1. ₹2,600-cr. incentive for banks to promote digital payments
The Union Cabinet approved an outlay of ₹2,600 crore to promote payments using RuPay cards and the Unified Payments Interface (UPI), said Union Minister Bhupendra Yadav on Wednesday. Banks will be provided this incentive money to promote such digital payments, an official press release said.
The fund will be paid to banks in view of the lack of a Merchant Discount Rate (MDR) — a commission on digital transactions — for UPI and RuPay transactions. This regime has led to complaints from the Reserve Bank of India and banks, the Cabinet said, which have been worried about the sustainability of building digital payments infrastructure in the absence of payments needed to maintain them.
“The scheme will also promote UPI Lite and UPI 123PAY as economical and user-friendly digital payments solutions and enable further deepening of digital payments in the country,” the Cabinet said, referring to payment systems recently introduced by the National Payments Corporation of India to reduce the load on banking networks for small transactions, and to allow payments over older feature phones, respectively.
2. V-P says court can’t dilute Parliament’s sovereignty
Dhankhar says he does not subscribe to the idea that judiciary can strike down amendments passed by the legislature on the ground that they violate the ‘Basic Structure’ of the Constitution
Amid a debate on the process of appointment of judges, Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankhar on Wednesday made strong comments on “public posturing” or “one-upmanship” by the judiciary.
Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla also spoke in a similar vein.
Inaugurating the 83rd All India Presiding Officers conference, Mr. Dhankhar, who is the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, said that as presiding officers of legislatures, “We cannot have an ostrich-like stance on judiciary-legislature relations.”
“Parliamentary sovereignty cannot be permitted to be diluted or compromised by the executive or the judiciary, and public posturing or ‘one-upmanship’ that is being frequently witnessed in this matter is not ‘wholesome’,” he added.
Mr. Dhankhar again brought up the striking down of the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act as a case of judicial overreach. He noted that it was in 1973, in the Kesavananda Bharati case, that the Supreme Court evolved for the first time the right of the courts to strike down Constitution amendments that violated what it called the Basic Structure, or the fundamental architecture, of the Constitution.
“I do not subscribe to this, with due respect to the judiciary,” he said.
Hitherto unheard of
In similar remarks on the NJAC Act during his inaugural address in the Rajya Sabha on December 7, Mr. Dhankhar had said that “there was no parallel to such a development in democratic history where a duly legitimised constitutional prescription has been judicially undone”.
At the conference on Wednesday, he said there was complete unanimity in the Lok Sabha while passing the Constitution (Amendment) Bill. There was not a single dissenting voice. In the Rajya Sabha, there was unanimity apart from one abstention. “But on October 16, 2015, the highest court of the land held both the 99th Constitution Amendment Act, 2014 and the National Judicial Appointments Commission Act, 2014 unconstitutional on the premise of being in violation of the Basic Structure,” Mr. Dhankhar said.
“This is not a challenge to the judiciary, but this has not happened anywhere else in the world. How can Parliament’s sovereignty be compromised,” he asked.
“In a democratic society, ‘the basic’ of any ‘Basic Structure’ has to be the supremacy of mandate of people. Thus, the primacy and sovereignty of Parliament and legislature is inviolable,” he added.
Quoting B.R. Ambedkar, he said it must be remembered that the Constitution never envisaged a “third and superior chamber” for Parliament to grant approval to the legislation passed by the two Houses.
The Speaker said: “Legislatures in our country have always respected the powers of the judiciary. The judiciary is also expected to follow the principle of separation and balance of powers conferred by the Constitution.”
3. Beypore boat to figure in DPR for Swadesh Darshan project
Work of art: The Kozhikode tourism promotion council has applied for a GI tag for the Beypore ‘Uru’.
The Kerala Tourism Department is likely to highlight Beypore ‘Uru’, the wooden dhows handcrafted by artisans and carpenters, and the water sports there in the detailed project report (DPR) to be submitted to the Centre for the Swadesh Darshan project.
Beypore and Kumarakom are the only two tourism destinations from Kerala to be included in the second phase of the project. Official sources said work on the DPR was only in its preliminary stages, and details would be available later.
Beypore was reportedly included in the project considering its historic importance as a port town, its global fame for the Uru and the beautiful seashore, which could boost its tourism sector in a big way. The Tourism Department successfully organised an International Water Fest in 2021 and 2022, attracting thousands of people. A large number of travellers and tourists reach the town to enjoy a stroll along the one-km-long breakwater. Light house, marina jetty, surfing school, presence of both traditional and mechanised boats in fishing, among other things, are the other attractions.
