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13th October Current Affairs

Pending RTI pleas

(GS-II: Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability)

In News:

A report on the Performance of Information Commissions in India, 2021 was recently released.

Key findings:

CIC has three vacancies left and has not functioned at its full strength of 10 Commissioners.

There were delays in disposing of cases due to both shortage of personnel and inefficient operations.

Based on the present strength, twelve State Information Commissions plus the Central Information Commission (CIC) would need at least a year to dispose of their appeals.

About the RTI Act, 2005:

It sets out the rules and procedures regarding citizens’ right to information.

It replaced the former Freedom of Information Act, 2002.

This act was enacted in order to consolidate the fundamental right in the Indian constitution ‘freedom of speech’. Since RTI is implicit in the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, it is an implied fundamental right.

Key Provisions:

Section 4 of the RTI Act requires suo motu disclosure of information by each public authority.

Section 8 (1) mentions exemptions against furnishing information under RTI Act.

Section 8 (2) provides for disclosure of information exempted under Official Secrets Act, 1923 if larger public interest is served.

Information Commissioners and PIOs:

The Act also provides for appointment of Information Commissioners at Central and State level.

Public authorities have designated some of its officers as Public Information Officer. They are responsible to give information to a person who seeks information under the RTI Act.

Time period:

In normal course, information to an applicant is to be supplied within 30 days from the receipt of application by the public authority.

If information sought concerns the life or liberty of a person, it shall be supplied within 48 hours.

In case the application is sent through the Assistant Public Information Officer or it is sent to a wrong public authority, five days shall be added to the period of thirty days or 48 hours, as the case may be.

Applicability of RTI to:

Private bodies:

Private bodies are not within the Act’s ambit directly.

In a decision of Sarbjit roy vs Delhi Electricity Regulatory Commission, the Central Information Commission also reaffirmed that privatised public utility companies fall within the purview of RTI.

Political parties:

The Central Information Commission (CIC) had held that the political parties are public authorities and are answerable to citizens under the RTI Act.

But in August 2013 the government introduced a Right To Information (Amendment) Bill which would remove political parties from the scope of the law.

Currently no parties are under the RTI Act and a case has been filed for bringing all political parties under it.

Chief Justice of India:

Supreme Court of India on 13 November 2019, upheld the decision of Delhi High Court bringing the office of Chief Justice of India under the purview of Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The RTI Amendment Act of 2019:

The Centre shall have the powers to set the salaries and service conditions of Information Commissioners at central as well as state levels.

Term of the central Chief Information Commissioner and Information Commissioners: appointment will be “for such term as may be prescribed by the Central Government”.

While the original Act prescribes salaries, allowances and other terms of service of the state Chief Information Commissioner as “the same as that of an Election Commissioner”, and the salaries and other terms of service of the State Information Commissioners as “the same as that of the Chief Secretary to the State Government”, the amendment proposes that these “shall be such as may be prescribed by the Central Government”.

Why these amendments are criticised?

The amendments are seen as a “threat to the independence” of the Central Information Commissioner.

By diminishing the status of the CIC, IC and State CIC from that of a Supreme Court judge would reduce their ability to issue directives to senior government functionaries.

The amendments would empower the Centre to make rules to decide the tenure, salary, allowances and other terms of service of information commissioners of the Central and also State Information Commissions. This will fundamentally weaken the institution of the information commissions as it will adversely impact the ability of commissioners to function in an independent manner.

The government held no public consultations on the Bill.

The Anti-Corruption Working Group

(GS-II: Important International institutions, agencies and fora, their structure, mandate)

In News:

The G20 Anti-corruption Working Group, which for the first time includes sport as a specificity within its mandate, has reached consensus on the draft high level principles on Preventing and Combating Corruption.

About ACWG:

Established by G20 Leaders at the Toronto Summit in 2010.

Responsible for updating and implementing the G20 Anti-corruption Action Plan.

Reports to G20 Leaders.

It cooperates closely with and supports the work of relevant international organizations, including the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Financial Action Task Force.

What is the G20?

