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Stay informed with relevant current affairs from trusted sources like The Hindu, Indian Express, PIB, and more. Our daily news analysis includes Prelims Facts and Important Editorials presented in a concise and bulletised format. Get free daily updates up to 4 P.M. (except Sundays). Don’t miss the Daily Revision Quiz to reinforce your knowledge. Good luck!
Here are the topics covered for 16th November 2023:
GS-2: Shadow Cabinet, Digital India Bill, Life over Death
GS-3: Food Price Trends
Facts for Prelims: Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, Agnipath Military Recruitment Scheme
- A ‘Shadow Cabinet’ comprising former Ministers from the Congress government met recently to discuss what they referred to as “life-threatening air pollution” in the capital city.
- They accused both the AAP Delhi government and the BJP-led Centre of “intentional neglect and inaction” on this issue.
About the Meeting:
- During the meeting, the Congress leaders presented a white paper on controlling air pollution and criticized the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government. Delhi Congress expressed the party’s commitment to assisting Delhiites amid the hazardous air quality.
- Two key resolutions were passed, urging an all-party meeting and proposing the establishment of a high-powered monitoring committee.
- The air quality in Delhi has been deteriorating for many years, and the situation has become particularly bad in recent months.
- The city’s air quality index (AQI) often exceeds 500, which is considered to be hazardous to human health. This is due to a number of factors, including emissions from vehicles, industries, and power plants, as well as dust from construction sites and stubble burning in neighbouring states.
What is Shadow Cabinet?
- A shadow cabinet is a group of politicians from the opposition party in a parliamentary system who form an alternative cabinet to that of the government, and whose members shadow or mirror the positions of each individual member of the cabinet. Shadow cabinet members have no executive power, but they play an important role in scrutinizing the government’s policies and offering alternative proposals.
Role of the Shadow Cabinet in India
The shadow cabinet in India plays a crucial role in holding the government accountable and providing a check on its power. It performs the following functions:
- Scrutinizing Government Policies: The shadow cabinet closely examines the government’s policies and decisions, identifying potential flaws and weaknesses. They raise concerns through parliamentary debates, public statements, and media interactions.
- Offering Alternative Proposals: The shadow cabinet presents alternative policy proposals to those of the government, providing voters with a choice and highlighting potential improvements to governance.
- Preparing for Future Governance: Shadow cabinet members gain valuable experience in various ministerial portfolios, preparing them to assume actual cabinet positions if their party comes to power in the future.
Structure of the Shadow Cabinet in India
- The shadow cabinet in India mirrors the structure of the Union Cabinet, with each shadow minister corresponding to a specific ministerial portfolio. The Leader of the Opposition heads the shadow cabinet and serves as the main spokesperson for the opposition party.
Significance of the Shadow Cabinet in India
- A vibrant and effective shadow cabinet is essential for a healthy democracy. It contributes to informed public discourse, encourages policy debate, and ensures that the government remains accountable to the electorate.
- The air pollution crisis in Delhi is a serious public health emergency, and the government needs to take urgent action to address it. The Delhi Congress’s ‘shadow cabinet’ and its white paper on controlling air pollution provide a number of useful suggestions that the government could consider. The government should also work with neighbouring states to reduce stubble burning, which is a major source of air pollution in Delhi.
- The government could also consider: Implementing a congestion charge for vehicles entering the city centre, Banning the use of diesel vehicles in the city, Investing in renewable energy sources, and Planting more trees.
Digital India Bill
- Under the impending Digital India Bill, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) is contemplating issuing a directive to major tech corporations, including Facebook, Google, and Amazon, to share anonymized personal data with a government-backed database.
Need for the Digital India Bill:
- The Bill aims to replace the two-decade-old Information Technology Act 2000 (IT Act).
- The IT Act, formulated during the early stages of the internet, struggles to keep pace with technological advancements and changing user behaviours.
- India’s internet user base has surged from 5.5 million to a staggering 850 million.
- Changes in internet usage patterns, including the rise of intermediaries and new forms of user harm, necessitate a more contemporary legal framework.
- The Bill acknowledges these transformations and seeks to provide a comprehensive legal framework to address the challenges and opportunities presented by the digital revolution.
Key Provisions of the Digital India Bill:
- Part of a broader legal framework, including the Digital Personal Data Protection Act 2023, the draft Indian Telecommunication Bill 2022, and a policy on the governance of non-personal data.
- Prioritizes online safety and trust, safeguarding citizens’ rights in the digital realm while remaining adaptable to market dynamics and international legal principles.
- Recognizes the importance of new-age technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain, providing guidelines for their responsible utilization.
- Strikes a balance between accessibility and necessary regulations to maintain order and protect users.
- Imposes stringent Know Your Customer (KYC) requirements for wearable devices, supported by criminal law sanctions.
- Contemplates a review of the “safe harbour” principle, indicating a potential shift in online accountability standards.
Significance of the Digital India Bill:
- Demonstrates a forward-looking stance by actively engaging in shaping the development and use of technologies within a regulatory framework.
- Strikes a balance between fostering innovation and safeguarding against potential harms, positioning India as a responsible player in the global technology landscape.
Challenges to Implementing the Digital India Bill:
- Stricter regulations may inadvertently impede entrepreneurial initiatives and deter foreign investments.
- Potential cautious approach among online platforms, possibly affecting freedom of expression.
- Requires substantial resources, expertise, and infrastructure for effective enforcement.
- Balancing the interests of various stakeholders, including tech giants, while ensuring the protection of citizen rights poses a significant challenge.
- Digital India Bill implementation requires a delicate balance: fostering innovation while safeguarding against harm.
