Daily Current Affairs 24.02.2023 (60% of India’s voters linked Aadhaar to voter ID: RTI, Ministry seeks report on Kaziranga rhino estimation, Arts, artists are carriers of culture: Murmu at Sangeet Natak Akademi awards, ‘Consumer demand to spur growth’, NSE gets final nod from SEBI for social stock exchange, India must further its cross-border digital payment linkages , A case that scans the working of the anti-defection law, Thanks to social media, protesters are now surprisingly well informed, but a uniform narrative can also be unhelpful )

Daily Current Affairs 24.02.2023 (60% of India’s voters linked Aadhaar to voter ID: RTI, Ministry seeks report on Kaziranga rhino estimation, Arts, artists are carriers of culture: Murmu at Sangeet Natak Akademi awards, ‘Consumer demand to spur growth’, NSE gets final nod from SEBI for social stock exchange, India must further its cross-border digital payment linkages , A case that scans the working of the anti-defection law, Thanks to social media, protesters are now surprisingly well informed, but a uniform narrative can also be unhelpful )


1. 60% of India’s voters linked Aadhaar to voter ID: RTI

While Tripura leads the way with over 92% of voters having provided their Aadhaar details to EC, Gujarat and Delhi are at the bottom of the pile; southern States perform above national average

Over 60% of India’s 94.5 crore voters have linked their Aadhaar to their voter IDs, the Election Commission (EC) disclosed in a Right to Information response obtained by The Hindu. The total number of voters who have linked their Aadhaar is 56,90,83,090.

Tripura, which went to the polls last week, had the highest rate of Aadhaar linking; over 92% of voters in the State have provided their Aadhaar details to the Election Commission.

Some of these voters may have provided documents other than Aadhaar, such as PAN, driving licence or passport, to fill Form 6B, which the EC introduced last year. However, the form primarily demands Aadhaar, and electors can only provide an alternative document after declaring that they do not have an Aadhaar. The Election Laws (Amendment) Act, 2021 was passed to de-duplicate electoral rolls by allowing election authorities to collect the 12-digit number from voters.

The per-State percentages given here are based on total voter enumerations released by the States and Union Territories in the past three years. After Tripura, Lakshadweep and Madhya Pradesh occupy the second and third spots, respectively, with over 91% and 86% of voters having provided the number.

Voters in the southern States have not provided their Aadhaar in such proportions, though they are above the national average.

Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka both fell shy of 71%, whereas the number stands around 63% and 61% for Tamil Nadu and Kerala, respectively. The State with the lowest Aadhaar registration by voters is Gujarat, where only 31.5% have linked the document to their voter ID. Less than 34% of voters in the national capital had their Aadhaar linked.

2. Ministry seeks report on Kaziranga rhino estimation

The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has sought a “factual report” on the rhino population enumeration, conducted in the Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve in March 2022. The information was requested for on the basis of a representation the Ministry received from environmental activist Rohit Choudhury, alleging anomalies in the estimation of the rhinos in the national park. He cited documents received via the Right to Information Act to conclude that the number of rhinos could have been inflated. The Assam Forest Department and the Kaziranga authorities said the estimation was consistent with the rhino’s average annual growth of 2.7% in the park.

3. Arts, artists are carriers of culture: Murmu at Sangeet Natak Akademi awards

P.P. Kandhasami, a Therukoothu artiste, receiving the award from President Droupadi Murmu on Thursday. 

Observing that culture was the real identity of a country, President Droupadi Murmu on Thursday said India’s unique performing arts had kept its incredible culture alive for centuries.

“Our arts and artists are the carriers of our rich cultural heritage. Unity in diversity is the biggest feature of our cultural traditions,” the President said, while giving away the Sangeet Natak Akademi awards and fellowships for 2019, 2020 and 2021 here.

Ms. Murmu said civilisation showcased the material achievements of a nation, but intangible heritage was revealed through its culture. “In our tradition, art is a spiritual practice, a medium of the search for truth, a medium of prayer and worship, a medium of public welfare… Art binds the linguistic diversity and regional characteristics in one thread,” she said.

She said that Indians should take pride in the fact that the oldest and best definitions and traditions of art had developed in this country.

On the occasion, eight eminent personalities were given Sangeet Natak Akademi fellowships in the field of performing arts. A total of 128 artists from the field of music, dance, theatre, traditional, folk, and puppetry were given the awards.

Y. Gee. Mahendra, who won the award for best acting, said it was a recognition for Tamil theatre. A popular film actor, Mr. Mahendra said the fact that the award came for his stage performances “is a very satisfying experience.” Dedicating the award to his theatre troupe, United Amateur Artists, his father, theatre doyen Y.G. Parthasarathy, and his guru Sivaji Ganesan, Mr. Mahendra said, “It is my 61st year on stage. I never gave up theatre for films. It is gratifying that someone is watching the hard work being put in to keep the Tamil theatre alive. It gives me the kick to continue.”

