Manifesto release 72 hours before poll begins: EC panel

The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) should be amended to ensure that political parties release their manifesto at least 72 hours before voting ends in the first phase of polls, a committee set up by the Election Commission has recommended

Section 126 of the RP Act prohibits displaying any election matter by means, inter alia, of television or similar apparatus, during the period of 48 hours before the hour fixed for conclusion of poll in a constituency.

“Election matter” has been defined in that Section as any matter intended or calculated to influence or affect the result of an election.

The provision prohibits the conduct of Exit poll and dissemination of their results during the period mentioned therein, in the hour fixed for the commencement of polls in the first phase and half hour after the time fixed for a close of poll for the last phase in all the States.

Violation of the provisions of Section 126 is punishable with imprisonment up to a period of two years, or with fine or both.

What has been suggested?

Internet service providers and social media companies should take down content violating the 48-hour ban on campaigning prior to polling, instantly and latest within 3 hours of EC issuing such a direction.

Amend Section 126(1) of the R P Act to impose the “campaign silence period” on print, electronic media, and intermediaries. The definition of intermediaries, as per Section 2(w) of the Information Technology Act, includes telecom service providers, internet service providers, web-hosting service providers, search engines, etc.

Bring in changes in the model code of conduct to ensure that parties release their manifesto at least 72 hours prior to polling (or 72 hours prior to polling for the first phase in a multi-phase election).

Star campaigners should desist from addressing press conferences or giving interviews on election matters during the silence period. Also, in a multi-phased election, there should be no direct or indirect reference seeking support for parties/candidates in constituencies observing silence period.

Intermediaries should ensure that their platforms are not misused to vitiate free and fair polls. This would include a notification mechanism by which EC may notify the platform of potential violations of Section 126 of the R P Act.

While EC will appoint an officer to liaise with the intermediaries, the latter should open a special grievance redressal channel for EC and have a dedicated team during the election period to interface with and take quick action on receipt of EC order to take down or disable content in violation of R P Act.

Intermediaries should report to the Commission on measures taken to prevent abuse of their platforms, including generating publicly-available action taken reports. All political advertisements may be clearly labeled as such and be pre-approved by an EC-appointed content monitoring committee.

The intermediaries would also need to maintain a repository of political advertisements with information on their sponsors, expenditure and targeted reach.

Significance and implications:

The recommendations made by the Committee, when implemented will help in minimizing the possible interference of activities which aim at indirectly influencing voters during the valuable silence period of 48 hours provided to them.

The task of maintaining campaign silence during last 48 hours before the conclusion of polling is becoming increasingly onerous in light of the increasing influence of digital media. So, apart from the regulation by law and ECI instructions, the resolve, proactive support and sustained effort by all stakeholders is necessary to contain the evil impact.

Political Parties Oppose Footing Bill for ads on criminal record

Congress and BJP have both questioned the Election Commission’s diktat that a candidate should foot the bill to publicize his criminal record, especially since it eats into his poll expenditure limit.

Candidates from both the national political parties are learned to have written to the EC red-flagging their concerns over the decision initiated by a Supreme Court order in September last year.

People familiar with the development said the EC would look into the issue in view of the communications and take a fresh position on it.

Key highlights directed by the SCs:

The SC had, in a bid to check increasing criminalisation of politics, ordered that it be made mandatory for every candidate in the fray in an election to inform the public at large about his criminal record in “bold letters” and at least three times after filing of nomination papers through newspapers at large and electronic media.

EC implemented the order for the first time in the recently held state elections, bringing out standard formats for each candidate to make a public declaration of his criminal record.

While the SC order did not clarify on who would foot the bill for these advertisements and under which precise electoral account it would fall.

It was added to the candidate’s election account in the elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, and Mizoram.

Key concerns mentioned in this bill:

They pointed out that the impact could be significant for candidates in urban centres as compared to their counterparts from rural constituencies as newspaper and TV advertisements pricing is typically higher in cities.