- Collaboration with tech giants is crucial for an effective regulatory framework. Incentivizing innovation aligns with global standards. Investment in regulatory capacity ensures effective enforcement.
- Public awareness fosters understanding, and continuous review adapts to evolving tech. Balancing includes safeguarding freedoms and a favourable investment climate. Collaborative governance aids in navigating regulatory complexities.
Life over Death
- The parliamentary committee reviewing the proposed Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS), a new criminal statute to replace the IPC, disappointingly refrained from recommending the abolition of the death penalty. Despite expert submissions favouring abolition, the Standing Committee on Home Affairs made a generic suggestion, leaving the matter for the government’s consideration.
- Experts presented compelling arguments, including the rise in trial courts awarding death sentences, the lack of deterrent effect, and global trends favouring abolition.
- The Supreme Court’s diminishing inclination towards capital punishment was noted, with only seven death penalties issued from 2007 to 2022, and all sentences in 2023 either set aside or commuted.
- Members expressing dissent underscored that capital punishment lacks deterrence, advocating life imprisonment until natural death as a more stringent and reformative penalty.
- They emphasized the underprivileged backgrounds of many on death row. The similarity between the proposed Bills and existing laws raised questions, suggesting an opportune moment for reevaluating the necessity of retaining the death penalty.
- If Parliament proceeds to enact the Bills with panel-suggested changes, it provides an opportune time to reconsider the death penalty.
- The BNS’s definition of ‘life imprisonment’ as the remainder of one’s natural life should become the default alternative to death sentences.
- Addressing the political controversies surrounding remission and promoting life terms without remission as the norm would further strengthen the case for abolition.
- Eliminating the death penalty from the statute book and introducing a rational and universally applicable remission policy would signify a substantial reform in the justice system, aligning with the evolving global perspective on capital punishment.
Food Price Trends
- In October, India witnessed a slight ease in consumer price inflation to a four-month low of 4.87%, accompanied by a seventh consecutive month of declining wholesale prices.
- Rural consumers face 5.1% inflation, while core inflation (excluding energy and food) has dropped below 4%. Although vegetable prices slowed, overall food costs for households stayed firm at 6.6%, reflecting challenges in essential edibles.
Factors Influencing Food Costs:
- The easing in vegetable prices contrasts with faster hikes or sustained high levels in other essential food items like pulses (up 18.8%) and cereals (10.7%).
- Concerns about kharif output, uncertain rabi prospects, and hikes in minimum support prices contribute to these price dynamics.
- Pulses prices at the wholesale level, up by 19.4%, suggest potential pass-through effects on retail prices.
Monetary Policy Considerations:
- The Reserve Bank of India’s Monetary Policy Committee, convening in early December, is unlikely to be significantly swayed by October’s trends.
- A 5.6% average inflation projection for the quarter, excluding edible oils, which played a pivotal role in moderating the Consumer Price Index, indicates a 5.6% rise in prices.
- However, base effects from the previous year, especially related to the Ukraine conflict’s impact on edible oil prices, are expected to diminish in the coming months.
- While the perceived retreat of inflation in October may be temporary, households, adjusting to rising living costs by curbing discretionary spending and downsizing essential consumption, are likely to remain cautious.
- This cautious consumer sentiment poses a significant challenge for policymakers striving to address headwinds in an economy reliant on domestic demand as a buffer against global shocks.
Price trends highlight the nuanced dynamics of inflation, emphasizing the ongoing challenges in food prices despite some moderation. The delicate balance between easing vegetable costs and sustained pressures on essential food items warrants close observation, especially as policymakers navigate economic resilience amid shifting consumer behaviours.
Facts for Prelims:
Food Safety and Standards Authority of India
- FSSAI is an independent statutory body created under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 (FSS Act).
- The Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India, serves as the administrative Ministry for FSSAI.
- The Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer of FSSAI are appointed by the Government of India, with the Chairperson holding the rank of Secretary to the Government of India.
- FSSAI is headquartered in Delhi.
Functions of FSSAI:
- Framing regulations to establish standards and guidelines for food safety.
- Granting FSSAI food safety licenses and certifications to food businesses.
- Formulating procedures and guidelines for laboratories in food businesses.
- Providing suggestions to the government for policy formulation.
- Collecting data on contaminants in food products, identifying emerging risks, and implementing a rapid alert system.
- Establishing an information network nationwide to enhance awareness of food safety.
- Promoting general awareness about food safety standards.
Agnipath Military Recruitment Scheme
- Agnipath is a program designed to empower patriotic youth by offering them an opportunity to serve in the Armed Forces.
- Participants in this scheme, referred to as Agniveers, undergo a four-year term, with an annual intake ranging from 45,000 to 50,000 recruits.
- After the initial four years, only 25% of the batch is selected for a 15-year service extension in their respective services.
- The Agnipath scheme is exclusively applicable to non-commissioned personnel below officer ranks.
- Commissioned officers, who hold a distinct rank in the Indian armed forces, operate under the president’s sovereign power and are officially mandated to protect the country.
- Aspirants must be between 17.5 and 23 years old to be eligible for the program.
Benefits for Agniveers:
Upon completing the four-year service term, Agniveers receive:
- A one-time ‘Seva Nidhi’ package of Rs 11.71 lakhs, including accrued interest.
- A life insurance cover of Rs 48 lakhs for four years.
- In the unfortunate event of death, the payout exceeds Rs 1 crore, encompassing pay for the unserved tenure.
Rehabilitation and Skill Development:
- Soldiers leaving the services after four years receive support from the government. This includes skill certificates and bridge courses to facilitate their reintegration into civilian life.
- The Agnipath Military Recruitment Scheme thus serves as a comprehensive initiative, not only fostering national service but also providing tangible benefits and support to those who commit themselves to the defence of the country.