4TH NOVEMBER CURRENT AFFAIRS

1. Mission Sagar-II

News: As part of ‘Mission Sagar-II’, the Government of India is providing assistance to Friendly Foreign Countries to overcome natural calamities and Covid-19 pandemic. Towards the same INS Airavat is delivering food aid for the people of Sudan.

Mission Sagar – II

  • Mission Sagar-II, follows the first ‘Mission Sagar’ undertaken in May-June 2020, wherein India reached out to Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles, Madagascar and Comoros, and provided food aid and medicines.
  • As part of Mission Sagar-II, Indian Naval Ship Airavat will deliver food aid to Sudan, South Sudan, Djibouti and Eritrea.
  • This mission is in line with the Prime Minister’s vision of Security and Growth for All in the Region ‘SAGAR’ and highlights the importance accorded by India to relations with her maritime neighbours.

Related Initiatives:

  • India on the 65thanniversary of the landmark Bandung Conference emphasized that members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) must work to reduce the socio-economic impact of the pandemic on the most vulnerable sections of society and promote South-South cooperation.
  • In the wake of the global pandemic, the International Solar Alliance (ISA) responded by setting up ISA CARES (like PM-CARES in India), an initiative dedicated to the deployment of solar energy in the healthcare sector.
  • WithCovid-19 and trade tensions between China and the United States are threatening supply chains, Japan has mooted the Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI) as a trilateral approach to trade, with India and Australia as the key-partners.
  • The Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness for Innovation (CEPI), a global initiative, has named Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI), Faridabad as one of the six laboratories for assessing Covid-19 vaccine candidates that are under development
  • India has contributed 10 million USD to SAARC Covid-19 Emergency Fundand manufactured essential drugs, Covid protection and testing kits, for countries in the SAARC region ( Operation Sanjeevani for Maldives).

SAGAR Programme (Security and Growth for All in the Region)

  • SAGAR is a term coined by PM Modi in 2015 during his Mauritius visit with a focus on the blue economy.
  • It is a maritime initiative which gives priority to the Indian Ocean region for ensuring peace, stability and prosperity of India in the Indian Ocean region.
  • The goal is to seek a climate of trust and transparency; respect for international maritime rules and norms by all countries; sensitivity to each other`s interests; peaceful resolution of maritime issues; and increase in maritime cooperation.
  • It is in line with the principles of the Indian Ocean Rim Association.

Other Important Groupings Associated with Indian Ocean Region

  • Indian Ocean Rim Association: The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) was established in 1997. It is aimed at strengthening regional cooperation and sustainable development within the Indian Ocean region.
  • Indian Ocean Naval Symposium: The ‘Indian Ocean Naval Symposium’ (IONS) is a voluntary initiative that seeks to increase maritime cooperation among navies of the littoral states of the Indian Ocean Region by providing an open and inclusive forum for discussion of regionally relevant maritime issues.
  • Indian Ocean Commission: Recently, India has been approved as an observer of the Indian Ocean Commission, the inter-governmental organization that coordinates maritime governance in the south-western Indian Ocean.
  • Asia Africa Growth Corridor: The idea of Asia Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) emerged in the joint declaration issued by India and Japan in 2016. The AAGC is raised on four pillars of Development and Cooperation Projects, Quality Infrastructure and Institutional Connectivity, Enhancing Capacities and Skills and People-to-People partnership.

2. States’ refusal to central laws

News: Rajasthan passes Bills to stall Centre’s farm laws.

The three Bills, pertaining to the State amendments to the Central statutes, were:

  1. The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2020.
  2. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2020.
  3. The Essential Commodities (Special Provisions and Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2020.

Background:

  • The three agriculture laws are a clear infringement on the states’ right to legislate.
  • The main subjects of the three acts are agriculture and market that are essentially state subjects as per the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution.
  • However, the Central government finagled its way into the legislation by misconstruing its authority on food items, a subject in the Concurrent List, as authority over the subject agriculture.
  • However, food items and agricultural products are distinct categories as many agricultural products in their raw forms are not food items and vice versa.

Constitutional Provisions:

  • Agriculture is in the state list under the Constitution. But, Entry33 of the Concurrent List provides Centre and the states powers to control production, supply and distribution of products of any industry, including agriculture.
  • Usually, when a state wants to amend a Central law made under one of the items in the concurrent list, it needs the clearance of the Centre.
  • When a state law contradicts a Central law on the same subject, the law passed by Parliament prevails.

Why such arrangement?

  • This is an arrangement envisaged as most Parliament laws apply to the whole of India and states amending the Central laws indiscriminately could lead to inconsistencies in different regions on the application of the same law. In matters of trade and commerce, this could especially pose serious problems.

How states can bypass central laws:

  • To take Centre to the Supreme Court over the validity of these laws. Article 131of the Constitution provides exclusive jurisdiction to the Supreme Court to adjudicate matters between the states and the Centre.
  • Article 254 (2)of the Constitution empowers state governments to pass legislations which negate the Central acts in the matters enumerated under the Concurrent List.
  • A state legislation passed under Article 254 (2) requires the assent of the President of India.