The Election Commission has already sought details of expenditure incurred towards such public notices by the candidates who contested in the recent elections, to make an assessment.

One suggestion being made to EC is to shift the expenditure to the political party’s account instead as there is no expenditure limit for the party as of now.

There are also, however, arguments that the party and candidates are being unfairly made to bear the expense for advertising their own criminal record and it may be better to allocate airtime and newspaper space for this purpose as well just as is done for campaign purposes.

As of now, the expenditure limit for a state assembly candidate has capped at Rs 28 lakh while it is Rs 70 lakh for candidates for general elections.

All newspaper and electronic media advertisements/publicity material are currently included within this limit. Interestingly, many a candidate does not even exhaust this limit towards campaign expenditure even as a flow of cash and freebies is only increasing in every election.

Proposal to revive National Register of Indian Citizens Project

The Union government’s fight against illegal immigrants will soon get a national canvas as it has decided to give a fresh impetus to the department of the National Population Register (NPR) under the Registrar General of India.

The division had turned almost non-functional after Aadhaar gained supremacy in the NDA government’s agenda in late 2014.

Key highlights of the NPR project proposal:

According to top sources in the government, data for NPR was collected in 2010 along with the house-listing phase of the Census.

However, the main task assigned to the department for the creation of the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) had been shelved by the government.

The NPR’s main task is to generate the NRIC.

The rest will automatically become National Register of Residents or NRR.

It is called a filtering process and involves field verification as well as scrutiny of documents.

The National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise in Assam and the subsequent releasing of the data appears to have provided a much-needed push for the NRIC project.

Since the idea of the NRIC was first mooted during NDA-I, the deliberation within the government to revive the crucial department to identify and provide identity cards to Indian citizens is being seen as a last-ditch effort to contain the influx of illegal immigrants.

Over 40 lakh people were left out of the Assam NRC in July, and after claims and settlement, a final list will be released.

AMRUT Scheme : Only 20% of Projects completed

The Central Government’s Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), launched for developing urban infrastructure.

The project has completed just 20 per cent of the total projects utilising 3 per cent of the total funds approved.

Tamil Nadu is the only State that has completed more than 300 projects.

West Bengal is No 2 in the list with 194 projects completed. Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, and Kerala are the States that have completed more than 50 projects.

The Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs informed the Lok Sabha this week that under AMRUT, detailed project reports (DPRs) have been approved for 5,421 projects worth ₹78,856 crore.

So far, 1,099 projects (20 per cent of DPR approved projects) have been completed, utilising just ₹2,626 crore (3 per cent of the amount).

Work in progress

Contracts have been awarded for 3,222 projects (59 per cent of total approved projects) at a cost of ₹53,319 crore and work is ‘under progress’, according to the Ministry.

The government launched AMRUT in 2015 in 500 mission cities with a focus on water supply, sewerage and septage management, stormwater drainage, non-motorised urban transport and development of green space and parks.

The mission period is up to March 2020. The total mission outlay is ₹1 lakh crore, including Central assistance of ₹50,000 crore.

Projects under AMRUT are selected, appraised, approved and implemented by States/Union Territories. The Centre only approves the State Annual Action Plans (SAAPs) submitted by States/UTs and releases assistance as per mission guidelines.

The Ministry has approved all the SAAPs for all States/UTs for the entire mission period for ₹77,640 crore, including Central assistance of ₹35,990 crore.

Under the approved SAAPs, ₹39,011 crore is allocated for water supply projects, ₹32,455 crore for sewerage and septage management projects, ₹2,969 crore for stormwater drainage, ₹1,436 crore for non-motorised urban transport and ₹1,769 crore for parks/green spaces in 500 cities.

AMRUT Scheme

Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the AMRUT scheme in June 2015. The scheme’s focus is on urban renewal projects that would establish infrastructure which facilitates sufficient and efficient sewerage networks and water supply. This is to enable an urban transformation. The first state in India to submit the State Annual Action Plan under this scheme was Rajasthan. The scheme’s launch also saw the launch of the Housing for All by 2022 as part of the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT). The scheme operates on a PPP model (Public Private Partnership).