The akademi honoured 86 artistes with one-time awards commemorating 75 years of Independence.

4. ‘Consumer demand to spur growth’

Finance Ministry sees revision in personal income tax slabs helping boost consumption; flags concerns about El Nino, cautions that delay in global commodity prices returning to pre-pandemic levels could keep inflation elevated for longer

Even though a downward ‘adjustment’ in inflation may take longer to occur, especially if global commodity prices don’t revert to pre-pandemic levels, consumer demand remains strong despite inflationary pressures and the proposed revision in personal income tax slabs should boost consumption and spur growth, the Finance Ministry said on Thursday.

Citing high frequency indicators from December and January, the Ministry averred in its monthly economic review that the economy was on track to grow 7% in 2022-23, with overall demand conditions remaining conducive to economic activity. On growth prospects for 2023-24, the Ministry cited the Economic Survey’s estimate of 6.5% growth “with more downside than upside risks” and stressed that the geopolitical environment remained “fraught”, which could spur more economic dislocation and supply chain disruptions. Predictions of El Nino conditions returning to India this year, if accurate, could lead to deficient monsoon rains, hit farm output and stoke prices, it cautioned.

“The most recent consumer confidence survey for January… suggests a tentative recovery in consumer confidence,” it pointed out, adding that inflation risks were likely to be lower in 2023-24 but would not have vanished.

Asserting that the second half of FY23 had seen a “downward trend” in headline inflation due to steps taken by the government, the RBI and a downswing in global commodity prices, the Ministry acknowledged the decline had been at “less than desired pace for some commodities”.

With retail inflation resurging to 6.5% in January, the Ministry asserted that a decline in inflation often does not occur in a straight line “as prices are usually downward sticky”. “The adjustment may prolong… This could happen with consumption demand staying robust in the U.S., and reopening of the Chinese economy refuelling global demand,” it added.

5. NSE gets final nod from SEBI for social stock exchange

NSE said on Thursday it had received the final approval from markets regulator SEBI to set up social stock exchange (SSE) as a separate segment on its platform.

The SSE segment will provide a new avenue for social enterprises to finance social initiatives, provide them visibility and bring in increased transparency in fund mobilisation and utilisation by social enterprises.

Under the rules, any social enterprise, non-profit organisation or for-profit social enterprise that establishes its primacy of social intent can get listed on the SSE segment.

6. Editorial-1: Safe across borders

India must further its cross-border digital payment linkages

Transferring money to a relative studying or living in Singapore or receiving remittances from a family member working in the Southeast Asian city-state just got a whole lot simpler. On February 21, the Reserve Bank of India Governor, Shaktikanta Das, and the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s Managing Director, Ravi Menon, made token instantaneous cross-border remittances to each other using the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) and PayNow mobile applications on their phones in India and Singapore, respectively. The transactions marked the start of a cross-border link for real-time person-to-person money transfers between South Asia’s largest economy and its littoral neighbour across the Malacca Strait, which is home to a sizeable Indian diaspora as well as tens of thousands of migrant workers employed in Singapore’s humming construction, marine shipyard and services sectors. The link now enables individuals wishing to remit either Singapore dollar (SGD) or Indian rupee funds for the ‘maintenance of a relative’ or as a ‘gift’ to transfer the money seamlessly using the UPI at the Indian end and the PayNow app at the Singapore end. To start with, six banks in India including three state-run, two private and the Indian unit of Singapore’s DBS Bank will be facilitating inbound remittances to their account holders, while one private lender and the three public sector banks would enable their Indian customers to send money using the link. In Singapore, customers of DBS Bank and the non-bank lender Liquid Group can avail of the transfer facility.

Though a small start, given that the daily transaction limit is set at ₹60,000 or about SGD 1,000, the link is significant in that it enables individuals to quickly and safely remit money to their loved ones without the hassles of having to go to a bank branch or a wire transfer facility’s outlet or having to rely on the higher-cost and riskier ‘hawala’ channels. The tie-up is also part of a wider regional effort to facilitate cross-border real-time money transfers in a manner that reduces operational costs for individuals and merchants, while at the same time reducing the reliance on an external settlement currency, which hitherto has predominantly been the U.S. dollar. Singapore, which had established a similar payment link with Thailand in 2021, is part of a larger five-member initiative among the central banks of Southeast Asian economies including Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines that aims to interconnect their domestic digital payment systems. India too could build on the springboard it has gained in Singapore to further its cross-border digital payment linkages and extend the partnership to the city-state’s other Association of Southeast Asian Nations partners. Besides a sure-shot boost to regional trade and tourism, such a network would help India to further formalise the flow of inbound remittances.