Kadalundi, the nearby eco-tourism spot, is a favourite too. The Kozhikode District Tourism Promotion Council had recently applied for a Geographical Indication tag for the Beypore Uru.
The project, launched in 2014-15 by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, is for the integrated development of theme-based tourist circuits. A Ministry website says it aims to promote, develop and harness the potential of tourism in the country. The Ministry provides Central financial assistance to State governments and Union Territories for the infrastructure development of these circuits. The scheme is envisioned to synergise with other schemes like Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Skill India, and Make in India with the idea of positioning the tourism sector as a major engine for job creation, the driving force for economic growth, building synergy with various sectors to enable tourism to realise its potential, says the Ministry.
4. Godavari estuary has become prime habitat for Indian skimmer: expert
Safe haven: Indian Skimmers sighted at the Godavari estuary during the Asian Waterbird Census-2023 on Tuesday.
The Godavari estuary in Andhra Pradesh has become a prime and safe habitat for the Indian skimmer (Rynchops albicollis), Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) Deputy Director P. Sathiyaselvam has said.
The bird has been included in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red list of endangered species.
Mr. Sathiyaselvam is the coordinator of the Asian Waterbird Census-2023, which is under way in the Godavari estuary.
“The Godavari estuary has become a prime habitat for Indian skimmer. On January 10 (Tuesday), as many as 250 Indian Skimmers were sighted in the southern part of the Coringa Wildlife Sanctuary. In the Godavari estuary, one Indian Skimmer was sighted in 2013,” Mr. Sathiyaselvam told The Hindu.
Migration for feeding
Six tagged Indian Skimmers have been sighted during this census so far and five of them were tagged in the Mahanadi area and one in the Chambal area. Indian Skimmer migrates to the Godavari estuary for feeding, said Mr. Sathiyaselvam.
Great Knot and Caspian Terns have been sighted in good numbers during the census.
On Tuesday, at least 70 enumerators participated in the census being conducted by the Forest Department of Andhra Pradesh.
5. White tufted royal butterfly, a rare species, found in Kerala’s Kannur
Unique find: The white tufted royal butterfly is protected under Schedule 2 of the Wildlife Protection Act.
A team of butterfly observers and researchers have found white tufted royal butterfly, a rare butterfly species at Kalliyad in Kannur.
According to researcher and butterfly observer V.C. Balakrishnan, the butterfly is protected under Schedule 2 of the Wildlife Protection Act. The species had been spotted in Agasthyakoodam in 2017 and the Shendurney Wildlife Sanctuary in 2018.
He said the finding of the butterfly indicated the rich fauna and flora of Kalliyad. Mr. Balakrishnan leads a group named ‘Walk with VC’, which has over 100 members. The team observes various species to make a checklist, document, and study biodiversity.
He said white tufted royal butterfly was a rare species, and it was photographed by A.V. Unnikrishnan, a retired teacher. However, the species was identified by another member, P.K. Girish Mohan, who collected the egg and reared the butterfly.
The wingspan of the butterfly is just 32-40 mm. Its larvae feed on Scurrula parasitica, a plant belonging to the Loranthaceae family.
Mr. Mohan said there were eight species of the butterfly. While two are common, the others are rare. “Since we are able to get the egg, the life cycle of the butterfly can be documented. It is only photographed in other parts of Kerala, and there has not been much research on its life cycle,” he said, adding that the finding was unique.
Mr. Mohan said there were many unregulated laterite and granite quarries operating in Kalliyad. The survival of such rare species is under severe threat, and steps should be taken to protect the hills, he said.
6. Office of Registrar-General of India following ‘obsolete’ criteria to define Scheduled Tribes
The Office of the Registrar-General of India (RGI) is following the set of criteria set out by the Lokur Committee nearly 60 years ago to define any new community as a Scheduled Tribe, The Hindu has learnt. Approval of the Office of the RGI is mandatory for the inclusion of any community on ST lists, as per the procedure for scheduling tribes.
In response to a query under the Right to Information Act, the Office of the RGI on Tuesday said, “For criteria, report of the Advisory Committee on the revision of the lists of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Lokur Committee 1965) is consulted.”
This comes even as the government, until December 2017, insisted in Parliament that it was considering a proposal to change the criteria for scheduling of new communities as STs based on the report of an internal task force, which called these criteria “obsolete”, “condescending”, “dogmatic”, and “rigid”.