Under this scheme, five states were shortlisted for implementation. They are Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Kerala, Telangana, and West Bengal. The initial funds were earmarked for use in enhancing water supply, sewerage network and availability of public spaces. A total of 102 cities were shortlisted from the five selected states.

Scientists warn Earth’s magnetic North Pole has begun moving ‘erratically’ at speeds so fast they are having to issue an emergency update to maps used by electronic navigation systems

Earth’s magnetic fields are shifting – and scientists are unsure why.

Researchers say the magnetic North Pole is  ‘skittering’ away from Canada, towards Siberia.

The problem has got so bad, researchers around the world are scrambling to update a global model of the fields.

Called the World Magnetic Model, it underlies all modern navigation, from the systems that steer ships at sea to Google Maps on smartphones.

Impact on World Magnetic Model:

The problem has got so bad, researchers around the world are scrambling to update a global model of the fields. Called the World Magnetic Model, it underlies all modern navigation, from the systems that steer ships at sea to Google Maps on smartphones.

WHY ARE THE EARTH’S MAGNETIC FIELDS MOVING?

The problem lies partly with the moving pole and partly with other shifts deep within the planet.

Liquid churning in Earth’s core generates most of the magnetic field, which varies over time as the deep flows change.

In 2016, for instance, part of the magnetic field temporarily accelerated deep under northern South America and the eastern Pacific Ocean. Satellites such as the European Space Agency’s Swarm mission tracked the shift.

WHAT IS THE WORLD MAGNETIC MODEL?

The charts, known as the World Magnetic Model (WMM), are used to convert between compass measurements of magnetic north and true north and can be found in the navigation systems of ships and airplanes as well as geological applications (such as drilling and mining).

The WMM is also part of map applications in smartphones, including the Google Maps App.

Researchers from the U.S.’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) maintain the WMM.

WHAT COULD HAPPEN TO EARTH IF ITS POLES FLIPPED?

Scientists in recent years have predicted that Earth’s magnetic field could be gearing up to ‘flip’ – a shift in which the magnetic south pole would become magnetic north, and vice versa. Such an event could have catastrophic effects, wreaking havoc on the electric grid and leaving life at the surface exposed to higher amounts of solar radiation.

Electric grid collapse from severe solar storms is a major risk. As the magnetic field continues to weaken, scientists are highlighting the importance off-the-grid energy systems using renewable energy sources to protect the Earth against a blackout.

Very highly charged particles can have a deleterious effect on the satellites and astronauts.

The Earth’s climate could also change. A recent Danish study has found that the earth’s weather has been significantly affected by the planet’s magnetic field.

BEE, CPWD to promote energy efficiency in buildings

The Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) and the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for co-operation in building energy efficiency.

ECO Niwas Samhita 2018 an Energy Conservation Building Code for residential buildings, to push for energy efficiency in the residential sector was launched on December 14, 2018. It aims to promote design and construction of homes including apartments and townships to give benefits of energy efficiency to the occupants. Ministry of Power launched the ECO Niwas Samhita 2018.

The aim of ECO Niwas Samhita 2018:

To benefit the occupants and the environment by promoting energy efficiency in the design and construction of homes, apartments, and townships.

Roles and Responsibilities:

Role of BEE –

  • Processing of application for the star rating of buildings
  • Preliminary scrutiny of application
  • Data verification of CPWD maintained buildings
  • Installation of smart meters
  • Award of certificate & label
  • Support for Energy Efficiency in Buildings
  • Support for construction of ECBC complaint buildings
  • Efficient coordination with CPWD
  • Capacity building of CPWD officials

Role of CPWD –

  • Completely filled application for the star rating
  • Support and facilitation to data verification and monitoring
  • Construction of ECBC Complaint buildings
  • Support for Energy Efficiency in Buildings
  • Efficient coordination with BEE
  • It is anticipated that this initiative will result in an energy saving of more than 260 million units in the first stage with operational savings of about Rs. 100 crore.

