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12th Feb Current Affairs

Maharashtra to introduce ballot papers along with EVMs

In News:

Maharashtra Assembly Speaker has directed the State Law and Justice Department to prepare the draft of a Bill which provides an option to voters to exercise their franchise on ballot papers along with electronic voting machines (EVMs).

Manner of holding elections:

Article 328 of the Indian Constitution and number 37 of the State List of the seventh schedule of the Constitution provide rights to the State legislature to formulate a law on the manner of holding elections within the State.

The state cannot abolish the EVMs completely.

They are just demanding an additional provision of ballot paper as well for whoever wants to use that.

Directions have been given to check the constitutional validity of the argument and prepare the draft of a Bill.

Background:

The Election Commission has been conducting all elections through EVMs since 2001.

The Indian EVM is a direct recording device, which is a stand-alone machine.

The Election Commission has clarified several times that Indian EVMs don’t talk to any machine outside its own system – be it through a wired network, internet, satellite, and WiFi or Bluetooth.

The EVM is not connected to the server, so cyber hacking of Indian EVMs is not possible unless an authorised person acts with malafide intention.

In 2014, a whopping 55.38 crore people cast their votes in EVMs in the parliamentary elections.

Considerations behind such a move:

On EVMs, a voter can never be 100% sure about whom he or she has voted and whether that particular candidate has received the vote.

It is a right of every voter to be 100% sure about it and also essential for the democratic process.”

Over the past few years, serious concerns and doubts had been raised over the EVMs and whether those could be manipulated.

The option of ballot voting would boost people’s confidence in the electoral process which would ultimately lead to an increase in voting percentage.

Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, 2021

In News:

With the likely scenario of India’s government banning private cryptocurrencies, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is planning to introduce an official digital currency for the country.

Must try this question from our AWE initiative:

What is a cryptocurrency? What benefits and challenges do cryptocurrencies pose? (250 Words)

An earlier government bill on cryptocurrency in 2019 reportedly sought to ban cryptocurrency and criminalise its possession in India. However, it was not introduced in Parliament.

The detailed text of the bill has not been released in the public domain so far.

The bill also says that there will be a regulation to help RBI create its own CBDC (central bank digital currency).

What are Cryptocurrencies?

A cryptocurrency is a digital asset designed to work as a medium of exchange wherein individual coin ownership records are stored in a ledger existing in a form of a computerized database.

It uses strong cryptography to secure transaction records, to control the creation of additional coins, and to verify the transfer of coin ownership.

It typically does not exist in physical form (like paper money) and is typically not issued by a central authority.

Cryptocurrencies typically use decentralized control as opposed to centralized digital currency and central banking systems.

Hues over the Bill:

The past year has seen a surge in the number of cryptocurrency investors in India and in trading volumes.

Cryptocurrency exchanges such as CoinDCX and Coinswitch Kuber have also raised early-stage funding for their operations.

The bill may spark an end to the nascent cryptocurrency industry in the country.

What were the provisions of 2019 Bill?

Definition of cryptocurrencies:

The 2019 Bill defined cryptocurrency as any information, code, number or token, generated through cryptographic means or otherwise, which has a digital representation of value and has utility in business activity, or acts as a store of value or a unit of account.

Ban:

The 2019 Bill bans the use of cryptocurrency as legal tender or currency.

It also prohibits mining, buying, holding, selling, dealing in, issuance, disposal or use of cryptocurrency.

Mining is an activity aimed at creating a cryptocurrency and/or validating cryptocurrency transactions between a buyer and a seller.

In particular, the use of cryptocurrency was prohibited for:

  • use as a medium of exchange, store of value or unit of account,
  • use as a payment system,
  • providing services such as registering, trading, selling or clearing of cryptocurrency to individuals,
  • trading it with other currencies,
  • issuing financial products related to it,
  • using it as a basis of credit,
  • issuing it as a means of raising funds, and
  • issuing it as a means for investment.