The criteria set out by the Lokur Committee for defining a community as a tribe are: indications of primitive traits, distinctive culture, geographical isolation, shyness of contact with the community at large, and backwardness.
The government task force on Scheduling of Tribes, constituted under the leadership of then Tribal Affairs Secretary Hrusikesh Panda in February 2014, had concluded that these criteria “may have become obsolete considering the process of transition and acculturation”. Further, it noted that terms like “primitive and the requirement of primitivity to be a characteristic of Scheduled Tribe indicates a condescending attitude by outsiders”, adding, “What we consider primitive is not considered by the tribals themselves.”
“Much of the mess” created in the classification and identification of tribes is because of this classical orientation that followed a “rigid and dogmatic approach”, the task force said.
It also pointed out problems with the geographical isolation criterion, arguing that as infrastructure development continued across the country, “how can any community remain in isolation?”
Accordingly, the task force recommended changes to the criteria in May and based on this, the Tribal Affairs Ministry in June 2014 prepared a draft Cabinet note to overhaul the criteria and procedure for scheduling of new communities as STs. This was done within a month of the first Cabinet led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi taking oath.
The proposed criteria under the government’s consideration included “socio-economic, including educational, backwardness, vis-a-vis, the rest of the population of the State; historical geographical isolation which may or may not exist today; distinct language/dialect; presence of a core culture relating to life-cycle, marriage, songs, dance, paintings, folklore; endogamy, or in case of exogamy, marital relationship primarily with other STs (This criterion is for scheduling of a community as ST and not for determining ST status of an individual)”.
The draft Cabinet note also proposed, “Communities which have adopted a ‘Hindu’ way of life will not be ineligible merely on this ground.” It further recommended considering the population of the new community in relation to the existing ST population of the State, adding that all these criteria had to be looked at holistically and none should take precedence over another.
Now, with the Office of the RGI saying it continues to follow the criteria set out by the Lokur Committee in 1965, the fate of the proposal to change the criteria hangs in the balance.
Nod of the Office of the RGI is needed for the inclusion of any community in ST lists
7. Three multi-State societies to procure and distribute seeds
Production of quality seeds will reduce dependence on imports and provide a boost to the rural economy, says Cooperation Ministry
Cooperation Minister Amit Shah says the societies will help protect indigenous natural seeds from extinction.
The Union Cabinet has approved the setting up of three national-level multi-State cooperative societies to act as an apex body for procurement, processing, marketing and distribution of seeds.
Union Home and Cooperation Minister Amit Shah said on Wednesday that the societies would help the “protection of indigenous natural seeds which are becoming extinct”. In a tweet, he said the cooperatives were the only sector that touched crores of people, but had remained ignored for many years till the Narendra Modi government decided to strengthen them.
The Minister said the bodies to be formed were the multi-State seed, organic and export societies. The societies to be formed under the multi-State cooperative societies (MSCS) Act, 2002 would develop a system for preservation and promotion of indigenous natural seeds.
In a statement, the Cooperation Ministry said production of quality seeds would reduce the dependence on imported seeds and provide a boost to the rural economy. The Ministry said the primary societies, district-, State- and national-level federations and multi-State cooperative societies could become members and the elected representatives would be included on the Board of the societies under their bylaws.
Role of farmers
The proposed society will help to increase the seed and varietal replacement rates, ensuring the role of farmers in quality seed cultivation and seed variety trials and production and distribution of certified seeds with a single brand name, by utilising the network of all levels of cooperatives, the Ministry said.
“The availability of quality seeds will help in increasing agricultural productivity in strengthening food security and also increasing the income of the farmers. The members will benefit both by realisation of better prices by production of quality seeds, higher production of crops by use of high-yielding variety seeds and also by dividend distributed out of the surplus generated by the society,” it said.
8. U.K., Japan ink defence pact allowing troop deployments
Symbiotic growth: Fumio Kishida (left) with Rishi Sunak prior to a bilateral meeting at the Tower of London on Wednesday.
The deal will allow ‘both forces to plan and deliver larger scale, more complex military exercises and deployments’; U.K. calls it the most significant treaty between the countries since 1902
The U.K. and Japan, on Wednesday, signed a defence pact, which will permit the deployment of troops in each other’s countries and increase security cooperation. The move comes as Britain is undertaking a ‘tilt’ towards the Indo-Pacific in its foreign and security policy.