Star Rating for Commercial Buildings:

  • It is based on the actual performance of a building in terms of its specific energy usage in kWh/sqm/year.
  • It rates office buildings on a 1-5 Star scale, with 5 star labeled buildings being the most efficient.
  • It is on a voluntary basis and label provided under it is applicable for a period of 5 years from the date of issue.
  • It provides public recognition to energy efficient buildings and creates a “demand side” pull.
  • Various categories of buildings like Day Use Office Buildings, BPOs, Shopping Malls and Hospitals in the five climatic zones have been identified under the scheme.

About Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) –

  • Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) is a statutory body, set up by the Government of India on 1st March 2002 under the provision of the Energy Conservation Act, 2001.
  • The mission is to assist in developing policies and strategies with a thrust on self-regulation and market principles with the primary objective of reducing the energy intensity of the Indian economy within the overall framework of the Energy Conservation Act, 2001.
  • This will be achieved with the active participation of all stakeholders, resulting in accelerated and sustained adoption of energy efficiency in all sectors.

About the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) –

  • CPWD came into existence in July 1854 when Lord Dalhousie established a central agency for execution of public works and set up Ajmer Provincial Division.
  • It is headed by DG who is also the Principal Technical Advisor to the Government of India.
  • It has PAN India presence and has the ability to undertake construction of complex projects.
  • It has been involved in the construction of stadiums and other infrastructure requirements for Asian Games 1982 and Commonwealth Games 2010.
  • CPWD is now engaged in the construction of Afghan Parliament Building (beyond national boundaries).

Chhattisgarh govt withdraws consent to CBI to probe cases

Two months after the Chandrababu Naidu-led government in Andhra Pradesh withdrew general consent accorded to the CBI to probe cases in the state, the Congress government in Chhattisgarh.

The state government has conveyed the decision to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs and the Department of Personnel and Training.

Section 6 of the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act that governs the CBI states, “Consent of state government to exercise of powers and jurisdiction — Nothing contained in Section 5 shall be deemed to enable any member of the Delhi Special Police Establishment to exercise powers and jurisdiction in any area in (a state not being a union territory or railways area], without the consent of the government of that state.”

Market risk, economic growth to drive gold demand in 2019: WGC

Increased market uncertainty and expansion of protectionist economic policies will make gold increasingly attractive as a hedge in 2019, says the latest report by the World Gold Council (WGC), adding that structural economic reforms in key markets will continue to support demand for gold in jewelry, technology and as means of savings in the year.

 important observations made:

Performance of financial markets, monetary policy in key economies including India, and the dollar movement will determine gold demand in 2019.

Since gold is considered a safe haven, during choppy markets, the demand for gold improves, normally. Emerging markets, led by India and China–the biggest consuming markets–make up 70% of consumer demand for the metal.

The World Gold Council is the market development organization for the gold industry. It works across all parts of the industry, from gold mining to investment, and their aim is to stimulate and sustain the demand for gold.

The World Gold Council is an association whose members comprise the world’s leading gold mining companies. It helps to support its members to mine in a responsible way and developed the Conflict-Free Gold Standard.

SC for panel having Nilekani to suggest reforms for holding competitive exams

The Supreme Court favored setting up of a three-member high-powered committee comprising Nandan Nilekani, a co-founder of tech giant Infosys, and renowned computer scientist Vijay P Bhatkar to suggest reforms for conducting of competitive examinations fairly by government bodies.

The top court said it would not vacate the stay on the declaration of result of SSC combined graduate level (CGL) and combined higher secondary level (CHSL) examinations held in 2017, in which lakhs of students had appeared.

A bench of Justices S A Bobde and Deepak Gupta, which posted the matter for hearing on January 17, asked advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the petitioner, to suggest a name besides Nilekani and Bhatkar for constituting the panel.

The bench said the three-member high powered committee would suggest reforms to the government bodies, which conduct competitive examinations like the SSC, as there are several cases of questions paper leaks. Bhushan said he would suggest a name by next week.

