meet.
- Before their bilateral meeting, they attended a 90-minute luncheon meeting hosted by the Russian Foreign Minister – the three countries make the RIC (Russia, India, China) grouping.
- The meeting comes amid a fierce standoff between India and China along the Line of Actual Control, which began in May 2020 and continues, even after multiple efforts to de-escalate.
- A five-point course of action has been agreed upon to disengage and reduce tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
- The two Foreign Ministers agreed that the border troops of both sides should continue their dialogue, quickly disengage, maintain proper distance and ease tensions.
- The immediate task is to ensure a comprehensive disengagement of troops in all the friction areas.
Five-point course of action:
- Following the consensus between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping to not allow differences to become disputes.
- Disengaging quickly to ease tensions.
- Abiding by the existing India-China border protocols and avoiding escalatory action.
- Continuing the dialogue between the Special Representatives, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Mr. Wang, as well as the other mechanisms.
- Working towards new confidence-building measures (CBMs).
- Although divergences remain, the joint statement invoked the consensus among the leaders of the two countries developed since the June 2017 meeting in Astana between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping, and reiterated at the two informal summits in Wuhan and Mahabalipuram.
- Although the change in China’s political tone is welcome, deep differences that continue to complicate the path towards comprehensive military disengagement and de-escalation persist.
- While India insists that the objective of the exercise is to “restore” the status quo ante, there is no explicit Chinese commitment to that goal.
- While China wants to separate the border conflict from the rest of the relationship, India says the two are inextricably interlinked.
- Foreign Ministers’ meeting was to agree on the objectives and principles of disengagement and that had been achieved.
- Much would depend on the militaries following through on the ground and completing the process quickly.
Category: ENVIRONMENT AND ECOLOGY
- Fees must for forest use, Mines Ministry told
The issue in news
The Environment Ministry has rejected a plea from the Ministry of Mines for exemption from forest penalty.
- The SC mandates that Net Present Value (NPV) must be paid by those who use forest land for non-forestry purposes.
- The Ministry of Mines has requested an expert advisory committee of the Environment Ministry to exempt it from the Supreme Court-mandated fees that prospectors pay when they dig exploratory boreholes in forests. For prospecting on a site, large boreholes are dug to determine the existence, location and quantity of metal.
- In August 2020, officials from the Ministry of Mines requested that ‘prospecting and exploring’ in forests be exempted from ‘the purview of the Forest Conservation Act.’
- It was highlighted that all areas of exploration were not converted into mining and only about 1% cases are converted to mining.
- It was argued that the payment of NPV was regarded as an avoidable expenditure.
- It said that the payment of NPV at a rate of 2% or 5% was one of the major challenges which lead to delay in the exploration activities.
- The Forest Advisory Committee, the Environment Ministry-constituted expert committee decides on whether forests can be diverted for projects.
- It said that it was not possible to do away with NPV but recommended that the Environment Ministry “may consider charging NPV on borehole basis instead of the present practice of charging 2 or 5% NPV of the total forest area in the lease area.”
Net Present Value (NPV):
- NPV is a monetary approximation of the value that is lost when a piece of forest land has been razed.
- NPV is decided on the basis of the services and ecological value.
- There are prescribed formulae for calculating this amount.
- It depends on the location and nature of the forest and the type of industrial enterprise that will replace a particular parcel of forest.
In 2018, the Coal Ministry, the Mines Ministry and the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas had sought to be exempted from forest clearances for digging exploratory boreholes. The Forest Advisory Committee refused but agreed to simplify the procedure.