“The Reciprocal Access Agreement is hugely significant for both our nations — it cements our commitment to the Indo-Pacific and underlines our joint efforts to bolster economic security, accelerate our defence cooperation and drive innovation that creates highly skilled jobs,” British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said ahead of the signing ceremony, which took place at the Tower of London on Wednesday afternoon, during Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s visit to the capital.
Downing Street said the agreement would allow “both forces to plan and deliver larger scale, more complex military exercises and deployments” and called it the most significant treaty between the countries since 1902, when the Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Alliance was signed.
Wednesday’s agreement, which was agreed in principle last May, will need to be approved by Westminster and Japan’s Diet, before it can come into force. In December, Japan’s F-X fighter jet program was merged with the UK and Italy’s ‘Tempest’ program to create the Global Combat Air Programme.
The U.K. and Japan had also launched a digital partnership last month, to increase cooperation in semiconductors, cyber resilience and online safety.
Mr. Sunak and Mr. Kishida will also discuss trade, as per Downing Street – specifically Britain’s accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The two sides will also hold talks on Japan’s G7 presidency (ongoing), support for Ukraine and the supply chain resilience.
9. Govt. nets 87% of direct tax goal, receipts hit ₹12 lakh cr.
Personal income tax revenue grew faster than net corporate taxes, rising 21.6% by January 10, compared with corporate tax inflows which climbed 18.3%, says the Union Finance Ministry
India’s net direct tax collections stood at ₹12.31 lakh crore as on Tuesday, accounting for almost 87% of the target for 2022-23 and reflecting a 19.6% growth over the year-earlier period, the Finance Ministry said on Wednesday, asserting that tax revenues continued to register ‘steady growth’.
The growth rate for the net direct tax kitty was only marginally lower than the 19.8% recorded by December 17, 2022, when a little more than ₹11.35 lakh crore had been collected.
Net Personal Income Tax revenue grew faster than net corporate taxes, rising 21.6% by January 10, compared with corporate tax inflows which grew 18.3%.
Combined with the Securities Transaction Tax, Personal Income Tax collections climbed 21%, the Ministry said.
‘Refunds rise 59%‘
“Refunds amounting to ₹2.40 lakh crore have been issued between April 1, 2022 and January 10, 2023, which are 58.7% higher than refunds issued during the same period in the preceding year,” the Finance Ministry said in a statement.
10. Editorial-1: Reckless spree
Authorities must heed science and people living near mines, dams
The land subsidence in Joshimath has become emblematic of a geological disaster that has in fact manifested across India, in the neighbourhood of several large resource-extraction projects. There have been reports of subsidence from the Jharia, Bhurkunda, Kapasara, Raniganj and Talcher coal mines; from Delhi and Kolkata due to the over-extraction of groundwater; and from Mehsana for hydrocarbons. Last year, land in Chamba, Himachal Pradesh, began to sag shortly after a hydroelectric power project began test runs, calling into question the effects of the Tapovan Vishnugad facility near Joshimath in Uttarakhand. In 2010, some months after a tunnel-boring machine nicked an underground aquifer near Joshimath, leading to substantial water discharge, two researchers wrote in Current Science that the “sudden and large scale dewatering of the strata has the potential” to trigger “ground subsidence in the region”. Determining whether the ongoing incident can be traced directly to the 2009 aquifer puncture is complicated by the lack of long-term scientific investigations of the area. On January 5, the NTPC issued a statement washing its hands of the unfolding crisis after locals began pointing fingers at Tapovan Vishnugad, as well as the Helang-Marwari bypass as part of the Char Dham project. Scientists from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research-National Geophysical Research Institute set out on January 10 to examine the circumstances of the subsidence. Both the national and the State governments must heed the team’s findings, even if it means ceasing further construction work.
Experts and civil society have called on the government on many occasions to ease its dam-building spree, of late over rivers in the north and the Northeast; to moderate tourism in the regions to be sustainable; and to not blow off unstable hillsides to widen roads. Heavy rains in Aizawl in July triggered subsidence, exposing poor zoning enforcement and oversight of the regional carrying capacity. But in Joshimath, which is particularly prone to landslides, questions about zoning, carrying capacity and tipping points have all been set aside. The subsidence in Joshimath has captured the nation’s attention because it is a destination for both pilgrims and tourists, but it is far from being the site of the first or the deadliest incident. The government must undertake whatever repair and restoration efforts it is undertaking at Joshimath at all the other sites as well. Finally, the national and the State governments must listen to both science and the people already living near mines and dams. There is an argument to allow economically developing countries to emit more before becoming carbon-neutral, but it is not a free pass to plunder natural resources at the cost of climate justice.