Redefining state agricultural markets:

  • Another way is to pass a state law that redefines state agricultural markets as the trade area that is specified in the Central law (the agricultural market is a place where farmers sell their produce).
  • Once the notion of a state market is equivalent to the Central government’s notion of the trade area, state governments can easily add specifications and additional measures.
  • A state law can include a provision that says that MSP will be applicable to all state agriculture markets.
  • Since state markets are equivalent to the Centre’s notion of the trade area, a state clause will be automatically applicable to the trade area that is mentioned in the Centre’s Bill too.
  • Since there is no reference in the Central Bills about MSP, the question of inconsistency does not arise at all.

3. Vigilance Awareness Week

News: Recently, the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances (DARPG) has come up with new initiatives for good and vigilant governance on the last day of the Vigilance Awareness Week 2020.

Launches and Initiatives:

  • “Ideas Box on Good Governance Practices in a Pandemic” has been launched and operationalised both on the DARPG as well as on the MyGov platform. It will crowdsource ideas related to good governance.
  • Social media tweets on the “Best Practices in e-governance” have been launched.
  • Round table discussion on “Satark Bharat, Samriddh Bharat”(Vigilant India, Prosperous India) was held.
  • It focused on key issues of preventive vigilance in the pursuit of “Naitik Bharat” (Ethical India) which includes ethics training in public services, a social audit of ethical practices, development of measurable metrics for corruption and disproportionately high impact of corruption on governance.

Vigilance Awareness Week:

  • The Central Vigilance Commission(CVC) observes the Week every year during the week in which the birthday of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (31st October) falls.
  • Objective: It affirms India’s commitment to the promotion of integrity and probity in public life through citizen participation and reiterates Government’s resolve to continue the crusade against corruption.
  • Theme for 2020:In 2020, it was observed from 27th October to 2nd November with the theme of “Satark Bharat, Samriddh Bharat”.

Government Initiatives to Prevent and Curb Corruption:

  • Amendments in the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988to make the processes more equitable and reduce opportunities for corruption.
  • Introduction of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas.
  • Scaled up disposal of cases by the Central Information Commission(CIC) and the DARPG.
  • Level playing field for employment opportunities to lower-level jobs by the National Recruitment Agency (NRA).
  • Introduction of e-governance and Direct Benefit Scheme.
  • Other Related Legislations: Right to Information Act 2005Judges (Inquiry) Act 1968Whistleblower Protection Act, 2014Prevention of Money Laundering Act 2002Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Amendment Act 2016, etc.

Central Vigilance Commission

  • It is an independent body which is only responsible to the Parliament.
  • It is the apex vigilance institution monitoring all vigilance activity under the Central Government and advising various authorities in Central Government organisations in planning, executing, reviewing and reforming their vigilance work.
  • It was set up by the Government in February 1964on the recommendations of the Committee on Prevention of Corruption, headed by K Santhanam.
  • The Parliament enacted the Central Vigilance Commission Act, 2003conferring statutory status on the CVC.
  • It is a multi-member commission consisting of a Central Vigilance Commissioner (Chairperson) and not more than 2 Vigilance Commissioners (members).
  • They are appointed by the President on the recommendations of a Committee consisting of the Prime Minister (Chairperson), the Minister of Home Affairs (Member) and the Leader of the Opposition in the House of the People (Member).
  • The term of office of the Central Vigilance Commissioner and the Vigilance Commissioners is 4 years from the date on which they enter their office or till they attain the age of 65 years, whichever is earlier.

4. RBI’s Accountability

Inflation targeting and legal provisions

  • The inflation target, notified in August 2016, is 4%. The upper tolerance level was set at 6% and the lower tolerance level at 2%. Inflation was 6.7% in the January-March quarter, 6.6% in the April-June quarter and 6.9% in the July-September quarter.
  • Breaching limits for any three consecutive quarters constitutes a failure to achieve the inflation target.
  • In such an event, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is required to send a report to the Centre, stating the reasons for the failure to achieve the inflation target, the remedial actions it proposes to initiate, and an estimate of the time-period within which it expects to achieve the inflation target through the corrective steps proposed.
  • Through amendments passed by Parliament in 2016, these new provisions were written into the RBI Act.
  • They are aimed at ensuring enhanced transparency and accountability of the central bank.

Why RBI has failed?

  • The normal data collection exercise of the National Statistics Office was disrupted during the lockdown imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The minutes of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting after its August policy review suggest that the RBI’s defence for the breach of the 4% inflation target and 6% upper tolerance limit was the handicap of data limitations.
  • However, the break that the MPC referred to is not visible in the inflation data. The justification of data complications, which is a rather weak one.

Issues with the arguments of the RBI

  • The range around the inflation target that the Ministry provided to the RBI is for accommodating constraints and challenges like data limitations.
  • The whole point of the range around the target, the statement emphasised, is that it “accommodates data limitations, projection errors, short-run supply gaps and fluctuations in the agriculture production”.

Way forward

  • RBI should be made to explain what it plans to do to control inflation. The central bank should be allowed to state expressly what support by way of government policy it needs to meet the inflation target.
  • This can only strengthen the RBI’s hand; it should not let go of the opportunity to reinforce the MPC framework.
  • Transparency can enable more informed decision-making within the government, greater public scrutiny of the RBI’s performance, and an improved inflation-targeting regime. To slack off on it would be to compromise with the credibility, transparency and predictability of monetary policy.