7. Editorial-2: A case that scans the working of the anti-defection law

The Supreme Court’s examining of the ‘Maharashtra political controversy cases’ could either end up as a counterweight to political games or make government destabilising even easier.

A five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court of India is presently hearing a set of cases popularly known as the “Maharashtra political controversy cases”. These cases arose out of the events in June last year, when the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition (the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party and Congress) lost power after an internal splintering of the Shiv Sena party. A faction led by Eknath Shinde then joined hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to form the new ruling coalition. The disputes between the various parties have been continuing since then, with the most recent development being an Election Commission of India (ECI) order declaring that Eknath Shinde’s faction is entitled to the party name and symbol.

While questions have been raised about whether the situation is now fait accompli, and whether the Court can “turn the clock back” if it wanted to, the judgment of this case will have consequences not merely for State politics in Maharashtra but far beyond as well. This is because the case raises certain fundamental issues about the working of India’s “anti-defection law”.

The Tenth Schedule, past and present

The anti-defection law was introduced into the Constitution via the Tenth Schedule, in 1985. Its purpose was to check increasingly frequent floor-crossing; lured by money, ministerial berths, threats, or a combination of the three, legislators were regularly switching party affiliations in the house (and bringing down governments with them). The Tenth Schedule sought to put a stop to this by stipulating that if any legislator voted against the party whip, he or she would be disqualified from the house. While on the one hand this empowered party leadership against the legislative backbench, and weakened the prospect of intra-party dissent, the Tenth Schedule viewed this as an acceptable compromise in the interests of checking unprincipled floor-crossing.

Fast-forwarding 40 years to the present day, we find that the working of the Tenth Schedule has been patchy, at best. In the last few years, there have been innumerable instances of governments being “toppled” mid-term after a set of the ruling party or coalition’s own members turn against it. That this is power-politics and no high-minded expression of intra-party dissent is evident from the well-documented rise of “resort-politics”, where party leaders hold their “flock” more or less captive within expensive holiday resorts, so as to prevent the other side from getting at them.

Indeed, politicians have adopted various stratagems to do an end-run around the anti-defection law. Recent examples involve mass resignations (instead of defections) to force a fresh election, partisan actions by State Governors (who are nominees of the central government) with respect to swearing-in ceremonies and the timing of floor tests, and equally partisan actions by Speakers (in refusing to decide disqualification petitions, or acting in undue haste to do so). The upshot of this is that, in effect, the Tenth Schedule has been reduced to a nullity: governments that do not have clear majorities are vulnerable, at any point, to being “toppled” in this fashion.

The Court has a challenging task

This is where the role of the Supreme Court becomes crucial. Disputes over government formation and government toppling invariably end up before the highest court. It must immediately be acknowledged that such cases place the Court in an unenviable position: the Court has to adjudicate the actions of a number of constitutional functionaries: Governors, Speakers, legislative party leaders, elected representatives, many (if not all) of whom, to put it charitably, have acted dubiously. But the Court does not have the liberty of presuming dishonesty: it must maintain an institutional arm’s-length from the political actors, and adjudicate according to legalities, even as political actors in anti-defection cases do their best to undermine legality. This is a challenging task.

But it is a challenge that the Court has, with due respect, not always risen to. This is one of those situations where the proof of the pudding is in the eating: despite the fact that the Court’s intervention has been sought in every one of these cases, and despite the fact that in recent years the Supreme Court has handed down multiple substantive judgments on anti-defection, the toppling of governments remains as frequent as ever. While one may (partially) put this down to wily politicians finding loopholes in Supreme Court judgments, much like they find loopholes in the Tenth Schedule, this is not all there is to the situation: some of these loopholes were easily foreseeable at the time, but were, unfortunately, not addressed by the Court.

An example of this is the Court’s judgment in the Karnataka political controversy, which effectively sanctified resignations as an end-run around the anti-defection clause. But it is the present case (the Maharashtra political controversy) that presents an interesting case study. One will recall that the crisis, so to say, began when a set of legislators from the Shiv Sena rebelled against Uddhav Thackeray, and were soon ensconced in a resort on Guwahati (with allegations of State political intervention). The Deputy Speaker (there was no Speaker at the time) moved to disqualify the “rebels” who in turn moved the Court, arguing that there was a pending no-confidence motion against the Deputy Speaker, and therefore, as per the Supreme Court’s judgment in Nabam Rebia, he was disqualified from deciding on the disqualifications while it was pending.