The G20 is an annual meeting of leaders from the countries with the largest and fastest-growing economies. Its members account for 85% of the world’s GDP, and two-thirds of its population.

The G20 Summit is formally known as the “Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy”.

Genesis of G20:

After the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997-1998, it was acknowledged that the participation of major emerging market countries is needed on discussions on the international financial system, and G7 finance ministers agreed to establish the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting in 1999.

Full membership of the G20:

Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union.

What is G20+?

The G20 developing nations, also called G21/G23/G20+ is a bloc of developing nations which was established on August 20, 2003.

Its origins can be traced to the Brasilia Declaration signed by the foreign ministers of India, Brazil and South Africa on 6th June 2003.

The G20+ is responsible for 60% of the world population, 26% of the world’s agricultural exports and 70% of its farmers.

International Energy Agency (IEA)

(GS-II: Important International institutions, agencies and fora, their structure, mandate)

In News:

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has invited India, the world’s third-largest energy consumer, to become its full-time member.

Implications:

The proposal if accepted will require New Delhi to raise strategic oil reserves to 90 days requirement. India’s current strategic oil reserves equal 9.5 days of its requirement.

Background:

In March 2017, India became an associate member of IEA.

About IEA:

Established in 1974 as per the framework of the OECD, IEA is an autonomous intergovernmental organisation.

Its mission is guided by four main areas of focus: energy security, economic development, environmental awareness and engagement worldwide.

Headquarters (Secretariat): Paris, France.

Roles and functions:

Established in the wake of the 1973-1974 oil crisis, to help its members respond to major oil supply disruptions, a role it continues to fulfil today.

IEA’s mandate has expanded over time to include tracking and analyzing global key energy trends, promoting sound energy policy, and fostering multinational energy technology cooperation.

Composition and eligibility:

It has 30 members at present. IEA family also includes eight association countries. A candidate country must be a member country of the OECD. But all OECD members are not IEA members.

To become member a candidate country must demonstrate that it has:

  • Crude oil and/or product reserves equivalent to 90 days of the previous year’s net imports, to which the government has immediate access (even if it does not own them directly) and could be used to address disruptions to global oil supply.
  • A demand restraint programme to reduce national oil consumption by up to 10%.
  • Legislation and organisation to operate the Co-ordinated Emergency Response Measures (CERM) on a national basis.
  • Legislation and measures to ensure that all oil companies under its jurisdiction report information upon request.
  • Measures in place to ensure the capability of contributing its share of an IEA collective action.

Reports:

  • Global Energy & CO2 Status Report.
  • World Energy Outlook.
  • World Energy Statistics.
  • World Energy Balances.
  • Energy Technology Perspectives.

The Malabar Exercise of Quad nations

(GS-II: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests)

In News:

The US recently said that the scope of the multi-nation Malabar exercise in terms of more like-minded navies taking part in the drills could expand in future. And it was for the Quad partners to discuss the possibility of an expansion.

Background:

India, the US, Japan and Australia have kicked off the second phase of this year’s Malabar naval drills in the Bay of Bengal, with the exercise seeking to build on the synergy and interoperability developed during the first phase held in August.

Overview of Malabar:

Malabar began as a bilateral naval exercise between India and the U.S. in 1992, and was expanded into a trilateral format with the inclusion of Japan in 2015.

What is Quad grouping?

The quadrilateral formation includes Japan, India, United States and Australia.

All four nations find a common ground of being the democratic nations and common interests of unhindered maritime trade and security.

The idea was first mooted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007. However, the idea couldn’t move ahead with Australia pulling out of it.

Significance of the grouping:

Quad is an opportunity for like-minded countries to share notes and collaborate on projects of mutual interest.

Members share a vision of an open and free Indo-Pacific.

It is one of the many avenues for interaction among India, Australia, Japan and the US and should not be seen in an exclusive context.

Why is China concerned about these developments?

Beijing has long opposed a coalition of democracies in the Indo-Pacific region.

It sees the maritime Quadrilateral as an Asian-NATO that seeks only to contain China’s rise.

Also, at a time of strained bilateral ties with China, India’s intention to involve Australia in the Malabar drill could only be construed as a move directed against Beijing.