The court asked the counsel for Centre to seek instruction on the point of cancellation of examination saying it was difficult to identify the beneficiaries of leakage of question papers. The examination papers of the SSC CGL 2017 were allegedly leaked, leading to huge protests from job seekers for several days.

Amid the protests, the SSC had recommended a CBI probe into the allegations of the paper leak.

Counsel appearing for CBI, which is investigating the question paper leak case, said that FIR has been registered and people involved have been identified, therefore there was no need to cancel the 2017 examination.

To this, the bench which was not convinced with the contention of CBI said it was not possible either identify the beneficiaries of question paper leaks or who all are innocents.

It also refused to vacate its August 31 last year order staying declaration of results of the SSC examination.

On November 13, last year the apex court had asked the CBI to submit its final report regarding the probe into the alleged leak of papers of the 2017 Staff Selection Commission (SSC) examination.

The Centre had termed the allegations of the paper leak as “bald and in general” and opposed the contention for scrapping the entire examinations.

On August 31, the apex court had stayed the declaration of result of the SSC CGL and Combined Higher Secondary Level (CHSL) Examination held in 2017, in which lakhs of students had appeared, saying it seemed that the entire test and the system were “tainted”.

The SSC is a government body which conducts examinations to recruit staff at multiple levels in various ministries and departments.

Several lakh students appear in the SSC examination each year and enter government services in Group C and D Categories of jobs once they qualify.

The SSC Combined Graduate Level exam has a four-tier system, in which tier I and tier II are computer-based, while in tier III and IV, job applicants take up a descriptive paper and a computer proficiency test or skill test.

RBI tweaks Gold Monetisation Scheme to onboard more institutions

The country’s central bank has tweaked changes with the Gold Monetisation Scheme (GMS). The modifications now allow charitable institutions, central government and other entities to deposit under GMS. “Persons eligible to make a deposit – Resident Indians [Individuals, HUFs, Proprietorship & Partnership firms, Trusts including Mutual Funds/Exchange Traded Funds registered under SEBI (Mutual Fund) Regulations, Companies, charitable institutions, Central Government, State Government or any other entity owned by Central Government or State Government] can make deposits under the scheme,” read the Reserve Bank’s notification.

Gold has always been a medium of investment and savings in our country. But gold was part of personal savings and did not play role in the development process of the country. Gold imports come at the second number after crude oil in balance sheets of India, so it is one of the major causes for large Current Account Deficit (CAD) in our country. In the last financial year, India spent almost 1.7% of its GDP on gold imports of approximately 1000 tonnes. Getting out 20000 tonnes stock of gold from within four walls of households and from several walls of temples is the need of the hour to reduce dependence on imports and saving foreign exchange.

Hence government has launched Gold Monetization Scheme to make gold not only part of household savings and security but give earnings to individual and become a part of nation-building.

Gold Monetization Scheme (GMS) will replace the Gold Deposit Scheme, 1999 but deposit outstanding under gold deposit scheme will be allowed to run till the maturity.

Major Features of GMS     

The minimum limit to deposit gold in the bank is set at 30 grams to attract gold deposit even from households which were 500 grams in the previous scheme.

To avail benefits first, a person has to verify gold purity at Collection & Purity Testing Centers (CPTC) certified by Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) which will determine the value of gold and interest to be gained in a particular time period.

The individuals or trust or companies have to open a gold deposit account with banks to deposit the gold and earn interest on them. The Interest shall be payable in form of gold or money as opted by the depositor at time of opening the account.

The interest earnings are exempted from capital gains tax, wealth tax, and income tax to attract the depositors.

The minimum tenure is one year to get benefits of the scheme and bank will design short term (1-3 years), Medium (5-7 years) and long term (12-15 years) gold deposit schemes.

The banks may sell or lend gold accepted under GMS to Metals and Minerals Trading Corporation of India (MMTC) to issue gold coins and to jewelers or further sell it to other banks that are engaged in GMS.