The Supreme Court’s vacation Bench stayed the Deputy Speaker’s hand, but in what can only be described as a very curious set of orders, also directed a floor test. The upshot of this was that the “rebel MLAs” (who may or may not have subjected themselves to disqualification) were able to vote in this floor test, and voted to bring the government down (in turn altering a fluid political situation and skewing the balance of power). The new government was swiftly sworn in (by the Governor), and appointed its own Speaker, thus effectively creating a fait accompli with respect to the pending disqualification petitions. To top it all, the Supreme Court’s orders were “interim” in nature, and therefore, no reasons were provided.

In perspective

These orders, the correctness of which is now being considered by the five-judge Bench, albeit in the context of a changed political situation that itself is the consequence of those very orders, reflect how judicial interventions, if not carefully thought through, can hasten the toppling of a government and contribute to turning the Tenth Schedule into a dead letter. If, for example, it is held that a Speaker cannot decide a disqualification petition while under a notice for removal themselves, and that a floor test can be ordered in the interim (by the Governor or the court), the consequences are obvious: a “rebel MLA” can move a notice for removal, incapacitate the Speaker from taking action, and leave rebel MLAs free to bring down the government without consequence.

How the Supreme Court will untangle or cut this Gordian knot in the Maharashtra political controversy is anyone’s guess. But ultimately, the Court will be subject to the verdict of history: the use of money and indeed threats and inducements of prosecution or immunities therefrom to “turn” MLAs is a truth that is evident to all with the eyes to see. The Court’s judgment can act as a counterweight to political power, and infuse a dose of constitutionalism into the politics of government formation and toppling. But equally, the Court’s judgment could make toppling governments even easier for those with the means to do so. Only time will tell which of the two it will be.

8. Protests in the age of YouTube and WhatsApp

Thanks to social media, protesters are now surprisingly well informed, but a uniform narrative can also be unhelpful

Reporters are routinely asked to cover protests. I have covered several agitations in my career. Recently, I visited Joshimath, the gateway to the sacred Hindu temple at Badrinath, to the national park known as the valley of flowers, and to one of the most revered Sikh pilgrimage sites, Hemkund Sahib.

Joshimath today is known as the ‘sinking town.’ In December last year, cracks began appearing in homes, forcing the residents to spill onto the streets in fear. It was heartbreaking to see young children and old people huddled together by the roadside, bundled in thick woollen clothes during a harsh winter. Land subsidence, or sudden sinking of the earth’s surface, was stated as the reason for the fissures. I spent a few days speaking to residents and administrators.

What struck me was how well informed all the protesters were. Each of them, as if on cue, gave me the same narrative. They traced the history of the disaster, provided reasons and suggested solutions.

In Singhdar block, for instance, I met 72-year-old Sunita Devi, who used thumb imprints for administrative work. Her lack of education, however, did not translate into a lack of awareness. Devi was extremely knowledgeable about the crisis. She spoke about the 1976 MC Mishra Committee report, which was the result of an investigation ordered by the then government into the geographical disturbances in Joshimath. She spoke of how a Supreme Court Committee had provided recommendations to both the State and the Centre about the consequences of unplanned development in the fragile region. She also told me about the “disaster wale.” (The Disaster Management Department had maintained that the town needs immediate attention.) “Sab NTPC ka kaaran hua. Isko band karao (Everything has happened because of the NTPC. Stop those projects),” Devi said.

I listened to her wide-eyed, impressed by her knowledge. I asked her how she knew so much. “Sab dekha hai phone par (I have seen everything on my phone),” she replied. I was astonished to hear the same story from 23-year-old Sunil Rawat. His source, too, was social media. The uniformity of the narrative was new for me. Over the years, I have heard many protesters say the same things, but not in such a pronounced way.

I realised at Joshimath how the nature of protests has changed over the years. Over a decade ago, the anti-corruption protests spearheaded by Anna Hazare lasted from April to December 2011. Back then, there was no live streaming on Facebook or YouTube and people did not receive a constant stream of updates on WhatsApp. While Mr. Hazare sat in protest in Delhi, others sat on fast in solidarity in other parts of the country. When asked about the protest, people knew of the reason but not the timeline of the problem or what was happening in other regions. They often did not have answers to questions about the details of the protest. I was in Kanpur then. Every day I would visit Mr. Hazare’s supporter who was on fast. One evening, she was forcibly rushed to the hospital by the police. I got to know about this only the next day, when sources from the hospital called. In today’s day and age, this event would have been live-streamed.

Social media has contributed greatly to mobilising people into action and amplifying voices. Thanks to social media tools, the demands of protesters are well coordinated and their chants reverberate across geographies. The visual nature of the medium, which makes the task of eliciting support and sharing evidence of disasters and injustice, has made the job of reporting simpler.

However, there are problems too. Uniform narratives such as these can tend to paint everyone with the same brush. It is also hard sometimes to figure out when respondents are mixing fact with fiction. For a reporter, the challenge now is to pay attention to the larger narrative while also looking for individual stories and varied experiences.

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