Why the govt wants to ban cryptocurrencies?

Sovereign guarantee:

Cryptocurrencies pose risks to consumers. They do not have any sovereign guarantee and hence are not legal tender.

Market volatility:

Their speculative nature also makes them highly volatile. For instance, the value of Bitcoin fell from USD 20,000 in December 2017 to USD 3,800 in November 2018.

Risk in security:

A user loses access to their cryptocurrency if they lose their private key (unlike traditional digital banking accounts, this password cannot be reset).

Malware threats:

In some cases, these private keys are stored by technical service providers (cryptocurrency exchanges or wallets), which are prone to malware or hacking.

Money laundering:

Cryptocurrencies are more vulnerable to criminal activity and money laundering. They provide greater anonymity than other payment methods since the public keys engaging in a transaction cannot be directly linked to an individual.

Regulatory bypass:

A central bank cannot regulate the supply of cryptocurrencies in the economy. This could pose a risk to the financial stability of the country if their use becomes widespread.

Power consumption:

Since validating transactions is energy-intensive, it may have adverse consequences for the country’s energy security (the total electricity use of bitcoin mining, in 2018, was equivalent to that of mid-sized economies such as Switzerland).

‘Smart walls’ for Indian Borders

In News:

The Mexico-US barrier also known as the border wall is a series of vertical barriers along the border intended to reduce illegal immigration to the US.

Biden’s decision was confirmed, however, that an alternative has been offered a ‘smart’ wall that replaces the physical and armed patrolling with advanced surveillance tech is the proposed future of border security now.

What is the Smart Wall?

The ‘smart wall’ technology could solve border security issues without the need for a physical barrier.

The wall would use sensors, radars, and surveillance technology to detect and track border break-ins, and technology capable of performing the most difficult tasks dedicated to border security.

The complete system of a virtual wall would consist of a radar satellite, computer-equipped border-control vehicles, control sensors and underground sensors.

Along with surveillance towers and cameras, thermal imaging would be used, which would help in the detection of objects.

The system would even be capable of distinguishing between animals, humans, and vehicles, and then sending updates to handheld mobile devices of the patrol agents.

Not a new concept:

The concept is not new and the novelty of it cannot be directly associated with Biden.

Interestingly, the U.S.-Mexico border wall proposed by Donald Trump envisaged this concept.

A technology firm was sought to be hired by the Trump administration, and it was indicated that artificial intelligence shall be used at a novel scale to complement the steel barrier (border wall).

Feasibility for India:

A question that now arises is whether such a project can be undertaken to secure Indian borders.

India has been struggling with the problem of terrorists and smugglers infiltrating into the country and efforts are ongoing to secure our borders and curb cross-border infiltration.

Therefore, it is proposed that it is high time we start envisaging the use of technology to help India secure its borders.

Various challenges:

A critical factor that must be considered to enable the usage of such a system along Indian borders is that the terrain in the region is rugged, and, furthermore, not even clearly defined.

Hence, erecting fences, walls or any physical structures is extremely difficult.

A “smart” wall, however, makes use of systems that would be designed in such a way that they can operate even in rugged areas.

Imperatively, in the US various other benefits, such as cost-effectiveness, less damage to the environment, fewer land seizures, and speedier deployment are being noted.

This gives the concept an edge over traditional borders.

Benefits that Indian can reap:

Notably, such a system, even if not feasible for our long boundaries, may still be deployed to enhance critical security establishments of the country and complement the already-existing physical fencing and walls.

This can no doubt secure the major infiltration areas.

Way forward:

The attack on the Pathankot Airbase highlighted that often, it may become difficult to secure establishments due to their vast size.

Further, it is imperative for Indian armed forces to be well-equipped and simultaneously have the latest technological advantage over its enemies.

Experts must explore this idea to effectively counter the problem of cross-border infiltration.

Is it unfathomable to deploy a security system that clubs technology with traditional set-ups due to terrain and other problematic factors? This is a question for Digital India to answer.